His shoes squelching on the bright linoleum, Drew trudged into the foyer of St. Joseph’s hospital leaving puddles as he went. The janitor, an old, dark skinned man with thick, white hair, took one look at Drew and followed him, mop in hand, bucket trailing. The janitor had already mopped away the smaller splashes and drips of previous visitors and hospital employees who had brought the rain in with them, but he had stood aside, as though waiting. Drew, however, looked to have brought the whole storm as he marched toward the elevators. The security guard did a double take at Drew, frowned and followed a step or two behind the janitor. They made a parade of sorts toward the elevator, where one man sat on a bench, a man to whom Drew paid no attention. That man was Marty Floyd.
Dressed in a dark blue suit, white shirt, striped tie, and well-shined shoes, “The Flood” looked dry and calm, waiting for the elevator, his folded umbrella beside him on the bench.
“Drew?” Marty asked. “You’re a mess.”
Drew’s head turned at the sound of his name. His only thought was to go to the room where Kyle Jensen lay. For all he knew, his friend was dead, for Drew no longer heard Kyles’s voice. Somebody had done something to Kyle’s body to sink it so deep into pain that Kyle could no longer talk to Drew. At least, that was what he imagined. He stared at Marty Floyd as though he was a stranger, blurting out his first impression.
“You look like a preacher,” Drew said, turning in Marty’s direction and motioning to the cross shaped lapel pin.
“My Dad’s idea, a suit and my Fellowship of Christian Athletes pin,” Marty said. “I told him about what happened with your father last night, and he said that if I had a hope of seeing you our Kyle this morning, I should dress for success. People are reluctant to throw somebody out if he is dressed well.” Marty said this as he pulled Drew towards him, so that the janitor could mop up the spreading puddle at his feet.
“Gracias,” the janitor said to Marty as he worked, which attracted Drew’s attention. Drew watched him keep his mop mobile, going back and forth in a semi circle around the spot where he and Marty spoke. The wide swath of the janitor’s mop kept the security guard on the periphery of their circle, unable to get to the two young men to see what they were up to.
“Say, George,” the guard said, waving to catch the janitor’s attention, “can I get a minute to—“
“My name is Jorge,” he said, giving it the phonetic sound ‘hoor-hey.’ Jorge’s mop bucket rolled toward the guard’s feet, causing the man to skip back. “Por favor, disculpeme,” he muttered, and his mop herded the boys toward the elevator as he soaked up the water that dripped from Drew’s shirts and shorts. As though on cue, the elevator doors opened and Jorge’s mopping swished them aboard at the same time it’s wide swath kept the guard in the lobby. His voice could be heard even as the doors closed, “Hey, wh—!”
Drew saw Jorge smile as the doors closed. He had the distinct impression that the janitor was surrounded by a light of sorts, a shimmering glow. He turned to Marty and asked,
“Did you see that?”
“That guy, that janitor. He glowed,” Drew said.
“Glowed, you know, with light around him,” Drew said.
Marty shook his head no, looked at Drew with troubled eyes and asked, “What floor?”
Drew told him four, and Marty pushed the button. As the old lift shuddered upward, Marty asked, “Are you sure you’re okay? I mean, I know last night, with Kyle getting hurt and your Dad blowing his top, I can see why you would not be okay,” giving Drew an intent, searching gaze. “And, you still do not look or sound okay.”
“Yes and no, on me being okay,” he answered. “I had a visit this morning from Mary Beth, Kyle’s girlfriend. She’s not okay. Before Kyle passed out or died, or…whatever, he said he needed my help to protect her. Something, someone is after her.”
“Wait, man. He talked to you when you were at home, and she came to you for protection?”
“No, well, and yes, I guess so, but not from the, the, thing or person that Kyle was worried about. She doesn’t know. At least Kyle didn’t tell me she knew. She came for my help with Kyle.”
