The Third Floor
by Nancy Machlis Rechtman
The battered red Volkswagen pulled up to the entrance of the grey, forbidding building. A well-dressed young woman with almost-blonde hair got out and entered through the main doors which slammed shut behind her. There was a surly-looking man in a white uniform standing by the entrance and he looked her up and down.
“Who you here to see? he asked.
“A doctor,” Diana said.
“Who sent you here?”
“My doctor, Dr. Smith…”
“That your car?” he interrupted.
She nodded yes.
“Plates are out of state. You from out of state?”
She nodded again.
“What are you doing here then?”
“My insurance is here.”
“Never mind,” he said brusquely. “Explain It to them at Admissions. You going to sign yourself in?
“I suppose so.”
“Well, I’ll let them handle it at Admissions.” He turned and started to walk away.
“Wait a minute. Where am I supposed to go?” Diana asked.
The man glared at her like she didn’t have a brain in her head. “I toldyou. Admissions.”
“Would you mind telling me where that is? I’m in a lot of pain…”
He started to walk away again, muttering under his breath.
“What did you say?” she asked timidly.
He didn’t turn around but spoke loud enough for her to hear. “Third floor.” Then he disappeared down the hall before she could ask any further questions.
Diana tried to find an elevator which proved to be almost as difficult as getting an answer out of the man in the white uniform. The halls had been laid out in a random, chaotic manner and she felt like a rat in a maze, trying to find her way to the cheese. Instead of an elevator, she found a staircase and decided that it might be her best course of action. The burning sensation in her gut was getting worse and she didn’t want to waste any more time trying to find the goddamn elevator. She opened the door to the staircase and walked over to the stairs. The door slammed shut behind her with a thud. That seemed about par for the course in this place.
Diana began to climb the stairs and after a few minutes, it seemed as if she had climbed forever. But there were no outlets, so she just kept climbing. She had to stop and catch her breath several times and considered turning back, but she was sure that eventually there had to be a way out. Finally, she reached a landing where there was a door. She reached for the handle and her heart dropped down to the pit of her stomach. It was locked. She began to pound and yell, hoping to attract someone’s attention. Finally, the knob turned and she was face to face with a pitted old lady wearing a moth-eaten terry robe and matching shower cap. The woman stared at her, then walked away. Diana looked around the drab, green hall, hoping to find someone in authority, but there didn’t seem to be much chance of that.
“Excuse me!” she called out to the bathrobe lady.
The woman turned around belligerently. “What the hell do you want?”
Diana was taken aback but found her voice once more. “Could you please tell me where Admissions is?”
The bathrobe lady stared at her in disbelief. “You’re in already, aren’t you? Why the hell do you need Admissions if you’re already in?”
“Well, I’m in, but not really in, you see…”
“I know that,” Diana said starting to lose her patience. “I just can’t seem to find the third floor.”
“You lost a floor? No one around here’s ever done that before.”
“What floor is this?” Diana asked.
“You see the sign?”
“No. No, I don’t,” Diana said wearily.
“There’s always a sign. Just keep looking.” With that, the bathrobe lady turned and shuffled off.
Diana looked around in despair. She heard strange sounds coming from behind the closed doors of one of the rooms, like an animal might make when it’s caught in a trap.
Diana felt the iron knot tightening in her stomach and realized she needed to sit down somewhere. She reached a large room with an open door. There were no chairs, only a broken-down cot. She collapsed onto it as she felt the pain get more intense, spreading throughout her entire body. She didn’t realize that she had fallen asleep until she awoke to find herself surrounded by five pairs of curious eyes. She stared back, uncomprehending at first, then bolted upright, clutching tightly at her purse.
“What have they done to you?” asked a faded old man kneeling by her elbow.
“They haven’t done it yet, can’t you tell?” insisted a young man close to her toes.
“Done what?” Diana asked, hazily.
The five pairs of eyes exchanged glances, then looked down at the floor.
