By: Lucien Hawke
Dylan pulled his comforter over his chin. He shut his eyes and braced himself for the fit about to come. His chest constricted as he coughed and hacked. His body convulsed and jumped out of his control. He gripped the edge of the mattress. He gasped for air.
When the minutes passed, the coughing ceased and left Dylan exhausted. He managed to push down the urge to vomit but his stomach and chest ached. Dylan brushed his dirty blonde hair out of his eyes. He stared at the ceiling longing to be healthy again. Near the end of September, Dylan fell sick. At first he thought he caught the flu. The common symptoms of runny nose and fever were evident of one. Now it was two days away from Halloween.
Too weak and tired to do anything, Dylan had fallen into a state of depression. The lively world he was once a part of felt like a distant memory now. Misery loves company, and his was the lonely call of the wind.
He stared at the unused paintbrushes and oil paint lying in the corner where his art studio was set up. Four weeks since he last picked up a brush. Four weeks since he felt connected.
A knock at the door brought him from his spiraling thoughts. Dylan stared at the heavy door down the hall. He pulled himself from the sunken mattress, weak and cold. He wrapped his comforter around his shoulders. Dylan dragged his feet along the wooden floors to the door.
Dylan opened the door. He leaned his head on the door and glared at his visitor. A tall, mature man in a black suit tipped his hat, "Top of the morning to you."
"Top of the morning? You from the eighteenth century?" Dylan tightened the comforter around him. "You're the doc?"
"That I am."
Dylan looked the doctor over. His bright blonde hair was slicked back. The few streaks of grey gave him a sophisticated look. Despite his wrinkles, his green eyes sparkled with youth. One look at his eyes and you would think he was no older than twenty-five.
The Doctor pursed his lips in wait. He took off his hat and raised both eyebrows. "May I come in?"
"What?" Dylan blinked absently. "Oh. Sorry. Come on in."
"It's been a long while since I've done a house call." The doctor entered the house and gave one good look-around. Beautiful oil paintings framed the short hall. Enchanting landscapes and fantastical portraits decorated the walls. "You're a patron of the arts, I see. I would love to have these in my own home."
Dylan shrugged. "I'm a painter. These were the ones I liked too much to sell."
"You did these? Incredible! You have a talent." The doctor took a closer look at one. It was a landscape painting with a focus on a hedge with red flowers opening to a plain. "Such exquisite details."
"Thank you." Dylan shuffled to the living room. "They earn me some extra cash."
The doctor followed Dylan to the living room. He took in the sight of the black grand piano near the screen door to the patio. Beside the piano sat a violin resting comfortably in its open case. A display of electric guitars hung on the wall behind the black leather couch. "You play music as well?"
Dylan smiled. "I'm good with my hands."
"So I see." The doctor whistled. "What kind of music do you play?"
"My day job has me working in an orchestra. We produce symphonies and scores for movies." Dylan sat on the couch. His breath caught in his throat. He fell into another coughing fit. He gripped the edge of the couch.
The doctor watched until the fit ceased. He raised an eyebrow as he heard a distinguishing high-pitched sound as Dylan grasped for air.
Dylan closed his eyes and leaned back on the couch. He focused on his breathing until he found a little energy to open his eyes. A chill ran down his spine when he saw an eerie gleam in the doctor's eye. Dylan sat up straight. "Sorry, my friend called you for me. What was your name again?"
"Dr. Brell." The doctor sat his medical bag on the coffee table. "Tell me what you've been experiencing."
Dylan scratched the back of his head. "Let's see, about a month ago I got sick. My sinuses flared up, I was coughing, and I had a fever. I just thought I caught a cold. Except I wasn't getting better. I felt worse with each day. Then last week my coughs became harsher. I have these coughing fits and sometimes I end up throwing up right after. And that's not even to mention the exhaustion I feel on a daily basis."
Dr. Brell nodded. "A month is a long time. And your coughs sound and look violent." He rummaged through his bag. Dr. Brell pulled out his stethoscope. "Take off your shirt."
Dylan shifted uneasily. He pulled off his black shirt. "I haven't had the energy to do anything. Not creating has been soul-wrenching."
"It is a divine skill to be able to create music and art. Art manifests desires and sorrows in a clash of colors and creativity. Music is a spiritual reflection of emotions and the beats of our hearts. Beauty in non-corporeal form," Dr. Brell placed the cold stethoscope on Dylan's chest. "You're a master of your craft, sir. You paint dreams and pain, and you tickle desires and pluck the rawness of emotions. You have much to be proud of."
