New horror fiction. 147 E. 9th Street – Chapter 7
It was so hot. The blankets from their bed around her felt like a heavy shroud. Asphyxiating like the vest they drape over torsos during an x-ray. The wool was oppressive and binding. She could feel the sweat pooling between her breasts. Her shirt was soaked. Her hair was wet from the nape of her neck to the crown of her head. The room was bright and sharp and stinging light shot in through the curtains. She squinted, and she could feel a bead of sweat trail down her curled nose and forehead.
“Baby,” Shawn whispered. Carolyn opened her eyes, but they were leaden. Her eyelids drooped, leaving her eyes open just a sliver against the burning light. “Can you try to drink something?” She felt the bed shift when he sat down beside her. She pushed the blankets down to her stomach. It felt like she was trying to dig her hands through wet sand. Shawn’s hands brushed against her as he helped wrangle the covers.
“Here,” he said. She felt his hand behind her and he helped her get into a sitting position. More of a leaning, tired position. He handed her a glass. It was cold. It felt wonderful. Instead of drinking it, she held it next to her face. “Try to drink,” he said. “You haven’t had anything all day.”
“My legs hurt,” she said. Let her try to hold the glass on her own. She managed, although it did clink against her teeth each time she raised it to her mouth. He wrapped his hands around her calves and rubbed, them. She grimaced, the glass wobbling in her hand.
“Steady on,” he said, taking the glass from her.
She curled her knees to her chest. “My stomach hurts. Like something is squeezing me. Twisting my insides. Ugh,” she groaned.
“Baby,” Shawn said. “We need to take care of you.”
“No, I just need to sleep. And my deductible is too high.”
“It’s almost bedtime. You’ve slept all day.”
“What? Shit, I have to…work,” she said, trying to roll over in the bed. She flopped to her original positon on her back, out of strength.
“No,” he said, putting the glass of water on the bedside table and softy keeping her in bed. “No work. Dae texted this morning. You texted back.”
“Wha…” Carolyn said, trailing off into her pillow. “I don’t remember.” She pulled the blankets up to her chin, despite the rising temperature around her. “Just…want…”
Shawn kissed her forehead. “Sleep. I’ll see you in the morning, love.”
Two hours later, Shawn was sitting on the edge of the chair in the hospital room. Carolyn was on the bed, curled into a fetal position. Neither of them spoke. Shawn, usually so eager to touch her, to heal and relieve with his good hands, kept still, his fingers curled around each other in his lap. A man in tight-fitting scrubs, with tattoos down past both elbows, walked into the room. Shawn stood. Carolyn didn’t stir.
“I’m Dr. Curtis,” the man said. Shawn extended his hand and the doctor quickly shook it, but his eyes focused on Carolyn in the bed. “How you doing?”
“Been better,” Carolyn said quietly.
“Here’s where we are,” Dr. Curtis said. “You’re running a fever, but the blood work shows no real signs of infection. I’ll be honest, I don’t like it. So, I’d like to get you in for a CT scan of that belly. See what’s going on. Okay?”
“Do you have any idea what’s-“ Carolyn started. The doctor stopped her.
“I really wouldn’t want to guess until we know more. Can I get you anything?”
Shawn looked at Carolyn. She waved them both off with her hand.
“All right. I’ll be back,” the doctor said and he left the room.
Shawn paced back and forth across the small room. He turned quickly, sending a bin of tongue depressors and long cotton swabs onto the floor. The echo of the metal crashed reverberated in the small room.
“Please sit down,” she said.
He knelt down to gather up the scattered debris. He looked to the trash, and looked at the bin on the wheeled-cart, but her wasn’t sure where to put his handful. Frustrated, he dropped them all on the counter next to the sink. From the bed, Carolyn shifted her hips and released a muffled groan. Shawn left his pile and sat next to her on the bed. She grabbed his hand.
“We’ll figure it out. Figure it all out,” he said. He loosened his hand from hers and then took her hand in both of his. He cradled it like an egg. Supporting her hand in his, he massaged her wrist; circles of light pressure then a firm downward force with his thumb. He slowly moved his hands up her arm, then to her shoulder. Her breathing slowed. The tightness and the tension in her face relaxed by a degree. He moved his hand to the side of her ribs. Not reaching for her breasts; this was a healing touch, not a sexual one. He curved his hand into the space between her ribs and her waist, and then back to her rib. He gave firm pressure to a tip of a middle rib.
