Sitting bolt upright in bed I take deep calming breaths, my knuckles white as I grip the sheets beneath me. Closing my eyes I rock gently, telling myself repeatedly that it's okay. Still, I feel the headache building, threatening to engulf my skull and crush it in a pounding frenzy. 'Not again,' I whisper as I cup my face to my hands, inhaling deeply as I fight back the tears that are building and stinging my eyes.
It's always the same, over and over I can see the images flickering like I'm reliving a waking nightmare every time I close my eyes. The voices resounding in my head, and that laugh... A shiver charges up my spine as I hear that laugh echoing, bouncing from the deep recesses of my mind. That high pitched, gargling laugh, as though it mocks my fear, thrives and grows stronger as I cry against the agony of its claws as they tear open my flesh. Panic stricken I clench my hands to my back, still feeling the pain yet my skin is intact.
It started a little over a month ago. The dreams. They're so real, so hauntingly real. I can feel the icy touch of its bony fingers touching me, every detail relived over and over again. The stench of its breath still stinging my nostrils as the rancid odor furrows its way inside my nostrils causing me to gag and my eyes to water. These are more than dreams, they have to be. I can still taste the bitterness of its breath, the string of saliva swayed, hanging from its trembling gnarling mouth as it stood over me, dripping, burning my tongue as it falls. My mouth open unable to scream, my voice a bare whisper as my throat burns, my lungs heaving against its weight. The sneer as its lip curls revealing its yellow fang like teeth and the stalactite red stains falling from the crimson gums, streaking their way down to the points of its teeth.
I'd only been volunteering at the clinic for a few months when the shipment arrived. The heavily armored vehicle echoed through the vast emptiness of the receiving dock as its reverse beacon sounded, the 'beep beep beep' sounding like it was blasting through a magnitude of speakers.
It had been a slow afternoon, only the Thompson's Siamese cat recovering from the castration surgery to fill a dull void in my day. Cleaning the weeping stitches taking me almost an hour as I pass the time, hoping for an emergency or anything to make this day less dull. Michael, the young trainee had left for the day, so I was left with Dr.Jon Anderson, or Jon as he likes me to call him. Not that I don't like Jon, I do, it's just that Michael brightens my day in more ways than one, if you know what I mean.
Michael. He's six foot of lean, masculine testosterone that just screams 'sex appeal'. His dark hair and eyes have me spell bound every time I look at him. His smile has me weak at the knees, even the mere thought of his smiling face sends a small quake building deep inside. When he wears that white coat he looks so distinguished with the stethoscope slung around his neck, the pen and pad obtrusively poking out from his pocket. Even the way he absentmindedly scratches at his neatly trimmed goatee makes me yearn, unable to avert my gaze as he watches Jon intently, occasionally scribbling notes in his pad. He's in his final year before graduation from veterinarian school, so 'hands on' around the clinic, which I know Jon appreciates, especially during the busy periods. I know I appreciate his hands on approach, but only in my fantasies. I think I'd die of embarrassment if Michael even suspected my desire toward him. My stolen glances and silent sighs have gone unnoticed thus far, and as far as I'm concerned they can stay that way!
Our clinic has been chosen for this shipment because of our isolation cages, and the fact that we operate near the airport. The clinic is prone to accepting many animals destined for quarantine after being discovered in luggage of smugglers from countries known for their rabies and the many varied diseases their beasts seemed to harbor. This case was no different. As the forklift raises its pronged arms into the pallet, I begin to wonder how anybody could possibly be so cruel to encase any animal as inhumanly. Through the vented wooden box his deep breaths sound ragged, as though he struggles for each and every intake of air. My heart goes out to him. As the box is gently lowered to the ground, we adorn our safety gear. Even after we finish the grueling showers and vigorous scrubbing, it almost seems worth the pain of the relentless brushes, bruising and burning my skin each time an animal survives.
'Clyde' as he is affectionately known, named after the bloodhound that sniffed him out from the millions of cases that went through customs that day, lays still. Still in the zippered case he was discovered in, he stays motionless. The bag raising ever so slowly as he exhales before lowering again, the nylon sucking against the outline of his rounded mouth as he breathes in. My heart races as we near the crate, bracing myself for what I may see. Animals that have endured as many hours in such a confined space normally don't survive, and those that do are normally so dehydrated and starved of oxygen, their features are sometimes distorted beyond recognition from being bound for so long.
