by Duke Stone
A man faces the very fears he tried to deny. This one is a bit controversial so be warned.
|Making his way up the marble stairs he steeled himself for the moment to come. Drawing near the glass doors that innocently announced this as Greenville General. His mind whirled, considering the irony of it all. He hated hospitals,It was a phobia that had been with him since early childhood. Perhaps it was being taken with his father to visit the sick and dying that caused him to associate the sights, sounds and smells with death. A small boy ignored in a corner as his father prayed for those that lay trapped in the bed. The secret whispers in the halls as the family relayed news too disturbing to tell the patient. The harsh white of the corridors, the antiseptic sting in the air, even the smooth marble of the floors serving to remind him trigger a deep seated sense of dread. The building was like a giant succubus draining his very soul. Jonathon smiled at the thought, for he had relinquished any belief in the existenceof a soul long ago.
More than once he had been teased as a med student for his seeming phobia of hospitals but he endured. He had known from the beginning that he would rarely visit hospitals. Just another perk to the job in his chosen field was his way of thinking.
His staff knew very well to keep the odor from escaping the treatment rooms. Reaching the elevators at last, he struggled to fight down the waves of nausea. Holding a handkerchief over his face as he moved through the seemingly endless building. In a desperate efoort to distract himself ,he allowed his mind to wander to the purpose of his visit today. Only a few people in his life were important enough to force him into one of these places. Eyes wide with mounting terror he pushed on as with every step he listened for the moans.
The oaken door opened silently and his eyes widened at the sight before him. The frail body lay curled on the bed with tubes running from her. She seemed so peaceful lying there. An insect wrapped in its cocoon, or a fetus still in the womb. So peaceful he thought, perhaps it would be better if she never woke up. Perhaps it would be better if she just drifted off into nothingness and left this life behind. No pain and no sorrow. Taking a step toward the bed he raised his hand and watched it shake slightly. Another step brought him beside her, his hands wrapping around the IV and feeding tubes. Just one quick tug he thought and she can leave this world without pain.
“No Jonny, That’s not for you to decide. I’ll be gone soon enough and it’s not for you to mark my days upon this earth.” The voice that spoke to him from the cocoon was surprisingly strong.
“I’m s-sorry, Gramma. I just can’t stand to see you hurting so.”
“I know Jonny, but it’s the way it was intended to be. This is not the ending. I of all people should know.”
Jonathon squirmed as she talked. She knew he hated being called Jonny and she also knew he hated her reading his mind but then Gramma hadn’t really concerned herself with such trivialities before so why should he expect her to start now? In spite of all of her irritating little ways he loved her with all his heart. She was a kind and wonderful woman who always worried and fussed over him, even if some of her thoughts were outdated and she started slipping into senility early. Jonathon allowed himself a rueful smile at that thought. After all, no one can talk to the dead. They don’t exist. Gramma had always insisted though that they not only existed but that she could communicate with them. That they spoke to her and were all around us if we could just see, the ones with unfinished business on this plane. Jonathon for his part would pat her hand and smile, humoring her until she turned to more reasonable subjects for he discovered early on it was the one point upon which he could never argue with her.
“Yes, Howard I know, I just wish there was something more I could do to prepare him.” Jonathan was startled from his reverie as his grandmother seemed to focus on someone at the foot of the bed. She was talking in a strong voice to her husband who had passed so many years before. Jonathan could barely recall vague images of big hands and the smell of pipe tobacco.
“It’s ok Gramma, I know you think Gramps is here but there’s just you and me. Shh ... shh ... just rest.” He patted her hand as he spoke to her.
“Don’t patronize me Jonny! Time is too short for me to sugar coat things, I have to try and make you see! Listen to me and listen good! The gift that I’ve always tried to prepare you for and which you continue to deny will soon be yours! I would ask that you use it to help others but I’m afraid it’s too late for that. You must prepare yourself for a gift that will likely become a curse. You have many lives on your hands Jonathan. Many souls will ask for a reason. I pray you can survive long enough to find that reason.” She fell backwards in the bed exhausted.
“I’m ready Howard. This world holds nothing for me now.” A sigh escaped her lips and before his eyes the very life slipped away, her fragile body going limp.
