Prologue - Who Are You? (Part 1)
There was a knock on his office door.
“Come in!” Dr. Andrew Tyme called, not looking up from his computer. He clicked through documents to find the incoming family’s medical file.
The door let out a shrill screech as it was opened, but there were no footsteps. Perplexed, Dr. Tyme peered up to see who was at the door. A couple cowered awkwardly in the doorframe, eyes shifting around the room uncertainly. The mother clutched their newborn tightly to her chest, and the father fondled with the straps of his briefcase.
Dr. Tyme rose to his feet. “Do come in,” he assured, extending a hand to gesture to the couch in front of his desk. The doctor studied the couple as they shuffled wordlessly to the couch. They looked familiar, though he couldn’t place from where he knew them. The father stared hesitantly at Dr. Tyme’s extended hand before taking it into his grasp with a firm shake.
“You’re the Dreitens, yes?” Dr. Tyme asked, taking a seat and looking at the paperwork he was given. “Christopher and Anne?”
“That’s correct,” the man, Christopher, replied softly. His voice was deep and shaky as if there was something lodged in his throat. He rubbed his wife’s thigh lightly, an act of reassurance. Dr. Tyme just couldn’t fathom what for.
An error message popped up on his computer screen: Error 517: Name not found. Dr. Tyme typed ‘Dreiten’ in once more, clarifying how to spell it with the couple, and the same error message appeared. There was no medical file attached to the name Dreiten.
Dr. Tyme furrowed his eyebrows in confusion. He had never run into such a problem before. He looked up at the Dreitens, who were focused intently on the pattern in the carpet. “Excuse me,” he spoke. “May I see a birth certificate?”
The mother, Anne, visibly gulped. A knot began to twist in the doctor’s stomach. Something was off here. The couple didn’t move for a few seconds before Christopher slowly dipped a hand into his briefcase. The parents’ gazes shifted only for a moment, and that was to look at each other. Besides that, they seemed to be captivated by the carpet’s design. Christopher retrieved a small slip of pink paper and, with a shaky hand, offered it to Dr. Tyme.
The doctor turned it in his palms and traced his index finger over the ink words. Evangeline Tretten was the newborn’s name. Not Dretein. Dr. Tyme’s heart fell to his stomach.
The Tretten Family was infamous across the nation. Their family number, thirteen, was plagued by misfortune and disease. Evil ran through their veins. That’s what history professors taught in lectures. Members of the family were feared and ridiculed. They were isolated from society and denied public services, like access to education and dining. Children grew up learning to despise the Trettens.
Yet, here they sat before Dr. Tyme, meek and anxious. They seemed small and fragile as if they were more scared of the doctor than he was of them. Whatever Dr. Tyme had pictured as the devilish Trettens, Anne and Christopher didn’t fit the bill.
“Please, sir,” Anne piped up, drawing the doctor from his thoughts. Although he tried to suppress it, Dr. Tyme’s breath picked up, and his cheeks flushed red. “We aren’t here to cause any harm. We just want to get our daughter her tattoo.”
The family tattoo. It was customary for all newborns to have their family numbers tattooed on their wrists. Father’s on the left, and mother’s on the right. Little baby Evangeline was to have the unfortunate number thirteen inked on her skin for the rest of her life.
“Dreiten is, well, our fake name,” Christopher explained. “We use it to try and diminish any feelings of fear or hatred…” he trailed off. “We don’t intend to cause a scene.” His foot bounced against the floor, and he ran a hand through his copper locks.
Dr. Tyme nodded. He imagined a devil on his shoulder, screaming to kick the family out of his office. That’s what the couple sitting before him expected him to do, but he couldn’t with a good conscience. When he first opened his practice, the doctor made a promise to himself to help any person that came to his door. It didn’t matter the seriousness of their illness or the content of their character; no reasonable doctor would deny a patient care. Despite the back and forth conflict between the two deities on his shoulders, Dr. Tyme was not going to break his oath today.
