Like You Were Never Born
by Cesar Rico
“Is that the guy from the paper?”
“Yea, that’s him. He’s going to see the other one.”
Two young nurses, one with strawberry blonde hair and the other a light brunette, sat behind a light beige counter, watching patients and visitors enter and exit Morgan City General Hospital. They pretended to not notice the man from the papers, but each knew that the other one was in the room; and on days when things were fairly light, both nurses loved to gossip. After all, it was a small town with small news that traveled faster than fire, especially when it made the small circuit newspaper.
“The papers said that they were found naked,” said the brunette.
“Naked?” the other gasped as her eyes widened, “well I heard that when they brought him in, he had some weird looking markings on the inside of his thighs.”
“I also read that they were both found up a tree like birds on a wire, naked as the day their momma bore them!” one whispered to the other.
“Well, what on earth were they doing up there?”
“Hmm, darn if I know, but I’ll tell you one something, you can’t be doing much nutria hunting in the marsh if they find you two days later, stark naked, up a tree.”
“You ain’t lying girl. I betcha they had some drugs in them.”
“You see, that’s what I thought! But I looked at his charts, and he didn’t have a thing in him. It was just as it said, ‘a mild concussion and bruising’.”
“You said it, strange.”
The light brown hospital door opened slowly. A weighed down hand pushed it to the side and a tired face looked down at the white tile. The patient put down the sports magazine he was reading and adjusted himself to sit more erect. His friend came closer and tried a simple smile. It was short lived and exhausting. His thick brown hair was ruffled, and his dark brown beard had traces of white hairs peppered throughout. His blue jeans seemed somehow dirty and his sports jacket was brown with a wrinkled navy shirt underneath. His boots were caked with mud. The patient grimaced as he took a good look at his buddy.
“Damn, I thought I looked bad,” said Alan.
Once again, Jeremy tried a smile but to no avail. He walked over to a seat and sat down for a second. He then quickly got up and paced the room to the other side where he looked at some charts. Jeremy’s eyes were pink and in slits. His tiredness was obvious and his nervousness was also palpable.
“Hey, you ok man?”
“Hmm?” Jeremy turned to face Alan and nodded a grave head.
“How bout you?” he asked.
“Yea, the food sucks, and I’m always having to itch, but besides that, it’s all right.”
“That’s good.” He tried sitting down again, but couldn’t once more. He got up as quickly as he sat down and walked to the bed. He sat at the foot of it, and scratched the back of his scruffy scalp as he stared once more at the floor.
“Man you’re acting weird, something wrong?”
“Yea, you could say that.”
“Ok,” Alan moved his long face from side to side slowly before continuing, “what is it?”
“Look at this,” Jeremy reached for the inside of his jacket and pulled out the local newspaper. He turned it to the inside of the front page and pointed to the picture. It showed Jeremy and Alan in an ambulance covered with thick gray police blankets. They were both staring at the camera, and their eyes seemed like black coals. There was confusion in both their faces and their mouths were shut, revealing only slight emotionless lines.
“The newspaper, and a crappy picture of us. I saw it.”
“That’s it? Look at it closer.”
Alan gave Jeremy a look of deep concern, but still took the newspaper in his hands and looked at the black and white picture carefully. His bushy black eyebrows rose and fell and he was more confused than ever.
“What am I looking for? It’s just us after we got hammered.”
It was Jeremy’s turn to look solemnly and worried. He got up and walked towards the window of the room. Outside he saw a massive parking lot, filled only a quarter with cars and trucks. Miniature people walked to and from the hospital, some cheerfully holding hands and others quick and abrasive with every step. Jeremy bit his right thumb fingernail and drew blood. He wiped his hand on his pants and quickly moved back to his place next to Alan. His tired, formidable eyes looked hauntingly at Alan and he slowly asked, “Alan, what exactly do you remember about that night? I mean, really … really think about it.”
He was a good friend and Alan was worried about him. So, he would go along, to see if it would lead to helping Jeremy find whatever answer he was looking for, “We went camping, set up our tents, drank about a thousand beers, then the moonshine came out …”
“Yea, yea, yea,” Jeremy interrupted impatiently while waving a quick right hand and making an anxious and irritated grimace, “after all that!”
“Nothing, I don’t’ remember anything. We got drunk and passed out, the next thing I remember is being in the ambulance and someone taking this picture. That’s it.”
“Alan, we were found up a tree naked … and,” Jeremy couldn’t spit it out.
