The Medic knew he wasn't going to be getting back to sleep, and light was starting to shine through the window. He decided, then to get his exercise out of the way. Even that had to be taken slow, though – his fingers still ached, and his skin almost felt uncomfortably tight when he bent his body just so. By the time he was done, his skin actually itched a little, and he was eager, on some level, to get in the shower – after he'd had another glass of water.
The hot water was a relief; it made his skin stop itching, and eased that faint, uncomfortable tightness. It occurred to him that perhaps the humidity in his 'apartment' might just be very low – too low. It was something worth bringing up with Hayes, or Davis, at least, especially if it didn't improve.
Thoughts of humidity, however, were eventually supplanted in Fleischer's mind with thoughts of breakfast. He hadn't realized just how hungry he was. He let out a sigh and, hell, he could practically smell breakfast. Steak and eggs, he thought as he dried himself off, sounded good – sounded very good, even.
Once he was dried off and dressed, Fleischer stepped out of the bathroom, and was unsurprised to see a plate of breakfast waiting for him on the table. He realized, however, that the reason he had 'smelled' breakfast – the reason he had suddenly thought of steak and eggs – was because steak and eggs were exactly what was on the plate, still fresh enough that there was a little steam trailing up from them.
For a moment he pondered if, perchance, he had just imagined smelling breakfast, but, no – he could smell it even then, and it only got stronger the closer he stepped to the table. By the time he sat down, the scent of scrambled eggs and steak was nearly overpowering in a rather wonderful way. Fleischer suddenly, in fact, found himself hungry enough to forget how odd the circumstances were, and simply start eating his food.
The Medic couldn't help but notice, however, the pain that chewing his food sent through his teeth and jaw. It was faint enough that it didn't stop him from finishing his meal, but present enough that it couldn't be ignored. Even brushing his teeth afterward wasn't exactly pleasant – his gums felt as tender as his fingers did, and there was nothing he could see in the mirror that would explain why.
Perhaps it was just stress. The mind could do fairly unpleasant things to the body if it was stressed, Fleischer knew, and his stay at the League facility had been nothing if not stressful. It was a possible explanation, at least, as to why nothing appeared to be visibly wrong.
The humidity was something Fleischer was willing to bring up to Doctor Davis. He was glad that he had a half-full glass of water left from eating the lunch he'd been brought, because talking to the man made him more than a little thirsty. When the subject was raised, however, Isaac insisted that the humidity was right where it should be – but he added, with a little smile, that he would have the technicians double-check to be sure.
Fleischer was relieved that the issue was supposedly going to be looked into, but he was even more relieved when Doctor Davis and his guards left. It also gave him the chance to lock himself in the bathroom and get back in the shower. His skin had started to itch, again – had started to feel tight – and the water brought near instant relief. It felt easier to move, and even easier to breathe in the humid air trapped by the shower curtain.
The Medic even felt more alert, somehow. It seemed almost like he could hear individual drops of water splat on the shower floor, and see the little droplets that were flung out by the impact. Was he so relaxed that he could actually bother to notice?
No. No, that couldn't be it. Fleischer had always had good vision – twenty-ten, even – and it had never faltered or gotten fuzzy in any way in the past just because he'd fallen into some particularly tumultuous time. The more he watched the droplets hit, in fact – the more he looked around the shower in general – the more it became apparent that his vision was actually clearer than it had been before. It was very faint, yes, but it was enough for him to notice.
He kept quiet about it when Nurse Hayes brought his dinner, though. In truth, the food was very distracting. It was just chicken and noodles, but it smelled amazing, and it tasted amazing, and it was gone far sooner than Fleischer would have liked. It still left his teeth and jaw hurting, though.
"It must have been awfully good, Doctor Fleischer," the nurse stated. "Would you like a second helping?"
"Um…" Fleischer stammered, more than a little embarrassed by the fact that he had eaten so quickly. "No, thank you," he finally replied, offering just a faint smile. "It was good, though."
They went ahead then, predictably, with the daily exam. Everything went fine and normal (other than the fact that the nurse's hands seemed warmer still, today), until the Medic's temperature was taken. Once the thermometer was removed from under his tongue, he noticed that the nurse looked at the reading for just a little longer than she ever had, before. He tried to get a look at the thing, and realized that the mercury looked a little low – but, he couldn't quite make out the numbers before the thermometer was given a few good hard shakes.
