The Orderly

by Elise Forier Edie

The State of California closed the Apple Valley Residential Care Facility for code violations. Straight up, Darnellas and I had nothing to do with it. He did laundry. I washed dishes. We learned about the scandal from newspapers, like everybody else. How helpless old residents were tied to their beds. How sexual predators looked after them. How sick folk lay neglected for days. After the stories broke, we both felt dirty and degenerate just staring at the logo on our paychecks. Darnellas said he was ashamed of his nametag, too. He stopped wearing it on the bus to work.

The last week the Apple Valley Care was open, right before Labor Day, a rumor circulated among the staff that another corporation had bought us out. Darnellas and I were anxious to hear more. Despite the frightening stories, we wanted to keep our jobs. But no one offered us contracts and we thought that pretty much sucked balls. I mean, it’s tough to get a job when you’re disabled (me) or an ex-con (Darnellas). At the Apple Valley, we had both clocked in on time and worked hard every day. Now we had to carry the stink of corruption around, while staring at the long, depressing, shit-filled slog of unemployment—tedious paperwork, the humiliation of standing in line to secure benefits, all to collect half a paycheck that wouldn’t even cover the bills. I have anxiety problems as it is. Ladle a generous portion of “how the fuck do I pay my rent” and “what do I do with my life now” on top of the usual soup of “what if,” and I could feel a permanent headache starting to pound.

On our last Friday, Darnellas and I finished our shifts by sitting in the locker room, just shooting the breeze. We stayed for what seemed like hours. Sharp stripes of sunlight coming through the high windows gave way to the blurry glow of golden twilight. Still we rambled. There wasn’t a whole lot to the conversation. “Ain’t nobody gonna hire you, you check the ‘felony’ box on the job application,” and, “Find me another employer’s gonna put up with my PTSD,” was the circling refrain. But neither one of us wanted to go home. That would make the no-job problem real. And as long as Darnellas and I lingered at the Apple Valley, we could pretend everything was still fine.

It was getting on full dark when Darnellas finally looked at his watch and said, “There’s a bag of old clothes in the front hallway. I was gonna take it to my church for the rummage sale.” He was a big one for church, was Darnellas. “I’m gonna get it before I go. You need anything from out thattaway, Andy?”

“Unless there’s a job offer in the hallway, I’m good,” I said.

“Well, I’ll let you know if there is.” He smiled, saluted, and left.

I sat alone in the darkening room and tried to fight off panic. Since Iraq, I have to do that a lot. My shoulders tense. The muscles in my neck get rock hard. My jaw aches. Then a ferocious headache slams in like a freight train. If I can calm down quick enough, the headache will be the worst. If I can’t relax, a kind of red fog engulfs me. Bad things happen there. I rarely remember them. When the fog boils away, I find blood-smeared spears of glass on the floor, girlfriends weeping. My hands might be wrapped around a gun. Once or twice I’ve come around in the psychiatric hospital.

If I stick to a routine, if I stay in predictable environments, if I keep things quiet, the red fog stays away. But losing my job had screwed that right the hell up. It was all I could do to take deep breaths and try to unclench my hands. I told myself again and again that I could get through it. One more second. One more second. One more second and I would not blow my head off.

I don’t know how long I sat there, thinking about how nice it would be to pull a trigger under my chin. But when Darnellas finally came back, it was so dark in that locker room, I could only see the whites of his eyes as he stood in the doorway. He flicked on the light. He pressed a palm to his big chest.

“Andy,” he said. It sounded like someone had wrapped a hand around his throat. “Andy, man. There’s people here still.”

I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about. “People from the State?” I pictured a bunch of bureaucrats in suits standing around. I mean, I couldn’t imagine anything else. The Apple Valley had chains and padlocks on the front doors, and a big sign that said, “Closed Until Further Notice.”

Darnellas went, “Huh-uh.” He used the bottom of his T-shirt to mop at some sweat on his forehead. “Residents are still here. You feel me? There’s sick, old people and ain’t nobody watching them.”

“But … everyone’s supposed to leave.”

“Yeah, and I’m telling you, man. Got to be a dozen old folks still here.” He massaged his chest again. “’Bout gave me a heart attack, seeing them.”

“Residents? But… Who’s gonna take care of them?”

And Darnellas went, “Bingo.”


