The doors slid behind me and pushed to the side the smell of cigarette. Smoke leaking out from a burnt bud in my mouth, one I suckled down to an eraser head sized knob. I pinched it. Crushed it down against a pillar and looked behind. A giant neon sign reading Hawthorne Hospital. I breathed out, smog leaving my lungs and filling quick with cold air. Wiping my hands on my blue scrubs, I walked towards the nurse. I knew it was for me, I’d known for a minute or two. The pager had already started to ring.
Quick steps. Out of the smoke-allowed back stairs of the hospital. Into the yellow lit flourescant halls, bumping along nurses and patients.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Trauma to the chest. Major blood loss, four bullets to her heart Dr. Mutriati.”
“Four bullets to the heart?” I started jogging. “She’s still alive.”
“That’s not the biggest problem, sir…”
“She’s pregnant, sir.”
My fifth year and that was what I was due for. A woman -young, only twenty- with four bullets in her heart leaking a geyser of blood across the stretcher. Even remembering it, it seems like a blur. But there are a few pictures in my memory, moments of clarity so strong that it seems like a movie. I remember the pace of which we walked down to the Emergency room, the checking of the pulse and the futility of it all. Of putting a Stethoscope on her chest swollen with blood. There was nothing there. I knew it when I saw into her bare black eyes that looked up the ceiling. She hadn’t breathed in a while. There was blood in her throat. It made a glugging sound, like something coming up a river in large bubbles.
Which made the decision easy, honest.
Her or the kid, that is.
It was quick and tidy and when it was done I started cold and lifeless through glass at nurses fixing the child in a blanket. I stood in my bloodied scrubs, sink to my rear that I’d left on. Soaping, lathering, washing my hands. The mask almost slipped off my jaw with how unhinged and wide it was. I dried my hands on a cloth. Gabby (a nurse since then retired) stood to my rear against the wall rubbing her temples.
“Does she have an identity? A name or anything?” I asked.
“No.” Gabby said. “There’s no one to claim the child.
“I mean, not yet.” I said.
“Not ever. Maybe.” Gabby said. “You saw her ‘issues’ didn’t you?”
I pushed my tongue against my cheeks.
“Yeah. Yellow-tinged skin, deteriorated teeth. If I had to take a guess, heroine. Crack maybe. The baby is fine, which is a miracle.”
“She was homeless. Police found her on the streets shot, the garbage man was the one who called.” She said.
I opened the washing door and followed the baby, the nurse trailing behind me. It was a busy hospital, Hawthorne was. Then again, aren’t all hospitals busy? But today in particular was bad. A local gang fight, a couple stabbings and then this; a pregnant woman shot. It’d left a sort of demure with the staff. It’s not that we were quiet, hospitals are never quiet, but that we were humbled. I went down stairs, looking at halls plastered with pretty dinosaur pictures and diagrams of the solar system. Of potted plants leaning over pink colored benches, looking at smiling families pointing out babies in the nursery. And there, last one to be laid, was the mystery baby.
I looked inside. Staring, eyes burning with long hours.
“What’s going to happen to that kid?” I asked. The name tag around its toe had a number. A number, no name, like a factory animal.
“I guess he goes to an orphanage, right?” She asked.
“Who names him? Does he even have a name?”
“Why. I don’t know, do we?”
“Do we?” I asked. “How would I know? What place is it for us to name him? Can’t the government do it?”
“How’s that better?”
I was running out of thumb to bite. Looking intensely into the glass at a small baby, so rank with melancholy that the family adjacent to me (the grandmother, father, little brother and so on) were beginning to sour. What were we to do with this mystery baby? In all my nine years I’d never seen such a thing, and you see it all. You see people with knives in their skulls and limbs coming out from the coating of skin. You see bone popped to the marrows, and eyes hanging by their nerves.
But you don’t regularly see anonymous children. Truly anonymous. Without history, without origin.
This was a child born to a drug addict largely forgotten and largely dumped to us. And here I was, scratching my head and asking what we were to do. And me, having birthed this child and suddenly regretting it. I know I shouldn’t think that way, especially in the moment. But this was an unnatural person, an unnatural circumstance. ANd one I’d be debating with the surgeon general for many, many, days to come. At least, I thought.
