John cleaned and bandaged my head on the way to Happenstance General Hospital. As John and his partner unloaded me from the ambulance, I felt lost and strange. Was I in a dream? This HGH wasn’t the one I’d grown up with. Was this a different one? To my left was a parking lot with scores of parked vehicles.
“This a new hospital?” I asked John, as the wheeled me into a rear entrance.
“Yeah, pretty much--built it about two years ago.”
Had I been away during that time?
Inside, John and his partner pushed me down a short, brightly lit corridor to the emergency room. We stopped at a registration desk where a woman took down my particulars. Looking around, I was impressed by how large the place was. Among the staff bustling back and forth, who were the nurses and who were the doctors? What confused me was that women weren’t wearing skirts or dresses. Like the men, they were clad in the kinds of scrubs only surgeons used to wear in the operating room. And the scrubs weren’t the normal green—I saw, pink, blue, even black. Was it a new fashion? And everyone was wearing a mask that covered their mouth and nose. Why?
“Do you have any form of ID?” the receptionist asked me. From what I could see of her masked face, she was a beautiful black woman.
“No, sorry,” I responded, staring at her. Reflected in her glasses was the bright screen she was looking at, but it wasn’t anything like the CRT displays I was used to. She tapped out my information on a flat keyboard.
“What about medical insurance, sir?”
I frowned and shook my head. “Never had no medical insurance.”
“Well,” I said hesitantly, “I just help my father on his farm.”
“Okay,” the receptionist said. “Can we use him as an emergency contact?”
I recited the seven-digit number.
“Area code?” she asked.
I gave it to her, unclear why she needed it. HGH had always been in the same 216 area as home, and there were only four area codes in the whole state of Ohio.
When the receptionist was done with me, John and his partner took me into one of the treatment rooms, where they handed me over to a woman doctor—at least, that’s what I thought until she said, “Hi, Marcus, I’m Melissa, one of the ER nurses. I’ll be taking care of you.”
She put on that special kind of blood pressure cuff again, and pressed a button on the connected instrument. As the cuff tightened, the pressure appeared on the screen, and then the cuff deflated automatically.
“Is that a new kind of blood pressure taker?” I asked.
“Not really,” Melissa said. “We’ve had it for a couple of years now. Why do you ask?”
I didn’t answer, because I didn’t want to seem stupid by telling her I’d never seen one of those before.
“The doctor will be in to see you,” she said, getting ready to depart, “and then you’ll be getting a head CT scan.”
“Oh, yeah—I think I’ve heard of those,” I said. “It’s like a new, special kind of x-ray, right?”
Melissa smiled at me and laughed. “That’s a good one.”
She left, shutting the door behind her. I waited another hour or so, feeling drowsy and experiencing another episode of vertigo.
I lifted my head at the voice. A young woman in scrubs and a white jacket had entered.
“Hi, I’m Dr. Sipalone," she said. "How are you feeling?”
After I’d related what my symptoms were, she examined me. At the last part, she was testing my reflexes, which were all sharp, and then she checked my pupils.
“You know where you are now?” Sipalone asked.
“Right. And what year are we in?”
I hesitated. “Well, as far as I know, it’s 1980.”
She considered me for a moment. “You said 1980.”
“Yes.” I paused. “But on the way here in the ambulance, there was a calendar that said it was 2022.”
“Well, it is. You say you were born in 1960?”
“Yes. December 24th.”
“You should be 62, then,” Sipalone said. "Clearly, you are not."
I was flummoxed. “What’s happening to me?” I whispered, pressing my palms against my eyes to stop tears from flowing. “Something is wrong.”
Sipalone placed a kind hand on my shoulder. “It’s okay—let’s not worry about that for now, okay? We’ll just get you to CT now and circle back to this later.”
She left rather hurriedly without pulling the door all the way shut. I heard her call out to Melissa, “He needs to get that CT stat. He could have a space-occupying bleed that’s got him thinking he was born in 1960 and that it’s 1980 now. Never seen that before in a young person. It could be serious.”
