A serial fiction story for your enjoyment
written by James Rada, Jr.
3: A Voice In the Night
Tim Ross closed the door to Dr. Vallingham’s office in the Maryland State Sanatorium Administration Building. He paused for a moment before releasing his grip on the doorknob, feeling like he had been hauled before the principal of his high school.
Tim turned and saw Dr. Vallingham sitting behind a large oak desk that was entirely empty, without even a blotter or desk lamp. The man who was second-in-charge at the hospital didn’t even bother standing up. He simply motioned to a wooden chair in front of the desk.
“Please have a seat, Mr. Ross.”
No hello or handshake. He was not a warm fellow by any stretch.
Tim sat in the chair and noticed it was low, making him have to raise his head to look over the desk at the doctor.
“I am Dr. Jeremy Vallingham. I will oversee your treatment while you are a patient here.”
“What about Dr. Cullen?” Victor Cullen was the doctor in charge of the hospital and also the reason it had an excellent reputation for treating patients with tuberculosis.
“I am his… associate. The demand for our services here is so great that it requires two doctors.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Tim wouldn’t wish his disease on anyone. He had lost weight and strength. He coughed up blood or just felt pain while breathing at times. He had a fever during the day and chills at night. He felt like he could feel himself slowly fading away, slowly dying.
Dr. Vallingham’s brow furrowed. “Hmmm… oh, yes, I see what you mean. Your tuberculosis was detected early and seems mild. That is good news. It means you won’t be placed in the reception hospital.” This was the building where the sicker patients were housed.
Tim nodded. “Yes, I am in shack five.” Shacks were what everyone called the pavilions that were barrack-like buildings with large floor-to-ceiling windows that could be opened to allow plenty of air to pass through the buildings.
“Shacks. That is the colloquial term. It does not do them justice. They are specially designed housing units to augment my treatments.”
Dr. Vallingham’s nose lifted a bit. He did not like being questioned. “Treatments vary depending on the patient. It will require some testing to fine tune the best treatment for you. Tomorrow morning at 8 a.m., a nurse or orderly will come to your pavilion to take your temperature and pulse. You will also be given your first dose of medication. From there, we will see how things progress.”
Tim nodded. “What are my chances of recovery?”
“I don’t like to speculate, but I have an excellent track record. You are in good hands, Mr. Ross.”
“That’s why I came here.”
Dr. Vallingham nodded. “And now that you are here, there are some rules you need to follow. No fraternizing with the nurses. It is allowed between patients, of course, but no intimate relations. No alcohol is allowed. Feel free to walk the yard and even over to the reception hospital should the need arise, but avoid the pharmacy, powerhouse, and nurse’s quarters.”
The doctor stiffened at being challenged. “Because those are not areas patients need to be. Also, this area has problems with men making illegal liquor, and we wouldn’t want them to mistake you for a federal agent.”
Tim knew that was possible. He had heard about the moonshining war in nearby Smithsburg, even in Baltimore City. “For patients caught breaking the rules, there are consequences,” the doctor continued.
“Consequences? What sort of consequences? Do you send me to bed without my dinner?”
Tim smiled to show Dr. Vallingham he was making a joke, but the doctor did not have much of a sense of humor. He was the king of his kingdom. Tim had seen it with some fight promoters when he was still able to box. They were all friendly and smiles when things were going their way, but let one customer try to welch on a bet or a fighter not take a fall, and those smiles suddenly seemed like a way to show sharp teeth to those people right before they got hurt.
Dr. Vallingham said, “It varies based on what rule is violated, but rest assured, patients don’t like them and rarely make the same mistake twice.”
Was this man the reason people here seemed nervous? He and his rules and punishments?
Tim shrugged. “OK.”
The doctor nodded. “Fine. That is all, then.”
Tim knew when he was being dismissed, so he left. He walked back to the shack. He saw a few more of the residents of pavilion five. Eleven people were currently in the shack. Tim introduced himself to four other people who had returned to their beds. They were all men who weren’t severely sick. Tim introduced himself to them. Then he sat on a deck chair on the porch and stared out into the forest, trying to process what was happening here.
He felt like he was in a prison without walls. People walked on egg shells, afraid of violating one of Dr. Vallingham’s rules. This was not going to be an enjoyable stay, but was any hospital stay? Best he take his treatment and leave as quickly as possible.
Frank Ziolkowski, another resident, shook his shoulder. Tim looked up.
“We’re heading over for dinner. Want to come?” Frank asked.
Tim nodded and stood up. The small group of patients walked over to the dining room and got in line for the meal. He looked around for Max Wenschof. Tim wanted to talk to him about Dr. Vallingham, but Tim didn’t see him.
He saw the young nurse who had fetched him at lunchtime and stopped her.
“Have you seen Max Wenschof?” Tim asked.
“Max Wenschof, the man who was eating lunch with me when you came to get me.”
“Him? Oh, yes, Mr. Wenschof is no longer a patient here.”
“No longer a patient? Was he cured?”
The young nurse frowned. “Patient information is confidential.”
“It’s not like we don’t know what he has or had. Everyone is here because they have TB. And if he’s no longer a patient, then it’s no longer a breach of confidence.”
She looked around nervously. “Mr. Ross…”
Tim held up his hand. “Nevermind.”
He was drawing stares from some of the other patients. He didn’t feel like getting punished, especially when he wasn’t sure what it would be for.
He skipped dinner and walked back to the shack. The windows were all open, allowing a light breeze to flow through the building. It was quiet outside. Did he smell alcohol, or was he imagining it? The hidden stills couldn’t be that close, could they?
Tim sat up and listened. Had he heard someone calling for him?
He walked through one of the open windows to the railing of the porch. It was dark out, except for the starlight. There was no moon, but he could still make out shadows on the field in front of the forest.
Had he imagined the voice?
He saw a white figure emerge from the forest. It wasn’t a ghost, but someone dressed in white like an orderly. The figure was running and seemed to be looking over his shoulder, but Tim couldn’t be sure in the dark.
Tim looked at the forest. He couldn’t make out anyone else there, but something was scaring this man. Was he the one who had called for Tim? If so, who could it be? Only a few people around here knew his name.
The man in white veered off in another direction and ran back into the trees. A short time later, Tim heard a shot.
Then everything went quiet again.