SWITCH

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Coffee

The smell of freshly brewed coffee nudged me awake. My mind was clear, but my head was throbbing. I began a physical inventory of my appendages, wiggling and moving what I could. My body felt stiff and bruised.

The needles and tape were gone from my hands and arms. I have a deeply rooted fear of needles. Watching an IV come out is almost as bad as having it go in. As I moved, I felt several bandages attached to my skin. They made a crinkly, plastic sound as they brushed against the sheets. My stomach and palms were covered by the light cellophane.


The room felt smaller than the last space I remembered. The ceiling was lower, and the bed felt firmer and wider. Filtered sunlight was streaming into the room from high, narrow windows that ran the length of the masonry block wall across from me. The light gray walls had several groupings of framed photographs. As I attempted to sit up and get a better look at the pictures I heard footsteps and the door open.

“There she is. How much pain are you in? Give me a number one to ten how bad is it?”

“Not bad. A four maybe.” I strained to look at the man in front of me. He was tall with a thin build and thick, dark brown, wavy hair. “Who are you? Where am I now?”

“I’m Doctor Gerald, just call me Gerald, there’s no need for formality. We are on the base, at the colony, in the medical wing. We spoke a bit yesterday, but you were heavily sedated.”

“What base? I need to see someone in charge as soon as possible. This is all a monumental misunderstanding. I have nothing to do with the government, nothing; I don’t even vote for God sake.”

“Try not to get worked up Caly; things will make sense to you soon.” The doctor lightly ran his hand from my shoulder down the length of my arm. The gesture felt apologetic. For a split second, he looked familiar. His light brown eyes and olive skin reminded me of someone, but the thought passed just as quickly as it came.

The hand attached to my arm did not look right to me. After turning the ghost hand palm up and palm down it didn’t feel right either. I could move it easily enough, but it felt foreign.

“This isn’t my hand, is it?” I asked the half-familiar man in front of me.

“Hmm, close your eyes tell me does the room spin or do you feel nauseated?” Gerald began squeezing my fingertips and examining the skin on the inside of my arms.

“I’m not spinning. It feels like compression. I’m too big for the black space I see when I close my eyes. I was too small before. I remember being way too small and I’m sure this isn’t my hand.” I could hear a frantic tone growing in my voice, but I didn’t care.

“First off, I can tell you with absolute certainty that this is your hand. You arrived with it attached. If it had needed to be surgically reattached, I would have done the procedure, and there would be significant scarring. See look no scars.” Gerald carefully lifted my arm and rotated my wrist side to side to show the lack of scar tissue. “You seem to be having a reaction to the cocktail of anesthetics and painkillers we have given you over the past seventy-two hours. It will pass, but I need to get you up and hydrated. We can start with ice chips. If you can keep the water down, we can try some light broth next.”

“I’ve been here for three days? Where is my husband? My God, am I under arrest? I didn’t do anything wrong. I was defending my property and myself. I have the right to do that.” Finding the breath required to speak was leaving me weak and floppy feeling. My head was starting to spin.

“Yes you have been here for several days, and I’m sure your husband is fine. We left a man on site to help him tie up loose ends. And no, you are not under arrest.”

“What loose ends? If I’m not under arrest, you have no right to hold me here. I need to get home this is a huge mistake. Where’s that man who abducted me? I need to speak with him.”

“You have been left in my care. You are going to eat, and we are going to assess your recovery, then I can have the Colonel update you on anything you want to know. Right now you need to let me help you. You won’t leave here until you are fully recovered. You might as well put all your efforts towards that goal.”

“So I am your prisoner.” I blurted out.

“No. You are my friend, even if you don’t remember me. I will not see you harmed by your stubbornness or anyone else’s. Now shall we get you some ice chips.”

There was something genuine about the man in front of me. I didn’t care for the way he spoke to me, but he was more than just clinically interested in my recovery. I wasn’t thrilled with my situation, but I was moving on my own power and one-step closer to getting back home.

