I breathe slowly; I don’t want the bad lady to catch me. I am frightened of her. She yelled at me this morning, and I didn’t like it. This time, I have hidden under the bed, hoping they won’t see me, that they will just go and leave me here. Alone.
My name is Edmund. I woke up this morning to be told that I had just been in a terrible car crash in which both of my parents had died. I didn’t cry, I couldn’t cry for someone I couldn’t remember. Even now, I try really hard to feel something for them, but I can’t.
The nice lady had said that I had amnesia, which she explained to me patiently. It is a medical condition in which due to an accident, traumatic experience or something like that, you forget everything.
I know she must have said the truth because I don’t remember anything. I only know that my name is Edmund Osbourne William, and that I am ten years old, and come from Manchester, England. Or that’s what the good nurse told me.
I like the good nurse. She came back again, just a while ago, to give me clean clothes and some cleansing supplies. I understood when I saw myself in the mirror, with my scruffy hair, dirty cheeks, and wrinkled clothes. When I came out, the good nurse said I looked very dashing, but the bad nurse cut her off before she could say anything else. Her withering glare before leaving sent me straight where I am now, under the bed…
Even now, as I hear their footsteps fading away, I can’t relax. The bad nurse might come back, so I’d rather not move.
It’s really dark under the bed. The slimy floor is full of dust and there is eerie writing on the bedspring escape, break free. It gives me goose bumps. Idiot the person who did that, I hate him, I don’t want to be where he was.
I scurry out and hide under the warm duvet. I can see the daylight from here. Clutching the covers is like touching mummy’s hair. Did I like touching my mum’s hair? I don’t know, but it feels good now… I am never coming out!
The door opens, and I first peek and then rush out. It’s the good nurse. I hug her. She smells good, familiar.
“Where were you?” I notice my accusatory tone as I mumble.
“I am sorry I took so long. I just couldn’t find the things we needed.”
“I was worried.” I look downwards as I speak.
“Ohhh, puppet, don’t worry. If something happened to me, I would immediately call you for help. You would get someone to help us for sure. Let’s see, who could that be? Maybe the National Emergency Number. I always have their number in the office by the phone, just in case.”
“Yes, that makes sense.” My hair gets out of place as I nod strongly. We have a plan just in case. I like that.
“Anyway, why were you hiding sweetheart?” She asks with a warm and contagious smile.
“I was scared,” I say pretending to look out the window.
“Why where you scared?” She surrounds me with her protecting arm. Maybe a bit too tight, but I don’t mind. She is on my side.
“I was scared of under the bed.”
“Oh! Don’t be scared. There is nothing down there.” She doesn’t look, so I don’t believe her. “I know what we can do, why don’t I bring some paper and colours so you can draw?” I clap my hands in joy. Anything the good nurse suggests must be fun!
She laughs, and gets up.
“I’ll be back in a second.” I know somehow she means it. She really won’t take long.
Alone, I get bored. It is the typical hospital room, dull and solitary, with nothing to do. An old TV set hangs from the ceiling, but the remote is nowhere in eyesight. There is a window to my left, with a view to the world below. Unfortunately, I can’t wave hi to the good nurse sprinting through the garden because it is sealed shut. I lie back on the stiff bed and stare dejectedly at the ceiling, not even the sound of a passing car to distract myself.
The creak of the door announces her. She has brought colours, glue, scissors, paper… Even glitter! But I don’t see a blue felt tip. How disappointing, I was expecting it. Blue is my favourite colour.
“Told you I wouldn’t take long.”
She sits next to me, and together we start drawing pictures, and cutting out shapes. The good nurse even teaches me how to do a snowflake! She says, at Christmas, this room is going to look so good Santa will never want to leave!
I’m having such a good time, that I almost forget where I am till the door slams open making us jump.
“Janice, I need your help with a patient” the bad nurse barks.
“Okay I’ll… I’ll be there in a second” the good nurse stammers while thrusting everything into a folder she has brought.
“Do you really have to go?” I whine grabbing her wrist.
“Why don’t you sign this so I know it’s yours?” I nod eagerly, and use her felt tip to write my name on the folder.
“I remember how to write my name!” I gasp, and drop her felt tip under the bed.
“I’ll be back soon.” She does not notice what just happened. She is already rushing out, without looking.
“You! Be a good boy!” The bad nurse says it staring at me closely, and I notice my eyes getting wet. Her garlic breath is unbearable. As soon as she leaves, I go to my safe place.
This time, the memory of the darkness and weird writing returns with a vengeance and without thinking, I run out of the room to get the good nurse. But she is nowhere to be seen.
I am alone in a long corridor. Its worn out magnolia walls are scraped in too many places probably from the trolleys that bump into them. Poor maintenance or lazy staff I guess, because no one is around to help me. The pictures on the walls are faded infantile prints like the ones in the old black and white movies mummy liked … mummy liked movies?
I get distracted. At the end of the corridor the bright colour of the exit doors catches my attention. She is likely behind them, but before I can cross them footsteps stop me. If they find me out of my room, they will punish me for sure.
Fortune is on my side as the nearest room is empty.
“When will we give James’ son the next dose?” The bad nurse’s voice makes me shiver.
“This evening, with dinner.” She is talking to the good nurse. “We don’t want to take any more risks, leaving the window open almost meant his escape. Thankfully, we stopped him before he could jeopardize everything.”
“Definitely. The rage in his eyes when he looked at you … It was surreal. It was a miracle he didn’t hurt you.” The bad nurse sounds baffled.
The double doors banged shut, their voices fade away. I wait. And I wait for a few more instants. Finally, I hold my breath, and without looking I run back to my room.
