Horror Fiction:

" Doctor Phage's Hospital "

Written by Jonathan Wojcik

   It all started with a cold.

  At least, that's what I thought it was. It had always been rare for me to catch even the slightest bug, which I probably owed a bit to my moderate germophobia; I practiced impeccable hygiene, and avoided any contact I could with common sources of filth. Not difficult when you work a real, respectable job. The kind with your own private office. The kind where you never need to take the bus, do your own shopping or otherwise share air with Wal-Mart shoppers. Even when I did get sick, it typically came and went in the span of a work day, hardly more than a bit of a sniffle.

  Needless to say, I became very agitated when a bit of a sniffle turned into full-blown congestion, a burning in my throat and even a minor fever that persisted for three days. Then four. Then five.

  I hadn't been to a doctor since grade school, when a bout of pinkeye likely instilled much of my ongoing revulsion towards dirty people and the unknowable contagions wafting from their greasy pits, hairy hippie legs and sticky-fingered children. I barely remembered how to schedule an appointment, and I was more than a little reluctant to admit that much defeat.

  Nonetheless, by day ten of the same steady symptoms, I called up a rather high priced local clinic - hopefully high priced enough to deter the presence of everyday street trash - scheduled an appointment for the next day, and tucked myself into bed.

  That was the last thing I remembered before the hospital.

  The next time I knew consciousness, I was sitting in a cramped exam room, naked except for a simple paper smock. My clothes and shoes didn't even seem to be in the room. I wasn't about to panic, yet; I'd been throwing whatever I could buy over the counter at this damn flu, or whatever it might have really been. I was probably suffering some sort of drug interaction, a Nyquil-induced hangover. I'd done worse to myself.

  ...Then again, there were a few things bothering me about the room. Considering what I was expecting to pay, it should have been a hell of a lot cleaner. Sparkling. White. It looked more like something run out of some family bumpkin doctor's house, maybe converted from a walk-in closet. Old, weathered tile floor. Completely tasteless, flowery wallpaper. Dingy yellow lighting. I could swear the whole room was even a little skewed and slanted, though maybe it was still the pills. How many had I taken again?

  The room's "equipment" was even more disquieting. My experience with the medical world was obviously a bit rusty, but I always thought the tools of the trade looked a little more professional than the colorful, chunky plastic implements on the surrounding shelves and counters. They looked more like children's toys, like the phony doctor playset I'd had as a kid, before the pinkeye and the mental scars.

  Maybe I was still asleep. I'd already been having some bizarre and vivid dreams on my cheap pill cocktail...though if I were dreaming this lucidly, I should have been having a three-way on the moon with the receptionist and my supervisor's wife by now. Certainly not cold, naked and confused in a dirty backwoods hospital built by babies.

  I was pulled rudely from my pondering by a glimpse of movement. Then another. Then a third. The worst kind of movement. The kind of movement that can only be ascribed to something all clean, educated people revile - that of bugs. A tiny, dark speck was creeping along the edge of the nearest counter top. Another was climbing a jar of over-sized q-tips. Everywhere I looked, another crawling fleck of life in what was required by law to be a safe and sterile environment. I leaned in for a closer look, nauseated and increasingly furious. I didn't know my bugs - what rational person ever needed or wanted to? - but these were especially ugly little parasites. I couldn't even see any legs. They looked like little more than fuzzy, transparent little beans or spheres, slithering around like slugs.

  "Sorry for the wait," piped a perky, proper English accent.

  I felt like I almost jumped through the ceiling. I reeled, ready to lay into this guy with my disgust and outrage at the kind of conditions he left the place in, only to find myself at a complete loss for words.

  The drug-induced dream theory returned to my thoughts full force as I attempted to figure out what was speaking to me. Only two or three feet tall, it looked like some sort of faceted, plastic capsule or crystal set atop a thin, metallic pole. At the bottom end of this pipe-body was a ring of long, silvery legs like jointed wires. I knew I'd seen this shape before, something from fifth grade biology, but fuck if I could remember its significance. A pair of glasses were somehow affixed to the front of its...head?

  It spoke again, the chunky crystal flapping open in a crude, jagged mouth. "You can call me Doctor H.M. Phage, T.E."

  "I suppose you're wondering about my tie." It gestured to a hideously colored bow tie where it could have had something like a neck. At least it spoke politely.

  No, actually. That wasn't even on my radar at the moment. I still couldn't find any words.

