Promptly Kick-Off Part 2: The Doctor is In

Hey writers,

Welcome to part two of the Promptly Kick-Off Breaking-Block Challenge. (I’ve been considering making the title even wordier, but have thus far resisted all tantalizing options.) The first prompt has generated some great responses from a broad range of voices and styles, and it’s been a thrill to read everyone’s interpretations. If you haven’t checked any of them out yet—or posted your own—drop by the comments section.

Let’s try something different today, something that spawned from a discussion about how many fascinating lines can be overshadowed in our favorite books. How about a “Literary Roadshow” type approach—I’ll pull a random, seemingly unimportant, out-of-context line from a book, and use it as prompt fodder. Like “Antiques Roadshow,” one author’s tiny line from the past might become another’s gold.

Thus, from Albert Camus’ The Plague (one of my all-time favorite books):

PROMPT: The Doctor is In
In 500 words or less, funny, sad or stirring:

“He was going to make them right with a couple of pills or an injection, and people took him by the arm on his way to the sickroom. Flattering, but dangerous.”

Now, he takes your arm. Who is this doctor? Reveal him in scene.  

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  2. Monica Martin

    (I think I went a little overboard. Sorry.)

    I knew what those pills and injections did, and I wanted no part of them. The doc and his nurses claimed they were meds, to make you feel better and act in a way that was acceptable to society. Hogwash, I say. Those pills did nothing but turn your mind into mush. They calmed your outbursts and turned you docile and easier to handle. Easier to control. Especially when good old Dr. Hogarth took you into that back room, the room behind the red door. No one knew what went on behind that door, because anyone who came out of there never spoke about it. They just sat on the couch, arms wrapped around themselves, staring vacantly out of the window. No one knew what was behind that red door, and no one wanted to find out. Jimmy wanted to find out once, wanted to find out without going back there with the doc. He went up to the door, and tried it. It was locked. This made Jimmy angry. He kicked and cursed at the door until Nurse James took little Jimmy away. The next day, Jimmy went through the red door with Dr. Hogarth and his assistants, Dr. Brannaugh and Nurse Long-Legs Anne. When Jimmy came out, he was just like the others: silent and vacant. We couldn’t get a word out of him. We even sent Izzy to him. Little Dizzy Izzy, who could get Jimmy to say or do anything. He came back with nothing, crying at his failure. Izzy hung himself that night with the scarf his grandmother made for him just before she died. The powers that be were furious, of course. Dr. Hogarth had been in charge for four years and there had been no deaths under his watchful gaze. Under the previous rulers, deaths happened at least two or three times a year. Dr. Hogarth demanded to know who was responsible for Izzy’s death. A pretty silly question, since he hung himself. I didn’t realize I had said this out loud until Dr. Hogarth glared at me.
    "Maybe it was you." he sneered. "Maybe you wanted little, innocent Izzy all for yourself."
    "No way man," I answered. "Izzy had always belonged to Jimmy. Everyone knows that. Besides, I like girls. Right baby?" I blew a kiss to Nurse Long-Legs Anne.
    "Why you little…." Dr. Hogarht began, but was interrupted by Harry.
    "Maybe he just didn’t like what you did to Jimmy." he said.
    "What’s that?" demanded Hogarth.
    "Well, after Jimmy came out, he just wasn’t the same. He didnt seem to want anything to do with Izzy. Maybe Izzy couldn’t handle the rejection and bit the Big One."
    Dr. Hogarth nodded, and walked off with Anne, whispering. After lunch, Harry went behind the door. This time it was different. This time we heard the screams. Anne hadn’t gone with them this time. I followed her to the bathroom. When she came out of her stall, she was shocked to see me. Maybe a little scared? She tried to hide it.
    "What are you doing? This is the women’s room. You need to leave."
    I stepped closer to her. "What’s behind the red door?"
    "You know I can’t tell you that." Anne brushed past me to the sink. I spun her around and shoved her against the mirror. She winced as her head connected. I unzipped my pants and showed myself.
    "Please don’t." she whispered.
    "What’s behind the red door?" I repeated. She whimpered, not answering. I lifted up her dress, feeling along her body. So warm.
    "Again. What’s behind the red door?"
    "I can’t tell you! You know that!"
    I began to pull down her stockings and underwear. "Last chance."
    "Electroshock! It’s electroshock therapy." She was crying now. I looked at her with disgust and let go of her. She began to straighten herself as I tucked myself back in. I put both hands on her face and kissed her. When I pulled back, I smashed her head against the mirror. Over and over, until the mirror cracked and pieces fell on the floor and I was sure she was dead. I let her drop. Dr. Hogarth and Dr. Brannaugh busrt in.
    "Too late." I said.
    Dr. Hogarth held his hand out to me. "Come along. It’s your turn to see what’s behind the red door."
    I shook my head. "I don’t feel like electroshock today, Dr." I said, picking up a large shard of glass.

  3. Linda H.

    Nice one, Loveskidlit.

    Sharon…I love the line "Someone who will twist you three ways from Sunday until you don’t know which way is up."

  4. S.E.Ingraham

    The phone calls are increasing and you are starting to feel ill.

    You really think there is no relation between how you feel and the fact that every night you are awakened again and again by a stranger accusing you of making a mistake.
    After all, you know you never make mistakes. Ever.

    And now you have to see this quack – this guy that the big guy assures you will help you regain your sense of equilibrium. The boss said even he had had to see the doc once and that he did what he told him and now he is fine. You wonder if that’s true or if the boss is just telling you that to make you get help. Help. Did you actually need help? Or are they lining you up to see a Mengele as you suspect? Someone who will twist you three ways from Sunday until you don’t know which way is up.

    You’ve heard so many rumours about this doctor, how he gives out pills indiscriminately or will stick you with needles or tell you anything you want to hear. You wonder what kind of help that can possibly be and feel more tired than you can ever remember feeling. For the first time in your life you wonder if you are in the wrong line of work.

  5. Loveskidlit

    “He was going to make them right with a couple of pills or an injection, and people took him by the arm on his way to the sickroom. Flattering, but dangerous.”

    Of course they knew, like he did, that very little could be done. But when they took him by the arm like that he could sometimes forget. Then his reassurances became too earnest, too real, and he risked believing that his services were more than a ritual charade.

    In earlier times, not so very long ago, his daughters asked about retirement plans. Why retire? he told them. His whole life had been a purposeful stride to this point. Medical school, meeting Marilyn, marrying her, beginning his practice, supporting Marilyn through drama school, the girls following shortly after. Medicine and marriage, medicine and fatherhood, medicine and career. It wasn’t until Marilyn died that he questioned his many gifts. But retirement? Where do you hang up a caduceus?

    The plague came on slowly, at first. A few more patients a week. A few more in hospital. Eventually, a few more deaths. By the time it was diagnosed, labeled, and too late to stop, his practice needed him too badly. He’d missed his opportunity for a graceful and clean withdrawal from the fray.

