This story is by Barbara J. Bina and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Hang on,” he begged. “We’ll be there soon. They’ll help you!”
Oncoming vehicles careened to the shoulder as Johnathon sped his Bentley the five miles to the hospital. Red, orange and yellow autumn leaves, peaceful in the gutter, flew into the air once again. Grace, his fifteen-year-old daughter, clutched her throat and struggled for air. Normally his chauffeur transported the CEO of Wholesome Products Inc., but today was his driver’s day off.
He skidded into the emergency lane, ran around to lift Grace, and raced toward the triage desk. “My daughter’s having an attack. She desperately needs help,” he shouted at the nurses.
“Daddy, I’m ‘fraid,” Grace wheezed.
One nurse grabbed a wheelchair. “We’ll take care of her.”
Another nurse nodded. “Your car’s blocking the lane. You need to move. We have things covered here.”
“Fine!” he exclaimed. “Get a doctor immediately. I’m Johnathon A. Bitterroot III. They’ll know who I am.”
He drove into a nearby physician-only reserved spot and as fast as his Italian leather loafers would let him, sped back to emergency. The same two nurses stood behind their station. One shuffled papers, while the other read a computer chart.
“Where is she? What room?” he gasped, catching his breath.
“Who?” asked a nurse.
He swallowed. “My daughter of course. A few minutes ago, I brought her in.”
“Sir, no one’s been here. Are you at the right place? Maybe you should sit down and explain.”
“Listen,” thundered Johnathon. “I was just here. I carried in my daughter Grace. You said you’d take care of her. Now I demand to know where she is!”
One nurse pursed her lips. “Sir, please calm down. I’ve been on duty. No one’s come in for an hour.”
“What? I can’t believe this. I want to talk to a doctor.” Johnathon slammed his fist on the counter. “Where’s my daughter? Who’s your supervisor?”
The nurses exchanged glances. One murmured to the other, “We should call security. He’s obviously confused.”
She punched a button on the phone. “I’ll get a doctor for you immediately.”
Furious, Johnathon paced around the room. He spied an ancient dark-skinned East Indian woman beside a typewriter at the end of the station. Her thin provocative smile barely showed sparkling white teeth. Between her eyebrows glistened a red ruby.
She pointed and whispered, “Down the hall. They took your daughter into one of the rooms.”
Johnathon sped away from the nurses and turned left. The silent hallway appeared to dead end, but on the walls were three pulsating green gel portals. Frantic, he tried to peer through the shimmering openings, but could not see what lay beyond.
Then from one portal, he heard Grace’s voice. “Dad. Daddy. Please help me!”
He leapt through the green screen and fell into a gray painted room bereft of furniture. A disheveled teenager sat cross-legged on a gray rug.
“Hello Johnathon,” said the girl.
“Do I know you? How do you know my name?”
“You don’t remember me, do you?” she giggled. “How many years has it been?”
“What’re you talking about? Where’s my daughter?”
She frowned. “Don’t you mean our son?”
“Sandra? I haven’t seen you since high school. What’re you doing here?”
“You don’t remember what happened in high school, do you?”
“I remember we dated, but then you disappeared.”
“Yes, dated is what you called it. Then you moved on to another girl. You said you loved me. It was my first time. I got pregnant.”
“I, I didn’t know,” he muttered raising his palms upwards.
“You didn’t care,” she sneered. “Four months later I went to your house. Your father spoke to me, but didn’t let me in. He gave me money to get rid of it and be quiet. Afterward I left town. I couldn’t live with what I’d done.”
“But what’re you doing here?” He was aghast. “And where’s my daughter Grace?”
Sandra screamed like a maniac and reached out exposing her sliced bloody wrists. Johnathon jumped free and ran back through the portal to the hallway.
Shaken, breathing in quick gasps, he steadied himself in the quiet hallway. Perspiration beaded on his face. Soon, Grace’s sweet, scared voice filtered through the second portal.
“Daddy. Come to me. Don’t leave me alone,” Grace cried.