For a second Jonathon could feel her hovering over him, smiling down at him and then the world exploded inside his head. A thousand screams coming from everywhere, surrounding him, a tidal wave of agony washing over him. With an anguished scream his world went black.
“Doctor? Doctor Evans? Are you alright?” He heard the voice calling to him from a distance, his eyelids heavy as he tried to open them. Suddenly his world was filled with light once more. His vision wavered and then came into focus. He smiled as he saw the pretty nurse he had spoken to earlier standing over him, her face showing obvious concern. His eyes flicked to her name tag from ingrained conditioning.
“I, I think so, Nurse Randall. How’s my grandmother? The last thing I remember is her going into distress then I... I... well, blacked out I guess.”
Grabbing hold of the plastic chair by the bedside Jonathon pulled himself up. He looked over at the nurse, who had fallen silent, and could tell what was coming next. Her emotions played across her face changing, from relief to regret and perhaps even grief. Not that it had really been necessary for he had known the answer from the time he had awaken.
“I ... I really wish ... She’s dead Dr. Evans. She just stopped breathing and since she has a DNR* in place there wasn’t anything else we could do.”
“It’s alright. She’s been suffering for a long time now. The cancer was eating at her slowly and there wasn’t any way to stop it. She was ready to rest, Ready to join her husband. Now her pain is over. I wish I was as sure as she had been about what lies beyond death.”
Moving closer to the bed he reached out a hand and gently touched her hand.
“Oh, Gramma.” He sobbed and felt his eyes widen as suddenly she was there, beside him staring down at the frail shell she had just left. A tall man with slightly graying hair stood beside her, holding her close.
“You’re about to learn how real the other side is Jonny and I only pray that my gift doesn’t become your curse. Balance the scales, Jonny, balance the scales.” She leaned forward to kiss him and Jonathon felt a slight breeze blow across his cheek and they were gone. His eyes fell once more to the lifeless shell lying in the bed and he felt a chill run along his spine.
“Dr. Evans?” He heard the nurse’s concerned voice drifting into his thoughts once more.
“Sorry, I guess I’m still in shock.” He gave her a small, shaky grin. “I’ll let my father know he needs to make arrangements.”
The phone call to his father was brief and bitter.
“Rev. Bob Evans. Can I help you?” Jonathon heard the gruff voice on the other end and he felt a multitude of feelings wash over him. As a small child he had worshiped his father but as he grew he felt ever more constrained by his strict ways. Bob Evans was one of those rare preachers who practiced what he preached and the tight rules of a fundamentalist Baptist galled against a teen looking for fun and adventure. His father had hoped that going away to medical school would mature the wild young teen and in ways it had for he returned with a lovely new wife and looking to settle into a practice. The real trouble with his father began shortly after his mother’s funeral.
Jonathon informed him that he was going to open an abortion clinic in nearby Greenville and that had sent the old man into a frothing dither. Couldn’t they see that it just made good sense? It would allow him to maintain a profitable practice without being bothered by emergency calls all night and without having to spend time serving in the local hospitals. Jonathon hated hospitals. None of this seemed to matter to Bob though, he just kept yelling that it was an abomination and that the blood of those children would weigh heavy on a soul that Jonathon had doubts even existed.
His grandmother also had tried to change his mind but she loved him too much to let him become estranged as his father had.
“Well can I help you?” He heard his father’s voice asking and realized that he had drifted into a reverie.
“Dad, it’s me. Gramma just died. I’m here at the hospital.” Jonathon knew that his voice sounded shaky even as he spoke.
“We all knew it was just a matter of time. I’ll take care of all the details. She was a fine woman for all of her flaky beliefs and I came to love her as if she had been my mother instead of Betty’s. I’ll take care of it all and just be grateful that this one death you won’t have to answer for.” The mans voice had been harsh and brittle like broken glass crunching underfoot and he found no words of comfort for his son. Jonathon heard the phone slam down, then the buzzing of an open line in his ears. He stood clutching the phone tightly as scalding tears ran down his face.
The conversation was still haunting him as he turned in the drive to his house. He swallowed hard, trying to clear the taste of bitterness that his father’s wrath had left in his mouth. Absently his key turned in the lock and he stepped inside his ranch style home.
