The man walked to the door and peered out into the hall. When he was sure that no one was coming, he slid out into the hallway, pulling his robe with him. As the door closed quietly behind him, he might have heard the subtle ding echoing down the hall. But intent on his purpose, he shuffled his slippered feet down the dimly lit path to freedom.
The antiseptic smells and quiet thrum of the noises from monitors and machines provided a backdrop for the man’s journey. He passed Nellie snoring in her chair, the overweight nurse slumped over her workstation. There was Rusty, the aged hound, who raised an eyelid to peer at the man trudging past, but did not bark.
The lights flickered, and the man paused, placing one trembling hand on the wall to steady himself. In the other hand, he grasped the locket, with the old picture of Grace he knew so well. He knew he could make it, he had to. The last time, they had caught him in the lobby, sneaking past the night guard – also sleeping – who startled awake when Augie started screaming that the man wasn’t in his bed.
He’d make it this time. He had to. Like a mantra, he kept repeating it to himself.
Wearily, he wiped his forehead, the beads of sweat clumping below his hairline and at the base of his neck. Why was it so hot in here? He wondered. Why did they have to keep the temperature so hot? It was hotter than hell in here. He had to escape.
If not for himself, then for Grace.
Rounding the corner, he spied the night guard, what was his name again? Rick, the man reminded himself. No chance he’d get past him in if the man was awake, and worse, he might actually grab him by the arm, too. Last time, he’d left bruises, angry escorting him back to his room. His cell, more like it, he reminded himself, angrily.
It hadn’t always been like this. Back when things were good and perfect. Grace had always been his beauty, his love, his life. He couldn’t imagine life without her. But then things got complicated, when she had gone from this vibrant soul to a hospital bed connected to tubes, and that beast of a machine that forced breath in and out…
Shaking his head clear of the memories, the man quietly crept back down the hall. Someone groaned loudly from a nearby room and he froze. But the loud snores soon resumed, and the man worked past his own room, toward the other end of the hall.
Hearing a creak from the stairs, he ducked into Gene’s room. Gene’s frail body was contorted in some dream, or nightmare. His silent agony in sleep made the man shake his head, silently wiping a tear from his eye. What was it about this place that forced people into such a sad state?
As the footsteps crossed the doorway outside, the man held his breath. He saw the shadows cross the crack under the door, and heard the steps stop. Had he left his door open? Had they somehow heard him? What could he do?
But then the steps moved forward, down the hall toward where Nellie snored. Putting his hand carefully on the wall, he slowly pulled the door open and crept back out into the hallway.
Shuffling his feet across the torn carpet and worn floorboards, he stopped when he reached the linoleum entryway that lead to the staff’s entrance. His slippers would fail him here, either smacking against the floor or causing him to slip. Begrudgingly, he slowly pulled his feet out from the slippers, he felt the chill as his feet touched the cold plastic. He discarded them in the trash can, knowing that he’d never need them again.
Through the door, he could see the snow softly falling, its mesmerizing motion reminding him of days past. Better days, with Grace in the snow. Taking walks, playfully lobbing snow balls, chasing the kids and the dog through snow drifts and across the lawn. Better days, for sure.
His palm felt frozen against the glass, but he knew that Grace was waiting for him. Pushing the door open, he cast one look back down the hallway. He’d made it this far, and he wouldn’t let her down.
Down three steps, he hobbled across the driveway, his feet soon numb to the chill. The snow wasn’t thick yet, but it was coming down in fistfuls. He stuck his tongue out to catch a flake or two on his tongue, smiling at the memories that the crystalized water brought to mind.
Pulling his robe tightly around him, he headed for the woods. Grace would be there. He needed Grace.
The next morning, the staff sounded the alarm when they discovered that the man in Room 7 wasn’t in his bed.
The back door had frozen shut, with the locket hanging from the handle glimmering softly. They soon realized that there were footprints faintly fading under the still falling snow. They led into the woods, but it would be days before the snow stopped falling.
By then, the man from Room 7 would be long gone.