Super soldiers generally healed on their own, so Collin McQuaid didn’t get to the hospital very often, but even he didn’t want to trifle with a Gila monster bite.
The doctors and nurses treated him with perfunctory grace, pretending they weren’t afraid of him, but Collin knew what he looked like. Eight feet tall with unnaturally broad features further misshapen by scars introduced everyone he met with the monster of their nightmares.
The nurse, who was all business, wrapped his hand. He sat in a visitor’s chair rather than the treatment table awaiting an antibiotic cocktail from the pharmacy. He’d answered all her questions with his guttural voice. Collin did appreciate her no-nonsense manner. It was much better than the timid vacillations he usually got. His inner turmoil could not have tolerated any kind of compassion right then. He asked her how much longer it would take.
“Sit tight, Mr. McQuaid. We’ll have it up here as soon as it’s ready.” She left.
Someone in the ER screamed. It harkened back to the battlefield. So many friends gone. They were the ones he knew how to talk to. He’d been through the devastation of hopeless massacres with them. They understood him.
Metal implements and pans crashed followed by more screaming, closer than before. Other voices were yelling now. Collin braced himself. The enemy was closing in, the best weapon at hand his bare knuckles. His oversized sinews tightened from head to toe, and he snarled.
The backs of several doctors and orderlies crowded his doorway. Fighting, fighting, fighting the enemy. He should attack, but not without orders. Always with orders. He didn’t want to go back. Not today. Not ever. He wanted to go home. To his pet store where there were happy noises.
As the crowd tumbled by him, the enemy came in sight, and he was suddenly confused because they were battling a girl. A small one, maybe eight years old in light blue pajamas, holding on to a plush monkey as if it was her only child. She was slippery, getting away just when they thought they had her pinned. Perhaps it wasn’t her that was the enemy, but the orderlies and the doctors. They moved along out of sight.
Not his battle. Collin’s battle was with his heart, beaten and lifeless. Not knowing how to love or live except in the most rudimentary ways.
There was another piercing scream, and the girl ran into his room and stopped in front of him. She gnashed her teeth and roared at Collin.
Collin wasn’t sure why, but he laughed at her, gravelly chuffs that sounded more like a savage wolf.
She stared at him blankly, smiled slightly, then grinned wide. She walked over to him and climbed into his lap, curling up with her head on his chest and closing her eyes. Collin’s heart turned warm and serene, feeling comfort and tenderness for the first time since before he went off to war.
Doctors and orderlies gathered outside his door, peering in. He smiled. A reflection of dreamy happiness that left him wondering why they all looked so afraid.