Godalmighty, what a night!
Daniel Walker, MD, was a big man though not a particularly clumsy one, but there was nothing graceful about the way he reeled through the door of his office after stubbing the toe of his Croc on the threshold. Wavering to catch his balance and prevent crashing into his desk, he staggered around it and fell into the big executive’s chair, then jerked open the center drawer, searching frantically for the pack of cigarettes he kept there.
…Gotta have that smoke…lemme at it before I have a nicotine fit. He was acting like a true addict and admitted it. Found it. As if discovering water in the desert, he extracted one, snapped open the lighter lying inside the drawer, and flicked it into life.
The tobacco flared, the tip of the cigarette glowed, wrapped paper curling blackly. Raking one hand through his coarse black hair, he leaned back, hungrily gulping in smoke. Ahhh…He closed his eyes, exhaling in a long, slow trickle. He’d been trying to quit, was doing pretty well too, what with that Nicorette CQ patch and all, but now? Hell, after tonight…he’d ripped the little piece of drug-soaked adhesive off his shoulder. The way I feel right now, I’d smoke a whole damned carton if I had it.
He’d never seen anything like it. As if God Himself had battered down the Gates of Hell and set free total calamity. Cracked ribs, broken arms, fractured legs…ambulances and police cars swarming and wailing…was there anyone left in Temple and surrounds in one piece?
A bit of an exaggeration perhaps. It was August and there was a full moon. Everyone knew those two things separately were bad news but together they spelled disaster. The heat and the moonlight made all the loonies—and they didn’t call them luna-tics for nothing—even crazier, while the sane ones bore the brunt of their madness.
Whatever…the violence kept him busy. Once he’d realized he wasn’t going to see anyone upright and conscious, he had the desk nurse call his office, deciding there was no need to make his patients sit and wait. They probably had better things to do. Not Yours Truly, however. Along with the other surgical teams, young Dr. Walker was the Man of the Hour, and he’d been proving it since nine o’clock that morning, stepping out of the surgery arena only long enough to take a leak when the urge became overpowering. Wouldn’t do to piss into his socks and hold up surgery while they sanitized the OR.
It was now late in the evening and the realization he’d had neither lunch nor dinner was sinking in, accompanied by the demanding, twisting growls of his long-empty stomach. He wished he’d squirreled away a couple of candy bars in his desk. Who was he kidding? He was too damned tired to think about eating. Have to throw together a sandwich when I get home. At the moment, he didn’t care if he ever ate again. A slug of whiskey…maybe. Too bad he didn’t keep a bottle in the desk drawer, too.
Heat close to his knuckles made him glance at his left hand. The cigarette was nearly burned to the filter. When did that happen? Had he been sitting there, half-asleep, holding a lit cigarette? Guess it’s a good thing I’m not in bed. He glanced at his watch. The digital numbers blinked eleven o’clock. Not exactly the time of night to drift into a doze while pondering the Meaning of Life, but he wanted—no, needed—to think about what happened. Relive it. Try to figure out why.
Lean back. Relax. Think…and don’t fall asleep!
Most of the cases were simple enough, in spite of all the pain involved. Barely the expected amount of danger to the patient. It was almost assembly-line: Roll one in, put him back together, roll him out. Next, please.
Then they brought in the girl…
Woman. She was a woman, not a girl.
At that precise moment, he hadn’t been thinking about his patients. In a brief pause in the action, he was wondering why he hadn’t become a peanut farmer instead of an orthopedic surgeon. God knows, the hours would’ve been better.
He’d stepped out of OR, wanting a breath of air not laden with the scent of blood and anesthetic, making a bee-line for the Exit and passing through the emergency room waiting area…
…where they were bringing her in, rolling in the gurney. The EMT, seeing him standing there trying to decide which way to go, began reeling off her vites. Funny how the mind can latch onto trivial details. He’d turned to look at her and…froze.
The most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Even with the blood and the pain. All he wanted was to take her in his arms and tell her everything was going to be all right. He, the Great Physician, would save her.
He didn’t move. Couldn’t.
No bells. No thunderclaps. Just a flood of emotion so raw and stark it shocked him with its ferocity. He felt vulnerable and exposed, as if he’d been stripped naked for the entire ER to see. Actually looked around to make sure certain no one was staring.
“Doc?” The tech was the only one looking, still talking. He put a hand on the scrub-clad shoulder as if to get his attention.
“Go on.” His voice was calm in spite of his internal tremors. “I’m listening.” He may have said more, he didn’t remember. A lot might’ve happened but it was forgotten because von Dorff came crashing through the ER doors, raving like the psycho he was.
“Where is she? What’s being done?”
