Sitting bolt upright in bed I take deep calming breaths, my knuckles white as I grip the sheets beneath me. Closing my eyes I rock gently, telling myself repeatedly that it's okay. Still, I feel the headache building, threatening to engulf my skull and crush it in a pounding frenzy. 'Not again, ' I whisper as I cup my face to my hands, inhaling deeply as I fight back the tears that are building and stinging my eyes.
It's always the same; over and over I can see the images flickering like I'm reliving a waking nightmare every time I close my eyes. The voices resounding in my head, and that laugh... A shiver charges up my spine as I hear that laugh echoing, bouncing from the deep recesses of my mind. That high pitched, gargling laugh, as though it mocks my fear, thrives and grows stronger as I cry against the agony of its claws as they tear open my flesh. Panic stricken I clench my hands to my back, still feeling the pain yet my skin is intact.
It started a little over a month ago. The dreams. They're so real, so hauntingly real. I can feel the icy touch of its bony fingers touching me, every detail relived over and over again. The stench of its breath still stinging my nostrils as the rancid odor furrows its way inside my nostrils causing me to gag and my eyes to water.
These are more than dreams, they have to be.
I can still taste the bitterness of its breath, the string of saliva swayed, hanging from its trembling gnarling mouth as it stood over me, dripping, burning my tongue as it falls. My mouth open unable to scream, my voice a bare whisper as my throat burns, my lungs heaving against its weight. The sneer as its lip curls revealing its yellow fang like teeth and the stalactite red stains falling from the crimson gums, streaking their way down to the points of its teeth.
I'd only been volunteering at the clinic for a few months when the shipment arrived. The heavily armored vehicle echoed through the vast emptiness of the receiving dock as its reverse beacon sounded, the 'beep beep beep' sounding like it was blasting through a magnitude of speakers.
It had been a slow afternoon, only the Thompson's Siamese cat recovering from the castration surgery to fill a dull void in my day. Cleaning the weeping stitches taking me almost an hour as I pass the time, hoping for an emergency or anything to make this day less dull. Michael, the young trainee had left for the day, so I was left with Dr. Jon Anderson, or Jon, as he likes me to call him. Not that I don't like Jon, I do, it's just that Michael brightens my day in more ways than one, if you know what I mean.
Michael. He's six foot of lean, masculine testosterone that just screams 'sex appeal'. His dark hair and eyes have me spell bound every time I look at him. His smile has me weak at the knees; even the mere thought of his smiling face sends a small quake building deep inside.
When he wears that white coat he looks so distinguished with the stethoscope slung around his neck, the pen and pad obtrusively poking out from his pocket. Even the way he absentmindedly scratches at his neatly trimmed goatee makes me yearn, unable to avert my gaze as he watches Jon intently, occasionally scribbling notes in his pad.
He's in his final year before graduation from veterinarian school, so 'hands on' around the clinic, which I know Jon appreciates, especially during the busy periods. I know I appreciate his hands on approach, but only in my fantasies. I think I'd die of embarrassment if Michael even suspected my desire toward him. My stolen glances and silent sighs have gone unnoticed thus far, and as far as I'm concerned they can stay that way!
Our clinic has been chosen for this shipment because of our isolation cages, and the fact that we operate near the airport. The clinic is prone to accepting many animals destined for quarantine after being discovered in luggage of smugglers from countries known for their rabies and the many varied diseases their beasts seemed to harbor.
This case was no different. As the forklift raises its pronged arms into the pallet, I begin to wonder how anybody could possibly be so cruel to encase any animal as inhumanly. Through the vented wooden box his deep breaths sound ragged, as though he struggles for each and every intake of air. My heart goes out to him. As the box is gently lowered to the ground, we adorn our safety gear. Even after we finish the grueling showers and vigorous scrubbing, it almost seems worth the pain of the relentless brushes, bruising and burning my skin each time an animal survives.