Dylan shivered against the cold metal on his chest. "Thanks, I guess." He noticed Dr. Brell's hands shook. They looked worn and crippled. It seemed like his hands would give out any minute.
"An old accident," Dr. Brell suddenly said. He looked up at the surprised expression on Dylan's face. Dr. Brell smiled. "I used to be a renowned surgeon but the accident damaged my hands, permanently." He put the stethoscope away. "I can no longer properly hold a scalpel so I do house calls. A diagnosis and prescription is what I've been reduced to."
"I'm sorry," Dylan said. "I couldn't imagine not doing what I love because my hands betrayed me."
"I deal." Dr. Brell pulled out a syringe and cotton swab. "I need a sample to take to the lab for tests."
Dylan shuddered at the sight of the syringe. "Is it serious?"
Dr. Brell nodded. "If I'm correct, I believe you have Pertussis."
Dylan shook his head. "That's impossible. I've been vaccinated."
"It's rare but it does happen. Vaccines aren't a hundred percent effective. There's always a chance." Dr. Brell pulled out a vial of saline. He filled the syringe. "Lie back. I need to get a sample of the mucus build-up."
Dylan did as he was told. He cringed as the doctor tilted his head just slightly. He held the syringe just over his nostril.
"This is going to be uncomfortable." Dr. Brell released the saline into Dylan's nose.
Dylan winced. The salty water stung. Dylan clenched the couch and coughed. Dr. Brell helped him sit up. He took the cotton swab and took a mucus sample from the back of Dylan's throat.
Dylan cleared his throat as Dr. Brell placed the sample into an empty vial. He rubbed his throat for comfort and hoped he wouldn't go into another coughing fit. "That's going to tell you if I'm positive for whooping cough?"
Dr. Brell smiled. "Yes, and," He pulled out another syringe, "a sample of your blood."
Another shudder ran down Dylan. He hated needles. He closed his eyes and waited for the pinch in his arm. He tried to imagine himself floating in a sea of colors. One of his favorite tunes came to mind. He started to hum.
Dylan peeked at his arm. A droplet of blood formed where the needle broke skin. Dr. Brell placed a bandage on it and packed his things. "That's it?"
"I'll head to the lab straight away and get these tested. Hopefully by the end of the day I will have your results and will prescribe the antibiotics you need." Dr. Brell closed his bag. "For now, stay in bed."
"Thank you, Dr. Brell." Dylan rubbed his arm uncomfortably.
Dr. Brell looked around the apartment once more. "You really are talented. I sympathize with someone whose livelihood depends on his hands." He inhaled deeply and glanced at Dylan's hands. "Take good care of them. You wouldn't want to lose them."
Dylan hid his hands under his comforter. A chill trickled down his spine as Dr. Brell stared at his hands a moment too long.
Dr. Brell exhaled. "I will let myself out. No need to strain yourself unnecessarily. I will call you as soon as the results are in."
Dylan watched the doctor disappear around the corner. He listened carefully until he heard the door shut. A sigh of relief escaped him. He blinked in realization how tense he had been. Dr. Brell gave him the creeps.
Rising to his feet, Dylan suddenly felt a dizzy spell. He leaned on the wall as another fit of violent coughs took him. His stomach heaved. Dylan ran to the bathroom and hurled.
. . .
A moment of peace was rare but it had come. The soft howl of the wind lulled Dylan into a state of relaxation. A gentle breeze soothed his soul with a supple brush against his skin. Soft taps of the tree outside inspired a beat in his mind. He felt as if he was floating on clouds and the voice of the night whispered a sense of calm.
He opened his eyes. Dylan remained completely motionless. He didn't want to risk another fit caused by the slightest movement.
Dylan turned his head to look out the hall. All he could hear was the wind. Ready to ignore whatever that sound was Dylan started to close his eyes when another sound gripped his heart.
Dylan shot up. His heart pounded hard. He knew that sound well. It was the sound made every time he opened the screen door to his patio. Someone was breaking into the house.
He crawled out of the bed. His stomach turned. He didn't have the strength to fight a burglar. Dylan tiptoed to his closet. He put his hand on the knob but froze.
I can't hide here, he thought, the door squeaks! They'd find me for sure!
Panic wrapped around his heart. He looked around his room for places to hide. He looked at his bed. He let out an exasperated sigh. Dylan crawled under his bed.