Seeing that rich bastard was something to be avoided on a good day. It took all his control to keep from smashing his latex-covered fist into that island weirdo’s face. That would’ve been the perfect ending to a shitty day…breaking his hand hitting that freak.
A tired smile flickered. Who takes care of the orthopedist’s broken bones? Could the physician truly heal himself? Good question.
He’d settled for barking an order at a nurse, “Get that bastard out of here,” while silently praying, Five minutes, Lord. Just let me have five minutes with that scumbag and to Hell with what happens to my hands. Still shouting, Von Dorff was hustled out of sight.
Why was he there, anyway? What was she to him? Why had she been on the island? How could she be anything to that…that… He couldn’t think of an obscenity vile enough. God, I must really be tired!
That’s what he got for being the only orthopedic surgeon in this little town, a place where he wouldn’t be practicing if he hadn’t been born here. If his mother’s people hadn’t lived in Temple, Georgia, since Time Immemorial. He was certain such a color-conscious little Deep South hamlet wouldn’t otherwise accept a halfbreed doctor, not even in today’s Politically Correct world.
Sometimes, especially after late-night sojourns like this, he tried to imagine where he’d be if he were all white. Probably in a big city hospital somewhere, overworked, underpaid, and popping pills or shooting up to keep himself going. But here? He might be overworked, maybe a little underpaid, but all in all, things weren’t so bad, and he’d never felt the need for anything stronger than his cigarettes. Still, if more nights like this one came along…
The cigarette burned itself out. Stubbing it into the ashtray, he got to his feet, dragging his jacket off the coat tree by the door. Pulling it on over his scrub smock, he started out, switching off the lights. Dictation on tonight’s circus could wait until tomorrow.
Better head home and get some rest. His patients would expect Dr. Walker bright and early, following-up on the repairs he’d done tonight. If he hurried, he might catch a couple of hours sleep before then.
No choice, of course. He had to be there. They needed him. In case she needed him…
In the deep, they huddled, hearing the human’s faraway thoughts and welcoming them.
It has begun…the thoughts rippled through the water, rising to the surface.
Except for an initiated few, the world had no knowledge of them, though they’d always existed. Long before Earth, they came into being in the thick and formless darkness beyond the point of the farthermost star. When the great cosmic cloud began its spiraling descent into the swirling mass of stardust whose explosion became the birth of the Earth and its siblings, they were sucked into the vortex and flung onto that infant world.
It was glorious…now they had a place to rule, and when the creature to be called Man evolved enough reasoning to acknowledge their power, there were slaves and worshipers at their eldritch shrines.
Eventually, as expected, their enemies came, those older, more powerful Others, and the inevitable battle for possession of the little world began. Conquered, they were banished…some exiled to the point in Time from which they began, others imprisoned deep within the darkness of the planet itself or far below the surface of its oceans. Even there, bound as they were, the evil within them still managed to trickle free like tiny bubbles escaping from a sunken ship, bursting and briefly spreading their malevolence once more…to those who waited…
One found his prison in the waters off the coast of the continent known as North America when men overcame enough of their fears to explore. In its southern waters, islands huddled together against the onslaught of the ocean they named the Atlantic. A group of unnamed land projections, these were already marked by mysterious stories and superstitious whispers, further enhanced by their mist-enshrouded shores and the bleak moss-draped terrain. One stood isolated from its companions as if even among themselves, the other islands shunned it.
In later more civilized times, no ship came there because of the danger of rocks lurking below the waterline. Indeed, had the waters been safe, no ship would stop since no settlers, either native or white dared force the islands to offer shelter. Long ago, the native tribes abandoned the area because of the shadow of the fearful being sleeping beneath the waves, a thing sometimes briefly shaking off its dreadful slumbers and clawing its way to the surface, only to be dragged downward again by its chains.
Thus they waited under the lash of the current, worn by the waves…until a stranger, in flight from certain unnamed acts, arrived in the early years of the first century of settlement.
He purchased the land from the tribe daring claim ownership. They, a remnant of the Yamacraw, an outlawed tribe of the Creeks, gladly relinquished it to one they considered so unstable of mind as to want to live on an island known to be accursed. They traded their birthright for a half dozen iron ax heads, twelve strings of glass beads and a bolt of scarlet cloth and considered they got the best of the bargain.
The foreigner, a secret, reticent man who socialized little with his mainland neighbors and referred to his beginnings even less, built his home, settled his people, and set about ensuring his immortality. Stubbornly conquering their home’s harshness, as aloof as the old man himself, his descendants discouraged friendliness. As expected, stories grew up about them. They chose neither to substantiate nor deny the whisperings until eventually the reason for their apartness was as lost to the memory as the stranger’s past.
And they lived and went their secret ways and watched and waited…