Copyright ©1988 by Dennis Báthory-Kitsz
An autumn afternoon blew brightly around my small car, leaves shaking their colorful palms in surprise as they looked into my windshield. And like the leaves, thought snippets whirled tiny tornado windcircles in my mind: "Shining sun, feeling good, going home, what a day, wanna speed, like the drive, gimme room, yeah! Feelin' good, shinin' sun, goin' home, gimme room!" It fell into a rhythm of autumn wind and white lines: "Feelin' good, shinin' sun, goin' home, gimme room!"
I was hurrying to meet Relanne, thinking of her clownish grin and deep, autumn eyes. My driving was almost automatic on this interstate highway, so much so that I hadn't looked to see -- and didn't sense -- the timber truck running hard behind me on the exit ramp. I forced the car ahead fast, through the stop signal and into the village. The timber truck, braking and swerving, loomed in my mirror, its grille like the fiery yawn of St. George's dragon.
Visions of my life (past and future) should have passed before my eyes, but instead my sight was engulfed by the dragon's mouth. It chewed off a portion of the car's back bumper, and raced onward, slithering and belching. Brakes squealed -- mine, perhaps, or maybe the dragon-truck's -- and my car coughed, clanged and crunched to a stop, kneeling before the totem presence of a telephone pole.
The dragon recoiled at a legion of blaring horns, and, in a medieval conjurer's cloud of smoke, materialized once again as an ordinary truck.
During those moments of madness, my mind's rhythm of "feelin' good, shinin' sun" had never ceased; indeed, it had accelerated and enlarged until it was reminiscent of machine guns, or factories -- or tribal chants.
I shook my head, and rubbed my forehead and brows in relief, relief that I wasn't killed, surprised it wasn't worse. Normal shapes returned around me. Ah, yes. In the car. A shiver ran up and down my back, reminding me of how lightning streaks from ground to cloud, cloud to ground, and back and forth again a dozen times in an instant. Adrenaline, I remembered. Powerful stuff, bursting into the body in its own private, subcutaneous, protective terror.
I wasn't cut, but I began to feel pretty well bruised. Or at least I thought I felt bruised, since I certainly looked that way. An echo of feet running in the distance reached my ears. Yes, stunned, I had been looking at my arms, still wrapped around the steering wheel. The car door was open, I was getting out, or perhaps being helped out. I muttered, "Thanks, I'm okay. Yes, fine. No, no, don't worry. Just knocked about. Thanks, yes." I heard my voice distantly, masked by the ringing in my head.
The day had turned grey, the wind chill.
I gave out a sigh of relief, then a light laugh. With its bumper curled in a harmless snarl, the car didn't quite look itself. But then I probably didn't either. Wonder what Relanne would say, or which she would notice first -- me or the car. No matter. I looked forward to her clowning to kiss the bruises away ... and smiled.
The ubiquitous service station and auto body shop sat on the corner, ready to receive my business. I motioned to the men standing, arms folded. "Want to take it and see what you can do?" A few nods and a grin, and in a few moments the men were backing a towtruck up to the car. Men getting together to do physical work calms the psyche, so I followed along to help relax myself.
The car was backed up against a low cinderblock wall. A clean shaven young mechanic was waving the driver toward him. A slip of the foot, perhaps, or a misjudgment caused the car to lurch back, striking the mechanic, throwing him to the ground. I called hoarsely, ran for the man, but he was already clear. It seemed he had been hit so hard, but no cuts or bruises showed. My own accident must have clouded my judgment.
I wasn't prepared for more trouble. "Maybe the car's a jinx," I thought. But the men seemed untroubled, even nonchalant about the accident. Nevertheless, I shivered and looked at my bruised arms again. My head throbbed. I hadn't noticed a clinic in town before -- never needed one, really -- but was relieved there was a doctor waiting to treat my bruises. Inside it felt welcome and warm after the chill greyness behind me. Even the fluorescent light was warmer than I had ever noticed before. Everything must seem warm and welcoming, I guessed, after a brush with death.
Philosophy dissolved. Paperwork was exchanged. Behind the receptionist's desk I could distinguish clean, brightly illuminated laboratories where technicians and nurses swirled and heated vials of liquids in autumn colors. A signature, the crunch of a stapler, and on I went through double swinging doors. I smiled as they swept by, considering how alike every hospital corridor entrance was -- two doors in two colors changing waist-high, quilted aluminum plates at the bottom, a single rectangular window at the top, and a hinged doorstop. My mind wandered quirkily: Maybe there was only one hospital in the universe, and all doors led into it?
I was led into a small waiting room. The wood-paneled door was all that identified this as a doctor's office. Beyond the door a computer screen glowed, and a pleasant "Please come in" issued from somewhere in its vicinity.
He nodded pleasantly, motioned me to sit, and reviewed my papers. He turned his chair around to the computer, and his lean fingers mechanically punched the keys. My name, then my report appeared on the screen. As he typed, I noticed the unblemished, almost beautiful hands of a doctor. He was no surgeon, I could tell, because the skin was smooth and untroubled by the muscles and tendons of one skilled at cutting through tough human flesh.
