By Marcia R. Hooper
A Re-imagining of
my 2001 Short Story
The Girl Who Came Shrink-Wrapped
Adapted from the short story:
HE WHO SHRANK
by Henry Hasse
On the afternoon it began, Kellie was at the mall, shopping with two friends. It was Friday and the three planned to shop until 6 o'clock, grab a pizza at Gino's, and then catch the 7:15 showing of Flirtation. It had been showing a month now and Michelle had already seen it twice, Tommie once, and Kellie...well, this would be Kellie's first time. Michelle and Tommie could not believe that Kellie was still a Flirtation virgin.
"Come on," Kellie moaned. "Leave me alone, okay?" She hated romantic comedies, had grown out of them in middle school. She couldn't believe her friends had badgered her into seeing one now. Especially not the ridiculously childish Flirtation; seeing the ad on TV made her cringe.
"I heard that Robert cheats on Amy," Michelle teased. Robert and Amy were the stars of Flirtation and an item in real life.
Kellie had a purple top in her hand, fringed at the throat with fine lace. Eyeing it critically, she compared it to another, lighter purple top, ignoring her friend's taunt.
"I heard he's cheating on her with Albert," Tommie quipped. Albert was a character in the movie, played by Mallo Rice, a complete hunk. "I don't know what he could possibly be thinking. Albert is soooo hot, but no one will ever make me believe that Elijah would kiss another guy. No way." Elijah was the character Robert played in the movie.
Kellie slipped the light purple top back onto the rack and fingered a blue one instead. Michelle and Tommie were at the next rack over, exchanging mischievous grins, obvious intent on continuing Kellie's torture. However, at that moment the story took a sharp, left-hand turn into the bizarre as a man approached Kellie from behind, jostled her, excused himself gruffly and walked quickly away. Kellie blinked rapidly, flustered, rubbing her right thigh and wondering if she'd just been groped by some creep. That was her impression, as he skulked away. The man appeared to be middle aged, with longish unruly hair, dressed suspiciously in a rumpled overcoat.
"You okay?" Michelle asked.
Kellie nodded and continued rubbing her thigh. If she didn't know better, she'd swear the guy had jabbed her with something. She felt a little panicky, thinking maybe she should chase after him and call for help? Who would she call, though? There were only shoppers like herself and Michelle and Tommie in sight; no store personnel at all. Indecision stopped her in her tracks.
"What happened?" Michelle demanded.
Kellie felt herself redden. "Nothing," she muttered, and then hesitantly told about the bump and stick on her hip.
"You should go look," Tommie advised. Beneath her look of concern, there was a hint of amusement, which embarrassed Kellie even further. She shook her head.
"Bullshit," Michelle told her and grabbed her arm. "If you got stuck, we need to find out with what." So a thoroughly embarrassed Kellie found herself dragged off to the Ladies Room for inspection.
Kellie was not the cutest of girls. Though blonde and blue-eyed, she had an unfortunate complexion, features seemingly a little too large or a little too small or a little too wide apart, and a body that was best hidden beneath loosely fitting clothes or a one-piece swimsuit. In her 18 years, 10 months and 8 days, she'd been with exactly two boys, and neither had bedded her more than once. This did nothing for her self-confidence. The thought of being on campus next semester with a cajillion college boys pretty much skewered the rest.
A woman and her 10-year old were at the sink, someone else was inside a stall, and a pair of girls a couple years younger than Kellie and her friends were primping at a mirror.
"Which hip?" Michelle demanded. Fretfully, Kellie indicated her right one.
The mother and daughter eyed the trio with mild interest; the teens at the mirror ignored them and the person in the end stall finished peeing and un-spooled toilet paper from the roll. Kellie judged by her shoes and black slacks that it was not a girl their age. She felt mortified when Michelle ordered her to undo her belt and then began to undo it herself. "I can do it," she protested. The best she could manage was to assist Michelle in getting her undone and pushing her jeans down to her knees. Now the teens at the mirror were staring at her. "This is ridiculous," she mumbled.
The 10-year-old's mom couldn't decide if she was alarmed or irritated. "Are you O.K.?" she asked hesitantly.
"Some guy stuck her with something," Tommie said.
Mom's eyes opened wide. Purposefully, she strode over and examined Kellie's leg. "Oh my gosh! What is that?"
