Working at a retirement home is a tough job. The hours are long, overtime is a constant, and the pay is low.
And yet, I never hated the job. No, I always enjoyed helping people and did my best to guide them through the last years of their life.
All that changed with Mrs. Lizzy.
When she first arrived, she was a lovely old lady with a warm character and warmer demeanor.
She’d worked as a kindergarten teacher for the better part of her life, but was forced to retire because of old age. There was nothing she loved more than children, the tiny lady would always joke.
However, it soon became clear why she’d been sent to a retirement home.
Mrs. Lizzy suffered from an early, albeit quickly progressing case of dementia.
During the first months of her stay, she was sharp and active, prone to telling long tales of the many years she’d spent with the children she loved so much.
In time, however, her condition worsened. More and more often she’d babble to herself and wander the retirement home in confusion searching for a certain something.
It soon became clear what it was. A peculiar type of food, something she’d call ‘her yummy food.’
This wouldn’t have been so bad. Over the years, I’d gotten used to working with patients with various peculiarities and conditions. What made working with Mrs. Lizzy so bad was her growing dislike for any normal food.
Sometimes she’d just stare at her meals with a certain disdain, pushing the food from one end of the plate to another.
On other rare occasions, though, that dislike would manifest in a passionate hate. She’d grow violent, throw plates and demand to be given the food she’d love so much.
“Just once,” she’d bring out with tears of rage in her old, yellowed eyes. “Just once I want to eat it again.”
Over the months she’d been with us, I’d taken a liking to the tiny old lady. I guess it was because of her former occupation and because she, similar to me, had sacrificed much of her life by caring for others.
It pained me to see her like that, and I tried my best to find out what this certain type of food was. But of course, I never got an answer.
Once her attacks were over, she’d just babble on like always, incoherently, often about the children she loved so much.
I tried the most during those now rare instances when she was of clear mind, but she’d always just stare at me.
“Now what are you talking about, dear?”
“That special meal, Mrs. Lizzy, you’re always talking about it and I’m wondering what it might be. I’m sure I can do something about it.”
And yet, she could never answer me. Instead, she stared at me with a mixture of confusion and distrust, almost as if I was trying to trick her.
The more her condition worsened, the more nonsensical her tales became. I still sat with her, like I used to, but what had once given me a warm feeling now only made me sad.
The once lovely tales of playing with children and teaching them the alphabet turned into an incoherent mess consisting more of food than children. More and more often, her longing for that special food manifested in her tales.
“Oh, those yummy little children,” she’d sometimes whisper to herself while I sat next to her.
During those moments, I almost couldn’t fight back the tears. It was heartbreaking to see this nice old lady turning into a confused, demented mess.
And yet, the worst was still to come.
The night it happened, I was on night duty. While I walked through the retirement home for a nightly check-up, I found the door to her room wide open. When I stared inside, I found her bed empty and the covers thrown to the floor.
“Mrs. Lizzy?” I’d ask, but when I turned on the lights I found her room empty.
I cursed and informed my co-worker Linda that one of our patients had left her room and must wander around the retirement home. When I told her who it was, I heard her groan.
Mrs. Lizzy had never been a favorite with the rest of the stuff and by now everyone was sick and tired of her peculiar behavior.
As I made my way through the long hallways, whispering her name, I heard Linda scream.
With quick steps, I rushed over and found her on the floor in front of the door to a room.
“Linda, what’s going on?”
Instead of answering, she just stared at me. Her face was as white as a sheet and her lips were quivering before she raised a shaking hand and pointed inside.
The room, I realized, it was the room of our comatose patients.
Without wasting another second, I stepped inside and hit the light switch.
There was Mrs. Lizzy, standing next to the bed, holding onto the arm of one of the comatose patients.
At first I didn’t understand what was happening, but then I saw what must’ve caused Linda’s panic.
Mrs. Lizzy’s mouth was wide open, and she’d sunk the few teeth she’d left deep into the thin arm. Blood was dripping from her mouth, running down her chin and dripping onto the floor below.
“Dear lord,” I brought out as I stared at the sight in front of me.
I watched in horror as Mrs. Lizzy pulled her mouth back, tearing skin and flesh off the arm before she swallowed it.
Behind me, Linda retched and threw up.
“It’s so yummy,” Mrs. Lizzy brought out when she saw me.
Her eyes were filled with tears of joy.
I was quick to restrain her and pull her off the poor patient. I’d expected she’d fight me, but when I told her I’d take her back to her room, she was strangely docile.
On my way out, I told a shaken Linda to take care of the patient’s bleeding arm.
As I led Mrs. Lizzy back to her room, I was quick to call an ambulance. All the while, the old lady was smiling to herself and babbling on the entire way about how yummy it had been.
The look in her eyes, that smile filled with pleasure and satisfaction. It made my skin crawl. Even more so were her words.
“So long, it’s been so long since I last tasted it,” she’d brought out cackling.
When I put her into bed, her eyes focused on mine. For the first time in a long while they were clear again, and for the first time I saw the lingering, sinister darkness hiding in them.
Even now, back at home, I can’t stop thinking about those strange, confusing stories of hers.
I’d thought it was nothing but nonsense and mixed-up words, but after tonight I can’t anymore.
All I can hear inside my head now are her words, words that fill me with unspeakable terror.
“Oh, those yummy little children.”