“Haemochromoto-what?” I breathed, aghast by being diagnosed with something so exotic I couldn’t even pronounce it.
Doctor Hope stood up and walked over to his large window, gazing out at the enormous weeping willow trees which swept down to the stream bubbling past the surgery.
“Haemochromatosis.” He spoke quietly and I strained forward to hear him. “It is literally an excess of iron in the blood. Simple to cure really, for all we have to do is drain you of some to rebalance your body.”
“Drain some…blood?” I asked. I felt a bit dizzy. This was rather a shock.
He nodded, still staring out of the window. The view was lovely, and I gazed out too.
“And if you don’t?” I couldn’t resist asking.
“Then your organs will be irreversibly damaged by the extra iron, and it will lead to your untimely death.” He turned back to face me, his hands clasped behind his back. I cocked my head. Was he trembling a little?
“So, when do I get drained?” I asked, my stomach dropping with dread. I coughed a little to clear my throat, which had gone sandpaper dry. “Right now, if you so wish.”
He turned to face me and smiled at me then, and I couldn’t help but gasp. His teeth – I had never really noticed them before, but they were mesmerising. Long and white, and almost…curved. The image of a tiger, sinuously stalking through the hot jungles of India appeared in my mind, and I stared. He was a tiger in the darkness.
His smile fell away, and he looked across at the small bed in the room. “If you please,” he gestured, and with a heaviness in my shoulders I forced myself up from my chair and slowly walked over to the bed.
“Take those off, please,” he nodded at my boots to encourage me, and I sat on the bed, the waterproof mattress crackling as I lifted one foot at a time and wrestled them off. My pulse was racing now, a creeping clamminess on my neck. I felt hot and cold, and was fighting an odd impulse to run.
“We could leave it, actually,” I began to rise, but he shushed me. He was pulling some items out of a drawer, so I sat back on the bed and tried to breathe deeply to calm myself.
Hands full, he whipped his head back up, and stalked toward me, that tiger-grin back. Close up, his teeth were even more terrifying, and I felt like a small furry creature in immediate danger.
“Do we have to…” I squeaked, and he nodded tenderly.
“It won’t take long,” he said, and I tore my gaze from his mouth down to the metal things in his hands.
“They don’t look…modern,” I said in a little breathy voice.
“I like the traditional ways,” he said, unrolling a yellowed length of rubber tube. “Now, here is a magazine for you to read, while I pull the curtain and set up the drain.”
“Will it hurt?” I asked, accepting a glossy magazine, and watching him pull my left hand onto the bed.
“Oh, not much,” he winked, moving out of sight.
He set up a drip from my hand, which snaked under the curtain to where he stood, so that he could monitor the flow. The curtain was there to keep the sight of the blood from me, he explained, as it would be rather a large amount.
I rested the magazine on my lap and flicked it slowly with my right hand. Perma-tanned people grinned up at me like inane zombies, and I found it hard to focus on the words.
After a couple of minutes my arm began to sting a little. The stinging worsened until it burned like acid in my vein, and it quickly became unbearable. “Hey!” I shouted, as with my right hand I dropped the magazine and swept back the curtain to stop him.
I took one look, and screamed, pulling at the tube in a mad, frenzied scuffle.
He was crouching on the floor, knees high like a toad. The other end of the tube from my vein was in his mouth, where he sucked on it, cheeks puffing in and out like bellows, his eyes rolled back in his head.
As I yanked, the tube spurted from my arm onto the floor, spraying red droplets everywhere. He sucked harder for a second, and then opened his eyes slowly. I stared around wildly for a weapon, for anything I could use to protect myself. There was a little wet noise as he spat the slimy tube from his lips, and I got a glimpse of the bright red inside his mouth. That was my blood! I shuddered, scrambling off the bed, and staying well back, but he didn’t move, staying frozen in place with his knees oddly high, his large veined hands flat on the floor.
I edged around the wall, following the boundary of the room, my nose full of the coppery stink of my own blood. I never took my eyes off him, watching his head follow me as I stumbled round.
I crept along, until I was behind his large desk, my back to the window and the weeping willows. Out there was normal life, life where doctors were good human beings who worked to make you feel better, not vile rancid things of the pit, like this fellow! I let out a sob as the shock of what had happened pushed through me like a slopping wave. He had been…drinking…my blood! It was…filthy… he was an animal! My knees felt weak as I realised that his head was beyond the limits of a normal neck now, as it swivelled to follow my movements. He resembled a bizarre beast; a respectable middle-aged man with smart grey suit, sitting crouched, an owl-like head swivelling impossibly, that red mouth bristling with those tiger teeth.