As the truck moves toward the sterilization bay, I spot the man from quarantine for the first time. Lowering his glasses down the bridge of his nose, I feel his eyes gaze upon me. From behind me I can hear the muffled cough of Jon clearing his throat, a silent command known only between he and I of his disapproval at the intrusion from government officials invading his 'home'. The clinic is more than a home for Jon, he lives and breathes this place. I don't think I've ever seen another individual so totally engrossed in their work. He prides himself in every detail, be it minor or major, things have to be done precisely by the book. Sterility being his main concentration, each of us washing our hands at every available opportunity, abiding ourselves by his rules. Not such a big deal, I mean he doesn't ask for much. The perks of working for somebody like Jon far outweigh the disadvantages we have to put up with. Looking at my chapped weak fingernails caused by the endless scrubbing, seems a small price to pay for the pleasures received in reward for my dedication.
The lines etched deep around his eyes the only evidence of his troubled life. Being left an only child at a tender age, Jon had learned the hard way about the cruel realities of life. His only brother having been savagely attacked by an unrestrained dog, died in his arms before any help could arrive. They'd been playing in the park at Jon's insistence, Anthony preferring to sit and catch up on his latest video game, reluctantly took his younger brother to the park to stop the incessant nagging. Like something out of a nightmare the dog had lunged, sinking its razor sharp teeth into his brother's jugular, his gurgled cries lasting moments, but seeming like an eternity as Jon relives the sounds of his brother's last dying pleas, over and over in his sweat provoking nightmares. The memory haunting him for endless years before he gained the courage to study veterinarian science to help overcome his fears. It was only through his studies in college that he now better understood the animal psychology associated with such random attacks of violence against the human species. In fact, he'd grown to love and respect canines in an almost unnatural way, almost to the point of obsession. His surgery, named after his dead brother, 'Anthony's Animal Mechanics' reads proudly above the entrance, and also on the placard in the luscious garden out front.
The threat of infectious diseases entering Australian territories through illegal smuggling is all too real. Quarantine laws are at their strictest when species are found through the meticulous scrutinizing of the well trained 'sniffer squad' as they are affectionately known amongst their trainers. Here we wait for the heavy iron door to drop before we can even think of opening the crate. Airport security had seized the baggage and as necessary precaution, the animal had been enclosed in the purposefully built crate for its, and our own protection. Fear can make even the most docile of animals lash out when they feel threatened or thrown into an unknown situation. For most of the animals brought here, they are plucked from the sanctity of their jungle homes, shoved in cages and then forced to suffer one of the cruelest plights any living creature could ever endure. Starvation and near suffocation as they are crammed into tight boxes, bags, anything to avoid detection as their captors pass through airport security. Of course, the illegal smuggling rings don't stop at the airport, but for us they do.
The clinic itself isn't anything spectacular. The building was originally used as a Doctor's practice so modifications were minimal to accommodate for the animals. The two back rooms had their dividing wall removed so the room could be set up for the recovery cages, but other than that, the building remained the same. It had only been within the last two years that Jon had acquired the adjacent property, which he had converted to the now, isolation area. The sterile benches spanning the length of one wall making the room seem like more of a laboratory, rather than a room to treat animals. The shiny metal bench tops cleaned meticulously, and the white tiled floors mopped to a superior sheen. It is in here that Clyde will spend the next twelve weeks, that is, if he survives that long.
Taking the crow bar, Jon carefully prises up one side of the crate. The creaking of the wood as the nails ease their way from its vice echoes throughout the vacant walls of the receiving dock. Moving to the next corner, he wedges the bar between the lid and sides and levers slowly, the corner raising an inch as he works the nails free. As we have not been informed on the condition of the animal, knowing only that he's a primate, Jon works with caution.
Nodding at me, I move toward a corner and help Jon raise the lid. With a look of discerning interest, the quarantine inspector leans his hooked nose over the lip of the crate, his pale blue eyes devoid of any indication to his thoughts. The bag lays motionless apart from the slight inflating and deflating as Clyde breathes. The zipper pulled closed allowing only what oxygen can filter through the thin nylon fabric of the sports bag. Taking the handles, Jon cautiously raises it from the crate and moves slowly to the isolation room. Following close behind, the quarantine inspector and myself watch quietly as the bag is placed on the long metal bench.
