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PREVIEW: Jack in the Box

September 13, 2018

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Elevator

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Jay waited outside the doctors office, nervous of what could be going on inside. His wife was getting her gall bladder removed, a normally simple procedure made all the more difficult by her anemia. He knew the surgeons were skilled, he paid for the best after all, but he couldn't help but shiver at the thought of something going wrong.

 

The waiting room was clean, with the stale smell of chemical cleaner. Dated magazines sat next to wooden chairs on squat side tables, while a muted television played Fox news.Jay took a few moments to read the tag line of what the talking head was discussing before looking to the sole point of interest in the room.

 

The window was set behind a counter, and would slide back and forth to reveal a pudgy Hispanic nurse who would speak to the few people that approached her. The last time he saw her was over an hour ago when she slid the window open to tell him his wife had just been put under. He hadn't been given a chance to respond, sadly, as she'd sealed herself back in her cave just as quickly as she'd emerged.

 

Standing up, Jay stretched. Not a short man by any means, the squat chairs were really making his lower back ache. Deciding to walk around to clear his head, he strolled around the corner towards the cafeteria. He'd passed it by without a thought earlier, but thought he could use a snack right about now.

 

Following the sign, he stepped up to an elevator and pressed the call button. The dingy metal doors slid open, revealing a stained car. The floor was covered in old carpeting, worn thin from years of traffic, and grease stains were smeared on the walls near the buttons. Stepping inside, Jay pressed the button for the first floor and waited for the doors to close.

 

Just as the rolling doors began to move, an older man in a patients smock breezed in. He made it just in time, the doors sealing behind him.

 

Jay looked over at the man, who chose to stare straight ahead of him at the doors. He was bald, with sagging wrinkles and veiny arms. Jay looked down at his feet and fought back a wince.

 

They were bare, with long yellowed toenails and a strange thin ring on his big toe.

 

"So," Jay said, waiting for the elevator to move. "What're you in for?"

 

The man didn't respond, merely shifting in place when the elevator chugged to life. He wobbled slightly, almost like a drunk who had mistaken the height of the curb he was walking down from. Jay studied him, curious.

 

"You alright?" Jay asked, reaching up to grab the man by the shoulder.

 

His hand encountered something wet, and cold. Gripping the smock, his eyes widened in horror as the paper-thin material stained a deep crimson. The fluid seeped through the gown and stuck to his hand, thin strands sliding off Jay as he whipped his hand away.

 

The man turned his head, and Jay nearly screamed when he met the man's eyes.

 

They were dirty gray, foggy like a chilly December morning down by the pier. His teeth, crooked and yellow, were revealed as the man's lips slid into a tight smile.

 

"John?" The man rasped, his voice thin and weak. "John, is that you?"

 

Jay backed up, his wet hand leaving a bloody smear on the wall. The old man rushed forward, faster than the eye could follow. He grabbed at Jay's throat and leaned in close, his breath foul with rot.

 

"Where were you John?" The man asked, sobbing. His gray eyes crinkled to produce thick, bloody droplets that ran don his lined face. "I was so alone, for so long!"

 

"Get off of me!" Jay bellowed, pushing against the old man's shoulders. The one bony shoulder squelched under his grip, thick clotted blood sluicing through the hospital gown.

 

"I miss you John," the old man weeped, leaning in close. His chapped lips issued a cold, foul breath on Jay's face. The old man puckered, before brushing his lips dangerously close over Jay's cheek. "Just one kiss, please. That's all I ask!"

 

Jay screamed, thrashing about to fight off the old man's advances. He fell to the ground as the elevator doors opened, between two nurses. They screamed in unison, shocking Jay enough for him to open his eyes.

 

The old man was gone.

 

Looking around, he spied the elevator. It wasn't like it'd been before. It was clean, pristine in fact. Pushing up to his feet, he apologized to the nurses.

 

"I'm so sorry," he said. "I... something scared me, that's all. Must have been a dream."

 

"We understand," one of the nurses said, though she looked as if she did anything but.

 

Jay slicked back his hair and gave them a reassuring smile. "I'll just be going now, so sorry."

 

He made a move to dash off, but a hand grabbed at his shoulder. Shivering, he looked back.

 

The shortest nurse had reached up to stop him. "You might need this."

 

She held up his wallet.

 

"Oh! Thank you!" He said, taking it. "I must've dropped it when I fell."

 

"Don't worry, it can happen to the... wait, what's that?" She asked, looking at a tag hanging from the billfold.

 

Jay opened his wallet, eyes widening when he saw a familiar ring resting between the leather folds. It was a dirty cloth string leading to a tag. It bore a name, and a date.

 

"James Watt, nineteen ninety-three?" The nurse read. She turned and looked at her colleague. "Is this...?"

 

"Yeah," the woman sighed. "Sir, let us take that for you."

 

"What is it?" Jay asked, handing it over.

 

His blood ran cold at her answer. "A corpse tag. It's how we keep track of who dies here."

 

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