Nick Romeo

The Lifelines

The lines on the monitors flattened, while a single tone emitted from the machine drowning out the silence in the room.

“I’m afraid we did all that we could here.” The surgeon lowers his head to match the discouragement in his voice, “I wish we could have saved her.”

“I will notify her family.”

“Thank you, Nurse Venugopal.”

After the team finished pulling the last tube and wire from the patient’s body, a thick layer of fog formed at their feet. As the surgeon, nurse, and staff looked around trying to assess the cause, the doors burst open. A tall man enters the room wearing a bright blue lab coat and a giant plastic mask in the form of a black and white cat head. He is accompanied by a woman wearing a red lab coat, an enormous papier-mâché dragon head, and dragon wings extending from her shoulders to the floor.

The man with the cat head speaks: “Hello doctors, nurses, and humanoids. I am DJ Cat-a-List, and this is my associate, Dragon Bones. We are here to help.”

Dragon Bones steps forward, holds up a double-ended fire stick, and launches a column of fire from her mouth, igniting both sides. She spins it rapidly in front of her. A group of men and women dressed in navy blue scrubs wearing plastic animal masks representing various species, which can be found in the backyards of southwestern Pennsylvania, rushes into the room. They surround the operating room personnel.

“We will be handling this from here,” DJ Cat-a-List shouts as he presses a button on his key fob. Two speakers descend from the ceiling and stop when they are centered about the patient’s ears. A mirror ball, strobe lights, and colored lasers forming geometric shapes on the walls also drop out of the ceiling.

“This is ridiculous, ” the lead surgeon announces. “I’m calling security.” He jumps to the cabinet in the corner and picks up the telephone receiver. “What? No dial tone?” He slams the phone down. “Mrs. Venugopal, can you make the call? I left my cell phone in the locker.”

She checks her phone, “It doesn’t look like I have service.” She repeatedly taps and presses on the screen. “It’s not working.”

One by one, the staff confirm that their phones are also inoperable, as a table rises from the floor in front of DJ Cat-a-List. A row of music-mixing equipment covers the table.

“Does anyone realize there is a dead body in this room?” the surgeon pleads. “We have to notify the family. What are you doing? This is insane. Stop it! Stop this right now.”

Dragon Bones pushes the surgeon down into a chair. “Sit. It’s not like we can possibly do any worse than you.” She turns around to address the flock of people with animal masks and hospital uniforms. “Places, everyone.”

The animal people crawl to various spots in the room. Some take up positions on top of the cabinets, others stand on the available tables and chairs. They begin to sway in harmony to the low rhythmic bass sounds now emanating from the speakers. DJ Cat-a-List has one side of the earphones pressed to one of his cat ears as he bobs his head to the beat. The music gets louder.

Dragon Bones jumps onto the gurney, standing directly over the deceased patient. She points to the surgery staff who are now huddled in a corner with the surgeon, shifting uneasily in his chair. “Raise your hands in the aiiiiiiiiir! SWAY to DJ Cat-aaaaaa-Liiiiiiiiiiiist!”

The staff obey the orders of Dragon Bones, even taking it a step further by moving their bodies to the music, all except the surgeon, who now has his arms tightly folded across his chest.

“Stop listening to this crazy lady.”

“Let’s just get through this. Maybe one of us can sneak away when they aren’t looking and call for help,” Nurse Venugopal whispers, grabbing the surgeon’s arms and trying to raise them in the air as instructed.

“That’s right yinz. This is a celebration… a celebration of LIFE,” DragonBones shouts.

With that cue, the music gets even louder, pumping melodic piano synth sequences at a pace double the speed of a human heartbeat. She points to the swaying mass of staff.

“That’s right, I wanna see you MOVE.”

She swings her fire sticks around her head and behind her back while dancing in place over the lifeless body. The cadaver moves each time Dragon Bones energetically lifts and lowers her feet on the table.

The music continues to get louder. The basslines rattle the cabinet doors, pulsing along the fog-covered floor. The lasers flicker and bounce with the beat.

The surgeon remains dead still, hands cupped over his ears.

“C’mon doctor, have some fun,” Nurse Venugopal shouts as she tries to reposition the surgeon’s hands. “Just do what they say so we can escape!”

