Kevin wakes in the hospital...
approximately 2400 words
Kevin woke to the murmur of voices. His head ached, and when he winced, something stiff clenched the right side of his face. He blinked his eyes open to a darkened room. He raised fingers to his cheek, and they met a bandaged numbness. The door to the room stood ajar, and dim light from a hallway leaked around the edges. The too-stiff mattress pushed against his body in unfamiliar ways. Open blinds filtered moonbeams through the windows, making light and shadow march across the sheets. He tried to sit up, but a wave of dizziness and nausea flooded through him and pulled him back to the sheets.
Rails. The bed had rails. He must be in a hospital. An IV tugged at his arm.
Memories seeped back into his mind, murky as if seen through a fog. The mall. The Cineplex. A screaming mob. A heavyset woman. Who was she? Khalid was there too...he had a gun! Prickles raced down Kevin's arms and out his fingertips. What was Khalid doing with a gun?
"No!" The word rasped against his throat.
A sound rustled nearby, and a woman's face loomed over his head. "Are you awake now, sweetie?" Concern pooled in her eyes.
Kevin caught a whiff of magnolia and honey that reminded him of his mother. But this woman's soft and caring voice soothed him, nothing at all like his mother's.
She reached out with a gentle hand and stroked his brow. "You're gonna to be all right. Don't you worry none, Elmira's right here. Your noggin took a thumpin'. You're in the hospital. The docs, they say you're gonna be fine. You just need to rest."
"Elmira?" he croaked. He recognized her plump features and the twang of her voice. He even knew her name. But how? They had met, but he couldn't recall when. Vague memories needled at him but refused to solidify.
"That's my name, sweetie. You remembered. That's good. I told you I'd stay with you, and I did. They tried to send me away, but I wouldn't let them." She leaned down and her lips caressed his brow. "You poor thing. I prayed for you and Jesus answered, praise the Lord."
"Khalid. Where'sh...where's Khalid? He was late." Lead weighed down his tongue and talking scraped his throat raw, as if he'd gargled razor blades. The dull ache in his head throbbed again, and his thoughts slogged through mud. There was something he needed to remember...something important...
"Don't you worry your head, none, sweetie. You just work on gettin' yourself better, you hear?"
He lay back and closed his eyes. "We were at the mall." The mall. That must be where he met Elmira. She held him in her arms after...what? His eyes snapped open. "He was shot! In the head!" An impossible image of Khalid, twisted on the floor in a puddle of dark, thick blood flashed into his memory and snatched his breath away. He clasped her hand. "How is he?" He remembered that congresswoman in Arizona who got shot in the head and survived. Hope surged. "Ish...is he all right? Did they get to him in time?" They had to get to him in time.
"I don't know nothin' 'bout that, hon. Won't do you no good frettin' now, no how."
Footfalls whispered and another voice--masculine--spoke in hushed tones. "How's our patient?"
Elmira's stage whisper did nothing to hide her answer from Kevin. "He just woke up. He remembered my name without me askin'. He wants to know about that Ay-rab guy at the mall."
The newcomer ignored Elmira. "Good to see you're awake, Kevin." He wore scrubs, and a stethoscope hung about his neck. In the dark, Kevin couldn't read his name tag. The man must be a doctor, or maybe a nurse given that it was dark outside and must be after hours. He gripped Kevin's wrist. "Can you hear me?"
Kevin nodded and his head throbbed. "Do you know how Khalid ish...is?" He concentrated on controlling leaden lips. "He was shot at the mall. Is he all right?"
"Sorry, I don't know anything. Maybe he's on another floor. Kevin, my name is Monroe. I'm the night nurse for this floor. How are you feeling?"
"My head hurtsh...hurts." His tongue was stiff as an old shoe and about the same size. "I feel loophy...loopy. Shtupid."
Monroe's matter-of-fact tone reassured him. "The Ativan can do that. Do you remember what day it is?"
"Friday? We were going to the movie on Friday." He licked chapped lips.
"Good. It's still Friday, almost midnight." He pulled what looked like a pen from his pocket. "I need to look in your eyes next. It's going to be bright. Just stare straight ahead, okay?" He peeled back Kevin's right eyelid and a brilliant light left black after-images. A moment later he did the same with the left eye. "That's good. You're pupils are normal." He pointed the light down at the sheets. "Follow the beam."
Kevin blinked against little pools of blindness while he followed the moving circle of light.
