I stood in the doorway of my father's darkened room. The growing sunlight seeping in through the curtains was barely enough to throw shadows across the room. Dancing along the bed, they silhouetted the old man's form under the covers. It was getting harder to tell if he was still alive without waking him up.
"Is that you, Son?" came my father's gruff voice, thick with sleep.
"Yeah, it's me, Pop," I said, stepping into the room.
"Good," he said, shuffling himself into a sitting position. "I thought it might be one of those damn nurses again. They like to stare at me."
"There are no nurses here, Dad," I told him patiently, switching on the lamp next to his bed. "You're at home. We don't have nurses here."
My father was a sick man. Almost every artery in his body was clogged. He had had dozens of surgeries already, but his body was shutting down faster than the doctors could keep up with it.
I had brought my father to live with me after the first stroke. Night after night, day after day, it was only I who took care of him. God knows, I could have used some help around here, but the truth was I couldn't afford it. I could barely afford to keep my father with me as it was, but having him live here was cheaper than placing him in a home.
So, no; there were no nurses who came into his room at night. Ever. Yet for the last week, ever since he came home from the last surgery, he swore they were there.
"Yes, there is," he insisted once again. "They roam the house at night. They take turns coming in. They stare at me with beady eyes. They touch me with their clammy hands. I don't know what they want, but it's not to help me."
"You're fine, Dad. They're not real," I said reassuringly as I went about my daily routine.
Days went by and my father still swore those nurses were there.
"Do you know their names?" I asked him one day during breakfast. "Have they ever introduced themselves to you?"
His hands shook suddenly, almost spilling his orange juice. "No. I just shake my head at them and tune them out. Pretend I'm asleep. Anything to make them go away," he said, pushing his plate away. "I don't want to know what they are. They scare me."
I figured maybe it was time to talk to the doctor about them. But he didn't seem concerned. He thought, considering how many hospitals my father had been in and out of lately, it wasn't surprising he had come down with a little ICU Psychosis. He assured me it would go away eventually on its own.
But I wasn't so sure. My dad was terrified. I was beginning to think he might be losing his mind.
My father's next surgery had arrived. His renal arteries had gotten so bad it was now a do or die situation.
I checked him into the hospital. The doctor did his thing, and once again saved my father's life. Things were looking up. It seemed my father might have a chance again to be a healthy man.
I got my father settled in the surgery ward for the night and headed home, exhausted beyond belief. Eating a late dinner, I crawled into bed, craving sleep on the most primal of levels.
My eyelashes fluttered against my skin and I swallowed, feeling the familiar dry, cottony feeling in my mouth. I had been asleep, but what had woken me?
I glanced up, my room illuminated by the glow of the TV I had left on. Someone was standing at the foot of my bed. "Dad?" I called groggily, trying to pull myself from the lingering depths of sleep. I suddenly remembered my father was at the hospital. I was alone in the house.
I sat up blinking; trying to dissolve the image I hoped was left over from a dream. "What the hell?"
She brought her finger to her lip, hushing me for making noise. She stepped closer, her white uniform swayed with her, the front of it was splattered with red.
Moving closer still, her beady black eyes stared into me, boring a hole through my soul. Those eyes sat in skin much too white for a human. Black lines intersected across it here and there, almost as if someone had put her face together from a jigsaw puzzle.
Her mouth was much too large, and it smiled as she came to my bedside. Brushing a strand of greasy black hair from her face, she reached down and grabbed my wrist, holding it as if she was taking my pulse.
I tried to move, to pull away, but her clammy, dead skin against mine left me paralyzed. I was too overcome with fear to do anything, except sit there and stare at the nightmare beside me.
"Your heart is racing," she spoke, leaning closer to me, her eyes even darker than before. Her voice was harsh and grating, and I flinched as she spoke. "I think you might require medical attention."
"No," I begged, the word coming out a little more than a whisper. No wonder my father was so scared. This nurse was the most terrifying thing I had ever seen. He had been right all along. These things were in my house and I had been dismissing them as nothing.
The nurses were real.
Other shadows moved in the doorway. They swarmed in, surrounding the bed. They looked at me with their cold, black eyes. Each nurse as terrifying as the last.
"The other bed is empty now," they spoke as one. "We need a new patient." They all reached out and laid their clammy hands against my skin.
Melissa L. Webb