“This is terrible. I will see everyone arrested for this!”

Dragon Bones jumps off the gurney and rushes toward the surgeon, twirling her fire stick. The masked animal dancers continue their moves with the upmost choreographed precision. Dragon Bones stands within a foot on the surgeon’s lap and bends down so that her dragon eyes are level with his own.

“You don’t want to dance? Well, what do you want to do? This is life. Now savor it.”

She flails her arms and legs even faster, spinning the fire stick, carving paths through the dark, foggy room. Plumes of smoke trail from the speed of her movements. The staff circle around Dragon Bones, sharing the moment and dancing along with her. The surgeon squirms in an effort to keep his distance from them.

“I have never seen anything this horrible in my life. This is disgusting!”

Dragon Bones stops dancing and signals the staff to stop as well. She again turns to face the surgeon.

She points her fire stick at him. “This is not ‘ridiculous.’ This is not ‘disgusting.’ THIS IS LIFE!”

She positions the fire stick in front of her mouth and spews an enormous plume of flame, brightening the room with an intense orange glow. The staff and surgeon shield their faces from its burning light.

When their eyes clear, they find the room is empty. No colorful people wearing animal masks, no party lights, no speakers or DJ equipment. Even the fog has disappeared.

“Nurse Venugopal, what is going on here?” the surgeon says, finally getting out of his chair. “Is everyone alright?”

They nod and confirm that they are fine. “Surgeon, are you okay?”

“Yes, Nurse Venugopal, I am… Nurse Venugopal… our patient.”

The surgeon rushes over to the body on the gurney. The staff huddle behind him and the nurse.

“Look. Nurse,” the surgeon says, pointing to the patient’s leg. “It’s moving…”

The patient sits up, blinks a few times, yawns and looks around the room, “Where am I?”

A member of the medical staff screams.

“I can’t believe it…” the surgeon mutters.

“We’re so happy to see you recover, but please don’t move too much or too quickly,” Nurse Venugopal interjects. “You were in pretty bad shape for a moment there. We thought you were…”

“Really? Well… I’m thirsty…”

“I think you should stay for a few tests,” the surgeon says “Don’t you agree, nurse?”

The surgeon’s eyes are still bulging out of his head, but he is trying to keep calm. Maybe the vibrations shook apart the remaining tumors, he thinks. Maybe they somehow defibrillated her heart.

Nurse Venugopal says, “Why don’t we give her a minute?” She places her hand on the patient’s shoulder, “Let me get you some water.”

One of the staff members nods and walks toward the door, but before he reaches the threshold, the door bursts open. A man and woman march into the room wearing full surgical gear with their faces covered. The man speaks first.

“Hello friends, we’ll take it from here.”

He had a shaky, high-pitched voice. The woman waved, and her eyes squinted in a congenial expression.

“And who are you?” the surgeon demands to know.

“Ah yes, we were just assigned to the case. I am Doctor Katnik, and this is my assistant Nurse Bonecki. Here are our documents.” He unfolds a batch of papers and hands them to the surgeon.

The surgeon flips through a few pages. “Well, this looks okay, I guess. I wonder why haven’t I heard of this before? I have never seen a change in staff in this particular situation.”

Nurse Venugopal looks at the papers as well.

The high-pitched doctor says, “No problem. It happens all the time.” He waves his hand and the female assistant steps to the side. A group of orderlies walk through the door, surround the patient, kick out the wheel locks on the operating gurney, and begin moving her out the door.

“Hey!” the surgeon shouts.

The high-pitched doctor turns around along with his masked assistant. “Yes?”

Meanwhile, the staff continues to wheel the patient out the door.

“Miss, you really shouldn’t smoke,” the surgeon says the high-pitched doctor’s assistant. “No offense, but I detect a really strong smoky odor. I try to tell all my fellow heath care professionals.”

“No offense taken,” she says, sniffing her uniform. “I stopped as of a few minutes ago. I promise.”

“Sorry,” the high-pitched doctor continues. “We have to go. Her mother, brother, and sister will be so happy to see her.”

And with that, he turns and follows the rest of the group out the door.

“Well, Nurse Venugopal,” the surgeon says, waving goodbye to the exiting group. “He certainly had a strange voice, didn’t he!”

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