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The Turning Man: Part I

FOR EVERY DAY of the past three days, Walter Vorne woke up in the hospital with broken bones. Depending on how much earlier or later he’d wake up, compared to the day before, sometimes his arms would be broken, sometimes his ribs, sometimes both, and sometimes only his spine.

He was also famished. Not just hungry, but starving. Like he’d never eaten before. And judging by the vomit he’d wake up to on his chest and around his mouth, and the vomit that nurses would have to clean up throughout the night, repeatedly, the hunger made sense. Whatever he’d been eating was severely disagreeable. But it didn’t explain the broken bones.

The entire hospital would insist he was death-bound, undoubtedly, had he not been waking up every morning, feeling more relatively fresh than any near corpse should. Within the first hour of waking up, he’d usually moan off the pain. By breakfast, the breaks would be bruises. And by lunch, he’d be ready to go home. They called him a miracle, because he was one and because he had no other name. When he’d be picked up, usually and mysteriously dropped off in the hospital parking lot, he’d be naked. He’d also be broken—in ways most doctors had never seen.

And going off appearance alone, they might as well have just rolled him straight to the morgue. Whenever they’d find him — for the three consecutive nights that they had — not a single one of his bones would be attached in the way a normal set of bones should be. His legs and arms would be dislocated, his ribs would be twisted in reverse, sticking straight through his stomach, puncturing the skin, and arched out like kitchen knives wrapped in guts and bits of shredded entrails. His neck, completely broken, hung back over his shoulders like an open Pez dispenser. And his mouth, removed of teeth and tongue, drowned in a pool of his own blood.

Resident Nurse Rachel Finn tossed her stethoscope to the ground on the third day, resigning and denouncing everything she’d ever been taught, and fled to a convent in the midwest.

Doctors kept hush about Walter Vorne. With an origami patient curing itself overnight, they wanted answers before they started asking questions. Maybe Nurse Finn was right. Maybe there was a goddamn satanous wrath polluting this goddamn city.

Nevertheless, they rolled out Walter Vorne from the hospital all those three days after lunch. Whoever had a window would peek out, watching to see where he was walking off to, which direction, and if it was the way to their home. And then they’d go back to work, careful to watch what they ate if they were working a night shift, knowing what they’d have to stomach, knowing he’d surely be back.

The funny thing was — and it wasn’t funny at all, but that’s how people put it — was that for the exact three days that Walter Vorne’s obstructed body had ended up in the hospital parking lot, there had also been three consecutive days of reported missing people. And while the concept of missing people isn’t exactly novel, it was the amount of people missing that struck the interest of not only every nurse and doctor in the hospital, but nearly every person in their small town. Why it stood out was because, in those short three days, there was a count of 27 total missing people. Either the apocalypse was coming on strong and strange, or the mystery of Walter Vorne had expanded into more unfathomably, unanswerable circumstances.

It was Emergency Room Chief Medical Director Bradley Logan who decidedly obsessed over the recent horror. His days and nights were sleepless, his faith churned, and of his two vices to which he clung comfortingly to in moments of despair — one being the bible, and the other, golf — neither held their weight. Brushing up on med school books was pointless. He knew every passage and paragraph by heart. And regardless, he knew they wouldn’t have any answers. Mostly, he kept to the web, searching keywords that only resulted in links to science fiction blogs or foreign monster movies that bordered on gore porn. He rattled on with paramedic interns, poured over theories with Resident Nurses, and even joined a chat room on a site called Modern Monsters. But speculation only drove him madder, and in a matter of only three days, Dr. Bradley Logan was sure he’d never be sure of anything from then on.

In the early evening of what would be the fourth consecutive night of Walter Vorne’s impossible transformation, Dr. Logan took it upon himself to witness Mr. Vorne’s arrival himself. He sat on the curb outside the Emergency Room entrance. He was hungry, having not eaten; he was exhausted, having not slept; and he was shaking slightly, having still not been able to prepare himself for the sort of sight he knew he was bound to see. The night moved slowly.

It wasn’t until a quarter past two that Dr. Logan took to a noise. It was a rustle in some brush just thirty feet across from where he sat. The brush belonged to a small, but thick, chunk of greenery that divided the hospital parking lot from the adjacent freeway. And as the slight rustle moved this way and that, slowly shuffling towards his direction, and maintaining itself as an unusually curious sound, his attention piqued. He stood up from the curb and squinted in the direction of the noise as though it might help him see in the dark. When the noise finally and abruptly stopped, he dug out his cell phone from inside his pocket and, accessing the flashlight app, aimed it out in front of him. The brush glowed. And then, despite any other person’s better judgement, he moved forward and followed the noise.

In what seemed like no time at all, it had already been a full week since the disappearance of Dr. Bradley Logan. The search was apparently still on, but most people knew better. Within ten days, 84 people had gone missing. Young and old, no one was spared. And of the 84, the mysterious Walter Vorne was one of them. His fourth appearance at the hospital was his last. But everyone knew he wasn’t a victim, even if it wasn’t officially suggested. The man who deconstructed and reconstructed himself over night was hardly innocent. In fact, had they pitchforks and torches, the remaining residents who were familiar with his condition, were they to ever find him, would most likely burn and bury him themselves.