“Please,” Diana said. “I’ve been trying to find my way to the third floor. Would one of you be kind enough…”
“What’s the matter with you, couldn’t you find the goddamn sign?” came a familiar and not very welcome voice.
Diana cringed, suddenly recognizing the bathrobe lady.
“What do you want the third floor for?” asked the young man in a hushed voice.
“Don’t be rude,” admonished a wispy young girl who was chewing daintily on a candy bar.
“Well, what floor are we on now?” Diana asked.
The old man giggled. “Can’t you read?”
“Seems to me she don’t know much of nothing,” pronounced the bathrobe lady.
Diana fought back her mounting frustration along with the pain that had taken over her body. “Perhaps if one of you would be kind enough to show me the sign, I could be on my way. I really am in a bit of a hurry, you see.”
“Then what were you doing sleeping like that in the middle of the day?” asked a man who seemed to be composed entirely of butter.
“Come with me – I’ll show you the sign,” said the wispy young girl, almost halfway through with her candy bar.
“Ain’t no one goin’ nowhere!” boomed a deep voice from the doorway. Diana looked up, startled, while the others simultaneously dropped to the floor and crawled under – or partially under – the cot. There stood the biggest, meanest-looking linebacker of a nurse ever seen on the face of this earth.
“Excuse me,” Diana said meekly. “Perhaps you can help me. You do work here, don’t you?”
Nurse Linebacker snickered. “I ain’t seen you around here before. You better learn now – I’m the one who asks the questions around here and you better learn that quick. So why don’t you tell me – who are you?”
“Well, my name is Diana Johnston and I’ve been trying to find the…”
“QUIET!” bellowed Nurse Linebacker. “I don’t want your whole life story – you can tell that to the headshrinker!”
“Headshrinker?” Diana repeated. Upon getting no response, she plunged on. “Well, you asked who I was.”
“Your number, you dope!” shouted the bathrobe lady.
“But I don’t have a number!” Diana exclaimed.
“Impossible!” insisted the butter man. “Everyone has a number.”
“In his case, two numbers!” the bathrobe lady cackled.
“ENOUGH!” shouted Nurse Linebacker. “Now, don’t give me no problems, or else.” She looked down and noticed the candy bar in the wispy young girl’s hand, sticking out from under the cot. In one swift motion, she grabbed it out of the girl’s hand and shoved it into her own mouth, spitting out the wrapper and swallowing the candy bar in one gulp. She then returned her attention to Diana, who had watched the feat with the candy bar in utter amazement. “So, what’s your number?”
“I told you…” Diana began.
“No, I’m tellin’ you!” Nurse Linebacker boomed. “You tell me your number or I’ll personally drag you by your ears down to Admissions and have them check your file!”
“Fine!” Diana shrieked. “I’ve been trying to get to Admissions all morning!”
“What on earth for?” asked the old man. “You’re already in.”
Diana counted to ten in her head to steady her breathing. “I need to see a doctor. So I would be very grateful if you would show me to Admissions so that I can check myself in.”
“Third floor,” said Nurse Linebacker.
Diana took a deep breath. “Could you take me there?”
Nurse Linebacker looked at her with disdain. “You can’t find a floor? All right, come on. You’re in worse shape than most.”
With that, the hulking figure gave one last furious glare to the five figures huddled on the floor, then grabbed Diana’s shoulder, whirled around, and propelled her down the hall towards a door at the end. She opened it, shoving Diana ahead of her. It was another staircase, lacking any sort of illumination. Diana stumbled, then groped her way down the stairs, Nurse Linebacker’s palm still firmly attached to Diana’s shoulder. After walking down six steps, they reached a landing. Nurse Linebacker swung the door open and pushed Diana out into the light. There was a large, block-letter sign directly across from them which spelled out “ADMISSIONS.” Diana gasped.
“Only six steps!” she exclaimed.