Next day. Early morning, I came into the job with my neck tensed and my eyes burning red. I came into the cafeteria to grab myself some coffee. Light milk, a sprinkle of sugar. The usual. All along the wide room were the usual doctors, surgeons, talking and nibbling at breadstuff and what appeared to be stew. It was lunch, but when you’re on call, every meal is someones breakfast.
I scanned the room for the surgeon general and found him amongst the bobbing heads of doctors. He sat straight and tall with a piece of bread soaked with gravy, one spoon full of beef in his mouth. His white, pristine somehow. A cafeteria lady hovered her ladle of food over my tray but I walked away with it dripping in the air, with an empty metal sheet of nothing but crackers. I slammed the tray down and looked across to the surgeon general. The other doctors looked at me, their faces tight.
“Can we talk about the baby?” I asked.
Surgeon General Lebowski hand waved the two doctors up and away.
“What baby?” He asked.
“What do you mean what baby?” I asked. “The one from the gunshot victim yesterday.”
“I don’t follow, Mel. Which baby are you talking about? I know the victim.”
“Right. Right.” I closed my eyes in remembrance. “A woman came into the ER yesterday. Shot in the chest, nasty stuff. She was pregnant, I had to give her a cessation. She gave birth to a boy. Caucasian, brown hair. Little boy.”
“I. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Lebowski said. “What’s his name?”
“That’s what I came to talk to you about. He’s got no name.” I said. “That’s the problem. He’s got no father or mother and no one to claim him-”
“That is a problem, but if we had a kid like that, I’d know about it. Being the only nameless baby and all.” He leaned, smiling. “But I don’t know any nameless child, Mel. Do you?”
“I just-” I tilted my head. “I just told you, it’s the kid.”
“Ask the nurses then, see if they know about this mystery baby.” Labowski leaned back. Smiling, with an air of contempt around him. Something that made him repellent to conversation, something that told me that I shouldn’t probe as much as I did. But how could I let go, it was a child I’d brought into the world. Quite literally. So I left my tray of crackers and walked up an headed straight for the floor two. It was a long elevator ride. The buttons getting stuck on the fifth floor, which as far as I knew, was still under construction and had been for months on end.
The wire creaked and hiccuped and for a moment the elevator stopped into brief quiet. The light flashed on and off, me alone in this elevator with the brown planes below and a cackling noise of snapping rope above me. My heart raced. Then the lights came on again and the elevator rose up slow to the sixth floor. A ding. The doors opened. I stepped out, looking inside. A man bumped into my shoulder, a woman after him, then a nurse with his blue scrubs.
“You should take the stairs.” I said. The nurse glared at me and pressed the button and the door closed on his dissappointed face, vacant eyes hollow and blackened.
I shook my head and walked into the nurses vicinity, a long round table with three big computer screens casting their glow along their faces. Tube shaped screens taking up most of the space along the desk. I looked down, Gabby worked at the front as head nurse. She held a large pad, scribbling random letters into the paper forms. Going around, walking casually to the patients waiting in the lobby room on soft office chairs. An old woman, Gabby was. Almost forty.
“Hey, Gabby.” I said. She did not turn. Just kept at near a vending machine and potted plant, sniffing loud and writing.
I tapped her shoulder. She did not turn. I put my hand. She jumped. Her scrubs turning for a brief moment and flashing markings along her upper arm, like someone had prodded her with a knife and made small cuts. Some of them having band aids. Gabby did not look me in the eye, she kept at writing or turning away. I stepped back a bit, confused, this was the same Gabby who couldn’t stop blabbering during surgery.
“Everything alright?” I asked.
“What would be wrong?”
“Your arm-” Her eyes turned away. “Nevermind. Do you remember the baby yesterday? The nameless one?”
My body froze. A chill overcame my arms and I put them to my side as my eyes widened. I looked into her, into the red-veined eyes, at her blotched pale skin. Of the cuts along her arm, feeling something strange overwhelm me, I did notice how much I stepped back. Only when the vending machine shook did I come to.