“Look man, we got drunk, no wait, we got extremely drunk. Then we did something stupid like climb a tree and take our clothes off. This isn’t real news, the water police just happened to find us up there and thought they’d get a good country laugh by taking the picture and telling the story. You know they got nothing better to talk about down in this country ass neck of the woods than a couple of guys getting piss ass drunk and finding their way up a tree, naked. They probably got a similar story every week. It’s not that big a deal.”
Jeremy went back to the chair and tapped furiously on the handles. He was now biting the bottom of his lip and looking back out the window. The sky was getting dark.
“After I knew you were ok in the hospital yesterday, I went to a bar.”
“Good for you, I wish I was with you,” said Alan.
Jeremy’s left leg now began to bounce relentlessly as he started his recollection, “Well, I figured I’d just wait for you at a hotel or something. But I needed a drink so I went to this bar, and got a beer. The bartender was looking at me and sort of laughing, you know? So I ask the guy, ‘what’s so funny?’ He just pulls out this paper and slides it over towards me, ‘keep it, there’s a bunch of em in the front,’ he says. I saw the newspaper and read the article and honestly, I kind of found it funny at the time. So I just kept on drinking beer and joking around about it with whoever would come my way. Then I got drunk, and it got dark outside.”
“Understandably,” added Alan.
“I just kept drinking and laughing it up with this blonde who thought I was some kind of celebrity, dumb broad. Anyway, it must have been real late and I was thinking about asking this girl to come back with me, after all, I was pretty wasted and I didn’t want to be waiting for you at some hospital. But before I decided to do that, she really pissed me off, then aggravated me, and then I got scared.”
“Damn, what’d she do?”
“She was looking at the paper while I was paying my tab, and asked if the other guy was a good friend.”
“I looked at her and said, ‘yea, they both are’. She laughed and asked, ‘what are ya talking about baby?’ I repeated what I said, ‘they both are.’ She looked at me like I was stupid and it both pissed me off and aggravated the hell out of me, so I asked her, ‘what the hell are you talking about?’ She didn’t like that very much and shoved the paper in my face, stupid broad. She walked away and I would have followed, but I looked at the paper and that’s when it happened.”
“What happened?” At this point, Alan was at the edge of his bed with anticipation and a slight tinge of fear himself.
“I saw that same picture again …. and Pat wasn’t in it.” The last few words were torturous to say out loud.
“Who?” asked Alan.
Jeremy cringed as if taking a harsh blow. The word sent his mind spinning and he fearfully looked out the window again. It was getting darker by the minute.
“Yea,” Jeremy said slowly, “I was afraid you’d say that. Everyone else has said that.” He got up and walked to the bed and sat down on the left edge, staring close once again at Alan and with an immense amount of concentration he said, “Think Alan, think! Patrick Murry! Our friend, we all met in college, he came with us that night, he was found up a tree too, for crying out loud he was in the damn ambulance and in the damn picture with both of us!”
Jeremy went back to his seat. He dug the palms of his hands deep in his eyes. He was in a terrible nightmare that had no waking alarm and he felt helpless, fatigued, and incredibly alone.
“What about the Truckers road trip in 02? We went to Alabama and saw them play for the first time. We listened and hugged and drank our asses off! What about all the partying in college and the Vegas trip in 04? The trip to St Louis in 05? The bachelor party in Dallas in 08? What about the freakin barbecue at my house last month?! He was going back home … he was just going back to his place and I was supposed to be the one to stay back with you, but something happened, I don’t know, he’s gone and I don’t know what’s going on … I feel stupid and lost, I don’t know, like I’m losing my mind.” Jeremy stopped there with a cry of utter despair.
“Hey man,” Alan delivered his response carefully, “maybe I met the guy once and I just can’t remember right now. I did hit my head pretty bad.”
“NO, you don’t understand! I called him after I looked at the picture and no one answered. I called his apartment and someone else answered. I then called his sister and she didn’t know what the hell I was talking about, and I even called his freakin parents and they thought it was some prank. He’s gone … Pat’s gone … it’s like … like he was never born.”
Jeremy sniffed the oozing from his nose and wiped it clean with the back of his forearm jacket. He wiped his reddening eyes with both hands and looked at the white low ceiling. He breathed in deeply and collected himself more than before. It was just a relief to have gotten it all off of his chest.
“And to make things worse, it’s getting really dark.”
“What’s that got to do with it?”
“Not sure, but the first night, we end up in a tree with these weird dots all over; the second night Pat vanishes, and now it’s the third night and … man, I’m scared. I mean, I just don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m really scared Alan. I mean really, really …”
His face broke as it looked in the direction of the darkening window.
Jeremy jumped up from his seat and grabbed the metallic door latch and forced the door to fly open. He ran out and before Alan could call after him, he was gone.
