Updated: Nov 17, 2021
Derrick’s waking moments for the last three days had been clouded with pain and prayers for a peaceful end. He had tried to move in bed, yet his body was sealed inside of a cast. Dr. Fletcher had stated that the recovery would be fast, and yet, he refused to give a specific time line.
Even though the doctor gave his assurances, Derrick found no relief. He couldn’t feel anything wrong with his body, but the results of the surgery made him restless.
Dr. Fletcher stabbed another piece of beef with his fork and stuck it into Derrick’s mouth. “How was the steak?”
“Not bad…” Derrick chewed and swallowed. “I prefer medium well-done.”
“Understandable, but rare steak is more tender and nutritious.” Dr. Fletcher picked up the cup and helped Derrick with the straw. After Derrick had his drink, the doctor typed notes on his computer pad. “Good, ready for dessert?”
“I want to call, Sheryl,” said Derrick. “I’m strong enough to talk.”
“You’re doing better,” said Dr. Fletcher. “But your heart isn’t ready for it.”
“Dammit.” Derrick tried to move his arm, but the cast wouldn’t budge. “When can I have visitors? How long are you going to keep me here?”
“You’re not a prisoner. You’re my patient. I understand, this place is dull and I’m not a social butterfly. However, all of this and my actions are for your benefit.”
“Yeah, I’m thankful, but when do I get better?”
“You’re getting better with every passing day. We’ll see what happens after I review the tests tomorrow. Now, are you sure you don’t want your triple chocolate cake?”
Derrick didn’t answer. After Dr. Fletcher cleaned Derrick’s teeth, the doctor shut off the lights and left the room.
The vital monitors hummed and glowed as if they were lanterns sitting in the midnight mountains. There was nothing to do, but Derrick wasn’t interested in sleeping.
He searched the room with his eyes, but he couldn’t see anything beyond his feet. The bed frame creaked as he shifted his body, though, it didn’t change how he laid on his bed. If he died tonight, they could save money by burying him his cast.
“What should I do? Sing the same two songs for the 50th time? Or should I practice my whistling? Which one would Sheryl like more?” Derrick spoke his thoughts to fight drowsiness. It started as a game to entertain himself, because the doctor had confiscated his electronics, but it had become a ritual to strengthen his mind against the empty hours.
Surgery separated him from the people who cared. Dr. Fletcher kept him away from the simple comforts of communication. It was a worthwhile inconvenience, yet there was a side effect.
Within the lightless room, the walls would fall away and the dark would gain depth. Formless shadows slithered, fluttered, and whispered the names of friends he hadn’t seen for many years. His eyes couldn’t see them and they couldn’t touch him, yet the elements seeped into his head and muddied the world. Sleep was an open door for the restless watchers.
“Oh boy… Whistling numbs the lips, but that should be expected. It’s been what? 20 minutes, maybe 30?” Derrick ran his tongue along his dry lips. “Alright, let’s try—”
A resounding crack ripped through his body.
“What was that—”
His body trembled when another crack reverberated from the dark. Something bounced and crumbled. Derrick tried to find the source and the space continued to play with him.
“Dr. Fletcher, help me!” shouted Derrick. “I think I’m having a—”
“Hush… I’ve come to see you…”
Even though the voice was deafened by the cracking, Derrick eye balled the darkness. The silhouette of little boy latched on to the bed side. Derrick cried and his heart bruised his lungs. His thoughts froze and his emotions congealed into primal admiration.
This creature had no face or eyes, yet its sight delved into Derrick’s core. It waved its tiny hands in his face. The child screamed and a fountain of liquid shadow erupted from its faceless void. Derrick shut his mouth, but the liquid went up his nose and soaked his tongue with ashen water.
“Stop—” Derrick coughed and shouted, “This isn’t real. I’m hallucinating—”
“Are you really?” The black jaws revealed themselves and sunk their teeth into Derrick’s cast. Chunks of plaster fell to the floor. “Do you remember the boy? He was a handful, just like you.”
“What— What are you? I haven’t done anything to you…” Derrick cried and struggled to roll off the bed. “Please, leave, I need to go home.”
“Home? Your sweet nothings and shallow beliefs? Who would miss you?” The jaws cracked and stretched as it formed a smiling mouth that could swallow Derrick with a single gulp. The moisture from its breathe filled the room with rotting humidity.