Nurse Linebacker gave her another withering look. “Well, you’re here. Better get a number fast. Or else.”
Another nurse approached and started clucking when she saw Nurse Linebacker.
“Althea, what are you doing in those clothes?” asked the tiny nurse.
Diana glanced at Nurse Linebacker and was stunned as she watched the previously imposing figure shrink back and cower in the doorway.
“Nothing, Ma’am,” Nurse Linebacker whispered.
“Then put back that uniform wherever you found it and get back to your room right now. And I mean right now or there won’t be any TV privileges for you for the rest of the week!”
“Yes, Ma’am. Right away, Ma’am.” With that, Nurse Linebacker – aka Althea – raced out of sight as Diana tried to contain her astonishment.
“Oh, hello, dear,” said the new nurse who resembled a parakeet with her yellow hair, darting eyes, and curious way of clicking her mouth when she talked. “Don’t mind Althea. She always manages somehow to get a hold of one of our uniforms and scares the hell out of the other patients, don’t you know. She’s basically harmless, though. And who might you be, dear? I don’t believe I know you. Why aren’t you in your room?”
Diana looked at Nurse Parakeet gratefully. Finally, a rational being! “Well, I’ve been looking for Admissions, you see…”
Nurse Parakeet suddenly became the epitome of efficiency. “Oh, my dear, well, we can’t have that! You just come with me and we’ll fill out all the forms. Self-admitting, I suppose.”
Diana nodded her head. “Yes, and I hope you can get me to Dr. Smith soon. He said he’d try to meet me here…” She hurried to follow the twittering nurse into the Admissions office and sat down across from her.
“I’ve got this terrible pain…”
“Yes, yes. Life can be filled with pain, you know. In fact, that’s my motto. You see, I even stitched a sampler with those very words, as a daily reminder,” Nurse Parakeet said, indicating a sampler over her shoulder. Diana looked closely and sure enough, there were those exact words done in very neat little stitches: Life Can Be Filled With Pain, You Know.
Nurse Parakeet pulled some more forms from the printer and gave them to Diana. “You can write, can’t you, dear?”
Diana looked at her. “Oh, I’m in pain, but it’s not so bad that I can’t write.”
Nurse Parakeet beamed. “That’s the spirit! There may be hope for you yet. But of course, we’ll let the doctor decide. Come along with me – he’s very busy, you know.”
Diana rose slowly since the pain was becoming unbearable, and followed Nurse Parakeet back into the hall, through several corridors, and was aware of almost inhuman sounds coming from behind the doors of some of the rooms, just like those she had heard earlier. She wondered exactly what went on in this hospital, but her thoughts were suddenly cut off when Nurse Parakeet stopped short and indicated a door to her right.
“The doctor’s in there, dear. When you’ve finished, come back to Admissions so you can finish filling out your paperwork and I can assign you a room – once the doctor’s rated you.”
“Rated me?” Diana repeated.
But Nurse Parakeet was already off, fluttering back down the hall. Diana knocked lightly on the door and entered. There wasn’t anyone there and she looked around slowly. It was the strangest examining room she had ever seen. There was a long leather couch, a large over-stuffed chair, and that was it.
“Lie down!” shouted a voice behind her.
Diana whirled around. There was a short, grey-haired man with a pointed beard, round spectacles, nearly-invisible slits hiding behind the lenses which she realized were his eyes, and a nervous tic that pulled the right side of his face towards his right ear and then released it like shooting a rubber band across the room at a random target.
“Gotcha!” he cackled, rubbing his hands together gleefully.
“Who are you?” Diana demanded.
“I’m Dr. Sputz, of course. And you must be number 117053, if I’m not mistaken.”
“I don’t have a number. My name is Diana Johnston.”
“Everyone here has a number. It’s mandatory. But if you want to deny having one, we can delve into that another time.”
“I’m not denying anything! Can we please just get on with the examination? I feel like I’m on fire.”