Instantly, Johnathon ran through the green entranceway and dropped into a room filled with dozens of young girls wearing red dresses. Dark-skinned, they resembled the East Indian nurse. Twisted bodies on the floor, grasped themselves, moaned and rocked. Their morbid wails created a symphony of agony. Others leaned against the dark red painted walls. Dead decaying girls lay amongst sprawled contorted bodies. He covered his nose and mouth with a handkerchief to ward off the horrendous smell while walking through the morass of human bodies. He wondered if the soiled carcasses would permanently stain his leather shoes as he slid the girls’ limbs aside with his foot.
“Grace, are you in here somewhere?” he screamed. “Say something.”
“You’re looking for your daughter?” asked one of the girls.
“Yes. She’s lost,” Johnathon replied.
“Ah, yes. These girls are lost also, because of you.” She swept her mangled arm through the air.
“What do you mean? What has this got to do with me?”
“Your love of money. Your mighty company, Wholesome Products outsourced its manufacturing overseas to save money. Don’t you remember?”
“Yes, but what of it?”
“These girls have been consumed in that process. You pay them only a few cents to work hours in the plant. Several lost their sight. Many have permanent injuries that’ll never heal. Multitudes are dead from the cost saving actions of your company.”
“But. I didn’t know!” he proclaimed.
“How could you not? Now you search for your own daughter, to save her life. But look around at the cost of your actions.”
As Johnathon stared around the room, remorse gripped his chest. Doubling over, he almost fell upon a tiny girl missing a hand. She raised her stub toward him. He lurched and escaped back through the green portal.
Leaning against the hallway, he struggled to breathe. What was happening? Nothing made any sense. Where was Grace? Amidst his gulps for air, he heard his daughter’s faint voice from the third portal.
“Please Daddy, come to me. I love you. I need you to be with me.”
He raced through the green iridescence, hoping this time he could find her. He fell into a dark room. The only sound was someone’s soft crying. As a faint light intensified, he saw hundreds of small stainless steel gurneys along the walls. Each cart held a dead infant wrapped in white muslin. Walking toward the sobs, he spiraled, glancing on either side in horror.
“What’s this?” he timidly asked.
An older woman looked up and tearfully said, “You will cause this.”
“How? The death of so many babies?”
“Through your love of power. A new company product, an infant formula will be tainted. The water and containers have high levels of lead. You’ll be selling poison to feed these innocent babies.”
“I, I didn’t know,” he gasped.
“We warned you but you refused to listen.”
Repulsed by the swaddled corpses on the antiseptic metal, he shielded his eyes and ran toward an open door at the opposite end. He fell through it, leaving the sobbing woman and the silent infants behind.
Total blackness, a void in space, greeted Johnathon. His senses were suspended. He felt nothing except motion, as if being transported on an invisible beam.
“Come to me Daddy. Please,” Grace said.
He floated, spinning repeatedly, falling through the emptiness toward his daughter’s voice. “I’m coming Grace. I’ll find you if I can,” he yelled. “I love you.”
A vacuum force drew him toward a faint whirring noise. A distant blue light intensified, as he neared.
“Daddy. I’m here. Can you see me?” Grace asked.
He shielded his eyes from the all-consuming blue light. Small tingling bites traversed his body. It felt like a hundred newly hatched fleas taking their first nourishment. He jerked and bucked and forced his eyes to fully open. Looking up, he saw Grace.
Johnathon tried to speak and raise his hands, but couldn’t.
“Don’t talk now Daddy. There’s a tube down your throat to help you breathe. We can’t understand you. Just relax.”
Where am I? His puzzled thoughts raced on foggy pathways.
“Daddy, just stay still,” Grace said. “You’ve had a massive heart attack. You’re here at the hospital. They shocked you. Brought you back to life. You’re here with me now. I’m so glad you came back to me.”
Johnathon looked around the room. Two nurses stood next to his bed. One adjusted his blankets and the other checked his IV fluid levels. He recognized them from the emergency entrance. In the corner, close to a bucket of water and a mop stood the gnarled East Indian woman. She stared with a faint perplexed smile on her face. Her green eyes shimmered.