Kellie blinked at the angry red pinprick on her leg. Despite her trepidation, she really hadn't expected to find anything. Seeing the tiny red puncture and the reddening swell of flesh around it made her feel lightheaded and nauseated. The room swayed slightly around her and suddenly Michelle had one arm, and Tommie the other
"Maybe you should sit down."
Michelle guided her toward the nearest stall while mom said something about calling the police--her 10-year-old's eyes were open wide with excitement; dittoes those of the teens at the mirror-and though dizzy and battling nausea, Kellie noticed the woman in the end stall hurrying to get dressed and join the action. "I'm okay," she protested weakly.
"Sure you are," Michelle answered.
Mom had her cell phone out and was pushing buttons. She put the phone to her ear and stood tapping her right toe impatiently.. Kellie was really sick on her stomach now and feared throwing up. The occupant of the far stall opened the door and hurried down to join the others, her black slacks swishing impatiently around her sensible black flats. Kellie looked up as the woman appeared behind Michelle and Tommie and peered over their shoulders. She was dark-haired and anxious looking, though wide-eyed with excitement like everyone else. Kellie loathed being the center of attention.
"What happened?" the woman asked breathlessly. The 10-year-old edged up beside her and Kellie immediately saw the resemblance. This was mom, not the woman with the phone, who was explaining that she needed the police and an ambulance right away at the Raymond's in the mall "Someone stuck her with a hypodermic needle," she said, and by now, Kellie was ready to cry.
"Did you see who it was?"
Kellie looked at the shorter, cuter of the two mirror teens. She shook her head.
"It was a man?"
Kellie nodded. The spot on her leg itched maddeningly now, like a dozen mosquito bites. It looked like a mosquito bite, from a monster mosquito. The redness had expanded to the size of a quarter now, and damn, the thing itched.
"Don't scratch it," Michelle warned. She tested Kellie's forehead with the inside of her wrist, found it acceptably cool and stooped to examine her leg.
"That's definitely a puncture wound. He effing stuck you good, Kel."
"Bastard," Tommie growled.
Michelle looked up. "Does it hurt?"
Kellie shook her head.
"We should have gone after him," Michelle complained.
"Did you get a look at him?" She sighed dispiritedly. Tommie also sighed.
Kellie didn't like the mild burning sensation in her leg. It reminded her of when she'd broken her wrist and the shot of painkiller had made her arm burn from wrist to shoulder for hours.
"An ambulance is on the way," the 10-year-old's not-mother said. She held her phone open just in case things got worse. Her not-daughter and real mom were exchanging ideas in hushed whispers and Kellie wished they'd go away; just get the hell out of there. They were enjoying this way too much. So were the mirror teens, whispering conspiratorially and fighting grins. She wanted to scream at them and kick the door shut and lock them out and herself in. She wanted to go pee. She wanted to...
* * *
Kellie opened her eyes. She was in a hospital bed. She looked around groggily, blinking, her mouth feeling stuffed with cotton balls. Her head throbbed miserably and her thigh ached twice as bad. Twin scraping sounds followed a hushed voice saying, "She's awake." Her mother and dad appeared at her bedside.
"Oh, Kellie. Are you okay?"
Without remembering why, Kellie thought she'd been asked that question a lot today.
"What happened to me?"
Her mother took her hand and patted it gently. "Don't worry, sweetie. Just you relax." Her mother's expression was both comforting and frightened. Her dad looked angry, seething under the surface, and lifting her head, Kellie saw that her younger brother Sean and her younger sister Chrissie were asleep on a long black divan. No light came through the blinds behind the divan, telling her it was night. It was a private room, she guessed, and surprisingly big. She noticed the chairs pulled up to her bed. "What happened to me?" she repeated.
Her mother shook her head and smiled benevolently. "Don't you worry, dear. The doctors are taking good care of you."
"What happened to me?" Kellie insisted.
Her dad started to speak and then winced as her mother kicked his shin. "I told you, dear. There is nothing to worry about here."
"Everything's fine," her mother soothed. "You're perfectly okay." The furious glance shot by her father told Kellie she was not perfectly okay. She struggled to sit up, and her mother pushed her back down again. Kellie pushed her mom away. "Stop it," her mom scolded. "You'll pull out your IV's."
A needle was stuck into the back of Kellie's left hand and another in the meat of her right forearm. A glance down her front revealed one of those horrible hospital gowns, the kind that opened in the back, leaving you completely exposed. She involuntarily hunched her shoulders for another reason. They had removed her clothing.
