I was surprised to find a perfectly normal-looking man sitting on the hospital bed. At 2 AM in an emergency room, I expect the worst. Dying old people, teenagers with bloody groins from some unspeakable sex act, etc.
I swung around in the chair and pulled out a pen. “Okay. What brings you in tonight, Mr. Valdez?”
“I think… there’s something in my brain.”
“Uh, what?” I glanced at the phone. A call to Dr. Dietrich of the psych ward might be necessary. “You mean like… a tumor, or –”
“Sorry. I should’ve said someone. There’s someone in my brain.”
“Oh, okay,” I said, nodding convincingly. “Gotcha. Do you hear voices telling you to do things, or –”
“No, no, I’m not crazy!” he said with a laugh. A manic, crazed laugh that only served to disprove his point. “I mean, I do hear voices, but it’s just from it. Believe me – I’m as sane as they come.”
“Right,” I said, with a forced smile.
“Here. You don’t believe me. Just take a look for yourself, okay? Then you’ll know.”
I stared blankly at him. “Uh, Mr. Valdez, I can’t just look into your brain. That requires an MRI, or some serious surgery –”
“Then look into my mouth.”
He nodded, somewhat enthusiastically.
“Okay, Mr. Valdez.” Reasoning with him was Dr. Dietrich’s problem – not mine. I got up, grabbed a tongue depressor, and stepped towards him. “Open your mouth and say aaaaahhh.”
He opened his mouth wide.
I pressed the depressor against his tongue and clicked the light on. Teeth, gums, and uvula glistened back at me. Along with a gust of foul-smelling breath. “Mr. Valdez, your mouth looks –”
What is that?
There was something there, all right. A little bit of shadow, poking out from the back of his throat.
“Uh.” I coughed. “There appears to be something… lodged up there. Maybe a bit of food, or –”
“‘At’s it,” he tried to say, with the tongue depressor in his mouth.
“No, that’s just a little… thing. I don’t know. We’ll get the doctor to look at it, okay?” I said hurriedly. I grabbed my clipboard. Forgot to take his blood pressure, or any other vitals. I just suddenly needed to get out of there.
My footsteps clicked against the floor as I ran towards the door. I was almost out into the hallway when he spoke.
I turned around. “Yes, Mr. Valdez?”
He didn’t reply. He just lifted his hand, motioning for me to come closer.
“Yes, what is it?” I asked, staying rooted to the spot.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“Sorry for what?”
“Sorry for that,” he said, pointing to my hand.
I looked down.
What the hell?
My right hand was covered in black, slimy patches. Like ink, bleeding into the tiny wrinkles of my skin. I screamed. Slapped the skin with my other hand.
It didn’t come off.
“What’s going on?” I yelled.
His eyes locked with mine. He grinned.
Then he began to retch. He coughed, his whole body spasming and convulsing. With one final, squishy sound, something black shot out of his mouth and fell onto the floor with an unceremonious plop.
It looked like an immense glob of black mucous.
With six legs.
“Boy, I feel a lot better!” he said, as the thing skittered across the floor towards me. I ran into the hall and slammed the door shut behind me.
But I could already hear the frantic whispers in my head.
Telling me to grab the nearest scalpel.