Dr. Sputz grabbed his notebook excitedly and began writing furiously, mumbling, “Patient has severe burning symptoms, the Heaven and Hell Syndrome, perhaps.”
“Doctor, can you please hurry? It’s getting worse.”
“Of course it is! Lie down now and let’s talk about this pain.”
“Well, it’s centered around my gut…”
Dr. Sputz jumped up and down. “Wonderful! Wonderful! The pain is in the gut! Of course, if it was in the heart, it would be even better. Then we could talk about unrequited love. But the gut will do just fine for now. Lie down.”
Diana sat on the couch and noticed straps hanging down from the side. But Dr. Sputz didn’t give her the time to comment.
“I suppose I should ask anyway – are you in love?” he asked.
“Am I what? Look, I don’t think we’re getting anywhere. Do you think you can have Dr. Robert Smith paged – he told me to meet him here.”
“Aha!” whooped Dr. Sputz. “I was right! A romantic rendez-vous with your doctor. And now he hasn’t shown up. No wonder you’re in pain!”
“What the hell are you talking about? Dr, Smith was going to give me some tests to see if I need an operation.”
“Tests! Even better! I can give you tests. And then we can operate. Oh, young lady, you’ve made my day!” Dr. Sputz grabbed Diana’s hand and kissed it fervently. “Now lie down and I’ll strap you in.”
Diana looked at him nervously. “You know, I think I’m feeling better now. Maybe I’ll just go home. I’ve got to make dinner for my husband and kids anyway.” She started to get up.
“Sit!” barked Dr. Sputz.. Diana automatically obeyed. “Lie down! Roll over! Play dead!”
Diana stared at him.
“No wonder you’re in pain. Not only are you in love with your doctor, but you’re a married woman! Involved in a secret love affair! Or maybe I was right and it is unrequited love – perhaps your doctor has been using you as his plaything, a sexual object! Well, which is it?” He stopped and looked at her questioningly, his pen hovering over his notebook.
“I’m leaving,” Diana declared. As she rose, Dr. Sputz lunged forward and tackled her, throwing her onto the couch. He grabbed the straps and tied her down so she couldn’t move, then he stood up.
“They didn’t tell me you were violent!” he exclaimed, straightening his clothing. ”I will excuse it this time – the torment of psychic pain can bring us to do many strange things.”
“Psychic pain! You’re crazy. I told you, my gut’s on fire!” Diana cried.
“That’s right, of course it is after all you’ve been through. I’ll get the nurse to give you a sedative. Then, when you’ve calmed down, we’ll begin with the tests. We’ll start with something easy, ink blots perhaps.”
“Ink blots!” Diana screamed. “Let me out of here! I’ll sue you, I swear, if you don’t untie me and I mean now!”
But Dr. Sputz bounded over to the phone and spoke urgently into the receiver. “Yes, yes, a large dose – the largest you’ve got – she’s getting quite hysterical.”
A moment later, Nurse Parakeet flew into the room with a tremendous hypodermic needle, almost as long as her arm. She looked at Dr. Sputz who nodded towards Diana. Nurse Parakeet plunged the needle into Diana’s arm. The room started to spin almost immediately and the last thing Diana heard was Dr. Sputz whispering to Nurse Parakeet, “She threatened to sue.”
The next thing Diana was aware of was that she was lying on a cot in a small, drab room, and her arms were tied down. She was very thirsty and could barely swallow. The door soon opened and Nurse Parakeet entered.
“Well, what a sleepy-head you are,” she twittered. “You were a very naughty girl, you know. But we’ve decided to forgive you this time and give you another chance.”
“Water,” Diana whispered.
Nurse Parakeet handed her a paper cup. “Here, drink this all down like a good girl, that’s a dear.”
“How many hours have I been asleep?” Diana asked.
“Let’s see…you came in on Wednesday …about two days, I think.”
“Two days!” Diana shrieked.
“Now, don’t get yourself excited or, well, let’s not get into that right now.”