“And he was there, with you? You could hear him?” Marty asked. “Even though he is still here, in the hospital?”
Marty stood back, leaned against the side of the elevator, shook his head, side to side, crossed his arms, and gave a low, tuneless whistle. “ You know, last night I said I’d help you, ‘cause I thought you were going through something that I saw one of my family members do, but this stuff about you hearing Kyle’s voice all the time? Well, that’s just—they got a psych ward here? Maybe, Drew, you should check—“
“I’m not crazy,” Drew muttered, and the elevator door opened. He rushed out onto the fourth floor and ran in his squeaking shoes to the room where he’d seen Kyle last. Marty followed in a more sedate manner, befitting his dress. He waved at the nurses and orderlies who stopped what they were doing to look at the rather powerful, drenched young man dashing past them.
“He’s just a little overwrought,” Marty said, gesturing to Drew, to the people at the nurse’s station, “worried about Kyle Jensen. We came to see how he is progressing.”
“The Jensen boy, they moved up to six this morning, after some tests,” a nurse said, “but who is that and is he, you know…safe?”
“Well, yes and no,” Marty said, taking Drew’s line in the midst of his own uncertainty. “You might say he’s ‘safe-ish,’ though he wouldn’t hurt anyone, if you’re not in his way. I don’t think.”
“And who are you? A preacher?” the nurse asked.
“That seems to be the consensus,” Marty replied, with a sigh, folding his hands in front of him, “but really I’m just his, um, associate.”
The nurse arched a questioning eyebrow at him.
Drew rushed back into the hallway, muttering, “He’s not there. He’s gone.”
“Yes, Mr. Skolnick,” Marty said in bright tones that he hoped would comfort the nurse, whose hand was resting on the phone. “They moved him up to the sixth floor after testing. Why don’t we walk slowly to the sixth floor and see if we can find him?” Drew nodded, spotted the door to the stairs, and took off. Marty sighed and followed him.
“Hey! That’s not a good idea!” the nurse called at their retreating backs. Drew bolted into the stairwell with Marty on his heels. Behind Drew’s churning legs that took him rapidly up the steps, Marty kept telling Drew, “Take it easy, man. Take it easy. You are scaring people! You’re scaring me!” Drew did not pause to listen.
Seeing the room Kyle had occupied empty of everything, bed, patient, all, Drew’s panicky thoughts were set on finding Kyle. He had no idea that he looked like a dangerous—and very wet—madman. He simply had to find Kyle. He hit the door to the sixth floor and found it locked. Marty breathed a sigh of relief at that, hoping to get Drew down the stairs and out of the hospital before the police were called about a crazy man running around St. Joe’s. Marty’s heart leaped, though, when he saw Drew cross to the other side of the landing, take a low, three point stance, and hit the the door with a shoulder block. It’s frame buckled under the impact, and Drew shot onto the sixth floor, yelling “Kyle!” Marty cringed.
“Oh, man, my Dad’s gonna kill me if I get thrown in jail,” Marty said and followed.
By the time he reached Drew’s side, he was announcing to a crowd of startled faces, “I’m so sorry. Let me get him.” Drew was dragging two orderlies, both grown men, down the corridor, one hanging onto a leg and the other carried on his back. Marty kept calling to him, “Drew, Drew. Wait. Slow down, please.”
People rushed from the nurse’s station towards Drew. Others were on phones reporting the mad man on the loose. Two more orderlies and a young security guard came from the other end of the hall, all set to converge on Drew, when a tall woman stepped out into the hallway in front of Drew and put her hands on his shoulders, calling “Drew, Drew, Drew!” She got pushed back several feet until he recognized her, and said, “Mrs. Jensen, is, is he…?”
“He’s just there in that room,” she said, “And you have three men hanging off you!”
Marty arrived and helped the one fellow up from the floor, saying, “I’m so sorry. He’s really not like this,” though Marty had to wonder if that was true.
