- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
The door to the emergency room slid open and a young woman stepped onto the tiles of scuffed linoleum. Upon closer inspection, it was very clear that this woman was not actually a woman; she was, in fact, a young teenager not much older than a child. She kept her appearance well hidden beneath a long, black coat with the hood pulled up to disguise her hair. When you looked into her eyes, the only thing you could see was your own reflection, mirrored from the lens of her tinted sunglasses. Her jeans were a nondescript black, but they accentuated the thinness, the fragileness, of her bones. She seemed to glide across the tiles toward the front desk, where a woman in white sat studying files.
Her footsteps were soundless; she made no more noise than the shadow of a ghost.
She stopped in front of the desk, just inches from touching the cold marble. The waiting room had gone absolutely silent upon the young child’s entrance and they watched as she waited for the receptionist to glance up. It took a moment, but finally the redhead realized someone was standing on the opposite side. She lifted her head and met her own eyes in the reflection of the black glasses.
Her voice stuttered. “C-can I help you?”
The child in black seemed to consider, although anyone with an eye for small details could see that her mind had been made up days, possibly months before this meeting. She did not smile as she answered, nor did she make any attempt to raise her voice or let her identity be known to the astonished spectators.
“I am here for Joey,” she said simply.
To the receptionist’s credit, she was usually acutely aware of everyone who came into the hospital, and so she knew almost immediately who the child was talking about. There was only one Joey in residence that day, and he’d been in and out of the ICU for the past seven or so months. Brain cancer, she’d heard. The tumor the size of a baseball.
The doctors whispered that he wasn’t going to make it. The parents didn’t know, seemed like they didn’t want to know, but they hoped. They hoped.
“Joey Vascala,” the redhead said. “Are you a relative?”
“Well, I’m afraid –“ she started, but then abruptly stopped.
There was an essence about the girl that told the receptionist something was off. Not just the overall appearance and attitude, but the lack of emotion and movement. She stood nearly motionless and hardly seemed to be breathing. However, the redheaded woman behind the desk could clearly see that she was like a pond before the skipping rock; calm and placid, serene-like. Until the rock disturbed the peace, made ripples and soundless explosions across the surface.
Somehow, the child instilled instant fear.
The receptionist looked at her more closely, both for her own benefit and for the benefit of the dozen or so watching visitors. Finally, she said, “Joey just came out of intensive care about a week ago. He should be back in his room. Second floor, room 216.”
The child did not so much as nod as briefly acknowledge this fact by twitching her left ring finger. With this information, she turned and noiselessly glided toward the elevators.
The receptionist stopped her with a question. “Miss, Joey’s not feeling too well as of late. Please don’t disrupt him if he’s asleep or taking treatment, can you?” The question was not an inquiry; it was a plea.
The child slowed to a halt, but did not turn around. After the red-hand on the clock above the entrance doors circled the numbers twice, she finally turned her head to the side. “I won’t.” And then she was in motion again, seamlessly gliding toward the row of five elevators in the West wing.
The receptionist watched her go, as well as nearly every single person in the waiting room. No one heard her press the up button, nor did they hear the monotonous ding that usually resounded when the elevators opened. Strangely, the child didn’t seem to step forward into the awaiting chamber; one moment she was outside the doors, the next, a red light was illuminating the floor numbers as the elevator climbed upward.
On the second floor, the doors opened to reveal the figure in black. A passing doctor took a cursory glance, seeing but not seeing, before pulling his eyes back down to his patient’s files. Halfway down the hallway, he stopped mid-stride and whirled around. The elevator, according to the red flashing numbers, was now drifting back to the first floor. The hallway was empty, and eerily quiet. The doctor turned in confusion and disappeared around a corner.
The child stood at an open door. A nurse, spotting her almost instanteously, bounced out of her chair inside the room and shielded her from the two other visitors. She eyed the small girl nervously, although nothing about her seemed threatening or particularly stress-inducing.
“Excuse me, can I help you with something? This room is not open to any other visitors.” She placed an apologetic smile on her lips, perfectly convincing.