What in god’s name was he?
I risked a glance away from him to measure the distance to the door and sweet escape. It was further away than I remembered, and I gulped in panic as I realised how close to him I’d have to run. I felt weak. This was impossible.
He realised it too, as he watched me, and then his face split open into a huge grin. I shrank back as I saw that those large curved teeth were still red…and he slowly licked his lips. I felt light-headed. Had he sucked too much from me? Was I now dangerously short of blood? My chest was so tight that I could barely seem to breathe.
I tried not to scream with terror as I frantically considered my options. There was nothing else but to try and run for it. This was nightmarish! I gritted my teeth and slid around the desk as he blinked, slowly, and again I was reminded of something in a mud pool, lazily watching a juicy fly as it buzzed too close.
Then, he shifted a little, and something deep in my mind shouted ‘GO! NOW!’ and my stiff legs were suddenly loose and liquid and I was running as hard as I could through his little room to the door, one foot thumping down, then the other, arms pumping, knocking over piles of papers and scattering the few pens on the desk. A few steps and I was level with him, and then at the closest point to him, and I watched him from the corner of my eye, the adrenaline shooting through me as I lurched.
I was going to make it! Sheer joy widened my eyes as my hand reached out for the brass door handle, and I was just touching it, my fingers brushing the metal, when suddenly something cold wrapped around my right ankle.
“NO!” I screamed, as he dragged me back. I fell to the floor with a loud bang, my jaw slamming the tiles, my teeth snapping together with a dizzying click. My eyes watered as I clawed the slippery ceramic with my fingernails to try and stop him pulling me closer. “Please!”
“Back on the bed,” he hissed, his amber eyes huge and bloodshot, and his arms somehow lifted me up there, even though his position never changed. I felt full of ice as he rapidly re-inserted the tube, and busily swished the curtain shut.
Tears dripped from my eyes as I felt weaker, and I wondered how many times he had sucked veins in this room. From the other side of the curtain came the wet sounds, and as I slipped into the darkness, a tiny burp.
Just then, there was a sharp knock and the door rattled.
“Peter? Why is this locked?” rang a woman’s voice. I murmured on the bed, no strength to call out.
“I’m doing a procedure, Lois,” he called back, and my eyes flickered shut.
“You’ve been warned about this, Peter,” she went on.
“Please…please….” I whispered, unable to keep my eyes open. “Remember Mrs Clayton, and how her husband complained… Peter! Open this door!”
There was a growl, and a rustle as he hid the blood works behind the curtain. Then heavy steps as he moved to open the door.
“You keep this unlocked now Peter,” came the voice again. Then: “What’s that mess? Why is everything all…”
Before she could finish there was a clunk, and then a loud bang as she hit the floor. My eyes wavered again and I fought to keep them open. I had to get out of here! With an enormous effort I rolled sideways and crashed through the curtain, smashing into the back of his legs and knocking him over. He stumbled over the body of a woman who was just inside the door, and I blinked across in horror at the receptionist, whose eyes were wide open and dull. She was dead!
I looked up at the door and saw the key was in the lock. Summoning up every last drop of energy I climbed up onto my knees and reached up, just managing to unlock it as he came at me again, pulling me down.
There were screams from the waiting room as people looked into Dr Hope’s room and saw him climbing on top of me, gnashing his teeth and tearing into my neck. I was unconscious when the handyman smashed a fire-extinguisher into the bad doctor’s face to get him off me. They called an ambulance, and people held my hand as I slipped away, watching my lifeblood dripping from his terrible mouth making the tiles even more treacherous.
Haemochromatosis was a killer, it seemed. But not me. I gritted my teeth as loud sirens wailed into the surgery car park. I was a survivor.
In room opposite, Doctor Elson turned away from the drama and clicked her door shut. She smiled, and ran her tongue down her long front teeth. Mr Brown’s appointment was in a few minutes.
She must get ready.
Carolyn Ward is an English graduate mum of three and writes flash and stories when editing her first novel gets too much. She goes big on ice cream and gin-based cocktails. See more on @Viking_Ma