Archive for June 7th, 2010
Five years is a very long time, except when it isn’t.
Five years ago today, the Puddinette and I went to the hospital for a non-stress test to make sure that the little overdue bundle we had growing in the oven wasn’t overstaying her welcome. That particular bundle had actually been due an entire week earlier and seemed intent on making her arrival only when she was quite good and ready, and not a moment sooner. My daughter, the Mini-Puddinette, my lil’ Nutmeg, was born just a handful of hours later. True to a lady’s form she was fashionably late and made a grand entrance.
Today, then, for those of you not quite following along, marks her fifth birthday. It seems like just yesterday that I wrote this post about her birth. But it wasn’t just yesterday. A lot of yesterdays have skipped right by already, and I suddenly find myself the father of a five year-old girl, dangling over the precipice of growing up. I know, I know, I’m being excessively melodramatic, but since she’s the household drama queen, it’s seems fitting.
She’s going to start Kindergarten in a couple of months, the big K, and once they hit that mark, well, you might as well start planning to make college visits.
Honestly, though, the thing that probably has me so affected is the fact that last Friday night she had matching holes put in her ears. Yes, my little girl, who was Never Going to Grow Up and Become a Teenager That Might Bring Boys Home, just got her ears pierced. It was the first of many milestones in her life intended to make me aware of the fact that no matter how I might resist, she’ll grow up regardless, probably just to spite me.
Life needs a “Dislike” button.
I resisted the ear piercing for months. The Puddinette has been easing me into the idea for some time, since the Mini-Puddinette started talking about it around New Year’s. I told her there was no way; she could have them done when she was 10 and old enough to take care of them herself. My wise and beloved wife, though, knowing the heart and mind of a little girl and realizing that the world we live in today is not the same world as when we were children, took up a chisel and chipped away at my reticence slowly. I am not often set of a certain mind, but when I am, mountains are likely to change before me.
Finally, after many, many discussions on the matter, and dozens of muttered “we’ll see’s”, I said to her that I did not think our daughter was old enough to care for them herself, but if The Puddinette would bear the responsibility for dealing with All Matters Ear, I would not stand in the way. I washed my hands of it, partially because I think my wife should have the greater say in Girl Things, but mostly because I’m lazy and didn’t want to have to turn my daughter’s earrings twice a day. It’s baseball season or something, I can’t have to think about that business.
Tonight, though, before bedtime, I saw the Mini-Puddinette standing in the bathroom alone, with a cotton ball and a bottle of, you know, that clear cleaning stuff, turning her shiny new heart earrings by herself. Neither she nor the Puddinette likely realized that I noticed. But I did.
It turns out that I might have misspoken; it turns out that she is old enough to care for her earrings herself. My little girl turned 5 today, and tomorrow it’ll be 15.
Five years is a very long time, except when it isn’t.
Happy Birthday, my little Nutmeg. Daddy loves you.
A minute later, he was walking past the counter into the office proper, his search for more enjoyable foods momentarily forgotten.
He checked all three desks in the open room, but found nothing but dusty personnel folders, aging memos, an attendance sheet with a long list of names marked “Absent”, and the couple of framed pictures he noticed earlier.
He walked to the doorway on the left in the back of the room. The short hallway beyond was completely dark. The sun had apparently gone down while he was in the kitchen, meaning that what little light had been coming through the windows was gone.
He found three doors on the right side of the hallway, each leading to an individual office. The first had a plaque above it that read “Principal”, the second, “Vice Principal”, and the third, “Security”. He spent a significant amount in each of the first two, hunting in the dark for some kind of binder or folder on the desks and bookcases he found inside. No luck, though; everything was covered in three years of dust, and didn’t look to have been disturbed the least bit.
Thom guessed he’d been searching for probably an hour, at least, and his stomach was beginning to rumble. He finally admitted that the goal had probably been futile to begin with, since he didn’t even know if the journal existed, or what exactly to look for, if it did.