“The baby.” I gestured with my hands. “Remember. The kid without a home, without a name? No mother?”
She leaned in, looking up to my eyes, her voice low. Other nurses around us stared, a group of three giving us a fierce look and turning away when I caught them.
“Stop asking questions.” She said.
She leaned away, scribbling down on her board. My heart raced, my eyes shifted along the stafff.
“Are you ready for your rounds, doctor?” She asked.
My voice cracked. My fingers fumbled.
“Y-yes.” I said. “J-just give me a moment.”
“Don’t take too long.”
Don’t take too long.
I took a recording video of incident later that day. Thinking, stupidly, that it’d be some kind of revelation. At home I rendered it unto my VHS tape, taking long sips of an Old Fashioned while the screen played for hours. It was a whole day of video, of the babies sleeping. And I was staring at number 626 sitting on the bottom row to the third. Nameless infant of man. Keeping my eyes, skipping through the tapes and hearing the morphed sound of fast forwarded noise.
And I caught something. Something very strange. That between the first minute of that tape and between the last ten minutes, the child vanished. Completely gone.
So I narrowed it down. I kept fast forwarding, going backwards, going forwards. Trying desperate to narrow the hour of the clock. And what I found after what appeared to be hours of scanning, was that between the hour of 1:58 AM and 2:23 AM, the child disappeared. Not just the child. The video. The segment completely stripped, or perhaps deleted with no presence of any kind before or after those hours to point to foul play. The videos were just gone. The people just gone. Everything, just gone.
I sat down on my sofa watching the clocks along my walls, looking out of a tenth floor window to the streets of Havenbrook. Helicopters roamed the air, their noise shaking my glass windows. I put my feet down on a foot rest and sipped watched…eyes slipping in and out of sleep.
The phone rang. It broke me out of slumber. A corded phone dangling along the edge of a small little table, shaking against its glass surface and racing down to the edge of the table. I lifted it and put the end against my ear.
“Yes, who is this?” There was a quiet in the voice. A perverted silence like a voyeur toying with his prey, it was as if I could feel the observation, feel the scrutiny. I closed my legs and huddled my shoulders and looked up the wall to the clock again. It was 3 AM.
“Mel? Mel, how’s it going?” Lubowski asked.
“It’s 3 AM.” I said. “I just got home. What’s wrong?”
“Don’t come to work tomorrow. Or the rest of this week, take a vacation.”
“It’s just the best time for you to be away. I’ve already got other doctors to grab your shift. Go ahead and get a break, on me.” He said.
“I didn’t even ask for a vacation. I don’t need one-” I looked to the corners of the room, underneath my desk. I closed my windows. “Is this about the baby?”
“Are you still talking about that fucking baby?”
“A child disappeared from our hospital. This is something the police need to know about. I was thinking,” I paused. “I was thinking of going to the cops about it.”
“You can go ahead, but they aren’t going to find anything Mel.”
“They’re not going to find a thing, Mel. Not a thing about this baby who does not exist. Who never did.” He said. “I think the stress is getting your memory off, take a break, would ya?”
I hung up and did not sleep that night. Instead, spent most of my time on that recording, with my scrubs drifting in the wind, dangling and fatigued. My morning I was already committed, I left my house and headed straight for the hospital. Driving mad and fast in a honda that swerved dangerously around each corner, rising smoke, burning rubber. The whole shpiel.
I stopped and braced myself, jumping out of my car and watching at the crooked spot I’d parked in. The air carried a chill with it, a fog in this morning, a sort of eerieness like the city hated me being here just as much as myself. And I went straight for the hospital. Gabby caught me first, right in the front sliding doors.
“Mel.” Her eyes looked wide. She grabbed me and lead me to the smoker’s section, now empty this cold morning.
“What is it?”
“What are you doing here?”
“I just wanna talk to Labowski.”
“You shouldn’t be here.” She said. “You should leave. Fast.”
