Just as Bob switched off the television set, a man came into his room. He was tall and thin and pleasant looking. He wore a well-tailored, gray suit with pin stripes. The man smiled and approached Bob at the foot of the bed. Before Bob could speak, the man held up his hand and was flipping through the medical chart. His glances at the forms were quick and casual. “How are you feeling?” he asked.
“Are you the night doctor?” Bob asked.
The man came around the bed and found a chair next to Bob. On it sat a small basket with a teddy bear holding various chocolates and a sign that said “Get Well Soon!” The man looked at it and smiled and set the basket on the floor beneath the seat. He slid the chair forward and leaned in close to Bob, taking hold of his hand.
Bob leaned his head back. “Are you some kind of priest or something?”
“No, no, just a visitor. How are you feeling?”
Bob noticed that the man had light gray eyes and wide pupils. The pupils reminded him of a cat on far too much catnip. “Fine,” Bob said. “I’m feeling fine. Who the hell are you? How did you get in here?”
The man stood and patted Bob’s hand. He walked to the corner and grabbed some of the brochures that were available. He brought them back to the bed and sat by Bob again. “Do any of these interest you? Would you like me to read them?” Bob saw the various religious markings on their covers and shook his head. The man shrugged.
“You know who I am,” the man said. He peered into Bob with his wide eyes and the two were quiet for several minutes. In the silence, Bob felt the truth creep into the room. His heart rate began to rise. The man saw the beats pulse on the monitor, saw the look in Bob’s eyes, and took Bob by the hand once more.
“But the doctor said it’s a simple procedure,” Bob said. “In and out.”
“People die from the simplest of things,” the man said. “You’re no exception.”
Bob tried to pull his hand back, but the man held a grip that was firm. His heart rate accelerated further. “But why?” Bob asked.
The man smiled. It was a beautiful smile. “When you were born, did you ask the doctor why?” Bob shook his head. The man smiled and kissed his hand. “People always ask why,” the man said. “So rarely do they ask me when.”
Bob stared and felt the color fade from his face.
The man nodded. “Yes. Tomorrow. It’ll be quick, don’t worry.” The man released his hand and stood. His pupils were as wide as ever.
“Does it hurt?” Bob asked.
“Nah,” the man said. “It’s a lot like trying to stay awake while driving. Have you ever had that? Struggled to stay awake at the wheel?”
“It’s exactly the same,” the man said. “You fight it and you fight it, but you’re just so damned tired. Eventually, you fall asleep. Everyone falls asleep.” He smiled. “Has it ever hurt when you fell asleep?” the man asked.
Bob shook his head. The man smiled in response.
A nurse opened the door and stuck her head in. “Is everything okay?” she asked. She looked at the heart monitor.
Bob nodded. “Yes, I think so.”
The nurse saw that the TV was off. She narrowed her eyes at Bob. “Who were you talking to?”
Bob turned to see the empty chair. The man was gone.