By Jurgen Stahl
Gray. Shades of gray. Then black or dark blue, but gone. More colors follow, a curtain of white first, pulled apart by grays again. Vague contours fleet by. A noise very close, panting, huffing, in a calm, regular rhythm. A steam train next to me? I laugh at that and make no sound. Why am I even hearing this? How can I see anything? Why do I even know that I am thinking? Something in my brain observes, talks to me, telling me my eyelids are shut. That it is okay not to feel them. That I shouldn’t panic. My memory hides the reason I’m here.
I tell my hands to move, but they ignore me. I order my right index finger to lift a fraction, a few millimeters—but it refuses. A flash disrupts the black curtain and fades. I wiggle my toes next—no response.
I scream without a sound. Wake up, I shout. And again.
The scent of sharp chemicals penetrates my nostrils, coming from below me. Not sure what it is. Shuffling sounds, then a cough. And that beep, close to me, it’s been there since…when? Voices, two, maybe three, mumbling behind a screen of some sort.
My memory releases glimpses from times long past, when I stepped into my own dreams stoked by high fevers and watched bad things happening to me.
But even then, I knew that they were nothing but silly childhood nightmares playing in my head.
And trusted that none of this was real. I relax. This must be it. It’s okay.
No, it’s not. An inner voice scolds me.
I order myself to wake up.
But I cannot.
I don’t breathe. There’s no need.
“Shouldn’t take long.” A male speaker, muffled somewhat, but still clear, close to me.
“Good. I’m late as it is.” A second male, Irish accent. Older. Familiar.
I yell out at them, but the words vibrate in my head only.
I remember where I am. And why.
And that I trusted them.
I call out again. No sound escapes my lips.
The beeping next to me…is it faster than before?
A dull ache creeps through my insides. Oh God, they’re rummaging through my intestines. Just stop. Red not-blades scorch whatever there is inside me. I scream, I kick my legs at them, throw my fists into their stupid faces. How can they do this to me? I throw my body from one side to the other. Get out of here, away from them.
Did they hear me? Did they see me move?
“Hey, he’s moving. He’s woken up. We must—”
“Fifteen max. Ten I reckon. Easy.”
I howl at my right hand to move. I beg my neck to lift my head, let my face muscles open my mouth and plead with them to stop. Short sharp cuts ripple deep inside my belly. Tears stream down my cheeks. They must notice them.
“Okay. That’s done. Now for…” The Irish guy again, happy.
The stink of burning flesh creeps up my nose.
“Shit!” the younger man shouts. “Oh, shit.”
Do they see now what’s going on here, with my body?
“Get those loops out of the way,” the familiar guy barks.
A spluttering noise fills the room, like a defective garden hose.
Furious tentacles ransack my entrails. How can they ignore the agony contorting my face?
“Too late. We need to resect it. All of it.”
Take out what? I shriek. What are you doing to me?
I trusted you.
The beeps are hurried now. Not the huffing, though. It’s oblivious.
“What shall we tell him?”
“Nothing. No one must hear of this. Understood?” the older guy barks. No panic in his voice, no regret. Stating a fact.
Cold hooks twist my entrails again, even deeper than before. A foul stink distracts me, urging me to throw up.
“Increase his dose.”
“Sure,” someone behind me mumbles.
Now I calm down. Silent dark embraces me.
“John? Open your eyes for us, please?”
I tell my eyelids to lift, not to disappoint me again. Far-too bright fluorescent light glares into my eyeballs, but I can blink at least. A young female face stares down at me. Then she smiles.
“There we go. We had a hard time waking you up.”
I croak a few sounds. My tongue snakes around my gums, licking up any moisture.
The other lady lifts my head with a strong, experienced hand, puts a thick pillow underneath, and guides my mouth to a plastic cup.
I take a few sips and more, blink a few times.
“That was strange,” I sigh.
They stare back at me with blank faces.
“I had…” I cough, spill some water but they don’t react. “I had the weirdest of dreams since I was a kid. Thank God it’s over.”
They stay quiet. A quick glance between them before they focus on me again.
“John, the doctor should be here any minute.”
Something pokes into my side. A sheet of paper, no, not that. The crackling sound is different, plastic maybe. And there is something else. Only a faint whiff, like before. Weird.
I reach under my back and pull at a plastic bag. Glued to my skin. I twist my body and stare at it.
A simple plastic bag with a tube. Carrying ghastliness out of me.
My scream echoes from the bare wall.
The door opens and a white coat walks in.
“John, calm down.” He stands to my right. I roll back and glare at him.
“Something happened during the operation. And there is nothing we could do,” he says in that comforting Irish voice.
“You trust me, don’t you?”