“This should help,” he whispered to her.
“Why does it hurt so much?” she said. “There’s something wrong. Something really wrong. I’m scared.”
“Shh. Don’t talk like that. We’ll find out what this is. Have you right as rain. You’ll see.”
The end of a gurney pushed into the room with a clank or metal and the squeak of old wheels.
“Carolyn Janus? Birthday 07/22/1988?” the woman in bleached-white scrubs pushing the gurney asked.
“Ok. We’re going upstairs to CT.”
“Should I…?” Shawn asked.
“No. You stay here. I’ll keep her safe. I promise.” The woman helped Carolyn shift from the bed to the gurney. Carolyn bit her lip and stifled a moan. The woman slammed the side rail of the gurney up into place.
“Get her right back to you,” the woman said, backing the gurney out of the room.
Out in the hall, the woman smiled as she pushed the patient on her stretcher. Carolyn could barely see the woman who was moving her down the hall. She looked above her at the woman in white. There was a tag hung around her neck. There were bright red letters, but the name that was stamped in the middle under a picture kept blurring out of focus.
“Remember me?” she asked.
Carolyn couldn’t think. It was the woman. From the bar. Pam. That was it. Nun’s name. With the drink. And the phone.
“Don’t worry, honey,” Pam said. “Like I told him. I’ll keep you safe. Both of you.”
Her head pounded. It hurt so much. Carolyn stood against the window of the hospital room and leaned her head against the pane. She wished for winter, but the glass was warm.
“Why can’t we just leave? she asked. It wasn’t the first time she had said that in the last hour. This time no one was there to hear. Shawn had gone to get her an herbal tea. She hated herbal tea–in this moment, more than usual. She wanted a glass of white wine so cold that glass had frost. No. Not a glass of white wine. She wanted a bottle. And she couldn’t remember a time in her life when she had ever wanted white wine.
A nurse came in the room, pushing a computer on a wheeled-stand. At least Carolyn guessed she was a nurse. The woman in the navy scrubs never said.
“Marilyn?” the woman asked.
“Oh,” the woman said, starring into the computer screen. “Were you in a different room?”
Carolyn shook her head. Jesus. She would seriously kick this computer and its pusher down a flight of stairs for that wine.
“This place,” the maybe-nurse said, sighing and taking a huge slug out of travel mug that sat on the small ledge wrapped around the front of the monitor. The mug was orange and as big as the computer screen. The woman slurped down the coffee as she clicked, somehow all while staring out the room’s window. “Oh, no, here it is. Ok. Doctor signed off on your discharge. Go ahead and change and I’ll print out your papers.”
“Is anybody going to tell me what’s wrong?”
“He didn’t come talk to you?”
“No,” Carolyn said.
The woman sighed louder and swallowed another mouthful from her mug. “There is it. Follow up visit in two weeks. Number will be on the papers.”
“But-” Carolyn growled.
“If there was anything, it would be in here. But it’s not. So, I’m sure you’re fine.”
“Sure. Cause I feel fucking fine.”
“Your papers will be at the desk,” the woman said, pushing her computer out of the room.
Carolyn flung up her middle finger at the empty doorway. She yanked off the hospital gown, and walked over to the tiny plastic closet in the corner, wearing only her underwear. The elastic band adhered to the sweat on her back.
Shawn stepped into the doorway, holding her tea and wearing an eager, sympathetic smile.
“What did they say?” he asked.
The steam rose through the hole on the plastic cover of the drink. She imagined the liquid melting the cup, distorting it around Shawn’s hand. Hotter, and hotter and hotter, until the tea dissolved every molecule it touched, until there was redness, and pain and…
“Bloody hell,” Shawn yelled. He dropped the cup on the floor and the tea pooled by his feet, hot vapor rising like a mist. He stepped back and reflexively brought his hand to his mouth to cool it. “Don’t know why they serve it like that.”
He grabbed a handful of paper towel and bent to clean the mess.
“Leave it,” Carolyn said.
“No, I can’t. I’ve made a wreck of the place. Someone could fall or-“
“Take me home,” Carolyn said. “Now.”
(Alyssa Herron is the author of the new suspense novel Drowning Above Water. It is available at Amazon.)