Telling himself he would give the last room only a cursory glance, he stepped into the security office, which was easily the smallest of the three. It had probably begun its life as a supply closet or something like that. Nonetheless, he immediately found it the most interesting. Directly in front of him as he stood in the doorway was a wall of screens displaying security camera video feeds from throughout the school.
Monitor One was labeled “Main Entrance”, and had a clear view of the set of doors just outside the main office. Monitor Two was apparently watching the “Rear Entrance”, and Monitor Three had the word “Subject” written on a piece of tape below it. That one was pointed directly at the empty hospital bed where Thom had spent most of the past seven weeks.
He wanted to be furious that she’d been watching him for so long without his knowledge, but the fact was that two months ago, he really probably needed to be watched closely. And he had to admit that continuing to keep a watchful eye on her only patient seemed prudent, especially given how important she claimed he was. Still, he didn’t like it, and would definitely be adding that to the list of things he needed to discuss with her.
Eight monitors, in all, made up the wall of video displays. The cafeteria, the windowed hallway upstairs that looked out over the courtyard and parking lot, the gym, the library, and even the stairway he’d come down were on camera. He wondered if the footage was recorded someplace too, or just displayed real-time. Had Ana been going back to watch what he’d been doing when she wasn’t here? Something else to ask her.
He stopped looking at the monitors and did a quick visual sweep around the room. There was little else of interest, but to his left, he found a bookshelf holding what were almost certainly old, recorded security tapes. One of the shelves, though, had three 2-inch binders instead of tapes. The first binder was labeled “Subject 1″, the second “Subject 2″, and the last “Subject 3″.
Elated, he quickly grabbed the third and opened it. The first page held nothing but a picture of himself in that same hospital bed, still wearing the IV and either comatose or asleep. He guessed it was taken when he first got here. He flipped through it quickly, finding pages and pages of hand-written notes. He set it aside carefully; he would come back to that one.
Thom then pulled the “Subject 1″ binder from the shelf. The first page had a similar photo of a younger-looking woman, but unlike his image, she was clearly still connected to a respirator. The bed and the room in the picture were unlike anything he’d seen elsewhere in the school, so it must have been taken at a differently location. He flipped through the pages like he had his own journal, but pausedon the last page where he found the word “Deceased” in large letters. One sentence below that told him everything he needed to know, “Expired following removal from life-support”.
He was just about to go back to the first page of the journal when a flicker of movement caught his eye from the wall of video. His heart leapt into his throat when he realized a dark figure was standing outside the door on monitor two. It was shorter than average for a person, although he couldn’t be sure because whoever was out there seemed to be half-crouching and was bobbing erratically. The poor quality of the video feed made it impossible to tell much more, but if pressed, he might have said it was probably male and likely older.
Thom stood petrified, the binder in his hands forgotten, as the figure leaned forward toward the door and pressed its face to the glass. One hand, the left, came up to touch the door, just beside its head. The face bobbed three of four times slightly, like an animal testing for a scent. The other hand slowly grasped the door’s handle.
“Oh, Jesus, no.”
The figure tugged against the handle. The door held firmly, apparently locked.
Unaware that he’d been holding his breath, Thom exhaled slowly, quietly.
The short figure jerked the handle several times, forcefully, using its whole body.
“Shit. Give up, dammit. Go away.” It was barely a whisper.
On the screen, the figure stepped back from the door and looked up towards the sky. It opened its mouth and released a horrible screech that made Thom think of a furious, wounded cat. Even more chilling was the realization that he could hear it clearly from inside the building – the security monitors had no audio.
He stood helpless and watched the thing on the monitor raise its hand, form a fist, and swing it against the glass door. A spider web of cracks formed instantly. It leaned forward, apparently inspecting the damage.
Thom’s heart hammered in his chest. He held his breath again.
The thing’s hand made another fist, and swung a second time, hitting the center of the cracks. Glass exploded from the door.
Thom’s hands went numb. A cold chill swept through him.
The figure stepped through the broken glass, either not feeling or not caring about the jagged shards still held in the door’s frame.