On the divan, Sean moaned and shifted to face the rear, pulling his legs up tight to his chest. This made Chrissie turn over and draw up tight at the other end. Sean was 9 years and Chrissie was 6. Neither looked like Kellie.
Mom forcibly recaptured Kellie's hand and patted it gently. Kellie unsuccessfully tried to take it back, but the ache in her right thigh had her totally distracted--she suspected the pain had something to do with her being there, though what presently eluded her. She did not remember being stuck in the leg or any of the conversation with her girlfriends afterward. In fact, she remembered nothing since about lunchtime.
"What time is it? At least tell me that," she said.
Her mom consulted her wrist watch. "It's late. You go back to sleep, dear."
Still clutching Kellie's hand, mom located the cable connecting the handset to the wall, then the handset itself and pressed a button on the face. After a moment, a scratchy voice asked: "Can I help you?"
"My daughter needs something to help her to sleep," mom said.
"I do not!" Kellie objected stridently.
"I'll send her nurse," the voice said and clicked off. The light on the face of the handset disappeared but her mother said "Thank you" anyway, and draped the handset out of reach over the top of the bed. Kellie glared at her resentfully.
"You're treating me like a baby, Mom."
"You are a baby," her mom said absentmindedly. She checked the settings of Kellie's bed, lowered the head slightly and raised the knees. "That should make you more comfortable."
"Thanks," Kellie grumbled, though it did the opposite. She tried to cross her arms in a snit, but the IV's interfered. Mom told her to be careful, which only irritated Kellie more. She wondered what potions the bags were dripping into her veins. A sudden thought made her blanche and raise her head with a snap.
"Mom, was I...?"
Mom shook her head adamantly no. "Nothing like that. I promise you. Now please relax and try not to wake your brother and sister. They've been here since 6 o'clock and need their sleep."
At least Kellie now had a general timeframe. Whatever happened to her happened this afternoon-was it even Friday anymore?-and she'd been admitted some time before 6 PM. Where were Michelle and Tommie? The realization she'd been with them arrived with the thought. They'd been at the mall, shopping.
She furrowed her brow, ignoring her mother's admonition not to think. They'd been in Raymond's, looking at tops. They planned to have pizza later and take in a show, though Kellie couldn't remember what. She remembered talking about the stars though. Something about cheating.
"Are Michelle and Tommie all right?"
"Perfectly all right." Her mother patted her hand again. "Michelle called from your cell phone right after you passed out and-"
"I passed out?"
Her mother looked chagrined.
"My leg really hurts, Mom. Really bad." She tried unsuccessfully to push down the covers to get a look at her thigh, but her mom was having none of it. More came back. She remembered the stranger jostling her as he passed and the sudden sting in her thigh. The sting corresponded exactly where her leg really ached. She felt gingerly through the covers and gasped lightly. It hurt like hell.
A middle aged nurse, armed with a hypodermic syringe, entered the room and joined mom and dad at the bed. Kellie recoiled at the sight of the sheathed needle.
The nurse smiled down at her. "Don't worry, sweetie, no one's poking you again." She took up Kellie's left hand and pointed out the built in port, a short section of Y on the IV. She made a show of cleaning the port with an alcohol swab, and then inserted the needle and depressed the plunger. The syringe was small diameter and contained only a small portion of clear liquid. Despite this, Kellie felt an immediate drowsiness.
"Wow," she mumbled. "Can I have some more?"
The nurse laughed and her mom frowned disapprovingly. Kellie didn't care. Her attention was absorbed by the rain suddenly filling the air. She tried to catch a drop on her tongue.
"Keradol," the nurse explained. She listened to Kellie's heartbeat and breath sounds with a stethoscope, and then checked her pulse and blood pressure. She appeared not alarmed by her observations. Then she cautiously raised the blanket, moved aside Kellie's gown and inspected the injection site. Mom raised her eyebrows questioningly. The nurse only shrugged. "It doesn't appear any worse. The discoloration appears not to be spreading any further," which was good, because the entire outside half of Kellie's thigh, from her hip to just above the knee, was a horrifying purple. The nurse led mom and dad a safe distance away.
