The Call of the Void

It was just a tiny pinprick, a little black dot, smaller even than the tip of a well-sharpened pencil. “Black as a vulture’s claw,” the doctor had told his patient, shoulders hunched and eyes squinted, staring at the computer screen. “Right over the left ventricle. A curious thing, that is. And you say you can feel it?”

“It pulsates,” his patient answered. “Not like my heartbeat… but like its own. Intermittently. And… it’s strong. Like when someone plays a bass drum and you can feel it all the way through your chest.”

“Is it painful?” the doctor asked.

“No,” the patient said, but added, quietly, after a grim pause, “Not yet.”

The doctor hmmed, focus constantly shifting from the file folders in his hand to the ultrasound of his patient’s heart on the screen to his immediate left. Finally his eyes remained glued to the files, taking a more careful consideration of what was written there.

“Have you experienced any changes in your health recently? Other than the pulsations, of course. Any other symptoms you can think of? Has anything happened recently that might’ve caused you some stress?”

The patient paused. “I killed a man last week.”

The doctor, too, paused, shoulders drawn taut, muscles caught mid-motion from setting the files down. Clearing his throat and gathering his bearings, he turned his eyes to his patient, who began kicking slipper-clad feet restlessly where they dangled from the examination chair.

“I beg your pardon?”

This time, the patient did not hesitate, though his voice was laced with anxiety. “I killed a man last week. He was—I don’t know what he was. But I killed him—I had to—and now this. Now I have this. Have since the moment his heart stopped beating. And I know because I waited—I waited for it to stop beating.”

The doctor was visibly trying to gather his bearings, to sort through the words his patient so desperately spilled, in two entirely different manners: to understand the gravity of the situation, and to understand what the situation was.

Adjusting the gray-framed glasses hooked on his nose, the doctor cleared his throat once more. “So—so you say you… killed a man? And this pulsation, this beat coinciding your own heartbeat, occurred immediately afterwards?” Though forcibly imbuing a sort of curious question to his tone, the nervous tremor underlying his words could not be helped.

“Yes,” the patient said, grasping on to the doctor’s temporary understanding. “Yes, that’s exactly it.”

“And you… believe these two events are related?”

“You must understand, doctor—this was not any ordinary man. I can’t even be sure he was a man.”

The doctor was caught between hearing his patient’s words and the new image that greeted him on the ultrasound monitor.

“Oh my,” he murmured, stepping closer to the screen.

“What—what is it?” the patient demanded.

“The spot. Before, it was a mere pinprick. Now, I think—I think maybe it’s more of a speck? As if it’s gone from the size of a needle tip to the size of a freckle.”

The patient moaned in fear. “It’s grown?”

“It appears that way.”

Having been presented with a more pressing matter than week-old murder—the life of a patient directly in front of him—the doctor’s thoughts were more easily assembled. The anxiety and hesitation he’d portrayed not a minute before had faded into a sharp sort of curiosity and a desperate need for answers.

“You said—you said he was no ordinary man?” the doctor questioned, unwinding the stethoscope from where it had been draped over his shoulders and approaching the patient to listen to his heart.

The patient nodded quickly. “He could do things. Things I’ve seen no other man do. I think he could read my mind, too. He knew what I was going to do before I even did it. I only managed to disable him by pure whim—he couldn’t anticipate what I, myself, didn’t know I would do.” Swallowing loudly, the patient looked to the floor. “I didn’t mean to kill him.”

The doctor continued pressing the stethoscope around the patient’s chest, listening intently, attention divided between the strange-double beat within the patient and the words pouring without the patient. “And what other things could he do?”

“I don’t think I know all of them. He moved fast—I could only really see him if I blinked rapidly, the way you can see the individual prongs on a fan if you stare at it and blink. It was disorienting. And he could move things. Without touching them.”

“Telekinesis?” the doctor murmured in wonder. Was he beginning to believe his patient? That, last week, there had been a man on this earth that was not a man?

“But you must believe me,” his patient pleaded, eyes—a stark blue, the color of the morning sky in mid-winter—searching the doctor’s own, as if the patient could see his very own fate in the man examining him.

The doctor stiffened, hand paused over the patient’s pectoral muscle, where the cold bite of the stethoscope pressed against the patient’s skin, directly alongside the ultrasound mechanism somewhat suctioned to the chest. “I—I didn’t—“The doctor paused, sucking a breath of air in to force the words out. “I didn’t say that out loud.”