“Where’s Dr. Smith?”
“Dr. Smith?” Nurse Parakeet frowned. “Oh, you mean your lover. He never showed up. But it’s really better that way, don’t you think? Especially for the children, you know.”
“Dr. Smith isn’t my….” Diana stopped. What was the point? “What about my husband? I left him a voicemail to meet me here – did he show up?”
Nurse Parakeet looked at Diana pityingly. “No, dear. I suppose that’s why you’ve been in such pain. It must be hard to accept the fact that nobody cares.”
“I don’t understand. I left him a message to meet me at County General.”
“Now why would you do a silly thing like that?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why, County General’s about two miles down the road. Why would he drive there to meet you here? I suppose you were afraid he’d catch you red-handed with your doctor lover so you sent him on a wild goose chase, didn’t you?”
Diana felt the knot tightening in her stomach. “Where am I?” she asked hoarsely.
“My dear, don’t you remember anything? You’re at County Mental Health Institute.”
Diana stared at Nurse Parakeet in shock, then started to laugh. “I’m in a loony bin! My insides are on fire and I’m tied up in a goddamn insane asylum!”
“We prefer to think of it in more constructive terms, dear. We like to refer to our facility as a recreational center for healing of the mind and spirit.”
“Would you please untie me?”
“I don’t think that’s allowed, dear,” Nurse Parakeet said firmly. “Why?”
“So I can leave, of course.”
“Oh, no, my dear, we can’t have that. We haven’t even begun the tests. And then the treatment. You’ve been rated a fifteen, you know. Oh, dear, I don’t know if I was supposed to tell you that.”
“What’s a fifteen?” Diana asked.
“Well, anything over a ten is dangerous. Fifteen is the worst.”
“You don’t understand,” Diana said, fighting to remain calm. “This is all a mistake. I’m supposed to be at County General. I’m from out of state, my GPS stopped working just before I got here. I guess I made a wrong turn.”
“Yes, well, we all take the wrong road at some point in our lives. But what on earth would you have gone to County General for? They can’t treat your problems there, my dear. You’re deep in the grip of a painful psychosis and we’ve got quite a battle ahead of us to return you to good mental health,” Nurse Parakeet chirped.
“I’m fine, believe me,” Diana insisted. “Now just untie me please so I can get my things and leave.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” Nurse Parakeet said.
“Why not? I don’t belong here.”
“Because you haven’t been cured.”
“Take my word for it. I’m a new woman.” Diana tried to sound upbeat.
“Oh dear!” cried Nurse Parakeet.
“A new woman? I’ll have to inform the doctor that you’re exhibiting signs of schizophrenia!”
“It’s an expression!” Diana shouted. “Anyway, you have to let me go. I checked myself in – it’s not like I was committed or anything.”
“That’s right – it’s worse.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve got papers that you signed, admitting you were in need of help and giving us free rein in treating you until we’re sure you’re one hundred percent cured.”
Diana stared at her. “I don’t believe this! Look, at least let me call my husband to let him know I’m here. He must be worried sick. And I’m sure he can straighten this out.”
“No calls are allowed to the outside,” declared Nurse Parakeet.
“Rules, my dear. We’ve got to follow the rules. Now, you just calm down and we’ll give you some tests to see exactly how far gone you are.”
“What if the tests show I’m normal? That I’ve been cured? Then can I go?”
Nurse Parakeet twittered. “You really are on another plane of reality, aren’t you, dear? Just relax and the doctor will be in soon to begin the testing.” With that, Nurse Parakeet turned and flitted out of the room.
Diana was in despair. How could she convince these people that they had made a horrible mistake? And what about Sam and the kids – they must think she had been kidnapped or even killed at this point. Actually, being kidnapped didn’t seem entirely inappropriate in describing her situation. She certainly was being held against her will. And what was this business about no phone calls? Her cell phone was in her purse which had been confiscated and it had no charge left anyway, but maybe she could use a phone at the nurse’s station. Or Admissions. She had to get out of here, she would have to escape. But there was nothing she could do while she was strapped down like this, and she was starting to get so sleepy again.
