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K. M. Rodgers
Diamond dust. That's what the snow outside reminded Nurse Judith Watkins of as she sat on the windowsill in the Nurse's Lounge at Meridian General Hospital. She sipped at a cup of coffee. The steam rising from the cup cast a ghostly reflection that began to fog over the window. The fresh snow shimmered in the glow under the lights in the parking lot. Nurse Watkins reflected on the beauty of it as the mother of all snow storms raged outside her lofty perch; the peace she felt spread across her face.
The feeling spread from her face to the rest of her body. Her posture relaxed as she exhaled deeply, letting her anxieties with the breath. It was approaching the midnight hour, and for all intents and purposes she was alone except for a few scattered orderlies and janitors, and of course the county's Forensic Specialist, Doctor Simon. Judith couldn't help but shudder every time she thought of him, and was thankful that he was too deeply engrossed in his work to be bothered with the rest of the staff.
The snow storm had hit unexpectedly and with an unusual ferocity. Everyone who could go had left, and everyone else was either stranded or had called in sick. She couldn't blame the ones that called in sick any more than she could the ones that were stranded. There was nothing she would rather do than curl up in front of a warm fire with her significant other on a snowy night like tonight and wish the world would go away. That is, if she had a significant other to snuggle up next to. There had been men in her life, at least at times there were. They were mostly passersby though, like the last one ... what was his name? John .. Ellerby? Yeah, that was his name! John Ellerby. He had seemed pretty nice, but ... just nice. In the end he wasn't what she was looking for. Neither was the one before him ... Mookie, wasn't it? It seemed kind of silly to her for a grown man to go around introducing himself as Mookie. What kind of name was Mookie for a grown man any way? To her it sound like it came from the same list of slave names as Toby. And what about Herbert Foreman? He played at being a gangster and wanted her to call him "Slim." With his two earrings in each ear and myriad of necklaces and manacles, he wore more jewelry than she did.
The others had been fraught with other kinds of qualities that she didn't like, but basically what it always came down to was that they simply weren't what she was looking for. What was she looking for? It wasn't money, she had enough of her own to keep her satisfied. No, if it was money, she could have married John or Mookie. John Ellerby was a promising surgeon and Mookie Arnsbarger was an Architect. It wasn't humor; the mere sight of Hubert Mullins still makes her laugh. No, it was something different, something more. It was as if there was someone out there who would make her whole, complete, a soul mate. If only she could find him.
Whoever this soul mate was she would have to find him later. Now it was time for her to check on the newborns in the maternity ward. She drained the last drop of the precious liquid from her mug. She set it down on the coffee table in front of the couch and straightened the magazines - Nurses World, The New Nurse, and Nurses of the Future; she lined them up neatly by title and date. All was quiet as she left the nurse's lounge and headed for the elevator. Too quiet, a scary kind of quiet. Not a single patient uttered a sound, not so much as a cough in the mediciney-smelling darkness. She pressed the button for the elevator. That was the good thing about this time of night - and a snow storm for that matter - there was no one around to tie up the elevators. She could pick and choose which one she wanted to ride. The doors chimed and slid apart on their tracks. Judith was perusing some charts she had picked up at the nurse's station as she waited. She was going to step onto the elevator as she had done a million times before when she suddenly felt a cold draft of oily air coming from the elevator. Judith gasped, her charts tumbled down the empty shaft. She watched as the clipboards made a resounding clang as they disappeared into the darkness below, closely followed by the fluttering papers that had torn loose. Judith’s foot, waiting to receive her full weight, dangled precariously over the darkened abyss.
Her life flashed before eyes as her hands lunged for something to grab onto. Judith’s nails dug into the aluminum frame as she teetered on the edge. With all her strength Judith managed to pulled herself to safety. With her back to the wall, feeling security in its sturdiness, Judith went week in the knees and slid down the wall. She slumped to the floor while her heart pounded madly in her chest. "Power outage," she thought to herself. "The snow must've gotten too heavy for the power lines." The emergency lights had come on with a resounding snap bathing the floor in its eerie halogen glow.