Helen Jensen looked at Marty, her eyebrows forming a question. Marty took the cue.
“I’m Marty Floyd, ma’am,” he said.
“The Flood?” she asked, her blue eyes widening. Marty nodded.
“He’s helping me,” Drew said. Mrs. Jensen cracked a crooked smile and said,
“Helping you do what? Run the off-tackle trap?” she quipped. Drew looked around him and blushed at the ring of upset people, who were breathing hard and muttering. “This is the intensive care floor, you know.”
“He didn’t—we didn’t—know, Mrs. Jensen,” Marty said. “Drew ran all the way here in the rain because he thought Kyle was in intense pain, and maybe, you know, maybe,…”
“Dying?” she whispered.
“Is he?” Drew asked.
“No. No, he is isn’t, now, but Drew, Kyle, well, from what the doctors say, Kyle isn’t…going to…”
Kyle spoke in Drew’s ear: “It’s called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, buddy. I’m going to die, probably not a long time from now, weeks, maybe a month or so, the docs say. We don’t have much time.”
Drew’s shoulders slumped, and he turned away from Helen Jensen, back the way he’d come. There, he could see that Jorge, the janitor, lifted the shattered door back into place down the hallway. Marty looked on, not sure of what was happening. One of the orderlies looked at him, nudged him, and said,
“They say you’re a lock for the All State squad, dude.”
“Huh? Yeah, well, maybe. Excuse me a minute,” he said and turned back to Mrs. Jensen. “Ma’am, can we see Kyle?”
The security guard pushed his way to the center of the gathering and laid his hand on Drew’s shoulder: “Wait a minute, you two. You guys are out of here, now. If not quietly, then in the custody of the police.” Drew kept his eyes on Jorge, who looked as though he was cleaning the door frame.
“Hey, man, you can’t arrest ‘The Flood,’ man,” the orderly said. “He’s All State.”
“Just step aside, sir,” the guard answered, grabbing a handful of Drew’s shirt and tugging at him. Drew didn’t budge. “He’ll have to answer for damage to hospital property. As for you, young man, don’t give me any trouble.” Drew didn’t even look at him, for he was watching the janitor, who, having finished putting the door back, rolled his bucket and mop down the hall toward them, smiling. The glow was still visible around his head, even against the sterile, white background of the intensive care ward.
Kyle’s voice whispered to Drew: “Hey? Have the cop go look at the door.”
“Officer,” Helen Jensen said, “perhaps you could give us a minute. I really need to talk to this young man. His business here is really pressing, and he needs to see my son.”
“Go check out the door,” Drew said. “I’ll wait in here with Kyle and his mom.”
Jorge came up to them all, smiling at Drew. He waved a hand in the air, and the guard’s tense expression relaxed. “I’ll, uh, I’ll just go look at the door,” the guard muttered.
“Man, do you see what he is? I didn’t expect this kind of help,” Kyle said. Drew nodded his head in agreement and whispered,
“When we get out of here, we really need to talk,” Drew said. Marty and Helen Jensen responded to his whisper at the same moment.
“About?” Marty asked.
“Why?” Helen asked.
Drew looked at both of them, shook his head, and responded, “Sorry, I wasn’t really talking to you two. This is pretty confusing, isn’t it?” Marty’s eye’s widened, and Helen’s brow creased in a frown. Marty knew not to say anything more.
“Let’s just go see my boy, okay?” Helen said. She led the way into the room.
Drew saw that Jorge stayed at the doorway, watching, smiling, glowing.
“An angel, with a mop!” Kyle said, as Drew approached the bed and pulled aside the curtain. Within the room, all was quiet, except for the odd mumbling sounds Kyle made. Drew’s thoughts had settled down, but he knew that he was in the oddest position possible. On one hand, he was aware that his actions had seemed crazy to everyone, but he had also heard Kyle speak to him again. That calmed him down. However, there was Kyle, in the bed, with a patch cut out of his hair and a white bandage covering it. His eyes rolled, seeing nothing. Kyle’s voice that Drew heard wasn’t coming from Kyle.
