Giovanni took deep calming breaths as he stood in line and ordered a double espresso latte with extra foam. It wasn’t unreasonable for someone to want coffee after a long day of classes before a long night of studying, he told himself. It was a perfectly understandable desire, especially if everyone seemed determined to keep him from it. He was allowed a coffee, damn it!
The coffee left a bubbly, little mustache that tickled his upper lip even as he sipped the warm, creamy sweetness with its subtle kick. Between the sugar from the milk and the caffeine, Giovanni could feel himself relaxing, slowing down and waking up at the same time. Now he could get through the night’s reading, even if he got interrupt by a delivery.
Holding his cup close to breath in the dark roasted aroma and take another quick sip, Giovanni stepped back into the hall towards the elevator.
The scream hit him right before the buffer did, but the buffer got his attention. The thunder of the machine’s engine roared in his ears as Giovanni scrambled to escape the grinding monster, but it churned after him even as he fled down the hospital corridor. He dodged the buffer’s mechanical pursuit, but even as he leapt over it, the buffer followed, hounding him relentlessly. Giovanni gasped for breath and staggered as he landed. As he fumbled to his feet, he felt the hem of his baggy scrubs catch. “Turn it off, turn it off!” he yelled.
A couple of orderlies fell over each other to reach the power cord even as the janitor fumbled for the power switch. Giovanni tried to kick the machine off his legs and found they were pinned. He could feel the fabric of his scrubs tightening around his legs as the buffer consumed it, but that panic was quickly replaced by the realization of what damage the buffer could do once it ate through the material. The surface epidermis across the ankles was thin, but more alarmingly, the subcutaneous dermis contained almost no adipose tissue. Those scrubbing brushes were about to chew through his skinny, little legs down to crispy, crunchy bone.
“Turn it off!” Giovanni screeched and tugged frantically at the drawstring of his scrubs. He could feel the heat of the engine growing across his legs and the image of red and bleeding scratches danced in his vision. Tears started involuntarily, then he felt the knot give way, and his scrubs slid off, pulled by the relentless rotation.
Breathless, Giovanni kicked his legs free and struggled to his feet, slipping in the remains of his spilt coffee. He lurched over to the far wall and looked back to see the buffer choke to an inanimate heap on his scrubs next to two gaping orderlies holding up a disconnected plug.
As it turned out, getting nearly eaten by a rogue buffer was not the worst thing that could happen to a guy. Hands down, Giovanni thought, it had to be standing sans pants in the hospital lobby, explaining yourself to Human Resources.
At first, the lady who came barreling down from the Administrative floors was sympathetic. “Oh my god, are you hurt?” she cried.
Giovanni looked down at his bare legs and winced at the sight of the long, red streaks against the white skin. His scrubs had twisted tightly enough in the buffer and across his thighs to leave crimson welts. Fortunately the skin was unbroken, just severely chafed. “Nah, I’m fine, just – “
“What the hell’s the matter with you?” The woman from Human Resources stomped up and down in the narrow corridor outside of the gift shop, arms waving frantically. “Are you trying to cause a panic? What the hell have you got in your pockets anyway? God, it better not be one of those key fobs!”
“I haven’t got anything in my pockets –“ Giovanni started, but the woman was on a roll.
“Don’t you know better than to bring anything magnetic near a cardiac unit?”
“Do I look like I’m carrying a magnet?” Giovanni shouted back and threw his hands out to either side before he realized his mistake.
The lady from Human Resources stared at him, then glanced away quickly, her mouth twisting. Giovanni realized he was wearing only his rather worn briefs and saw both orderlies bite their lips and gaze off in any direction but his. Giovanni, foreseeing a future full of tidy whitey jokes, groaned and slapped his hand over his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” the Human Resources woman choked out, trying not to laugh. “How else would the buffer act on its own?”
Giovanni glared at her, snatched up his pants, and stalked to the elevator, not saying a word. At that point, he wouldn’t have cared if she had fired him.