“Mr. Horn?” The receptionist asked in a loud voice. |
I lowered the newspaper and looked up. Inside the sterile, overly-bright waiting room were a dozen or so people, waiting on a miracle, just like me.
“Right here,” I said. I stood up, placed the newspaper on the long, rectangular coffee table in front of me and then walked slowly up to the desk. This was it. Live or die.
“The technicians will see you now,” she said with a hint of disgust. “This way, please.”
I followed her down a narrow corridor. I couldn’t blame her for keeping her distance. Over the last six-weeks, my body and my face had become so disfigured by the disease that I didn’t even want to look at myself if I could help it.
Of course, that’s one of the reasons why Jan had left me, and to be honest, as much as it hurt, I couldn’t blame her. We’d been on rocky ground since her father’s death. The old Colonel had really screwed me there. He just had to die in the middle of the most important phase of the research in Indonesia. I couldn’t leave, even if I’d wanted to, and knowing what I’d known about Colonel William LeClair, I hadn’t been too eager in the first place.
After the funeral it was a fast ride downhill for Jan and me. I’d returned, and there’d been the fights. I just sat there, taking all of it in, while the disease slowly took over my flesh and my bones. It was nice that way. The two abuses, external and internal, were eating away at me from both sides. Perfection.
Jan had moved out just two weeks ago.
(God, has it been that long already? Time flies when you don’t have much of it left.)
I was ushered into a tiny room with a hospital bed and a small desk. The receptionist gladly took her leave and left me there to wait for the technicians. I took a seat on the bed. The paper that had been laid crinkled as I sat down.
Jan had taken the kids, the dog and just about everything else we had ever owned. I had the house, but a house is too big for dying alone. This reminded me that I needed to call the real estate agent. I thought her name was Cindy, so I took a pen off of the little desk and wrote, Call Cindy Real Estate, on my forearm.
I thought about the research. It was really all I had left. Up until two days ago, anyway. That’s when I found out about this place and the miracles they were supposedly working here. The technicians had solved the disease’s defense problem using a strain of chimera DNA, which, when added to the existing serum, supposedly produced an effective agent against the disease. The chimera DNA was the key. It was what had been missing all that time and I wanted to kick myself for not thinking of it first. The two separate strains confused the disease, which would only attack the dominant strain, leaving the other to successfully carry and deliver the serum undetected. It was so simple.
I heard the soft sound of footsteps coming down the corridor. This is it- show time.
“Mr. Horn?” A tall man in a white lab coat asked as he rounded the corner.
He had read the name off of a clipboard. To him, I might as well have been Mr. 14793, or any other anonymous number. How I love the medical industry.
“Yes,” I said, standing up.
“Follow me, Mr. Horn,” he said, and then turned and started walking back down the corridor.
That’s why I’d fallen in love with Jan in the first place. She’d treated everyone with the same antiseptic attitude that an ER surgeon will treat his or her patients. Of course, Jan was no surgeon, but the effect was the same.
I followed the technician down the hall until we came to a door with a large, round window. Inside I could see the set-up of an operating room-the blue-green of hospital linens and the big domed lights that hung from the ceiling. I wondered why I was being taken to this room, especially when the serum could be delivered by a simple injection. I felt a pang inside.
Something about this wasn’t right.
“Through here,” the technician said, withholding all emotion, (assuming he was capable of emoting in the first place).
(They’re taking you here to kill you. You KNOW that. There’s no cure for this, no magical chimera DNA like the letter said. Better face facts old chum; this is the end for you.)
No, this was right; it had to be right. No organization would exist just to exterminate people who had a disease that was this difficult to contract. I could understand if this was an epidemic or a plague, but without direct blood-to-blood contact, the disease was harmless to others.
(So why are you being led into an operating room?)
The technician held the door aloft, and I trundled past him, trying my best not to touch him with any part of my body. This was difficult, as wide lumps of my flesh had begun to sag over my arms like a cascade of disfigurement.
Inside, I felt very alone.
“Please, lie down on the table.”
“I thought this was just supposed to be an injection. In and out, that’s what your letter said.”
He looked around at the three other technicians in the room and then back at me. “Please lie down on the table,” he said, with a bit more force than the first time.
(But really, what have you got to lose?)
I lay down on the table. It was tilted at such an angle that my legs kept slipping, and I had to hold the siderails to keep myself from falling off.
Two of the technicians came close to the table and began to strap me in with thick leather straps. They placed my wrists into metal cuffs along the side and then stepped away to prepare for whatever procedure they were about to attempt.
(You should have bought a shotgun. It would have been quicker and guaranteed faster than whatever they have planned for you.)
“I really don’t think that it’s necessary to—”
“Please be still Mr. Horn. This won’t take a minute,” said the technician who had brought me in. He was staring at some monitors that the others were attaching to my head with wires and suction-cups.
“He’s ready,” he said.
One of the other technicians approached with a needle the size of a baseball-bat. I tried to struggle against the pull of the straps, but it was no use, and then I felt the sharp prick of the needle as they stabbed me in the abdomen. The room seemed to fill with water then, and I remember thinking about the first time Jan and I had kissed. Her lips had been so soft - so soft and comfortable.
I awoke with a start. I was disoriented, and the world seemed much cloudier than it ever had before. That’s when I looked out across the room and noticed my body, still disfigured, lying on the operating table. There was a sheet covering where my head should have been and the sheets were soaked with blood.
My mind reeled in horror as the realization of what had been done to me hit home.
There was a brief moment of confusion as a door was opened and then the technicians were placing me on a shelf, beside all of the others...