The good nurse is at risk. I have to protect her. The good nurse said so. It seems there is only one thing to do, and she did not dare to ask me to call the Emergency Number. Probably she was concerned about me. She mustn’t know of my mission, for she doesn’t like me doing risky things.
I slowly drag myself off the bed again, and cautiously walk out of the room toward the red doors. I hold my breath, and dash through them with my eyes closed. What I find doesn’t surprise me.
Warn out walls, faded pictures, and this time, a bright red sign hanging on the navy-blue door: personnel only sign. I don’t care about limits when it comes to the good nurse.
I swing the door open. Old black and white photographs of hospital staff on the dirty magnolia walls. Most likely they are now deceased or rocking their nineties in some retirement home, but one knocks me off my socks. In the middle, in between a man and his wife, and with two small girls to his right, there is a boy like me. I mean, almost exactly the same as me when I saw myself in the mirror. Only that the boy looks older than me with curlier hair. Not to mention he is more in shape.
I start looking in the cabinets’ drawers. Nothing. I look around and notice a round table. There are only a few papers in here. But they are all about me.
I pick up one of the papers and I read every word twice, before skimming through the rest of the papers and simply run out with them. The Emergency Number doesn’t matter any more.
The corridor is cold, and threatening, and the need to hide too strong. I find myself getting into one of the patient rooms, rushing under the bed. I’m not worried that its patient might rat me out, because now I know there are no other patients in this hospital. Only me.
Suddenly, this darkness is welcome, it’s safe. So they’re alive… They’re alive! They were looking for me. After three years, my parents were still looking for me! I try remembering them, but there is only blackness. Why would anyone do this to me?
And the good nurse not being good after all… My cheeks burning. At least the bad nurse was bad.
I toss and turn, cramped under the old bed. A sudden but useless realization stops me frozen. So I am James’ son and the “dose” is for forgetting!
Unfortunately, darkness is not blinding down here. My eyes stubborn, can’t avoid reading some of the news I took. It says I had disappeared after wondering off on a family trip, never to be seen again. The article was written a year after my disappearance, but I saw more in that drawer, the most recent being a couple of months ago. The article also included a contact telephone number.
I hear someone running in the corridor. They must have already realised I am not in my room. My fists close, my heart is bumping in my head. I sniffle, and stop crying before deciding what to do. I inhale and exhale slowly, accepting what’s to come.
When I am sure they aren’t near, I step out, and start walking. I don’t run as it could give me away. I walk as slowly as possible, and it hurts.
I basically stroll in pain to the fire exit. I don’t know how far they are from where I am. If they entered the staircase I’d be trapped.
I peek at the bottom of the stairs, no one. I step down nearly tiptoeing. At the bottom of the stairs, trembling, I push open the steel doors that reveal the lobby.
The door to the outside is closer than I’d have dared to dream. As I approach it, my heart thumps so loud I almost need to cover my ears. The sweat drops stubbornly down my forehead as I continue to stop myself from running.
I want my mummy and daddy. They are a blur, but that’s more than what I had before.. The sweat gets in my eye. It is itchy, and it bothers me. This all bothers me. And I run. The last thing I should have done, but I remember my mother’s laugh.
I am touching the handle, when I hear their footsteps. It is too late to hide, the only way out, is out.
“There he is!” The bad nurse shouts.
I turn the handle and run into the garden. They’re already catching up, though I still try. I try running faster, my legs aching, my voice screaming at my fate.
“Let me go!” I try to break free even though it is of no use.
“Sorry kid, no can do” answers the bad nurse. “The longer you’re here the better.”
“Because if you never appear then, she— ” the ugly nurse points at the false good nurse with a bitter smile— “will inherit the whole fortune.”
We start our walk back to the hospital, and she does not stop talking. She enjoys it.
“When your grandfather died, he left some money and a couple of properties to your aunt and me, including this hospital. But of course, your father was his favourite, so he left most of his fortune to him. Once your father dies, all the money goes to you. But if you disappear, your mother can’t get the money since she didn’t want to carry the family name. The money will go to my sister here. But of course, you have to have disappeared for a number of years before your daddy declares you dead. So, here we are.” The bad nurse is having the time of her life.
“You aren’t dead yet, because your other aunt here, prefers to do it slowly, for your daddy to pay. So when he is at his lowest… He will have his last breath. You will follow soon afterwards; the sedative slowly accumulating should eventually kill you.”
I can’t even wail as the good nurse pushes me into the room, and forces me to sit on the chair. I try to escape, but the bad nurse holds me. I can see my aunt with a syringe.
“No!” I sink my nails so deep into the bad nurse’s skin that she screams and lets me go. I go straight under the bed, where I will be safe.
Only I am not.
The good nurse’s arm stretches under the bed, and I start wailing.
“Shut up! You, idiotic child!” she snaps, but I keep wailing at the top of my lungs, dodging her arm every time it gets too near, until I corner myself. The bad nurse kneels to help her. Then, I smile.
I finally remember mum and dad. I promise myself that maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but that someday, I will meet them again.
And as I see the good nurse’s hand with the syringe, the last piece of the puzzle fits. The eerie writing was mine, and the blue felt pen is where I left it with the good nurse’s by its side, in the corner. As I feel her arm clutching my leg, I write “603-586-0932.” Mum and dad’s phone number from the paper. My body failing; my mind getting blurrier by the second, I scribble, “She is not good!
Malena Bertrand was born in Cincinnati, but soon moved to Spain. As a toddler, she loved memorizing her favorite stories. Soon she started devouring books, and eventually writing her own stories. At ten, she was runner up in the COBIS Student poetry competition; at eleven, she was part of an e-book anthology of short stories curated by Dee White. Her most recent achievement is her first paper publication in Stinkwaves. When Malena is not writing, she loves practicing piano, reading and singing in the shower!