Sharon’s note: I wrote this for a challenge that asked me to create tension with no supernatural influence and no blood. It was not my thing at all but also was very inspiring. Always challenge yourself. It’s how you grow. Warning: Author flatters herself that this is kind of creepy.
The waiting room of the free clinic was overcrowded and filthy. It reeked of warm bodies and unnamed fluids. Most of the seats were broken and dead bugs cluttered the corners. If the guy in the corner wasn’t dead, he wasn’t long from it. He hadn’t moved in hours.
I bounced my leg, an unintended tick from nerves and the unending pain. At this point I wasn’t sure if the idea of losing the arm was a nightmare or relief. It hadn’t worked in days. I just wanted to stop hurting.
“Priss Holt.” The speakers sputtered and hissed so bad I could barely understand my name.
I shot to my feet and pushed my way to the door like it was the promised land and I would not be denied. Burning pain arced through the entire left side of my body as a jerk in a stinking gray coat shoulder-checked me and laughed. I swallowed my scream, and almost choked on it. He’d done it on purpose, but I had no time to do anything about it. Had to get to the door before they gave away my spot.
The nurse next to the door sat behind a sheet of bulletproof glass. She wore black scrubs and a dead eyed expression of disgust. Without a word she buzzed me in and I pushed through the door. A sobbing woman who was visibly pregnant tried to follow me, but a huge, mussel-bound man in royal blue scrubs shoved her back and closed the door. The hallway was deafeningly quiet in comparison.
The doctor was waiting, foot tapping in impatience. Between the surgical cap pulled down to cover his ears and the mask, I could see little of his face. His eyes darted around the clipboard in his hand and narrowed at something he read there.
“You didn’t complete the form. Do you not have an emergency contact?” His voice was rough, like an old smoker’s.
I shook my head. The movement of the neck muscles caused a ripple of pain through my shoulder. “No. I’m new in town and. . . I’ve got. . .”
The doctor saved me from starting to cry by waving dismissively. “No emergency contact. All you had to say. Follow me.”
I had to hurry to catch up as he led me past the line of tiny exam rooms and into a dingy storage room filled with boxes. A single rickety gurney was sectioned off by hanging plastic and surrounded by harsh surgical lights.
“What are we doing back here?” I asked.
“Overflow. Sit.” He pointed at the gurney and I sat. For all the metal frame looked like it was about to collapse, it was surprisingly solid. “From the tests we ran last week it looks like you have a pinched nerve. Other than that you’re perfectly healthy. We’re going to have to hook up an IV with your medicine.”
On cue, a nurse rolled in a cart that squeaked like a bag of mice and had a pole with one of those drip bags ready and waiting. She gave me the most weary smile I’d seen since my mother died. They exchanged quiet words briefly before the doctor went back to the main part of the clinic while the nurse approached.
“Okay, sweetie. I’m going to need you to lie down.” As I obeyed she moved things around the cart and started cleaning the inside of my elbow. “There’s going to be a little pinch.”
I nodded, and turned my face to the wall. Needles got to me, and if I watched I’d freak out. “So, um, how long have you worked here?”
“Oh, forever.” There was the briefest pain, and then she was putting tape on my arm to keep everything in place. She stuck a syringe into the port in the line and I felt the cold liquid she pushed in spread through my veins. “Alright, I’m going to give you the first part of your medicine. It might make you feel a little strange, but that’s normal. In order for the other medicine to help you, we have to make sure you don’t move around so you get the full effect.”
My heart, already beating so hard from the pain in my shoulder, picked up the pace as she raised the syringe of clear, viscous liquid. Medicine? Since when did doctors and nurses just say medicine? “So, what is that?”
“Oh, I could give you the official name but it wouldn’t mean anything to you. Don’t ask too many questions, dear. It’s a gift horse, so don’t check its teeth.” She tittered nervously. I ducked my head and shut my mouth. I couldn’t afford to be turned away. She stuck the needle into the port, and a second later I tasted metal. Did that count as strange?
“So, um, who pays for this clinic, anyway?” Between my arm hurting and my nerves, a feeling of cold was starting to creep up my toes and fingers.
The nurse jumped. Had she told me her name? “What?”
I babbled out my apology, but the words seemed slow. Thick. “Sorry. Trying to make small talk. Thought maybe I could send a thank you letter. Or something.”
“Oh, sweetie. I think they’re getting thanks enough.” She laughed again, and this time it verged on hysterical. Was she crying? My head was fuzzy. This couldn’t be right. My arm didn’t hurt anymore, but I couldn’t move my legs. I tried to talk again, but my mouth only fell open and dribbled drool. The nurse leaned forward and whispered in my ear. “I’m so sorry, sweetie. Look at it this way. Your organs are going to save some very rich people’s lives, and they’ll give us the money to help a lot of people. Isn’t that nice?”
I couldn’t even scream.