A cold, brusque whisk of alcohol over her skin, chilling it deep, and then a stabbing puncture. Mel winced, whimpered, and squeezed Tollin’s hand in a death grip. The doctor applied return pressure to let Mel know she was there — and prevent her hand from being crushed under the pain-driven power of Mel’s clutch.
“Almost done,” she whispered.
There was a gruesome sensation of a probing plastic tube sliding into her vein, and then a ripping of tape before pressure around the sensitive area became steady. A cold slid up her arm on the inside.
“All done,” Amber soothed, and with a clattering, clinking flurry of efficient movement, she hung the bloated bag of water above Mel’s bed on the IV support stand. She gave Tollin a brief glance over Mel’s head, and Tollin gave a single, quick nod of acknowledgment. Amber smiled at Mel and squeaked out the door, closing it behind her.
“So,” she said, and Mel looked up, her expression a mix of pain and fear. “You didn’t find the store, only a brick wall?”
Mel nodded. “Then I … I got desperate. I don’t know how long they have. You know, before they … die, I guess. So I started looking for someone to help. Someone to save them. I didn’t know where to go, where to turn. I ended up here.”
“So there aren’t really thirteen dead people? At least not yet?”
Mel hung her head. “No. Not yet, I guess. Unless … unless something’s happened today, while I was looking. I don’t have a cell phone. I don’t know what’s going on, or if anyone would even call me if something did happen.”
Tollin stroked her hair. Mel yawned. “Why don’t you try to rest?”
“I can’t. I have to find someone to help them.” Another yawn.
“You’re sleepy, Melody. Just get some rest.”
Mel’s eyes widened, and her head did a slow turn up to Tollin. “Oh no. Please. Oh my God, please. Tell me you … tell me you didn’t …”
“Mel, you’re in shock. You’re distressed. You’re not thinking clearly, you’re not acting rationally. You’re dehydrated, and you need rest.”
Fat, burning tears welled in her eyes and rolled down her face. “Oh my God! I trusted you! I trusted you!”
“Mel, honey, listen,” Tollin said, leaning low. “I’m trying to help you. You need to relax, to get some rest. I’m doing this for your own good.”
She tried to scream, to strike out, but her arms were already leaden, her eyelids drooping, sagging, head lolling. “I … trusted you … you … lied to …”
She fell back onto the bed, the sedative overtaking her.
And Tollin took the camera from Mel’s hands when they, too, went lax beside her.
She was still sleeping when the county psych ward employees showed up a little more than an hour later. They transferred her to a gurney and strapped her beneath heavy leather restraints, then covered her with a soft, fluffy blanket of sterile tan, pulling it over her chest to her collar bones. Tollin watched them from over a clipboard, signing the transfer papers, as they loaded her into the caged transport truck and drove her away to the mental facility in the county seat. They would gather her contact information from her records or ID, contact her parents, and with any luck, provide her the care she needed.
Tollin sighed and went back to the empty exam room. She picked up the beat-up, scarred old camera, worn black casing and scuffed metallic silver parts, almost an antique. She pondered it for a moment before the squeal of shoes drew her attention to the door.
“I guess my ‘diagnosis’ wasn’t that different than your ‘professional’ one after all, eh,
doctor Tollin?” Tanya sneered from the doorway, hand on hip, smug eyebrow perked.
Tollin looked back at the camera, and remembered the flash of betrayal stamped on the girl’s face before she succumbed to the powerful sedative.
“Maybe next time you want to fire off your mouth you should get input from us underlings.” The sarcastic drip in Tanya’s voice burned Tollin’s nerves with irritation.
“Hey Tanya,” she called, and the nursed huffed an exasperated sigh and turned back into the room.
“Say ‘cheese’,” Tollin spat, and snapped the bitter nurse’s picture.