There can’t be a way to fake this. A shark took his legs and he nearly committed suicide. How does that work? The first thing thing Derrick had done in the morning was watch the video of a famous surfer who was carried off the beach with his bleeding stubs.
There were multiple witnesses at the incident and it was big news in the surfing community. Five months later, a small documentary was published about the young man’s full recovery. It didn’t break the world news, but the fans were astounded when he returned to the competitions.
Derrick scrolled through the articles, chat rooms, and pictures. This man was living to the fullest, thanks to Dr. Fletcher.
“If someone is going to help me, it’s going to be this doctor,” said Derrick.
“I’m not so sure,” said Sheryl. “I talked with an old friend that works around the city hospitals. Fletcher has mental health problems and the hospitals don’t work with him, due to his paranoia.”
“Sheryl, I don’t have many options. Please, keep driving.”
He dropped the phone and placed his hand on to her shoulder. “If this works, we can have a normal life together.”
She pushed his hand away and pulled the car into someone’s driveway. “It doesn’t hurt to try, but you have to pick up my phone and navigate. I have no idea how to get there.”
They drove down town and went through the steady traffic. Even though it was 10:55 am, there were many people traversing the sidewalks and the shops lined up along the road. Derrick was happy to see people, but it was busier than he would’ve liked.
The pink building was their destination. Sheryl parked the car in the buildings grungy parking garage. Derrick urged Sheryl to hurry as she held his hand and walked him into the elevator. While the elevator carried them up, the ceiling fan whirled and the lights flickered. It brought them to a big lobby that was decorated with a chandelier and dirty stone floors.
This office building used to be a hotel… How did that happen? Did the owners die? Was it impossible to maintain? Maybe a series of accidents and bad choices? Derrick stepped on to the 12th floor with his cane and hobbled ahead of Sheryl. He stopped in front of suite 1204 and pounded on the door.
“Come in, the doctor will see you now,” said the muffled voice inside of the room.
As Derrick turned door knob, his fingers slipped and his cane fell. He tried to grab the cane and his hand snatched the air. Then he kicked the cane in mid-air and teetered as it sailed out of his reach.
Sheryl caught him, stood him upright, and handed him his cane. “I respect your determination, but don’t forget that we’re a team. She opened the door and he walked inside.
Although this was a converted hotel room, the office didn’t show it. The walls were painted black and the door opened into a single room. A book shelf and filing cabinet rested by the walls. There was a large wooden desk with two cushioned chairs in front of it. Life size, before and after, posters displayed the recovery of previous patients.
However, the most abstract image in the room was the person shrouded with a long sleeve coat, a ski mask, and pair of goggles.
“Hello?” Derrick scanned the room, but saw no other people or doors leading to else where. “Are you Dr. Fletcher’s patient? Is he taking a break?”
“Yes, well, not exactly.” The man stood and walked away from the desk. He wore khaki pants and hiking boots. A white toothed smile was the only feature exposed through the thick clothing. “I’m Dr. Fletcher. You must be Derrick Sullivan. Please, have a seat.”
Derrick was about to take a chair, but Sheryl grabbed his arm and held him in place. “What kind of doctor— No, who dresses like that and expects to be taken seriously.”
“What—” Derrick paused. Sheryl had ferocity in her eyes and she was keeping him out of her line of fire.
She scowled at the man and raised her voice. “How do we even know if you’re the actual Dr. Fletcher? Show us your face.”
“I would be insulted if you never asked.” Dr. Fletcher pulled out a folder from his desk and offered it Sheryl.
When she refused to take it, Derrick dropped his cane and took the folder. He sat down and opened the folder in his lap. An albino face with cracked skin and red eyes stared from the picture. There was also a medical report that detailed Hudson Fletcher’s premature birth, 14 assorted allergies, and two heart operations.
This man has been sick for his entire life… Derrick turned his head and found Sheryl reading over his shoulder. She was biting her lip and was breathing heavily.
“Here’s an extra to satisfy your concerns.” Dr. Fletcher pulled his goggles to his forehead. His eyes were red and tears gushed from them. He shut his eyes and wiped them on his sleeve before putting his goggles back on. “Now that I’ve flushed my eyes with the particles in the air, please sit down.”
Sheryl sat in her chair and mumbled an apology.
“Yes, let’s not waste anymore time.” Derrick nudged Sheryl and she pulled out his medical records from her purse. “This is a copy of my file. I suffered from—”
“I’ve seen your records,” said Dr. Fletcher. “What I haven’t seen is you. Please, remove your scarf and jacket.”
“Hold on,” said Sheryl. “The records have pictures.”
