The Traveler: A Halloween Story
“It’s unusually quiet so far tonight,” Janice claimed as she glanced up and down the empty hall in the Surgical Recovery Unit. “I spoke to Emma down in the ER, and she said it’s dead down there too!”
“Shhh, you’ll jinx us,” came the quick reply from Anita, the Charge Nurse. “We’ve been doing this shift for 16 years, and you KNOW Halloween is always cray cray, now see if you can go find Nancy, that new travel nurse we’ve got!”
“Is she the tall, skinny, blond girl?”
Anita looked up from the pile of papers she was reviewing at the nurse’s station, “Yeah, Nancy. She’s a bit quiet, but I think she’s gonna’ fit right in.”
“You know what they say about the quiet ones,” laughed Janice, as she was turning away from the tall desk.
Before she had taken a step, the lights all along the hallway flickered along with a loud buzzing sound. Janice and Anita both jumped and let out an uncomfortable laugh to cover their fright.
As she headed down the hall, Janice looked back over her shoulder toward the station and said, “Storms moving in. We better batten down the hatches!”
Janice slowly walked down the hall, glancing into the rooms on the left and right. As she walked, her purple Crocs made a slight squeaking sound on the gleaming floor. With each room she passed, her brow furrowed. Only half of the unit was occupied, and all of the patients were down on this end. Nancy should be down here somewhere.
As she passed room 413, Janice stopped and leaned into the room. With a perplexed look on her face, she glanced around at what appeared to be a recently vacated room.
“Mr. Lupie, are you in here?” she asked in the direction of the restroom door. She could see that the door was open a crack and it was dark behind it. Slowly, she moved into the darkened room. “Mr. Lupie? Mr. Looo-paaayy?” Janice spoke in a sing-songy voice, trying to mask her mounting nervousness. She reached the wide portal, knocked, and swung it open harder than she had intended. From behind the door, a gown hanging on a hook swung out at her causing her to jump back and scream. Breathing heavily, Janice leaned back into the bathroom and saw that it was empty.
Hustling back down the hall toward the nurse’s station, Janice’s Crocs were squeaking in time with the pounding of her heart. Something just wasn’t right.
“Anita, when did Mr. Lupie get moved? Did he get a bed in Geri?” she asked, her eyes wide with concern.
“What are you talking about?” Anita replied, looking at Janice like she had just stepped off the crazy train. “He probably won’t be moved until the morning, although I wish they would have taken him upstairs by now.” Lowering her voice, she added, “He has that thick Romanian accent, it kind of spooks me out. Now, why do you think he was moved?”
“H-he’s n-not in 413,” Janice stammered. “413 is empty!”
“What? He can’t be a runner,” Anita said, her adrenaline spiking at the thought of a crisis. “He was in no condition to go anywhere!...Did you find Nancy?”
Just then, a loud flash of lightning lit up the entire hallway, followed by a thunderous crash rattling the windows. Once again, the lights along the hallway flickered, buzzed, and went dark. Both Janice and Anita held their breath until the lights came back on a few seconds later.
“Ok, we have got to find Mr. Lupie.” Anita had regained some calm and took charge. “I will call security, you head down the other end of the floor and see if you can find Nancy or Lupie.”
A whistling carried through the hallway from the direction that Janice had just come from. A young nurse in hunter green scrubs was casually walking toward the station whistling the theme song from ‘The Munsters.'
“Erin, thank God you’re here, can you help us find a couple of people?” Anita laughed as she asked the question, hoping it didn’t sound like they were in a full-on crisis.
“Ha, you guys have already lost two people? It’s not even 7 o’clock yet!” Erin replied with a snark that came naturally to her matter of fact personality. “Just kidding, what’s going on?”
“We can’t find our new travel nurse, Nancy, and one of our patients seems to have disappeared.” As she explained, Janice kept glancing down toward the empty end of the unit. She wanted nothing more than to see Nancy wheeling Mr. Lupie back down the hall, toward his room.
“Okie, dokie,” Erin replied with a smile on her face. “You take the left hallway, and I’ll be right, ha-ha!” As she walked away, Erin began to whistle again. The sound cut through the quiet hallway like a knife through butter.