The nurse nodded. "Good." He made a note on a clipboard. "How's your head feel?"
"It aches. The right side of my face is numb."
"We gave you some Lidocaine earlier, and we've had an icepack on it to help reduce the swelling. You've got a couple of stitches on your cheek. Nothing major. At your age, you'll heal up without any scars and be as handsome as ever. Give it a few months and the girls will be chasing after you like nothing ever happened."
Kevin frowned. "I'm gay. Khalid'sh my boyfriend."
The nurse nodded. "Well, then, you'll still be as good-looking to him as before. Can you sit up for me?"
"Maybe. Thought I was gonna throw up earlier."
"It's normal to be nauseous. Don't worry; we'll take care of it if you do." He slipped an arm underneath Kevin and levered him to a sitting position on the edge of bed. "Just relax. I want to check your reflexes." He tapped at Kevin's knees, and again at his ankles. "All, right. That's all good, too. Did you have anything to eat or drink before you hit your head?"
"No. I was going to buy bobcorn...popcorn, but Khalid wasn't there yet."
"No alcohol or drugs?"
Kevin shook his head.
He tapped on Kevin's chart with his pen. "I see Dr. de la Cruz consulted earlier tonight with Dr. Brouwer. How's your tummy now? Still nauseous?"
A touch of vertigo made the room spin and Kevin had to replay the nurse's words. "De la Cruz? What wash...was he doing here?"
"You might not remember. The notes say you gave them quite a time in the ER, so Dr. Brouwer prescribed Ativan and Midazolam, which can cause short-term amnesia. Nothing to worry about."
Amnesia. He didn't want to forget, but when he tried to speak a fit of coughing convulsed his throat.
"Let me get you some water." Monroe filled a cup from the pitcher on the nightstand, and Kevin sucked from the straw. "Not too fast, and not too much. That's a good fellow."
Kevin licked his lips. "Thanks." He frowned and cleared phlegm from his throat. "I need to find out about Khalid. I need to know he'sh...he's all right." That horrible memory of Khalid in a pool of blood foamed in his memory again. Somehow, though, the image was distant, as if seen by looking through the wrong end of a telescope. Khalid must be okay; otherwise, they'd tell him, right?
The nurse inspected his IV. "You're worried about him, aren't you?"
Kevin nodded and the room swirled.
"Tell you what. It's late, and everything's closed down for the night. You won't be able to find anything out until morning. I'll give you another Ativan which will help you relax. Maybe you'll even go back to sleep. The doctor's rounds are early tomorrow, before ten. She might discharge you tomorrow. In any case, there will be people who can help you track down your friend."
The ache throbbed again deep inside Kevin's skull and he rubbed his brow.
"Does your head still hurt?" The nurse flipped through his chart. "The doctor left orders for Ibuprofen, too, if you need it. Would you like some?"
"Yes, pleash...please. Thank you."
"I'll be right back." The nurse bustled away and Elmira followed him into the hallway.
A shadowy figure joined them, and more stage whispers ensued, but this time Kevin could only pick up bits and pieces of indistinct voices. Miyamoto. De la Cruz. Kayla. Kayla was the Aunt he'd listed as next-of-kin with the University. He hoped she wouldn't show up. He didn't want her praying for Jesus to make him straight. He was sure his parents wouldn't come. Dr. de la Cruz ran the Quantum Brain Institute where Kevin worked, but they must be talking about a different de la Cruz.
Kevin's thoughts slogged through a mind turned murky, and he couldn't concentrate. He replayed the nurse's words in his head. He'd heard of Ativan, but what was the other drug? Midal? That couldn't be right. Still, it sounded familiar, like he'd heard of it someplace before.
A name whispered in the hallway percolated through his hazy thoughts. Miyamoto again. Who, or what, was Miyamoto?
Kevin jerked his head to the right as feet shuffled next to his bed. Pain clenched his brain from the movement and he winced. An elderly, stooped man coalesced from the darkness. He wore black: black pants, black shirt, and a black suit coat. Wisps of white hair flickered about his head and glowed in the moonlight. He leaned forward and spoke in a fragile whisper. "Kevin. You're so young. I'd forgotten."
Kevin nodded. For a moment he thought his Uncle Roy had come to visit, but he'd passed four years ago. "Do I know you?"
A smile wrinkled the man's features. "You might say that."