The patient’s breath caught in his throat—the doctor knew because he could hear no rasp of air entering the lungs with the stethoscope pressed near those organs. Other thoughts seemed to flit into the patient’s mind, for in the next moment, he had the doctor’s wrist gripped, like a vice, between his hands. “You’re—“ the patient stopped and looked into the doctor’s eyes in confusion, as if he could see right into the doctor’s head. “You’re thinking of calling the police. Or the FBI. You’re not sure yet.” The patient’s grip on the doctor tightened infinitesimally. “But you can’t. You can’t.”

Just then, the patient’s eyes were drawn by something over the doctor’s back, which he quickly realized would be the ultrasound monitor. The doctor swiveled on his feet and examined the monitor, adjusting the glasses on his nose as if what he was seeing was merely a product of glare from the lens.

“It’s—it’s growing again!” the patient exclaimed, clutching at his chest. “And I can feel it. I can—what’s happening to me?”

The doctor stood frozen, half between the patient and the monitor, unsure of which to go to. The patient caught his eyes again, reading the doctor’s expression once more as if reading a mind. And the doctor realized, with a sudden jolt of disbelief at himself, that the patient was reading his mind.

He could feel it. It was like a skimmer over a pool’s surface, a feather duster over a cherry-wood bookshelf, a fly landing on a lake, a raven’s wing brushing a maple leaf—just barely there, just enough to sense something.

The patient spoke, edging closer towards hysteria: “You think I’m becoming him, becoming like him—the man I killed. You think I—you think there’s something wrong with me, really wrong with me, and I—“but he broke off and clutched his chest once more, sputtering a gasp. “Am I dying?”

The patient stood, now, and by glancing once more at the monitor, the doctor watched as the dark void, the shadow over his patient’s heart, began to grow exponentially. One moment, the patient was standing over the examination chair, and the next he was across the room with his hands pressed to his head, the veins protruding in his arms, as if by sheer force he could push whatever was occurring in his head right back out.

“I can’t—I can’t even—“and the patient was across the room again, again, and again, never staying in one spot longer than a second.

The doctor blinked, fluttering his eyes opened and closed so rapidly he couldn’t be rid of the shadow of his eyelashes even when his eyes were completely open. He staggered back against the countertop, checking the machine once more for the shadow’s progress over the heart, but, of course, the chords had been ripped from the patient, the device used to create the ultrasound image lay at the foot of the examination chair, discarded.

“I can’t—I need you to stop thinking so loud,” the patient was saying, darting here and there. “I just—I need—quiet!”

The hysteria in the room was escalating, gathering as if for some great climax. The doctor, without even a thought, grabbed a scalpel from the cabinet’s drawer behind him, wielding it like some grand sword rather than a thing with a five-inch handle and a one-inch blade, the most basic instinct of self-protection eclipsing much of the reason in his mind.

“You must calm yourself,” the doctor was saying, watching with pale lips and wide eyes as the patient began thrashing things. The examination chair had been ripped from its metal base; a dent was cut deep into a cabinet. A nurse could be heard knocking outside the door, asking in a rather high-pitched voice if someone should call the authorities, and then presumably running to do just that.

The doctor was given no chance to react, for the next instant brought the patient to a stop just before him, hands still pressed firmly to his head, face awash in tears, eyes painting a clear picture of agony.

“I need quiet,” the patient said again, though the quiet only registered briefly with the doctor, for words that had been uttered a mere minute or two ago now seemed like a lifetime in this madness.

And just as the patient lunged towards the doctor, the doctor’s hand—the very one wielding the diamond-tipped scalpel—was reaching towards the patient, hand set in a placating motion despite the obvious weapon held within its grip, and time slowed once more as the doctor watched the tip of the scalpel breach the soft neck of the patient, watched as the blade sunk right in, up through three inches of the handle, even, and as blood flowed, first like the beginnings of a newborn waterfall, and then in an angry current, spilling out over the patient’s hospital robes like paint, thick but slippery.

Slowly, the agony in the patient’s eyes softened to a lesser sort of pain, and his eyes once more rested on the doctor’s. The skim through the doctor’s mind halted as the patient dropped to his knees.

The doctor followed him there, folding his own legs beneath himself almost painfully. His hands reached for his patient’s throat, assessing the damage, trying desperately to hold the skin together so no more blood could slip past, but the reasonable quadrant in his brain told him it was already too late for that.

He, too, crumpled when the patient fell back to the floor. Blood looked almost black in its density as it surrounded the doctor on the floor, and the stethoscope that still hung from the doctor’s neck, like a noose, was pressed hesitantly against the patient’s now-softly moving chest.

The doctor listened for the heartbeat from the life he so hastily took, the thathud, thathud, swimming through his ears, until all at once, it stopped.

And started up again right in his own chest.

~Kayla Grose

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Filed under Fiction Winter 2015, Winter 2015

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