“Attention!” boomed a familiar voice, startling Diana out of her torpor. She looked up and there was Nurse Linebacker, or rather, Althea, standing in the doorway in a nurse’s uniform about two sizes too small for her, the buttons straining against the buttonholes, like a can of Pillsbury biscuits ready to pop.
“Althea, I’m so glad to see you,” Diana said weakly.
“Speak up!” Althea roared. “You don’t whisper to a superior. And how dare you lie down while I’m addressing you. Get up!”
“I can’t get up,” Diana said, nodding toward the straps.
“Aha!” Althea cried. “Time for the treatment to begin.”
“No, not yet. Just some tests.”
“Ha!” Althea exclaimed.
“What is the treatment anyway?” Diana asked.
Althea blanched, then glared at Diana. “Classified information. Top secret.”
“Have you had the treatment, Althea?”
“No questions allowed! Especially while you’re still lying down after I gave you a direct order! We may have to throw you in the stockade!”
“Listen, I’d like to show respect towards you, I really would,” Diana assured her. “But I’ve got to remain disrespectful as long as I’m tied down like this.”
“I won’t stand for it!” Althea bellowed as she bounded over to the cot. With one swift motion, she had ripped the straps from Diana’s arms, freeing her. Diana tentatively stretched her arms and began rubbing them gingerly.
“Attention!” Althea yelled.
Diana stood up as quickly as she could, but her knees buckled and she had to support herself against the wall. She realized that Nurse Parakeet had slipped something into the water she had given her. Her mind was foggy and she could barely stand. She knew that Althea was her only hope for escape.
“I’d like to make a suggestion,” Diana said. “I think a march might be in order to get me back in shape.”
“Quiet!” roared Althea. “Just for that, you’re coming with me.”
“Where to?” Diana asked hopefully.
“On a march. Hup, two three four, now we’re going out the door…”
Diana tried to regain control of her brain as they marched up and down the halls, Althea prodding her along. She was dimly aware that the pain in her gut had lessened considerably. Maybe she wouldn’t need an operation after all. Now, if only she could maneuver Althea towards the exit, or rather, have Althea maneuver her.
“You’re out of step!” Althea yelled. “Shape up!”
“I’m hungry,” Diana said. “I haven’t eaten in days.”
“Don’t be a jellyfish! We all have to do without. Hunger is good for you, builds character.”
“If only I could… Oh, never mind.”
Althea looked at her suspiciously. “If only you could what?”
“Well, it’s just that I had a whole bag of candy in the back of my car and if I could only get to my car…”
“What kind?” Althea’s eyes glistened.
“No one’s allowed outside. Rules!”
“Creamy, chewy chocolate and caramel.”
“Rules!” Althea trembled.
“I’d just run out real quick and then come back. I’d only take one for myself – the rest of the bag would be for you.”
“Rules!” Althea gasped.
“You could watch me from inside and then we could run into one of the rooms and stuff those ooey gooey chocolatey delights…”
“To the car!” Althea commanded.
Diana tried to keep up with Althea who was practically galloping down the hall. They turned a corner and there was the exit, those wonderful clanging doors directly in front of them. Diana glanced around, but no one else was nearby.
“OK,” Althea said. “No funny business.”
She stood to the side as Diana walked past her to the doors, her heart pounding. She didn’t have an actual plan since she didn’t have her purse with her car keys or her uncharged phone. All she knew was that she was going to have to make a run for it.
“Ready!” Althea yelled. “Set!”
Diana paused, waiting to hear ‘Go!’ But when ‘Go!’ never came, she turned around and there was no Althea. Instead, Dr. Sputz was standing several feet away, arms folded, with two gorilla-type guards by his side.