He lay there, his eyes open, and his mouth working as though he would say something to them all. His mother went to his side, stroked her hand through his hair. His arms and legs were still bound, loosely, for they moved as though on their own. She whispered something into Kyle’s ear and stepped back.
“What did she say?” Kyle asked.
“I don’t know. Can’t you hear her?” Drew muttered under his breath.
“Nope. You seem to be the only person I can hear.”
“You didn’t hear the cop?”
“No, but I could see that he was trying to take you away. That won’t be a problem, though, because of the angel at the door.”
“Oh, my,” Drew muttered. “What a mess. This is crazy.” Drew looked around, at Marty, who stood near him, hands folded in front of him, eyes staring at Kyle. Jorge stood at the door, and Drew had the sudden realization that no one would come in unless Jorge wanted them to.
“Mrs. Jensen, what did you say to Kyle?” Drew asked.
“I told him that you and Marty were here, that I love him, and I asked if he wanted Marty to say a prayer for him.”
“Me? Well, sure, okay, if you want me to,” Marty replied.
“Told you you looked like a preacher,” Drew muttered.
“He does, doesn’t he?”Kyle said, though the figure in the bed only mumbled nonsense sounds. “Tell him to go ahead.”
“Kyle says to go ahead, Marty.”
The All State linebacker, squared his broad shoulders, straightened his tie, and lifted his palms together, and closed his eyes. In a loud voice, he said, “Lord, we gather today to ask for your healing hand to fall upon Kyle Jensen in our midst…”
“I think it has, sorta,” Kyle muttered.
“Sh,” Drew said out of the side of his mouth. Marty gave a cough and went on in more quietly.
“…Who is suffering from…a sickness. Please send your holy angels to bring healing and comfort…”
“Like the one at the door?”
Drew stifled a laugh. Marty turned a sour eye towards him, but Drew just made a motion with his hand for him to go on.
“…to Kyle and his loved ones as he battles…”
“Creutzfeld-Jakob disease,” Drew offered.
“…Cruts… Cretsfield…what was it again?”
“Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease,” Drew said.
“Wait a minute!” Helen Jensen cried.
“Aaaamen,” Marty said quickly.
“How did you know that Drew?” Kyle’s mom demanded, sitting down hard in a chair at the bed side. “I only heard that name this morning, when the specialist told me. How could…?
“He told me, ma’am. Kyle told me, just a while ago.”
“How could he know?”
“I read it on my chart,” Kyle said. “What? I didn’t have anyone to talk to, since you weren’t here, so I read my chart. Can’t read anything else.”
“He says he read it, on his chart,” Drew said, pointing to the clipboard on the front rail of Kyle’s bed.
“How…. No. This isn’t happening,” Helen said, dropping her head in her hands.
“Go hug her, man. Say something to her to help.”
“Like what?” Drew asked aloud. Marty began to ease away from the bedside as though he was afraid of something weirder happening.
“Tell her that I love her too, that I’m okay with it.”
“Tell her that you’re okay with it? How can I do that? I’m not okay with any of this,” Drew protested. Helen lifted her head to stare at him. Marty backed into the figure of Jorge in the doorway and stopped as though he’d run into a wall.
“Mrs. Jensen,” Drew said, going to her side, “I can’t explain why it is, but Kyle is talking to me. I can hear what he is saying, and he can hear me. He says that he loves you, that I should hug you, and that I should say something to help you.”.
Helen moved to embrace Drew, though the worried look on her face never left. Drew hugged her as he would his own mother, just trying to assure her, protect her. She had always been sweet to him, fed him, listened to him talk with her son about the crazy books they read together, about their football plans for the season.
