The Next Level

Listening to Connor describe all of the various sound effects that I had been setting off in his room was extremely difficult. Well, to do so without laughing, or at least smiling, was hard. But, somehow, I managed.

I am, after all, a professional.

“As far as I’m aware, no one else has complained of these noises,” I told him when he was finished. I didn’t see any reason to mention that all of the other rooms in his wing were devoid of patients, or that I had installed additional insulation in the ceiling and floor long before his arrival for extra soundproofing. “So, it would seem, you’re the only one who can hear them.”

Can hear them?” Connor’s look of concern was briefly destroyed by a massive yawn before it reformed itself perfectly. “You didn’t say ‘did hear them’, you said ‘can hear them’… that kinda makes it seem like you think it’s all in my head.”

“Please don’t put words in my mouth,” I told him with a stern wag of my finger that actually made him look sheepish. “It’s possible this is just an adverse reaction to one of your medications. I’ll have to terminate your current prescriptions and try something else.”

“Terminate? That sounds a little… extreme, don’t you think?”

I gave Connor an unimpressed stare before pulling a folder out of the pile to my right and flipping it open so that the cover shielded the papers within. I added a cute little bunny to a picnic scene I’d been working on and then turned to the next page, where my real notes lay. After a quick glance at my watch, I jotted down the date, time, and an assessment of Connor’s current state. Which read, in full: On the brink. Ready for the next level.

“You look like you could use some sleep, Connor. Why don’t you head back to your room and lie down for a while?” I tapped my pen thoughtfully on my desk while he tried in vain to suppress another yawn. Then, in a fit of inspiration, I added, “If you like, I can have Tobias or Dwayne stand guard outside your door to make sure you’re not disturbed by any excessive noise?”

“No, no, that won’t be necessary,” he replied quickly with a shake of his head. “I, uh, wouldn’t want to… um, inconvenience them or anything. I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

He’d be back in his room, all by himself again. Perfect.

“If you’re sure.” An affirmative nod that snapped up and down so quick it almost woke him up. “I’ll walk you back to your room to make sure you get there without incident. I don’t think I trust you to make it without falling down and hurting yourself!”

“Thanks, Doc. I appreciate you looking out for me.”

I had to hide a laugh behind a forced cough. I did a pretty poor job of it, really, but Connor was certainly far too tired to notice. It was a long, slow trip back to Room 333, with my prized patient nearly falling asleep at several points. I practically had to drag him up the stairs when he tried to sit down ‘just for a quick rest’. It was fascinating to see how much a bit of missed sleep messed with him.

“Good night,” I said as I was closing his door, before pausing and asking, “or should I say good morning?”

“Please don’t,” Connor muttered and collapsed into his bed fully clothed. I let an unseen smile spread across my lips and closed the door firmly.

I have to admit I was rather tired and had been looking forward to a lengthy nap myself, but opportunities like that one could not be ignored. So I did my best to rush back to my office without attracting undue attention, though I did have to sidestep Russell in the lobby and pretend not to hear him calling my name as I slipped into the administrative wing.

Once I was safely back in my sanctuary I switched on my TV and changed it from the local morning news report to the feed from Connor’s room. There he was, a lump of arms and legs on his bed, sleeping fitfully.

“Not for long,” I whispered, a silent giggle jerking my shoulders up and down. “Let’s see what you make of a potential gas leak, my puppet.”

With the press of a button, tape player number four began emitting a soft, steady hissing noise. It wasn’t, of course, loud enough to wake Connor - that’s what number three was for.

“Nails on a chalkboard, coming right up!”

He bolted upright, hands clamped over his ears and a tortured expression warping his features. I stopped the screeching (once I managed to stop howling with laughter) and let the hissing continue. It took him a few moments to trust that the noise that woke him wouldn’t return - an observation I quickly jotted down without looking away from the screen - before tentatively uncovering his ears.

Connor cocked his head to the right, listening intently. As soon as alarm registered on his face I stopped the tape player. A few blinks of confusion later I started it again. He swung his legs down to the floor and I pressed stop again. A shake of his head, a yawn, and then he began to ease his head towards his pillow. More hissing.

I literally could have done that all week.

But there was new work to be done so, in the name of research, I relented. Eventually. It took quite a while after I stopped messing with him before Connor made another valiant attempt at sleep. It was then I picked up the phone and dialled a number from memory.

“What?” I wouldn’t have described the voice at the other end of the line as grumpy, per se. It was more… unapologetically blunt.

“Dwayne. It’s Doc Esco.”


“Sorry to bother you on your day off, but I was wondering if you were looking for some extra credit here at the Institute.”

“I’ve got poker in half an hour,” he replied, but I could hear that I’d piqued his curiosity. “What sort of extra credit are we talking about here?”

“Just a little job, between me and you. Strictly off the books, mind, but I’m quite certain we can work out some sort of payment that you would find… agreeable.”


I gave them. And, after a little bit of perfunctory haggling, the elder Grim brother agreed. Just like I knew he would.

I am, after all, a professional.

The End

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