"Stand back," Jon cautions as he takes the zipper pull in his fingers. As he gently unzips the bag his shoulders slump in a heavy sigh. "Poor little guy," he whispers as he opens the bag to its full capacity revealing the heavily bound monkey. Its arms taped tight to its sides, he sleeps soundly, obviously he'd been drugged heavily prior to the flight to keep him from making any noises that may attract unwanted attention. The oversized pouch of his bony voice box resting against his chest, Clyde's feet tucked in tight within the small confined space inside the bag. His tail taped tight up one side leaving him totally incapable of moving even if he hadn't been drugged.
"What type of monkey is he," I ask, glancing at his prominent chin.
"He's an Alouatta seniculus," Jon explains. "They're commonly known as Howler Monkeys because of their loud howl. He's obviously from South or Central America. Look at the tail, Kim, see the last few inches there?" Pointing at the flesh like tip he continues, "A howler monkey's tail is like a third hand. Their tails even have individual fingerprints same as you and I have handprints, yet their tails have the ability to carry their entire body weight as they swing from trees to eat or play." Parting Clyde's gums, Jon inspects his teeth. "I think we'd better get this tape off him before he wakes up. Kim, would you prepare the cage please?"
"Already done." Handing Jon the scissors, I turn to the quarantine inspector. "Would you like a coffee, tea? Jon, would you like one too?"
"Thank you, coffee sounds great," the inspector says smiling extending his hand to mine. "I'm Nathan Eames."
"Kim," I reply, noting his firm grip as we briefly shake hands, "It's nice to meet you."
"Jon Anderson," Jon says as he takes Nathan's hand. "And I'd love a coffee, thanks Kim."
"I have to say, Jon, this is some establishment you have here." I hear Nathan say as I make my way to the kitchen. Well, that'll keep Jon happy, I laugh to myself, remembering his disgruntled cough from earlier.
As I pass the recovery room, I hear the Thompson's cat purring peacefully in sleep. Setting the cups out on the kitchen bench I wait for the kettle to boil. Noticing Michael's pad laying on the counter, I can't help but have a quick glimpse inside. My heart skips a beat as I look at the pages. Inside, instead of scribbling what I had thought were notes of examinations, were detailed sketches of me. The details flawless as though he'd been studying me in moments I'd been unaware. Pictures of my face prominent on the pages as I flip through the sketches in his pocket sized notepad. A warmth descends to my inner thighs as the thought of Michael paying such close attention to me stirs emotions deep inside. Resting the pad aside, my face flushed as I switch off the kettle; I pour the coffees and set them out on a tray with the milk and sugar.
My feet not even feeling as though they touch the ground as I make my way back to the isolation room. The smile on my face uneraseable as I lay the tray on the bench alongside the now empty sports bag. Turning to see the two men standing beside one of the cages oblivious to my return, I make my way over to join them.
"Oh, you're back, Kim," Jon says as he places the lock onto the cage door. "I've just taken some blood specimens from our little friend here." Nodding his head in the direction of Clyde, I notice his breathing now seems unabated.
"How are his vitals?"
"He's doing good so far, but I'll keep the heart monitor on him for a while yet." Turning to grab his coffee, Nathan and I take a seat on the bench much to Jon's disapproval.
As Jon and Nathan talk about the quarantine side of things, I let my mind wander back to the sketches in Michael's notepad. Maybe I'm just another model for him to practice his skills on, I guess, but deep down I'm hoping he has feelings reciprocating those I hold of him.
"Kim?" Jon says, waving his hand in front of my face. Biting my lower lip I smile.
"Sorry, I was in my own little world." My heart still aflutter with thoughts of Mike as I follow them toward the main building. Walking behind, I can't help but notice the way Nathan's ass looks in his trousers. Not nearly as good as Michael's, but still firm for a man I'm guessing to be in his early fifties. The gray of his temples visible as he turns his head to chat with Jon as they enter through the side door. Without his glasses, he could be quite handsome, I think silently as I follow them inside. His strong jawline and prominent nose giving him a defined look, a man of stature no matter what role he held. He has the look of someone who strives for what he wants, and more than likely, gets it.
