The Upsandowns
By: Steve Carr

Judith's blue paper shoe covers made a sh sh sound as she walked down the quiet hospital corridor. She didn't like walking the hallways at night and in fact didn't like working the night shift at all. The hospital was old and some part of it was always undergoing maintenance or renovation. Turning any corner inevitably meant running into a sign that said, "under repair," or finding a corridor, room or elevator sealed off by a strip of yellow tape. At times getting around the hospital was like navigating a maze, especially when going beyond the wings with patient's rooms.

Someone had to take Mr. Nigel's freshly drawn tubes of blood down to the lab STAT and being the newest and youngest nurse among those on duty, she had been elected to make the journey.

With the tubes clutched in her hands she passed the elevator that normally would be taken to go to the basement where the labs were located. It had pieces of yellow tape across the front like a large x, and a sign on it that read "out of order" in large black print. Now, in a part of the hospital she didn't know very well in search of another elevator she felt somewhat lost and a little bit aggravated. She considered going back and asking someone for directions, but as she turned yet another corner, she wasn't quite sure how to get back to the place where she had last seen anyone. Passing closed doors, one after another, with none of them with a sign or even number on them, Judith tried to fight off the feeling that she was hopelessly lost.

Turning a corner, down the dimly lit corridor there was a very tall man standing against the wall. "Finally," she said aloud as she quickly walked toward him. The closer she got the taller he got. By the time she reached him his head was touching the ceiling. "Boy am I glad to see you," she said.

He peered down at her, at what she had in her hands. "What are those?" he said.

"Tubes of blood," she said. "I need to get them down to the lab."

The man's skin was so pale that she could see his large teeth through his cheeks and the pulsing of the large blue vein in the middle of his forehead. He wore a long black robe with a white collar. She thought he was possibly a chaplain.

"Whose blood is it?" he said.

"Mr Nigel's," she said.

"Doesn't he want it?" the man asked. His voice was like that of static on an old radio.

"It's not a matter of him wanting it," she said. "We need it to run tests. Mr. Nigel may be very sick."

"I shouldn't like anyone taking my blood," he said. Suddenly the same height as her, he locked his eyes on hers.

"How do you do that?" she said, holding her hand up and then lowering it, miming his change in height.

"That's a matter of perspective," he said. "Your perspective, not mine."

Unable to fathom what he was talking about, she said, "Do you know where there's a working elevator?"

As his head touched the ceiling again, he said, "Right here." He took one step to the left. Behind him there was a metal elevator door.

"I must be losing my mind," she said. "I didn't see that there a minute ago." She looked at the wall on both sides of the door and not seeing any buttons, she said, "There's no way to summon it or open the doors."

"Just whistle and it will come and open on its own," he said.

"That's ridiculous," she said.

"So is taking a man's blood who may need it," he said.

Staring up at the man's translucent chin, she said, "I didn't get your name."

"I am Triptor Equatos Directus, PhD, MD, MS, JD, DVM, MSW, MA, and etcetera, or ETC. You can call me Ted, for short," he said. "You are Judith Starling, RN."

"How did you know that?" she said.

"It's on the name tag on your scrubs," he said.

She giggled involuntarily. "So it is. Now, about the elevator," she said.

"A whistle from you will do it," he said.

She pursed her lips and whistled. From behind the door the sounds of turning pulleys and moving metallic gears reverberated out. The door opened and a bell from within chimed.

"That's extraordinary," Judith said. "This will take me down to the basement?" she said.

With his head now at the height of her knees, he looked up at her. "Possibly even further," he said.

She stepped into the elevator and the door closed. Seeing no panel of buttons to start the elevator, self-consciously she let out a whisper of a whistle.

"I wouldn't do that in here if I were you," a high-pitched voice from behind her said.

Judith turned. Staring at a very large canary, her mouth went agape. "You're a bird," she said.

"Thanks for noticing," it said. "I try not to be obvious about it, but the feathers are a dead giveaway."

Speechless, Judith stared at the canary's pale-yellow beak.

"What's that you have in your hands?" it asked.

Judith shook her head as if to clear her mind as well as her vision. "They're tubes of blood."

"Do you always carry them around?" the bird said.

"No," she said. "I'm taking them to the lab to have the blood analyzed. The man it belongs to may be very sick."

"I don't think stealing his blood will be very helpful," the bird said.

Exasperated, Judith said, "We didn't steal it. How do I get this elevator to take me down?"

"Well, whatever you do, don't try to whistle again. It makes my kind very angry to be imitated, and very poorly, if I may say so," the bird said. He pointed to the ceiling with the tip of a wing. A bright baby blue sky was visible with flocks of birds of many varieties doing choreographed loops and circles in mid-air. "One more bad whistle from you and they may all come swooping down on your head."

