To celebrate the release of Haunted
in hardcover, Doubleday solicited original stories from readers with their own Haunted story to tell. Congratulations to our winner, David Halpert, for writing the most creative and freakish tale. Read his Haunted story below:
Grievous Bodily Harm
By David Halpert
The X-rays alone were several hundred dollars. That part was easy. Despite living in his car with his wife and son, Miller's credit line was spotless.
The tricky part was relocating, food, gas, just enough money to take him from Nashville to Chicago. If he hadn't been pissing a dark, rusty brown Miller would've been none the wiser. That's blood in the urine, that abnormal color. Renal cell carcinoma will do that to you. If caught early it's usually treated with surgery, though it is notoriously resistant to radiation.
Little could be done, the doctors said.
He took out a loan from the bank and hit the road immediately, fitting an appointment with a specialist in Michigan at the very last second. Your car as collateral, when you're on your last leg and desperation sets in, can bring you all the money in the world you want. Miller knew MRI scans were expensive, but how much would the bribes cost, to leave a few blank spaces in his medical history.
In the end, every doctor has their price, or in this case, a third-year resident up to her eyeballs in debt. Miller got worried as he hit Fort Wayne and his vision started to blur hurtling North on Interstate 65, not to mention the stomach pain as he brushed the southernmost tip of Lake Superior.
That's another common symptom. When patients first present for medical attention they're looking for what's called the 'classic triad', blood in the urine, flank pain, and an abdominal mass. Constipation is just the next inevitable step.
In the Department of Cardiology all cell phones are turned off, pagers,
PDAs, wireless televisions, radios. They're silent here. Everything is quiet except for the footsteps of doctors and disenchanted visitors lumbering slowly against glossy tiles, the squeaky wheel of gurneys paddling along hard linoleum, and the occasional Code Blue alarm clamoring all the way from Emergency Trauma.
The room of the MRI has no metal, everything is made of something else. The shelves are wood painted white. The faux handles of drawers and cupboards are lacquered black plastic as are the skylights above. If anything were galvanized it would get swallowed by the oversized photocopier.
Imagine your body in a casket, the casket is buttoned down in the back of a hearse, bumping and bobbing along gravel in the parking lot before hitting the highway at eighty miles an hour. The table slides backwards as the MRI envelopes his body. Whirlwinds of sound circle him. He tries desperately to cover his ears but he can't even touch his chest. Trying to move is impossible. His ears are covered by plastic anyway.
Don't even scratch that itch on your nose.
Do you want to start from scratch all over again?
You're inside a giant photocopier or a very large washing machine. The
X-rays develop line by line on the image-enhancing screens. They stand in white robes, clipboards in hand, pens in pockets, the washing machine of the
MRI swooshing away like the turning of the tides.
He writhes in the coffin, his chest heaving up and down. Something small and fleshy swims in his mouth, the way a tadpole would be trapped in your saliva. He swallows it before he has a chance to spit, his neck still braced in gentle white plastic.
The inside of his mouth goes numb quickly filling up with blood. His air supply is cut off. His chest burns intensely before the organs liquefy in his ribcage and his stomach feels like ten baggies of cocaine opened simultaneously in his intestinal tract.
Outside the room, the doctors tell him to keep still. People have been known to get claustrophobic, some even hyperventilate, but even then there's usually a few minutes left. The throat closes up, unable to receive oxygen.
Still, it's a real bitch to start over, from scratch all over again.
The front of his tongue is gone, bitten off by his own front teeth, the pain too awful to bear. He's now kicking the machine from the inside, his knees pounding against the stiff interior. The doctors can't even hear it, hear his thrashing behind two inches of glass. His head smacks back and forth, rattling the not-so-gentle plastic as the woosh, woosh, woosh of the giant photocopier rolls on.
Then everything stops, flatline, and the glass turns red, blood red, so red that they can't even see the room beyond the window it's so dark. The resident on call slowly backpedals out the room as more and more blood appears along the windows in thin lace-like streaks.
What the doctors see is a giant lump of tissues ripped inside-out, curtain-thin sheets of skin dangling over the examiner's table, transparent against the blinding fluorescent lights high above their heads. The bloodied ribbons of muscle wound bountiful on what was once his stomach. His collarbone is sheared as bits of ribcage remain jagged and upright through the scored flesh of his chest.
That's when they notice it, something shiny and thin in the waterslide tube of the MRI. The nearest doctor picks it up, smeared in blood between two gloved fingers. Its thin-tipped ends still clasping onto shreds of ventricles torn from the inside, all stringy and damp the way spaghetti looks out of the strainer. That's the problem with pacemakers, old pacemakers anyway. Today they're made of hard plastic and don't interfere with heavy machinery.
It doesn't matter now.
The malpractice settlement was six figures alone, more then his father pulled in over the last thirty-some-odd years of his life. This man had nothing, but now dead, his family will live nicely off the life insurance. His baby boy will go to university, his mother will be able to buy food, they will able to live in a real house with lights and heat and everything.
How quickly time flies by.
Eventually little boys grow up.