The strength returned to Judith’s knees as she caught her breath. She picked herself up, leaning heavily against the sturdy wall as she inched her way along the dimly lit corridor to the stairwell. Judith felt much relieved further away from the elevator and under the exit sign, she composed herself and her uniform. The white nurse's uniform was in stark contrast to her own skin color, as well as the white hat that balanced precariously upon her thick black locks. The door to the stairwell was heavy. It opened on squeaky hinges, whose complaints were magnified by the echoing in the silent stairwell. Judith tapped the landing with the toe of her shoe before she would trust it to support her. She let the door go; it stood still for an instant before beginning its slow journey. Judith wanted to "shh" the groaning door into silence as it slowly, laboriously began to close. It signaled the completion of its trek with a resounding boom that echoed up and down the concrete stairwell.
It was dark. The emergency lights were staggered on the landings leaving great gaps of dark shadows between them. Judith began her trek up the stairs, the sound of her feet sliding on the steps mimicked that of sandpaper. She stopped suddenly to listen. Was there someone else on the stairs as well?
"Whatwazthat?" She turned quickly. She thought she heard a door closing several levels below.
"Dr. Simon, is that you?" She called down. She waited. There was no answer. Just her imagination she told herself, Just the darkness and the isolation of the stairway playing tricks on her. She felt silly for letting it get to her like this. It had been years since she was afraid of the dark. Judith's feet scuffed the hard steps as her mind drifted back to a time when she was a little girl. When once she had sat in her room paralyzed with fear in the darkness, her knees drawn up to her chest in the fetal position. She had lain in the darkness alone, too frightened to call for help and too scared to venture out of her room. Was the monster under the bed? Was the witch watching through the window? Was there an ax-murderer on the other side of the door? Or, was he right behind her? She thought it funny how those childhood fears stick with you over the years, and how they manage to surface at times these. How they manage to come back and haunt you when you least expect it.
She stopped suddenly again. She thought she distinctively heard the sound of footsteps, footsteps that stopped immediately after hers, as if someone didn't want her to know they were there. The smell of formaldehyde floated up two her waiting nose. The smell of Dr. Simon.
"Dr. Simon?" she called again. Again no answer. She stood on the stairwell barely breathing, listening for the slightest movement that might give away the location of the person below. She stood perfectly still for what to her seemed like an incredibly long time, for what seemed like longer than anybody could go without making a sound; then she waited longer, knowing how time flies in the darkness. Nothing. "Must have just been the echoing effect that stairwells seem to have," she said to console herself.
Her feet began scuffing the steps again, the echo played off the walls. She reached the landing of the next floor and whirled violently. She heard it that time, and what she heard wasn't an echo or a child's imagination. What she heard was a hideous sound, the laugh of Dr. Nickolas Ignatius Simon. It was more of a chortle really, but it was definitely the laugh of Dr. Simon. Judith could recognize it anywhere. The Nurses called him "The Snake," because of the way he would often popup when and where you least expected it. The first time he had "popped up" behind Judith was when she was taking inventory in the storeroom. She heard this sound filled with mucus and decay that dribbled over his stained teeth. It was a sound that made her blood run dry, one she would never forget.
She stared into the blackness beyond, illuminated by a distant emergency light only. Nothing.
"Dr. Simon?" Her lonely voice echoed. "I know you're there, Dr. Simon. I can here you breathing," she bluffed, and waited. "I can wait as long as you can." There was a long pause but finally, when she had just about convinced herself it was her imagination playing tricks on her again, she heard the scuffing of hard shoes on stone.
Deciding discretion was the better part of valor, Judith tried to make her escape. She reached for the doorknob, its metal surface was cold to her touch and sent a chill up her arm. She twisted the doorknob back-and-forth. Locked. She tried it repeatedly, twisting and pulling harder with each failure, while behind her the soft scraping of shoes drew nearer.
She turned, her back to the useless steel door, she stared down the tunnel as the scraping reached the landing below. His shoes were in sight while his face remained hidden in shadow. His first step lifted him into the light enough for her to make out the white overcoat. She backed away from him, sensing his evil, his chortle grating her ears like fingernails on a chalkboard. The top of his bulbous head, mottled with liver spots, broke through the barrier of darkness. As he drew nearer, the smell of formaldehyde grew stronger. His long hooked nose next pierced the black veil of shadow, she could see the hairs twitching from his nostrils. He wore a cruel grin - if you could say that a person could grin with no lips. His mouth was a mere slash that did a poor job of hiding his rotted teeth.