We tip-toed through the halls. It was spooky. Part of it was, I was used to seeing people around. Cute ladies in SpongeBob scrubs. Orderlies balancing trays of food. But also, now that I knew painful things had been done to helpless residents, most likely by those same cute ladies and orderlies, everything felt tainted and sad. The only sound was the squeak of my sneakers on the floor. At the nurse’s station, there were dark patches on the dust-covered desks, where all the computers used to sit. In rooms I passed, raggedy curtains hung down and the tables and bureaus were smeary with fingerprints.

But Darnellas hadn’t been mistaken. There were residents everywhere, frail, old people, with spotted skin and wispy hair. Most of them were the really far-gone cases, the ones who just lie in beds, with spit shining on their chins. A couple of Alzheimer goons still wandered around. One of them had wet his pants and the front of his pajamas were soaked all the way down to the cuffs.

Darnellas scrunched against a wall. He’s a big, black man, built like a football player, but right then he looked as small and scared as I felt. “What the hell are we gonna do?” he whispered.

“Think the owners’re taking care of this?”

“No. You see anybody, Andy?” Darnellas had tears in his eyes. “I think these people just plain been forgot.”

We watched as the old guy who had peed himself shuffled past. The wet bottoms of his pajamas had turned brown from dragging on the floor.

“Friday night. Nobody’s coming over the holiday weekend,” I said.

“Somebody gotta stay. Somebody got to watch over them.”

“I’ll do it.” The words brought a little rush of relief, one that scrubbed at the red fog gathering in the corners of the halls. I wouldn’t have to go home. I could stick with the routine a little longer.

Darnellas must have felt the same. He didn’t suggest we get help, or call emergency services. He just said, “You bet. Somebody got to stay, and I guess that’s us.”


We were in the middle of a head count when we found the Professor. He was in the TV lounge, staring at a blank screen, a little guy in a wheelchair. He looked kind of like a garden gnome, with a big head of white hair and a beard. His face brightened as soon as he saw us. He went, “Are you the skeleton crew, my good men?”

Darnellas said, “S’pose we are now, by default.”

“Excellent,” he said. “I was so hoping you both would stay. Folks call me the Professor.”

I was so relieved to see someone who had their head on straight, I about laughed myself into a coma. We blabbed for a while, all about the closure, the left-behinds, and then Darnellas asked, “Do you know the nighttime routine, Mr. Professor? Can you help us maybe with the medications and whatnot?”

“I can try,” the Professor said. He added, “So you’re staying?”

Darnellas and I glanced at one another. “Andy and me think it ain’t right to leave you all untended,” he said.

The Professor turned to me. His eyeglasses caught the light and for a second it was like he had headlamps in his face. I felt my skin shrink a little with fear. But then he tilted up his chin, and I saw only his eyes again behind his spectacles. “What do you think, Andy? Are you staying?”

“Wouldn’t be decent to do anything else.”

He nodded and smiled. He had big, white teeth. He said something like, “I’ll draw up the papers,” and I suppose I should have paid attention to that. But I didn’t.


I was awful busy holding it together that first night. My spine still felt like a burning bar of iron between my throbbing shoulder blades. Red fog still rolled in the periphery. I helped Darnellas move all the leftover residents into two rooms next door to each other. We shoved the dirtiest ones in the shower and hosed them off. One frail, old lady who had messed her bed shrieked and shrieked at Darnellas, “I didn’t know! I thought it was all right!” She kept wailing and weeping. Everyone coughed. It sounded horrible and liquid, like garbage disposals grinding things to pieces.

Worst of all, I heard this buzzing everywhere, like the hum of fluorescent lights, but more, I don’t know, meaty, somehow. I kept looking for where it was coming from. I flicked lights on and off. I pressed my ear on heating grates. But I couldn’t find a source. After a while, it kind of faded into the background. But it never really went away.

Eventually, Darnellas went off to the pharmacy closet behind the nurse’s station. He and the Professor got busy setting out cups for pills. I headed to the kitchen, where I spooned out applesauce and cut up Spam. I fed everyone and then loaded the dishwasher, plates on the bottom, cups on top, all of it smelling like lemons and detergent. Much of the pain and paranoia slid off and swirled down the drain, leaving exhaustion in its place. I leaned against the steel sink, trembling with relief.

“The red fog didn’t take me. I didn’t kill anyone. I didn’t kill myself,” I whispered to the drain. The proof was in the soap drying on my hands.

It was about four in the morning by then. Darnellas and I rolled ourselves up in gurneys in the hallway and tried to sleep.

