TEN | Observation
He was quiet now. The weird boy on the table with one hand tied down hadn’t stopped staring at her. But he wasn’t making any noise. If she hadn’t occasionally taken an awkward glance at his chest to see it rise and fall, she might’ve thought he’d died. The sickly purple hue hadn’t quite left his face, though it was fading the longer she looked. She’d asked him his name, and he’d moved a little. Not dead, she knew it now. Eyes, stretched wide, watched her with quick, glitchy shifts up and down. “What are you staring at?” she mumbled, stepping back a little from the table. Never seen a girl before?
The boy tilted his head back to follow her with his eyes, mouth falling open. Lisa caught a glimpse of straight teeth, tinged red near the gums. A maze of blood branched like the veins of a leaf over the surface of his tongue. Then he swallowed, washing his mouth clean. The sight of blood made her stiffen, skin turning cold. How old was this kid, she wondered? And what was he doing in here by himself? If he was crazy, shouldn’t someone be watching him to make sure he didn’t get hurt? Her eyes darted to the wrist of his right hand and the thick cord fastening it to the side of the table. A red ring circled his left arm near the base of his palm, the skin rubbed raw. Glancing down, she saw a piece of plastic under the metal frame of the table. Lisa picked it up, twirling it in circles between her fingers. Flecks of blood stained the thick zip tie. It appeared to have been cut by something sharp, creating two half-circles joined by a little square pawl.
Lisa jumped at the sound of the door opening—a loud, suctioning noise like when someone opens up a freezer. She whirled around, heart pounding, to see someone in a white suit stalking toward her. “What the hell?” they demanded in a familiar voice. It sounded like that guy that gave her the pee cup—what was his name?
Lisa swallowed, her face turning pink. She hadn’t expected to be caught in here. Not so soon. Her dad would be so angry when he—
Wait a second, she thought. Wasn’t that what she wanted? For him to get angry, to finally pay attention? Straightening her shoulders, she tossed her chin up and lifted her eyebrows. “What’s the problem?” she demanded.
The pee cup guy stormed around her and grabbed her mask from the table, slamming it against her chest. “Put it on!” he jabbed one finger at the head covering. She could feel the scowl in his voice as she replaced the mask over her hair. “Where are your gloves?”
“They make my hands sweaty.”
“I can’t believe you took off your suit. Do you realize what might’ve—” he stopped to gather her gloves. Shaking his head, he gave a quick sigh. “Don’t tell anyone about this. You could get us both fired.”
“I won’t say anything if you don’t,” she mumbled, ripping one of the gloves as she pulled it on. Her fingers wiggled uncomfortably inside the rubber. She could never be a doctor. Their uniforms were way too uncomfortable.
“What did you say your name was?” he asked suddenly. Then, pointing at the zip tie still in her ungloved hand, he asked “what’s that? You don’t touch his restraints!”
“I didn’t,” Lisa retorted angrily, tossing the zip tie at his face. “It was on the floor.”
“Then go get another one, genius.” Pee cup guy ordered.
“There’s something wrong with him,” Lisa pointed at the boy on the table. “He couldn’t breathe a minute ago. I think something freaked him out.”
“I know what freaked him out. Seeing your face. Now go get the restraint.” He jerked a thumb at the door. Lisa saw something in his hand—a dark colored bottle—but couldn’t see the label. Annoyed, she pushed the door open and stepped back into the outer room. It took a few minutes to go through the cupboards and cases of supplies looking for the zip ties, but she found them eventually. Something about the thought of putting another cord around the boy’s wrist turned her stomach. Nobody should be tied up like that, crazy or not. Grabbing the box of ties, Lisa carried it over to the garbage can next to the refrigerator and poured the contents into the metal bin. The kid wasn’t hurting anybody. There was no reason to use these kinds of ‘restraints’ on him. She didn’t care what pee cup guy said.
Turning on her heel, Lisa went back over to the door. It opened with the same strange suctioning sound she’d heard before, though it was quieter on the outside. Pee cup guy raised his hand and motioned to her. “Give it here.” He meant the zip tie now sitting at the bottom of the garbage bin in the other room. He was standing in front of the table, blocking her view of the boy’s face.
