After Ben heard the sound of shoes squeaking in the hall getting further from his room, he dug out the recording device he swiped from the therapy room. Ben switched it on and proceeded to tell his story. “I have an uneasy feeling. I know I don’t belong here and soon I may be dead. If anyone finds this recorder, please let my family know what happened to me.”
He cleared his throat as he spoke clearly into the device. “They call me Ben. That is not my name, and I am not crazy, but these people tell me I am. I’m not the same as these creatures, although there are similarities in our features. I call them the strange ones because to me, they are. I don’t trust them.”
Ben heard a sound outside his door and saw the doorknob turn. He shoved the recorder under his pillow and pretended to be asleep. He kept his eyes squeezed shut. The hinges squeaked as the door opened and then shut again.
He resumed recording. “They check on me several times a night like they’re afraid of me or what I might do. I’m harmless, and I just want to go home. I miss my family—my world! I don’t know how I got here. I just woke up in this tiny room one morning. My last memory is of the wooded area outside my home. I was scullywiggin hunting in the rainbow pond. I leaned over the boat to grab a scoonwat fruit. A low hanging tree limb grabbed my hunting net, pulling it into the water. I must have fallen in while trying to retrieve it. But how did I end up surrounded by these strange creatures?” Ben stopped recording.
A shadow crept in from under his door. Someone was walking down the hall. He tiptoed over to the door and put his head to the floor. He saw two pairs of shoes. One pair of legs wore nurses’ stockings, and the other, dress pants. Their conversation was muffled, but he had a feeling they were discussing what to do with him. He peeked through the crack until he was sure they were gone. Ben crawled back over to his bed.
He cleared his throat and spoke softly. “I must describe these creatures to you. Most of them have several appendages on their heads that they decorate with shiny baubles. Some have colorful tips on their fingers and toes. I have observed their behavior from my window. I see them walking past on the sidewalk. They allow furry creatures to lead them by some sort of string. It is like these things are escorting them to their destination.
I’m also baffled by their speech. Most speak the same language as me, but some of the strange ones are different shade and hues. These are the ones that speak an odd language that I do not understand, although some of the doctors and nurses here do. I must go, for now, someone is coming.” He stretched out on his back pretending to sleep.
The door opened and a nurse walked in followed shortly by a doctor.
“Is he out?” the doctor asked.
“He should be. That was a powerful pill I gave him.” The nurse laughed quietly.
“Wait, what’s this?” The doctor bent down and picked up a pill from the floor. “I don’t think he took it.”
“He is sleeping, though, let’s leave him to rest.”
He pretended to sleep as they stood by his bed discussing his unusual situation.
“I think some sort of trauma made him forget who and what he is,” said the doctor.
“He does look at me so strangely…like he’s never seen anything like me before.” He felt the nurse’s cold finger press into his wrist, taking his pulse.
“Let’s allow him to sleep. He needs rest.”
“Yes, Doctor.” He could feel the nurse fluff his pillow. “What’s this?” Ben’s heart raced. Would she find the recorder?
“Doctor, did you see this strange mark on his temple?”
“No.” He felt the doctor’s fingers moving his hair. “Strange…it’s red, but it’s not a bruise or any type of injury. It could be a birthmark.”
Ben dozed off. I must have been more tired than I thought. He woke as the nurse wheeled in the noisy lunch cart—some sort of slimy meat and mound of mashed potatoes. He ate a few bites before setting it aside.
“You really need to eat.” The nurse hung a bag of colorless liquid on the IV rack.
“What is that for?” Ben asked.
“Just some fluids and medication.” She smiled and exited the room. Ben waited for her footsteps to grow faint before getting up to record his thoughts.
“I’m attempting an escape tonight. I’ve pulled the IV from my arm. I have no clue what they are pumping into me. For all I know these strange ones want to experiment on me…or worse, dissect me.”
The hospital grew quiet as the sunset. Nurses made their rounds handing out medications and making sure all patients were in their rooms.
“Here you go, Ben.” The nurse shoved a small cup of medications at him. “And don’t try to hide them in under your tongue this time. I’m not afraid to dig them out!” She wiggled a gloved index finger at him.
Ben dumped the pills into his mouth and took a sip of water.
“Let’s see!” The nurse pulled his chin down.
“Ahhh. I took them. I swear.” Ben said.
“Okay. Now get some rest.” She wheeled the medication cart into the hall and pulled the door shut behind her.
Ben shoved his finger down his throat and vomited the pill cocktail into a trash can. He sat on his bed making a picklock from a hairpin he found on the floor. When the halls fell silent, he made his move.
The door lock was easy to pick and open. No problem. He slinked through the halls, freezing in his tracks at every sound. He made it to the nurse’s station and got down his hands and knees to crawl toward the double exit doors. With one hand, he pushed the handle and a screeching alarm sounded.
Instantly, hospital workers surrounded him. Ben felt a sharp prick in his arm.
Ben didn’t know his escape plan failed until morning when through bleary eyes, he watched the doctor and nurse go over his chart.