“Andy?” he said, as I was drifting off. “That Professor’s a strange cat, don’tcha think? Reminds me of someone.”

“A garden gnome?”

Darnellas chuckled. “Nah. I mean something in the back of my head. Heard it once, maybe.” There was silence, except for that buzzing, which seemed to swell and grow louder.

“Did we forget something, Andy?” he asked.

“I’m sure we did. But I’m too tired to remember it.”

Towards dawn I got up to pee, and I thought I saw the Professor, sitting in his wheelchair next to the lady who had screamed at Darnellas. He held her hand in his own claw-like one and whispered in her ear. His voice was smooth and quiet. “You should worry,” he said. “Why else do you think you’re here?”

As I turned into the bathroom, I thought I heard him add, “That boy you helped lynch will never forgive you. You didn’t know better, but it’s still your fault.”

I thought I heard her cry out. But I could have heard wrong.


When I woke again and glanced in a room, I saw something that sent me hurrying to Darnellas’s gurney. He was still asleep, curled up with his knees hanging off one side of the mattress and his feet dangling off the other. I shook his shoulder until he blinked at me.

“There’s more folks in the rooms down the hall,” I told him.

He sat up, rubbing his chest. “That ain’t possible, Andy.”

“I’ll show you.”

At least half a dozen new people had shown up in the night. We couldn’t have missed them before.

“Somebody’s being funny.” Darnellas glared at me.

“You think I did this?” I said, “Damn, Darnellas. We have our hands full as it is.”

He shook his head and muttered. But there wasn’t anything else to say. The residents were hungry and dirty and agitated. We had to get to work. So, we moved the new people into the two large rooms we had already dubbed “Headquarters,” parking their beds in between shelves of old board games and books. We set about tending everyone again. But I was scared. The red fog was churning. I felt another headache pounding closer.

Call me an asshole, but after I finished moving all the strangers, and before I started making breakfast, I went to the pharmacy closet behind the nurse’s desk and grabbed a bottle of Xanax. It was just sitting there, the cotton still puffed in the top. I popped two pills. Things got easier after that. The red fog retreated. I fed folks, cleaned the dishes. Before I started up the whole cycle again for lunch, I stopped at the nurse’s station. Darnellas slumped behind the desk. The Professor sat nearby, grinning in his wheelchair.

“We gotta call someone,” I said. My scrubs had big, wet blobs under the arms from sweating. My legs ached from running around so much. “I don’t think we can handle this all weekend, man.”

Darnellas said, “I’m way ahead of you, Andy.” He waved a tired hand at the telephone on the desk beside him. “But I already tried the State of California twice. Got an answering machine saying they won’t be back until Tuesday.” He sounded as tired as I felt. “Labor Day weekend, man.”

“What about 9-1-1?”

“They ain’t answering.”

I felt my forehead wrinkle. “They have to.”

Darnellas nodded. His eyes were bloodshot and unfocused with fatigue. “I’ll keep trying. If I can’t reach them, I’ll head out, soon as everyone’s settled for the afternoon. See if I can’t find somebody to help us. You can go on home if you need to.”

The Professor chimed in. “Andy doesn’t want to go home. Do you, Andy?”

I didn’t know what the hell I wanted. I’d had maybe two hours of sleep, and two Xanax. But I said to Darnellas, “If you’re staying, I’ll stay.”

Darnellas rubbed his chest. The Professor’s smile widened. His teeth were so big and white, I swear they glowed.


The afternoon passed like a dream. Darnellas and I kept doing like we had. When we weren’t wiping and feeding people, we got out big sheets of paper, and taped them to the hall wall. We drew maps with Expo pens of where all the leftover residents were, along with nicknames (“Screaming Lady,” “Goatee Granddad,” “Carrot #1,”). Darnellas pinned nametags and bed assignments to the wandering Alzheimer’s goons. The Professor helped where he could, zipping around in his wheelchair, holding the hands of distressed residents and murmuring in his deep voice. As I rushed here and there, I caught snatches of what he said. It was strange. To an almost toothless man, gasping for breath, “The cracking sound a child’s bone makes. It’s like stomping a cockroach, isn’t it?” To an old woman with a bald spot on the back of her head, “But cruelty feels lovely. Do you know it’s like a snort of cocaine? Every time you gossip, your brain gives you a little jolt of happy juice.”

