The Transplant

The warmth of the sun was something Henry had become unfamiliar with over the course of his treatment for bone marrow cancer treatment. He had spent a year mostly confined to the hospital bed. Now, just months after a successful bone marrow transplant, he sits atop a rock on a mountain overlooking the Los Angeles Basin, enjoying the warmth of the sun on his face.

Henry’s daughter, Nancy, sits down next to him and embraces him with a hug that radiates more warmth than the sun on his face. “I miss mommy,” she says.

Tears stream down his face as he recalls how much his wife had courageously battled skin cancer just one year before his own battle. She had not been so fortunate. “I know, honey. I miss her too, but I know she’s in a better place,” Henry sobs.

As they walk back to Henry’s car, he pulls his keys from his jacket pocket and taps Nancy on the arm and displays the keys in his open palm. Nancy looks down at the keys and then up at her father with wide eyes, “Are you serious daddy?”

“I’m as serious a bone marrow cancer, sweetheart!” He smiles.

Nancy frowns and looks down, “That’s not funny, daddy.”

“I’m sorry, sweetheart. I know these last five years have been hard on you. I’m trying to find humor though. I know it was more scary for you than it was for me. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be 16, having just lost your mother and having a father with both feet in the grave. I’m well now.” He pauses as he lifts his daughters chin with his hand, “That’s something I’m dead serious about.”

Nancy cracks a smile as she takes the keys from her father’s hand, “You know how I know you’re feeling better, daddy?” She starts walking towards the driver’s side of the car.

“What’s that, sweetheart?”

She chuckles, “Because you’re back to telling lame dad jokes like,” she switches to a mocking voice, “That’s something I’m dead serious about”. You’re such a dork, and I love you so much. Wouldn’t it be ironic that you survive bone marrow cancer only to die from letting your daughter drive you down a mountain?” She gets in the car.

Henry runs up to the passenger door and opens it and jumps inside. “Okay, that’s not very funny!” He says as he closes the door and puts on his seat belt.

#

“Remember, I’m just a short drive away, sweetheart,” Henry says to Nancy as she awkwardly stands in front of her on-campus dorm building.

She smiles, “Yes, daddy. I already promised to visit you on each of the days you listed in your email.”

“You didn’t mark the email as SPAM did you?”

“Oh my God! Of course not, daddy! You are the most important thing in the whole world to me!” Nancy says as she throws her arms around him and hugs him tighter than she ever has. “I know it’s not going to be easy for you to be home all by yourself. You can call me or text me at any time if you need someone to talk with.” Henry smiles as he embraces his daughter one last time before he makes the short hour-long drive back to his house from her college.

As he’s pulling into the driveway of his house, he has a sudden and disturbing vision flash before his eyes. He’s startled out of the vision as his car hits his garage door. Henry sits in his car, trying to comprehend what just happened. He looks up at the front end of his car smashed a foot-and-a-half into his garage door and again sees the same vision of a leg of a woman on an operating table with all of the skin removed from the shin, exposing the bone which has the top layer of bone surgically removed. He can see the bone marrow inside of the bone and bloody tissue all around the bone as a medical assistant uses a bloodied cloth to soak up the blood that oozes from the tissue.

He shakes his head and puts his car in reverse to pull it away from the garage door. After inspecting his car and the garage, he goes into his house and calls doctor Rascher to report the unusual incident. At the end of the conversation, Henry’s doctor recommends a psychologist to Henry, and he sets up an appointment for two weeks later.

#

Henry anxiously taps his heel as he’s biting his fingernails, awaiting his first meeting with his psychologist. It’s been two weeks since his first horrific vision, and the visions are now daily occurrences and even more disturbing! He’s also noticed significant changes in his food preferences, music tastes, and has oddly become interested in military history programs on The History Channel. His psychologist welcomes him into her office and notices right away that Henry is not doing well.

His psychologist starts off, “Why don’t we start with some background of your circumstances. When we spoke on the phone a couple weeks ago, you had mentioned that your wife had died from skin cancer a year before you were diagnosed with bone marrow cancer. Let’s start there.”

Henry struggles to walk her through the experience and his memories. “I feel like I’m forgetting my wife. I feel like my brain is no longer mine. Something just doesn’t feel right ever since the bone marrow transplant!” He’s becoming increasingly agitated.

Calmly, she states, “Well, Henry, you have gone through one traumatic experience after another over the last five years. You’ve lost your wife. You’ve nearly lost your own life and orphaned your wonderful daughter. It’s understandable that this level of physical and mental stress might result in unusual behavior.”