Panic overwhelmed him. Deep inside, his mind screamed to do something, anything; run, hide, grab a weapon. But he couldn’t think, didn’t know how to react.
Something was in the building. Something was looking for him.
Thom was paralyzed with fear.
Thom negotiated the broad steps carefully, coming to a large landing where the staircase turned the opposite direction before continuing to the floor below. He felt immeasurably stronger than when he woke up weeks ago – almost new again, really – but the possibility of toppling over and rolling to the bottom was still very real; he hadn’t walked down stairs with his own legs in a long time. His left hand clung gingerly to the railing, just in case.
His slippers slapped against the hard steps as he moved, bouncing echoes around in the space slowly coming into view. He cringed without knowing exactly why, since there couldn’t be anyone down here except Ana. Disturbing the otherwise absolute quiet was nerve-racking, though, which played right into his blossoming paranoia. Going barefoot might have been less unsettling, but he really didn’t want to catch a cold, or worse, from a chilly floor that hadn’t seen a mop in at least three years. Especially over a little noise that no one but a few rats was around to hear.
He reached the bottom and was very glad he’d thought to bring a flashlight. A few windows here and there let in a measure of pale autumn afternoon light, but not much. It was late enough too, that the sun would be reaching towards the horizon before long.
He thumbed the flashlight on and took a look around.
A long hallway ran from where he stood at the bottom of the steps to a set of double doors, roughly 50 yards away. He could just make out the word “Gymnasium” above them. Immediately to his right were two sets of glass doors leading outside, and just beyond them down the hall was the school’s main office. He thought the external doors were likely the main entrance.
Taking a few steps forward, he turned to this right and looked into the office. Behind the wooden counter intended to separate the administration personnel from the students were three standard-sized desks, two along the wall to the left and the third facing him from the middle of the room. They still held a few stacks of file folders and some errant paperwork, which meant they likely belonged to the secretarial staff. The center one even had a picture frame or two, face down on an oversized 2007 desk calendar. Hanging from the back wall was a large grid of staff mailboxes, a few of which contained unclaimed mail. Finally, he noticed a narrow doorway at the far back of the room on the left, which he figured would lead to the infamous principal’s office.
Making an about face, Thom found himself looking at the school’s cafeteria. It was completely open and took up the entire left side of the hall running from the stairway to the gym. Twenty or twenty-five circular lunch tables were spread relatively evenly throughout, reaching all the way to the back of the room where archways opened to the food service area that would have served hungry students back when there were still students.
Since he was nearly sick to death of reconstituted soup, beef jerky, and instant oatmeal, finding a better variety of canned good seemed a lot more interesting at the moment than digging through old records or looking around in the gym. Shooting some hoops was definitely on the to-do list, if he could find a basketball that would hold air, but food absolutely came first. He stepped forward into the lunch room and walked toward a door bearing the label “Kitchen Staff Only”.
The grey swinging door squeaked loudly as he pushed past it into the kitchen area proper. Once inside, he found stainless steel work tables and kitchen appliances, and a dingy floor composed of tan tiles. The two work tables stood in the center of the room, to his right as he stood near the door. Behind them, along the back wall, was a large metal griddle next to several gas-powered burners, all under a big ventilation hood. A single pot sat on one of the burners, which he guessed Ana used to make soup for him. There were several other pieces of equipment along that same wall whose purpose eluded him since he’d never been in a kitchen with commercial-grade appliances before.
Directly in front of him were two large metal doors with clasp handles and a third plain-looking one which reminded him of a closet. He stepped to that one first and tried the doorknob, which twisted easily. He pulled the door open and nearly clapped when he saw a shelf full of cans that meant he’d found the pantry. The happiness was short-lived, though, as he took stock of what was available in the little room. Cans of chicken soup, cans of bean soup, cans of tomato soup, two cans of dark red kidney beans, and a can of creamed corn that looked like it was from the 70′s. On the lowest shelf he found some tomato paste and a huge can labeled “Beets” that was bigger than a gallon-sized can of paint.
