Aphelion Issue 252, Volume 24
July 2020
 
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Thomas

by David Smith




The car circled around the parking lot again and again as Frank tried to find a spot in the multi-level garage of Edward Hospital, where his son was going to get his skull opened.

It would be a relatively smooth procedure, he knew, but that didn’t make him any more comfortable with the situation.

“Frank!” his wife yelled. He just managed to miss the car coming at him as it honked so loud Frank thought he felt the car vibrate.

“He’ll be fine,” Angie said. She put a hand on his thigh, and he took a gentle hold of her hand.

“I know, it’s just…” He sighed.

“I know, Frank. I know.” She paused. “He’s my son, too, you know. Any parent would be worried in this situation. But you know as well as I do that he’ll come out just the way he is now, except without that bad old tumor.”

Frank chuckled nervously as their 17-year-old son, Thomas, shifted in his seat in the back, not so much scared as just wanting to get the whole damn ordeal over with. “Of course I know he’s your son, too. I just wish I had the calmness about this as you do. I’m almost always calm about everything our family goes through, good or bad. But this…this is just not easy for me to handle.”

“I know, Frank, but he will be fine.”

Frank sighed. “I love you, Angie.”

“Oh, Frank, I love you, too.”

Thomas shifted in his seat again, gazing out the window at nothing. While he wasn’t worried, he still wouldn’t have minded knowing how the mass formed in the first place, but no one was able to give any clear answers to any of their questions.


*****



Thomas’s hands unconsciously clenched into loose fists as his dad went up to the receptionist. Thomas’s sister was at his side. He looked down at Linda, who had her head bowed at an almost complete ninety-degree angle to the floor. He rubbed the top of his little sister’s head. She looked up at her brother and smiled. A lot of times, the girl was annoying as hell, but this time, the smile on her ten-year-old face lifted his spirits.

“You know it’s going to be all right, right, Linda?” She nodded. Nothing to be said. Thomas could understand.

Linda looked around at the hustle and bustle of the hospital and while able to keep her composure, was a little uncertain of her environment. She hated hospitals, ever since she was rushed to the hospital’s E.R. when a fever she had a few years ago managed to reach 103 degrees. The girl was so scared as she wept the whole way through. Though, on the plus side, while emotion had overtaken her by the point she was in the bed, she didn’t physically resist anything the doctors and nurses were doing. So, to her delight, she was out of there before she knew it. To a point, it was somewhat fascinating for the parents to watch. At least, they couldn’t really complain.

The receptionist, late 20s by looks, was typing and looking intensely at the computer monitor as Frank walked up, to the point she almost didn’t notice Frank. She suddenly looked up at him.

“F-Frank McCann,” he began. “My son Thomas is due for brain surgery in the morning with Dr. Rabin. A meeen-iiin-giiioooma, I think it’s called.” He said the last part of the sentence with an upward, question-like inflection. He proceeded to stand uneasily with his hands deep in the pockets of his khakis, the impressions of his hands showing clearly through the material.

After some type-type-type from the receptionist’s hands, she looked around on the monitor, and settled her eyes somewhere. “Ah, yes, Thomas McCann. Tomorrow morning at six a.m. sounds correct?”

“That’s him.”

“Okay, yes, we have a room waiting for him. It should be ready within the hour. If you could just take a seat in the waiting room—”

“I thought you said the room’s waiting for us…oh, never mind.”

The receptionist looked at him with a mixture of bewilderment and contempt. “Uuuh…”

Frank said quickly, “We were circling through your garage, trying to find a parking space. Then we noticed you had a valet service, so we left the Beamer with them.”

The receptionist looked even more bewildered and chuckled nervously. “I…I hope you’re kidding. I’m afraid we don’t have a valet service, Mr. McCann.”

No, there was no one in line except Frank.

“You hope I’m kidding about the valet service, huh? Because you don’t have one?”

She looked at him a long time, like was a Martian. “Yes, Mr. McCann,” she said with a hushed tone.

“Well, I can safely say I was kidding about both the valet service and the BMW.”

The rest of the family was already in the waiting room while nervous Frank, out of pure anxiety, decided he wanted to make the receptionist’s life a living hell.

“So, just wait in the Waiting Room? Because that’s what a Waiting Room is for? Waiting?”