“Daddy!” The chorus of gleeful cries reached his ears, filling him and drowning out the shattering events of the day. No sweeter, more beautiful sound was ever heard than those precious children on that day. The pounding of tiny feet warned him of the onslaught to come and he braced himself for the tiny furies. Squeals, shrieks and laughter surrounded him, drawing him into their world as the little bundle of curls leaped into his arms and he tossed her into the air, snagging her and pulling her tight against his chest.
“Again!” She yelled as he reached down and tousled the golden brown hair of the skinny seven years old by his leg.
“Hiya, sport.” A loving smile dancing across his face as he looked with pride at the beaming face of the small boy. As he took in the grinning snaggle-toothed little girl he held in his arms, Jonathon was grateful that there was still someone who thought he could do no wrong.
“Where’s your mother?” He asked the tikes as the days events rushed in once more. Jonathan had to talk to Helene, had to tell someone who would, if not understand, at least sympathize with him. His ears picked up the faint sounds of her foot falls on the steps and he turned toward the basement door. Even lugging a large laundry basket she was the epitome of beauty. She had taken his breath away when he had first seen her in his Sophomore year at Emory University and he hadn’t recovered it since.
“What’s wrong? Why are you home so early in the day?” Jonathon heard the genuine concern in her voice and he crumbled.
“Helene, I . . . It’s Gramma. She . . . ” And he could get no further. Helene moved to his side and took the little girl from his arms and stood her on the floor.
“Run, play” She told the two children as she helped Jonathon into the kitchen. He was sobbing uncontrollably and Helene knew that Gramma had passed away. She held him tight as he cried, letting him release his grief.
“Shhh . . . Shhh . . . it’s ok. She’s not hurting anymore. Gramma’s at rest. She had no fear of dying Jonathon. She looked forward to it.”
“But she, she spoke to me after she died.” Jonathon managed to blurt out at last.
“Now honey, it’s the stress that’s all. You know she just made that up. Nobody can really see the dead.” Helene just held him as the tears continued to fall and Jonathon Evans began to wonder if he was losing his mind.
The next few days were a blur as friends and family came by to offer condolences. Then came the day of the funeral. He entered the funeral home with mixed feelings of anticipation and fear. Since her bedside visit Jonathon found that sleep eluded him. Sleeping pills didn’t even touch the anxiety he was experiencing and so he waited, his exhausted mind expecting to see her. His eyes kept sweeping the room like a paranoid who needed medication and Helene looked at him with concern as he shifted in his seat as if he would bolt from the room at any second.
She was really worried about him and had even tried to speak to his father about his strange behavior. The old man had brushed it off. He said it was only an overactive imagination. That Jonathon’s problem was that of a man with too much guilt on his soul. Then again when she thought about it that could be exactly what it was. He had disappointed his Gramma greatly when he had become an abortionist.
Helene helped him to his feet and guided him as he approached the coffin with stumbling, unsure steps. He leaned over and looked at the serene face of his grandmother and braced himself for another visit as he lightly touched her cheek with his fingertips. The skin felt waxy and cold. The chill of death, he thought and felt a sympathetic one race through him. An audible sigh escaped his lips as nothing happened and he whispered softly,
“Goodbye Gramma” then turned and staggered out of the home, Helene steadying him as he blindly made his way to the car.
“Wake up sleepyhead. You’re going to be late your first day back.” Helene’s unbearably cheerful tones cut through his sleep induced haze. Bringing him reluctantly back to cold reality. It had been two weeks since the funeral and Jonathon had yet to make his way back to the office. Last night Helene had finally grown weary of hinting that he needed to return to work and had just told Jonathon it was time. They had argued for a long while about his reluctance to return but he had given in at last and so this was to be his first morning back at the clinic that bore his name. Jonathon remembered it all distinctly and wished he didn’t. He wanted to roll over and pretend it wasn’t happening.
“Look Jonathon,” Helene‘s voice took on a hard edge as she pulled off the covers. “You have to go back to the clinic sometime. You own the place for God’s sake. Now get up. Your breakfast will get cold before you finish dressing.”
Moving with all the speed of a death row inmate preparing to walk that final mile, Jonathon dressed and left for work.