“We’re all out of bondage cords. Sorry,” she shrugged.
“What? There was a full box this morning. Did you look on the shelf next to the syringes?” he turned his body to face her, revealing the boy on the table.
Lisa couldn’t help glancing down, her gaze falling on his eyes which, though blue when she’d first seen them, were now swallowed up by black from dilated pupils. Something inside her twisted painfully at the look on his face: a frozen expression that appeared fearful and empty at the same time. A slow stream of red-tinged saliva fell from the corner of his mouth. The hand clutching at the blanket was twitching, his fingers no longer able to hold the fabric up. The blanket slid a little further off his body, revealing the hollow of his stomach which fell far below his protruding ribcage. He was extremely lean, almost gaunt, and there was no hair on his body at all.
“What did you do?” she demanded, her voice far more emotional than she’d intended. There was a lump in her throat, mocking her formerly stoic countenance. “He looks...wrong.”
“He’s fine. I gave him two hundred milligrams. It isn’t unusual for the doctors to request that. Especially after what happened today.”
“What happened? And—and two hundred milligrams of what?”
Pee cup guy paused to think, his tone shifting to suspicion. “What is your name? Now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t recall seeing anybody new on the schedule. But I don’t know you...so explain that?”
Lisa started to reply but stopped, distracted by the boy’s sudden jerking movements. And the sound—the strange, inhuman sound rasping its way out of his lungs made her head hurt. The noise, the motion, it was all involuntary. The terror she’d grown used to seeing on his face was melting into something numb, and absent. The boy was disappearing, leaving behind a strange, vacant shell. Like a discarded, empty cocoon.
“What did you do to him?” she repeated, angry now. It had come suddenly with a shift in the atmosphere. The more listless and vacant the boy on the table looked, the higher her temper rose.
Pee cup guy shook his head. “What are you talking about?”
“You did something. You hurt him.” Fury, hot and painful in her chest, made her louder. “This is a hospital. You’re supposed to help people. Is this what you do to everyone who gets sick? Lock them up in creepy mirror rooms and turn them into zombies?” Once again, Lisa tore off her head covering, letting it drop.
“Put that back on,” pee cup guy warned. “It’s for your own protection!”
“You can’t treat people this way.” She stalked toward the table, determined to do—something. What, exactly, she wasn’t sure.
“You want him to be a zombie,” pee cup guy said, grabbing her arm so that she couldn’t pass him. He was standing his ground between her and the table. “Trust me, it’s much better for everybody. He’s dangerous. If I hadn’t given him his CPZ, you’d be a red spot on the wall.”
Lisa looked at him dumbly, unsure what he was saying. “You mean he’s crazy?” she glanced at his wrist, tied so tightly to the side of the metal bed that his hand was a slightly darker shade of white. Had he broken free of the other restraint before she got there? But it had been cut, not broken. Someone had deliberately started to free him, then stopped.
“He’s really sick. It’s our job to make sure he doesn’t hurt himself or anyone else.” Pee cup guy sounded a little calmer now. He could tell by the look on her face that she was beginning to question the validity of her emotions. Had she made a mistake? The boy on the table was looking right through her as if she weren’t even there. Was it helping him, the emptiness? She didn’t know. But her anger had faded, leaving only doubt in its place. “You should take the sample down to the lab. Get out of here. It weirds everybody out on the first day. He has that effect on people. I won’t hold it against you.”
Lisa stepped away, her back pressing against the hard, angular edge of the door handle. Pee cup guy walked over to the table and reached for the IV parked in front of the mirror. Digging into his pockets, he pulled out several small packets wrapped in plastic. He took the boy’s left arm and swabbed it with alcohol before pressing a pin-sized needle up into the vein. Using a clear, flexible adhesive patch to hold the line in place, pee cup guy attached the IV bag to the boy’s arm. When he reached back into his pocket, he made a noise of surprise. His hand reemerged with an unused zip tie. “Looks like I grabbed an extra one. I guess I forgot.” Pressing the boy’s arm down hard, he used the zip tie to fasten the twitching limb to the edge of the table, preventing the IV from getting jostled too much by the convulsions.
