By Melissa L. Webb
The rain clicked heavily against the windshield, my eyes fluttering open at the sound. I stared at the darkness of the parking lot as it pushed at the windows surrounding me.
It was cold in the car as I tried to lure sleep in, but I had nowhere else to go. I had to check into the hospital in a few hours anyway. And I had driven so far. My nice warm bed was over a hundred miles away. Sleeping in the car was my best choice at the moment.
Who was I kidding? It was my only choice.
Leaning back against the seat, I shifted slightly to get comfortable. My injured leg throbbed as I moved it, the brace holding it straight digging painfully into my skin. I sighed as I stared around the empty car. Maybe if I had torn my ACL in my driving leg someone would have taken the time to come down with me. It’s not as if I could have driven myself then.
But, no. My left knee was the bum one and I could handle my automatic car. That conveniently got my friends and family off the hook.
So here I was, hours away from having orthopedic outpatient surgery, and I had no one to lean on. Except for the cold, uncomfortable car seat.
Closing my eyes, I tried once again to fall asleep. My teeth chattered softly as I pulled my jacket tighter around me. I lay there listening to the rain dance lightly across my car. I let my breathing slow; trying to convince myself I was almost asleep.
A thumping sound at the back of the car caused me to bolt up in my seat. What was that?
I turned, squinting in the darkness. A shadow moved outside the back window. Someone was messing with my car.
Boy, had they picked the wrong guy. Flinging open the door, I slid out, glaring as the rain coated my skin, soaking my clothes. There was no one there. I was the only one in this section of the parking lot. The faint neon sign on the hospital threw phosphoresce-green splotches in the puddles around me and I squinted, avoiding their glare.
Nothing was out there but the rain and me.
I slowly got back in the car, my leg protesting slightly. Leaning back against the seat, I wiggled miserably, my wet clothes stuck to my body uncomfortably.
I knew I had seen something, but what? What had got me out of the car so fast and left me standing there like an idiot, without the sense to get out of the rain?
I sat there, my eyes watching the windows on the huge building in front of me. Lights went on and off in different rooms as the nurses made their rounds. It gave the impression the hospital was winking at me with its hundreds of eyes. An eerie feeling slid down into the pit of my stomach. I felt like a goldfish in a bowl and the cat was watching.
I leaned back, tired from the drive there. My weariness was getting to me. That’s all this was. Taking a deep breath, I expelled the doubt with my used air. I needed to relax. Tomorrow would be stressful enough.
I let my eyes flutter, hoping sleep would soon be mine. Movement caught my eye before my lids could drop. My head jerked, eyes wide, as I stared out the driver’s window.
There was a face pressed against the glass. The fat raindrops sliding down the window distorted its milky white flesh.
I yanked myself away from the door, moving a mere inches as the seat kept me confined, a gut-wrenching noise coming out of my parted lips. I turned, gasping through the sound and stared where I had seen the face glaring in at me.
Nothing was there.
The rain poured down the glass, the parking lot looked bleak and deserted behind it. Nothing blocked my view.
Scooting back over in my seat, I slowly opened the door. I slid my brace-covered leg out and stood like an idiot once again. The stress was becoming too much. I couldn’t sit in the car anymore and wait for sleep that would never come. I needed a diversion. Something to take my mind off the coming morning. Anything to help pass the time.
I got back in, shaking raindrops from my face. I started the car, the engine springing to life with an eagerness that echoed throughout my bones.
I left the parking lot and drove through the unfamiliar city. I pulled into an all night diner and went in, seeking solace from the things haunting my mind.
As I slid into a booth as a slight chill ran up my spine having nothing to do with the rain. A hot breeze crept across my neck, washing over me like the breath of hell, causing armies of goose bumps to rise across my flesh.
I turned, expecting someone to be leaning over the back of the seat, but the booth behind me was empty. Chalking it up to the tired state my mind was in, I scooped up the menu, looking forward to the distraction this place would bring.
I couldn’t have any food. It was past the curfew my doctor had set for solid consumption. But I needed something and water just wasn’t going to cut it.
I asked for a cup of coffee when the waitress came over. She smiled politely and left to go get some. I knew I shouldn’t, but I needed something to help combat the offending chill in my bones.
My gaze wandered around the diner as I waited, wondering what was putting me so ill at ease. I noticed a man sitting on the other side of the place, his back to the window. He was openly staring at me; as if waiting for something.
He smiled as I looked at him. It was nothing more than a slight twist of the lips, but he was acknowledging I knew he was staring at me.