    At least he had lived his life. At least Marilyn had been spared this. His exposure to the sick was a death warrant. But just today, Emily Belew came to see him, brought in by her anxious parents. Eleven years old. He remembered the night he’d delivered her, preterm. Her mother, Sarah, thought she was infertile, and the safe delivery of tiny Emily was a community miracle. The glow from it rubbed off on him for years. How could he not reassure her when she touched his arm, her small feathery fingers, and thanked him for seeing her so soon?

    He didn’t mind that tonight his eyes were bloodshot. He didn’t mind that he may have seen his last patient. Retirement, of a sort. But he minded, he minded a great deal, that for a moment when Emily held his arm today he thought he could still make her right again.

  6. Linda H.

    The Cross she Bears

    “He was going to make them right with a couple of pills or an injection, and people took him by the arm on the way to the sickroom. Flattering, but dangerous. A few never woke up.”

    “Go on,” instructed the woman seated across from her.

    “It began when I was about four. Whenever one arrived, he’d touch my arm and whisper, ‘To your room, Margaret’—always Margaret, not Peggy–and I would shuffle up the stairs to my bedroom. I’d grab my plush kangaroo and would speak to it the way I overheard him do when I came home early from Betty Maier’s birthday party. ‘You’re certain?–I see.– I can help, but you must tell me everything. Who. Where. When. Then I’ll administer a shot to help you sleep while I rid you of the growing fruit of your sins. In return I ask only for discretion and your attendance.”

    “I had no idea what those words meant until much later. And I didn’t know about my friend Janie. Lord, I wish she hadn’t confided in him. If only she’d told her parents Billy Wilson got her pregnant. Or found someone else for the procedure. Then maybe she wouldn’t be scarred for life. Not just internally. No. She has the mark. A tiny cross he branded below her belly button. He only did that to ones who admitted having sex willingly, and when they woke he explained it served as a reminder of their wayward ways and with time would purify their souls. But I know better. I found his diary. He used it as a sign, a hot rod burned in flesh, signifying entrance to hell. I thought he was a good man until I read his words. These weren’t the words of a former doctor or Pastor, not the man the community held in high esteem. These words of my father’s—they were vile. That’s why I set the fire. I stripped the angel of his wings…burned ’em right off…ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

    The psychiatrist asks, “Have you told the other doctors?”

    “Hell, no. They all knew him. But you—you’re an outsider. Someone I can trust.”

    “You did the right thing, dear. The locals will never believe the truth. Let me see what I can do.”

    Peggy is led back to her room, a new spring in her step, the sweet taste of freedom fresh on her lips. Confiding in the new head of the ward might open doors for her. She could finally move on.

    Meanwhile, the psychiatrist jots notes in her file: Patient emotionally distraught based on delusional visions. Poses risk to self and others. Strongly recommend isolation and medical sedation. Then she folds her arms over her stomache, satisfied the story behind the cross she bears will never be revealed.

  7. Patricia A. Hawkenson

    Flattering, But Dangerous

    “He was going to make them right
    with a couple of pills or an injection,
    and people took him by the arm
    on his way to the sickroom.
    Flattering, but dangerous.”

    Even with the warnings
    of her family and friends,
    Carol’s adrenaline shot up
    when he took her arm.
    Flattering, but dangerous
    was the way she liked her men.

    He led her to a room
    painted a calming periwinkle
    and after she privately disrobed
    he came to examine his client.
    Flattering, but dangerous
    was the way her breasts
    were sagging.

    With a dark marker
    he laid out his plan
    to cut, fill and lift
    to a new and improved
    Flattering and dangerous
    set of curves.

    Carol laid out the cash
    and her money was in his pocket
    before the dark marker
    on his forged license dried
    while Carol drifted off
    to an induced dream
    where she was dancing
    with an adoring man,
    Flattering and dangerous.

  8. Walt Wojtanik

    Anastasi “Antsy” Calzone knew there was no turning back. The false bravado of his raucous laughter hid the terror that accompanied it.

    “What now?” came a nervous voice from behind us, the two bound captives. Vinnie Sisteone was pathetic, a kiss ass of a yes man; a worm of the lowest denominator.

    “What’s the matter Calzone? You over stepped your bounds, didn’t you?’ I goaded.
    Now it was Johnny Fonteneaux that flashed his testosterone.

    “Take this shit to the ‘doctor’!” Antsy commanded, as Sisteone jumped to.

    That was a misnomer. A brute of a man, Mondo “Doctor” Cipriatti was more butcher than healer. He lived by what he called “The Hypocritical Oath”. “Do as much harm as possible!” I knew his work.

    “He’s going to make them right with a couple of “pills” or an “injection”. It was funny; people actually took him by the arm on his way to the “sickroom”. Flattering in a way, but dangerous none the less.” Calzone reasoned aloud.

    The long ride to Cipriatti’s gave me a chance to think. I winked over towards “Oily” Jimmie and nodded toward Vinnie.

    “Hey, Sissy, you got a couple smokes?” I inquired.

    His hands shook as he handed the pack back over the seat. He was scared shitless. So was I, for that matter. I lit the cigarettes and tucked the lighter into my breast pocket.

    The “doctor’s office” was a ramshackled dump. The steps were busted and the storm door was half off its hinges. Cipriatti’s gap-toothed grin greeted us at the portal.

    “Ah, new patients! Johnny Fountain, it will be a pleasure operating on you.” the smarmy bastard announced as Sisteone sped away.

    He takes my arm and gave Mazola a shove forward onto the floor of the dank anteroom.

    “I have just the right… prescription… for the both of you.” “Doc” regaled us as he threw the bolt.

    I stood with my back to the locked door, watching as the madman roped Jimmie to a chair. The Doctor’s one malpractice was turning his back to me. I picked up Cipriatti’s scalpel and heated the blade with the absconded lighter.

    But I didn’t move as quickly as I should have. Mondo Cipriatti drew the revolver from his shoulder holster, ringing two shots into the foggy night air. He gave Jimmie two “pills” right between his eyes. The rage boiled my vision red as I lunged for the doctor with the searing metal blade. I “injected” Cipriatti just below his left ear and drew is sharply across his throat, painting the room a nauseating crimson.

    Blood spattered and melancholy over the loss of Mazola, I found Mondo’s automobile. I just wished I had paid attention in “Hot Wiring” class. I stumbled to the street, extending my thumb as I back pedaled toward the city.

    The sun rose serenely as I approached Calzone’s apartment building, caked with blood and pieces of Mazola’s brain across my shoes. I had no weapon. Johnny Fonteneaux just had a score to settle.

  9. Zachary Petit

    Hey Mark,

    No problem. Moreover, thank you for the story. I think reading everyone’s material drives the creativity just as much as the prompts.