“But I’m not operating on a picture.” Dr. Fletcher held his hand in front of her face and flexed his fingers. “Two dimensions is easy to interpret. Three dimensions involves moving parts.”
Derrick removed his sunglasses, hat, and scarf. Dr. Fletcher walked around and studied him. Even though the doctor made excellent points, Derrick started to question the absurd behavior.
“Your injuries are uniquely unfortunate.” Dr. Fletcher sat his desk and hummed over Derrick’s file. “How did you get injured?”
“A car crash—”
“No, I want to hear what you were thinking in that very moment.”
“I can’t say.” Derrick clenched his fist. “I suffered a concussion.”
“What do you remember? What color was the car? How fast were you going? Were you scared?” Dr. Fletcher took the file and threw it into the trash bin. He got up and grabbed the Derrick’s empty sleeve. “Do you regret your actions? Do you miss this arm? Tell me!”
“I want to live!” Derrick stood and punched Dr. Fletcher's chest. “I woke up in Sheryl’s home and I felt empty. I lost my life. I didn’t know what to do anymore. She helped me and I thought you could give me a chance to love again, but you’re obviously insane.”
Derrick grabbed Sheryl and walked to the door.
Dr. Fletcher clapped his hands and said, “I work with the dead everyday. Call me in two days and we’ll schedule your operation. Your money can wait, life doesn’t.”
The family home was 56 years old, but Derrick couldn’t believe it. Mr. McCoy dealt with the house’s maintenance throughout the years, but his back was giving him problems today. Derrick had lent a hand by crawling under the sink and installing a new pipe.
Mrs. McCoy had appreciated their work in the kitchen and she asked for Derrick’s help to cut the vegetables. He had sliced a bunch of potatoes, kneed some home-made dough, and discovered that he could make chicken pot pie.
After the long day of chores was completed, Derrick had eaten and showered. Yesterday was gone, today was productive, and tomorrow would be better. He put on his pants, put his arm through the long sleeve, and slowly buttoned his shirt.
Sheryl walked into the room and nodded approvingly. “You look good in blue cotton. Let me get the rest of those buttons.”
While she closed his shirt, Derrick’s mind started to wander. Sheryl smelled nice, even without her perfume. Her dedication shined through her eyes. A green shirt and a pair of shorts was nothing special, but they clung to her body like a little black dress.
“There you go. Wait, I know it’s only pajamas, but it works for you.” Sheryl straightened the collar on his shirt.
“Thank you, may I hug you?” said Derrick. She hugged him and he wrapped his arm around her torso. He treasured the moment, lifted her off her feet, and jumped into bed with her.
“Whoa!” Sheryl laughed and said, “You helped my father with the house work and you cooked dinner with my mother. What’s the occasion?”
“I needed to do something with my hands.” Derrick rubbed her back with his hand. “Fletcher pissed me off.”
She snuggled closer and rested her head against his chest. Derrick embraced her and nuzzled her crown with his forehead. He desired to kiss her, but his lips had no feeling and the scars made them rough. His body yearned, and yet, his bones and sinew had already hit their limitations.
If I wasn’t lonely— What? I have Sheryl and her parents. They care! Why would I feel… Fuck the surgery and fuck Fletcher. The man was a disrespectful hack that couldn’t hold a job at clinic. We don’t— Derrick heard a squeak and Sheryl stared at him.
“Sorry, did you say something?” said Derrick.
“Too much hugging…” whispered Sheryl.
Derrick moved his hand away from her upper arm. A hand print with fingernail marks had formed on her arm. Guilt threatened to drown him.
“I’m sorry! Does it hurt? Don’t worry. I, I can—” Derrick placed his hand on her head and hummed a set of random melodies He switched tunes and tried to be endearing, yet she stayed silent and watched as he fumbled with his uncertainty.
Then he puckered his lips and whistled. His breathing kept pace and his tongue naturally controlled the varying sounds from his mouth. The music was scratchy as if it was the first song of a bird.
Even though he didn’t understand what he was doing, Sheryl’s growing eyes inspired him to keep performing.
Sheryl pressed a finger against his lips and held his hand. “Are you alright?”
“No,” said Derrick. “I’m worried about you and your parents. I’m getting better, but it’s not enough—”
“I want you to be happy.” Sheryl caressed his face. “I called Dr. Fletcher, he’s willing to donate everything for the operation.”
“What’s the catch? Does he want to put us on a special payment plan?”
“Dr. Fletcher wanted to apologize. He’s weird and rude, but he is a doctor that wants to help us.”
So the good doctor has a conscience… Derrick yawned and closed his heavy eye lids.
She sat upright and covered him with a blanket. “Sleep, you can make your decision in the morning.”