“Gabby. I brought someone into this world. They’re gone now and the world doesn’t give a shit. How am I supposed to take that?” I asked. “Tell me, really. How am I supposed to pretend I didn’t do what I did? That I should just let it go and pretend that none of this shit ever happened.”
“You have no idea what you’re doing, do you Mel? This isn’t about you or me, this is about keeping your mouth shut and not starting any problems.”
“Problems for who?”
“Problems for all of us.” She said.
“I’ll call the cops.”
“You don’t understand, do you?” She asked. “The cops already know. And as far as the world cares, this kid never existed. Do you understand?”
I stood still, watching people eyeing me in my periphary, entering the hospital with lowered heads. The giant neon lights shined red against my face, a glow, hot and damning and resentful. Crows played with each other, pecking at themselves mid flight before landing on the cigarette studded traffic blockers by the edge of the hospital. One turned his head and squawked at me. Automated lawn mowers ejected water with fury. An ambulence dashed behind us, zooming through the parking lot in a blur.
“What’d they do to you to make you out like this?”
“It doesn’t matter.” She said. “Not until they do it to you, and they will if you make a big deal of this.”
I looked to the entrance. The distant ambulence ringing in my head. I walked steadfast into the hospital, head forward. Gabby chased after me with her hand trying to get at my shoulder.
“Stop it.” She said. “Stop. Stop.”
She broke off middway, I came to the elevator doors and watched as the nurses and doctors in it left with heads down. Gabby behind me kept a phone to her ear and looked at me with a tightened face, stopping her conversation for a moment before returning to it. The elevator doors closed. Cold steel. An image of a hallway crushed between the doors. There was no one in this ride and the noise of dings were loud in the room, I pressed on the fifth floor and watched each time as the elevator stopped every floor to an empty floor. As if it was trying to vomit me out, eject me. Keep me from Labowski. From an answer.
Where was the kid?
And the lights went out. The panels shook. The wire creaked. The door buzzed, I hit it with the side of my fist.
“This shit again.” I expected it to move up and stood with my hands to my hips. But it stopped there. On the fifth floor, stopping and opening suddenly to a dilapilated, half-way made floor. Plastic drifted against glass-less windows, everything exposed to the courtyard below. Furniture lined itself against the walls, panels of pale wood felt rough against my shoulders as I walked forward. I pressed on the buttons of the elevator, expecting them to close again. They never did.
“Hello?” I asked out into the expanse before me.
The plastic curtains blew wild against morning wind, the cold seeping into the scaffolding and canvas. And somewhere in the wreckage I heard a noise, what seemed to be a small moan. A quiet cry behind the unfinished plaster walls, loose and chipped and layered with a cake of paint. I stepped forward. A bucket fell. Paint scattered across the wet floor, a whole wash of red that drifted towards me. I stepped through, my steps red and stamping along the floor. The wash followed me down the unfinished walkway. I looked around for an elevator ride, some mode of travelling down. Perhaps a chain link balcony step, a ladder, something. Then stopped once more. The noise growing louder and louder, a cry, a shout. A muffled breathing.
I turned around.
The canvas slapped against glass. In front of me, a scraping noise. My head pulled to every sound bit. A piece of metal wire scratching along the walls, approaching an outlet. Water dripping from a pipe hanging from the floor like a pike. I rubbed my shoulders.
“Is there anyone here?”
I thought they were working today? I thought that’s how it’d been. But perhaps in all my studiousness, in all the busyness of people dying in the rooms below I’d never noticed the dead silence of the fifth floor.
A cry. Again.
I cupped my hands and put them to my mouth.
“Hello, is anyone there?”
I stood still, watching the expanse of wooden columns, watching a shadow go in and out of walled off rooms. Their lanky black shadowcast cutting along with excitement. I ran to it. The running shadow, feeling the sweat come down the side of my face. Feeling a creeping sensation of bites along my forearms, a cold claw on my neck.
The footsteps grew louder. The baby’s voice even louder. I turned the corner, into a room, feeling the door that was closed. I pushed, it pushed back like a hand was holding it shut. Behind the door, the infant cry.
“Open this door.” I slammed with the side of my hand. “I called the cops, you know that?”
