This story is by A.D. Faylinn and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Another bead of sweat escaped from the heavy knot of her hair and slithered down, pooling at the small of her back. “I feel like a drowned rat.”
“You sort of look like one.”
Her husband’s snarky reply earned him a half-hearted swat across the back of his head. Amelia and James Miller had been married for nearly nine years and had two beautiful children together. Two days prior, they dropped their progeny off with James’ parents and escaped to spend a blissful weekend alone as an anniversary gift to each other. But the triple digit temperatures and unusually high humidity were sapping Amelia’s enthusiasm.
They’d been searching for an air conditioned restaurant for nearly an hour without relief, and James was irritated. “Is this city against indoor seating?”
“We could go back to our hotel and entertain ourselves.” She winked.
James, unwilling to admit defeat, took Amelia’s hand and set off down the tourist-packed street. Four establishments later, they found the promised land.
“This looks too fancy for a couple of sweaty people,” Amelia whispered, eyeing the white linen tablecloth dotting the tables inside Caffe Milano.
“It isn’t that nice.” James pointed out some dingy stains. “And neither is the clientele.” James inclined his head slightly to the far corner of the room.
Amelia risked a furtive glance over her shoulder and was startled to find two, seedy young men. The pair had their heads together, speaking in barely audible tones. They wore tight, white tank tops with sagging basketball shorts and. They each had brilliant red bandanas wrapped around their heads.
“What do you think of those two? They keep looking at us.” James whispered, while the men joked with the waitstaff.
“Don’t judge, James. The waiter clearly knows them. Maybe they’re family?”
“They look like they’re plotting a drug deal.”
Amelia rolled her eyes. “You always see the worst in people.”
“And you trust people too easily.”
After sipping her Diet Coke, the couple eagerly headed to the beach. Between sunbathing divorcees enjoying their girl’s weekend, bachelorette parties, college kids on summer break, and beach-combing families from all over the world, there was no shortage of spectacles dotting the shoreline. But something was bothering Amelia. Sparkling images flickered at the corner of her vision. She closed one eye, then the other. She squinted, and turned her head this way and that. Soon, tunnel vision dominated her sight.
Suspecting a migraine, Amelia alerted her husband who quickly scrambled to gather their belongings and hail a taxi back to their hotel.
Thirty minutes later, the pain in her head was immense, and Amelia was wracked with nausea. “James,” she pressed her forehead to the cold marble floor. “My head feels like it is going to explode.”
“Deep breaths,” James soothed. “I’ve gotten a few migraines and they were awful. It will be okay.” Amelia moaned in response.
After another hour of alternating between curling in a ball on the floor and being violently ill, Amelia hadn’t improved.
What is happening to me? Amelia began to panic. “James. I can’t feel my hands.”
“What do you mean?” He rushed into the bathroom.
“My hands are tingling and-”
“Babe?” His tone chilled her. “You’re slurring your speech.”
Amelia tried to form words, but could only manage a strangled sound.
“Oh no. Oh no. Hang on, I’m calling 9-1-1.”
“It’s hard to breathe,” Amelia sobbed.
“I don’t know what you’re saying. Hang on, Amelia. I’ve got you.” He carried her to the bed and held her while the voice on the phone answered.
“9-1-1, what is your emergency?”
“It’s my wife. I thought she was having a migraine, but she started slurring her speech and-”
Amelia fought to stay conscious, fearing if she passed out she’d stop breathing entirely. She struggled to focus on James’ conversation, but the words slipped through her mind like a foreign language. Minutes later the door to the hotel room burst open and a cacophony of voices washed over her.
“Ma’am, I’m going to sit you up now,” said a voice. She felt the familiar tightening of a blood pressure cuff and the bite of a finger prick. “Ma’am, can you tell me your name?”
Amelia stared blankly at the paramedic. “Um.” James gave her hand a squeeze. “I don’t know.”
“Ma’am. Can you tell me what city you’re in?”