It laughed with a shrill voice. Derrick tried to shout, but the terror clawed his brain. A tiny whisper was hidden within the cackles of doom. Inside the creature’s throat, were two white dots in the back of its throat. The glimmering specks floated toward Derrick and his heart crumpled.
“Stay away!” Derrick broke his cast, kicked his legs, and punched anything that moved.
“Settle down!” Dr. Fletcher took a punch to the chest and grabbed Derrick’s arm.
“Honey, calm down!” Sheryl took hold of Derrick’s face. “Everything is ok, I’m here.”
Derrick thrashed his body for another minute before realizing what he was looking at. “What’s going on?”
“You had a sudden reaction.” Dr. Fletcher let go Derrick’s arm and picked up a power saw from the floor. “I was feeding you, until you fell unconscious—”
“You were having a seizure.” Sheryl kissed Derrick’s cheek and wiped a tear from her face. “We had to cut your cast and ventilate you. How do you feel?”
“Confused?” Derrick’s mouth was dry and his stomach gurgled. “Did I finish my breakfast?”
“Partially.” Dr. Fletcher held out a plate of vomit. “You ate the bacon and finished one of the pancakes. Sheryl made everything easier. She’s talented, you’re lucky to live with a skilled nurse.”
“Huh, well it could be worse—” Derrick paused and raised two arms into the air. He could feel both arms, but the new one had a slight tingle to it. “Is this real?”
Sheryl smiled and Dr. Fletcher nodded. They worked together to cut and remove the cast. After the chunks of plaster were shed from Derrick’s body, he got off his bed and stretched his limbs. His skin was firm and smooth, but it was paler than before. He stepped forward and his legs buckled.
She grabbed his new arm and kept him on his feet. “Don’t rush take it nice and slow.” Then she helped him into a chair took out a plastic box from her purse. Inside the box, were two homemade muffins.
As she tried to feed him, he grabbed the muffin with his new hand. His fingers became warm when he touched the fluffy pastry, the chocolate chips on its surface, and the oil that kept it from sticking to the pan.
Wow, this must be good! Derrick devoured the muffin in three bites and tried to chew with a full mouth. Strange, it doesn’t taste like anything special… Why did it feel so good?
He swallowed the muffin and said, “Thanks, that was the best thing I’ve for the past few days.”
“I beg your pardon?” Dr. Fletcher stopped cleaning the plaster from the floor. “My cooking isn’t that bad—”
“He doesn’t mean it doctor.” Sheryl hugged Derrick and rubbed her cheek against his. “We’re grateful for everything you’ve done for us.”
The sensation of her soft face against his almost caused him to cry. Derrick asked for a mirror. Besides the paler skin, his nose, lips, and hair were restored. There were no scars or lines on his face as if the accident had never happened.
After Dr. Fletcher cleaned the room, he had Sheryl bring Derrick to the gym area. The doctor explained how the skin and muscle grafts were stiff due to the foreign cells reviving and adjusting to Derrick’s body. Days of medication and observation were necessary, but exercise would help strengthen the bonds between the cells.
Derrick grabbed on to the railings on his left and right. The path for the railings was 15 feet long, and yet, the first four steps caused his knees to tremble. He slid his hands across the rail and tried to hold his weight, but his new arm was growing weaker.
Although the room was air conditioned, sweat seeped from every pore on his body. He was ready to call it a day, but he took another step and his hand slipped.
Sheryl caught and set him on the floor. “I told you to take it slow. You look alright, but your body is still recovering.”
“I would listen to her, if I was you,” said Dr. Fletcher. “She’s going to supervise your rehab from now on.”
“What?” said Derrick. “I’m sorry, Sheryl, you can’t do this. What about work?”
“I have sick days and Dr. Fletcher needs a nurse to take care of you.”
Really? That’s awfully convenient… Derrick offered his hand to Dr. Fletcher. “Thank you, but you don’t have to keep going out of your way for us.”
Dr. Fletcher shook his hand. “It’s no trouble at all. I’m doing this for me. Your surgery was tiring. I needed a helping hand around here.”
They finished the rehab session and Sheryl helped Derrick to the showers. Once he was clean, she returned him to his bed and left for the day.