    Linda, I say take an open approach to the prompt–as long as your story abides by the basic theme, there’s no need to include the wording if you don’t want to, unless the prompt specifically calls for it. Otherwise, it’s your open road.

  10. Kathy Booker

    Cooper’s Pass is a quiet little town. If you stand in the center of Main Street and look west you can see the mountains veiled behind a bluish haze. If you look east you can see the valleys lined with all kinds of trees, and when the wind is blowing just right and the branches of the trees sway, you can see tiny glimmering shards of light reflecting off the windows of the big city buildings.

    We like it here in Cooper’s Pass. Everyone knows everyone. That can be a good thing, and sometimes it can be not such a good thing. We don’t get a lot of people passing through. Our town is nestled nicely, and I guess you’d say it’s an out-of-the-way kind of place. I remember once when some bikers got lost and wandered into town. They stopped, glanced around, and kept on their way. I was going to run out to them and ask if they wanted a glass of lemonade, seeing as how they looked a bit parched, but before I could turn the knob on the front door, they were gone.

    Just about everyone in town is nice. Take Mrs. Gatehouse for example. She is the epitome of the “mom next door” type. If one of the kids gets a scraped knee, she’s the first one there with a kiss to make it all better and a bandage. She’s the one who wins the canning contests every year at the town fair. And no one can get enough of her apple cinnamon pies.

    I guess you could say that our town is full of the nicest people in the world. The only exception in the history of Cooper’s Pass was Doc Meister. Don’t get me wrong – he was a kindly old man who would bend over backwards to fix whatever was ailing you, but I don’t think he could be described as a harmless old coot. He fixed up his kitchen into an exam room and the living room into a waiting room. It didn’t matter what was wrong with you – a cut, a sore throat, a stomach ache, a large bulbous protrusion from your leg – he’d make you right and whole again.

    Mostly he was very generous with pills and needles. He always said that, “a couple of pills or an injection of my special serum will do the trick.” And we’d take his arm as he led us from the grand waiting room to the spacious exam room that displayed various large cabinets of apothecary jars, bottles, small to humongous needles, knives, and all kinds of silvery tools we’d never seen before. We were always flattered by the way he said his kind words to us and let him do whatever he felt he needed to do.

    It was almost too late when we realized how dangerous it was for us to put blind faith into Doc Meister’s ways.

  11. Teri B Clark

    “He was going to make them right with a couple of pills or an injection, and people took him by the arm on his way to the sickroom. Flattering, but dangerous.”

    Now, he takes your arm. Who is this doctor? Reveal him in scene.

    “Good morning doctor! I’ve been waiting so long for this day. You can’t imagine how excited I am,” gushed Bernice.

    Bernice was nearing seventy years old and didn’t want to believe that she was getting older. She had always been beautiful with her dancing green eyes and wisp-like figure. But in recent years, age had taken its toll. Her once tall and straight body was now just a bit stooped and her soft skin had taken on a leathery appearance. That, however, was all going to change all because of Dr. Ballard.

    Dr. Ballard smiled and said, “Good morning, Bernice. I can see those years melting off you already!”

    Bernice blushed. She wouldn’t admit this to anyone, but she thought Dr. Ballard was the most handsome man she had ever met. If only……

    Dr. Ballard interrupted her thoughts. “Are you ready to get started?” he said with a smile. Bernice nodded her head vigorously.

    “Then take my arm, Bernice, and we’ll head down to my room of magic. When I’m done, not only will you look 30 years old, but you’ll look 30 years old forever.”

    “Oh, thank you, Dr. Ballard. I just can’t thank you enough.”

    Bernice took the proffered arm and headed down the hall to what she was sure was going to be the best day of her life – or at least the first day of the best year of the rest of her life.

    Dr. Ballard smiled, but this smile didn’t quite meet his eyes. He was thinking about turning Bernice into a beautiful young woman. Just as he had done to all the others. His heart began to beat a little faster. His breath came a bit quicker. He knew that the moment was coming – that moment when Bernice would know the truth but would be helpless to do anything about it.

    “After you, Bernice,” he said as he flung open the double doors. There, lining the walls were fourteen women, all of whom appeared to be in their thirties. Although smiling, their eyes stared unseeing. Death hung in the air.

    “Oh my God. He’s going to kill me,” Bernice thought as she struggled to get free. The last thing she heard him say, with a maniacal laugh was, “Forever thirty, Bernice. Forever thirty.” Then the needle jabbed into her chest and the world turned dark.

  12. Linda H.

    Question: Do we need to use the given sentence or can we just use it as a lead in? If we must use it, must it be the first sentence or can it be in the middle of the text? Must it be exact, word-for-word as given, or can we fiddle a bit?

  13. J. Alvey

    “He was going to make them right with a couple of pills or an injection, and people took him by the arm on his way to the sickroom. Flattering, but dangerous.”

    It was flattering because it was their way of showing their complete reliance and trust in the cat. He was like some beared, Armenian Clara Barton, maybe even a modern day Messiah depending on how high they were or how hooked they were by his program; dangerous because the man simply and violently objected to being touched, more a modern poor man’s Howard Hughes considering the conviction of his phobia.

    The latter a real contradiction for the dark man with the heavy brows and constant brood, since he had to touch their hands to offer them the pills, had to at least come close to their saliva to drop the blotted tabs of paper onto their tongues, (and speaking of a Messiah, how they knelt or stood ever-so-compliant, eyes often shut, mouths open in absolute trust, as he admistered his tiny paper ‘wafers’ of anticipated communion with another reality, one of those beyond Huxley’s Doors of Perception), had to tap a vein on the hand or along the arm to find a plump and pliant vein, had to stick the needle to introduce the joy juice to these particular soon-to-be somnabulent but smiling disciples.

    Those closest to him, and they were a small, select subset of humanity, knew him as Niven. He had shown up on the streets seemingly out of nowhere and within months was referred to by many of the down-and-outers and the hip who hung with them to show their solidarity, at least in token measure, as the Keeper of the Keys, eventually as Doctor Doorway.

    Those closest to him knew that he was not a licensed medical doctor, but were not surprised when he eventually began to wear the long white coat above his bells and flowered shirt, were not surprised when he started to call the little room where he sent his disciples when the trip got out of hand the ‘sickroom’.

    They were not even surprised when he started paying them, in cash and drugs, to remove the dead ones, the ones who had broken through to the other side only to shut the door behind them, to move them to the other side of town, to some doorway or abandoned building far removed from Doctor Doorway and the sickroom.

    He was not going to be touched by the dead, that much was for sure. He was not a serial killer, that was for sure too. He merely faciliated others in finding the alternative worlds, the other dimensions, and if some were a bit too successful in their searches, well, he couldn’t bring them back and charge them more, but he could strip them of any cash or other items that would not be needed on the other side before sending their corporal entities away, clearing space in the sick room for new clientele, potentially new disciples.