It was starting to creep me out. I went to talk to Darnellas about it. I thought maybe we should lock the Professor up or something. He seemed nuts. But when I found my friend lying flat on his back in the hallway, gasping for breath, I forgot about the Professor.

“You’re having a fucking heart attack,” I said. My hands shook. I’d had basic First Aid training in the Army. But all I knew to do for a heart attack was call 9-1-1. “Jesus Christ, Darnellas. I’m gonna get help. Look.” I wiped my hands on my scrubs. “There’s a pharmacy one block over. There’s a fire station half a mile away.” His skin was turning gray. His eyes rolled in his head. The red fog was everywhere.

The Professor’s voice piped up behind me. “Aspirin, nitroglycerine and oxygen, he’ll be fine, Andy. I can show you where that is in the medication closets.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” I yelled.

The Professor folded his little hands, as if in prayer. “We have everything we need. If you get the supplies from the pharmacy closet for Darnellas, you won’t have to worry about him, Andy. No one needs to leave.”

The Professor looked more twisted than I remembered. Had his little elbows always crooked at those funny angles? Had his legs always crossed to the side, at the knee? Had his eyes always been that big, behind his lenses? I couldn’t remember. But I couldn’t remember much of anything, I was so fucking scared.

“No way I can handle this alone. I’ll be back. I’ll be back, Darnellas.” I started down the hall on trembling legs. I had become aware of the buzzing again, in the walls, in the ceiling. I felt my cheeks shaking with it.

“Come find me, if you change your mind,” the Professor called.

I was afraid if I turned and looked at him again, he would be different, more twisted, more gnarled. I broke into a trot.

I let myself out the back door—the only one in the whole Apple Valley that didn’t have a padlock and chain on it. I propped it open with a blue carton full of latex gloves, so it wouldn’t slam shut and lock behind me. Then I set off across the asphalt of the empty parking lot, my boots grating on the grit. I breathed in deep and lifted my face to feel the night air.

But there was no comforting breeze for my sweating skin. And the night was silent and lightless as the inside of a cardboard box. No sounds of crickets, not even cars on a distant freeway. I could see the pharmacy parking lot, or I thought I could, an island of brightness, shining behind a row of dark roofs across the street. But there wasn’t any other light anywhere. Not headlights, moonlight, not even TV screens shining in house windows.

I was reminded of a model train set in a store window I’d seen as a boy in Chicago. Everything looked right and real, houses and trees lining the streets. But none of the cars parked on the corners really drove. None of the pretty pine trees grew. Only the train moved, slipping along its predetermined path. I was the train. I was the train. Everything else was dead.

I walked slower and slower, hoping it would change. Whatever bubble of craziness I had popped into, I wanted to pop out again, so things would churn back to life. But everything just stayed quiet, except for my heartbeat, pounding faster and faster. When the red fog finally boiled over, I just let it. Who was I gonna hurt? There was no one. So, I bent over, like I was puking, and screamed, sounding animal-like, going, “Hnhhh, hnhhh, hnhh!” And then I was crouched on a lawn, on the black grass, tearing up pieces of turf. And I kept screaming because none of it smelled like dirt. None of it smelled like grass. None of it smelled like anything. I tasted ashes and smoke. It was like being back in Baghdad, when everything in the whole goddamn universe was made of sand and wind and fire.

I don’t remember running back to the Apple Valley. I was way too deep in the red fog to remember anything. But I do know I wound up just inside the loading dock again, trembling by a water fountain, my teeth chattering. When the fountain’s refrigeration motor whirred on, I about leapt out of my skin.

All of a sudden, the Professor glided up, grinning. “Well, Andy,” he said. “Are you ready to let me show you how to help your friend?”

I had sweated right through my shirt. My hair had clumps of dirt and dead grass in it. But he just beamed like nothing was weird at all. So, after standing there blankly for a second, I went down the hall to that damn pharmacy closet and, with the Professor pointing it out, collected all the shit I needed to help Darnellas with his heart attack. I mean, what else could I do?


Later, I moved my gurney next to Darnellas’s, in case he needed something in the night. He said the pain was going away. He said the oxygen tasted good.

“Darnellas,” I asked him. “What do you know about dying?”

“You think I’m dying?” His eyes rolled in their sockets.

I took a breath. “I think you’re okay for now. Just … what do you know about it? About what happens after you go?”

