I stand in front of one of those curtains that curve around a hospital bed, hiding the sight but not the sound of a sick or injured patient. I hear a groan. Anxious parental voices cry out Keith’s name, hopeful and soothing, yet guarded. I duck under the curtain and stand at the foot of Keith’s bed. At least I think it’s Keith. It looks like his hair. His face is bandaged and the parts I can see are swollen. His mom and dad are holding his hands and cooing his name. This must be Keith. The clothing he was wearing is in a clear plastic bag under his mom’s chair. Bloody. His leg is held aloft by some contraption.
“Cool, huh?” he says. He stands next to me again, pointing at himself, or rather his body in the bed. “I’ve been in and out of consciousness for hours, popping back home or to school. Even went to church once.”
I want to ask where Michael is, if he’s dying, too, because it certainly looks like Keith doesn’t have much time left in this world. Instead I say, “Hey, you’re barefoot, too.” He smiles and I ask the question that is burning hottest in my head: “How come you knew my address?” As soon as it’s out of my mouth I know it’s not the question I should be asking.
His laugh is sweet, such a contrast to the weeping of his mother. His father, or it must be his stepfather, keeps up a steady stream of soft words in his mom’s ear.
“Tyler’s been talking about you for years. Had me drive him by your house. But he’s shy, you know. He’s just gonna keep his feelings to himself and never even ask you to—”
“Ask me to what?”But Keith is gone again. The edge of the privacy curtain trembles. I stare at the bandaged head of the real Keith, listen to his mom’s whimpering, watch the blips and lines on the monitor he’s hooked up to. The heartbeat is steady now, but an irregular pattern is rolling off the screen and I know what that means—he has reappeared somewhere else.
This is no dream. Maybe I have some special ability now that lets me see and hear spirits or souls or ghosts even.
Or maybe I’m dead.
The echo of screams from the car accident fade in and out. My head and chest hurt now, the nausea is back. I’m not going to wait for Keith to reappear. I need to search around right now. I have the sickest feeling that I’m going to find Michael in one of these hospital beds.
Then my breath escapes in a rush as I remember that I wanted to check on Rashanda. It was Rashanda that I was so concerned about before. Something happened to her. I’m sure of it.
I duck under the curtain and scan the room. There are twenty numbered cubicles, most empty of patients, their curtains opened, all facing the long nurses’ station.
I run to the counter and read the dry erase board that charts patients, doctors, nurses, medications, and procedures. I suck in too much sterile smelling air as soon as I read the name next to bed four.
Back past Keith’s curtain.
Seven. Six. Five. The curtain to bed four waves open as a nurse whooshes out with a metal tray filled with vials and bandages and silver instruments. I catch a glimpse of the patient and three visitors.
My parents. And Rashanda. And me, in the bed.
Available on Amazon and other online bookstores