Hudson was dreaming. There was pain, but it was distant and vague, as if it were cushioned in cotton. He tried to open his eyes, but his lids were heavy. An image of the bottle from the night before materialized on the back of his eyelids. He saw his trembling hand reach for it, raise it to his lips. Cheap stuff, but a homeless man down on his luck couldn’t afford to be particular. Memories struggled up from the blackness of sleep. He recalled stumbling to the tunnels for the night, being turned away by the threatening presence of a gang. Where did he go then? As his mind gradually cleared, Hudson remembered lurching down the shadowy city streets, leaning against a lamppost as the chill October breeze penetrated his thin clothes. But, he could recall no more.
His eyes opened into slits, the bright light an agony in his brain. Carefully, he turned his head from side to side, waiting for his vision to focus. Details sharpened. The bed under him was soft, the pillowcase beneath his cheek cool cotton. He was in a room. White walls, white shades at the windows, an IV drip at his bedside. The slow beep of a monitor somewhere over his shoulder. Hospital then, he decided. He must be sick, probably alcohol poisoning. Hudson groaned.
He wanted to roll over to his side, but he could not move. His pulse picked up. The beeping sound increased in intensity. Raising his head, he found his forehead met an obstacle. He was strapped to the bed! Struggling produced no results; his body was held fast.
The door creaked opened and a white-coated figure with a clipboard entered his field of vision. With his stringy gray hair, round eyeglasses and lazy expression, the man looked more like an aging lovechild than a medical professional.
“John Doe! You’re awake.” His voice was jovial.
“My name’s Hudson,” Hudson croaked, his throat parched.
“You’ll always be John Doe to me.” The man sang. Hudson felt a tinge of worry.
“What happened, Doctor?”
“Doctor. Now, I like the sound of that.” The hippie smiled and closed his eyes for a moment, then sighed. “However, I’m technically just an orderly. But you may call me Doctor. I welcome you to my humble home.”
“Home? Not a hospital?”
“Don’t worry. You’re in a much better place than you were last night. Last night you were a worthless drunk. But today, you are a valuable specimen. And this is practically a hospital, very well-equipped. In fact, you’ve already had a bit of surgery. Let me loosen your head strap so you can see.” Doctor laid the clipboard aside and fussed with the buckle near Hudson’s head. The monitor registered a burst in Hudson’s pulse rate.
“Go ahead. Take a look.” Doctor gestured toward the lower half of the bed. Hudson lifted his head and looked down. Under a brilliant white sheet, he noted the outline of his torso and pelvis. But where his legs ought to be, the sheet was flat. The monitor went wild with frantic beeping.
“My legs!” Hudson began to thrash in earnest now, but his movements were small and impotent under the tight control of his restraints. And, he was so weak. “Oh, lord! What happened to me?”
Doctor ignored the anguish in Hudson’s voice. “Don’t be upset. I removed your legs last night. But, here’s the good news.” He paused, a look of delight on his face. “I can grow them back for you!”
“What?” Hudson felt his head might explode as horror raced through him. The man was obviously deranged.
Doctor beamed. “Do you know what ‘regeneration’ is? When certain reptiles lose a tail, a new one grows back in its place. It’s a marvel of nature! I’ve concluded there’s no real reason other species can’t do the same. So, I’ve been secretly working on a special formula that will cause flesh to regenerate. I’ll start your treatments at the end of the week and before you know it, you will have your limbs back.”
“What was wrong with my legs?” Hudson managed to gasp.
“Why, nothing! They were fine legs. But they had to be sacrificed for the sake of science. Don’t worry; they’ll grow back. And it will only take about three months. Isn’t that exciting news?”
“You’re crazy! Let me out of here!” Hudson wailed, tears rolling from his eyes.
“No, I can’t do that. You’re a bit of a prisoner here, I’m afraid. You’re not going anywhere. It’s modern medicine, John Doe, the greater good! Science is the god before whom we all must bow!” Doctor chuckled as he pushed Hudson’s head back onto the pillow and reattached the strap. “I know it’s a bit of a shock, but you’re making too much of this. You, my friend, will go down in the annals of medical history. You should appreciate this opportunity to serve mankind.”
Hudson screamed and screamed. Doctor watched him dispassionately while withdrawing a syringe from his coat pocket.
“This will help you calm down,” Doctor said as held the syringe up and tapped it briskly.
“No, no! I’m calm!” Hudson tried to appear relaxed, but the beeping monitor betrayed him. “Don’t knock me out, please. Let’s talk. You say you can fix this. Tell me, have you fixed it before?”
Doctor’s face tightened. “I’ve come close enough. I’m sure it will work this time.”
“Close enough?” Hudson’s heart pounded like a sledgehammer against his chest. He strained uselessly. Doctor slid the needle into his IV tubing.
“After your surgery tomorrow, I’ll give you a little something special to eat,” Doctor said brightly as he emptied the syringe.
“Surgery tomorrow?” Hudson’s tongue grew thick. He fought to stay awake, but his awareness began to fade as the drug crept through his veins.
Before he lost consciousness, he heard Doctor say, “Yes, I’ll be removing your arms tomorrow. After that, your ears. Then your lips and your nose…”