His gaze drifted back to the hall ceiling above us, with its popcorn tiles and rectangular light fixtures. His mouth went soft. “You go to heaven, Andy, if you believe in Jesus.”

“And if you don’t believe in anything?” I had turned half the lights off, so everything was dim and gray. It was mostly quiet. There was the sound of Darnellas breathing and the faint music of someone singing a few rooms down. It was a quavery voice, warbling “The Red River Valley.” “If you don’t believe in Jesus, what happens when you die, Darnellas?”

“I don’t know,” he said at last. “Preacher tells me you go to hell.”

I felt cold. “And what’s that like?”

“Supposed to be the worst place there is.”

“Sounds about right.”

“Never did make sense to me, though,” he said. “What if you never heard of Jesus? Seems to me a merciful God wouldn’t just throw you in a pit for being a dumbass. ’Specially seeing as how God made you a dumbass in the first place.”

I laughed. He laughed too, although it was more of a wheeze. Then we quieted down. The singer went on, soft and high. I will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile.

“Seems to me there’d be a place for lost souls. People who messed up their lives. There’d be angels there to teach them,” Darnellas said. “Like a school, maybe.”

“Man, I always hated school.”

“Oh, me too.” We chuckled again. Darnellas sighed. “But God ain’t about making things easy, Andy. Nothing says God’s easy.”

“What is God, then?”

“Forgiveness and love.”

I thought of the Professor. “Would the devil have a classroom, too?”

“Oh. He always gets a classroom, Andy. Because we always have a choice.”

I wondered if I should tell Darnellas what I saw outside. But I didn’t have the heart for it. In the end I just lay there and watched his eyelids flutter and his big chest go up and down.

I must have started to drift off, because when he spoke again, my whole body jerked.

“You think the Professor got a name?”

“I’m not sure I want to know it.”

“I had a dream he came by in his wheelchair, and he ate my hand off with those teeth of his, Andy.”

“Your hand’s still there, man. I can see it.” But I wasn’t looking. It was too easy to imagine a leaking stump instead.


In my dream that night, the buzzing noise was so loud, my ears rang with it. I swung off my gurney, and jogged down the hallway, looking for its source. Some of the residents were up and wandering. I almost bumped into a woman with wild white hair. When I passed Headquarters, I glimpsed the Professor, grinning and holding the hand of a naked bald man, who flailed and twisted in his bed like a big, speckled maggot. The buzz was everywhere. I felt like I would go crazy if I couldn’t make it stop.

Finally, I wound up in the locker room. Here the noise was deafening. It was dark inside, but my fingers found the light switch. What I saw there brought me to my knees.

It was an abattoir. Blood soaked the walls and carpets. Benches and locker doors were spattered with it. I knew from Baghdad how spilled blood will clot. It gets more like pudding than anything else, a brown rotten pudding that smells like meat and metal. Thousands of flies were feasting on it, in a wriggling, buzzing black mass. I shouted and waved my arms at them. They flew up, scattering into an ugly cloud. The buzz became more frantic.

When I woke with a start, it was to the sound of the Professor’s voice, murmuring softly. He was parked right by Darnellas’s gurney. He held my friend’s big, brown hand.

“He died because of you.”

“No.” Darnellas’s voice was barely a whisper, he was so weak.

“You were happy when he got shot instead. Especially since the robbery was your idea.”

“No. I loved Troy.”

“You were happy when he died. Even when his mother cursed you—”

“Hey.” I sat up. “What the hell are you doing? Get away from him.”

The Professor drew back. “I’m only trying to help. You don’t want to be alone here, Andy. Do you? You want your friend to stay. Isn’t that right?”

The Professor’s smile set my teeth on edge. “I don’t want you talking to him.”

“Andy?” Darnellas’s voice shook like an old man’s.

“It’s okay.” I told him. “We were just having nightmares.”

I stood by Darnellas’s gurney until the Professor glided away.


More strange people lay in rooms that had been empty the night before. I spared Darnellas the news. I let him sleep, and just changed the charts and papers, moving a couple of card tables to make room in Headquarters, adding some new nicknames—“Long-haired Lady,” “Striped Sock Dude”—and expanding the map to include a new hall.

