David was certain he was going mad. He was not a child anymore, he was 13 years old. Practically an adult by his reckoning. When is mother and father had left him at St. George’s Hospital for the night, he had put on a brave face and pretended it didn’t bother him, because he knew it wouldn’t bother a grown up. He had told the nurse, who was beautiful enough to make David uncomfortable, when she asked if it would be ok to turn out the light, that he was not afraid of the dark. She had smiled at him, and David had blushed and silently chastised himself for doing so all at once. Grown ups don’t blush. He was a grown up. He was 13, and after 13 you weren’t a kid anymore.
He, of course, was afraid of the dark, and had very much wanted the nurse to leave the light on. He wished she had. The hospital smelled odd. He’d always been to St. Michael’s before for his treatments, but he hadn’t been getting better there, so they’d sent him here this time. He knew how hospitals smelled. They smelled of metal, bleach, and death. Shiny clean metal that was everywhere, the death that always happens in hospitals, and the bleach meant to keep them separate but never quite succeeding. Not this hospital though. This hospital smelled all wrong. No bleach, no metal, no death. None of the normal smells. He breathed deep and smelled many other things. Trees, grass, fresh earth after the rain, a campfire far away, and freshly baked bread. This hospital smelled too good. It frightened him.
After the lights had been turned out, and the too-good smell filled his nose as he curled up and tried to sleep, he saw something he shouldn’t have. Something that couldn’t be. He had his eyes squeezed shut, trying so hard to push himself to sleep, when he heard the door open. He opened his eye only a slit, not wanting the pretty nurse to see he was having trouble getting to sleep. Grown ups never have trouble getting to sleep. Through the narrow opening of his eyelids, he saw a man. A doctor he’d seen earlier that day, near a door that had said “Hematology”. The man was tall, taller than David’s father, and as thinly built as stick figure. In the dim light from the door, David watched as the doctor stepped into the room, and sniffed at the air like an animal. At least, that’s what David thought it looked like. The doctor pulled out his clipboard, and made a note there after sniffing, and for a moment, David relaxed. He smells what I smell, he thought, he smells the earth and the campfire, all the smells that shouldn’t be here. The doctor crossed the room, and came to the bed of David’s roommate here at the hospital. David didn’t know what he had, and if he’d overheard right, neither did any other doctor the boy’s family had been to. The other boy had fallen asleep some time ago, and the doctor now stood over him, and sniffed the air again. David could see, through the slits of his eyes, that the doctor’s eyes were locked on the other boy, and there reflected in them, was something that looked like hunger. The thin doctor bent down to the boy, pulled the blanket back silently, and produced a small needle. David wouldn’t thought this was odd, except that the needle was not attached to a syringe. The strange doctor brought the needle to the boy’s neck, and pressed it in. The doctor brought the needle back up with a drop of blood shimmering red in the beam of light from the door. Then the doctor did what David knew he shouldn’t have seen. The doctor brought the needle to his lips and ran his tongue over the tip, lapping up the blood.
David froze and shut his eyes the rest of way. Trying his hardest to pretend he hadn’t seen what he’d just seen. He heard once more the scribbling sound of a pen on a clipboard. David tried his hardest to be a relaxed sleeping body while at the same time his neck involuntarily tensed, waiting for the prick of a needle. The needle never came. Instead, he heard the nearly silent shuffle of the doctor’s feet as he crossed the room, and the click of the latch as the door closed behind him.
David waited a long moment to make sure it wasn’t some kind of trick, then he dared to open his eyes just a bit. The room was back to total darkness. For a moment David was afraid that the doctor was still in the room, and that the darkness was all a ruse, one that he had fallen for when he dared to open his eyes. He shook his head and banished the thought. The doctor was gone. And even if he wasn’t, that would mean he’d already known David wasn’t asleep, and he would have attacked anyway. He could be waiting to attack right now, but eyes open or closed wouldn’t matter. David sprang up from the bed. He had to know for sure.
He ran to where he knew the light switch had been and flipped it. The lights overhead flickered and then clicked on, illuminating the room. There was no strange blood doctor. Only David and the other boy. As soon as the lights were on, the other boy stirred, rolling to face David and groaned. “Turn the lights back out,” the boy mumbled.
David did, but he would not stay in that room, not now. He had to get out. Out of that room where the doctor had tasted the boy’s blood. Out of this hospital with it’s wrong too-good smell.
He ran out to the empty hall, and tried to remember what direction he’d come from to this room. He only thought of whether or not he could make it out of the hospital, not what he’d do once out of it.
He ran to the corner and saw and exit sign pointed to the right. He heard voices around the corner as he approached.
“Evening, ‘Titania’,” he heard a man and woman speaking around the corner. After he heard the man say the name ‘Titania,’ he heard a soft sound followed by a thump and giggle.
“Not now! We’re working,” he heard the woman say laughing. He remembered her voice. It was the pretty nurse from earlier. And the other voice must be the doctor. She didn’t know the danger she was in.
“I took the sample from the Wilkins boy. It’s a simple parasite. Should be an easy cure for our illustrious head of exorcisms and expulsions,” the doctor said around the corner.
“When did you manage to take the sample?” the nurse asked.
“Well, just now. I just came from there.”
“You moron! That room was cleared yet!” the nurse barked. David shrank against the wall. He had a hard time imagining the nurse from earlier angry, but the voice he heard made him think of fearsome animals and fiercer thunderstorms.
“They cleared it earlier, the boy was sound asleep,” the doctor said, only mildly worried in the face of this imagined maelstrom, “He didn’t even flinch at the needle.”