“But I can’t get the images out of my head. There is a woman lying on the table, and I am operating on her shin bone. I can see her bone marrow!” Henry shouts!

His psychologist remains calm, “Henry, does this woman on the table remind you of your deceased wife?”

“No! I feel no love for her at all. I hate this woman on the table. I feel nothing but hatred towards her. I feel like I want to kill her!” Henry sits up aggressively on the psychologist’s sofa.

Still remaining calm, the psychologist continues, “It seems you might need some additional help that I might not be able to provide you with in a single session, Henry. It sounds to me that you want to check yourself into a facility of top American medical scientists that can monitor you and ensure that you are not going to hurt yourself or anyone else.”

Henry’s eyes turn from anger and rage to complete peace as he looks at the psychologist, “You mean I will be surrounded by esteemed professionals of the Unites States medical industry?”

“Yes, Henry. If you like. It is entirely voluntary at Raven’s Bridge.” She begins writing on a prescription pad. “You can leave whenever you like. If you like the place, you can stay there as long as you want. If you don’t like the place, you can come back here and see me. Perhaps we can find you another place that’s a better fit. But only if you like.”

Henry’s hands are shaking uncontrollably as he’s practically drooling on his fingernails he’s been biting incessantly the entire session. His psychologist places a paperclip on the prescription paper and hands it to him. He quickly snatches it out her hands as he walks out the door.

“I will call them to let them know you are coming, Henry.” She says as Henry hurries out the door.

#

Henry’s daughter is downtrodden as she leaves her father’s nursing home. His mental health has gotten worse over the last nine months, and this time he doesn’t want to speak with her during her visit that he cuts short. As Nancy exits the building, she bumps into a woman in her mid-40s with a stern face. “Mind where you’re going young lady,” the woman says with a harsh German accent.

“I’m terribly sorry, ma’am,” Nancy says as she looks up at the lady. “Are you okay?” she asks as she looks at the lady and has a sense that she’s seen her before.

“I am fine,” the lady snaps at Nancy. “Someone less agile than myself might not fair so well with your irresponsible behavior.”

“I am very sorry, ma’am,” Nancy says as she hurries off to her car.

Nancy sits in her car sobbing for nearly half-an-hour. She looks at pictures of her mom and dad on her phone. She runs through so many happy memories of both of them and anguishes over her father no longer wanting to meet with her. She reminiscences of all the wonderful experiences she had with her father. As she wipes tears from her eyes she sees the grumpy lady exit from the building with her father. They stand on the porch of the building talking with each other.

Henry stares at the grumpy lady who has been visiting him weekly for the last 3 months. The question is always the same…

“Have you discovered who you are?” the lady asks Henry in her thick German accent.

Having answered “I’m Henry” 12 times in a row, this time his answer is different. “They say my name is Henry, aber ich weiß… nicht…” he shakes his head and looks down.

The lady leans in and whispers, “Oskar?”

“Yes, ma’am! Yes! Oskar!” he exclaims as he lifts his head, eyes wide open with a wild look on his face.

“Control yourself, Oskar!” the lady quietly reprimands.

He leans into the lady, “Ich bin Oskar Schröder!” He whispers with excitement.

“Well, then Oskar. Go back in and ask for Mr. McCloy, and have him check out this Mr. Henry from this shithole. Meet me at the bottom of the stairs. Our mission is well underway.”

Oskar goes back into the building and comes back out with his suitcase 20 minutes later. He walks down the stairs and follows closely behind the lady. “Wie heißen Sie??” he asks. The lady does not respond as Oskar continues to tail her awkwardly as she has an unusual gait.

Oskar sees the two stout men at the end of the walkway. As he and the lady approach the men, they raise their right hands coyly. She responds with a lazy wave of her own right forearm; an unmistakable wave… an unmistakable gait… Oskar has goosebumps. “It couldn’t possibly be…” He mumbles to himself.

The lady stops and turns to Oskar. Folding her arms, she smirks; realizing Oskar has come to an important realization. She wags her eye brows once, waiting for Oskar to speak.

“Mein Furher?”

The Photobooth

“Whatever you do, do not look at the photos on the proof sheet. Only look at the photos to give to the people that come out of the photo booth,” Dimitri tells his new employee Steve.

“Got it, Mr. Karran. I’ll make sure to only look at the four images that are printed on the photo booth. If they need an additional set, I’ll just print the four the computer shows on the print list.” Steve reiterates everything Dimitri has told him during his training for how to run the photo booth.

