When Annabell’s cold turned to a respiratory infection that left her feverish and wheezing, Baptist Memorial Hospital welcomed her with a fresh bed and a smiling wait staff. Annabell’s mother maintained a careful vigil, only stepping away for impromptu meetings with nurses and doctors about her daughter’s waning condition.
It was during one of these meetings when her mother had left the room that Annabell met Doctor Goodkind. He was a small man, bald with a snow-white beard and a smile that lit the room. He entered with a spring in his step and managed to check her charts and fluids before he noticed her.
“I’m so sorry, Annabell,” he exclaimed, “I didn’t realize you were awake. I’m Doctor Goodkind, and I’ll be taking good care of you.”
He held out his hand, but Annabell only brushed it before the machinery began to beep. Doctor Goodkind studied the machine before winking at Annabell.
“Don’t worry,” he said, suddenly on his way out the door. “Let me get someone to fix that.”
He rounded the corner as a nurse ducked into the doorway, gave her a polite check-up and reset the equipment.
“They’re taking good care of you, sweetie,” mother said when Annabell recounted the story later that evening. “This hospital is one of the best in the country.”
Doctor Goodkind peeked in over the next two days — just a quick smile and wave from the door — when her mother was out. On the third day, he slipped in and greeted her with the same, wide smile. His beard seemed thinner, cheekbones more exposed and dominant over his pale skin.
He checked her heart rate before he left. Annabell began to cough when the icy stethoscope settled over her heart. Buzzers sounded, but Doctor Goodkind listened until he was satisfied. Then he was off again with a wink and a grin before three nurses hurried into the room.
Annabell wondered what all the fuss was about. “Doctor Goodkind is taking good care of me,” she told them, settling into her sheets. When she looked up again, the nurses were staring at her with wide eyes.
After dinner, Annabell noticed the tears on mother’s cheeks. When she asked what was wrong, mother shook her head. “Nothing, sweetie,” she said. “Just rest. I love you.”
“Love you, too,” Annabell said.
That night, while her mother slept in the armchair, Doctor Goodkind slipped in through the door. He approached with his usual smile and a wink. Annabell tried to smile back, but she was tired.
“Annabell,” he said, “do you remember me?”
“Good, I don’t think I ever shook your hand. Can we try now?”
He extended a hand, white and smooth like bone. Annabell coughed a few times as she reached for it. She looked up at his face when his palm closed around her fingers. Two black holes stared back at her, framed by a skull with a full set of smiling, ivory teeth. Somewhere in the background, buzzers beeped and lights flashed, but Annabell paid them no mind.
Doctor Goodkind was taking care of her.