“Looks like it’s going to be soup for a while yet,” he mumbled, disappointed.
He exited the pantry, closed the door, and stepped to the larger doors. He suspected one was a freezer and the other a refrigerator, so wasn’t terribly surprised when he pulled the handle of the first and a wave of frigid air rushed past him. It was a fairly sizeable walk-in freezer, but held nothing other than one rather oddly-shaped hunk of whitish meat. Pork was his best guess, but he couldn’t be certain. His mouth watered profusely at the thought of devouring a big, juicy roasted hunk of meat, and he briefly considered grabbing it. Unfortunately, though, he didn’t know where to begin trying to cook it in a kitchen like this. Besides, being frozen, it was probably too late to make for an evening meal tonight anyway. He left it alone and let the door swing shut, which produced a thud as it hit its frame and then a click when the handle clasp settled into position.
Thom immediately reached for the next door, which had to be the fridge. He was even more disappointed with its contents, two shelves of labeled bags which appeared to contain blood, a stand-up rack of vials, and several small bottles of various types of medication. Ana was obviously using the refrigerator for medical supplies needing to be kept cold.
He thought the blood seemed a little unusual, at first, until he realized it was bagged to hang from IV hooks like the one he drug around weeks ago. He knew that athletes often used blood transfusions as a way to increase strength and stamina, and it wouldn’t surprise him if Ana had done the same thing to him early on. There was little question he could have used the help, and she didn’t seem to have any problem doing whatever she saw fit to him medically.
He took a closer look at the rack of vials. To his untrained eye, they appeared to be samples for testing, the kind that your doctor drew when you got a physical exam or were sick and needed some type of exotic-sounding cell count. Each was labeled simply, with just a number and a date. Two vials were labeled with a “1″ and both were dated well over a year ago. Six or seven carried a “2″ and were least six months old, while more than a dozen had a “3″ and all seemed to be from the last couple of months.
He might have considered it just a coincidence, but the saying “it was a small world” had been around since well before he theoretically became one of the last real people in it. So, no, no coincidence; the contents of those number “3″ vials had almost certain been taken from him in the very recent past. However, just as he couldn’t figure out how Ana had taken out his IV without him realizing it, he was baffled at how she’d drawn samples of his blood unbeknownst to him. Sure, the first few probably weren’t hard to get when he was still mostly in a coma, but the most recent vial was dated two weeks ago, long after that IV line had been removed. She’d clearly had to use a syringe, if these actually were his samples, and it unnerved him to think she could just stick a needle in his arm and take blood without waking him.
In that case, a circus running through the room probably wouldn’t wake him, and he wasn’t comforted by the idea that he was sleeping that soundly when dangerous people were supposed to be looking for him. He wondered, not for the first time, if she was slipping him some kind of tranquilizer at night. It was definitely time to have a very serious talk with Ana about what she was giving him.
Right on the heels of that thought, a more significant question occurred to him and he cocked his head to the side quizzically. “If the number threes are mine, where did the number one and two samples come from?”
Thinking back over all the conversations he’d had with her over the past two months, Thom tried to pull out anything that might give him a clue about the other two sets of vials. Unfortunately, nothing was forthcoming.
Simply asking her would, of course, be the quickest way to find out, but she wasn’t exactly at his beckoned call. There was no telling when she might appear again when he was awake, and this kind of thing would prey on his mind until he had an answer. A research journal or notebook of some kind might shed some light on it, but he couldn’t think of time when he’d seen her with anything like that.
That thought, actually, suddenly struck him as a little odd. She seemed an extremely meticulous person; in fact, she reminded him of a girl from his intro Psychology course that wrote down every word the professor spoke in class, verbatim. The girl never had a button undone, a shoelace loose, or a hair out of place, which is exactly how he pictured Ana in her college days, assuming she’d had any. Either way, if she was taking samples and tracking his rehab scientifically at all, there had to be some kind of research journal, somewhere. If he was lucky, it stayed when she left.
“The office”, he said to himself. Surely if such a collection of notes could be found in the building, it would be in the main office.