The receptionist was lost. “Yes, that sounds like a very good idea. I wonder if you came up with that all by yourself.”

Frank was somewhat surprised at the receptionist managing to sum up a matching attitude.

She backtracked. “Did I say something to offend you?”

“No, it’s just that I’m still working on the whole concept of waiting in a Waiting Room.”

“Well, okay, good luck with pondering the concept. Now, pardon my tone, but while I’d love to make more idle chat with you on the subject of using rooms for the purposes for which they are named, I do have work to do, believe it or not. Frankly, no pun intended, I would tell you now to go wait somewhere that isn’t right here, but just for the sake of finding you, please go to the Waiting Room, sir.”

“Ma’am.” He bowed his head slightly, and the other hand still in his pocket, he mimed tipping a hat.

He was going to the…you know where…when he stopped as the receptionist yelled, “You’ll be excited to know we will indeed let you know when your room is ready!” and then he proceeded.


*****



The orderly came around about a half an hour later, a purple plastic clipboard in his hands. “Thomas…McCann?”

They walked through some of the halls of the hospital as the orderly informed them that they were staying in the Penthouse Suite, reserved exclusively for those undergoing brain surgery.

“Room 823!” The orderly gestured for them to enter.

It was very luxurious, especially for a hospital room. It was about double the size of any of the other rooms in the building, the family having been in one when Linda was sick. It seemed to him at that moment that brain surgery patients ironically had quite the life in this place.

“So, you guys like what you see?” he asked as the family, shocked, looked around at how much room they had and how much everything was spread out. A large flat-screen TV was propped up on the wall in front of the bed, of course. There was a brown leather couch to the right of the bed in front of a large window overlooking much of Bolingbrook. That was the first thing that caught Linda’s attention and she was still looking around town.

Mom was just looking around the room, as she’d never seen a room like this before, at least in a hospital.

“Yes, I must say it’s got a lot for a hospital room. In my work, I travel all over the country, and most hotel rooms I’ve been in are not quite this good-looking.”

“I got to agree.” He turned to Thomas. “Under your circumstances, I wouldn’t quite call you lucky, but you must be happy with your quarters.”

Thomas smiled. “Yes, not all patients get a hospital this damn huge. Still, I really want to get this thing over with and get out of here.”

“Of course! Dr. Rabin is one of the country’s best surgeons. You’re in good hands.”

He left just as Dr. Michael Rabin walked in. He was always in really nice clothes that were obviously tailor made. The doctor stood in front of Thomas’s bed. “So, Thomas, are you ready for your procedure?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be, I guess.”

“Well, as you know,” the doctor began, “Thomas has a meningioma, a benign tumor that is literally pushing his brain around within his skull. That’s why he was having so many seizures and other involuntary bodily movements all the time. Often, it takes a while for symptoms to get advanced enough to warrant concern, but we still caught it in good time. Now, as you also know, at six a.m. tomorrow, what is called a craniotomy will be performed. This procedure, put in layman’s terms, is the removal of the top of the skull, followed by the extraction of the meningioma, and the replacement of the opening of the skull. This is the procedure you will be undergoing, Thomas. Do you understand?”

Thomas nodded.

“Now, while all the preliminary measures have been taken and you know the basics of what’s going on, I will say that if there are any questions, now is the time to ask.”

He looked around at a family of blank faces.

“I think we understand things the best we can,” Frank said. “Anything more will probably just confuse us even more than we already are, you know?”

“Oh, yes, I understand perfectly. To understand the procedure exactly is difficult enough. All you guys should be thinking about is being by Thomas’s side.”

“We’ll do that, gladly.”

“Okay, I’ll just get out of your hair and leave you to get through the rest of your evening.” He paused. “Thomas, I don’t know how much this will help, but don’t be too worried.”

Thomas said quickly, “It’s not that I’m worried about the procedure itself, Doctor. I just really want it to be over.”

“Of course. So, I guess I don’t need to tell you that you’ll almost certainly be fine. Yes, I have to say almost because frankly anything is possible, but you shouldn’t lose too much sleep. I’ve been doing this for thirty years. You’re in the most expert of hand that you’re going to get.”

“Understood.”


*****



The operation went by without any contingency the following morning.

Thomas was wheeled back into his Suite at about eight a.m. by a nurse and they got him back into bed. Frank and Angie didn’t take well to the site of their son covered in bandages, but they knew he and they would have to deal with it for the time being.