“You’re not leaving so soon, are you, my dear?” Dr. Sputz demanded.
Diana bolted for the door, but the guards’ cretinous looks belied their swiftness. They lunged forward and grabbed her arms, then dragged her down the hall with Dr. Sputz following, his cackle echoing behind him.
They took the elevator back to the third floor, then Diana was shoved into a bright yellow room with a cot in the middle and all sorts electrical gadgets surrounding it. She looked around fearfully.
“Let me go,” she pleaded.
“My dear, no one leaves here until they are cured. And to be cured, we must get rid of the pain.”
“The pain’s gone, I swear. It’s gone,” Diana insisted.
“Liar!” Dr. Sputz shouted. “You haven’t had the treatment yet, you’re still in terrible pain! But if you’ll behave yourself, the cure will be much easier.” Dr. Sputz nodded for the two gorillas to strap Diana down to the cot. She had little strength to resist.
“OK, we will now begin the tests,” Dr. Sputz said with forced calm. He pulled some papers from a folder and the two gorillas attached several wires to Diana’s head and arms. “What’s this?” he asked, flashing an ink blot at her.
“A train.” Diana said.
“Wrong!” he yelled.
Diana screamed as the electric shocks raced through her body.
“Aha!” Dr. Sputz exclaimed. “I see I was right! You are still in pain. No, I ask you again, what is this?”
“A cow?” she guessed.
“No, no, no!” he roared, once again motioning for the electric current to sear the nerves of her body. “Again!” he demanded. “What is this?”
“I don’t know,” Diana whispered.
“Fine, fine, that’s right,” he said, patting her on the head. “Now I will give you sixty seconds to put this puzzle together.”
“But I can’t move my hands,” Diana protested.
“No excuses!” he yelled, stamping his foot. He grabbed a stopwatch. “Start now!”
Diana frantically tried to move her hands, but she was tied too tightly. “Can’t you at least loosen the straps?” she pleaded.
“Thirty seconds!” Dr. Sputz whooped, running back and forth across the room. Diana struggled against the straps even harder. Dr. Sputz jumped up and down, looking at the stopwatch. “Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two…” He glared at Diana. “Nothing! You weren’t even able to put two pieces together! We’ll have to intensify.” He nodded and now double the voltage wracked her body. Diana screamed again, then sobbed.
“Oh, don’t be such a wimp!” Dr. Sputz ordered. “We’ve got to give you some backbone – that’s the only way you’ll learn to withstand the pain of the world. Now how many fingers do I have up?” he demanded, holding up one finger.
“One,” Diana said.
“Imbecile!” he shrieked.
ZAP went the charge through Diana’s body. She felt that she was going out of her mind from the pain.
“Try again!” he shouted.
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” she moaned, hoping this was once again the right answer.
ZAP! ZAP! The jolts tore through her body which was now twitching uncontrollably.
“A person has ten fingers, count them – ten!” Dr. Sputz yelled, waving his hands in front of her face.
“But you only had one up, you asked how many fingers you had up!” she said through her tears.
“Up, down, it’s all relative. But always, one has ten fingers. This is very basic, my dear. If you can’t even remember the basics, how do you expect us to help you?”
“Let me go, please,” Diana implored.
“You’re not cooperating,” Dr. Sputz warned.
“At least let them know I’m here,” she sobbed.
“The outside world is the source of your pain, don’t you see? It’s forbidden for you to have any outside contact until you’re completely cured.”
“You’re the one causing the pain!” Diana shouted.
Dr. Sputz turned scarlet. “How dare you!” he sputtered. “I’m a doctor, I cure pain.”
“I’m fine!” Diana yelled. “You’re the one who’s all screwed up. I came here with a physical problem, not psychic pain! It was a mistake! I drove here by mistake! My GPS stopped working because I needed to charge my phone and I forgot my charger. But I didn’t mean to come here, it was a mistake! And you’ve kept me here against my will, drugged me, abused me…”
Dr. Sputz jumped up and down in a frenzy. “We don’t make mistakes! Everything we do is for a reason. And there are no mistakes in life. You meant to come here. How can you deny your psychic torment? You drove here purposely whether you realize it or not!”
