This has got to be Hell. White walls. White ceiling. TV on constantly. Ever since the wreck, lying here, alone. They've never even figured out who I am. They call me "unknown Karen", because I was the eleventh female trauma victim of the year. So I got the "K" name.

No visitors. Nobody knows me. I'd even settle for my rotten ex-husband at this point. But I was alone, and the car burned. I was thrown clear, but everything I owned was in the car. They surely can trace the car. It's a rental. Someone has to find out who I am.

I lie here and I cannot move. The doctors say my spinal column is okay and, in truth, I can feel everything they do, but I can only breathe, swallow and move my eyes. Nothing else. They feed me, bathe me, change my bedding and dump my pee out of the collection thing. I have a catheter. They seem very interested in my pee.

Days aren't so bad. The doctors come and they tell me eventually I will be all right. They say something neurological is messed up in my head, and I have "little or no motor responses." Well, no shit!

Nights are worse. I have been hearing things in the night. When the halls are dark and quiet and the visitors are all gone, and the staff are knitting or bullshitting or whatever they do, I hear noises.

First I heard breathing. I noticed I could hear someone else breathing in counterpoint to my own breath sounds. But I'm in a private room in the Medical Intensive Care Unit. There's no one here but me. I would stop breathing and listen, and he would stop, too. He wouldn't start until I did. Whoever he is, the fucker can hold his breath a long time.

After I didn't breathe for a long time, my monitors would start going apeshit, and the nurses would rush in, then I'd have to breathe again.

The shrink was in yesterday. Wanted to know why I was holding my breath. Thought I was attempting suicide, I guess. We did that stupid blink once for "yes", twice for "no" bullshit. Finally convinced him I was just listening. That I still had my will to live.

Anyway, it started with the breathing. Then it progressed. Now, at night, I hear all kinds of sounds and they all seem to be coming from under my bed. I cannot imagine how dark it must be under there, at night. I hear shuffling sounds, sounds of something moving around. Stealthy, though. It knows I'm listening. I think it knows I'm terrified.

Last night, it started giggling. Barely audible, but I heard it. And this morning there was a long, thin tear in my bottom sheet, down by the foot of the bed. Down on the underside, where it tucks in. A thin tear like a claw might make. The nurses were mystified as to how that tear got there, but I know. It's showing me that it's getting stronger.

Each night now, I lie wide awake and petrified, as it snuffles and shuffles around in the dark, crooning and giggling to itself, like some idiot child. I sweat cold ice pellets into my sheets, waiting for the hand, the clawed appendage that must soon come to grasp my ankle or arm. Then I will die. I know my heart will just seize up and stop. It would be different if I could scream. If I could push a call button. I can do neither, and it's getting darker by the moment.

I have survived another night. At about four in the morning, I fell asleep, believe it or not. I guess I was just exhausted. I listened to him half the night, doing his thing under there, but now there's a new twist. He knows my name. Not "Unknown Karen." My real name. He said it last night. He called me Marcie. Not just once, either. He lurched and rolled and giggled and called me Marcie. At times he was so active I could feel the bed shake. He's gathering strength for when he can come out.

Another night, and I am still here. Now he has a friend. I listened to them whispering and giggling all night. I didn't fall asleep this time. Not at all. I couldn't understand what they were whispering about, but they were having a good time. I think it won't be much longer now. I discovered this morning that I could move my thumb. Now, if I only could reach the call button. But, so far, I have been unable to make the nurses aware that my thumb will move. Ah, well. Almost time for Oprah.

"What time did the patient code, Nurse?"

"Three forty-five, Doctor."

"Anybody start CPR?"

"Yes, Doctor. And the Code Blue Team was here in less than two minutes with the crash cart."

"These things always bother me. Last night, on rounds, I saw her and she seemed to be improving. Did they defibrillate her?"

"Yes, Doctor. Four times."

"Okay, well, I'm gonna order an autopsy, just for my peace of mind. We'll make the time of death...four A.M."

"Doctor, what do you make of these scratches?"


"Here, on her ankle."

"Oh, well, I don't know. They appear to be superficial. Maybe she thrashed around or something."

"She wasn't able to move, Doctor."

"Well, I don't know then. They're certainly not lethal, though."

"No, I suppose not."

"I'll see ya later. I've got rounds..."

"Okay, thanks, Doctor."

"Yeah, have a nice day."

"The Patient in Room Five"

Copyright: © 2011 Kenneth James Crist



  1. Being one of those people who, as a grown-up, still never let a finger or toe hang over the edge of the bed, I identified with this story more than naybody. Great job, Kenny!

  2. Great use of tension!


  3. Great way to make the fears of childhood come back with a vengeance. Now where did I store that old nightlight...