The lights went off and the room was dark. Derrick’s nightmares refused to come forward. He drifted into a peaceful sleep, though, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something scared away the phantoms.
The rhythm of Derrick’s heart was the steady beat of a hard working engine. His feet kept pace with the treadmill and he swung the dumbbells without fear. He wasn’t a big fan of physical exercise, before the accident, but he enjoyed his rehab.
As he exercised, over the course of nine days, his muscles tightened and he had more energy. He did what he could to push the limits and his treatment made it easier. The surgery restored his life, maybe, this was the fresh start he needed.
“Ok, time’s up.” Sheryl pressed a button the treadmill and the machine slowly coasted to a stop.
“I can keep going.” Derrick pumped the 20 pound weights.
“I said that’s enough. You need to rest.” She tied her hair back and held out her open hands. “Give me the weights.”
“I’ll put them back.” Derrick walked toward the rack and he had the sudden desire to throw the weights. It wasn’t appropriate behavior, but he had another fun idea. He pulled his arms back, swung the weights, and let them roll off his fingers. The weights tumbled along the floor and collided into the weight rack.
He clapped his hands and turned to see Sheryl with her eye brows raised. She said, “That was dangerous and you could’ve broken the rack—”
“That would’ve been impressive.” Dr. Fletcher picked up the weights and put them away. “If you threw them, you probably would’ve done the job.”
“Sorry, doctor. Derrick got too excited.”
“He has every right to be excited.” Dr. Fletcher brought out his stethoscope and listened to Derrick’s heart. “He’s in peak physical condition and he’s going home today.”
“Yes!” Derrick cheered and threw his hands into the air.
“Uh, doctor? I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Sheryl grabbed her clipboard and flipped through her papers. “Derrick’s had a remarkable recovery, but he still has two weeks of therapy to go through.”
Derrick approached Sheryl from behind and lifted her off her feet. “Listen to the doctor! He knows what he’s doing.”
“Well, treatment is still needed,” said Dr. Fletcher. “But you can finish everything at home—”
“See the doctor says you’re still recovering!” Sheryl tickled Derrick’s ribs and he released her with a fit of high pitched laughter.
“This isn’t a joke. I’m in charge of you.” She smoothed out her blouse and furrowed her eye brows, though, the blush on her face and the curl on the edge of her lips were radiating with happiness.
“Thank you, doctor.” Derrick offered and shook hands with Fletcher. “I promise to pay you—”
“Money helps, but it’s not dire.” Dr. Fletcher handed Derrick a pill bottle and a note for his prescription. “Take one per day. If you experience fever, rashes, or muscle spasms, take two. But don’t take more than that.”
Derrick returned to his room, packed his bag, and took the car keys from Sheryl. While he drove away from the doctor’s facility, Sheryl told him where to go and how he should drive. He could tell she was nervous, so he whistled a high-pitched delightful tune. She stopped talking and relaxed with a sparkle in her eyes.
After Derrick whistled for five minutes, Sheryl rested her head on his shoulder and said, “That was beautiful. My sister tried to sing like a bird, but she wasn’t as good as you.”
That’s right. She has a sister… Derrick said, “What was her name—”
“We’re home!” Sheryl pointed at the house. Derrick turned the wheel and the car screeched when the car speed into the drive way. He apologized and she grabbed his bag. Her spirits weren’t dampened and she assured him that it wasn’t a big deal.
Sheryl carried Derrick’s bag while toeing him to the front door of her house. She fumbled with the bag as she unlocked the door.
“Let me get that for you.” Derrick reached for the knob and she barred the way with her back.
“Nope, you drove here. Now, let me take the lead and you can relax.” Sheryl turned the knob and pushed through the door with her foot. She stepped inside and shouted, “Guess who’s back!”
Mr. McCoy stepped into the hall and his eyes grew big when he caught sight of Derrick.
Mrs. McCoy walked into sight with a smile, but her lips curdled and tears rained from her face. She staggered into Derrick’s chest and pinched the cheeks on his face. “My son! He’s— If only—”
“Mom, it’s ok, calm down.” Sheryl held her mother and coaxed her to let go. Derrick kept smiling and tried to help, but Mrs. McCoy clung to him and wept louder than before. Mr. McCoy pulled his wife away from Derrick and Sheryl took her to the living room.