Then I went and stood in front of the pharmacy closet for a long time. I thought about what the Professor had said—how we had everything we needed to help Darnellas. Hell, we had everything we needed to help anybody. That closet was crammed with pills and potions. And the more I thought about it, the weirder that seemed. Because if the Apple Valley had really been staffed by crooks and losers, wouldn’t it follow the drug closet would have been picked clean before they closed the doors for good? The computers were gone. Why hadn’t someone taken the Oxy and Adderal? Why leave behind the Valium? Even I know you can get a better return on the street for Fentanyl than any old PC.

“Looking for something to take the edge off, Andy?”

It was the Professor. His legs looked thinner and twistier. In the dim light of morning, I could see long, stiff, black hairs were growing out of his calves. His glasses were faceted and glimmered like jewels.

“What is your name?” I asked.

He said, “Don’t you know by now?”

I walked past him, down the hall and to the kitchens. The buzzing noise was back, louder and throbbing. I tried not to think of flies whizzing everywhere, humming in the walls maybe, while I cooked breakfast. I made oats with cinnamon. I leaned over the pot, trying to remember. Had I brought my gun to work? Is that how it went down? Had I meant to use it? I surely had. It made sense that I was here. I understood my position. But why was Darnellas with me?

What came to me in the end was a picture from the war. I don’t have a good memory. When I try to see things from the past, like my tenth birthday party or junior prom or something, it’s all pretty dim. Ask me about my mom’s face, and I’m going to have trouble calling that up. My good memories are in pieces.

But I remember the war really well. There’s stuff so bleak and terrible, it sliced into my head until it scarred. Walking down a road with a one-armed boy clutched to my chest, the warm, iron smell of him as he bled out all over me. Piles of rubble on all sides, choking on dust, and an old lady screaming for Allah in the middle of the road, her broken jaw hanging off her face. Seeing a dead, black dog, and drawing near, only to observe a cloud of flies taking off from the corpse, and realizing with a chilly jolt, it wasn’t a dog at all, but a little girl in a ragged pink dress and dusty black shoes. She was squirming with maggots. I learned to laugh through the dread because I had to, because laughter is the best defense, when there’s nothing around but killing and you are the killer.

My neck creaked with tension, as I turned off the stove and breathed in the smell of cinnamon and oats, and underneath it another smell, dank and terrible.


Darnellas was sitting up by the time I made my way back to his gurney. He still held his chest, and the whites of his eyes were blazing red. But he wasn’t drooping. Instead he had his head cocked to one side, listening.

“Feel up to some breakfast?” I asked.

“You hear that buzz?”


“Can feel it. Right through the socks on my feet.” Darnellas placed one of his big palms flat on the wall by his gurney. “Behind the walls too, Andy.” He gestured with his chin. “What is it?”

No way was I going to tell him about the flies. “I don’t know.” I said, “Listen, Darnellas. I think you can still get out of here. How do you feel right now?”

A wheezy laugh leaked from his lips. “Like you’re crazy, son. I’m not sure I can even walk to the bathroom by myself.”

“I’ll help you. Hell, I’ll dig up a wheelchair. A cane. But you gotta go, Darnellas,” I said. “Before he gets to you.”

“What’re you talking about, Andy?”

I said, “Let’s just try. Let’s try to walk you out the door. Will you do that? Will you go?”

He hesitated. “You’ll handle this all alone?”

I swallowed. I didn’t want to be alone. I’m sure that’s the whole reason I brought my gun to work, instead of doing the deed at home.

What I said was, “We’ll start with getting you to the bathroom. And then we’ll see about the back door. Darnellas. This isn’t your place.”

I shuffled by his side, gritting my teeth, as we made our way down the hall. I was so scared the Professor would try to stop us. I could picture him whirring down the hall in his wheelchair, getting ready to pop up and convince Darnellas he belonged. But the Professor never showed. Instead, we just passed an Alzheimer wanderer, starting his endless plod for the day. I noticed Darnellas and he both had the same gait. Floating and slow, they lifted their feet carefully, and placed them just so, like they could never be certain the floor was still there. It’s the same way people walk in the dark, or when their ears are ringing with bomb detonations. Darnellas trailed his hand on the wall.

“Seems like I’m one of these residents now,” he said.

“That’s why I think you need to leave.”

When we reached the water fountain by the loading dock, Darnellas balked. He was trembling all over with fatigue and his face had that gray pallor. “Andy, I gotta lie down.”

“Please, Darnellas. Please,” I said. “You’re a good man. I don’t want you to be stuck here with me.”

“Naw, Andy. Naw. I done bad things. Very bad.”