"Allergies. Lots of them. Pneumnonia as a child. No penicillin. Appendicitis, ulcers, colitis. Quite a history. Very enjoyable. Very nice." There was a peculiar pleasantness to this recitation. He fell silent for a moment, then, "Come with me."
I followed through more corridors, arriving in a pristine new area, some of it still under construction. A computer printout with my name in large letters was tacked to a stack of lumber at the far end of the room, and the room itself opened onto a foundation, and that foundation adjoined some newly dug foundation holes, which eventually led to a cleared meadow. With a half smile I mused, "Are they building this part just for me?", and remarked to myself that the sky was still, blue and warm again. Autumn changes so quickly.
"You'll be staying with us for a while, and we're preparing this section for you as quickly as we can."
He continued, looking past me and my question. "As you can see, we are a bit crowded. Within a day or so, each client arriving here receives a new room, with all the amenities. And you'll enjoy the view. Lovely, isn't it?"
He turned to the yet-to-be window. I shook my head to free the mental cobwebs, and gave my scalp a long, Stan Laurel scratch.
"Doctor....", I began with a quizzical grin. Then the humor dawned on me.
"Terrific. Listen, thanks. I feel lots better. Nothing like a little fun to calm me down. Probably a lot better than drugs, anyway...."
A nurse entered with a syringe, and stood ready. I looked up. "No thanks. Right, doctor?" He spoke again.
"As you can see, the rooms beyond here aren't finished either, but the clients are resting comfortably as the construction continues." I felt a light shiver wiggle up my back, over my shoulders, down my arms.
I interrupted, "That's good, doctor, I'm fine now. You have my papers and insurance numbers, so they'll handle the bill. Thanks a lot." I stood up to leave, but the doctor kept looking at me, or past me, and continued his prepared speech. The nurse edged my way, smiling pleasantly.
He was saying "....and all comforts will be provided during the entire length of your stay..." as I grabbed his hand. It was warm and dry.
"Sorry, I've got to go. My wife's expecting to meet me, and I don't want her to see the banged-up car and worry. Okay?" He was still talking as I spoke, and still talking as I gave his hand a tight farewell grip.
"We are very happy to have youwrrooowuyylll ere..."
"...and trust that you'll let us know what you need at all times." I squeezed his hand again, and held it: "In order to sszzzrvwooouwlll nyraarlll sgruyouuuzzznrrrrrrrrrr rrrrrr..."
A tape recorder, I thought? The sound of a tape jamming in a cassette player. I let go of his hand. Warm, I noted again, and dry. He was still speaking. I pushed him, and he didn't notice. I pressed against him as he continued, and the voice again slowed and distorted. "A record will be kept of allllrowrr nyavzzhherrr snyyyuzzzzz....."
I pushed him to the floor. He smiled. The nurse smiled. He continued speaking. What was he? What were they? I had to escape this nightmare. I raced through the door and heard the doctor's voice fade into the clamor of my footfalls.
I was swinging down hallways, careening like the timber truck, pushing uniformed nurses or whatever they were. They all smiled, some said hello, even as they bounced off walls or tumbled through doors with the force of my rush. I paused only a few brief seconds to push one hard against the wall, and ask it a question. That same sound, the sound of a tape recorder tangled and jamming, issued forth. I ran terrified past more people-machines or whatever these beasts were, past the mechanical doctors in their wood-paneled offices, past the clear-faced receptionist, bursting finally through the glass door and out onto the twilit street.
My feet kept running, my legs holding on. The sound echoed on the cold concrete sidewalk. I couldn't believe it. A clinic full of what? Of androids? Artificial people? Robots? Experimenting on real people? Or maybe rebuilt people claiming bodies -- bodies? my body? -- of other people to rebuild? I remembered the doctor's unblemished hands. And the clean-faced receptionist. I shook. I shivered. I ran. Shook. Ran. Stumbled. And became, ever slowly, calmer. It was a frigid evening. No matter. The dark grey sky and brisk, cold autumn air were welcome.
Breathing hard, I looked up and down the street for Relanne. "Please, where are you," I thought as passers-by went about their anonymous business. A familiar shape sporting wavy, black hair turned a corner and walked my way. "Relanne!"
Running toward her, I was overwhelmed with relief. "Relanne! Oh, Relanne!" Over the sound of my breath, I heard her quiet voice. "What's wrong? Are you okay?"
"Who knows if I'm okay. I'll tell you about it later. It was like a bad dream. I need a hug first. Just give me a hug." She stood quietly, observing me.
"Give me a hug," I cried, suddenly looking for the clown in her autumn eyes. She was strangely coy and unwilling, and her eyes spoke of winter, not autumn. "Give me a hug!" I grabbed her, pulled her toward me and squeezed hard in relief, desperation and release. She began to speak, "Please don't hold mnrauwrgh nzzzlnyur wwllowrannnghh lvzzzz zhorruuuhh....."
My muscles froze, my sight clouded with the vision of the bloodless mechanic, and I heard my mind begin singing a snippet from the hymn Rock of Ages, "and my eyestrings break in death." I held my head tight in horror and disbelief, searching for my clown, my love. I pounded my temples, pressing harder and harder. I started to scream, "Relanne, Relanne, Relanne!" ...... but instead I heard myself say "Nraugghhh, WWlowrannghh, Yurrrrrrhhhhhhnnn.....!"
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