Derrick followed Sheryl and Mr. McCoy grabbed his shoulder.
“Give them a minute. Sheryl has a good head for these kind of things.” Mr. McCoy had glossy eyes and a wide tooth grin. He shook Derrick’s hand. “It’s good to have you back. I don’t think I could handle three funerals in two months.”
Funerals? Who died and how did I know about this? Derrick tried to speak, but Mr. McCoy caught him with a bear hug.
Once Mrs. McCoy settled down on the living room sofa, Mr. McCoy joined her and kept her company. Derrick went to the kitchen and raided the pantry. He pulled out salsa, dried pasta noodles, and garlic. Then he searched the refrigerator.
“Making a snack?” asked Sheryl.
“No, I’m making dinner. I expected a reaction from your parents, but I didn’t think it would be like this.” Derrick picked the corn on the cob and spinach from the bottom fridge drawer.
Sheryl took out a mixing bowl, a whisk, and a set of measuring cups. “They’re happy… The accident was traumatic for them. You can make them feel better and I’ll be here for you.”
Although there were consequences to the operation, Derrick didn’t think his condition would effect anyone else besides Sheryl and himself. “Alright, let’s make something delicious.”
They cut, smashed and mixed numerous ingredients together. It was hard work, because Derrick played with the food and Sheryl wanted to keep things simple. Their dish was a casserole containing a layers of meat sauce spaghetti, mashed potatoes with vegetables, and salsa tamales. Derrick’s creation, earned him a side-eye glance from Sheryl.
When Derrick brought the casserole to the table, Mr. McCoy laughed.
“I can’t remember the last time I’ve had such a treat,” said Mr. McCoy.
“It’s been many years…” Mrs. McCoy sniffed and dabbed her eyes with a napkin.
Their meal was packed with flavor and uplifting conversations. This was Derrick’s home. A wish that he unknowingly desired.
The complements and cheerful disposition played inside of Derrick’s mind. Sheryl’s parents enjoyed the food and she encouraged him to cook more. He hummed as he washed the dishes in the sink. It was a long process to wash the dishes by hand, but he imagined it was a bubble bath and he worked through the sauce covered utensils.
Ah, bubble baths… I almost forgot about them. I think I was five when I made the tub overflow with bubbles. He stuck the last knife into the drying rack and dipped his hand into the murky sink water. When he couldn’t find anything, he retracted his hands and a sharp edge snagged his pinky.
Then he grabbed the object and pulled it out of the water. It was a plate with a dull horse pattern. There was a missing chip on the plate and it made a deceptively sharp edge. A drop of blood dripped from his pinky on to the horse.
Derrick switched on the faucet and rinsed the plate under the running water. Afterwards, he scrubbed it clean and held it closer to his face. The horse was etched into the ceramic material, but the color had faded over the years it was used. He ran his finger nail through the crevices and picked the scraps that were stuck in the pattern.
Once he was done with the plate, the blue highlights were clearer than before. Grass and flowers at the horse’s hooves. The horse had a long mane and a hyper realistic eye that looked outward to the real world.
Neigh, says the horse. Derrick smirked, until someone giggled from behind him. He turned his head, but no one was there.
“Neigh!” The plate snorted and mewled. Although Derrick doubted the sounds the plate had made, the horse image grew brighter and the kitchen grew dimmer. While everything around him lost its color, the crack on the plate disappeared and the horse galloped through an open field.
I didn’t notice the sheen on the horses fur. The grass has a wonderful sheen and the crystal sun adds color to everything. Is that— Shit! Derrick threw the plate and averted his gaze to the floor. There was a stick person in the far off distance inside the plate. It had one defining feature, a smile that was bigger than its head.
After he took several breathers to clear his head, the kitchen returned to its cozy colors. He chuckled and noticed that he was crouched on his knees with the plate in his hands. The plate was still an old ceramic dish.
He stood and placed the plate on drying rack. His fingers had no blood or cuts on them.
I must be overdoing it… Yeah, I better go to bed, I’m sure Sheryl wouldn’t mind. He drained the sink and left the kitchen. The remainder of the night was uneventful, though, he couldn’t shake the invigorating nostalgia that saturated his senses.