  14. Tanja Cilia

    500

    The Doctor Is In

    Elton John says that Lucy is in the sky with diamonds. Charlie Brown knows differently. He knows that Lucy is behind the stall bearing the sign The Doctor Is In.

    Me? I’m somewhere in between. My head’s in the clouds and my feet are on the ground

    People come to me because I’m the doctor oft heir minds, their hearts, their souls, their bodies.

    Over the years, I’ve learned how to decipher a person’s thoughts and dreams through watching eyelashes flicker and thumbs fiddle.

    Do you remember Whoopi Goldberg playing the medium in that film – the name escapes me, but it had something to do with oodles of boodle – where Patrick Swayze deed and Demi Moore could not forget him….

    I’m like Whoopi. I thought I was doing it for fun, but now it turns out that I can really doctor people, inside and out. I have healing hands. I have premonition. I have it all. And I have nothing. Because I need nothing.

    It’s useless taking pills for depression, I tell them. Oh, but I take them to forget, not to be cured, they counter. I take them back to their youth, to the time when nothing mattered except wind in their faces and the smell of the grass in their noses.

    When The Doctor Is In, all you need to do is confess all that is wrong with you, inside and out, and he will wave his magic wand and make it all better – They think. But the doctor is only an instrument, a vehicle, a catharsis. You have to cure yourself before he can cure you.

    Yvonne had a weird ache in her shoulder blade… oh yes, it could have been caused by lugging the baby about just so that he would not cry…. but it’s also because she felt the weight of the world on her shoulder – she finally admitted that her husband flicked a duster around the furniture occasionally, and his mother went around saying that the “helped with the housework”.

    Reginald… well, he thought that mints and cologne could hide the fact that he was not eating, just so that he could lose weight quickly and make an impact on the wife of a friend who would be abroad for a month.

    I noticed his shifty look; the smell of acetone on his breath. The way he periodically moved his index finger between his trouser band and his belly, to see if he was any thinner.

    Fiona came to me complaining of hair loss; she wanted to know whether she ought to sue her hairdresser, because she had left her under the dryer for five minutes too long. After the conventional examination of her scalp I noticed that her ankles were swollen. Other symptoms, which she had been passing off as tiredness for too long, convinced me that she has a tumour somewhere on the spine.

    So I sit, and I listen. But I also look and think and feel.

  15. Kim Smith

    He was going to make them right with a couple of pills or an injection, and people took him by the arm on his way to the sickroom. Flattering, but dangerous.

    But they begged me to see him.

    Walking with him down this taupe-colored hallway, I am nervous. He guides me into a sickroom with mustard-colored walls. He leads me to a chair and sits next to me, flipping out the sides of his long, white jacket. He leans in and says he wants to make me right.

    “We can treat you. After all, there’s no reason to go around feeling like this all the time. Not when modern medicine has come so far to cure many ailments.”

    He reaches in his pocket and pulls out a brownish medicine bottle and tells me to take this pill, it will make me feel right. It is small, square, and brownish yellow, resting in his pinkish palm.

    “Go on. It won’t hurt you.”

    I wait, looking in his gray eyes.

    He’s the best, they said. He’ll get you right in no time. But I’m not so sure I want to be right the way they want me to be right. I’m okay, I just don’t like how they want me to think and it makes me tired arguing with them so much.

    He smiles.

    “I know you’re nervous but the first step to getting better is letting someone help you and I want to help you. Please let me.”

    He places one hand on my arm and looks me in the eyes. He looks very nice and I want to believe him.

    “There’s nothing wrong with me,” I say. “I’m just a little tired, that’s all.”

    He pats my arm, smiling.

    “Of course, you’re tired. This will help. I promise,” he says, offering his palm again.

    “No, I don’t want it.”

    His lips tense and he repeated that this kind of treatment could help my ailments.

    “I don’t have a problem.”

    “Yes, you do and we just want to help you make it right. So please.”

    He offered his palm again and told him I didn’t want to be right. Not that way.

    “Well, if you’re opposed to that sort of treatment, we have something a little more aggressive.”

    He pulled a syringe from his pocket.

    I stand up and say I’m ready to go, stepping toward the door.

    “You’ll feel much better after this injection. It won’t hurt a bit. Just a little sting.”

    “No,” I say, twisting the cold aluminum door handle. It’s locked. My eyes begin to burn. He stands and moves toward me.

    “This won’t hurt. Just a little sting. Then you won’t be tired. We like making you right so you don’t have to go to all those demonstrations. You need to stay away from those kinds of people. They are radicals and they’ll poison your mind and you’re too smart to let that happen, aren’t you?”

    It stings. He smiles.

  16. Daniel Paicopulos

    He was going to make them right with a couple of pills or an injection, and people took him by the arm on his way to the sickroom. Flattering, but dangerous.

    Dr. Wilkinson had never been strong, not even as a youth. He was always the last one picked when we chose sides for any competitive physical endeavor, but now, at seventy-five, he appeared more robust than ever. His once-sparse hair had become luxurious, the color a deep brown, rather than the owlish tan of his boyhood. Surely a trick of the eye, but he looked as if he had grown in height and body as well, standing a bit over six feet, with the torso of a teen from Muscle Beach. This transformation had seemingly come upon him overnight, but, truthfully, I had observed the changes incrementally, as each patient disappeared.

    I was nearing the office, with every intention of examining his personnel file. A patient now myself, my own physical health was in a natural state of decline. My eyes, however, profited from a fortunate spin of the genetic wheel, and I could easily ascertain that something was simply not right. My normal skepticism, combined with a lifelong dislike for the good doctor, impelled me to find answers. Then, of course, there was the matter of the vanishing patients. As I approached the office door, the doctor took me by the arm, asking, “ and just where are we headed, little man?”

    I’d remembered his eyes as a pale gray, but the ones that now stared into mine were beyond blue, and they had a depth which made me feel that I could not lie to him, but I had to try.

    “I don’t know about you, doctor, but I’m getting a book from the library.”

    “Oh, and the library was moved to personnel since yesterday?”

    His grip grew tighter, not that of an old man, too strong for me to break. Looking down at his hand, I shivered, realizing that, while mine possessed the wrinkles, scars and liver spots of age, his was pink and blemish-free, like a child’s. There could be no doubt, he was growing younger.

    “Look, Leroy, take your wicked hand off of me. I know that you are up to the work of the devil, and I won’t stand by while you use this hospice as you personal laboratory.”

    He laughed, sneered really. “ That’s Doctor Leroy, if you please, and I’ll do whatever I wish with this waiting room to hell.” He seemed to grow another inch or two, but it was probably only me, shrinking from his grasp.

    “Tell me what you’ve done with all the patients who’ve gone missing since I arrived.”

    He snorted. “This is a hospice, Nathan, and people leave every day, and none of them return. Don’t you think that’s just too perfect?”