“I’ll do it.” Derrick grabbed her hand. “I’ll call the doctor and make the appointment, but you have to stay with me tonight.”
They laid under covers hand-in-hand.
Once Derrick had set his appointment, he spent the day with Sheryl. They had walked through a park, ate three meals together, and enjoyed a movie together. He had tried to get Mr. and Mrs. McCoy involved, but the conversations wouldn’t last long and they shied away from topics about the family.
The next day, Sheryl drove Derrick to Dr. Fletcher’s treatment center. It was a renovated mini mart. They walked into the building and met Dr. Fletcher at the front counter. Then the doctor gave them a tour of the rehab gym, the bathroom with the jacuzzi, and the patient’s room.
It wasn’t a fancy bed, though, there was a nightstand, a dresser, a lazy chair, and lots of space to walk around. Sheryl put Derrick’s clothes into the drawers and placed the bag on the nightstand.
She pressed her hand against the bed and tested the cushion. “This is better than I thought it would be. Can we see the operation room?”
“Sorry, I can’t let you do that,” said Dr. Fletcher. “I have to keep the room as clean as possible, but I’ll be recording the surgery. I’ll give you a copy of the video.”
“I guess it’s time for me to go. I’ll see you soon.” Sheryl kissed Derrick on the cheek. It was a brief interaction, but the kiss invigorated Derrick and Sheryl left with a memorable smile.
“Thank you. It takes courage to work with a surgeon,” said Dr. Fletcher. “Mr. Regis—”
“Please, call me Derrick.”
“Certainly. Follow me.” Dr. Fletcher walked to a pair of a sliding doors and instructed Derrick to wait, until the red light above the door turned green. The doctor walked in and Derrick sat on the bench next to the door.
Derrick waited and began to shuffle his feet. There was no clock in the vicinity, but he was certain at least 15 minutes had passed. He began to pace back and forth.
When too much time passed, he knocked on the doors and shouted, “Dr. Fletcher is everything okay?”
The light became green. Derrick pressed the button and walked through the doors. Another pair of doors was separating him from the next area. A sign on the wall requested staff and patients to remove their clothes before going through decontamination.He stripped and put his clothes next to the doctor’s folded clothing.
Then he stepped through the doors and was sprayed by a hot water shower. He rubbed his eyes and spat out the water that went into his mouth. The water stung with a chemical that tasted like stale alcohol. Another set of doors took him through a room of blow dryers and ultra violet lights. Before walking through the last doors, he changed into a provided paper gown.
“Sorry, for the wait. There were a few last minute preparations to be made. Lay down here and try to relax.” Dr. Fletcher wore a surgeon's smock and stood next to the metal slab of a table. The room was polished metal. Computers, freezers, and scalpels surrounded them.
As Derrick laid on the cold table, the doctor secured him to the table with rubber straps.
“Is this standard procedure?” Derrick couldn’t move his arms or legs, and his stub wasn’t going to do anything useful.
“Yes it is.” Dr. Fletcher wired and attached computer sensors to Derrick’s chest. “Pain can cause people to do deplorable things. Medicine can only do so much.”
Dr. Fletcher placed the oxygen mask on Derrick and injected him with a sedative. “I’ve treated worse cases than you, but I can’t guarantee that you’re deepest scars will completely heal.”
“The— and em—”
Although Derrick was determined to under go the surgery, the doctor’s broken explanation didn’t inspire confidence. His eye lids closed, however, the dark never came.
The room transformed into a sea of constricting flames and corrosive fumes. He gasped and clawed at the inferno. His fingers couldn’t tear away the flames, but they found a smooth surface.
A figure appeared and made Derrick flinch. It was his reflection. The source was a mirrored wall that made the flames burn brighter and caused his skin to boil. His nostrils were filled with smoke and his smoldering flesh fell from his body.
This is a dream— A bad one. I don’t have to let this happen. He shut his eyes and slapped himself. The fires ceased their crackling and he stopped the screams from his body. Confusion and suffering became confidence and tranquility.
Once he was at peace, he reached out with his hand and someone took hold. They weaved their fingers together and he was delighted to feel a gentle nature through their touch.
Derrick opened his eyes and a black void replaced the hellscape. He searched for Cheryl’s face, yet there was nothing to be seen. When he checked his hand, thin black claws were clamped around it.
Something twinkled from the depths. The eerie florescence clicked and spawned a pair of ebony jaws. They smiled with chipped teeth and said, “Is your love worth anything?”
Before he could answer, the teeth flew into his mouth and bit through his tongue.
The sun blinded him. A scrawny arm with monstrous claws reached out and blocked the light. A murmur of voices and sounds pounded into his body.
I made a mistake. Somewhere along the way, I missed something…