Winter is just the best time to read a horror story, especially one that will warm you up!
Sima’s room was on the ground floor of the hospital, tucked away from the chaos of the main public areas. French windows gave onto a paved quadrangle with a modern sculpture at its center. The room had been refurbished recently; the smell of paint still clung to the otherwise sterile air. She lay on the bed, propped up at a slight angle, attached to various monitors. A faint hum of passing traffic and the occasional whine of a siren drifted in through the open window. Tom hoped that they would turn on the air conditioning soon.
“Mr. Lupton.” A man of about sixty years with thick black hair, average height and build, sporting a classic Roman nose, and wearing an expensively tailored brown suit was offering his hand. Tom leapt from his chair.
“How’s she doing, Professor?”
“Please, sit down,” said Lombardo, dragging himself a chair. “How’s she doing? That’s a good question, Mr. Lupton. I have carried out a preliminary investigation of the patient and of the records that came down with her. I have to say, I’m puzzled. She demonstrates no injury. All her functions are normal. We ran another test for Bartonella, and there’s not a trace. On that matter, I’m satisfied that Poggio made a simple error.”
Tom sagged. He’d been waiting for hours. Lombardo had received top billing, and now all he could say was that he was puzzled.
“It’s still early, Mr. Lupton. The average time needed to come out of a coma is two to five weeks.”
“But do you know this is actually a coma?”
“No, not actually. As I said, I’m puzzled. Could you shed any light on what might have caused this? The doctor in Poggio del Lago gave me some story about a fall? I’m afraid I don’t buy it.” Lombardo leant toward Tom and looked him in the eye. “Why don’t you tell me what really happened, eh?”
Tom cleared his throat and ran his fingers through his hair. “You won’t believe a word of this, Professor.”
Lombardo remained expressionless throughout Tom’s monologue, occasionally making notes with his Cartier pen on a pad of paper. When Tom finished his story the professor put his pen in his pocket and raised himself out of the chair. He put his hands on Tom’s shoulders.
“Do you believe in God, Mr. Lupton?”
Tom snapped. “No, as a matter of fact I don’t.”
“Well, maybe it’s time you started.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean? I thought you were a man of science.” Tom pointed to Sima. “Are you telling me that the best hope you can give her is fucking prayer?”
“No, no, Mr. Lupton, not at all. Please, calm down.”
“I am calm!” His whole body was trembling. He paused and shook his head. “Fuck it. Look…er…I’m sorry.”
“Your reaction is perfectly understandable, Tom. May I call you Tom?”
“Yes, of course. Call me anything you want. I just want you to find out what’s wrong with Sima.”
Lombardo smiled. “Thank you, Tom. And I’m Giovanni. Now, let’s take a walk shall we?” He pushed the French window wide open and, slipping his arm loosely through Tom’s, led out into the quadrangle. The heat was suffocating, and they sauntered along the concrete path that ran around the perimeter.
“Have you ever been religious?”
“No. My mother was, in her own strange way, but I could never buy into it. I was very young when I saw it for what it really is,” said Tom.
“But you had some form of religious education? You are an educated man.”
“Well, school stuff. I know about God and the Holy Trinity and Satan if that’s what you mean. But don’t ask me to name all the saints and quote the Bible.” Tom hesitated and looked directly at Lombardo. “Look, Giovanni, what are you driving at?”
“You told me what happened to Sima, and you said I wouldn’t believe it. You were brave to do so. I could have you committed if I wanted.” The professor smiled. “Don’t worry, I have no intention. I know you are not mad. But now I am going to tell you some things that you won’t believe.”
As they strolled arm in arm, Giovanni spoke softly and steadily, interrupted only by the hum of traffic in the distance and the eerie wail of sirens.