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“Doctor, come quickly he’s awake!” exclaimed one of the nurses at Mercy Hospital. I opened my eyes and groaned as I was swarmed by floods of doctors and nurses. I tried to get up, knocking over the heart rate monitor and IV bag, but found no strength to do so before being pushed back onto rough sheets of the hospital bed. Slowly my eyes drooped shut and I fell back into the pads of the stiff hospital mattress.
I awoke to find the woman from the night before in my room. She looked in her mid-twenties wearing purple scrubs and her dirty blond hair was tied in a bun. As I examined the room, I found myself to be attached to various wires connected to machines. I saw my reflection in the window, seeing a mop of curly brown hair reaching down to my ears and a thick reddish beard upon my face. Looking down, I was dressed in an off-white hospital gown with a bracelet stamped Williams, Fletcher, DOB 9/11/85-Mercy Hospital ICU, “Why am I here, and who are you?” I said.
“Good Morning Mr. Williams, my name is Nurse Jessie. I’ve been in charge of your care for the past three years. You have been in a coma and--”
“A coma!” I interrupted grasping my sheets in clenched fists, “For three years? How did that happen? The last thing I remember is leaving Duke University on the day I graduated from school.”
“You were driving home when you were rear-ended by a tractor trailer and flung from your motorcycle. Luckily you landed in the grass to cushion your landing; otherwise, we may not be speaking today. By the time you reached the hospital, you were rushed into the E.R. and shortly slipped into a coma. You’ve been that way for three years. Oddly enough you’ve healed quite well during your coma, did you have any health issues before the accident?” questioned the nurse.
“Yes actually----I had an undiagnosed disease that doctors told me was incurable. They thought that I had little time left to live.”
“Curious,” stated the nurse plainly, “we tested you just last night for any side effects of the coma and found you are perfectly healthy.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and just stared at her blankly, trying to find some reason for this to be true. “Well, Mr. Williams,” she continued, “in your current state you can be set for discharge in a matter of days. Once we confirm that you are healthy, you are free to go:”
I was discharged Monday, four days later, healthy and ready to return to life. After three years in a hospital gown, my dark wash Abercrombie jeans and black North Face matched with my gray Sperry Topsider boat shoes created a comfy ensemble.
The hospital ordered me a cab and I packed four brown cardboard boxes, provided by the hospital, containing all my belongings into the small trunk. Apparently, my landlord had leased my apartment and sent my things to the hospital in case I ever woke up. I didn’t know what else to do, as my parents lived out of state, so I decided to pay a visit to my old boss Mr. Pete Brown. He runs a photography business downtown called Pete’s Pictures and Portraits. I wanted to return to see if my job was still available and if the apartment upstairs was still open, otherwise, I didn’t know what I would do.
When he saw me, Pete rushed out to greet me. He was a short, portly man, with a salt and pepper speckled goatee and a jovial manner. “Hey boy, you woke up. Good good,” exclaimed Pete, “I’ve been waitin’, ya know keepin’ your position open ‘cuz you’ve been one of the best employees I ever had. That is whatcha came back for right? Your job?”
“Yes I was just hoping it was open. Thank you so much I really appreciate this! I feel bad even asking for a favor after all you’ve done, but can I stay in the apartment above the shop? I lost my apartment and my parents live out of state so I have nowhere to go…”
Pete smiled and said, “Sure sure, get your stuff in today if ya want and ya can start workin’ tonight.” As he spoke, I had already retreated to the car to grab my boxes and unload my things into the apartment, gratefully surprised at how smooth things were going. I’d been in the apartment before and I knew it well enough to navigate my way through. I gave Pete my thanks and settled in.
An hour later I was working my first photo session in three years, I was beyond excited. Photography is my passion; it completes me, almost like it’s filling a hole, left empty in my heart. Unpacking, I found my most cherished item, my Nikon D5100 DSLR camera with its 18-55 mm lens. I use it on every appointment I do; no exception in this case. I set up the equipment and tenderly place the camera on its pedestal and began the appointment. The woman, Mrs. Brice, getting her picture done was getting it framed as a present for her husband’s birthday. I set her in front of a beach backdrop with sand, sails, and the sea; she sat in a white picket lawn chair under a rainbow umbrella. Then I began taking pictures. Photography is like an instinct to me, how to focus the shot, where to move the light, or how to catch the client’s expression perfectly. At the finish of the appointment, I told Mrs. Brice to come by on Wednesday and I would have her prints ready for her.