  "Awe-inspiring, I know." He adjusted his glasses with one shining spider-leg and scrutinized a small clipboard. Even in plain view, I couldn't tell how he was holding it. "It says here you've got acute sinusitis, throat inflammation, productive cough, everybody hates you, mild but persistent fever, yadda yadda, terminal condition, advanced stages...stop me if I'm going too fast."

  I wasn't paying attention. I didn't care about my cold at this point. I just wanted to know where the hell I was, how the hell I got there, what the hell that was from science class that looks like a robot's popscicle, why one was talking to me, why I was surrounded by bugs and where the fuck my shoes were.

  All that came out was "yessir, and my tummy hurts."

  ...My "tummy hurts?" Why would I even say that? Just how fucked up was I?

  The bow-tie wearing molecule, or whatever it was, tossed its little clipboard aside and straightened itself up as though swelling with pompous, intellectual pride.

  "Well, it's pretty cut and dry then, isn't it?" He adjusted his glasses again.

  "You've got...COOTIES!"

  Completely against my will, my hands slapped themselves against my cheeks, my jaw dropping as my body involuntarily uttered a forced, emotionless "WHOA NO! Is it serious, doc?!"

  "Dreadfully so, I'm afraid!" responded the bug thing. "Fortunately nothing a generous transfusion won't fix."

  I found myself in control again. "I...the...wait, what kind of transfusion?" Dream or not, I couldn't shake my very real sense of dread.

  The little guy perked up again. "A MEDICAL transfusion!"

  This wasn't funny. "A medical transfusion OF WHAT?" I barked.

  I was getting sick of this freak and this unfunny parody of a doctor's visit. Worse still, I could swear the number of those "bugs" in the room had been steadily increasing this entire time.

  "Sounds like we got a real comedian, here" burbled a new voice, slurred and wet.

  What did I say that was funny?

  A huge, yellow-gloved hand slid open the plastic curtain between me and the rest of the dream-hospital. I could only see blackness behind it.

  This new being was, from the neck down, considerably more humanoid than "Doctor Phage," and from the neck up, considerably more alarming. Dressed in a stained and dirty white coat, its big barrel-shaped body teetered on stubby, tapered legs with impossibly tiny feet, its lanky ape-like arms dragging on the floor. Where its head should have been was only a tremendous syringe, like the head of a monstrous glass mosquito. A pair of slimy, bloodshot eyeballs hovered inside the transparent tube, steadily rotating in different directions.

  This monstrosity was quickly followed by a third entity. I wasn't really sure which had spoken. This one was by far the most unpleasant, a wet-looking, otherwise featureless glob of giant, gelatinous boils and sores, pulsating at various rhythms. One spindly, nearly skeletal little arm, its only visible appendage, controlled its ancient-looking electric wheelchair.

  Doctor Phage hopped up on a nearby stool, meeting me at eye level. "Don't worry, Groucho, this isn't going to hurt me at all."

  The joke wasn't funny the first hundred times I'd heard it in bad sitcoms. This time, it was terrifying.

  The syringe-beast did the second most alarming thing after existing; stretching its "head" on a long, ugly, turkey-like neck, it plunged the tip of its needle, thick around as a crowbar, deep into the wheelchair-bound blister-man, and noisily filled its tube with something that looked like frothy, chunky melted butter. The eyeballs bobbed around in it like tiny buoys.

  My "medical transfusion" was being prepped.

  The walls were positively swarming with the "bugs" by now. The bugs any idiot who's seen a soap commercial could identify as magnified bacteria.

  Logic continued to scream at me that none of this was real, but the rest of me couldn't be bothered to care anymore. I finally jumped back off the examination chair and came out with the only thing I could.


I...I need...

the men's room!"

"There's a bedpan" quipped Phage.

My heart was starting to race. "I'd...reeeally...prefer the men's room." My voice cracked.

"...It's a VERY nice bedpan!" croaked that mystery voice again.

"It...uh...isn't big enough?" I winced at my own lame excuse, bracing myself for a giant steel skewer to impale my head and fill me with a monster's pus.

  Instead, all three nightmare doctors seemed to reel back in perfect unison, as though the implied size of my bowel movements were the most disturbing thing in the room. There was a long, awkward silence.

"Make a right down the hall, it's the third door." Doctor Phage spoke with an almost humbled tone, for once.

"Hurry back!" said either needle-face or the pustule, with an unwholesome sort of relish.

  I tried not to break into a suspiciously frantic run as I slipped out of the examination room, determined to head straight for the exit and never look back.

That was, by my count, about a year and a half ago.

I'm still sick.

I never did find that exit.