It burst out, even though I’d never in my life said anything like it. “But you know you’re forgiven. Right? For everything you did. Don’t you know it in your heart?”

His eyes widened. I pressed on. “The robberies. The drugs. The friend of yours who died. Things you would never tell, even to yourself. Do you know you’re forgiven, Darnellas? Do you know?”

He stopped shaking. He straightened. “I know that.” His voice was steady, though there were tears in his eyes. “Do you know that, Andy?”

“Not yet,” I said. “But if you go out that door.” I held it open. “If you can walk away, I might have a chance of believing it someday.”

He frowned. “I’ll send help. Someone will be along to take this off your hands.”

“Sure. And in the meantime, I’ll serve. Same as always. I’ll serve.”

At the end of the loading dock, he turned back. “You sure?”

“Darnellas. I have everything I need.”

He nodded and walked away. He plodded across the parking lot and out of sight. I waited for him to return. I waited a long time. I went from standing to squatting. The water fountain motor switched on and off again. But he never did come back.

Every time I think of that, I feel better.

When I went back to the kitchens, the Professor was waiting for me. His teeth were bright as ever and his eyeglasses twinkled. He shook his head and tsked, like I was a dog that had piddled on the floor.

“Andy. You lost your only friend here. Now you’re all alone.”

“Shut up. I have work to do.” I pushed by him to the pantry, to the stuffed shelves of soup cans and flour and salt.

His voice was so cold and smooth when he said, “I have papers for you to sign. A contract.”

“Don’t need one. I’m here of my own free will.”

His voice changed, growing deeper and more awful. The skin between my shoulder blades twitched at the sound of it. I’m a brave man, but nothing in the world would have made me turn around and look in his face. “You know my name.”

“No,” I said. “But I know you. We met in the war. You were licking the blood off a dead little girl. I saw your face in a cloud of flies.”

He thought that was funny. I could hear him laughing all the way out of the kitchen. His laugh was horrible. It drilled into my head like a red fog.

Later that day, I fed the screaming old lady. She was docile and flaccid. “I gather you helped lynch a black man,” I said. “You strung him up and you watched, and you were happy about it. Isn’t that so?”

Her rheumy blue eyes rolled in her head. Her wrinkled face clenched in a sob. And part of me liked her suffering, I’m sorry to say.

But I tried smoothing her gray hair. I could see the spotted scalp underneath. Little fluffs of dandruff rained down on the ruff of her nightie. I gathered her to me, light and frail as a doll made of corn husks. “It’s all right,” I whispered. “Don’t you know you’re forgiven? You’re forgiven. You’re forgiven.”

If I say it enough, maybe we both will believe it.

In the meantime, there’s my duty. A few more residents roll in every day. The Professor says his piece. I try to say mine. I keep up with the tasks. I’m turning out to be a damned good orderly.

And when I get low, I think of Darnellas, easing out on the loading dock that day. I imagine real sunshine on his face, the smell of fresh cut grass. All around him would be bird songs, dumpster tops clanging, truck engines rumbling, the thousand sounds and sensations of life. I think of him walking down the sidewalk. How he would wave and smile at a little girl in a pink dress and shiny black shoes. She would be brimming with joy as she took him by the hand. He would look in her face and see everything good.

Sometimes in my dreams, I find I am walking beside him. He turns to me. There are always tears of joy on his face. He says, “Andy, do you know now?”

In my dreams, I always say, “Yes.”

Elise Forier Edie is a playwright and author based in Los Angeles. Her hit play, The Pink Unicorn, about a Christian widow grappling with her teenaged daughter's announcement she is “genderqueer,” opened Off-Broadway this year. Her horror screenplay Lisa, about a blood-sucking revenant in a small town, was filmed in Northridge this June, with actress Ava Acres (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend). The inspiration for “The Orderly” came from a 2013 news story, about a real-life cook and janitor, just like Andy and Darnellas, who cared for the elderly residents of a nursing home, when they were abandoned by the State of California after closing the facility. “The real-life horror of the news article made me imagine a supernatural horror loose in an abandoned nursing home. I went from there.” You can find out more about Elise at her website,

“The Orderly” by Elise Forier Edie. Copyright © 2019 by Elise Forier Edie.

Want to read more great stories? Support Mysterion on Patreon!


  1. Outstanding story. I've got tears. It's all the more horrific to know there's more than a little truth to it.


Post a Comment

We moderate comments. Please be patient.