I had only a few appointments over the next couple days, not too many but I didn’t mind, I like a relaxed schedule. I had even gotten an appointment made for Nurse Jessie who wants to get a picture done for her parents. Strangely though, Mrs. Brice had not yet returned for her prints; I called her on Friday hoping that she still wanted them. The phone rang a long while and as I prepared to hang up, a man’s deep, scratchy voice answered, sounding somber. I requested Mrs. Brice, thinking this must be her husband whom the surprise was for. He responded saying through sobs and sniffles, “She no longer has any need for your business. My wife was rushed yesterday to the hospital after terrible aches in her joints, muscle spasms, and finally losing motion in her body. She died this morning in the ER.”
“Oh…I’m ahh… sorry for your loss. I was umm… calling to see if she had wanted to pick up the pictures she had gotten done here at Pete’s Picture’s and Portraits professionally. Pardon me saying, I believe they were for you, if you want you can come by and pick them up?” The line sounded as though it went dead; eventually Mr. Brice spoke up, breaking the silence, and accepted the pictures.
Contemplating Mrs. Brice’s sudden passing later that evening, I started to contemplate about the symptoms named Mr. Brice. They seemed oddly familiar to my own mysteriously disappearing disease. I had been on medicine so the effects weren’t as strong, yet her and my cases seemed too similar for coincidence. That night I was restless, everything was wrong and bothering me; the car noises from the street were too loud, my bed was uncomfortable, and the room was too hot. To pass the time, I photographed my fish. They looked wonderfully luminous and mysterious in their tank that night, thankfully Pete had taken good care of them in my absence. After that I just stared at my alarm until four o’clock in the morning when I convinced myself I was just being paranoid.
As I woke the next morning, after barley two hours of sleep, I noticed my fish were dead, oddly not floating atop the tank, but sunken to the bottom. They were fine last night, I thought, but I didn’t have time to fret over the fish, for I had my appointment with Nurse Jessie and I was looking forward to it. Jessie had become a good friend, maybe more than a friend, to me in my time at the hospital and I had come to love spending time with her.
For Jessie, I visualized her in winter, so I set her in front of a wintery evergreen forest covered in snow with her sitting on and old, red Flexible Flyer sled. I took the pictures and she was overjoyed, “You’ve really got something good going here don’t you Fletcher? I’ll never go anywhere else to get pictures now. I think I will have to bring my parents to come in soon for a portrait! Thank you so much for finding time to fit me in.”
I was pleased she was so delighted by the pictures, “No thank you! You are the one who made the picture come out so good,” I said, “besides, without you I may not even be here. Come by Tuesday to get the prints, sorry but I’m a little backed up on work in the dark room.”
Once she had departed, I headed straight into the dark room in the back of the shop to begin developing some pictures. I left the open space, with a sitting area and front wall of glass windows, to the small dark room, with no windows, cramped with shelves full of equipment, cluttered amongst clotheslines with pictures pinned to them, and a single red light. As I began the process of pouring out specific chemicals to develop the images, I noticed that none of my orders had been picked up. I had a week’s worth of photographs sitting in a pile in the dark room. I wonder if someone had thought they weren’t ready. I went to the front desk to ask my assistant Lisa if she’d had any customers for pickups lately.
“No, no one has come to pick up anything,” she responded nonchalantly.
“Oh. Ok thanks,” I was puzzled, but returned to the dark room, more preoccupied by making sure Jessie’s photos were completed; I wanted to make sure they were perfect and they were. “Some of the best pictures I have ever taken if I do say so myself.”
That night I decided to call my clients who had failed to pick up their orders. I had convinced myself throughout the day that perhaps they had just forgotten to stop in and pick up their orders; a seemingly impossible possibility as almost ten clients had missed their orders. The first client I called didn’t pick up, and as I called more and more people I started to become exceedingly alarmed. All the clients that I had taken pictures of right after Mrs. Brice were all dead. I heard the same story over and over: “…aches… muscle spasms…paralysis…‘a mysterious illness’, ‘undiagnosed’, and ‘doctors couldn’t help’.” By the eighth death I heard about, I’d had enough. “It’s me.” I had been killing people with my photography, the only thing that has made me happy until I met Jessie! How can this be? I should have known! The fish! They died this morning after I took the pictures! How could I have done such terrible deeds? I sat in my bed full of despair and anguish, trying to find a solution to this mystery killing the very people whom I was paid to capture on film. Then I remembered Jessie and her pictures today. I need to save her from that incurable, deadly disease. How could I have let this happen? She’s all that matters to me besides photography. I slid down the wall contemplating my life, how it has started anew, a second chance to live again; but I have to save Jessie! I grabbed my cherished camera spun the machine to face myself and snapped a picture of me.