He listened to the soft steps out in the hall. He could hear his heart pounding in his ears. He saw a shadow enter the hall from the living room. Slowly the shadow approached the room. Dylan covered his mouth to muffle his heavy breathing.
The burglar entered Dylan's room. The burglar had taken his shoes off to creep through the hall. Dylan tensed. The burglar had expected him to be home.
Dylan watched the burglar walk around the room. The burglar opened the closet door. Dylan listened to the rustling of clothes and hangers sliding. Dissatisfied, the burglar started for the door.
Dylan felt his chest convulse. He pulled his shirt over his mouth as he went into a coughing fit. He could only hope he had muffled the sound enough and the burglar was already far enough down the hall he didn't hear.
Dylan's coughs finally ceased. He lay exhausted. Dylan glanced around. He didn't see the burglar anywhere. He let out a sigh.
He felt wiry fingers wrap around his ankles. Before he realized what was happening, Dylan was pulled from under the bed. He screamed as he was flipped onto his back and the burglar pounced on him. The burglar covered his screams with a rag.
Dylan fought with the little strength he did have. The strong scent of chloroform filled his nostrils. He felt his muscles grow even weaker. He coughed weakly until he blacked.
. . .
A string of violins subtly played into his consciousness. He felt so weak. He couldn't feel anything. He opened his eyes.
Dylan turned his head. The room spun. He tried to get up but couldn't move. Through his haze Dylan could barely make out the rope holding him down to a metal table. He tried to speak but he couldn't find his voice.
"Don't move now. You've been through a very traumatic ordeal."
Dylan groaned. His vision was still blurry. He tried to turn. Why can't I feel anything, he thought.
"And we certainly don't want you to go into another coughing fit before I finish."
His voice… I know that voice…
Dylan closed his eyes again. He tried to focus on steadying the spin of his head. He opened his eyes. The room had stopped spinning, but his vision was still hazy. A shadow hovered over him and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Quiet now. I will be right back so we can finish our operation."
"D-Dr. Brell?" Dylan watched the shadow back away. His kidnapper exited the room. Dylan blinked. He was in a room covered with plastic.
Dylan took in a deep breath. He stared at the ceiling. Bright luminescent lights blinded him. He turned his head away. Soon his vision started to clear.
The room was empty except for a shelf full of jars and a metal table with tools. Dylan took a closer look at the jars. His heart sunk and panic filled him. Adrenaline coursed through him. He fought against his binds unable to tear his gaze away from the jars.
Severed hands were displayed in an amber fluid all along the shelves. Each jar had been labeled with a name and the profession.
Dylan balled a fist and froze. A fist. He wiggled the fingers on his left hand. Fear gripped his heart. He glanced down. A terrible scream came out. Tears welled in his eyes as he stared at his space where his right hand should be.
Dylan thrashed around. His wails echoed. He kicked against his bonds in vain.
Dr. Brell entered the room. He scowled at Dylan and clicked his tongue. "Have a little bit of dignity, boy."
"What did you do?! You psychotic bastard!"
"I have given you a great honor." Dr. Brell held up a jar with Dylan's hand inside. "Your hands will fetch a great price on the black market. Many collectors would die to have such exquisite and skilled hands for their collection." Dr. Brell smiled. "I'm tempted to keep them for myself."
Dylan let out another wail.
"Hush now." Dr. Brell placed the jar down. "I already have a few buyers interested in your hands."
"Why would you do this?" Dylan sniffed.
A dark silence hovered over Dr. Brell. He looked at his hands. "I used to be a renowned surgeon, until they found me. Flesh pirates, I suppose you could call them. They scouted for individuals who were considered special. They wanted me for my hands," Dr. Brell paused, "but I wouldn't let them. So I smashed my hands."
Dylan glanced at Dr. Brell's trembling hands. "Then why are you doing what they tried to do to you?"
Dr. Brell picked up a surgical saw. He flipped it on. The whirr of the saw froze Dylan's heart. "Because I cost them money." Dr. Brell pulled his surgical mask over his face. "Now I have to pay them back. It's either provide them with the hands of talented individuals such as yourself, or I walk to my death."
Dylan's heart pounded hard against his chest. He was sure his heart would burst any minute now. "Stop. You took one. Leave my other alone."
Dr. Brell shook his head. "Pairs are valued at a higher price." He picked up a syringe. "Close your eyes. This is going to pinch."