The building loomed before him like a tombstone and he fought to shake off the sense of foreboding that had settled over him as he grabbed his briefcase and stepped out into the oddly out of place sunshine. The day was warm and bright, as cheerful as a Disney movie but none of it penetrated the cloud of gloom that hung over Jonathon as he moved up the sidewalk.
“Turn back!” A deep baritone voice boomed at him. It wasn’t a shout, not exactly, but it was loud and held the unmistakable tone of authority in it.
Jonathon’s eyes swept the scene before him and he saw a tall, gaunt figure with burning intense eyes emerging from behind a parked car.
“You must turn back Jonathon, if you value your life and your soul, turn back.”
Jonathon’s hand shot toward his coat pocket as the man drew nearer trying to get at the stun gun he had bought several months before after being roughed up by a couple of pro-lifers as he was leaving the clinic. Ever since he had carried the thing in his coat pocket almost afraid to touch it but determined to fight back if it happened again. As his hand and the stun gun cleared his pocket, he felt an iron band close around his wrist grinding the bones together painfully. With a yelp of pain he dropped the stun gun and stood looking up into the gaunt man’s face which was set in an almost accusing cast.
“Easy Jonathon, I’m not here to hurt you. I was told to deliver a message and so I’ve come. Never enter that clinic ever again. You have a lot of souls laid to your account but that was before. You’re different now Jonathon, things are different now. You see as others do not, know as others cannot. If you continue your old path of destruction instead of atoning you will be damned. Your family won’t be safe around you, no one will. You will fall to the lowest of the low before you balance the scales. Do not enter that foul charnel house again.” The man slung Jonathon’s wrist from him as if it was somehow diseased and turned to leave.
“Who are you? What the hell is going on here?” Jonathon yelled, stopping the man in his tracks. The man turned back to Jonathon and pulled a card from his coat.
“My name is Morticah Woods. If you need someone to talk to call this number.” Jonathon’s eyes fell to the card. ‘Ace Plumbing 555-6793' and looked at Morticah questioningly.
“It’s on the back. I don’t think you can turn away but if you do then call me I’ll explain your gift, help you as much as I’m able.” Without another word the tall man turned and walked away, disappearing around the corner in a few quick strides.
Jonathon felt fear and bewilderment as he made his way into the office but he was even more determined to prove quacks like Morticah wrong. His profession was no different from a podiatrist or a brain surgeon for that matter. He was simply providing a health care service for those who wanted it.
“Good morning, Dr. Evans. Nice to have you back.” His receptionist said smiling at him as he entered the familiar office. Sliding off his coat he began to feel more at ease as the routine of work settled in and nothing bizarre happened.
“Jonathon?” Rachel Weis, his long time nurse popped her head around the door of his office. “If you’re ready to get back to work, we have a young woman in her late teens needing a procedure. All the other Doctors are busy so I thought maybe rather than her waiting . . . ”
“Sure thing, Rachel. Prep her and I”ll be there in about fifteen minutes he answered absently as he struggled to catch up on all the reviews that had piled up in his absence.
Jonathon stepped into the treatment room and looked up from the chart to see a blonde haired sweetheart. Her lips were trembling as she tried to smile.
“Hi there Cathy. You feeling well today? The nurse took some blood samples and other tests which we should get back soon. If everything looks to be in order we’ll start in just a few minutes, in the mean time just try and relax and not think about it. I promise that it’s not really painful and it’ll be over quick. So you’re in your second trimester? That’s cutting it close to the legal limit. We’ll try to get you taken care of today so that we won’t have to worry about waiting any more.” Jonathan set about having everything ready as he waited and soon the door opened and he looked up at Rachel who merely nodded and Jonathon returned to his patient, smiling.
“Okay Cathy, it looks as if everything is in order. If you’ll lean back Rachel here will help you get comfortable and we’ll begin.” Jonathon moved to the end of the table and selected a tool made just for this procedure. It looked similar to long-handled forceps and with the ease of long practice he worked the slender object into her womb. He smiled reassuringly at the young girl.
“It’s ok. We’re almost done.” Then turned his attention back to the job at hand. He felt the resistance of the fetus and opened the ends closing them together again in a scissoring motion.
An intense burst of light shot from the woman’s body, striking him in the face. His world turned inside out as he screamed incoherently and tumbled to the floor.