The child merely analyzed her with a quick sweep, then directed her attention to the two people behind her. As if in a trance, the nurse stepped back, out of the way of the stranger, so that everyone could see everyone.
“I am here for Joey,” she announced again, her voice no louder than a whisper. The nurse shriveled back; she hadn’t seen the child’s mouth open when she spoke.
Joey’s parents stood up from their chairs, which had been placed on one side of the hospital bed. The room was sparse of furniture, aside from the bed, the chairs, and the bedside table with countless bottles of medication sitting on it. Two monitors beeped; one for Joey’s heart, the other for each oxygen intake.
He wore a mask over his mouth. To help him. To help him breath.
Joey’s mother, short and dripping with continuously running makeup, held a hand to her cheek. His father had already placed a reassuring hand over her shoulder and stood staring at this new interloper with anger and mild fascination.
He could feel it, too. The danger lurking.
“Who are you?” she whispered. But she knew. Oh, yes, she knew. The news had been the only channel worth watching, and she had seen. The incidents in other hospitals, the sudden intrusion, the people that could not give a description of the person in question.
“She’s here,” she whispered to her husband, as if he was either blind or uncomprehending.
“You’ve come here,” her husband said instead, directing his focus entirely on the child in black, who continued to stand motionless in the doorway. At some point during the two-sided inspection, the nurse had fled.
But she did not acknowledge the parents. Not yet. Her concentration rested on the body of Joey Vascala, who lay pale and drained of any color, translucent in the face and arms. Veins snaked along the inside of his arms like vivid blue wires, turning purple at some points, black at others. His eyes were closed, but fluttered at uneven intervals. His lips were tinged faintly blue.
The boy was no older than seven.
The parents simultaneously stepped back against the wall while the child moved forward. She stopped at the end of the bed, but only for a moment. In one fluid motion, the hood on the floor-length black coat fell back, revealing midnight black hair streaked with startling strands of pure white. The coat slid from her arms, then landed on the floor without a sound. Pooled on the floor, it ringed her small feet like a black crescent moon.
Joey’s parents could now see the translucence of the girl’s own arms, how pale and frighteningly lifeless they looked. Her entire body was as white and luminescent as the streaks in her hair. A black tee-shirt and black jeans accentuated the ribs and the collarbone and the pelvis of the girl, who weighed no more than a feather. Next to nothing.
Her attention still on the boy, she raised both hands to the sunglasses and slid them down her nose, peeling it from her face like a piece of Velcro. Her eyes, faded to a thin cloudy gray, did not shift restlessly around the room, did not squint and strain, did not display emotion. They merely watched the boy who lay dying.
“What –“ The mother’s voice choked off, and the husband placed a hand on the back of her head to bend it to his chest, where she tried to control her sobs. Her body trembled with anxiety and pain, trembled with the suffering and agony that came with the fact that she would lose her child and could do nothing to prevent it. She was, in more ways than one, helpless.
Finally, the girl spoke. “I am not here to harm. I am not here to take him away. Do not speak to me, nor to him, nor to anyone. Completely silent. No distractions. I wish not to be spoken to directly, and for the sake of the boy, do not try to intervene. It will hurt him, it will hurt me, but it will hurt both of us only briefly. It might hurt you indirectly, so be prepared.
“I am not here to harm,” she repeated. “I am not here to take him away.”
And already, Joey’s parents disobeyed. His mother turned to her husband. “What is she here for?”
But Joey’s father did not know and did not wish to find out until it was all over. He shushed her, placing a hand over her blonde hair. “No speaking,” he whispered, and said nothing else.
The child, hearing none of this, stepped to the left of the bed. The parents remained on the right, confused and guarded and very, very scared. The room was silent save for the ticking of the clock and the beeping of the two monitors.
She bent down on one knee, like a knight ready to accept his position into a new rank, bowed her head, then brought her other knee down. She straightened in the familiar praying posture, but she did not clasp her hands together in supplication. Instead, she placed one hand lightly on the boy’s forehead, and with the other she pulled back the heavy covers of the hospital bed, lifted his shirt up to his chest, and placed a hand on the center of Joey’s taut stomach.