“Of course, he’ll be out for a couple hours so don’t get too worried. Not many things in medicine, however severe, are as consequential as brain surgery, so there aren’t many things that can happen that should be surprising. I mean, this isn’t exactly a bone spur on the foot.”

The parents nodded.

“Well, give me a call if you need anything.”

“Will do,” the mother said. “Thanks, nurse.”

“Of course.” With that she left.

A couple hours passed, and the parents were both dozing as Dr. Rabin came moseying on into the room. He knocked on the wall next to the doorway and the parents woke up, along with the sister on the couch. “I imagine you’re all emotionally exhausted from the events of the past couple days.”

Frank nodded.

Angie said, “Yes, but we’re okay. Just waiting for my Tom to wake up. It’s been a little over two hours now. I’m getting worried, doctor.”

“Well, I hate to be a broken record, especially in your family’s state, but—”

“I understand. It’s okay.”

“Yes, well, I’m going to get your son up now.”

Dr. Rabin walked to the foot of the bed.

“Wait…you are?”

“Yup!” Rabin looked to Thomas. “THOMAS!!! THOMAS!!! ARE YOU AWAKE!!?” He was surprisingly still, his hands in his pockets, as usual, for shouting.

While Frank, Angie, and Linda had all jumped and were now all hyperventilating, the doctor hadn’t even craned his neck at all, as is sometimes involuntary of the usual person when yelling on top of their lungs. He barely even opened his mouth more than he would if he was talking at normal volume to someone right next to him. Clearly, he had done all this before and was long used to almost anything unexpected that may arise. A real heavyweight.

Less than a second passed. “Yeah, I’m awake. But…I can’t open my eyes! I can feel…I’m conscious, but I can’t open my eyes.”

Without actually taking one out, or even moving, the doctor said, “I brought a spider along and I’m going to put it on your leg to test your neural capabilities.”

“What?!” With that, his eyes opened.

“Well, now that we got past that, time to get serious.”

“You’re something else, doctor,” Thomas muttered.

“Oh, I know. Anyway, Thomas, can you identify the person sitting to your left?”

He was just barely able to turn his head a little, but his peripheral vision did most of the work. “My dad.”

“Your right?” he quickly said. “You know what I mean.”

Same thing. “Yeah,” he chuckled. “That’s my mom.”

“Good. Who’s sitting on the couch? Farther away from you.”

He looked. “Oh! Well that’s my annoying little sister Linda!”

Everyone chuckled.

“Okay, good to know your basic five senses are operating adequately. Now, I must ask, how are you feeling, in general?”

“Well, a little lightheaded…”

“That’s to be—”

“…if you catch my drift?”

A momentary silence, and then the laughter poured out of everyone, even Dr. Rabin.

“Not just the basic five senses, but apparently also your sense of humor. Hm-hm!” He paused to let the laughter die down. “Lightheadedness and dizziness are both to be expected after something like this. As you probably get the idea, a lot of strange things are to be expected.”

“Oh,” Thomas said, “did no one notice the person standing next to the door? I just noticed them, whoever they are.”

“Thomas—”

“Respectfully, Mrs. McCann,” he said, holding up a palm, a gentle sign for Angie to be silent, “let me handle this.”

“Uh, okay.”

“Can you describe the person?”

“Well, I can’t say if they’re a man or woman. They’re…not even standing…I literally see through them. They’re…oh, God, they’re hovering!”

“Thomas, there’s no one standing where you’re looking. In fact, there’s no one here except you, myself, and your family, but hallucinations are also to be expected.”

“THEY’RE COMING AT ME!!!”

“Thomas!”

The parents hovered over their son, just before he screamed and his eyes rolled back, irises out of sight. Thomas began convulsing and moving his head back and forth madly. He screamed a little, but little was all that come out.

Everyone panicked as Dr. Rabin rushed for the blue chord at the headboard and pulled it, triggering almost deafening alarms nearby.

“CODE BLUE—ROOM 823!!! CODE BLUE—ROOM 823!!! CODE BLUE—ROOM 823!!!” The intercom kept repeating until a nurse ran into the room and plugged the chord back in.

“Thomas! Follow my voice!” she said.

As if listening, his movements stopped, and went completely stiff, eyes bulging up at the ceiling.

