Lisa’s new shoes squeaked against the laminate floor, echoing like trumpets announcing the coming of a queen. Her procession down the dimly lit hallway, though, was a little less glamorous. Lisa rolled her eyes and realized she should have listened to her sister Rachel and worn the new shoes around first to break them in. Lisa squeaked her way up to the elevator, pressed the green button and waited.

“Good evening, Lisa.” A shallow male voice hung in the air behind her. She turned to find a rather short, balding man, eating a sandwich. “My name is Douglas Rightmer, but everyone around her calls me D.” The man took another bite of his sandwich, chewing with his mouth half-open. He extended his thin, bony hand, and Lisa took it in her own. The coldness of his touch shocked her. There seemed to be no heat coming from this man’s skin at all.

“I’m Lisa,” she stated the obvious. “This is my first night. I’m starting at the ICU nurses’ station.” The elevator dinged behind her and D bowed, ushering her into the elevator. He remained outside, and Lisa held onto the doors. “Aren’t you coming?”

“No, you are going up, my dear. I’m headed to the morgue — It’s downstairs.” The doors shut as the little man waved goodbye to her.

Lisa looked at her reflection in the highly polished doors, nervously fidgeted with her hair, and smoothed her new scrubs. She was to assist the two other nurses on duty as part of her training toward her LPN. Taking the job during the night shift allowed her to go to school during the days and try to get a little sleep in the afternoons.

The doors dinged and slid open slowly, pulling the reflection of Lisa apart. The lights on the second floor seemed even dimmer as she made her way down the long hallway. Ahead of her, the hallway opened up into a large circular room with eight smaller rooms circling around it. This was Gloaming Gap’s ICU unit. As Lisa reached the nurses’ station, a tall, ginger-haired young lady came out to meet her. She was dressed in scrubs with drawings of dogs running around, and she grinned nearly as widely as the cartoon canines.

“You must be Lisa. I’m Cindy. ” Just as Lisa reached out to shake Cindy’s hand, she was engulfed by her arms. “I’m a hugger! Michelle is putting her things away, but will be back in a moment.”

“Where should I put my purse?” Lisa looked around the desk.

“Go back down the hall. First door on your left is the employee break room. You can have your choice of any unused locker.” Cindy bounced as she pointed down the hallway.

In the employee break room, Lisa met the previously-mentioned Michelle. “Nice to meet you, I’m Lisa.” She extended her hand. Michelle looked at it like it was alien.

“I know who you are. Sandra’s daughter, right? Don’t shake hands. Matter of fact, the less contact you have, the better. Do you know how many germs we transfer by touch? I’m guessing you already met ‘Mrs. Bubbly’ at the station. Girl is on her fourth cup of coffee already. If she drinks much more of that repugnant stuff, we are going to have to spend our night scraping her off the ceiling.” Michelle nodded her head toward the door. “Might as well get this night over with. At least it should be fairly quiet. Last night was the full moon.”

They made their way back to the nurses’ station. Cindy was checking charts and getting ready to do her first rounds.

“Why don’t you walk with me, and I’ll show you who we have with us tonight.”  Cindy gestured her down the circle hallway. “So, just a few quick notes about the charts. Pink is for the doctors. This off-lime-green is where we make our notes for the night, and the fuschia…well that’s any special notes that might want to be passed on to some leaders of the town. You know, like your mom.”

Lisa looked at Cindy sideways and lifted an eyebrow. She had no idea what Cindy was talking about, but was just trying to keep up. Why would her mom need any information about people in the ICU, and how was she a leader in the town?

Cindy took the clipboard from next to the doorframe of Room 1. Inside, asleep, lay a middle aged lady with gray and black hair. Tubes were running into and out of nearly every part of her body. It seemed so unreal that she was being kept alive by all those tubes.

“This is our Jane Doe. She was down in the coma ward, but recently her vitals have been dropping, so they brought her up to us, since we monitor more often.” Cindy walked into the room, looking at some of the gauges and dials, and jotted down numbers as she went. “Sometimes I wonder what she’s dreaming…”

“Will she ever wake up? Can she hear us?” Lisa asked softly.