“I’m going to sue you!” Diana screamed. “My husband is a lawyer! I’m going to sue you and your nurses, your patients, your cots, your goddamn machines…”
“She’s hysterical! She’s out of control! Get her ready for surgery immediately!” Dr. Sputz cried as he dashed out of the room.
Diana struggled to free herself, but it was no use. A few moments later, Dr. Sputz raced back into the room, pulling Nurse Parakeet along with him. Nurse Parakeet looked at Diana pityingly.
“My dear, I thought you understood,” Nurse Parakeet sighed. “If only you had cooperated. We haven’t any options left.”
“What are you going to do?” Diana demanded, as her mind filled with dread.
“We’re going to cure you, of course,” Nurse Parakeet said.
“But I’m fine!” Diana cried.
But instead of responding, Nurse Parakeet plunged another monstrous hypodermic needle into Diana’s arm. The last thing Diana saw were the drab green walls spinning by as she was wheeled down the hall.
The six o’clock news was winding down. A pale, mousy woman stared uncomprehendingly at the TV screen. She was wearing a tattered blue bathrobe and had a scarf tied around her head which didn’t quite hide the multitude of jagged stitches that started at her forehead. Nurse Parakeet fluttered over.
“Come, dear, don’t you think it’s time you went back to your room? You really do need your rest.”
The mousy woman didn’t seem to hear Nurse Parakeet. She just stared at the TV. Althea charged over wearing old, stained yellow bedclothes. She ignored Nurse Parakeet and the mousy woman, and stared at the TV. The commentator was wrapping up the newscast.
“And once again, we ask you if you have seen this woman, please call the police immediately.” A picture flashed on the screen and the mousy woman reacted for an imperceptible moment, then sank back into her stupor. The commentator continued. “The woman’s name is Diana Johnston, she’s thirty-two years old, five foot six and approximately one hundred twenty pounds. She’s been missing for almost two weeks now and the police still haven’t got any leads. The only clue is that she left her husband a voicemail that she was on her way to the hospital – but she never arrived.” The commentator paused, whipped off his glasses, and looked gravely into the camera. “If you’ve seen anything that you feel might help, call the police at the number you see on your screen. Her husband, attorney Samuel Johnston, is offering a reward for any information that helps solve this case. Well, that’s the news for tonight…”
Althea glanced curiously at Nurse Parakeet and the mousy woman at her side, then back at the TV. “It seems to me. I used to know…”
Nurse Parakeet gave Althea a sharp look. “Used to know what, Althea?” she asked in a razor-sharp voice.
“Well, we all used to know someone, now, didn’t we, Althea?”
“I supposed,” Althea agreed.
“Was this someone anyone in particular?” Nurse Parakeet asked casually.
Althea looked again at the TV screen, then at the mousy woman. “I never knew no one in particular,” Althea declared as she shuffled out to the hall.
Nurse Parakeet watched Althea, then turned to the mousy woman. “Come, dear, let’s go back to your room now, like a good girl. We’ll work on learning your number. Now, say it after me. One, one, seven…”
Nurse Parakeet put her hand on the woman’s shoulder and slowly walked with her down the hall. The woman remained silent, allowing Nurse Parakeet to guide her.
“You seem so much better, dear. No more pain. We can cure anyone here, you know.”
Nancy Machlis Rechtman has had poetry and short stories published in Literary Yard, Paper Dragon, Page & Spine, The Thieving Magpie, Quail Bell, Anti-Heroin Chic, Blue Lake Review, Goat’s Milk, and more. She wrote freelance Lifestyle stories for a local newspaper, and she was the copy editor for another local paper. She currently writes a blog called Inanities