She backed up the stairs, trying to keep her distance from him. At the landing he turned, his face completely illuminated by the emergency lights. She could see him clearly now. Eyes smoldering deep beneath the furrowed brow. The face looked more skeletal than not, his eyes held her like a cobra's would a sparrow. She broke the spell and turned to run, but too late. She felt his icy touch as his thin fingers dug into her neck like talons. The vise like grip tightened around her neck and her scream, no more than a gurgle, died in her throat unuttered.
Judith's eyes popped open to find a hand on her shoulder and a scream already in her throat. The sound of her own voice scared her even more. There was a moment of disorientation as she found herself in a different place than she remembered.
"It's okay, Judith. It's okay." A woman's voice reassured her as she regained her bearings. "Everything's going to be okay." A face, blurry at first, like looking at someone through a glass of water, was directly in front of hers. It had long, flowing dark hair - a dark brown in some places to an auburn in others - that came mid-way down her back. She had green eyes and dark, high-arched brows. It was Janet Jeager's hand that firmly held her shoulders. Janet was Judith's friend and co-worker. It was her soothing voice that brought Judith swimming back to reality.
" Where .. am ..?" Judith muttered, searching her surroundings.
"In the nurse's lounge," Janet answered in anticipation of the rest of the question. Disorientation was something her job had made her very familiar with. She held Judith firmly, keeping the latter from thrashing about and accidently doing some damage. Janet reassured her in a soothing voice to calm her, and gently reduced the pressure as Judith regained her senses. "I came in here to tell you that your break is up and I found you sleeping on the couch here next to the window. I tried calling your name but you didn't answer, and when I touched you you started to scream." Janet looked into Judith's eyes to see if she was coherent. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah," Judith answered sleepily, "why do you ask?"
"Because it almost seemed as if you started screaming before I touched you."
"I'm alright." Judith said, sounding more awake. "I was just having this weird dream." She looked around, the magazines, Nurses World, The New Nurse, and Nurses of the Future, were all neatly arranged just like in the dream. Her mug sat on the coffee table drained completely dry. A light snow fell gently outside the window. "It seemed so real," she dabbed at the sweat beading up on her forehead, "it's hard to believe it was just a dream."
"Well, it was," Janet said flatly, "and now its time to get back to work."
"Okay," Judith said as she looked around again, "I'll be out in a second. Just give me a minute to get myself together."
"I'll meet you at the station." Janet turned and walked away, she paused at the doorway and looked back at her friend who was struggling to find her balance. "Are you sure you're alright?"
"Yes, Janet." She patronizingly reassured Janet in that professional nurse's tone of voice that Janet had used on her. "I'm fine. I just need a second to get my bearings and I'll be out right behind you."
Janet hesitated, then let the door close behind her. She had never seen her friend like this before and she knew what the pressure and stress from this job could do to a person. Naturally, she couldn't help but to worry about her friend.
Judith took a deep breath and stood up. She had planned to straighten her uniform, brush out the wrinkles and follow Janet out onto the floor, but something stopped her. As she smoothed over her uniform, there was a sharp pain in her neck .. She ran to the mirror. Needing to know, but afraid of what she might find. Judith slowly pulled back her uniform to reveal her neck. Little by little it uncovered a dark purplish mark that looked strangely like the shape of fingers. She gasped and wondered .. where would Dr. Simon "popup" next?
Deep in the bowels of the hospital in the half-light of the morgue Dr. Nickolas Ignatius Simon's gray eyes smoldered under his furrowed brow. His hands clenching and unclenching in the latex gloves as he stood above a cadaver in his formaldehyde perfumed environment. He grabbed a scalpel tightly in his hand. The sharp edge of the instrument glinted in the light at its apex before Dr. Simon's shaking hand plunged the scalpel into the lifeless corpse. He opened his hand, it was red. Red with blood. His blood. He had clenched his fist so tight he had ripped through the protective gloves and his own flesh as well.
"Just as well," he thought, "sooner or later they all end up in my hands."