“Only the fates know.” Cindy winked, and backed out of the room. “Onward. Room 2. Oh. You know this man. We call him our ‘regular’. He’s in every couple of weeks but he never seems to stay with us long.” Lisa looked in and saw her friend Jimmy’s grandfather, eyes closed. He owned the local bookstore. She used to spend hours looking through the romance section in the front. She never quite got up the nerve to ask Jimmy on a date.

“What’s wrong with him?” she asked.

“Nothing, my dear Lisa,” came the old man’s voice. “They just like to throw me in here every so often. You reach my age, it seems to be a requirement every time I sneeze.”

“Can’t sleep again, Patrick?” Cindy jotted down another note and walked into the room. “Do you need anything while I’m here?”

“You can let me out of here. Well, that or a nice sponge bath, Cindy, my dear.” The old man winked.

Cindy only shook her head and smirked. “It’s not going to happen, Sir. Either of those. Now, try and get some rest. I’m sure Jimmy will be here in the morning on his way to the bookstore.” Cindy walked out of the room, but Lisa lingered, walked over to his bed and placed her hand on his, looking him in the face.

“I’m sure you’ll be back at the bookstore in no time. Besides, Jimmy can’t run that place without you.”

“Well, Lisa, if you’re sure I’ve still got some life in me then I’ll trust it.” He clapped his other hand over hers and smiled warmly.

They walked through Room 3, a victim of a hit and run. Cindy told her how the victim claimed the car had had no driver. Cindy scoffed under her breath a little. In Room 4 lay a young girl with head trauma from a fall down the stairs at home. Rooms five and six were empty. At Room 7, she saw Cindy’s back stiffen a little as she came to the door.

“Sir, I’m sorry, but visiting hours are over.” A tall man with a fedora stood next to the bed. “Sir, I said… What are you doing? MICHELLE!” He had a pillow on the face of the man in bed. Cindy darted towards an alarm button on the wall a few yards down the hall. The man rushed the door before Lisa could get out of the way. She was thrown backwards, her head hitting the chair behind her in the hallway. The room got blurry before going dark.

“Hold this here.” Lisa understood the words but wasn’t sure what she was holding, except it was cold, and placed against her head. Michelle was standing over her.

“What happened?” Lisa looked around, slowly recognizing that she was laying down in Room 5.

“You’ll be fine, just bumped your head pretty good. Guy tried to kill our guest in Room 7. I swear you would think tonight was the full moon.” Michelle rolled her eyes. “Cindy is talking to Dale now. I’m going to turn off the lights — you just rest a little. I’ll check on you in a bit.” As she hit the switch, she added, “You’re safe.”

Through the opened door, Lisa could see Dale, the Chief of Police, and Cindy talking very expressively. Dale did not seem happy at all, growling his way through the conversation. Lisa closed her eyes and tried to rest, listening to all the strange beeps and blips of the equipment being used in the different rooms.

“Lisa?” Dale’s voice seemed to echo in her skull as she opened her eyes. “Sorry to bug you. Just need to ask you a few questions.”

“Sure, Dale,” her voice sounded foreign to herself, slow and groggy.

“Get a good look at the man who knocked you over? Anything stand out? Tattoos, scars, anything at all we can use to track him down?” Dale paused and squinted at her. “You sure you’re okay, kiddo? Rough start to your new job.” He sniffed a bit and grimaced.

image: "Hospital Reflections" by mamassage from Flickr.com

Hazy images floated into her thoughts. “I know I’ve seen him before, I just can’t place where. Oh! He had a mustache.” Lisa just couldn’t quite figure it out. She knew she had seen his face recently but couldn’t place it. The effort of recalling hurt her head, so she changed the topic. “Who was he trying to kill?”

“Some guy from the circus– the knife thrower, Nathan. He was beat up and bitten by one of the wolves that got loose from the-”

At the word circus, Lisa’s mind jumped to a memory from the other day. “He was the guy selling balloons! I remember him, Dale! He was selling balloons to Tamara and the kids at the circus. But why would he try to kill someone he worked with?” She looked up, questioning.

“Not sure, but I’m gonna find out. Not his job to choose when people die.” Dale closed his little notepad and stalked out of the room.

Cindy stood in the doorway next to Michelle. “He’s right, that’s our job.” She smirked and spun on her heels. Michelle smacked the back of her head. Lisa closed her eyes.

“I don’t know if I could make that choice.” She muttered as the darkness closed in around her, and she slept.