“Okay, kid! This is all you! I’m counting on you to do a good job, and I’m trusting you to follow all the detailed instructions I have given you.”

“I’ve got this Mr. Karran! Enjoy the fight.”

Dimitri takes a couple of steps away from Steve and then turns around.

“You’ve been training me to six months. I’ve got this. Trust me!” Steve smiles back to Dimitri.

Dimitri turns and heads out the door of the venue and gives one last glance towards Steve before closing the door and heading to the underground boxing match he’d been planning to go to all week.

Steve makes some minor refinements to the lighting in the photo booth and takes pictures of himself to ensure the lighting and output are producing the proper results. Everything looks good except for one spot in each of the photos. Steve examines the camera lens and takes more photos. The spot is still there. As he stares intently at the photo, he’s started by a young woman who comes up behind him.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you jump”, she says.

Steve is smitten by her beauty. He rubs the back of his head nervously as he’s stumbles around for words to say to her.

“How long have you been running the photo booth?”

“Oh, um… I’ve been working with Mr. Karran for the last six months. His photo booth takes the best pictures and has all the coolest features.”

“I’m Leslie, by the way.” Leslie extends her hand and bats her eyes at Steve. “You say this takes the best photos, eh? I always look lousy in photos. I don’t even have an Instagram account because my selfies always make me look like I’m deformed. I can never get the right angle.”

“Oh, that seems hard to believe. I’m Steve, by the way.”

Leslie leans in a bit closer to Steve. Steve gets even more nervous, and his hands begin shaking slightly.

His voice cracks as he says, “If you want, I can take a few photos of you, and you can see how beautiful you… errr, I mean… how good the photos come out.”

Leslie skips into the photo booth, “Alright Ansel Adams! Take your best shot!”

Steve has the photo booth take several photos of Leslie as she poses in a variety of flirtatious and playful poses. Steve is smiling as she’s playing around in the photo booth. Steve senses someone standing behind him. He turns around, and a very large man is standing with his arms folded across his chest staring down at Steve.

Leslie comes out of the photo booth laughing and smiling and pauses as she looks at Steve. “Hi, honey! This is Steve. Let me see the photos, Steve.”

Steve hands the photo booth photos to Leslie and notices Leslie’s boyfriend staring at his every move with a clenched jaw. Leslie is smiling as she’s looking at the photos.

“These are great, Steve!”

“How about I take photos of both of you?” Steve nervously says, trying to get Leslie’s boyfriend to get out of his personal space.

“That’s a great idea, Steve! C’mon Renee! Let’s take some photos together.”

Renee reluctantly goes into the photo booth with Leslie. Leslie begins flirting with the camera again, but Steve knows she’s flirting with him. He just can’t get passed the fact that there’s a 200 lb pile of meat in the photo booth with her who seems perfectly willing to snap his head off without even breaking a sweat.

“Smile, Renee,” Steve enjoys his one moment of power over his arch nemesis giant in the photo booth.

Leslie looks at Renee and notices he’s not smiling. “Ya, Renee, smile!”

#

A few days later, Steve is at lunch at his favorite place with Dimitri.

“I really appreciate you doing such a good job at the wedding the other night, Steve. The wedding organizer said you did a great job, and she put us on her short list of preferred vendors. I have a special gift for you.” Dimitri hands Steve an envelope.

Steve opens the envelope and sees $300 inside. His eyes widen! “Thank you, so much, Mr Karran.”

“Hey, don’t get all mushy on me, kid. My fighter won. If he had lost, you wouldn’t be getting a bonus.”

Steve is looking up at the television in the diner when he sees a picture of Leslie on the screen with the caption: Missing Person.

Dimitri notices that Steve is suddenly disturbed by something. He turns to look at the television, “You know that girl?”

“Uh, no, Mr. Karran. Just sad to see someone so beautiful go missing. I hope they find her. Hey, I need to get going to see my mom in the home.” Steve gets up, leaving his food half eaten.

“Okay, Steve. You do that. I’ll get this. Tell your mom I said hello, and that I’m very proud of your hard work.”

Steve leaves the diner in a hurry, and Dimitri is puzzled by his behavior. The wedding planner from the wedding enters the diner and notices Dimitri sitting by himself. She comes over sits down across from Dimitri, and they begin talking about business. Dimitri notices the woman’s face change from gleefulness to sadness. He again, turns to look at the television.

“You know that girl?”

“She was one of the bridesmaids at the wedding a few days ago. The one Steve was working at. That’s so sad. I hope they find her alive, but in cases like that it almost never ends well.”