"I just need to get to the basement," Judith said.

"Okay," the canary said. "Hold onto your blood."

The canary leapt through the top of the elevator joining a passing flock of songbirds. "Good luck in the down under," it said.

There was a sudden jolt that shook Judith from her feet up. The door opened and the bell chimed. She stepped out of the elevator.

Ted was standing on a lily pad at the edge of a pond green with algae. He was no larger than a bullfrog. "Still carrying them around, I see," he said, pointing to the tubes of blood.

Gigantic skyscrapers towered over the small park she was standing in. Flying disc-shaped vehicles with no tires and emitting no exhaust of any kind whizzed around the buildings.

"This isn't the basement," she said.

"That's a matter of perspective," he said. "Yours not mine."

Judith turned to get back in the elevator, but it had vanished. "Now, what'll I do? I need to get to the lab," she said turning back to Ted who had grown to over seven feet tall. The lily pad rocked gently under his large black shoes.

"There are labs in the city," he said.

Judith gazed at the skyscrapers. "Can you take me to one, otherwise I'll definitely get lost?"

Just then a football sized bright purple dragonfly landed on Ted's shoulder. It's four yellow wings vibrated at tremendous speed as it stared at Judith with its large red bulbous eyes.

"Whatever you're doing you can't do it here. The law won't allow it no no no," the dragonfly said, it's voice vibrating as rapid as its wings.

"I just need to get this blood to a lab," Judith said holding up the tubes for the dragonfly to see.

"Unless you're a mosquito, carrying around blood is highly irregular. I'm certain there's a law against it no no no" the dragonfly hummed so fast that one word ran into the next. "You look like a sensible being. Carrying blood around may be some manifestation of a mental deficiency though."

"Can you please speak slower," Judith said.

The dragonfly slowed the beating of its wings. "There are laws about what can be carried about, and carrying blood in tubes is against the law," it said very slowly and clearly. "Are you crazy?"

"No, I'm not. We need to know what is causing Mr. Nigel's illness," Judith said.

"Who is Mr. Nigel?" the dragonfly said.

"He's a patient. It's his blood," Judith said.

"Does he know you have it?" the dragonfly asked.

"He knows it was taken from his arm," Judith said.

"A thief who steals blood unheard of no no no most definitely needs to be reported to the proper authorities," the dragonfly said, returning to running his words together. He lifted into the air and flew off in the direction of the skyscrapers.

"What an annoying creature," Judith said. "Can you get me to a lab?" she asked Ted who had returned to the size of a bullfrog.

"Get on the lily pad and I'll take you to the other end of the pond where there is a path you can take into the city," Ted said.

Judith stepped onto the pad. It rocked violently back and forth causing Ted to fall on his butt.

As he stood up, he said, "You're not very graceful, are you?"

"I'm sorry," Judith said. "Nothing has gone right from the moment I left Mr. Nigel's room."

"Maybe the future will be kinder to you," he said. He leaned over the edge of the pad and splashed his hands around in the water.

A bright orange koi raised its head above the water. "Where ya goin' bub?" it said.

"To the other end of the pond," Ted said.

"Who’s the dame?" the koi asked.

"Someone they call a nurse from another floor," Ted said.

The koi winked at her. "You're quite a dish," he said and then disappeared beneath the water.

As the pad began to move across the surface of the pond, Judith said, "No one ever mentioned these things happening when I was in nursing school."

Upon reaching the other end of the pond, Judith stepped off of the pad and onto a moving walkway. As she was carried forward, she looked back to see that Ted had vanished. Both sides of the walkway were lined with plastic ferns, rubber shrubbery, and fake flowers. The shiny coating on them glistened in the sunlight. At the end of the walkway she stepped onto a concrete sidewalk crowded with pedestrians busily going either one direction or the other. They were all dressed in flamboyant, multicolored garments festooned with ribbons, feathers and large bows. Many stared at her while whispering in each other's ear. So happy to see other human beings, she cordially smiled and nodded. The vehicles whizzed by high above her head.

Looking around she saw a slightly tilted sign in the shape of an arrow that read "Lab This Way." The tip of the arrow pointed to the large skyscraper on the opposite side of the street. The street was lined with tracks for trolley cars that sped by with their bells clanging loudly. She was about to step into the street to cross it when the dragonfly appeared in front of her, and hovered in the air, its wings beating frenetically.

"Thought you'd get away did you making off with the stolen goods? No no no there are laws about such things," it hummed at her without pausing.