Amelia’s tongue felt thick in her mouth. Her breathing was labored. “N-no.”
“Sir, has she been drinking?” the medic asked.
“She doesn’t drink alcohol,” James’ voice was bordering hysteria.
“Sir, we’re going to call in a stroke alert to the hospital. Let’s get her into the ambulance.”
Amelia’s head rang with voices and the muted sound of sirens, as she wavered in and out of consciousness. A bright pink bucket was shoved in her face whenever she sat up to vomit.
A loud beeping and the sharp scent of antiseptic woke her in a dark room. In her haze, she couldn’t tell whether hours or days had passed. A man sat beside her bed, hanging his head in his hands.
“Wh-” she attempted.
“Hey, Babe. Can you tell me your name?”
Tears welled in her eyes. Amelia knew she knew her name, but she couldn’t grasp the word.
“It’s okay. You’ll remember soon.”
Amelia shook her head, only to feel bile rising again to her throat.
“Lie down,” encouraged the stranger, “just rest.”
Amelia didn’t want to rest in this strange place with this strange man sitting beside her, but her body felt sluggish and heavy. Amid her racing thoughts, darkness began to consume her again.
When next she woke, she was alone in a silent hospital room.
“Hi sweety,” came a voice from the doorway, “I’m glad you’re awake. My name is Gabriella. Can you tell me your name?”
She wracked her brain for a moment. “Amelia.”
“Good,” the nurse scribbled on her clipboard, “can you tell me where you are?”
Amelia looked around the room. “Um, no.”
“You’re in the hospital,” the nurse supplied, “can you tell me the date?”
Amelia shook her head. “I’m on vacation with my husband, so I don’t know the date.”
“Great,” she exclaimed, “you remember you have a husband. He was irate when we made him leave a few hours ago. Frankly, I thought we were going to have to call security.”
“What?” The nurse’s recap was a little overwhelming.
“Because of the pandemic, he had to leave when we transferred you from the ER to the main hospital.”
“I don’t remember coming to the ER,” Amelia said quietly.
“Do you remember the ambulance?” the nurse asked.
“You had a rough night. What do you remember?”
“Not being able to speak,” Amelia admitted, “and my hands, I couldn’t feel them. My head hurt so bad.”
“You didn’t recognize your husband, or know your name when you arrived. The doctors were worried you were having a stroke or an aneurysm. We ran a lot of tests.”
“What’s wrong with me?” Amelia’s heart rate jumped, causing the monitors to beep angrily.
“Unfortunately, someone slipped you GHB.” The three letters meant nothing to her. “GHB or gamma-hydroxybutyric acid is a type of date rape drug. It’s a nervous system suppressant. We see it all the time down here.”
Amelia’s eyes went wide. Her first thought went to the restaurant. It was the only time she had drunk something other than what was in her water bottle. “Do the police ever do anything about it?”
“Nope,” the nurse said plainly.
Amelia felt the urge to vomit again, but not from pain. She was disgusted that people were prowling the streets, looking for innocent women to hurt; and little was being done about it.
“Here is your phone if you’d like to call anyone.”
Despite it only being 5:59am, Amelia dialed her husband’s number.
“Amelia?” James answered on the second ring.
“James,” she sobbed.
“Shh, Babe. The doctors said you’ll be okay.”
“I want to go home. I want to get out of this horrible city. I want to see our kids.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can. I promise.”
The next day, James guided Amelia to the waiting taxi. Amelia opened the door and jumped back, colliding with James.
“The driver, he…” Amelia took a steadying breath and looked again. For a moment she could’ve sworn the driver was one of the men from the restaurant. Would she ever stop looking for their faces? They were still out there, waiting. She’d been fortunate, but their next victim may not be.
Amelia bravely got into the taxi and pressed herself against James. She inhaled the familiar scent of his cologne while feeling his warmth against her. This man had grown from friend to boyfriend to husband to father and every day he proved his love. James had proven he’d stick by her in sickness and in health, even on the worst of anniversaries.