"Sorry," Hayes said with a little, sheepish smile. "I must not have shaken it enough the first time. Let's try it again."
The thermometer placed back under Fleischer's tongue, and he made a conscious effort to get a decent glance at it when it was removed. It was quickly turned so that the nurse could read the tiny numbers, but, the Medic had just enough time to catch a glimpse; the mercury was right where it had been the first time – thirty-five degrees centigrade.
"That's better," the woman said as she put the thermometer away, despite it having given a reading that stood on the border of hypothermia. "Everything looks normal, Doctor Fleischer. Do you still not want any painkillers for your hands, or are they feeling better?"
Fleischer was silent for a long, tense moment. "I'm fine," he lied, forcing a little smile. He was sure that it wasn't as convincing as all of hers had been.
"It's getting late, Doctor Fleischer," Hayes said, gathering up her things before standing up to leave. "Get plenty of rest, okay?" She didn't walk back out through the door before offering another little smile.
It looked as though it came to her so easily. Fleischer was not pleased by the fact that he probably knew why – lying seemed to come a lot more easily to those who did it often. Or, perhaps, it came more easily to those who were unbothered by doing it. He knew for a fact, though, that he was more relieved to see Hayes leave than he had ever been before, and he suddenly felt all the more isolated for it.
The Medic's thoughts quickly turned to the thermometer as he, once again, locked himself in the bathroom. Thirty-five degrees centigrade was, what, ninety-five Fahrenheit at best? That was not a healthy core temperature. He didn't feel very sluggish, though – wasn't even shivering. None of the normal human reactions to hypothermia were there. It did explain why the nurse's hands felt so much warmer, little comfort as that was.
The shower, however, was a comfort. It made Fleischer's skin feel normal, again, and it made his mouth and throat feel a great deal less dry. It even, once again, started to ease the pain in his fingers, which made cleaning himself a lot less unpleasant than it would have been. It was only once he started to scrub himself down that he noticed something else amiss – fine blond hairs on the washcloth.
He quickly ran his fingers over his scalp before he noticed how short the strands on the cloth were. When he looked down, the source become obvious; the hair on his chest had been fairly sparse as it was, but, now, it suddenly seemed to be falling out. It wasn't just his chest, either – it was everywhere from the neck down. The water running down Fleischer's body seemed to be enough to dislodge some of the strands, and even light scrubbing was enough to remove everything else.
The doctor ran his fingers through the hair on his head, again, and was at least marginally relieved when none of it came loose. It still didn't explain what was washing down the drain, though. As hard as he tried, it was impossible not to think about it – to think about everything, and he wound up lying awake in bed considerably longer than he wanted to. He wasn't able to succumb to sleep at all, until his mind had finally exhausted itself.
This story is actually a couple of years old. I was feeling very nostalgic and decided to pick it up and re-read it, and I wound up realizing that it had actually been very well-written. This was also my first real attempt at a horror/thriller piece. I'm posting on here, now, because along with being nostalgic, I would also appreciate any thoughts or critique on it. I wrote this not too long after I published Bedside Manner, and haven't really written up anything particularly longer than drabble, since.
Post-Modern Prometheus is a sort of alternative/hypothetical sequel to First Do No Harm shadowfire-x.deviantart.com/ar… and Comorbidity shadowfire-x.deviantart.com/ar…
If you want to delve into the back story, I would definitely recommend reading FDNH before Comorbidity. Both of those stories are relatively old, though, and I feel like I have improved my writing and characterization a great deal since then. As a result, if you do like Doctor Fleischer, or my writing in general (which, if you do, thank you very much - my main hope when I post my writing is that people will get some enjoyment out of it) then consider picking up my book, Bedside Manner, in paperback or on the Kindle www.amazon.com/Bedside-Manner-…
Fair warning, though, this being a horror/thriller piece, expect some disturbing content, though I am not really prone to using a great deal of blood and/or gore.
As a final note, the thumbnail image is in the Public Domain, and was downloaded from Pixabay pixabay.com/en/dna-biology-med…