I started the morning with grape flavored, ice slush and graduated to a warm cup of beef broth. A strawberry milkshake showed up for an early dinner. Some type of chelating mixture was added to my liquids to help remove the drugs they had given me. Periodically we reassessed whether the black space in my mind was too big or too small, by the end of the day the space I saw when I closed my eyes felt like right again.

Gerald explained in detail how the crinkly bandage material covered a gooey substance that dissolved and fed the new skin underneath. A yellowish powder he used became whatever type of cell was needed to repair the area. Since the crinkly patches were beneficial, I stopped trying to peel them off. It was too much like dripping glue on your hands and letting it dry. The thin clingy material just begged to be peeled away.

The gash on the back of my head required something stronger than the cellophane bandages. A sealant gel applied on the outside of the wound acted like stitches. The applicator looked like a small, stainless steel caulking gun. One thin bead was applied on either side of the gash, after a few moments, the two sides were pressed together. The glue was cold, tingly and had a numbing effect. While the application wasn’t pleasant, it was quick, and the topical pain reliever numbed the area within a matter of seconds.

Gerald was called away to another patient shortly after nightfall. A nurse that was in and out of the lab all day took pity on me. She helped me settle into a standard hospital room. I was excited to see my new room came with a shower, but I was asked to wait to use it until the doctor cleared me. My hair seemed clean; the caked blood had been removed. Somebody had cleaned me up pretty thoroughly, and my skin was incredibly soft. As hard as it was to ignore my unanswered questions, it was impossible to ignore my throbbing head. I settled for the quiet, and a cup of grape flavored ice chips. I changed into a fresh set of pajamas, wiped a hot washcloth over my face, and halted my escape plans for the day.

When I woke in the morning, there was a tidy pile of folded clothes waiting for me on the bedside chair.I could feel all the pain the medication was masking. My head felt like it was slowly cracking open and I needed a cup of coffee. The aroma of dark roast brewing lured me to the back corner of the large lab. I was feeling much better, and strangely I was anxious to let Gerald know.

“Hello, anybody there?”

“Yeah, back here Caly.” Gerald had a startled tone to his voice. I was interrupting something.

“Your color is looking much better today, and I see you found the clothes I left for you.” He was preparing a syringe, and it looked like he was getting ready to give himself a shot. Gerald stopped briefly to look up and smile at me as I walked toward him; he looked completely unfazed by the injection.

“Is that Insulin?” I asked, preparing to look away before he poked the needle through his skin.

“No, thank God. I love to eat, that would just not work for me. This is a maintenance drug for hemophilia; it’s a quick shot.”

“Oh, Christ that’s terrible. Do you have to do that every day?” He calmly poked the needle in his athletic looking bicep as I gasped in horror. I was glad I hadn’t eaten yet. “Can’t you get one of the nurses to help you with that?”

“Nah, I wouldn’t bother anyone with this. Still a little trypanophobia I see.” Gerald laughed sliding his arms into his button down shirt.

“Trypano what?”

“You’re afraid of needles. Do you faint or throw up?”

“Neither, but there has to be a damn good reason, or I won’t even go near a doctor,” I explained.

“Fascinating, I haven’t found a true phobic to play with in years.” Gerald put his medication and needle paraphernalia away as I poured myself a coffee.

I was a bit offended he compared me to a plaything, but I was willing to ignore his odd comment. I was trying to come up with a nonchalant way of asking how to get underwear added to my daily clothes pile. I considered that this man could be one of those brilliant absent-minded types, inexperienced with common social pleasantries or possibly the women in his life don’t wear panties. I wear underwear and going commando did not appeal to me.

“I gather since I’m still here, the Colonel isn’t finished with me. You know he didn’t give me the chance to run home and pack before he knocked me out. Do you have any idea where I can get additional clothing?”

“I’m certain Colonel Wolfe has no plans to harm you.” Gerald chuckled. “We can put in a request for the provisioning office today. We should have some action by tomorrow. If there’s something you need right away, I can send someone into town to get it.”

“Oh, thank you, but I don’t want to create any hassle.” Honestly didn’t give a rats ass about the hassle but I didn’t want to describe the cut and size of the panties and bras I like to wear with the strange man standing in front of me who just poked a huge needle in his own arm like it was nothing.

