He jerked open his eyes and gave out a sigh of relief. ” Again ? ” he thought. It was the third time that had happened and it was starting to scare Omar a bit. He lifted himself up and sat upright. The room was dimly lit and he couldn’t see much of anything. He fumbled on the bedside table and picked up his spectacles. The clock showed 3 AM. “Damn it!” he cursed and poured himself a glass of water from the jar on the table. I have school tomorrow, I better go back to sleep.
But sleep wasn’t easy to come. He had seen this dream three times now, a huge man with big black eyes had looked up to him and said “Save me Omar, save me. I’m in the city hospital”. The last two times he had ignored it assuming it to be coincidence. But three times in three days is no chance, but then what is it ? His friends had laughed off when he told them about his dreams. “Don’t be a fool, it happens sometimes. Once, I saw a dream one night and then continued it on next” Sam had said. But there was something about the man, something about his eyes that troubled Omar.It wasn’t just a usual picture you see in a dream, it was more vivid, and with more details. No matter where Omar was and what he was doing, the man would come up running to him in his blue pants and blue shirt and blue overcoat and shout for help. Help me, the city hospital , help , hospital…..It took him another hour or so before he slept. And this time, he saw nothing.
He woke up startled, looked at the clock. 8:30 , I’m late again!
The bell had already rung for the first period and there was a deafening silence across the school when he entered his classroom, X-C. His class teacher was taking attendance then, he joined Sam at the back benches.
“Hey” Sam said “Just on time”. Sam was one of his best mates at the school. Omar had grown up with Sam and they had been studying together since primary school.
“Hey man”. Omar turned around to see Mark smiling at him the way he did. Mark was tall and fat. He had earned the nickname ‘The Giant’ in the classroom and he never cared. Often, he would crack a silly joke that would send the class in ruptures and later be punished for that.
“Hey, how’s it going?” Omar replied.
“Hello!” Donal was there seated beside Mark. He wasn’t as fat as Mark but was pretty tall. Like Omar, he loved reading books. Even though Donal was new to the group, he had formed great friendship with them, especially with Omar. Sam, Donal and Omar lived in the same locality and they would often visit the park together. He greeted all of them before the teacher cut them out,
“Silence!” he bellowed. And then no one spoke.
Omar did not pay much attention to the happenings in the class. As usual, he pulled a book out of his bag and hid it from the teacher’s sight. He was never a good student and it was easy for him to let go of the class and wander in the beautiful fictional world. But not today, his thoughts went back and back to the blue man with those big eyes. What do I do ? Is it just a coincidence ? What if he comes back again tonight ? Should I go to the hospital ?
“Hey, did you see the dream again?” Sam asked in the recess. Omar did not wanted his friends to laugh but he knew Sam would believe him.
“Yes” he whispered. Sam’s jaw dropped for a second.
“Damn! You better tell this to your parents”
“They went out of town yesterday, I’m all alone for a few days. Maybe I’ll tell them after they return”
“Oh okay alright then”.
It was the last day of school before the winter vacations. The delight was there too see on the faces of all the students.
Omar moved restlessly on the bed. He had been trying hopelessly to sleep. But like last night, it was hard to come. He kept thinking about the blue man with the big eyes. He had tried to keep himself busy after retuning from school; played video games, read a book and even studied for a change. He had managed to push the thoughts out for a bit, but just like a boomerang, they came back to hit him. He looked up to the clock, 1AM. He closed his eyes and lay there until he drifted slowly and finally into the arms of sleep. And he dreamt.
He was running in a corridor lined with doors on either side of him. Omar couldn’t see clearly because of the dim lighting. White walls and blue doors stretched everywhere, as far as his eyes could see. The air smelled of floor cleaners. It was familiar to him, he knew where he was. A hospital. Someone or something scared him , but what ? He couldn’t say. He kept running. door after door passed but there was no end to the corridor. A few more and I should be out of here, he thought. But no matter how many of the blue doors he passed, another would pop out. So he stopped running. He almost felt that something cling on to his back but when he turned around, all he found was empty air. He was terrified by something he himself had no idea about. He pushed open one of the doors, and stepped inside.
The room was barren but for one bed. There was a man on the bed clad in all blue. Omar moved close to him, the door behind him shut close. He had a solemn face, wrinkles had begun to form around his eyes and he was bald. He had a big mustache curled upwards on either side of the lips. He moved his lips to speak, it was barely audible. Omar bent down to hear what the man said.