This end of the unit was extremely quiet as Janice slowly walked past each darkened, empty room. As she passed by the supply room, she peeked into the narrow window and inhaled sharply. She fumbled for her key and quickly opened up the door. She stood half in the doorway with a hand over her mouth and the look of fright in her eyes. On the floor at her feet was a spilled surgical tray. Upon a quick examination, Janice realized that there were no forceps, scalpels, or retractors with the contents of the tray. Someone had taken them!
Leaving the tray on the floor, Janice retreated from the supply room and quickly resumed her search. Nearing the end of the hall, Janice stopped outside of the restroom and listened at the door. She pushed it open and poked her head inside.
“Nancy, you in here?” The small double stall room was clearly unoccupied, but in the dim light, Janice noticed several paper towels sitting on top of the garbage basket. They had blood on them. Janice fled from the room and skidded to a stop in the middle of the hallway. She frantically looked left and right trying to decide if she should run back to the nurse’s station or keep searching the unit. She decided to press on but wished she had grabbed a broom or something from the supply room for protection. This was turning into a nightmare!
As she turned the corner at the end of the hall, her crocs slid from under her, and she almost fell. Catching herself at the corner of the wall, she looked down to see a few speckles of blood on the floor. “Oh, no!” She whispered into the shaking hand that covered her mouth.
Just then, Erin came casually walking around the corner of the right hallway, about 40 yards away. Still whistling, as if she hadn’t a care in the world.
“Hold up, Erin,” Janice croaked. Her voice barely above a strained whisper. “There’s blood all over the place.”
Erin stopped whistling and looked at Janice quizzically. “C’mon, I ain’t fallin’ for no Halloween stories.” She began walking toward Janice. Janice pushed herself away from the wall, stepped around the drops of blood on the floor, and started walking toward Erin. In the middle of the hall, light was pouring out of the only door on the right side with an interior window. As Erin and Janice came closer, a deep macabre laugh from inside the room stopped them both dead in their tracks! If Bela Lugosi had come back to life, Janice imagined that he would have sounded just like that.
By now, Janice had started to cry. A single tear snuck out of the corner of her eye and slowly drifted down her cheek. Her legs felt like they could no longer support her and her hands were shaking uncontrollably. Erin, stood with her hands on her hips, looking more confused than scared.
“Janice, let’s go! We have to see what is going in there!”
Slowly, Janice willed herself to close the distance toward the lighted room. She reached the door first, with Erin looking just over her shoulder. Through the glass, they could see Mr. Lupie in a wheelchair with his back to the door. There was carnage everywhere. Slime dripped off the edge of the table onto the floor around him, stringy sinews clung to his arm and from the large wheels of his chair. High above his head, he held a shiny, silver scalpel in one hand, and a bone retractor in the other. The results of his labor clung in long gooey strips from each of the instruments. The clean-up in that room was going to take a very long while.
To his right, Nancy was smiling and laughing as Mr. Lupie worked at a feverish pitch. One of her hands was bandaged, and on the table, she held a large pumpkin.
Sighing deeply, Janice pushed open the door and stepped into the brightly lit break room. Again her Crocs betrayed her as she slipped on pumpkin innards, but Erin steadied her before she could fall.
“Guys, look! Mr. Lupie here is a master pumpkin carver! He learned how to do this in the old country!”
Relief, mixed with irritation flooded over Janice as she stared at a slime-filled table and floor. And there was Nancy, smiling with a pumpkin seed sitting on her cheek. A pumpkin seed, of all things. It was then that Janice noticed the photo sitting off to the side of the pumpkin. It was a picture taken here in the unit during National Nurses Week last May. Suddenly, Mr. Lupie set down the instruments and leaned to the side, giving Janice a clear view of his work. His bushy black eyebrows were arched, and he had an impish grin on his weathered face.
In front of her, surrounded by slime and seeds, was an expert depiction of Janice and Anita as they were photographed in front of the nurse’s station last May. Below the picture, in a flourish, it read “16 Years!”