“JEREMY!” The door automatically shut behind him. Alan instantly grabbed the remote and began to furiously press the nurse bottom. Though two nurses ran immediately in, Alan was enraged at how long it seemed to take them to enter.
“That guy who just left, you got to go get him! He’s my friend and he’s really sick. He’s going to hurt himself if you don’t! Please, go now!”
The blonde nurse looked at the other in sheer confusion. However, the brunette just gave her a quick head shrug to send her off in compliance.
“Now Mr. Manda, please lay back down and rest, I’m sure Nurse Sandy will find your friend.”
Alan was having none of her patronizing.
“The hell she is! I’m serious, if you don’t go get him, he’s gonna hurt himself and it’ll be on both of you!”
Tough love was what this patient needs. She took a step back from the livid patient and in a teacher tone barked, “Mr. Manda! If you insist on this charade, then I’m going to have to put you to sleep.”
“Mr. MANDA! You have had NO visitors since your arrival. You were found by Sherrif Varnau and brought here by his deputy. Now I really must insist that …”
The nurse jumped back as Alan threw himself on the floor. He searched under the hospital bed for the newspaper that was dropped when he reached for the hospital remote. Alan found it and threw it at the nurse. She caught it instinctively.
“Look at that picture! The guy next to me in the ambulance, that’s the guy who just left,” Alan screamed.
The nurse gave a reluctant glance, but still took a look. She then perched her lips, tilted her head slightly, and raised her eyebrows up as she turned the picture around, and showed the frustrated man on the ground.
“It’s just a picture of you in an ambulance Mr. Manda.”
Alan’s jaw dropped and his face became rigid.
“I told you,” she added as she walked towards a small table and placed the paper down, “you came in by yourself yesterday, and you’ve had absolutely no visitors. Nurse Sandy or myself would have known if anyone had come in this room.”
“Now I’m going to make a deal with you Mr. Manda. I know you are very capable of getting back on your bed and going to sleep. I suggest you do so immediately and I’ll pretend like this little outburst never happened. Now, I’m going to go get your medication, and I WILL come back with two male nurses if you still insist on being ridiculous. I take it by your silence that you agree.” The nurse left. And the door closed with a last snap.
The lights then went out. All sounds ceased. Alan was scared.
He shuffled and crawled backwards on the tile until he hit the wall. The whole room and hospital it seemed, had become pitch dark. The humming of the air conditioner, the shuffling of footsteps, the background noises that he had taken for granted were all gone. The only thing left was Alan, crouched with his knees up to his chin, staring at the darkness that surrounded him.
Then the flash occurred. He saw the white light move from his right to left and then disappear. It brightened the room for a moment, and he could still make out the objects in the room. However, once it was gone, the darkness shrouded his vision again. And when the dark came again, he knew that he wasn’t alone. Now he heard a shuffle here and a quick small step there. His eyes could not shut in the dark as they tried to follow the subtle noises quickly beginning to surround him. Alan gasped and jerked his head in sharp directions. Then the flash happened again. And this time it illuminated his vision for another brief moment, revealing the horror. Nine curved triangular heads were surrounding him, each with black oval eyes pointing inward towards a slit. They had no clothing, and their elongated arms and legs were grotesque and sinister as they reached out and began to close in on the screaming man. And Alan, when properly motivated, could scream very loudly in the dark. Yet his shrieks were not heard when he was grabbed, and his yells fell on no ears when he was taken away, and his final silence was sealed whenever the creatures had their way with him. He was gone, and it was like he was never born.
Nurse Sandy entered the bright hospital room with a light brown blanket. She carefully placed it at the foot of the bed, and then stood tall to make sure the room was ready; in case a patient was in need of it any time soon. She placed her arms akimbo, nodded her head in approval and turned to walk away. However something caught her eye. She turned back around and squinted an eye as she thought she saw something sticking out from under the bed. Nurse Sandy moved closer and bent down. She then got back up, holding the folded newspaper. She shook her head and whispered to herself, “must be that Nurse Betty again; leaving things all about and making my job harder. Sometimes, I wish she weren’t ever born.”
She then looked at the picture on the newspaper and slapped it across her thigh as she strolled out the room and said, “Show Off.” The picture was of Sheriff Varnau holding a .22 Remington rifle by the strap with his left hand, and a large dead nutria rat by the tail with his right hand. His round face had a huge, strange, and almost alien like grin. And his black newspaper eyes just stared back at whoever dared look at the picture.
Cesar Rico is from uptown New Orleans and is currently a middle-school English teacher in Baton Rouge. He’s had several short stories published in the South and on the East Coast, and his literary influences range from Ernest Hemingway to Harper Lee, Stephen King and Alexandre Dumas.