“Help me, my name is Rick Hootman.
“What happened to you ? Why are you asking for help?” Omar asked.
“I’m trapped here, save me. Get me out of here” The man placed his hand on his forehead and shrieked with pain.
“Trapped? What do you mean trapped?”
“They will kill me, get me out of here before it’s too late. I don’t have much time”.
Omar heard the door thrown open , he turned back to look.
“Please-” the man on the bed began to speak. He tried with all his might to stay there and listen to what Rick had to say, but his vision started to get blurred. The room was beginning to fade into blackness.
And then he was in his bedroom. He was panting and beads of sweat had formed on his forehead. He felt light headed for a few seconds. “Again!” he thought “The fourth time in as many days” . He was unsure of telling this to anybody earlier, but no more. It was too much for him to bear. He decided to tell his parents when they returned. But that thought faded away quickly. He thought of what Mr Rick said, ” don’t have much time”.. He looked up at the clock, 6AM. There was no time for him to go back to sleep. Besides, he knew any attempt to do that would be futile.
He got up, took a bath and dressed himself warmly. He then dialled Sam’s number on his landline telephone. “Hey Sam, it’s Omar here” he said when Sam received the line.
“Hey, what’s cracking? It’s too early for you-” Omar cut him out.
“Listen, i saw the dream again” Omar said. There was a brief silence before Sam replied.
“Shit! What did you see this time?” Omar told him all about the dream.
“It can’t be a mere coincidence” Sam said “I think we should go check the hospital”
Part of Omar wanted to hear that, the other part dreaded the hospital and it’s endless maze of doors and wall. He had read avidly about detectives and spies, but this was not fiction and the man was not just a character.
“I don’t know man” Omar replied “It’s just… Weird. What do we tell them? I saw a dream of a man shouting for help from your hospital”
“They’ll take us for a couple of fools, true. But if the man IS real then we don’t have much time and need to do something”
“All that is true. But what will we do once in the hospital?”
“That we’ll see there. Meet me at the crossing in an hour.”
” Alright”. Omar said and put down the phone.
He broke his fast and stepped out of the house. It was a cold Saturday morning . He let the cold breeze touch his face and how he loved that. He cherished winter, for all it’s beauty. He loved the snow, the mist, the breeze and the bonfire. He loved the chilly morning, the cloudy sky with no sun and the freezing nights. What is there to not like in winter ? Except of course the ice cold water.
The crossing where they always met wasn’t far from his house. He walked the distance in no time.There was light snowfall last night, light enough to cover the ground with a white blanket. Sam was already there dressed from toe to head in warm clothes. .
“Where have you been man?”. Sam rubbed his hands.
“Parent aren’t home. I was held up in breakfast” Omar said “Did you tell Mark or Donal about it!”
“No” he said.
“Okay , see if you can hail a cab” Omar said.
Sam waved his hand and a yellow taxi pulled up infront of them. They sat inside and gave the directions to the driver.
“What will we do at the hospital?” Omar asked.
“Ask the receptionist, Check out the rooms, call for this Mr Rick Hootman, I don’t know.” Sam kept looking out of the window. It meant no discussion.
They rode in silence then.
There was a big hoarding above the entrance with “THE CITY HOSPITAL” written in bright bold colours. They walked inside. There was a statue in the centre of the big hall of a man holding a big ‘plus’ on his shoulders. And on the walls hung the many accolades the hospital had won over the years. The best in this and the best in that. The sound of the speaker overhead, the tip tap of the keyboards, paper invoices and bills out of the printers did not make the place a hospital. The floor cleaner did. Omar always smelt the same floor cleaner in any hospital he visited and this was no exception. The reception disk was at the far corner.. There were separate counters for separate purposes. They walked in on the inquiry desk.
“Good morning. Can I know which room is Mr Rick Hootman in ?” Omar asked
“I’m sorry sir. We can’t reveal information about patients to strangers. Do you know him”? The pretty woman behind the desk replied.
“Yeah, we’re his family” Sam called out before Omar could say anything. “Y.. Yeah..” Omar muttered.
“Do you have some kind of proof?” The woman tapped at her keyboard. Her eyes ran across the screen of her PC.
A proof ? Do we now need a proof ? Omar thought “No. None at the moment” he said
“If you bring a proof, i can tell you. I’m not allowed to otherwise” The woman said.
“Okay thanks” There was no point arguing there. The woman nodded her head and Omar and Sam walked out of there.