“No, L. We had to put another child in there this afternoon. Admissions hasn’t had a chance to lay any enchantment upon him yet!”
David started slowly moving back down the hall, looking back for any other exit signs pointed a different direction.
“I didn’t know,” sighed the doctor, “In that case I’ll go check the bed, make sure the other one is still there.”
“He better be,” the nurse growled, “I’ll call Victor, tell him to get a tracker up here right away if the boy isn’t there.”
“Really? Do we really need Victor? He’s just a kid,” the doctor started to argue, but David was already running the other way and didn’t hear the rest.
David ran around the corner and down to an elevator, which he figured would have to lead down to the lobby. He entered quickly and pressed the lobby button quickly. The elevator descended quickly, but stopped on level 2, where a small man with thick glasses boarded as well, be he was too busy reading something in a manila folder to notice David. When the elevator opened next, David immediately got off, just as the man’s pager was beeping. David heard the man yell “Hey” after him, but the doors were already closing and David was running. He realized he’d made a mistake and was not in the lobby after all. He had pressed the lowest button in a panic and now found himself in what he guessed to be the basement. He ran down the hall checking door signs, looking for a stairwell to get out of the hospital. He heard the doors of the elevator open again and more yelling, but David ran round the corner. The staff were the sort of people who stabbed sleeping boys in the neck and licked the needle, he did not want to know what they would do to him to keep that sort of thing secret. He’d seen enough police shows to know it would not end well for him if he was caught.
He was quickly lost in the maze beneath the hospital. Twists and turns through a labyrinth of storage rooms, empty offices, and strange rooms full of oddly shaped glass bottles. He could hear more shouting from behind him, and David started to panic. He could feel the tightness in his chest. He wasn’t supposed to be running at all. That’s what his parents had told him. He thought they might make an exception for doctors out for your blood.
Still, he knew he couldn’t keep running, so he started trying door handles, looking for a place to hide. He found one and slipped inside. He sat inside, in the dark, with his back against the door, listening to the sounds of passing staff looking for him. He listened carefully, waiting for them to pass. If he could slip past them, he could try to find his way back to the elevator. He was listening to the door when he heard a groan behind him.
David froze. Had he entered into a patients room? Did hospitals keep patients in the basement? This was hardly a normal hospital though. Who really knew what they kept down here. David tried to hold his breath, but the effort of running had winded him, and he was forced to breath to sooth the burning in his chest. A lamp came on on the far side of the room. The light revealed a portly man with a tangled white beard and balding head who was lying on a couch on the side wall of what he now saw to be some kind of break room or lounge. The man blinked a few times in the new light, and eyed David curiously.
” ‘Lo there?” the man said as a question rather than a statement. David put his finger to his lips, urging the man to be quiet, but he could already here the footprints coming back down the hall. The old man looked on with confusion as David rushed to hide under a table that definitely wouldn’t actually hide him from view. The door opened revealing a burly security officer with more hair than David had ever seen on a man. His eyes were black and his face was distended almost like a dogs. He looked right at David under the table and David felt like crying.
“Victor! What in god’s name are you doing? You’re new job scaring kids to death?” the old man yelled as he swung his legs over the side of the couch.
“He saw Lacius doing a test, Steve. Gotta take him up to management and do a memory extraction,” the man the old one had called victor squatted down to look at David under the table. David was so afraid, he worried he might pee himself. Grown ups don’t pee themselves. He wasn’t suppose to be a kid anymore, so why did he have to be so scared. “It won’t hurt a bit,” said Victor, “and you won’t have to worry about a thing. Come on now.”
David didn’t move. He had thought the man looked like a dog at first, but now he didn’t look as friendly as a dog. He looked like a wild animal.
“Victor,” the old man said, pulling on a tuft of his beard a bit, “Why don’t you go back upstairs. I’ll take care of this.”
The dog man looked over at the old one, and his features seemed to become slightly less dog like, and more man like.
“No offense, Steve, but I don’t think that’s ok. They told me to get-”
“It’s fine, Victor. I’ll square it upstairs,” the man called Steve rose from his seat on the couch and pulled on a blue janitor’s shirt with his name embroidered over the front pocket.
Victor took one more look at David, and shrugged, rising to his feet. “Your skin, not mine I guess,” and he turned and left the room.
David stared at this strange old man. Steve, who didn’t think a dog-man was a big deal, slowly went over to a counter across the room, and turned on a coffee machine.
“Caught me about to go on the late shift,” Steve muttered, “Gonna need some coffee before I get going. You drink coffee? You seem a bit young, but I hear lots of kids do these days.”
David said nothing. Just watched as this man poured himself a cup of black coffee and drank it slowly.
“Guess you’re the curious type. Peeking at Lacius when he’s doing his thing. Bet that scared you something fierce.”
“N..no it didn’t,” Davide stuttered. Grown ups never got scared.
“No? Scares the heck out of me,” Steve finished his coffee and set the cup in an empty sink. “Best get started then.”
“What?” David was so confused.
“We got work to do,” the man snapped his fingers and the door to the hall opened. A rhythmic squeaking sound came down the hall, and a mop and buck on wheels that was being pushed by no one stopped in front of the lounge. The scent of the earth after the rain, of campfires and baked bread in the distance came from that bucket. The man named Steve stepped out into the hall and grabbed the mop, then looked back into the lounge. “You coming or what?”
The man walked out of sight down the hall. And David, still very confused and scared, and not knowing what else to do, decided to follow him.