“Oh God!” the mom exclaimed. “Is he okay?!”

“Yes,” the doctor assured, “he’s having a seizure. I know it’s scary but it’s also normal.”

Thomas’s body went back to normal and he began breathing heavily. His eyes shifted every-which-way. “W-What happened?!”

“You had a seizure, sweetie, but you’re okay,” mom said, rubbing her son’s hair.

Dad put his hand on his son’s forehead. “Are you feeling all right?”

He took a moment to swallow hard and catch his breath. “Yeah, a little shaky, but I’m okay.”

“He should be,” the doctor, ever the assurer, said as he put on a stethoscope and checked his heartbeat. “He’s frightened, obviously, but he’s fine. I can’t guarantee that won’t occur a time or two more. Messing with the brain matter can disrupt the nerve endings and cause these things. Just…I don’t know…try not to get too panicked.” He noticed the nurse again. “Oh, I’m sorry, nurse. Thank you very much.”

“Of course! Now don’t you worry, Thomas! You will be all right. As your nurse, trust me.”

“Thank you, nurse,” Thomas said.

“No problem. Your life is my responsibility.”

“Yeah, thanks again,” Dr. Rabin said.

“We weren’t sure if he was dying right then and there.”

“Understood,” the nurse said. “Now I have a few other patients to tend to, if I won’t be needed here for the time being.”

“I got everything under control, nurse,” the doctor said.

The nurse left.

“Doctor…” Thomas winced. “I feel…I…”

“What is it, Thomas?”

Thomas sighed. “I don’t know.” He talked slowly, calculated. “It feels like there’s something inside of me.”

Dr. Rabin sighed. “Well, just try take it easy—all of you.”

“Thanks, Doctor,” dad said.


*****



Three days later, Thomas was finally brought home.

No MRI scans revealed anything abnormal, at least under the circumstances, in the brain. Incidents kept occurring where Thomas saw things that weren’t there. Most of the things he saw were people. Once he got done fixing himself a sandwich one day—mom and dad were at work, and Linda was in school—he saw his great grandmother in the corner of the kitchen. It was only for a split-second, but he saw her there. Another day, as they were going back to the hospital for a follow-up exam, he saw someone on the sidewalk along where they were driving. Thomas saw the man staring blankly as they approached in their car. He saw the man turn as they drove past.

“What’s wrong, Tom?” mom asked.

He was breathing heavily and sweating. Still, he replied that there was nothing wrong. He didn’t mention the strange man on the sidewalk.

Nightfall came on the day that they came back from an additional MRI that revealed nothing abnormal. He fell asleep quickly, though the rest of the night was unrestful as it was filled with bad dreams, several from which he darted up in his bed sweating from whatever images he had seen.

Then it came back.

At the foot of the bed, he saw a black silhouette, inhumanely tall, right near nine feet in stature. It had no real form except for the shape of a human. There were no other distinguishable features to indicate it was anything besides some strange force standing at the foot of his bed in the middle of the night. Thomas stared at it.

In the couple minutes it stood there, the room went extremely cold, and Thomas hugged himself as he began to be able to see his breath. He shook and shivered as he tried to speak at first but could only stare at the otherworldly presence seemingly standing still right in front of him.

What was it, and how did it get there? The two questions on his mind. He tried to yell, then he just tried to talk. His vocal cords seemed frozen as the dark bedroom, save for a nightlight, grew more and more freezing.

The staring contest continued between Thomas and the presence. All he could do now was stare. He noticed despite his terror that the presence was completely still. Not moving even slightly. He felt that at least he might be alive for a few more minutes. Suffice it to say, it didn’t calm him down all that much. The cold sweat going down his cheeks was palpable. He thought he might pass out if he couldn’t…wake up. Or get out of this situation somehow.

Finally, through his shivers, he was able to get out, “W-Who a-are you?”

The figure was silent.

Thomas grabbed his phone from where it was charging on the side table and threw it at—more through—the presence. “WHO THE HELL ARE YOU!!?” He was relieved that he could now move. That was, unlike the figure, remaining still.

He managed to maneuver himself off the bed and drop to the floor. He started crab-crawling toward the door, keeping a constant eye on the presence. He got to the door and turned the knob and it swung open. At this point, he was surprised no one had heard him.