They sat on the chairs arranged along the length of the wall for patients. There were a few patients by the norms in the room. An old lady mopped away the floor with her floor cleaner.
“Did you see that ?” Sam asked.
“See what?” Omar said.
“She searched and stopped, that means it’s certain that this Rick Hootman exists and is in the hospital”
Omar never thought about it. I never think about anything.
“Listen, can you use your memory to find this place?” Sam looked towards Omar. He looked buoyed by his findings. Is he starting to enjoy this ? Omar thought. He tried to go back to his dream, to find something of value. The only thing he could remember was the blue doors and the white walls.
“No way” Omar replied “I can’t remember any particular detail” The walls are all white here and the doors blue.
“Try again, it’s our only way” Sam insisted.
It was one thing to recall a dream. But to try to find a certain mark on a wall, a number on a door was like finding a needle in a haystack.
The old lady came towards Omar mopping still. She moved the stick left and right cleaning the floor to shine. The mop dropped out of her hand and fell near Omar’s feet. She bent to pick it up but stopped midway. She looked at Omar and whispered “He’s in the emergency ward” . Omar was startled. He wasn’t even sure the lady told him anything.
“Huh?” he said. But before he could ask her anything the lady took her mop and went away. There was only anxiety so far that Omar had felt but that might have just added a hint of fear.
“What the hell?” Apparently, Sam heard her too.
“I thought we were the only one who knew about it-”
“C’mon let’s go” Sam was already standing.
“But this could be dangerous” Omar said
Sam was having none of it.
So they walked out of the hospital. Omar turned back to look for the lady, she was no where to be seen. The emergency ward was located in the right wing of the hospital. There were three beds lined up along the wall with various machineries behind them. Curtains dropped between the beds thereby creating a boundary between the the three patients. The first bed was occupied by an old lady. She lay there motionless with oxygen mask and thust in her veins. Omar walked past her to the second bed, it was empty. It was only then he paid attention to his surrounding. There was no body in the room except him , the old lady, and Sam. And the patient on the next bed.
Something is not right, he thought.
He went on to the last patient.He might have thought the man was dead, if not for his rhythmic breathing. In and out. He was bald and had that mustache. Something didn’t match though, he might have been Rick Hootman, he might have been not.
“Is he the man?” Sam asked.
“He looks like him but-”
He heard footsteps coming towards the room and hushed voices. Omar felt uneasy there, the emptiness buggered him. The door was thrown open and two men rushed in. Both wore the white cloaks of a doctor. One of them carried a white cloth in his hand and had a hideous scar on his face. They burst inside and rammed the door shut.
“What’s tis now?” One of them said. “Who are ye and what business you have here?”
“Oh nothing, we were just looking around”. Omar said.
He noticed the man with the scar did not say anything. He went towards a cupboard hung on the wall, took out a bottle and dipped it’s content on the white cloth. What’s he pouring ? Fear gripped Omar. No it’s not that nooo, it can’t be..
“Then look around kid, look carefully” The scarred man spoke.
He caught Sam from behind and pressed the cloth tightly to his mouth. Sam tried to get out of his hold but he was no match for the big man. Omar ran towards Sam but he was caught by the other man. He watched as Sam inhaled the chloroform.
“Are you looking boy?” The man smiled. His scar was terrifying to behold. It was a long gash from his right ear down to his jaws. He held the cloth tight to Sam’s face and slowly Sam began to fade. He coiled on the floor lifeless.
“And now it’s your turn” He poured another dose of the chloroform on the cloth and moved towards Omar. He held the cloth right infront of his face.
“See? Look , look carefully”. Omar was trying hard to free himself of the man but he was too weak. The cloth hit his face. He tried to stop breathing, to not inhale but the scarred man had brute strength. He kept the cloth tight on his face. Omar was soon breathless , he had to breathe or die. So he inhaled. He took the chloroform long and deep. Whether it was the horror or the chloroform, what did it was something Omar would never know. He felt dizzy, his senses started to leave him. He went weak by the knees and dropped on the floor. He saw the man with his scar laughing. But he did not hear the sound of it. The last that Omar saw was the old man behind his assailant. The man on the bed. The one with the mustache. He knew it then , the old man on the bed was definitely not Rick Hootman.
He opened his eyes. It didn’t matter though, the room was as dark as a cave. He looked here and there but saw only darkness. For a moment he wished he was in another dream. He recalled the events that got him there. The hospital, the emergency ward, the man with the hideous scar and Sam, especially Sam. Where is he ? Where am I ? He had lost track of time. A day, two or months ? He had no idea. What will my parents do when they do not find me in my room? He was scared, of the darkness, the emptiness of the room.
