lunes, 6 de abril de 2009

Part 6: Epidemic

Angry screams intruded into the quiet hospital lobby, raising more than a couple of heads. Alice, busy trying to make out what the fuss was about, didn't notice the nurse running towards the elevator until they both crashed mid-hall.

"I'm sorry!"

"Have you seen Dr. Travis?" the nurse asked her. "There's... there's another case... it's an emergency..." Alice shook her head, and the nurse took off running, leaving Alice's curiosity to run rampant. Another case? Her mind worked fast, trying to steer itself away from the obvious. Alice followed the yelling into the ER's waiting room. A fat woman yelled in rapid Spanish at the receptionist, who was doing her best to calm her down. A wheelchair behind the woman contained a man, probably in his mid-thirties, who seemed to bend over himself. Upon closer inspection, Alice noticed the man had been tied to the chair to keep him from falling.

A nurse and a doctor came to look at the man, while the receptionist repeated over and over again that they were looking for Dr. Travis, who would surely be down shortly to look at the woman's husband. Curious, Alice tried to be discreet as she approached the man in the wheelchair, trying to figure out what was wrong with him.

The nurse took a step back from the man and couldn't conceal a look of horror. The doctor grabbed her by the arm, trying to control her reaction, but to no avail. The fat woman started yelling again, this time at the doctor and his incompetence. Alice took advantage of their distraction to approach the man.

Parts of his skull were missing on the right side of his head. The skin sagged, flaccid, into the holes. One of them was so large it had extended to under his eyebrow; the direction of the hairs became wild as the skin that held them sank into the hole. Alice couldn't take such a grotesque sight, she turned around and covered her mouth to suppress a cry. She tried to push away the mental images of her mother with holes all over her face, which only helped the images to become more vivid.

She forgot the coffee she'd gone to the lobby to buy. After finding an isolated chair in a corner, she sat down to wait. It took less than five minutes for Dr. Travis to appear, but he entered five minutes too late for the hysterical woman. She flailed her arms at the doctor, shouting obscenities at the top of her lungs. From what Alice could catch, the man had started with the problem barely two days ago. He was taken inside for examination.

Alice stayed in the ER waiting room until she saw Dr. Travis emerge; the adrenaline had woken her up faster than any coffee could ever have. She ran up to him and grabbed him by the wrists, but did not dare say a word. His gray eyes looked beyond her, to a place far away from the sterile walls of the hospital.

"Excuse me, Miss Hamilton, I'm very busy. I just got another patient with the same disease as your mother," he said, and left. Alice watched his slim, almost woman-like back disappear behind one door, unable to comprehend the scope of the situation.

Her body reacted even before her mind. Her hands darted inside her purse and retrieved the paper that the nurse had given her the night before; her eyes scanned the address and her legs dragged her to the car. Six blocks separated her from the hospital before she realized what she was doing. She drove through the city in record time, even if she still hadn't gotten used to the unusual layout of the Mexican streets, or the strange street names.

The address she'd been given was on the type of neighborhood Alice had been told to avoid. The tiny houses crammed next to each other, most of them looking about to fall down due the eclectic building materials: bricks, blocks, wood, and poorly nailed sheets of aluminum. Only two or three had painted walls, and the house on the left of the address had boarded-up holes instead of windows. On the other side of the street, two men sat on top of soda cases in front of a repairshop, drinking beers. A crooked smile appeared on the men's faces when they saw Alice, and she quickly thrust her hand into her purse to feel the comforting plastic surface of the mace. It had been a present from her fiancee, so that she could feel safe even when he wasn't with her. A shudder seized her whole body; her fiancee hadn't known the mace would become her constant companion after a drunk driver had taken him away from her.

Thinking things couldn't possibly get worse, she searched for a bell to ring. After a few seconds, she realized it was ridiculous to expect a house like that to have a bell, and instead knocked on the door. Rust rained down on the floor with every blow, covering her shoes in a scarlet rain.

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