"The truth is, we don't know what the coloring signifies." Hesitating, she glanced back at Kellie, still absorbed in the falling rain. "It's not a bruise." Lowering her voice to a mere whisper, she continued: "We thought at first it might be gangrene-" Mom and dad jointly recoiled. "-but there's no sign of necrosis, and the biopsies revealed none of the markers associated with decomposition. It's got us all stumped."
"But it's related to the injection?" Mom asked.
"Oh, it's definitely related to the injection," the nurse agreed. "We just don't know how."
Mom looked worriedly at her daughter. "It seems to be painful."
The nurse joined her look. "Only around the puncture site itself. There doesn't seem to be any sensitivity in the broader, discolored area. Luckily."
"And you still don't know what it was?"
The nurse shook her head. "Toxicology--the reports that are back, anyway--shows nothing out of the ordinary. Except..." She frowned, her lips twisting in consternation.
The nurse hesitated. "Has your daughter recently been pregnant?"
Mom furrowed her brow. "Why?"
The nurse shrugged. "I'm not saying anything. No pelvic exam was done-none was called for as there were no signs of sexual trauma. We only know that her hormone levels are out of whack. But that could be a result of whatever discolored her leg. We just don't know."
Mom eyed her daughter, anyway, her eyes narrowed. Then sighed.
"You'll keep us informed?" she said.
"Of course," the nurse said. A moment later she was gone but Kellie failed to note her leaving, or if she did, failed to remember it later. Her attention was wholly engrossed in the beautiful rain.
* * *
It was 3 A.M. Kellie wasn't aware of the time, only that she was awake and felt like absolute shit. Looking woozily around the room, she was glad to find that her parents and brother and sister had gone. God, her head hurt. What had they given her, anyway? Her hand went unconsciously to her right leg and she grimaced.
"That should go away very soon," a low, rough voice told her. Startled, Kellie looked over to find a man sitting in one of the chairs, against the wall. It took her a full five seconds to recognize the face, and surprise replaced her fear.
"Professor Grove?' she said wonderingly. "What are you doing here?"
Grove pushed his bulk free of the chair. He was 6'2", be-speckled, dark-haired, swarthy, unshaven, rumpled looking even in a crisp white lab coat. A stethoscope hung around his neck, doctor-like. He shambled closer to the bed and nodded in greeting.
"How do you feel, Kellie?"
Kellie was confused. She knew it was late, knew from the quietude of the building it was the middle of the night; so why was Professor Grove was here, regardless of the improbability of his being here at all? Blinking, she looked at the door, back to her biology teacher, at the door again, and then back to Grove.
Grove joined her at the bedside. She controlled an urge to shrink away. Grove was slightly menacing, even at the best times, which this most assuredly was not. She was fairly certain it was Grove that had stuck in the leg that afternoon.
"Why are you here?" Her voice was a tremolo. She flinched when Grove reached out and placed the back of his hand against her forehead. A shiver ran down her spine, shaking the bed. She cowered, looking up at him fearfully.
"No fever," Grove observed. He placed his fingers against the pulse in her neck; Kellie flinched in response. "Don't be concerned. I'm not going to hurt you."
"You already have," Kellie countered. "Today at Raymond's." She withstood another deep shiver. "What did you inject me with?"
Grove ignored her question. "How's your leg?"
Kellie shook her head. She felt around inconspicuously, or tried to, for the nurse's call button. Grove removed it from the top of the bed and hung it out of reach over a plastic assembly attached to the wall. He moved the phone as well, placing it on a table out of reach. She made to scream as he began to move the blanket, but he clamped a meaty hand over her mouth. Kellie's eyes shot open to maximum roundness.
"I assure you--" He knocked Kellie's hands aside and bared her right leg. "I have no intention of hurting you. I need to see the injection site, that's all." Kellie struggled vainly to keep his free hand from exposing her thigh.
"Please be still. I have no interest in you sexually." He bent to look more closely at the discoloration and muttered, "I hadn't expected that." He grunted when Kellie recoiled at his light probe of the wound with a fingertip. Standing erect, looking down at her, he warned her not to scream and lifted his hand an experimental inch away from Kellie's mouth, and then dropped it to his side when she didn't suck in air. He snorted as Kellie frantically covered herself again.
"What did you do to me?" she demanded. "What was in that syringe?"
Grove pursed his lips. In the corridor, a hushed voice requested a Dr. Stanton to call the 4th floor nurses station. An alarm, one of hundreds she'd heard in her 10-hour stay in the hospital, bleated softly from across the hall. Grove ignored both.