    …to be continued

  17. Paula Hart

    The Doctor was in over his head and he knew it. He looked at the woman across from him and wondered how he was going to handle this situation. He had known her for twenty years, her husband worked with him every day and now here he was…did his oath of doctor-patient privilege go so far as to prevent him from doing what he felt in his heart was the right thing to do?

    Mark was his friend too, but this lady who he

    felt so much concern for…did he owe it to her to disclose a confidence…to tell the truth before it was too late?

    She sat with her head down, seeming to examine the tear stained piece of cloth in her hand then raised warm brown eyes to look at him. Tears swam there unchecked than ran in rivulets down her smooth skin and dropped to her silk blouse before she could catch and brush them away. He wanted to hold and comfort her but knew he shouldn’t.

    Folding his hands he leaned forward, elbows on his desk and studied what to say, still undecided how to proceed. The thought occurred to him he loved his friend’s wife and had for a long time, maybe since the day he met her twenty years ago.

    He was a young intern at the hospital when she came into ER with her mother. A Pale frightened sixteen yr old bleeding profusely from a botched abortion. The Mother upset and frantic told them what had happened. The girl afraid to tell her parents what she had done lay sick and feverish in her room before she started hemorrhaging and miscarried.

    The ER team took care of her then admitted her to a room. She was there several days receiving whole blood and antibiotics. Long enough for him to visit with her and realize she was just an unlucky kid who had hooked up with a local football hero playing “the field” and anyone with a skirt on was “fair game”. It was a bitter lesson and she had taken it hard. He supposed he started falling for her then but he was busy becoming a doctor and missed his chance when she met Mark and fell in love.

    Mark had never asked how they met and he didn’t know if she ever told him.

    Now here she was in trouble, but not of her making. This time it was Mark. She was there to confide in him as a friend, seeking counseling for her troubled marriage. She didn’t know what to do to fix it or what had happened. Mark had changed over the years and was indifferent; hardly speaking for days, working late hours and when she touched him he flinched as if she were repulsive to him. She had cried then.Should he tell her Mark tested HIV positive? Or was this another secret for him to carry.

    Where did his loyalties lie?

  18. Paula Hart

    The doctor was in over his head and he knew it. He looked at the woman across from him and wondered how he was going to handle this situation. He had known her for twenty years, her husband worked with him every day and now here he was…did his oath of doctor-patient privilege go so far as to prevent him from doing what he felt in his heart was the right thing to do?
    Mark was his friend too, but this lady who he
    felt so much concern for…did he owe it to her to disclose a confidence…to tell the truth before it was too late?
    She sat with her head down, seeming to examine the tear stained piece of cloth in her hand then raised warm brown eyes to look at him. Tears swam there unchecked than ran in rivulets down her smooth skin and dropped to her silk blouse before she could catch and brush them away. He wanted to hold and comfort her but knew he shouldn’t.
    Folding his hands he leaned forward, elbows on his desk and studied what to say, still undecided how to proceed. The thought occurred to him he loved his friend’s wife and had for a long time, maybe since the day he met her twenty years ago.
    He was a young intern at the hospital when she came into ER with her mother. A Pale frightened sixteen yr old bleeding profusely from a botched abortion. The Mother upset and frantic told them what had happened. The girl afraid to tell her parents what she had done lay sick and feverish in her room before she started hemorrhaging and miscarried.
    The ER team took care of her then admitted her to a room. She was there several days receiving whole blood and antibiotics. Long enough for him to visit with her and realize she was just an unlucky kid who had hooked up with a local football hero playing “the field” and anyone with a skirt on was “fair game”. It was a bitter lesson and she had taken it hard. He supposed he started falling for her then but he was busy becoming a doctor and missed his chance when she met Mark and fell in love.
    Mark had never asked how they met and he didn’t know if she ever told him.
    Now here she was in trouble, but not of her making. This time it was Mark. She was there to confide in him as a friend, seeking counseling for her troubled marriage. She didn’t know what to do to fix it or what had happened. Mark had changed over the years and was indifferent; hardly speaking for days, working late hours and when she touched him he flinched as if she were repulsive to him. She had cried then.Should he tell her Mark tested HIV positive? Or was this another secret for him to carry.
    Where did his loyalties lie?
    © Bodrury

  19. Paula Hart

    The doctor was in over his head and he knew it. He looked at the woman across from him and wondered how he was going to handle this situation. He had known her for twenty years, her husband worked with him every day and now here he was…did his oath of doctor-patient privilege go so far as to prevent him from doing what he felt in his heart was the right thing to do?
    Mark was his friend too, but this lady who he
    felt so much concern for…did he owe it to her to disclose a confidence…to tell the truth before it was too late?
    She sat with her head down, seeming to examine the tear stained piece of cloth in her hand then raised warm brown eyes to look at him. Tears swam there unchecked than ran in rivulets down her smooth skin and dropped to her silk blouse before she could catch and brush them away. He wanted to hold and comfort her but knew he shouldn’t.
    Folding his hands he leaned forward, elbows on his desk and studied what to say, still undecided how to proceed. The thought occurred to him he loved his friend’s wife and had for a long time, maybe since the day he met her twenty years ago.
    He was a young intern at the hospital when she came into ER with her mother. A Pale frightened sixteen yr old bleeding profusely from a botched abortion. The Mother upset and frantic told them what had happened. The girl afraid to tell her parents what she had done lay sick and feverish in her room before she started hemorrhaging and miscarried.
    The ER team took care of her then admitted her to a room. She was there several days receiving whole blood and antibiotics. Long enough for him to visit with her and realize she was just an unlucky kid who had hooked up with a local football hero playing “the field” and anyone with a skirt on was “fair game”. It was a bitter lesson and she had taken it hard. He supposed he started falling for her then but he was busy becoming a doctor and missed his chance when she met Mark and fell in love.
    Mark had never asked how they met and he didn’t know if she ever told him.
    Now here she was in trouble, but not of her making. This time it was Mark. She was there to confide in him as a friend, seeking counseling for her troubled marriage. She didn’t know what to do to fix it or what had happened. Mark had changed over the years and was indifferent; hardly speaking for days, working late hours and when she touched him he flinched as if she were repulsive to him. She had cried then.Should he tell her Mark tested HIV positive? Or was this another secret for him to carry.
    Where did his loyalties lie?
    © Bodrury

  20. Jason Dougherty

    He was going to make them right with a couple of pills or an injection. That was the hook anyway. It was different every time. Sometimes pills, sometimes hypnosis, sometimes a sermon right out of the Bible. It really depended on what he felt the current patient wanted to hear. And they trusted him. It flattered him, brought a sense of pleasure to his heart, but it was dangerous to trust him. Dangerous to know him. And that gave him more pleasure than anything else.

    “I’ve got just what you need,” he told Gerta. Or was it Gretta? No matter–her name was of little consequence. She looked into his eyes, tears welling up in her own, and placed a frail hand on his forearm for support. “The sickroom is just back here. You’re going to be just fine.”