Lisa found herself frozen in place, wanting to leave but unable to go. She watched the boy’s face, waiting for a change in expression. There was no alteration in the blank darkness of his dilated eyes. He seemed totally unaware of what was happening, the vacant façade cracking momentarily with the sound of a quiet gasp when the needle pierced his skin.
Unable to watch any longer, Lisa turned and shoved open the door, leaving the white room behind. Her emotions had returned—some kind of strange cousin to anger—and she felt nauseated by whatever it was she’d just witnessed. This wasn’t like before when she’d opened the locked door and seen that bearded man crawling toward her. That guy had been totally nuts. Obviously insane. But the boy in the room with the mirror—he hadn’t seemed crazy. Not really. Just scared. Scared enough that he could barely breathe. Now that she was away from him, a heaviness seemed to have lifted from her shoulders. It was as if she too had ceased breathing in that room and was only now able to gasp in a few breaths of cold, dry hospital air. Whatever had possessed her to stay in that room had unleashed its hold. Lisa was now overwhelmed by the urge to run away.
In the hallway, she peeled the suit from her shoulders, pausing in her stride to step out of the rubber-like fabric and leave it in a pile on the floor. She ripped the torn glove off the rest of the way, dropping it too. Her tangled hair lifted limply from her shoulders as she ran down the hall, past the crack in the wall from which water still sprayed through broken pipes. The outer doors clunked loudly as she shoved her way through, charging down the hall toward the elevators. Next to them, the door to her father’s office stood open. As she approached, she saw movement inside. A part of her contemplated turning around. Was it too late to go back to the psych ward and blend in with the other antisocial freaks? Would they notice she didn’t quite belong with them, either? Or would it be better to keep moving forward? Confront the angry ogre currently typing up a storm on his computer. Defy her desire to beg him for a hug, deny that she had any feelings at all. Weakness, he’d say. That’s what feelings are.
Lisa pressed her back to the elevator doors, her head cooled against the metal surface. Tilting her chin up, she stared at the ceiling tiles, counting sprinklers and security cameras, imagining they would turn on and hide her in a heavy sheet of rain and static. Overhead, the lights flickered. The typing noise stopped. When Lisa looked over, she saw her father standing in the doorway. They seemed to see each other at the same time, his eyes narrowing. Without a word, he started toward her. She felt her muscles tighten, ready for the onslaught of criticism. The chew-out of the century. The unbridled anger that would prove he wasn’t just a soulless tool who saved lives; a scalpel with eyes.
He walked by without a word, heading toward the observation ward. He stopped at the desk and leaned over to say something to the nurse who was working at the computers. She nodded and picked up the phone. A moment later, she hung up and relayed a message back to him. His shoulders, which had been pulled too high, now lowered with some relief. They exchange a few more words before he turned around. His expression was blank. “I see you found your way back,” he said and gestured toward his office. Lisa peeled herself away from the elevator doors to follow him inside. Disappointment clung to her back, weighing her down. Her head drooped momentarily, then she looked up. “You’re not mad?” it was worth checking, just to be sure. There was still hope...
“But I was worried.” He added, holding the door for her as she stepped into his office.
Lisa’s eyes widened. “You were?” there was an unexpected tremor in her voice—a betrayal. She swallowed, then cleared her throat. “I can take care of myself.”
“Of course you can.” He nodded, shifting through papers on his desk. He was looking for something. Lisa watched him, realizing he was no longer wearing the white suit from before.
“Don’t patronize me.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it. Ah, here it is.” He picked up his wallet from underneath a stack of files, nearly toppling them in the process. When he looked up, the blankness had been replaced by some other expression. Something...scheming. She didn’t trust that look. “Are you ready?” he asked suddenly, pulling his jacket from the back of his chair and putting it on. The wallet dropped into a pocket and he stepped toward the door.
“Ready?” she repeated, confused. “Are we leaving?” Her father gave a quick nod and took hold of her arm, leading her out the door. His skin was rough and dry from too much hand sanitizer. She tried to pull her arm from his grip, but his fingers tightened. He didn’t let go until they were both behind the closed doors of the elevator, falling toward the first floor.
“I think it’s about time I make good on my promise, don’t you?” he inquired softly, his gaze locked on his own reflection.