Once the door was open, Thomas was terrified by the presence suddenly running, albeit rather slowly to the door. After he got through the doorway out into the hall, he just managed to close the door on the presence. What’s more, the presence didn’t come through the door.


*****



While he didn’t feel that he “woke up,” his eyes became blurry, but then cleared up. Upon his eyes seemingly shifting, he saw his parents and sister were at his side, his dad at his right and his mom and sister on his left.

Linda had tears going down her cheeks. “What happened, Tom?”

Rubbing her son’s head again, mom asked the same question.

He took a second to catch his breath. “I don’t know.”

His dad started to open the bedroom door.

“No!”

His dad jumped. “Why ever not?” mom asked.

“There’s someone…something in there,” Thomas said slowly. “He was so…tall. Not human.”

Frank sighed. He opened the door slowly and flipped the switch. There was nothing.

Mom got up and joined her husband at their son’s bedroom doorway.

“What was in there?” Linda asked.

“I can’t explain. Even mom and dad couldn’t understand.” She hugged him, and he hugged her back, kissing her forehead.

Dad looked back at his terrified son. “There’s no one in there.”

“I swear to God, dad.”

Dad sighed.

“What are we going to do, Frank?” Angie whispered.

“He had a nightmare.”

“It wasn’t a damn nightmare!” Thomas exclaimed.

“Quiet down, son!” dad said firmly, but not loudly. “You don’t know what you saw.”

Thomas, infuriated, got up from his crab-crawl position. “I know what I saw, father. I am not crazy.”

Thomas and his dad stared each other down a few seconds. Dad took a glance at the digital clock on Thomas’s side table. He sighed. “Look, it’s close enough to dawn that you don’t have to go back to sleep if you don’t want to, but you can’t go telling yourself you actually saw…something like that.”

“It’s not like I want to. I can’t lie to myself. There was someone in my room.”

Dad put his hand up. “Okay, son. Okay.”

Everyone was silent a moment.

Thomas slowly put his arms around himself. “I don’t know how much more of this I can take.”

Everyone huddled around him and hugged him. He was suddenly unable to make sense of anything, unable to feel. He stared at the wall for a minute without blinking.

They disbanded. “We understand,” dad said. “We’re going to get you help. One way or another.”

Thomas was silent a moment. “I’m going to lay on the couch for a couple hours.”

“All right,” dad said.


*****



Mom came over to the couch where they had seen Thomas go to sleep for a little while longer. He was still fast asleep.

“Thomas. Thomas!”

She shook him. His eyelids weren’t shifting in the slightest.

That’s when, out of pure instinct, she took his hand. He heart sank at how cold it was. She felt desperately for a heartbeat. Nothing. She ran around the couch and felt his neck.

There was nothing.

She opened the lids of his lifeless eyes.

All she could do was scream.


*****



“I just don’t know how it happened,” Frank told Detective Janice Thompson.

They were at Thomas’s funeral, and Frank sat on a chair in front of the shiny, open wooden casket, his elbows planted on his knees. His upper body hunched forward and his hands clasped.

“The death certificate stated the official cause of death as a brain aneurysm, correct?”

“That was the official finding, yes.”

“You think it’s possible it could’ve been something else,” the detective stated matter-of-factly.

“Well, Detective, he said he saw someone in his bedroom, just a few hours before he passed.”

“Someone in his bedroom?”

He sighed. “That’s correct. He was adamant in that he saw someone. He said he was very tall, Detective. ‘Not human.’

“Well, he had just had a procedure, right? He was seeing—”

“Yeah, I know. He was just seeing things.”

The detective thought a moment. “You’re not seriously suggesting—”

“I know you’re just doing your job, Detective, but all I’m seriously suggesting is that you leave because I would like to be with my son for a little while longer before he’s lowered.”

The detective nodded. “I’m sorry for your loss, Mr. McCann.”

She left.

“Maybe we were the ones who were crazy,” he said to his son.



THE END


2020 David Smith

Bio: David Smith is a graduate student at Southern New Hampshire University, working toward his Master’s in English/Creative Writing. He’s had three stories published here so far, “The Piece of Paper” (August 2018), “I Saw the Black Rider” (February 2019), and “Too Many Thoughts” (December 2019/January 2020)—for which his name landed the cover. He’s always loved stories and fiction, having been writing seriously since he read The Hunger Games at age 13.

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