    He pushed through a set of swinging double doors and led Gerta down a white hallway. It had been designed to resemble a hospital. A waist-high hand rail lined the walls, only interrupted by the occasional room access door. An intersecting hallway ahead called for a round mirror attached to the ceiling, allowing doctors and patients to see around the corner before arriving. The hidden cameras behind the mirror were not so apparent.

    A sign hanging from the dropped ceiling pointed to the right with the words: Clinical Transplant Laboratory.

    He turned left. No sign explained what was to the left.

    Through another set of double doors, they entered a room just as white as the hallways. In the center of the room, behind a row of metal surgical trays and beside two florescent lights on movable crane arms, sat a swivel chair fixed to the floor. An unfastened seatbelt hung to the sides.

    “What exactly are you going to do?” the old woman asked.

    “Shhh,” he chided with a finger to his lips. “All will be okay in just a moment.” Her jaw trembled and he feared she would cry. He did not want to see her cry. He was there to help, to make the world a better place. The only tears he desired to see were those of happiness and gratitude. “Do you trust me?”

    Clenching her trembling jaw, she nodded. He was flattered. She didn’t know him from Adam but she trusted him. He had to admit that his stunning good looks and soft baritone voice probably earned him a great deal of trust with the women, but even men trusted him. He attributed that to nothing more than animal magnetism. People liked him; that was all.

    He helped her sit and then carefully strapped her in. He pulled the belt tight, knowing that any pain she might experience would only be temporary.

    “Take a deep breath…ma’am,” he said finally. Unsure if it was Gerta or Gretta, he opted for ma’am. Any sort of panic or restlessness in the patient could stifle the entire experiment.

    ***I stopped here due to the 500 word maximum stated by the writing guidelines. If anyone is interested in reading further, I continued the story another 300 words. You may read it here: http://jayfiction.googlepages.com/doctor

  21. Wanda Gray

    They say he is the salvation of the world. People flock to him from all over the world. No matter what the ailment or disease, they say he will make them right with a couple of pills or an injection. His waiting room is always overflowing and people clutch his hand or arm as he makes his way to the sickroom or examining room. He finds this flattering but knows it is dangerous. He doesn’t heal with pills and shots. His touch is the power that actually does the healing. His power could be passed on to those who touch him. Then he would no longer be the only salvation. As the gift is passed on, everyone in the whole world would be able to heal themselves and others. There would be no more illness or suffering and no more death. He would no longer be needed and would have to return to his own world where he would be punished for what he had done in defying the law banning cross species sharing of abilities.

    I was one of the ones waiting. As he took my arm and led me to the sickroom I reached over and patted his hand. I felt a strange prickle slowly moving up my arm and throughout my body. I captured the hand of my dying husband in both of my own when I reached his bed. His eyes opened for the first time in several weeks. He squeezed my hand with strength I had not felt for months. This doctor obviously did perform a miracle on my husband!

    A few days later we took my completely cured husband home. We no sooner settled in when the phone rang. I answered it and on the other end my sister was crying so hard I could barely understand her. “Oh, sis! Jack is so sick. He is out of his head with fever. I need to take him to the hospital but I can’t leave the kids alone. I know you just brought Bill home but could you come and watch them for me?”

    “Of course, I’ll be right there.”

    I hung up the phone and rushed next door to her house. I held her in my arms for a few minutes and she seemed to calm down. I went to Jack and laid my hand on his forehead and he was burning up. Again I felt a strange sensation that seemed to leap from my fingers to Jack’s head. By the time my sister grabbed her purse and keys, Jack was sitting up and all signs of fever were gone. He asked me what the strange tingle was when I touched him. I didn’t know but he was well, so I must have passed on the sensation I had felt when I touched him I wonder what caused it?

  22. Khara E. House

    Doctor Rock-in-Glass-Houses

    He was going to make them right with a couple of pills or an injection, and people took him by the arm on his way to the sickroom. Flattering, but dangerous.

    It was different when he held them. His touch always warm, generous; a soothing caress on the back, a pat on the head for a child, a handkerchief brushed against the cheek of the dying men. In his hands the possibilities of a right world seemed endless. No limits, no boundaries. He held them for dear life.

    They think he cares for them out of love. It is love, but not the love they imagine. In reality it is their love he works for. He fights for it like a matador battles a raging bull, aching for the moment when the world speaks up: No more, it is enough, you have won it out. Each diagnosis, each jangled pill bottle and dripping syringe, waves a white flag on his behalf. The world will make peace with him, on its terms or his own, and he prefers his own. These are the only victories he knows.

    His wife was a small defeat, his daughter a greater one. The small defeats of living alone day to day ushered him daily into the halls of the dead and dying, the sick and sicker, the miserable and the helplessly lost. He might save them, as he could no save her. He might touch them as he could not lift her up onto his shoulders and toss her gently in the air and catch her lighter than a feather and nestle her close and tuck her in at night. Each touch, each pat, each assuring hand, marked a love embrace bestowed upon surrogates. Saving the world for the ones he could not save, holding onto dreams of warm smiles and butterfly kisses in the hollow eyes and frail frames of strangers.

    He caught their diseases in his arms and tossed them high, drew them near, burrowed close and never let go. He dispensed medication like warm milk. He held their hands and let his fingers nestle on the ridges of their wedding bands. He said, “Good night, good night” to each, but not to them. He kept a strong smile and gentle hands to keep from shattering. He became their rock to veil his own glass.

    But he knew the old sayings, the warnings about rocks in glass houses. And he knew it was only a matter of time before the whole world—this new world without them, and the façade of the world with these new reincarnate masqueraders of love—would shatter and fall.

  23. Mark James

    Dr. Loken took Sam by the arm, and led him into the Pacification room.

    Some patients sat quietly while he mixed their serums, others had to be restrained. He didn’t like it when they screamed. Sam was different. Dr. Loken wanted him to scream, wanted him to beg, would have paid good gold to see him squirm. "This will take a few minutes," he said.

    "Got all the time in the world, doc." Sam leaned against the wall. "The rest of my life."

    "Your formula proved to be a bit of a challenge."

    "Why’s that?"

    "I’m not sure." Dr. Loken took two syringes from a narrow black box. "I would imagine it’s isolating the gene that made you such a bloodthirsty, cold blooded murderer."

    "You always talk this much, or am I special?"

    "Why did you kill them?"

    "Cause I could."

    "You were brought back, given a second chance."

    You grew me out of some goop left over when they ran enough electricity through me to light a city, then you turned me loose like a fox in a henhouse."

    We needed to study you." Dr. Loken took three small bottles from a shelf. Their black labels had no words. "Sit at the table."

    "Nope."

    Dr. Loken found Sam’s thread in his mind, and squeezed. Sam grabbed his head, sank to his knees, stifled a groan of pain.

    "The Table, please," Dr. Loken said.