Shifting in my booth, I turned my back to the man. I didn’t know what his problem was, but I didn’t want to be any part of it.
I sipped my coffee when the waitress delivered it, savoring the heat as I let my attention fall to my wounded knee. I just needed to get through the night. The early morning would bring my check-in time and then the doctors could take it from there. I would have a place to be. I would be warm and free from pain for a little while.
It was a little after midnight and my check-in time was at 5am. I only had to make it through a few more hours.
The front door opened, the bell tinkling merrily above it, and a man and woman came in. Their eyes swept over the place in one swift movement, landing on me in an instant. Their mouths twitched up in the same small grin.
The chill in me grew deeper as I watched them walk to a table and sit down. Their eyes never left me, not even for a moment.
I took another draw of my coffee, my eyes on the street outside. Who were these people and why did they smile at me as if I was the punch line of some cruel joke?
“Did you want some more coffee, mister?” the waitresses asked, startling me out of my thoughts.
“No, thank you,” I immediately said. After all, the first cup was probably more than I should have had. “Just the check,” I said, looking up at her.
“No problem,” she said, her own lips twisting up in the same grin. “I can see you’re in a hurry.” She turned around quickly, walking behind the counter.
I shoved my cup away, forgoing the last of my coffee. Queasiness was beginning to wash over me, but I couldn’t tell you if it was fear of the surgery or fear of the night I had found myself stuck in.
The waitress was in on it, too. I was a walking joke to these people and I didn’t know why.
“Here you go, darlin’,” she said, smacking the check down in front of me.
I paid quickly, leaving her a nice tip. I wanted to make sure she felt I had treated her well for her time. I got the feeling if I didn’t she might pounce on me before I could even get to the car. I shook my head at that insane thought, but didn’t slow down as I forced my injured leg to the door.
“You have a good night, hun,” she called as I ploughed my way through the door. I could swear the laughter of everyone in the diner floated out to me as the door swung shut.
What had I gotten myself into, I wondered as I shuffled to the car. Had I come across some warped diner where everyone was wasted out of their minds?
I got in the car, starting it as fast as my cold fingers would let me, and raced back to the hospital. I had had enough wandering the night like a lost soul. My surgery was in less than 5 hours. I was spending that time in a warm waiting room. And I wasn’t taking no for an answer.
The front doors of the hospital were locked and I went in through emergency services. I explained my predicament to the woman on duty.
“Oh, no problem. We have a waiting room you can stay in,” she told me reassuringly. Finally, something was going right,
I was escorted to a room on the third floor. It was warm, empty, and best of all, had plump leather recliners. I let out an audible sigh at the sight of those.
The night guard smiled at that. “Enjoy your stay,” the man said before leaving.
Settling into one of the recliners, I raised the footrest, and closed my eyes. A few hours sleep and then I’d be ready to face the doctor’s scalpel.
“Sir. You need to wake up, sir,” a voice said, settling into my brain. My eyes fluttered open. Had I slept too late? Had I missed my surgery?
I glanced down at my watch and sighed in relief. It was only 3:30. I still had plenty of time.
Then why were they waking me up?
I blinked at the people in front of me. I didn’t know any of them.
“What do you want?” I asked, my voice husky with sleep. “It’s not time for my surgery yet.”
“You need to come with us,” a man said and stepped closer, a grin forming on his lips.
I bolted up in the chair, dropping the footrest. I was wide-awake now. That sly, horrible grin had found me again. “I’m not going anywhere with you,” I said, standing up. My hurt knee protested from the sudden movement and I wobbled unsteadily on my feet.
“Yes, you are.” Several of the men moved closer, grabbing me. Their strength was unimaginable and they lifted me up off the floor like a rag doll.
I tried to squirm, but they held me still in their vice grips. “What are you doing?” I yelled.
“We are taking you. It’s what we do.”
“Are you crazy? Put me down,” I demanded.
“No,” a woman beside me spoke. “You won’t be missed. That’s what we do here. We use the people who have no one. The ones who are all alone.” She looked at me with that horrid grin. “That’s what you get for being a nobody.”
“I’m not a nobody!” I screamed as they carried me out of the room.
The woman tsked. “I don’t see anyone here with you. They didn’t care enough to come with you. No one will care enough to look for you.” She smiled delightedly at the others. “Looks like you gentlemen will have your hands full for the next few hours. Be sure he goes to good use.” She turned, looking at me once more. “Our patients here do hate wastefulness.”
I hung my head as we moved, helpless to stop the fate that was fast approaching. It looked like the joke was on me after all.
© 2013 Melissa L. Webb
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