The Haunting

Howard Eskildsen

“Stop!” Allen shouted aloud as the red signal light finally seared its way into his dulled senses.  His blue Cutlass screeched to a halt in the crosswalk while a gray minivan trundled through the intersection. The driver seemed blissfully unaware that the doctor who could have taken care of him in the emergency department the night before had nearly sent them both to the same hospital. 

After the light turned green, Allen let out a sigh, swore softly then said to himself: I gotta get out of here. The large, red Emergency Entrance sign slowly faded into the distance as he tried to recall the events of the prior night’s shift. Faceless forms shifted strangely before his misty mind’s eye but would not coalesce into a memory. Perhaps it was just as well; it had not been a good night. 

With a push of the button, he turned on the radio and hoped that it would help keep him awake.  A rock singer wailed: “I don’t ever wanna feel like I did that day.” It was too depressing, too close to home and Allen switched the channel. A talk show host droned on about spirits and the supernatural. After a few moments Allen grew weary of the drivel and with disgust flicked off the radio and grunted: I don’t believe in ghosts. Then, as if doubting his words, he glanced nervously in the rear-view mirror. But it was futile, for that which stalked him followed much too closely to be seen in any mirror.

He turned into the lot of a local grocery store and bought a couple of doughnuts and a carton of milk for his breakfast.  Then he drove along the Columbia River directly to the marina where he might escape the memories of the prior night and find restful sleep aboard his boat. But a strange feeling tingled through his tangled nerves. and he felt that he could not find rest while tied to the dock. He had to get farther away, but from what, he did not know.

He eased the blue and white Bayliner out of the slip and through the waters of the marina. Under the pillars of the Cable Bridge, he powered up the engine and ran in plane to the main river channel, then turned to run with the current between the pillars of a railroad drawbridge.  The boat traveled a beeline downstream past the Snake River confluence and beyond to a broad expanse of water, more than a mile from either shore. Perhaps that would be far enough.

Safely out of the shipping lane, he dropped anchor in shallow, calm water, as far away from everything as he could possibly get.  He consumed his breakfast in the meager warmth of the sunlit helm station and relaxed more than he had in days. The glory of the morning seemed to erase the turmoil of his clouded mind, and finally he felt able to sleep.

Allen left the warm sunshine for the cold dark below deck and wrapped himself in flannel sheets and a large quilt.  He was asleep before the blankets had become warm.  For an hour or two fatigue held him deep in slumber, in a sweet, dreamless sleep. But then sights, sounds, and smells of his emergency department shifts that had been repressed for too long began to penetrate the veil.

In a strange surrounding he was called to sew up an ugly laceration on the face of a belligerent fellow. The man cursed Allen’s every effort to help him, and momentarily yanked at Allen’s white coat. Security somehow appeared to subdued pugilist and the final sutures were placed. On leaving the treatment room Allen had remarked offhandedly to a sympathetic nurse: Ah, the smells of spring, blood and beer!” He wanted to take a moment to clear his mind, but it was not to be.

“Doc, we need you NOW!” In another strangely distorted room blood and teeth bubbled from the crushed face of a young lady from an auto accident. “She’s not breathing!” Somehow a tube found its way into the windpipe and another crisis was abated. A surgeon arrived and stared in disbelief then commented: You got an airway through THAT? He muttered something unintelligible then followed the gurney to surgery while a nurse held up a bloody kidney bowel with pearly punctuations and lamented: What about the teeth?

Chaotic scenes followed, never fully resolved before another arose, then slowly swirled into a cloudy            vortex of confusion. Finally, he could attend the less seriously ill who were starting to seethe over the length of the wait. In a double bay two elderly sisters awaited their turn, needing attention much more than medicine. Their niece glared as he tended to their concerns and tried desperately to remain awake. The emergency radio blared in the background and another nurse appeared. Doc, you had better hear this…

Three ambulances were responding to a motor vehicle accident. Five victims were seriously injured and two had coded. They were still five minutes out. Allen heard his own detached voice: Activate the trauma protocol and put the three that are still alive in trauma bay five. The surgeon he had seen earlier, and another doc appeared from nowhere and Allen sighed: Thank God.

He returned briefly to the bay with the two elderly sisters to apologize that he could not finish what he had started due to the incoming trauma victims. They looked on passively as their niece began to shriek. “Who the hell do you think you are to make us wait…” The words became unintelligible as he felt himself shrinking and the room seeming to expand. The niece became larger and larger, perched with one foot on each of the sisters’ gurneys. Her face collapsed into two giant glaring eyes as arms detached from her body and reached out, seized Allen in an iron grasp and shook him violently.

Allen awoke with a shout and tried to sit bolt upright but struck his head on the low overhang of the master birth with a loud thud. Pain throbbed through his head as the boat rocked briskly in the wake of a passing barge. But he was awake and the feelings real, and even pain felt better than the dark emptiness that shrouded the soul when pressed beyond the limits of its emotional endurance. The rocking of the boat gradually subsided as Allen gently rubbed the knot on his forehead, then slowly crawled out of the cold, dark cabin, put on his jacket and surrendered to the daylight on the bridge. Sunshine through the plastic windows warmed the deck and soothed his soul as he reclined in the settee. Though he had had very little, sleep was gone from him now, but he closed his eyes anyway and dreamed of discovering a place where the demons could not find him.

© Eskildoodle 2021