    Sam gripped the edge of the metal table, fought his way to his feet, and sat back in the metal chair. "You turned into some real humane types." He held his aching head. "Bringing men like me back."

    "We bring you back to give you the opportunity to- – "

    "To what? I wake up inn a dark room with a knife in each hand and nothing but two women to guard me? What did you was gonna happen?’

    Dr. Loken drew liquid into the first syringe. "We believe in the human spirit."

    "And now I’m in a body that won’t die, so you gotta kill me with some special cocktail? You’re all nuts. You know that, right?

    Dr. Loken drew liquid from the first syringe. He considered the third bottle, but put it back on the shelf. "We have no had a murder committed for nearly one hundred twenty years."

    "So what did you bring me back for?"

    "Our Pacification was failing." Genes were recombining in the population. Thanks to you, we now have a vaccination."

    "I hope you rot in Hell," Sam said.

    "Perhaps I will," Dr. Loken said, squirting liquid from the second syringe. "But most certainly I will hear your screams before I do.

    Dr. Loken injected Sam. The third bottle, the bottle he’d left on the shelf, was a pain killer. The acid in the syringes was time release. Sam would scream for a long time before he died. No one mould mind a few extra screams from a Condemned.

    Mark James

  24. Conni

    “He was going to make them right with a couple of pills or an injection, and people took him by the arm on his way to the sickroom. Flattering, but dangerous.”

    I was startled by the touch of bony fingers wrapping around my upper arm. I turned to find the stooped over figure of Doctor Jonas. He must be a thousand years old. How he was able to even move, much less practice medicine was beyond me.

    I guess you could ask, then why are YOU here? That’s simple. For starters he’s the only doc around for about 50 miles and it doesn’t take much to convince him the pain pills he prescribed yesterday weren’t working and you need a different medication. He never seemed to realize or care that you still had 29 days of a 30-day prescription.

    It turned out to be a very lucrative business for me. Sure it was slow going at first, but after I had sold my first 29 pills to the Lonesome Valley High School football team, word got around and business picked up.

    We had entered the sickroom and Doc had turned to close the door when it was pushed open by some outer force. The doc stumbled backwards and as I reached to steady him, blue suits, a lot of them, came into the room.

    “Sorry Jonas,” it was the sheriff, what a bastard he was. “Time to hang up that prescription pad.”

    Doc looked at the police in pitiful disbelief. I got the feeling he really didn’t know he had done anything wrong. Then the sheriff looked at me.

    “What are you doing in here, boy?”

    “Um, just stopped by to see how the doc was today.” I looked through the open door. Where the lobby had once been crowded, no one could be seen. I started towards the door.

    “Now just wait a minute there, boy.” A large hand gripped my arm hard and strong. “You just stay right there, we’re gonna have a conversation right after we take care of doc.”

  25. Diamond

    He raised a weathered hand and wiped little pearls of sweat off of his strong brow and carefully began to pick his way down the rocky slope to the hospital tent. He felt the nausea of helplessness hit his stomach although this wasn’t his first rodeo. Seeing their faces, glowing with hope and staring at him with pain poorly concealed behind anxious eyes gave him the adrenaline to work around the clock. He understood enough Spanish to know that some of them had traveled from Honduras and El Salvador—and he understood enough about medicine to know that many of them didn’t stand a chance. He was haunted by the smells of rancid flesh that hung over brittle skeletons, haunted by the image of tumors so extreme they seemed to be digitally mastered.

    His first trip to Guatemala as a college student had changed his life. The sounds of muffled screams seemed to echo to him off the library walls at night and the feel of the hand saw beneath his trembling fingers kept him awake during his studying like a rumble strip on the freeway. And every year, he came back to them with more knowledge to offer as he poured himself out surgery after surgery, slowly making a dent in the incessant lines so long they seemed to fade into the golden horizon. He had worked night after night by the dim light produced by the generator with the rickety tools that were often improvised.

    Their hope incited him like a screaming crowd spurs on a tri-athlete. Their unwavering faith moved him. The belief that he was going to make them right with a couple of pills or an injection was painted on their dirty faces, and people took him by the arm on his way to the sickroom. Flattering, but dangerous. Especially when he knew he couldn’t fix them.

    He remembered the pained looks and the brave nods as he watched understanding fall over their prematurely aged faces like a curtain. “The chances aren’t good,” he would say, then wait for it to be translated from English to Spanish and oftentimes from Spanish to Quiche, Cakchiquel, Mam, or Tzutujil. “There is a great likelihood that she will die in surgery,” pause for translation. “The tumor is lodged too deep in her spine…she might survive but she will never walk again.” Emotions are a universal language. He didn’t need anyone to translate their reactions. So many problems, so little time.

    He swept aside the bug net at the entrance to the tent, an attempt to keep a sterile environment. He put on his white coat, took the handsanitizer the plucky student pumped into his hands and strapped on his mask. “Ready?” he asked her. She gave him a brave smile and nodded her head, strapping on her mask. They walked in together and her steady hand held his tools, nothing more than saintly compassion keeping them rooted to the bed from which the putrid smell tried to drive them.

  26. Willow Morningsky

    The Doctor is In

    “He was going to make them right with a couple of pills or an injection, and people took him by the arm on his way to the sickroom. Flattering, but dangerous.”

    Now, he takes your arm. Who is this doctor?

    I had seen the article in the paper that morning. I particularly recalled the words, "Flattering, but dangerous," as I turned my head to look into the eyes of the man who had just taken hold of my arm. I resisted the nudging tug on my arm to follow him into the now quite well-publicized and rather infamous ‘sickroom’. His eyes bore their way straight into my recoiling mortal spirit. His grip on my arm tightened. The ‘nudge’ to accompany his lead turned into a definite persuasion designed to manipulate me from my purposely frozen position of not moving an enth of an inch as I continuously held his gaze with my own firmly implanted eye contact. We were in an unyielding tug-o’-war. And all in front of a mesmerized public audience. The TV cameras were all there, capturing every nuance between us.

    His brow furrowed, and his face took on a more quizzical and perturbed expression, which I was sure the TV cameras could and were easily recording. I felt a pang of pity for this man who held both my gaze and my arm. Never before in his whole life of very nearly 69 years, had I ever told him no, ever denied any request he had made of me. He was clearly confused and uncommonly perplexed.

    His head tilted slightly, causing his mid-length, almost pure white hair to fall becomingly into his line of sight, but his locked stare into my eyes scrutinized every tension in my face, looking intently for answers, a single clue, an indication. I had seen that look before, usually as he contemplated a particularly vexing puzzle piece that just didn’t seem to have a place in the arrangement to accommodate its smooth placement into the rest of the picture. He was out of his realm. He did not understand my noncompliance. My tears welled and I could not prevent the corners of my mouth from turning decidedly down and trembling.