Perturbed, Judith said, "Have you never heard of conjunctions?" she snapped.

Momentarily taken back, the dragonfly's orb-like eyes went dark then returned to an even brighter shade of red. It got near her face. "I have no time for them," it said. "It's too late for you to concern yourself with it anyway."

There was a tug on the pants leg of her scrub’s pants. She looked down. A baker's dozen of large cockroaches were standing on their hind legs staring up at her. On each of their chests was a small gold badge with the letters "PA" on them.

"Who are you?" she said.

"We are the Proper Authorities," the roach holding onto her pants leg said. "You are under arrest."

"For what?" Judith protested.

"I told you there's laws against blood thievery," the dragonfly said.

Pulled across the street by the Proper Authorities tugging on the hems of her pants, Judith looked around at the human faces watching her, hoping someone would intervene or that she would wake up if she was merely having a nightmare.

She was pulled through the doors of a skyscraper and to a set of double doors inside above which was a sign that read "Criminal Tomfoolery." Ted was standing in front of the doors holding a large leather-bound book in his arms. He towered over her.

"They've arrested me for just doing my job," she said to him.

"I'm to be your legal counsel," he said. "Don't worry, the worse that can happen is that you'll be sent to another floor in the upsandowns."

"What is an upsandowns?" she said.

"It's what brought you here," he said.

As the doors opened and the aroma of hay wafted out, "You mean the elevator?" she said.

"What a strange thing to call something that only elevates you if you're going up," he said.

Pulled into a large court room, Judith was seated at a table in front of a wood rail fence. The entire floor of the court room was covered in hay. The room was packed with humans and an array of farm animals, including chickens, cows, ducks, and sheep.

Ted sat down beside her and patted her reassuringly on her arm.

"Ted you're now my height," Judith said.

"It's never good to be taller than the judge," he said.

With that, a barn door behind the wood railing opened and a white horse trotted out. It leaned down and scooped some hay into its mouth and began to chew. Looking at Judith, the horse said, "You've been charged with being in possession of blood that belongs to someone else."

Those in the court room gasped, mooed, cackled and bleated.

Ted stood up. "Your honor, my client came here from another floor on the upsandowns. Where she comes from the barbaric practice of removing one's blood to ascertain its chemistry is still done."

"How is the blood obtained?" the judge said.

"I believe they stick a needle into the person and draw it out," Ted said.

A chicken let out a loud cackle and then fainted.

"Why not just call a blood whisperer?" the judge said.

Ted looked at Judith questioningly.

"I have no idea what a blood whisperer is," she said. "Blood hasn't the ability to hear or speak."

"Anything with cells does," Ted said to her.

The judge whinnied. "A clear case of medical malpractice," he said. "Any final statements before I render a verdict?"

"Your honor, if I may approach the fence?" Ted said.

"If you must," the judge said.

Ted walked to the railing. As the judge bent its head down, Ted whispered in its ear.

The judge raised its head and let out a long neigh. "Case dismissed," the judge pronounced as it turned to go back through the barn door.

The crowd in the court room erupted into a cacophonous melee. The Proper Authorities began dragging humans and livestock out.

As Ted returned to the table where Judith was sitting, she said, "What did you say to the judge?"

"That you are no different than anyone else on your floor, that you're all insane and it will be some time before a remedy is found," Ted said.

"I'm not insane," Judith said.

"From our perspective, you certainly are," Ted said.

The dragonfly flew up to the table and hovered in mid-air. "I wouldn't stick around too long. No no no you're a menace to society carrying blood around willy-nilly."

"Get away from me you unpleasant creature," Judith said.

"Harrumph," the dragonfly hummed, then flew off.

Judith turned to Ted. "I saw a sign with the word lab on it pointing to this building. Could you take me to it so that I can get Mr. Nigel's blood tested?"

"Our labs and your labs are quite different," Ted said.

"How so?" Judith said.

"They would just re-construct an entirely new Mr. Nigel instead of getting their hands messy trying to fix the old one," he said.

"That'll never do," Judith said. "Can you get me back to the upsandowns?"

"Yes, but it may take some effort," he said.

He snapped his fingers. Judith was suddenly standing in the park in front of the elevator door. Ted was standing next to her. He had doubled in height.

"I thought you said it would take some effort?" she said. "That was easy."

"That's a matter of perspective," he said. "Your perspective, not mine."

He vanished and the elevator door opened. Judith stepped in and as the doors closed, she looked around to make sure there was no canary. A moment later the door opened again. In front of her was a white door with a small placard affixed to it that read "Hematology Lab."

The End


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