Yesterday, I had nothing, then I asked for a random prompt via Twitter. I received several good ones, but Icypop gave me one I just had to run with. It was “Three bottles lined up on a wall. Two empty, one full of blood.” Thirty minutes later I had this more or less as it is now. I did put quite a bit of time into editing it, but only to polish it up, because I thought it too good to slack on. Let me know what you think, click on the comment cloud in the upper right hand corner. Thanks for reading.
Little Doctors, Little Bottles
By Jason Warden
Where the third had been, two other bottles stood sentinel, but they, unlike the third, were empty. The doctors, who answered only to Dr. L and Dr. C, checked the result of the measurement, glanced at one another and inputted the information into the box. A few seconds later, a red light flashed. They repeated the process three times, after the third; they shook their heads in unison and looked to the elderly couple seated by the plate glass window. They, like the bottles had been unmoving for so long it startled the Dr. L, to see the man looking at him. The doctor moved closer, opened his mouth to speak, but before he could, the old man said everything in five little words.
“This is it, isn’t it?”
The doctors nodded and the man looked back to the window, but the woman’s eyes held the doctor with silent hate until her husband’s arm encircled her and pulled her close. Just before he did, the little doctor saw the tears spring from her eyes once more. He knew she didn’t have many more left.
Hesitantly, the doctor turned back to his partner and again, a look passed, a nod, and then the doctor stepped closer to the couple.
“Ahem, I… Um, that is Mr. and Mrs. Cameron there is one other thing we could do. I… We, offer it only as a last resort. We want to succeed you see, must succeed. It is our purpose; we seek validation of the hypothesis. We believe Fate is changeable. Others don’t believe… this is our only chance.”
“What do you want from us? Everything is gone; our very lives are nearly gone. You told us we could see him, and we’ve come every Friday for the last ten years. We’ve sat here dying with him, and now in the final hour you tell us once more to hope. “
“I’m sorry sir, like I said, it is a last resort. We have much at stake.”
For just a second the old man’s eyes narrowed and flicked away from the doctor. They rested on the glass bottle he held. Inside it swirled the last of Todd’s blood, the very last vestige of his true self.
The man looks back to the window. He sees Todd is making a cheesy hot dog, cutting it vertically so the cheese will melt down inside it just as his Dad taught. He knows in five minutes, Todd will switch on the T.V. A moment later, the phone will ring. With a mouth full of food, he’ll think about not answering, but on the fourth ring, he will.
“Yea.” he’ll say, the word will sound false, unlike his voice at all, mostly because of the food he speaks around, but also because each one of him is slightly different. The blood doesn’t lie, but sometimes it makes choices. Regardless, the word will be his last in this life, all eleven minutes and forty-seven seconds of it.
While Todd listens to the other end of his last conversation, the couple will pray as they have over a thousand times since they got a different call, one that told them Todd he was only technically dead, the one that claimed hope was alive. They pray his mind doesn’t break, that the sorrow and grief over the loss of his wife are not too much, that the glazed over expression breaks before the hammer comes down.
Their prayer will end and their eyes will open just before Todd vomits the hot dog he made in another life, seven minutes ago. They’ll watch him fall apart, breaking from the inside out even as they do the same. The man, the woman, they both know and understand they are as predictable as the clone of their boy inside the room. That the end has finally come should be a relief, yet neither is ready to give up, even after all the hurt.
Facing reality, the one where Todd Albert Cameron is absent from their lives forever and there is no hope of gun jams, power failure, or earthquake, the elderly man turns to the little doctor.
“Will he live?”
Quickly the doctors pass a look across the empty space, no words, only a singular nod and the question is confirmed.
“As long as he likes, but …there is no guaranty that you will.”
The man shakes his head slightly and the doctor’s shoulders droop, then he says, “I haven’t lived in years. What do you need?”
His wife protests, but weakly and the man rolls his sleeves up to his skinny biceps. A moment later, there is a pinch and the blood begins to flow through the tube and into the second bottle. It fills more quickly than either of them could have imagined. She turns, Todd is in the hall moving toward the bedroom where freshly oiled death awaits.
“No. Stop him. Please!” She beats her hands on the unbreakable glass screaming. Then the other doctor takes her hand gently and leads her to the door.
“Go. He’ll hear. So it’s written.” She hears this, but doesn’t process the words. She is too far turn to ask, and too late to take the time. She runs across a living room that is a younger, less traveled, mirror image of the one at home. She slips in the vomit, nearly falls, but finds herself standing in the hall. He’s reaching for the top shelf of the closet, reaching for his end.
“Todd. No. Please! I know it seems, oh God, I’m so sorry.”
He turns, robotic, his eyes are blank, his mind fragmented, but for the first time in all the years, finally, he sees her and something is different. The smile she hoped for is not there, neither is the love. Grief and confusion, struggle for control over his face. They fight to a draw.
She drops to her knees; the tears come like rivers swollen from spring rains. All this time, and she can’t even answer when he asks.
“What…What happened to you?”
She sighs, and the sound escapes her like autumn wind through stripped trees. She drops to the floor and he comes to her, forgetting for that moment, the gun, his grief, and his minds temporary plan, the one with eternal consequences. He touches her and she clings to him like madness.
They were still that way, holding on, when elderly Mr. Cameron took his last breath and his eyes closed forever.
Dr. L looked to his partner, and for the first time in ages, spoke aloud.
“Clotho, will the boy make it?
The Dr. thought about it, shrugged and said, “I never lied to them Lachesis, he’ll live as long as he likes. The question really is this one…Will they come? Will try to change his mind? And what if they do?”
No more words, only thoughts pass.
Atropos only knows.
One bottle left.