    I loved this man. I loved everything about him. I loved how he thought, the standards he held, the values he lived up to so scrupulously. I loved how he cared about others as much as for his own well-being. I loved him, and this was his life’s work. But I could not go into that room with him. With one swift movement, taking all the strength I had, I wrenched my arm free of his grasp. His jaw dropped with shock and dismay. "Mom?" he uttered.

    "Honey, I love you. I always will. And I believe in you. I believe in your work. But I am not ready. I’m 89, I know. But I still have lots of life left in me. Your work establishing assisted suicide is laudable and necessary, compassionate in most instances. But this new, imposed ‘Age of Mandatory Crossing Over’ is what I will not accept. I am just not ready to die yet. Now, let go of me!"

    He did, and I fled.

  27. Beth Cato

    I used the prompt to write a spin-off of my urban fantasy novel NORMAL.

    Dr. Shen had to be half his age, slender and professional in her white lab coat. She hooked him by the arm, a tolerant smile pasted on her face as if she had seen such a reaction a hundred times before.

    “Now Dr. Milford, I know this is your first day at Camp, but you have to remember to follow our procedures here.”

    The older man wrested his arm free. He knew when he was being patronized. “And you listen here. I’ve been head of the research department at my university for five years, and worked for more than thirty in my own practice. You can’t just tell me -.”

    “This isn’t a university or a private practice. This is a government-run facility and -.”

    “I’m supposed to just forget about the Hippocratic Oath? Morality? What are you people doing here? That girl back there…”

    “Will be perfectly fine because of our intervention,” Dr. Shen said smoothly. “The purpose of Camp isn’t to heal these gifted youngsters. We’re here to learn, just as they are.”

    Dr. Milford shook his head, frowning. He’d been told that this job was a privilege, the culmination of a lifetime of work. By the dramatic pay and the level of paperwork, he knew it had to be something special, but this?

    “How old is she?” he asked.

    Dr. Shen glanced back down the hall. “About ten, I think. She was fairly heavy for her age due to her high metabolism. Her healing ability burns calories at an amazing rate, so her body maintains a buffer of fat.”

    “Maintained. She’s not fat now. She’s barely conscious. When did she eat last?”

    “I would have to look at her chart. I don’t know offhand. But that’s not the point, doctor. You weren’t brought here so you could write prescriptions. You saw the rosters on your tour yesterday, right? We have hundreds of students here for the summer, and some who stay year round. All of them have different talents. Shapeshifters, fire-starters, telekinetics. You dream it, we’ve probably documented it to some degree.”

    “But that girl.” Dr. Milford stopped, shaking his head. “Seeing her heal a severed finger like that, by just touching that boy. It was the most amazing thing. But I could see the toll it took. She’s dangerously bradycardiac and cyanotic. She needs emergency treatment, yet no one helped. They just brought in the next patient, and jotted down notes.”

    Dr. Shen cocked her head to one side. “Control and observation. That’s our goal. Not healing.”

    “Doesn’t it bother you at all?” he asked.

    “Healing one person does good for the short term,” she said, smiling. “What we do is for the betterment of all humanity. For the community.”

  28. Penny Henderson

    The Doctor is In

    People took him by the arm on the way to the sickroom. He called them "dearheart" or "buddy." He patted the ladies’ hands, laid a strong hand on the men’s shoulders. It was flattering but dangerous. They forgot he didn’t know their names.

    His diagnostic intuition was remarkable, and fortunate, for he seldom reviewed the chart, or closely studied the lab reports.After a quick glance, he’d pull out his prescription pad, or grab the chart to enter orders for the nurses.

    He always turned back at the door and twinkled his cobalt eyes at them, saying, "You take real good care, now."

    Each felt loved. No one ever left his his practice, except through the basement of the hospital in a hearse.

  29. Steven Brant

    He was going to make them right with a couple of pills or an injection, and people took him by the arm on his way to the sickroom. Flattering, but dangerous. He knew flattery, and reveled in it even as brushed it gently aside. I made sure he never saw the danger. That, after all, was part of my job.

    “John,” I said, taking his arm in my gloved hand. “Do you have a minute? I need a consult.”

    “Of course, Dr. Hogarth,” he replied, reading the tag visible on my open surgical gown.

    “I’ve got a pre-op asking for you. Perhaps you could spare 60 seconds?” I pointed obsequiously to an open door down the plum-and-mauve corridor designed by some over-credentialed wellness specialist. “Please?” I added. “You do matter to your patients.”

    I put my other hand around his shoulders, ostensibly guiding him toward his waiting patient as I slipped the two vials into the pocket of his scrubs. He wasn’t a surgeon – thank God! – but he firmly believed, with no visible evidence, that his patients would trust him more if his specialty were top of the pops. He should have been an anesthesiologist, the way he could drone on about his accomplishments, some of them even true.

    He stopped and wrinkled his nose. I knew he tasted the garlic-like allicin on his tongue, courtesy of the DMSO on my glove. DMSO – dimethyl sulfoxide – will do that, as it races through the blood. It’s famous, indeed, for three things. It penetrates the skin nearly instantly. It delivers the taste of garlic within about 20 seconds of absorption. And it carries other chemicals into the bloodstream, undetectably.

    I didn’t care about the garlic part. The other two properties were why I was walking through St. Jeanne’s, dressed in scrubs, holding the good doctor’s arm, and performing the simple sleight-of-hand that planted the evidence.

    He stumbled and I caught him. The batrachotoxin – poison-dart-frog variety – was racing through his peripheral nervous system. He looked aghast as his legs refused to obey his will, and I lowered him gently so as not to smash the vials. My job included escaping St. Jeanne’s; one droplet would cancel a lot more than my escape.

    The doctor had no escape as the toxin found his heart muscles. If his nervous system were working, he might have been able to cry out briefly, say a last word or two. Enough of his words could be as deadly in their own way as the liquids in his pocket; I was glad to be spared that as well.

    A nurse turned the corner and stopped. Then she raced toward the fallen doctor. “Help him,” I cried, as I headed for the stairs. Perhaps she wondered why a doctor was moving away from a fallen colleague, but once the stairwell door closed I was a doctor no more. I peeled the fatal glove inside out and dropped it in a Ziploc I pulled from my pocket. I tore off my scrubs and wrapped them around the blond wig I no longer needed. Together they went under my untucked shirt as I assumed the stooped walk of a potbellied schlub, inoffensive, harmless, unremarkable. The eyeglasses went into a pocket, followed by the bushy blond eyebrows. I made a mental note to work on the eyebrow trick, annoyed by the smarting whenever I yanked them off.

    I strolled – waddled – down the first-floor corridor and out the door as the code-blue call sounded over the cheap ceiling speakers. I wondered if they’d pound his chest – and release the poisons in his pocket. No matter. What were a few deaths among millions?

    No, what mattered was the citywide panic that would ensue once word of those little bio-beasties got out. That was my next job, a couple of well-placed phone calls.

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