"Kim, I'm going to be here for a while tonight, why don't you call it a day," Jon says as he places his cup in the sink. "I want to keep an eye on Clyde for tonight at least."
"Okay, thanks Jon." Smiling I shake Nathan's hand. "It was nice meeting you, Nathan."
"You too, Kim. I'm sure we'll see each other again, I want to keep a close eye on Clyde's progress for my reports." Giving him a heartfelt smile I grab my coat.
"Don't stay up too late, Jon. I'll see you tomorrow." Waving my good-byes I head outside. The air is starting to cool as I make my way to my car.
"Hey Kim." Waving as he heads up the steps to the clinic, I turn to see Michael.
"Hi Michael. What are you doing here this late?" My heart racing as I see him for the first time out of uniform. My eyes tracing their way up his toned torso, his dark track pants and contrasting white sneakers teamed with the navy and white windbreaker making him look even more irresistible.
"I forgot a few things," he smiles as he shrugs his shoulders. "Wait up, I'll just be a minute."
"Okay." Watching him disappear through the door as it closes gently behind him I feel my heart thumping faster in my chest.
As the minute turns into ten, I begin to feel like a fool. Most people would have turned and left, but no, I stand here like some love sick idiot waiting. Feeling the pang in the pit of my stomach I reluctantly unlock my car and climb inside. Sitting there momentarily staring at the entrance of the clinic, I turn the key and start the engine. As I reverse out of the parking lot I turn up the radio, hoping for something raunchy with a good rhythm to take my mind away from my disappointment. Even hearing Ram Jam belt out 'Old Black Betty' doesn't distract my thoughts. Somehow I make my way home, not really sure how as my mind had been on anything but driving.
My phone is ringing as I open the front door. Hearing my answering machine kick in, I listen to the message as I remove my jacket and toss my keys on the bench.
'Hey Kim, it's Michael. I'm really sorry Kim, I forgot you were waiting when Dr. Anderson showed me Clyde. He's not what I had expected. Anyway, I just called to apologize, I'll see you tomorrow.'
Resigning myself to the couch, I switch on the TV and curl up. Resting my head on the armrest I close my eyes, feeling my body slowly begin to relax. My breathing slow and deep as I feel sleep finally wash away any thoughts of Michael.
* * * * * * *
Glancing at my watch I sigh, thinking just how highly unusual it is for either Jon or Michael to be this late. Checking the door finding it locked I make my way around to the back. The door to the isolation room is locked but through the windows I can make out light. Jon must have left it on, or fallen asleep here, I guess as I raise myself on my toes to peer through the window.
"Hey, Kim," Michael says from behind me. Startled, I clutch my chest in fright, feeling the rapid beating of my heart as I turn to face him. Laughing he pulls out his bundle of keys. "Sorry, didn't mean to scare you."
"God," I whisper as I exhale heavily, then look at him and laugh. "Don't do that!"
"Sorry." Grinning he unlocks the door and steps inside. "Wow. Looks like Jon left in a hurry last night."
Stepping through the doorway we both survey the array of litter scattered across the floor. An empty coffee mug lays in a puddle of spilled amber liquid, messing the normally spotless steel top bench. A clipboard lays askew against the leg of a chair with its contents spewed onto the floor. Michael and I glance at each other as I straighten the pile of papers and return them to their clipboard.
"Don't touch anything, Kim, just incase," Michael warns. "I'll check in the surgery, see if he's there, otherwise I'll give him a call."
"Okay, I'll come with you and check on the Thompson cat. She goes home this morning."
An eerie silence fills the clinic. Neither of us used to being here without Jon's friendly face to greet us, we head to the reception area where Michael searches the teledex and pulls out Jon's number. I wait quietly as he dials. Holding the receiver to his ear he mindlessly brushes a few pieces of lint from his trouser leg. Looking up at me as he listens to the incessant ringing, he chews softly on one side of his lower lip.
"No answer," Michael says as he lays the receiver back in the cradle. "I'll try his emergency number, he's sure to have his mobile with him."