His eyes had adjusted by then and he could make out a bit of the still dark room. It was windowless, he noticed , there was all but one small door to his right. Light peeped out of the edges of the door, the only source in the room. Omar broke down. He had no idea where he was, there was no guarantee of going back home and he had dragged Sam along with him too. He lay there crying for what felt like an eternity before he heard footsteps beyond the walls. The door creaked open and a man slid a plate with food inside and went away. Rice and pulses only. He had no stomach to eat. The man came back with a glass of water, and went back without uttering a word. He took the glass and drank it, but did not eat a morsel of food. Staring at the food, he kept thinking about home, his mom would cook delicious meals on weekends.
Another eternity passed when the man came back again. Omar’s bladder was about to burst, and he needed to move his bowels. He looked at the man and asked, expecting a straight denial.
“Can I use the toilet”
The man nodded much to his surprise. He led Omar to a toilet beyond the dark cave he was in. He stopped outside and pointed towards the toilet. He still did not speak. Is he dumb? He thought. Omar went inside and bolted the door shut. The toilet at least had a window and he welcomed the sunlight. The window was tiny and above the commode. He climbed the toilet to peep out of the window, to find out where he was.
A wave of recognition hit him. I know this place. The toilet was right at the corner, the window opened towards the road. He was on the 4rth or 5th floor he guessed by the building infront of him. There was no mistaking the big advertisement hoarding in the opposite building. He had often walked past that building with Sam and Donal. It was close to Donal’s house. More importantly, he knew Donal passed the spot directly beneath him everyday on his way to the park. He saw a glimmer of hope. If somehow I can get to Donal. The window was too small for his head to go through it so there was no option of shouting for help. Can I throw something from up here ? Will Donal take my message ?
He climbed down the commode and did what he came for, thinking all the while. There has to be a way. He looked around the washroom, there was a newspaper thrown in a corner. But there was nothing to scribble on it. Soaps and shampoos won’t work. An old brush? As useless as the soap. He made a list mentally of all things available to him. Soap, Shampoo, Brush and newspaper. How can he send Donal message with these things? Besides, the cue must be unique so that only Donal would understand. He thought more about it. And he thought. And he thought. And it hit him. This might just work. He caught on to the idea like a drowning man would catch straw. He went over his plan and he hoped. Hoped that his friend read the books as attentively as he did.
It had been days but no one came to save them. Donal did not come, he might have never got my message. Or he might have seen but did not respond. Any case, Omar had to find another way out of here.
He was escorted by the dumb man to another room in the huge flat. It was dimly lit with just one blueish light on. It had a chair by the wall opposite to the door. One window to the right was all the source of natural light, that too limited. The room had a smell of air freshener to it. There were other children and teenagers in the room too. A boy of his age, a teen girl and more. Among them was Sam. He had bruises on his cheek. He must have offered resistance Omar thought. Sam looked at him and for the first time Omar saw indecision in Sam, that might have just quenched any hoped Omar had of escaping this hell.
What’s this place? What do they want from us ? He studied the walls, white. The door was blue. For half a heartbeat, he thought he was back in the dream he dreamt a thousand years ago.
No one in the room spoke a word. Some of the younger children had deep, deep fears and cluelessness in their eyes. They all cried silently. He wondered if Sam had tried anything to get out of here. At Least I did. It didn’t matter though. Donal would never find the paper and the rice. But what if he did ? Will he understand the message ? Will he come to save us ? Will he call for help? Or will he shrug his shoulders and walk away to his park.
The door opened , a big bald man entered the room. He wore blue shirt, blue pants , blue tie and he had big eyes. His mustache was the striking feature on his face, neatly straightened over the lips and curled upwards on either ends. He was old , wrinkles had formed around his big black eyes, but stood tall like a young commander. Omar watched the man with his eyes open wide. He knew the man, his mustache, his eyes.The man on the bed in the emergency ward was not the one he dreamt about. Rick Hootman was standing infront of him. And he wasn’t asking for help. Two more men walked in the room. Omar knew them too, the guys who had kidnapped them from the hospital. The man with the scar was smiling still. Behind them came another man clad in all black. He held a suitcase in his hand.
“Here, these are the lots. Take your pick”. Rick said pointing his hand towards the children.