“Dr. Evans? Jonathon?” He heard Rachel’s voice filtering in from a distant dream and knew instinctively what had happened. He groaned. He was getting really tired of passing out. Perhaps, he decided he should see his own Doctor for a check up to find out what was causing it.
“Jonathon are you alright?”
“ Yes, what about Cathy? I didn’t hurt her when I fell did I?”
“No, no she’s fine just shaken by watching her doctor fall in the floor like he’d been pole axed.”
“Rachel, I’m going to see my doctor, see if he can make any sense of these spells because that one certainly wasn’t triggered by Gramma’s death.” Call Helene for me and let her know I’m headed home.” Jonathon grabbed his coat and fumbled for his keys as he staggered to the parking lot.
The grey Lexus waiting on him was his pride and joy but he didn’t even register turning the ignition as his mind replayed the events in the office. He had seen a bright, blinding light streak from the girl’s body just as he performed the abortion and he wondered if he was losing his mind. Too many of Gramma’s ghost stories he decided as he raced along streets that were designed for much slower traffic. Without even realizing it he was taking curves posted at 35 at 60-70 miles per hour.
Suddenly a young boy of about seven dashed out in front of him and Jonathon screamed as he fought the heavy car. Brakes squalled as he struggled futilely to halt the juggernaut then he heard the sickening crash. He felt the small body smack the car and then the sickening lurch as it was pulled under the frame. As the car at last skidded to a stop, Jonathon jumped from behind the wheel and raced back to the still and bloody form of the young child.
He rolled him over and stared into the lifeless face and realized that his world had ended. As he struggled to locate his cell phone, he looked once more into the face of the dead boy. Tears of guilt and regret streamed down his face as he stared at the small, bloodied body in his arms. His eyes widened as the child twitched then the boy’s hand shot to his face.
“You killed me! You killed me!” The child shrieked and then it lunged toward Jonathon tossing him backwards.
When Jonathon looked up the body was gone and his car was sitting where he had left it with the door open but not a single trace of blood on it. He knew that he didn’t dare climb behind the wheel again. Knew that he didn’t dare go home. Something awful was happening to him and he wouldn’t bring his family into his misery. His children would suffer enough when they found out that he was mad.
He sat down on the sidewalk struggling to clear his mind. He had never needed a shrink, a psychiatrist before but he sure needed one now. How the hell would he get there? How would he explain it all to Helene? Then he heard laughter and looked up to see two kids playing as they moved toward him. Jonathan cried out in alarm, his hands shooting to his face but they just gawked at him as they strolled by. Tears streaking his face, Jonathon rose and simply staggered off.
The gaunt scarecrow shambled down the street riffling garbage cans as he desperately searched for something, anything to quell the gnawing hunger that threatened to consume him. Pulling a half-eaten burger from amongst the garbage and falling upon it with ravenous glee. His lips smacking in exaggerated pleasure the bum’s face suddenly distorted in anguish.
“Get out of my head! Get the hell out of my head!” He grabbed at his head pulling clumps of hair out in a blind fit of fury and pain. “Please God! Please make them stop!” He screamed to a God that he had never been sure existed.
“You know what must be done Jonathon, you know. The scales must be balanced.” The voices filled his head and he staggered back against the wall of the brownstone as he struggled to shut them out. A dull clank reached his ears as he slid down the rough surface and sat heavily on the icy sidewalk. Reminding him of the bottle that was nestled in his pocket. He pulled out the nearly empty bottle of Mad Dog and sat staring at the clear liquid. His eyes fought to bring the hazy image into focus and when he did at last he saw that only a shot or two remained. Perhaps an inch or so in the bottom, but it would be enough. How he prayed, it would be enough.
With trembling hands he opened the cap and raised it to his lips. Cutting his lips as they collided with the bottle’s edge but it was all washed away in a fiery river as the liquid flame seared his mouth and throat and wound its way deep in his bowels. He sat there gasping for breath as his body acclimated to the shock. The whispers started creeping into his ears once again as the pain resided. He screamed and his stomach roiled until he felt the gorge rising in his throat. The vomit flew from his slack mouth as his body was racked by spasms. He sat there sobbing, unaware of the vomit that was running underneath him.
Lurching to his feet, he stumbled into the night. The voices were right. He knew what he had to do.