Kevin was too tired for guessing games. He closed his eyes. He opened them again when a hand touched his.
The man in black spoke again, his voice still delicate. "Rest, lad. Things are going to be hard for a while, but they'll get better. Trust me." He squeezed Kevin's hand with fingers brittle as sticks and skin stiff as parchment.
Kevin struggled to sit up. "Who the fuck are you?"
"Where'd you go?" Kevin pushed against the too-hard mattress, wobbled to his feet and gripped the IV stand for support.
The nurse's sharp voice answered. "I went to get your meds, of course. What are you doing out of bed?"
Kevin's mind ground through shifting gears. Monroe had answered his question instead of the old man. "Where did the guy in black go?" Kevin's head swam, and he relaxed as the nurse helped him back into the bed.
"No one's been in here, Kevin. Just me." He tucked the covers and fussed with Kevin's IV. "Don't worry. It's normal to be confused after a concussion. Some people even see things and hear voices." He held out a cup with two pills and a glass of water. "Here. These will help you rest."
He watched while Kevin gulped them down and then clipped the call button to the pillow. "You sleep now. If you need anything, just push this button." He bustled out, leaving the door ajar.
Elimira slipped in seconds later, and Kevin turned to face her. "Thank you for helping me. I remember now you holding me in the mall. Did your hushband...husband call 911? Thank him for me, too, will you?"
She lowered her eyes and shuffled her feet. "It's the least I could do. Floyd, that's my husband. I swear, he's like a pig in a china shop sometimes, bless his heart. Anyways, him and you got all tangled up when them shots was fired, and that's how you fell and hurt yourself. He's all broke up about it." She snuffled and ran a finger under her nose. "'Sides, it's the Christian thing to do to sit with someone what's in need."
Weariness washed over Kevin, and he struggled with heavy eyelids. "Not his fault. Thingsh..things happen." His tongue was too big for his mouth and his words mushed together. "There were gunshots, right?"
She still wouldn't look at him. "So they say." Her gaze roamed the room, and then finally landed on Kevin's forehead. "That nurse fella said you was gonna sleep from them pills what he give ya. Would you mind if I went home, afterwards? I'll sit 'til you're sleepin', and I'll be here in the mornin'. I promise."
"Sure. Need to sleep. Both of us. You don't need to shtay." Sleep. That's what he needed. Sleep that cures all ills.
"Well, you sure? If they send you home tomorrow, you'll probably be needin' somebody to help you. I'll be back, I will." She hesitated, then leaned over and again kissed his forehead, the way his mother did when he was little. "You're like a little lost lamb, sweetie. It's a blessin', takin' care of them what's in need."
"You're an angel." He heaved a sigh and closed his eyes.
"'Night, sweetie. Don't let the bedbugs bite."
He forced a murmured word from slack lips. "Night."
She squeezed his hand and he watched through slitted eyes while she backed away and faded into the shadows.
Kevin tried to shut out the world. The image of Khalid, broken and bloody, kept flashing through his mind. He knew it should bother him, even terrify him. But instead, it was like a scene from a movie he'd watched years ago, not a nightmare that just happened. What did happen at the mall? Why wouldn't anyone tell him anything? Where was Khalid?
Words meandered in his brain, chaotic and arrhythmic. Antipsychotic. Anxiolytic. Anti-anxiety. Anterograde amnesia. He pictured the gleaming, white hallways of the Quantum Brain Institute. The words echoed down the corridors in brilliant red: psychedelic, hallucinatory...an auditory and visual concatenation of images reflected in light and sound, bouncing off sterile corridors. Endless copies of Khalid's smiling face shimmered there, as well, vibrating, resonating with the sounds, receding to infinity. The old man hovered before him, too, his face familiar yet strange at the same time.
Kevin floated in the semi-conscious twilight between wakefulness and slumber. The strange bed, the astringent odors of the hospital, the murmur of voices down the hall: all of these blended with the disorder of incipient dreams. Hypnagogia. That was what they called it at the Institute: the transition between awareness and sleep, when neural quantum cycles swarmed in acyclic decoherence. The words echoed in purple eddies through the corridors of his mind, swirling to oblivion.
Lips touched Kevin's mouth and breath warmed his cheek. He twitched but didn't wake. Khalid's voice whispered, "I'm still with you, my love. We're entangled in space and time, you and I."
A smile bent Kevin's lips as he fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.