After her legs were sawn off just above the knees, Specialist Alice Wilcox was pushed out of a second floor window. She didn’t know until later because she was unconscious at the time, drugged and limp as a drunk on Saturday night.

The awning over the embassy entrance broke her fall and buried her beneath the collapsed heap of canvas. A cluster of horrified civilians rushed forward to extricate her body while ecstatic reporters snapped pictures, shot film, and churned out headlines. The local paper ran an entire series of stories about the incident. Their star reporter reported that the corpse of Dr. Zaid went missing.

Alice thought it was funny, not in an amused way, how the fancy intelligence operatives never found any trace of his body.

The guys in her unit sent a thick stack of newspaper clippings months afterward. The stained envelope had been reinforced with tape and mailed with international coupons from some Turkish port town. She recognized Mackenzie’s heavy-handed cursive, the letters of her name written out with flourishes in flowing script. Alice knew they’d waited until the brass finished the formal spin job through official channels.

She particularly liked the sequence of blurry photographs. The first caught the doctor tossing the bloodied bone saw down at the crowd a mere second before automatic gunfire shredded his dark suit. In the next picture his feet no longer touched the floor as he was blown back by the impact of high velocity projectiles peppering his torso. The final picture displayed only the empty window.

Alice wasted no time wishing the snipers had fired sooner. If the doctor hadn’t made a public display of disposing of his last victim, they wouldn’t have shot him at all. She pondered why he’d done such a thing. He’d been successful in picking off American service personnel for over two years. No one suspected Dr. Zaid. The man, practically canonized for his apolitical stance on treating anyone who needed medical intervention, had been one of the Embassy personnel’s favorite details. All of them scrambled to escort the doctor out to refugee camps and black market drug supply buys. He’d been granted easy access to every good will mission sponsored by the United Nations during the previous decade.

People would scrutinize his history now.

She wondered why there’d been snipers positioned across the avenue.

Her memories were dimmed but she recalled with perfect clarity, the needle stuck in her throat. The truth was slow to come. The pieces swarmed around in her mind but there’d been only enough time to experience an exasperated frustration that the killer had caught her inside the American Embassy. Her last coherent thought was how good Dr. Zaid’s aftershave smelled.

Her conscious memory wiped clean by the drug cocktail Dr. Zaid administered, Alice regularly dreamed a formless anxiety-laden nightmare that released a stream of almost-remembered and subtly-familiar images. Each day of her existence was punctuated by her disabled mobility. Reality was skewed. Her life felt jarred out of context. Months later she continued to relive the puzzled dismay when she’d first raised the sheets covering her lower body. The sight of her missing legs made no visual sense. She still wondered what became of them.

Months sidled past as she transferred from one hospital to the next and then on to rehabilitation centers. She sat across from blandly uniform psychiatrists in blandly uniform offices until she figured out what they wanted to hear. She repeated the words and phrases until they approved her release.

At last the army sent her home to Georgia. The moist heat made the prosthetic legs chafe, so she seldom wore them. Alice spent most of her time wheeling the wheelchair up and down the balcony and tending the flowerpots. Each of the stone urns was filled with bright red geraniums. The blooms boiled up from the grey concrete bodies and reminded her of the first time she’d seen the fresh coagulated stumps of her legs. She’d demanded to view the pictures until the physicians relented despite the protests of the psychiatrists.

They told her, from a medical standpoint Dr. Zaid performed the avulsions with precision and care, slicing through flesh and bone in the exact right place for prosthetic fit, a fact which gave Alice cold sweats.

Summer pressed on. The numbness and shock finally wore off. Alice began to smolder inside. Her life hadn’t taken a U-turn, but rather a dive off the Overland Bridge. The army presented her an award of distinction and a medical discharge. She stewed. She fumed. Most nights she dreamed of Dr. Zaid but sometimes her nightmares were dark and empty. Those were even worse.

Fragments of memory returned as she rolled the wide second floor hall. Summer settled over the countryside like a sodden blanket of oppressed air, so different from the arid baking temperature of Baghdad. At first she’d been unable to fit the disjointed images together but finally they’d coalesced into a chilling panorama.

There’d been a third person present that day. She and Dr. Zaid hadn’t been alone. The door of the conference room shut behind her with a solid click. In her memory the doctor turned around and glanced past her shoulder. He jerked to a halt with his eyes narrowed. His mouth moved. She couldn’t hear his heavily accented English but she could read the word his lips shaped.

The scene bolted her upright in bed. The realization shocked her from sleep. Her chest heaved. Nausea boiled up her throat in a scorching rush of hot fluid. The dream memory solidified. With a sick certainty Alice knew the hypodermic had plunged into the side of her neck from behind. Dr. Zaid had stood several feet away. He faced her with his features frozen in shock and uttered one word.

He’d told her to run.


Flash Fiction Challenge: Eight Random Words @ http://www.terribleminds.com

  1. #1 by Alica Mckenna Johnson on June 7, 2012 - 6:40 am

    What a chilling tale! You sucked me right in.

    • #2 by Leslie Berry/ @LesannBerry on June 7, 2012 - 1:21 pm

      Thank Alica!

      Random words do bad things in my head.

  2. #3 by KG Arndell on June 15, 2012 - 1:33 am

    You grabbed me right from the get-go. Very well done! I used saw, wheelchair, bully and flowerpot.

    Thanks for a great read!

    • #4 by Leslie Berry/ @LesannBerry on June 18, 2012 - 6:19 pm

      Apologies for my tardy response…thanks much for the high-five! I love these challenges, I go places I might not without the prompt. I’ve been scheduled so tight that I’ve missed the last few…lots of reading to catch up on. I’ll go read yours, I haven’t had time yet. Thanks!

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