The lights glared in the darkness as he moved among the bushes like a thief. It seemed a lifetime ago that Dr. Evans had worked in this gleaming building. He had been a different man back then now only boozer John remained. Now he was just a beat down old bum that rambled to thin air. He reached into the front pocket of his pants and pulled out a set of keys he hung onto since his departure.
As he stood looking dazedly around his mind drifted back to the day that crazy right to lifer had shown up on his sidewalk. What was his name? Oh yeah Morticah Woods. At the time he had seemed to be just another insane moron who clung to old fashion values in a modern world. Now however he wondered. Everything the guy had told him was right. The voices, the voices never stop. They demanded justice.
He moved with a resolve he hadn’t felt in his life as he unlocked the rear entrance of the clinic. He breathed a sigh of relief as he punched in his code and the light on the alarm panel changed from red to green. Moving with a speed born of anger and perhaps madness he raced through the place opening all the tanks of flammable chemicals. He poured all of the alcohol onto the beds and dragged the bedding into the floor piling it loosely. Finally ending up back at the rear entrance he moved to a nearby shed and grabbed a can of gasoline that the grounds crew left between visits. Sloshing the gas onto a pile of sheets, he thumbed the disposable lighter he had found a couple of days before and watched in fascination as the flame leapt up into the cold night air. With a jerking motion he tossed the flames onto the heap of cloth and gasoline and ran like hell.
The flames flashed up in the oxygen rich air and singed his back but Jon kept running there was no thought as to why he ran he just ran. He stopped near a pay phone and with a moment of clarity he knew what he had to do. He pulled a ragged card from his pocket and dialed the number on the back.
“Hello?” He heard the deep baritone voice on the other end and he felt his eyes well with tears.
“You were right, God help me, you were right. The voices, the babies, they...He sucked in a ragged breath and continued. They won’t let me rest. The scales must be balanced. I just balanced them! Call the cops! Please! Send them to the clinic but tell me the scales are balanced! Please tell me they’re balanced!” Jonathon was almost hysterical as he begged Morticah for reassurance but he knew that he was only running from the inevitable. That there was only one way to balance these scales.
“Car 24, We have a fire in progress at 324 Willington way. Please check and advise.”
Dammit! Frank thought as he acknowledged the call and turned his unmarked unit around. He had been on his way home from another long night when he got the call. Just what he needed, another four hours’ worth of paperwork. His grumbles and complaints though were soon forgotten as he screeched to a stop at the end of the block. His mouth hanging slack he stood watching the flames leaping high into the night.
“Get the Fire Department here and get them here now! He yelled into the mike and then tossed it back into the car. He moved around the perimeter of the fire looking for something, anything that might be connected to it. His first guess was some rabid right to life group doing a little late night renovation but he wasn’t taking anything for granted.
He didn’t have to look far though for across the road just beyond the pool of light from a street lamp stood a bum and right next to him lay an empty gas can. He stunk of the fumes and his clothes were smoldering in places. Drawing his gun Frank yelled for him to surrender.
“I see you there! Put your hands behind your head. Do it and do it now!”
Jonathon followed Frank’s commands without comment or complaint for it mattered little to him what they did to him. He was just grateful the voices had stopped. But even as the thought entered his head the voices screamed at him again with even more anger. Do you think we are so easily appeased Jonathon? You have shed blood . Burning a building doesn’t atone for spilled blood. Only more blood will atone for spilled blood. You know what must be done Jonathon. The scales must be balanced.
Frank watched with widening eyes as the guy went from totally docile to screaming at nothing. His hands flinging wildy and then his fevered gaze fastened onto Frank and he felt the hairs rise along the back of his neck.
“Don’t do it! I’m warning you! I’ll shoot!” Frank yelled and then his mouth locked into a grim line as he squeezed the Glock’s trigger unleashing four 150 gr. Hydra shoks that quickly found their target tearing deep into Jonathon’s body. The deadly rounds left trails of liquid pain in their wake as they plowed through muscle and tissue.
Frank warily approached the dying man and stepped over him to check his pulse just in time to hear his final words.
“At last, the scales are balanced. The voices are gone, they’re really gon . . . ”
And so Dr. Jonathon Evans learned that there is more to life than money and more to heaven and hell than can be seen by the mortal eye.