'Clyde' as he is affectionately known, named after the bloodhound that sniffed him out from the millions of cases that went through customs that day, lays still. Still in the zippered case he was discovered in, he stays motionless. The bag raising ever so slowly as he exhales before lowering again, the nylon sucking against the outline of his rounded mouth as he breathes in.
My heart races as we near the crate, bracing myself for what I may see. Animals that have endured as many hours in such a confined space normally don't survive, and those that do are normally so dehydrated and starved of oxygen, their features are sometimes distorted beyond recognition from being bound for so long.
As the truck moves toward the sterilization bay, I spot the man from quarantine for the first time. Lowering his glasses down the bridge of his nose, I feel his eyes gaze upon me. From behind me I can hear the muffled cough of Jon clearing his throat, a silent command known only between he and I of his disapproval at the intrusion from government officials invading his 'home'.
The clinic is more than a home for Jon; he lives and breathes this place. I don't think I've ever seen another individual so totally engrossed in their work. He prides himself in every detail, be it minor or major, things have to be done precisely by the book. Sterility being his main concentration, each of us washing our hands at every available opportunity, abiding ourselves by his rules.
Not such a big deal, I mean he doesn't ask for much. The perks of working for somebody like Jon far outweigh the disadvantages we have to put up with. Looking at my chapped weak fingernails caused by the endless scrubbing, seems a small price to pay for the pleasures received in reward for my dedication.
The lines etched deep around his eyes the only evidence of his troubled life. Being left an only child at a tender age, Jon had learned the hard way about the cruel realities of life. His only brother having been savagely attacked by an unrestrained dog, died in his arms before any help could arrive. They'd been playing in the park at Jon's insistence, Anthony preferring to sit and catch up on his latest video game, reluctantly took his younger brother to the park to stop the incessant nagging.
Like something out of a nightmare the dog had lunged, sinking its razor sharp teeth into his brother's jugular, his gurgled cries lasting moments, but seeming like an eternity as Jon relives the sounds of his brother's last dying pleas, over and over in his sweat provoking nightmares. The memory haunting him for endless years before he gained the courage to study veterinarian science to help overcome his fears. It was only through his studies in college that he now better understood the animal psychology associated with such random attacks of violence against the human species. In fact, he'd grown to love and respect canines in an almost unnatural way, almost to the point of obsession.
His surgery, named after his dead brother, 'Anthony's Animal Mechanics' reads proudly above the entrance, and also on the placard in the luscious garden out front.
The threat of infectious diseases entering Australian territories through illegal smuggling is all too real. Quarantine laws are at their strictest when species are found through the meticulous scrutinizing of the well trained 'sniffer squad' as they are affectionately known amongst their trainers. Here we wait for the heavy iron door to drop before we can even think of opening the crate.
Airport security had seized the baggage and as necessary precaution, the animal had been enclosed in the purposefully built crate for its, and our own protection. Fear can make even the most docile of animals lash out when they feel threatened or thrown into an unknown situation.
For most of the animals brought here, they are plucked from the sanctity of their jungle homes, shoved in cages and then forced to suffer one of the cruelest plights any living creature could ever endure. Starvation and near suffocation as they are crammed into tight boxes, bags, anything to avoid detection as their captors pass through airport security. Of course, the illegal smuggling rings don't stop at the airport, but for us they do.
The clinic itself isn't anything spectacular. The building was originally used as a Doctor's practice so modifications were minimal to accommodate for the animals. The two back rooms had their dividing wall removed so the room could be set up for the recovery cages, but other than that, the building remained the same.
It had only been within the last two years that Jon had acquired the adjacent property, which he had converted to the now, isolation area. The sterile benches spanning the length of one wall making the room seem like more of a laboratory, rather than a room to treat animals. The shiny metal bench tops cleaned meticulously and the white tiled floors mopped to a superior sheen.
It is in here that Clyde will spend the next twelve weeks, that is, if he survives that long.
.... There is more of this story ...