“Of course,” he said after minutes of silence passed. “My apologies. If you’d please, lay Evangeline down on this table,” he gestured to an examining table to the left of his desk. As Anne and Christopher rose and followed his order, Dr. Tyme scanned through more of the birth certificate:
Evangeline Fisher Tretten
Born on the 23rd of April
8.7 pounds, 19 inches
There were no markings to signify any medical complications or disabilities. Evangeline, health-wise, was entirely normal. Dr. Tyme was a man of science. His fear of Family Thirteen was built around the understanding that their ancestry passed down genetic mutations that made each generation ill. Now, the birth certificate he clasped in his hands began to crumble that foundation he had built.
Dr. Tyme collected his composure and stood up to meet the family by the medical table. He slid on a pair of disposable medical gloves and changed the tip of his tattoo gun. Anne and Christopher took a step back and leaned against the wall as Dr. Tyme took a seat next to the newborn.
Evangeline’s eyes were wide and full of life as they danced around, looking at the different objects in the room. The doctor fell into the child’s mossy eyes, captivated by how quiet she was. Newborns were infamous for their crying and high pitched wails. But not Evangeline. She wasn’t at all startled, even when Dr. Tyme raised the buzzing tattoo gun to her wrist.
“For legal reasons, I need to confirm,” Dr. Tyme paused before he began drawing. “What is your family number, Mr. Tretten?” He was required to ask before every procedure.
“Thirteen,” Christopher replied quietly, embarrassed to say the word aloud.
“And yours, Mrs. Tretten?”
“One hundred and fifty-six,” Anne answered.
The doctor nodded and began drawing the tattoo. When the ink first pierced the baby’s skin, a shiver ran through her small body, spasming slightly. Anne came and took her daughter’s hand into her own, comforting the child. Dr. Tyme waited for the familiar screams and cries, but none ever came. The room was silent, except for the faint hum crooning from the tattoo gun.
With careful precision, Dr. Tyme completed drawing the thirteen in fifteen minutes. He brushed his thumb over Evangeline’s left wrist, clearing off his work. Looking at the number engulfed him, he couldn’t tear his eyes away. I really just did that, he thought to himself. I tattoed a Tretten. The doctor couldn’t help but feel a strange sense of guilt. Had he done the right thing? He upheld his oath and provided patients with the care they requested. However, while following his morals, he also damned an innocent child to a lifetime of torture. Dr. Tyme couldn’t escape her innocent eyes. Evangeline had no understanding of the world just yet. She did nothing wrong, yet because of the tattoo on her wrist, she’d spend the rest of her life enduring the pain and agony that came with her ancestry. No doctor would intentionally hurt their patient (at least none in good morals), but Dr. Tyme felt as if he did just that.
Dr. Tyme snapped back to reality to find Anne and Christopher’s eyes focused intently on him. Shrugging sheepishly, he apologized for getting lost in thought. He then grabbed Evangeline’s right wrist and began writing out one hundred and fifty-six. The quiet in the room was unsettling. With other clients, the doctor would make small talk and ask about their new life as a family. With the Trettens, he was at a loss for words. They seemed to be as well.
“There,” Dr. Tyme said once he finished the second tattoo. “Finished with the hard part.” He placed the tattoo gun aside and returned with a soothing wipe. He rubbed the lotion on the baby’s wrists, then wrapped the sensitive skin in cloth. Evangeline let out a hiccup, and the doctor smiled lightly. “All set.”
Anne picked up her daughter and cradled her in her arms. Christopher gave Dr. Tyme a firm nod. “Thank you, sir.”
The feeling of guilt still lingered in the back of Dr. Tyme’s mind. They shouldn’t be thanking you, his subconscious scolded. You just secured their child a lifetime of misery. He pushed those thoughts away for the moment.
“Of course,” the doctor said. He stared at the information cards on his desk, hesitating before reaching down and giving one to Christopher. “This is my card. Though there shouldn’t be any problem, call me with any concerns or signs of infection.”
“Thank you, sir,” Anne echoed her husband, breathily. “A thousand times, thank you. It is much appreciated.”
Dr. Tyme nodded and watched as the couple left the room. Before Christopher could close the door behind him, the doctor added, “I wish you nothing but good fortune.” His change of heart caught him by surprise. He couldn’t believe the words escaped his lips.
Christopher looked down at his daughter. “With our lucky charm, we just might get it.”
And with that, the Trettens were gone.