The man looked at each of them carefully, then pointed towards a girl and said
“This one, yeah”
What’s happening here? Omar thought. What do they mean to do with the girl? He got his answer soon.
“Oh good choice. She’ll cost you handsomely” Rick said .
Human trafficking. They mean to sell us to suitable buyers.
“And….” the man eyed all the children and teen. “This one”. Omar couldn’t believe it. The hand was pointed at him. He was being bought. He stood there as if he was frozen.No, noo noo. He was being bought. He will never go home again. He’ll never see his parents again. “No” he shouted. No no no. The scarred man came forward and slapped him on his cheek. The impact drove him back. He realized then his life would become like that, being slapped and slaved.
Warm tears rolled down his cheeks. Noo, i don’t want to go please god nooo.
God must have heard his prayers..
There came a loud thud from the front door. The door must have been rooted out of it’s hinges.
“Shit, what’s that?” Rick shouted.
There was commotion in the room. Rick and the buyer looked at each other , the scarred man and his colleague ran to the gate while the children and the teens huddled around in a corner of the room. There were shouts and moans and sounds of guns loading. A moment later, two police men barged in the room armed.
“What the hell is happening here ?” One of them pointed his gun at Rick. “What’s it that you’re doing here?”
“He was selling us to that man” Sam shouted pointing his fingers towards the man clad in black.
“Yes. This man” the girl who was bought said.
The Policeman hit Rick with the butt of his gun and said “Freeze, down on your knees”.
Rick and the buyer both went on the ground. They were in a helpless situation.
By the time, four more men in uniform had stormed in the room. Rick , his two henchmen and the buyer were caught red handed in the act. They dragged them out of the room , out of the flat, out of this hell.
It’s over. They’re gone. We’re safe. Thank god. He wiped the tears out.
“Woah. That was close” Sam said “What luck!” . He was close to crying.
“Donal” Omar replied. “He must have got my message”.
Sure enough, Donal was waiting for them downstairs. There was unparalleled joy he felt at seeing him there.
“Look at you two” He was smiling, beaming. “It was you Omar wasn’t you? That message ?”
“Yep. I thought you’d never find it” Omar said “You aren’t as stupid as you look.”
Sam looked at Omar’s face then Donal’s and then Omar’s again. “What message?” He was scratching his head.
“I dropped five balls of paper daily hoping Donal would take the cue” Omar said
Sam did not say anything. He kept looking at Omar and then at Donal.
“That’s why you should read books Sam” Donal said. “I had ignored the paper balls for three days. But four times in four days is no coincidence. So i took the paper and uncurled it. I found this inside” Donal took out a paper ball from his pocket and unwind it , on the paper were five pale white rice grain.
“This still doesn’t explain anything” Sam was annoyed.
“Haha look, There’s this story in Sherlock Holmes books ‘Five orange pips’. The five pips serve a kind of a warning. Go home and read it. The hard part however was convincing the police to come down here. I’ll not deny that I lied a bit”
Sam wasn’t completely satisfied though, by the look on his face. Omar did not get all his answers too
“Guys, leave that for another day” he said “can anybody explain to me my dreams”
“What dreams? By the way, will you guys tell me how you got here?” It was Donal’s time for confusion.
“Omar had the dream which started all this” Sam explained to him all about their silly little adventure. From the weird dreams to the hospital and the old lady, the scarred man and his assault, their capture in that building. Donal listened with his mouth gasped open.
“Bloody hell” He said when Sam finished.
Bloody hell indeed.
Omar got his answer a few day later in the newspaper. Recently, there had been complaints of the city’s children disappearing in thin air. The police were on hunt already. The mob which was caught had invented some kind of a device which could be used for dream sharing. They had been using that for a few weeks but thanks to Omar and Donal, they were behind bars. Rick Hootman was actually the leader of the gang, not some stupid man asking for help in a stupid hospital. He realized then that the old lady who told them about the emergency ward was a part of the gang too. A device that could share dream? He felt odd at being involved in something that might one day go on to become legendary.
He had read a lot of detective books, The famous five series, Nancy drew series, Hardy Boyz, Agatha Christie to name a few but to experience something like that was odd. He had one benefit from the experience though. No one would stop him from reading now. If someone said “What do you get from reading all day long?” He will smile and reply “It saved my life didn’t it ?”
He already had a book in his hand. ‘A case book of Sherlock Holmes’. He sat by the window , a warm cup of coffee in hand , sunlight pouring in on the pages of the book. Whatever happened now, reading won’t ever be the same again.