#

Dimitri parks his car in front of Steve’s apartment and heads up to his unit. He knocks on the door, but there is no answer. He uses the spare that Steve had given him a month earlier to unlock the door and goes inside. He looks around the apartment and notices the large knife is missing from the knife block in Steve’s kitchen. He finds photo booth images of Leslie sitting on the nightstand next to Steve’s bed. He runs out of the apartment, locks the door, and jumps into his car to head to his office.

Dimitri arrives at his office and pulls up the proof sheet box from the wedding when Steve operated the photo booth. He goes through all the proof sheets, but a couple of them are missing. “Steve must has taken the proof sheets,” Dimiti thinks to himself as he begins to panic.

Just as Dimiri comes to this realization, two police detectives enter his office. They ask Dimitri a few questions about the evening and about his whereabouts. Dimitri tries to dodge their questions and not reveal anything about Steve or the fact that he himself suspects Steve might have been involved. The cops notice he’s acting paranoid and ask him to come in to the station for a few more questions.

“Anything I can do to help, officers.”

The detectives bring him down to the station. Once Dimitri is out of sight of his office, detectives and uniformed officers begin searching his office. They find all the copies of photos from the photo booth sessions he’s done before. They also find the proof sheets and notice that there are several disturbing images on the proof sheets. Images where people are strangling other people, stabbing each other, and performing other violent acts against each other.

One of the detectives recognizes one of the girls in the photos is also a girl who had gone missing about 4 months ago. The detective has the officers collect all the photos and bring them to the station and then she notifies the two main detectives about the findings. She brings in a team of people with missing person cases and photos that they use to search through the pile of images collected from Dimitri’s office to see if there are other missing person cases the findings will shed light on. They find another half dozen missing person matches!

Meanwhile, the two detectives are interrogating Dimitri about his business and his whereabouts on the night of the wedding when Leslie went missing. Fearing what might take place if he let’s the police know that he was at an illegal fighting match, Dimitri is evasive and doesn’t have an alibi that the detectives can confirm. Dimitri becomes increasingly nervous, and the detectives become more convinced that they either have their man or an accomplice.

#

Steve is sitting in his car outside a warehouse in downtown. He’s staring at the proof sheet he took from Dimitri’s office and is fixated on a picture of Renee choking Leslie and the next frame showing her passed out and Renee smiling. Steve recognizes the inside of the warehouse because it’s a location where he has done photo shoots before. He works up the courage to go into the warehouse with the kitchen knife he took from his apartment.

He opens the door slowly and enters the warehouse. There’s a section of the warehouse setup for photos with lighting and furniture. The furniture matches what Steve noticed in the photos on the proof sheet. He hears Leslie’s voice from the photo area and goes running over to find her standing in lace lingerie, talking on the phone. He hides the kitchen knife behind his back.

She notices Steve and smiles. “I have to go. I’ll talk to you later.” She hangs up her phone. “I was hoping you’d find me, Steve.” She walks seductively over to Steve, licking her dark red lips as she places her arms on his shoulders and plants a hot, passionate kiss on Steve’s lips. Steve notices the photography lights flash. His body practically goes limp as Leslie begins to passionately kiss him deeper and deeper.

He feels the knife slip out of his hand but doesn’t hear it hit the ground. Then he feels a sharp pain enter the left side of his back. He tries to pull away from Leslie, but she holds him tight as he feels another sharp pain enter the right side of his back and his body loses control. He notices the photography lights flash again and again. He feels warm liquid running down his lower back and down his legs as his legs begin to buckle under his own weight; all the while, Leslie continues to hold him tight and kiss him passionately, muffling his cries of pain.

He can’t feel his legs as he falls to the ground and Leslie falls with him and straddles him, holding his face as she continues to plant kisses all over his face, smearing his face with bright red lipstick. He feels another sharp pain in the right side of his rib cage and suddenly cannot breathe. He’s gasping for air as he can feel the warmth of his blood running out the right side of his rib cage. He notices the photography lights continue to flash. He spits up blood out of his mouth and it runs down his face as he chokes on the blood running into his lungs.

Leslie licks the blood from the corner of Steve’s mouth as he looks up and sees Renee standing over them both with Steve’s blood soaked kitchen knife in his hand. She kisses Steve passionately again, swirling her tongue around in his mouth filled with blood. She feels Steve’s body go completely limp, and she sits up on top of Steve’s nearly lifeless body and reaches over to grab the knife from Renee’s hand. She reaches high into the air with the knife. Steve notices the photography lights flash one last time.