This all happened very quickly and, like everything else she’d done, without noise. Joey’s parents watched in trepidation and what seemed like desperation. The nurse returned with a doctor, but with one look from the husband, retreated down the hallway.
Oblivious, the child closed her eyes and pictured.
Two minutes later, her eyelids pulled back, revealing the ghastly whites of those cloudy pupils. Now there was nothing but unseeing blankness, across both his face and hers. The air in the room came to a total standstill and Joey’s mother had to hold back an intense feeling of wanting to gasp for air. The parents trembled much like the unsuspecting nurse had earlier.
Joey’s bed shook, yet his body never moved. The lights flickered, although the electricity was running fine. The temperature dropped, then ricocheted up, even though the main thermostat was located on the opposite side of the hospital and could not be altered from within room 216.
Just as Joey’s mother was considering screaming for help, for assistance, for a medic, everything burst into motion again. Simultaneously, the child’s hands flew off Joey’s body as if on fire, her head rocked back on her neck, and she was shoved backward by an invisible force. Sprawling face-first on the cold tiles, she lay on the ground unmoving. Joey’s body shuddered over and over, his skin not only pale now, but cold, too.
Now Joey’s mother did scream. A long, wailing, scream that pierced the disturbing calm that had overwhelmed most of the hospital since the stranger’s arrival. Her arms flailed back, warding off the soothing tone of her husband’s voice. Tears running down her face, she carefully laid a hand on either side of Joey’s cheeks. She shook him, desperate and nearly mad with the possibility that her son might be dead.
Meanwhile, the girl had silently picked herself off the hospital room floor, gathered her sunglasses and billowing black coat, and slipped past the frantic parents to the open doorway. Unbeknownst to them all, the door had never closed.
Joey’s father was the first one to look down, to discover that the black-clad figure was no longer on the floor, and to whip his head in the direction of the doorway. He spotted her there, the small child-like imposter. No – not imposter. He doubted she had provided any immediate harm. Somehow, she had earned his trust by doing no more than standing still.
He said nothing, but the question in his eyes was evident. Behind him, the clumsy hands of his wife attempted to wake Joey, to stir him, to hear his voice, to see the smallest hint of life. She wanted – no, needed – reassurance. She was too busy to see the silent conversation being exchanged between her husband and the child.
For the first and last time, and only for a millisecond, the girl in black smiled. “Remember. Don’t tell.”
And then Joey’s mother was screaming incoherently, sobbing at the sight of her son’s bleary eyes reopening, taking stock of the world around him, including the sight of his mother losing it. His eyes, like his father’s had minutes before, held a question, but his voice was too weak, his hands too lifeless to lift them to his mother’s tear-stained face.
But he was awake. And that was enough.
Joey’s father forgot all about the girl in black. Instead, he rejoiced in the fact that his son was alert and smiling, however distantly. He had to contend with the questioning doctors, who wanted to know how he was doing, and the fluttery nurses, who were anxious to know the cause of his wife’s babbling hysterics. There were medical bills to be paid, his wife to console, his son to hope for, and his own sanity to hold on to.
Joey breathed in and out with the help of the oxygen tank, aware that something had happened or was happening, and knowing that the end was coming; the end that decided whether he would either go on living as he had or falter and die by the tumor that fed at his brain. Although he was only seven, and naïve in most aspects of life, he hoped his death would be quick and utterly painless.
His mother came back into his line of sight, bent down with her delicate hands placed on either side of his head, and gently kissed his cheek. She didn’t want to hurt him, to break him, to ruin him. “I love you,” she whispered brokenly. Somewhere, a doctor called for assistance.
Joey Vascala was pronounced fully recovered four days later. After eleven grueling hours of X-rays and CAT scans, he was allowed to return to his home in Miami with his parents. There was no evidence of a tumor, and there was no proof that a disease had ever lurked inside his brain, eating away at precious tissue.
His recovery, according to the media, was a miracle.
Joey, when asked his opinion on his miraculous recovery, disagreed. He preferred to think that a woman in black had saved him. A woman, he claimed, who had sucked the pain and the suffering and the darkness into a place where no light shone.
The media asked where this place of no light was.
He said her heart.