“He’s awake, “the nurse said.
The doctor walked over to Ben. “Good morning. I hear you had a rough night.” He pulled the recorder out of his lab coat. “I listened to your recording, Ben, and I want to help you. I can assure you we don’t want to hurt you.”
“Of course you’d say that,” Ben said. “But that’s what happens when you’re different like I am. People get curious and want to know what you look like on the inside.”
“Nurse, hand me the mirror, please.” The doctor took it and handed it to Ben. “Look at yourself, Ben. Tell me how you look different than I. You’re a person just like me and Nurse Riser.”
Ben slowly turned the mirror toward his face, and let out a shrill shriek. “What have you done to me? What kind of tricks of you playing?”
“Ben, what you see is what we all see, and what we’ve seen since the first time you arrived.”
Ben felt his face. “No, No! Where are my gills, my eye hoods, and my sensor?!”
“You’ve never had those features, Ben. Your family found you under the bridge just a few miles from the hospital. You were disoriented and saying something about scullywiggins. Your family thinks it is best for you to remain here with us until you’ve come back to reality.”
“My real family would never leave me here. This is all a mistake!” Ben rubbed his fingers through his hair and felt it—his sensory organ! He pressed it. His body convulsed.
“He’s seizing!” The doctor and nurse raced to stabilize him.
As Ben’s body calmed, memories flashed through his mind. He knew where he lived and how to get home. He could escape this nightmare!
The nurse pricked him and again he dozed off.
Later that afternoon, the doctor came back to talk with Ben. “I understand you can’t handle truth right now, and it’ll take some work, but eventually you’ll realize what I say is true.”
Ben decided to play along. “Okay, I’ll try. I know you’re trying to help me.” His fear had subsided a little. His sensory organ gave him back his memories, and he understood why he looked like these strange creatures—mimicry. He’d forgotten about his kind’s defense mechanism that allowed them to blend in for safety. That’s why they believed he was crazy.
His mimicry could help him escape, and he’d do it tonight. But he needed a keycard to get past the door alarm. “Nurse Riser has one on her scrubs pocket,” he whispered to himself. He rested on his pillow working out the details in his mind.
Ben woke to the nurse gently nudging his shoulder. “It’s time for your medication.” She sat the little cup of medication on his tray. When she moved closer to wrap his arm in a blood pressure cup, he slid the keycard from her pocket, tucking it under him.
“Ok. All good except your blood pressure is a bit high. I’ll make a note of in your chart.” She typed notes into her laptop. “Let me see you take your meds.”
Ben swallowed the pills and opened his mouth. “Aaahh!” He stuck out his tongue and moved it around.
“All done. I’ll let you rest.”
As soon as Nurse Riser was down the hall, Ben sprang out of bed and puked up his pills. “Now, just have to wait until all is quiet, and I can go home,” he told himself.
He sat up going over his plan in his mind. He stayed low and close to the walls, so his mimicry would help him blend in. He went over his plan several times in his head as he waited for the halls to quiet and the lights to dim. Once he was sure it was safe he made his move.
Using his hairpin, he jimmied the lock and crawled out into the hall. He pushed his back against the wall and moved quickly toward the nurses’ station. He dropped to the floor, keeping his belly against it and he slithered toward the exit. He stopped briefly to listen for any trouble. Inch by inch his hand came closer to the lock. Once in line with the lock, he swiped the card and rolled out the door. He bolted across the parking lot toward a fence row and dove behind it.
He heard the alarm screech. He just had to stay down and slither along the ground to avoid being spotted.
His sensory organ helped him find his way home, past the river and under the bridge. He jumped in the water and swarm through the portal before exiting the bank through a patch of trees. There it was! He ran to the door and pushed it open. “I’m home! I made it!”
Ben’s wife jumped and turned from her dishes. “Ben! How? I thought you…”
Ben held his wife. “I thought those strange creatures would keep me and use me for heinous experiments, but I got out.”
“Oh Ben, your hospital gown is soaking wet, but that it’s okay. I’m so happy you’re here.” She hugged him. “I was so afraid I’d never see you again. They didn’t hurt you, did they?”
“No. No. I’m fine.” He fell back on the sofa. “If it hadn’t been for my sensory organ, I’d never got free.” He turned to his wife. “I saw it all. I was hunting for scullywiggins when I fell in the water, and somehow I was transported to a different world.”
“Ben, you’re soaking wet.”
“I ran and jumped into the water where they found me and swam until I was transported back here where I belong.”
His wife handed him a towel. “Your mother’s been so worried. You dry off, and I’ll call her to let her know you’re okay.”
“Yes, and hurry back. I have so much to tell you.” He scrubbed the towel on his wet hair. “And cook up some scullywiggins for dinner would you?”
“Sure thing.” His wife went into the next room to use the phone. “Hello, is this Sunny Court Asylum? This is Mrs. Roads. Ben escaped again. Yes, please do right away.”
© Molly Allman