“Maybe I am crazy,” Drew said, “but I will stand by Kyle, by you, his Dad, Mary Beth, Emma—anyone important to him—as we go through this. He asked for my help, and I cannot say no. I will do anything in my power to help, even if it means people thinking I’m crazy.”
“You aren’t crazy, but you are odd,” Kyle said.
Drew chuckled and said, “He just told me that I wasn’t crazy, but that I am odd.”
Helen smiled at that and murmured, “He always said so. Odd, like the point of a sword, but all good and a yard wide. What does that mean, Drew?”
“I have no clue,” Drew said, but he knew it must have something to do with Kyle’s need to protect Mary Beth. That thought, kept in the back of his mind as he rushed to Kyle’s aid, returned now to accompany the mixture of sadness and confusion of looking at Kyle’s wretched physical body. His slack expression, rolling eyes, made Drew think that the figure on the bed wasn’t his friend. It was his body, true, but Kyle wasn’t exactly in it. He wondered if Creutzfeld-Jakob disease did that to people. He’d never heard of it before. Drew couldn’t even recall the last time he or Kyle had even been sick, but he remembered the times that Kyle stumbled or dropped something that he wouldn’t have, normally. One time, at the drive in movies, on a disastrous double date, Kyle had even knocked a cup of soft drink out of the hand of Drew’s date, Debbie Flowers, and got it all over her dress. They’d had to go home, which had been fine with Drew. Debbie had only stared at him like he was a monster or something. Then, there was last night, Kyle’s body locking up and falling, though he had a clear field ahead of him.
Drew turned his eyes from Kyle on the bed and looked at Jorge in the doorway. The light of Jorge’s aura shone, now, against a dim shadow behind him, as though the hallway darkened. Drew left Mrs. Jensen and walked over to the small, white-haired man with the mop. “Can you do something about Kyle’s condition?”
“Um, Drew?” Kyle asked, his voice rising.
“No, padron. It is not why I am here,” Jorge said.
“I think you better look out in the hallway, buddy,” Kyle added, his ghostly voice tense.
“He is right. You should see that shadow that is coming. That is why I am here,” Jorge said, turning to bring Drew out into the hall.
Marty asked, “What’s in the hallway? Is it the cops?”
There was only one official, the security guard, as far as Marty could see. That fellow, with a nurse and the football fan orderly, were studying the now whole doorframe that Drew had broken down on his entry. The guard ran his hands over the smooth surfaces of the door jamb he had seen Drew leave in splinters, muttering to the nurse and orderly who shook their heads, ‘No.’ to his observations.
In Drew’s vision, the other end of the hallway, beyond the trio inspecting the door, lay in the grip of a boiling cloud, as though the storm outside had surged into the intensive care ward. A huge figure moved within it, vague, threatening but human in shape.
“What is he looking at?” Marty asked, his faced agitated, hands shaking. “What do you see, Drew?”
“This is why I have come, but just for today,” Jorge said to Drew, pointing to the figure. “You know you are not ready to meet it, though you must now prepare.” Jorge raised his hands and light broke from them, tearing aside the shadow, like strong winds tear clouds. The figure within stopped before it reached the guard and his listeners. The obscuring clouds blew into shreds of mist, the figure within them diminished in size, and Drew saw a man there, dressed like a doctor, a tall man, dark of hair, with a face that he thought he recognized but could not place. . He stood, staring down the hall, a frown creasing his handsome features.
“Who is that?” Marty asked, “and where did he come from?”
“I don’t know,” Drew answered.
“But you will know, and knowing will take you into a darkness from which you should flee, now, for you are not strong enough,”Jorge claimed. “GO!”
Drew jumped at the physical shock of Jorge’s command. Marty didn’t hesitate to follow the janitor’s order, for it resounded in his head like thunder. He grabbed Drew’s shoulder and pulled him towards the exit at the other end of the hall, and Drew stumbled to follow him.
“Oh, God. No!” Kyle cried,”It can’t be him!”
Stay tuned for Part 5.