This story is by Alicia Montgomery and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
At 3 am, the emergency waiting room at Oceanside Hospital was scattered with men, women and children in varying degrees of distress. Many had resigned to making a bed out of the connected chairs set in rows across the room. Other than a few muffled discussions, there was the sound of a small baby fussing and its mother’s futile efforts to calm it. Every now and then a nurse would pop her head out of the door next to the registration desk and call someone’s name.
The city was under a hurricane watch. The wind and rain was picking up outside offering white noise for the anxious and no doubt tired patients. Maintenance was busy crisscrossing all exterior windows with hurricane tape. Hospital security decided to lock the automatic doors at the ER entrance and open them only when someone new arrived.
Behind the admissions desk, people were moving quickly. Several nurses were working to triage patients, and the rest were caring for the ill and injured. They were expecting a busy night with the storm coming. There was a janitor in one of the rooms cleaning up blood off the floor. He tossed down a “WET FLOOR” sign and announced Room 3 was ready as he stepped into the hallway.
Neena, the registration clerk sitting at the front desk, was struggling with a clipboard.
“This damn thing is broken,” she called out to anyone that might be listening.
She threw it in the trash and looked up. Her desk faced the front entrance and the connecting windows. An outside light brightened the area just beyond the double doors. She noticed the rain wasn’t coming straight down anymore, but moving sideways. As she speculated about the wind speeds, the outside light popped with a bright flash and then darkness.
What was that outside….was there someone out there?
She could have sworn she saw the outline of a man. There was a loud bang from outside. A few people in the room jumped and gasped at the sudden noise. Then it happened again. A loud pounding thump.
Jasper, the short plumpy security guard who had been directing another patient to the cafeteria, jogged to the entrance with a flashlight and pointed it outside. Squinting close to the glass to see what was making all the racket, he could only see darkness.
A woman shrieked, “It’s a man. Open the door!”
“Jesus!” Jasper jumped back when he noticed the man towering over him from outside. A beard and long brown hair, his face grimacing inches from the glass.
Jasper fumbled with his pocket and then his set of keys until he found the right one and unlocked the doors to let this large angry looking stranger in.
The bearded man pushed Jasper to the side and stepped through the doors. He was soaking wet and wearing all black, from his trench coat to his combat boots.
Neena wasn’t looking forward to the admissions process with this man.
What was his injury anyway? And then she saw.
There was an unsettling amount of blood pouring down his leg and over his left boot onto the floor. More gasps.
“Sir, please wait here,” Jasper pleaded, “I will get you some help……..Sir……”
The bearded man stomped past Jasper toward the doorway to the patient rooms leaving a trail of blood. He stepped through and peered to his right where Neena sat at her desk with her jaw hanging wide. “Room 3 is open,” she managed to utter. This wasn’t normal protocol.
Zinni, the little girl across the hall saw the bearded man come in. She watched all the nurses and doctors enter his room and she could hear them barking out orders as they undressed the man.
“It’s here,” a nurse pointed out the injury above his left hip. Drops of blood spilled onto the floor.
Seeing the man made Zinni shiver.
A doctor stepped in Zinni’s line of sight and entered her room. It was Dr. Jean Roebuck. She was the nice lady with long dark hair and pretty brown eyes who had helped peel the glass out of Zinni’s arms and legs earlier.
“Hi Zinni, how are you feeling?”
Zinni just stared through Dr. Roebuck as if she still was watching the bearded man. Dr. Roebuck shut the door, then sat to the side of Zinni’s bed. She brushed the girl’s blonde hair off of her forehead.
“Hey sweetie. You don’t need to talk to me right now. I just want you to know you are safe. And guess what, we got a hold of your Aunt Lisa. She will be on her way as soon as the storm passes.” Zinni’s eyes darted toward the doctor and then back to the door.
“That is still a few hours from now. So until then, we are going to move you to the children’s unit and Sherry, who is one of my favorite people, will be spending time with you, okay? She will take good care of you until your aunt arrives.”
Dr. Roebuck noticed the little girl was trembling.
“You are doing so good Zinni. You are one strong girl. Would it feel good to have a hug?”
Zinni shook her head no.
“That’s ok Zinni. I’m going to fetch you some warm blankets, okay?”
Flustered, Dr. Roebuck left the little girl. She was terrible at soothing children who had experienced emotional trauma.
Where was Sherry?
She took a few steps over to the nurses station and saw Sherry checking in. Dr. Roebuck thought Sherry’s appearance was very comforting to children. A woman in her fifties with long brown hair usually pulled up in pigtails, she never failed to wear a colorful outfit and there was always a smile on her face.
“Sherry, Zinnia Jones is in Room 6. Can I speak with you for a moment?”
“Sure Jean, what’s up?”
“You heard she has been through some trauma?”
“Yes,” Sherry lowered her head and then looked again at Jean. “But I’ve been given no details.”
“We think she witnessed the murder of her parents. She was found next to them in piles of glass. There was some sort of struggle. They were repeatedly stabbed. This one is really rough. She is only seven.”
Sherry grabbed her heart. The poor girl. “I’ll see what I can do.”
A nurse interrupted. “Excuse me, doctor? An officer is in the waiting room. He would like to talk to you about one of our patients.”
“Thank you.” She left Sherry at the nurses station.
Zinni saw the bearded man in Room 3 was alone. His wound was all wrapped up. She heard a nurse say he was going into surgery soon. Her shivering grew violent and tears streamed down her face.
When her parents were hurt she had stayed hidden. Just like this. Crying and shivering. But quiet. And after it was safe to come out, she climbed through the glass on the living room floor to help them. But there was so much blood and they wouldn’t wake up. Her throat was still so sore from screaming their names.
She hadn’t done enough. She had just let him kill her parents while she weeped under the stairs.
Zinni stepped down from the bed and through her doorway. The hall was empty. The door to Room 3 was cracked, and she could see the man was sleeping. She tiptoed silently into the room and stood next to his bed. On the bedside table were some of his things, a slim wallet, a set of keys, and a pocket knife.
She stopped shivering.
Moments later, Dr. Roebuck hurried down the hallway at a brisk pace, the officer behind her. He turned into Room 3, she turned into Room 6.
Zinni’s bed was empty. Jean swallowed. She could hear her heart beating in her ears.
Where was she?
And then a flush. Zinni emerged from the bathroom. She walked over to the bed, hopped in and offered the doctor a small smile.
The doctor smiled back, “So good to see you Zinni. Just wanted to make sure you were in your room. The winds outside are getting strong. Stay put okay?”
“I will Dr. Roebuck.” Her voice was hoarse.
The doctor turned back into the hallway. The police officer was there waiting. “Doctor, this man is deceased.”
“What?” Jean was confused. He was stable.
She turned and saw Sherry standing in middle of the hallway stiff as a board. Sherry opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out.
“Is the girl alright?” asked the officer.
“Yes, she is just fine. Actually much better than before….talking a bit now.”
Jean approached the patient in Room 3. Blood was pooled on the floor. He was definitely dead. Reluctantly, she lifted his gown. His wound was torn wide open through the gauze. Her heart was pounding again. She pulled the sheet over his body.
She noticed his wallet and keys on the bedside table.