I heard a man’s voice ask, “Any chance I can talk to the patient, now, Doctor?”
“Not more than a couple minutes,” Sipalone responded.
The door opened again and a black man walked in. “Good afternoon, Mr. Price. I’m Detective Lamar Ferguson with HPD. How you doing today?”
“Okay,” I said warily. “What’s going on?”
“Just a couple of questions before they send you off to your tests.”
Ferguson stood at my bedside. He was in his forties, bearded, and a little overweight. “You remember how you happened to fall into that well?” he asked. “Or how you got down there?”
“No, I’m sorry, I don’t.”
He was watching me intently.
“The body in the well with you—do you know who that is?”
I shook my head. “No. Who is he?”
“We’ve identified him as a guy who was reported missing five days ago, and he had disappeared three days before that. His name is Slate Thomas. You know anything about him? Does that name mean anything to you?”
“I’m really sorry, Detective,” I said. “I just don’t know what’s happening.”
“C’mon, brother,” Ferguson said, dropping his voice. “Look, I know what’s up in this town. We’re a minority here, big time, and it ain’t easy. Not a lot of black folk around. Maybe you had to defend yourself against Thomas—after all, he’s a known white supremacist. Was he targeting you? Did he attack you and y’all were fighting near the well, or what?”
I drew a blank.
“Your last name’s Price,” Ferguson said. "Is that the same as the Price in Price Monument?”
“Way back when, around the area where that well is, there was a farm, and--”
“I know,” I interrupted. “I helped my father on the farm.”
“Your father’s name?”
“Clement. Clement Price.”
Ferguson’s eyes lit up. “Wow, so you’re Clement Price’s son? I’ve never seen you around town, though. You must have been away in college or something?”
“Never went to college.”
“Okay.” Ferguson took a deep, unsettled breath. “Anyway, I’m sorry for the loss of your father.”
I raised my eyebrows. “What do you mean? My father’s still alive.”
Ferguson scratched his head. “A different Clement Price from the name inscribed on the monument? In 1992, white nationalists burned the Price farm down and killed your—I mean, Clement Price. Took about fifteen years for the city's board of supervisors to allow a statue to be erected in Price’s honor. White folks didn’t want any of that.”
“I hope you’re not lumping me in with white supremacists. I may be white, but we weren’t brought up to look down at black people.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Ferguson said, pulling up a chair from the corner. “What are you saying? Are you black, or white?”
“Why do people keep asking me that?” I said, irritated. “I’m white.”
“Mr. Price . . .” Ferguson said, sounding exasperated. “Let’s stop the games. You’re as black as I am.”
I held my arm out to him. “You call this skin black? I’m white--and a redhead at that.”
Ferguson shook his head and pulled out an object from his pocket, like the one I saw John use in the ambulance. After he fiddled with it a little bit, he pointed the back of the device to me and a camera shutter sounded.
I craned forward. “Did you take a picture? What is that thing?”
“Yeah, I took a picture of you. Take a look.”
“Wow!” I gasped. “The photo is so clear.”
There I was on the screen with my flaming red hair and cinnamon freckles.
“So,” Ferguson said with finality, “as you can see, you are definitely black.”
“No--“ I began, but the device suddenly vibrated and I jumped. It was ringing.
“Gotta get that,” Ferguson said, taking the thing back. He started talking with someone, just like a regular, real phone.
When Ferguson was done, I asked, “Is that a telephone? How does it take pictures?”
Before Ferguson could answer, Melissa came in with a wheelchair. “Come on, Marcus, time to go for your CT. Sorry, Detective, we need to skedaddle.”
Ferguson grunted, and rose. He watched as Melissa helped me up and into the chair. He was scrutinizing me, and I sensed both puzzlement and suspicion. A sudden chill swept over me as a terrible notion wormed its way into my head for the first time. Could I have killed the man in the well?