It was a lie. A lie that made me panic, reminded me what little police was here to help. But the child’s cry was too real for me to stop, too present in my memory and heart and conscious to let go. Like I could ever forget that baby cry. I pressed my shoulder against the door and pushed hard. The door creaked, the hinges snapped. My face tightened, my legs skidded trying to grip against the floor. The door broke open. The lock hung, spinning and falling from its socket. I fell to the floor and looked up. A door propped up against the door laid to my side. The baby cried, arms struggling out in a blanket of red.
The room -save for us two- was empty. A baby wrapped in green, soft markings of red paint all along its chest. I lifted him, feeling the paint rubbed between my fingers. It chipped off. I went in a circle, inspecting the small room. Some piping, a faucet barely installed and a toilet waiting in a plastic bag. Nothing more, yellow wood.
I grabbed the baby, walking towards the doors and felt it creep on me. Something of a draft perhaps, something behind me back. I turned. Nothing. And kept quiet. Beyond the infant’s cry I could hear it, beyond our heart beats. Something breathed fast and hard. My eyes drifted up, head turning.
I ran out, baby behind me back. Looking behind me to the limping gait of a creature, wrapped in all bandages, white nurse outfit on it. Running with medical scissors gripped tight in one hand. Running like an animal. Jumping, skipping above the boards of wood. I ran to the elevator, looking behind me at the bandages unraveled by the creature’s stride. I came to the elevator, baby in hand, pressing the buttons and praying mostly. The lights came up on the elevator. Thank God.
The floors started slow, coming up from the first.
The woman disappeared behind me. I looked around, eyes jumping.
It came from the ceiling, jumping down, trying to get on top of me. I turned, kicking it away. My back against the doors now, feeling the creature trying hard to get past my foot. It stabbed at my leg. I screamed, almost dropping the baby to hold the wound. I pushed away. The doors opening finally behind me, I collapsed on the floor with the scissors stuck in my left leg, bleeding out. I held them for a moment, and in the panic almost stuck them out. I breathed hard, slow, trying to think.
I laid the baby to the side. I clicked down to the first floor and hit the emergency shut button. The blood drained down my leg and I stood, limped and raised against one of the walls, looking at the nurse beyond.
She poised herself. Stood tall, looking at me with an eye that should not have been where it was. A morphed specimen, lanky and bony. Gaunt looking, black nailed. Blond hair stuck out from its holed nurse hat, burnt to the end. Its eyes looked drugged, dark ringed, desperate. And it cackled. It reached behind its back and showed another pair of scissors.
That was the last of her I saw. The nurse rushing at me. The elevator doors closing. I breathed heavy in the safety of the room. Then jumped. The monster stabbed at the doors, making indents through the doors. What stupid strength.
I pressed on the buttons hard again, almost breaking the F1.
The door lit up, I held my breath.
Then it went down. Went down to the safety of the floor one. I looked at the boy and it’s markings along it’s belly, the same blonde hair. It was the child, kidnapped, presumably. I held him firm in my hands and stood against the wall, waiting.
The doors opened. My grip felt weak, I drifted down against the wall down to the floor.
A woman gasped.
“Someone get a doctor.”
Another visitor, band around his wrist, said; “Ain’t he the doctor?”
I looked up, sheepish and weak in the body. I looked up, then pointed down to the child.
Gabby came up and stared down at me, eye twitching.
“Alright.” She said. “Someone get a blood bag. Step aside, step aside-”
A stretcher came, helpers came to lift me. One such person holding the baby.
I grabbed him by the wrist.
“The baby stays with me.” I said.
The helper looked to Gabby, then to an incoming Labowski who stared with a heartlessness I could only view as contempt.
“His name is Bartholomew.” I looked at him. “He stays with me.”
Labowski swallowed, looking at the infant then to me.
“Bartholomew?” He asked.
“That’s right.” I said.
His tongue rolled inside his mouth. He sucked his teeth.
“Make sure the child is close to him.” He said. “And get him in a stretcher already.”
We left then and there. The baby in a cradle next to me the whole time. I did not take