by Ted Tschopp
I was asked to put together a short story describing someone in a world not unlike the one presented to us in X-Files or Fringe. This is the first draft after about 60 minutes of work. Perhaps I’ll do more in the future. The story is titled Dehydrated.
I picked up the chart, briefly scanned it; another waste of time. The deputy who had brought this woman into the ward had left as quickly as he could, and from the report they had left it seemed like he wanted to wash his hands of the whole incident. “Walking in Traffic.” “No known address.”
The whole file read like someone trying to pass the buck. I placed the clipboard back on the wall and motioned for my backup to follow me into the padded room.
Sitting in the corner was the thinnest girl I had seen in weeks. She rocked back and forth, black hair obscured her face. The stench of urine had already permeated the room. Janice was going to have to clean this one up and complete a rape kit. Poor Janice, I was going to ruin her day.
“Alice?” The chart had said that was her name.
She reached up with her hand and brushed her hair aside, and peered out from behind the curtains. It was as if she was experiencing sight for the first time. She opened her mouth, but no words came. Yup, no use in it now, get Janice to clean her up and then I could start the tests. Hopefully we would only need to keep her for 72 hours.
The door to my office opened and Janice walked in.
“’Alice’ has been cleaned up and given a gown. It looks like she had a couple bruises on her arms and legs. She also had a garland intertwined in her hair. I had to get the scissors to trim her hair to remove it. The kit proved negative.”
“Thanks Janice. Have George send her in.”
“Sure thing Nathaniel, you know the most interesting thing about that girl. My guess is that she is at least 20 pounds heavier after we washed her up.
The girl that entered looked like someone else. The eyes were no longer wide and grey, they had a ice blue spark to them, and her hair shown. Her cheek bones red with color. If Janice had not warned me, I would not have known.
“Alice, how are you this evening?”
I stood up and Alice watched me as I walked from behind my desk to sit in a chair opposite her.
“It seems that the shower Janice gave you agreed with you.”
“OK, well, I’m going to ask you some questions. Please answer to the best of your ability.”
The rest of the 30 minutes went the same way. Alice was there, and she followed me around the room as I moved back behind my desk. However she didn’t say anything. Not a single question was answered. As the interview started to come to a close, I made a note that perhaps I would try again the next morning.
“Alice, I am going to have to say Good bye now. Its been a good half hour, and you haven’t answered any of my questions. So we will being again tomorrow. What do you think about tomorrow?”
“George, can you come show Alice to her room. She will be staying with us for the evening.”
As George entered, I noticed it. Peeking up from behind her ears, a green garland, the buds of whatever flowering plant had been used to create garland were just forming.
“Alice that’s a lovely garland you have there. Did Janice make it for you?”
She turned, looked at me, and smiled the most beautiful smile I had ever seen. Our eyes met, and she quickly looked to the ground ashamed.
I got the call a few minutes after 5am. Alice was missing. I raced in. The bars outside her window had been pried open. The police found food prints in the planter under her window; a woman’s, 16 – 18 years old.
The officer who had brought her in said they had found her along the freeway, next to the nursery. She was walking along the access road. No one else was with her. They had already dispatched another patrol car to see if she had returned to that area.
Around Seven, my boss came in.
“Nathaniel, what’s wrong, you look like shit.”
“Stupid animals in the front yard again. Woke me up at three, then I got this call at five. Didn’t even get a chance to take a shower or shave, just came in.”
“Well, It’s just a missing girl. For Christ’s sake, go home and take a shower and shave. I don’t want to see you back before noon.”
I winched. I hated it when he cursed like that.
As I drove home, I kept replaying the events in my mind. Something was unusual about that girl. She had drank up the water, had she been dehydrated? And the garland; now that I think about it, it hadn’t been there when Janice had first brought her in.
I pulled up in front of the house and started to walk through the front yard. I was tired. So tired in fact that I almost missed the new tree growing in my front yard, a shredded hospital gown hanging from the branches.
The red of the flowers, the black branches…
I only found out many years later what Alice went through. But I remember that day like it was this morning. My eyes opened for the first time. I had seen something that wasn’t human and it wasn’t normal. It is growing in my front yard right now. But those eyes, whatever it was it had connected with me. In the end, Alice changed me. I now see the world as a very interesting and unusual place. In my line of work, I see many crazy and unusual things. The only thing that really scares me these days is the quacks and the crazies. The ones who ‘want’ to believe. There is no great conspiracy, no great meaning as these people see it.
But you didn’t come here looking for a lecture on Philosophy or Psychology. You came here to understand that bump in the night. I’m here to tell you that the bump you heard, it’s a little girl just as frightened as you, she trembles when you slam the doors and make loud noises. All she is looking for is for someone to call her beautiful.