“It’s no hassle at all. You are my top priority project at the moment.”

“Really, then what are your project goals? What are you supposed to accomplish? That Colonel guy claims I’m dangerous, but I think he’s full of shit.”

“There are no goals at the moment Calynn,” Gerald stated quickly.

“How will your success be measured then? Projects have goals; goals need to be measured.” I tried to study his face while I sipped my coffee. He looked genuinely surprised. “I have been brought here against my will. I would like to know what you plan to do with me.”

“You can imagine there are things I am not at liberty to discuss today?” Gerald explained in a hushed tone as if I had asked something inappropriate.

“I can imagine a lot of things. Answer one question. How long before my brain ends up in one of those fancy glass jars on your shelf?” I pointed squeamishly to the disgusting display of pickled parts on the shelf behind him.

“Okay, do you need insulin? Seriously this is a lot of nothing that you have worked up into some conspiracy that just doesn’t exist.” Gerald’s tone changed, he’d grown tired of the prodding.

“What I need is to get out of here. I’m telling you the truth; you have the wrong person.” I held my forehead in my hands and tried to compose myself. I could feel my battered body being pulled to the floor.

“Here start with some jello, and I’ll get you an anti-inflammatory. Knock it back with the coffee. Maybe we can start weaning you off the painkillers; they seem to be affecting your mood.”

“My mood? My mood is stellar considering I have been abducted and brought to God knows where.” Gerald handed me a big white pill and a foil covered cup of red jello on his way to the phone to order breakfast.

“I don’t think it is wise for you to get all worked up or to jump directly into all these this morning. You have been through quite a lot recently and …”

“Is the kitchen far?” I interrupted; attempting to regain my civility, I took a deep, exaggerated breath and felt my bruised ribs react. “I could use a short walk to clear my head.” Gerald looked surprised, he put his hands on his waist, arched his shoulders, and stared at me. After an awkward amount of silence had passed, he slowly shook his head and pointed toward the doorway.

“Why the hell not. The hallway to the right that leads to one of the restaurants. They are more like mini-marts. Each main building has some manner of food available. Ask the girl at the counter to make you a milkshake. Misty should be there today; she’ll know what flavors I have left.” He walked over to the wall and grabbed a coat, shook it out and inspected the pockets. “Here, take my jacket. It’s cold out in the hallway. Take my ID card; scan it and get whatever you like” He handed the card to me with his picture facing up. I turned the plastic card over and found nothing but a fat black strip on the other side.

“Can this card get me a car and a map that will lead me home?”

“Very funny. At some point, someone will realize that you are not a one star in his forties.” I wrinkled my eyebrows in disbelief. “Fine, the late forties. I will then have to spring you from a dirty detaining cell and pump you full of even more antibiotics. Plus, I will have to explain why you have my ID card.”

“I guess I’ll have to weigh my options carefully.” Gerald seemed to delight in the possibility that I might try to escape. He chuckled as he took the card from me and slid it in the front pocket of the oversized jacket.

“Go slowly, and if you need any help ask the girls at the counter to call me, I’ll come get you.” Gerald looked concerned, but he seemed willing to let me try to fend for myself. “Do me a favor and don’t lose that ID, I think it’s my only one.”

Gerald gingerly helped me put on the large blue jacket. I could tell by the careful pressure he used to grab my hand and guide it down the sleeve that he intimately understood the nature of all my injuries. Neither a bruise or cut was touched, his thoughtful attention made me feel over examined. He mentioned leaving clothes for me, that remark now seemed odd to me too. He supplied me with a pair of dark gray sweats, a white long sleeve shirt, a dark gray stretchy tank top, socks, and a pair of slip on shoes, no panties, and no bra.

I felt exposed like living one of my more annoying dreams. I guess everyone has some version of the naked in public dream. In mine, I’m standing on the wet grassy lawn of my old high school wearing only a thin jacket that won’t zip closed and a pair of button fly jeans that won’t stay buttoned. I realize that I’m not wearing underwear, and the water is wicking up jeans like they are made out of paper towels. This wasn’t quite that bad, but it was close.

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