The Case of the Mysterious Freezer

By
Updated: February 2, 2017

Of course, that’s precisely where he went. Straight away, pronto, zip-a-dee-doo-dah, go!

His creaky wheelchair moaned and groaned its way down the long hallway of the hospital, the squeaky wheels and vibrating bolts, metal against metal, rubber against cement, the whole shaky contraption making so much noise that it drove the voice from the old man’s head. With a smile on his face, he crashed through the swinging doors  and banged to a stop against the metal table that ran the length of the kitchen. Sucking air like a long distance swimmer, the old man surveyed the freezers lined up against the opposite wall.

One: MEAT
Two: POTATOES
Three: VEGETABLES
Four: LIQUIDS

He remembered their contents from seeing the labels taped to the top of the freezer. And he’d thought the orderly was clairvoyant or something! There’s always an explanation, he thought, just work it through.

Behind the fifth freezer, he’d found ice cream frozen to the power cord. Desserts, that’s what the label had said.

And the sixth freezer was the one he’d opened when he first explored the kitchen, finding a colorful collection of plastic containers, all sizes and shapes, and each with a name scribbled on the cover or taped to the side. The names of the staff. So, the sixth freezer held the staff lunches and dinners. The orderly had told him staff don’t eat the same food as patients.

Five: DESSERTS
Six: STAFF

The old man’s stomach rumbled. He was hungry. What was wrong with the hospital food? He liked it. Craved some, right now. His stomach was telling him lunch had to be soon, but as he looked around the kitchen he saw no signs of preparation. No one else around. What time was it? he wondered.

Time, time, time
See what’s become of me …

The lyric echoed through his brain. What had that patient who thought he was a referee said? Time enough to die. Yeah, the old man thought, plenty of time for that.

Never mind, the voice said. Solve the mystery.

“Shut up!” the old man cried out. His voice rang against the metal appliances and tables. Startled by the violence of his own scream, the old man cowered in his chair, expecting the cook to come charging into the kitchen and order him out.

But no one came.

“I don’t want to hear you,” he hissed at the voice in his head.

The seventh freezer, the voice whispered.

“Okay, okay, just shut up.” The old man turned toward the last of the freezers … but it wasn’t there!

Well, the last freezer was there, of course, there has to be a last freezer, he thought, but it wasn’t the seventh freezer, it was the sixth. He pulled himself up out of his chair to read the label on the top of the freezer’s lid.

But there was none.

That’s right, he thought, the sixth freezer was unmarked. And unlocked. He rolled across the kitchen, grabbed the lid of the freezer and gave it a yank. It yawned open, clouds of cold air flushing his face, and inside he saw what he’d seen before: stacks and stacks of clear plastic containers with brightly colored lids, red and blue and orange and green and yellow, filling the belly of the freezer. The freezer sighed as he let the lid back down, PHHHLOOOOOOO, and the last gasp of cold air was squeezed out.

Where was the seventh freezer?

He looked over the freezers lined against the wall and counted from the far end of the kitchen. One, two, three, four, five … and six. The freezer he was leaning on. The staff freezer. The sixth and last freezer.

He’d seen seven before, hadn’t he? Momentarily, the old man doubted his own memory until he remembered the orderly sitting on top of the freezers, hiding the labels. MISC, that’s what the label on the last freezer had said. Miscellaneous. He remembered it now, remembered wondering what kind of food was kept in a Miscellaneous freezer. That’s what he’d wanted to know, why he’d asked the orderly to take him back to the kitchen, why they’d planned to come here together today and solve the mystery of the seventh freezer.

But the orderly hadn’t come.

And the freezer was gone.

Where would you hide a big freezer like that? And why? The old man was at a loss. He collapsed into his wheel chair and just sat there.

What would Sherlock do? the voice said.

“Stop bothering me,” the old man said aloud. Then looked around to see if anyone had heard him. But the kitchen remained as empty as … as empty as … He had no idea what phrase finished that sentence. When he started the sentence he knew, or believed he knew, else why would he even begin such a sentence? But now, standing at the end of the sentence—or the penultimate word to be exact, he thought—he had no idea what came next.

As empty as … an unplugged freezer?

… an old man’s brain?

… the visitors’ room at a mental hospital?

… a ballpark in January?

Baseball, the old man thought, a smile filling his face. Just the word warmed him in the cold air of the kitchen. God, how I miss baseball. The green grass of the outfield, the crisp chalk of the foul lines, the sound of bat on ball, cowhide smacking into leather, the sight of a ball disappearing over the fence, the sweet swing of a left-handed hitter …

Without knowing he was doing it, the old man swung his arms as if he were holding a baseball bat.

THWAP!” he imitated the sound of a bat hitting a ball. His arm smacked against the cold metal exterior of a freezer.

“Ow! What the …?” he said aloud, then stopped. He held his aching arm and looked aroun

He had no idea where he was.

Looks like the kitchen, he thought. A kitchen with a lot of freezers. One, two, three, four, five, six of them. Why six freezers? And look, an empty spot for a seventh. Seven freezers?

And then his memory returned, as sudden as a light turned on in a dark room, as surprising as a ninety-mile-an-hour fastball. Freezers! He had come to see what was in the freezers.

He looked down the row of freezers and noted the locks on each one … except the sixth one. He reached to open the lid when, with a flash like stadium lights being turned on, he realized he already knew what was in the sixth freezer. Plastic containers of staff food. He was proud he had remembered and looked around for someone to report his amazing feat of memory to, but the kitchen was empty. And it all came back to
him, a flood of memories, like when you walk into a stadium and hear the sounds of batting practice and the smell of hot dogs. Memory swaddled him.

The wheelchair, the orderly—named Sean!—the Ref, Harvey the Headbanger, and the mysterious seventh freezer missing from an empty kitchen. A kitchen as empty as …

He’d done this before, he realized, conjured up words to complete the phrase “as empty as.” He hadn’t found any he liked, none had pleased him. They’d all seemed contrived, artificial, made-up, arbitrary, inappropriate. One moment memories and words flooded his brain, the next he couldn’t find a single one he wanted.

But the kitchen was empty, that was certain. What time was it? He’d never figured that out. He looked for a kitchen clock, but he found none. In fact, the kitchen was empty of more than just cooks. No pots, no pans, no plates or pitchers. The old man began opening drawers to see what was hiding.

Nothing.

No silverware, no cutlery, no cloths or rags or sponges. It was getting downright spooky.

He wheeled himself over to what looked like a closet or pantry and pulled the door to open it. But i
t wouldn’t budge. No lock, so what was holding it? He pulled again, but no luck. He leaned back in his chair, braced his legs against the wall, then leaned forward and grabbed the door knob with both hands, and  pushed his chair away from the wall as hard as he could.

SNAP!

The door opened and something fell on the old man. He went to push it off but his hand touched flesh. Human flesh. He grimaced and looked up to see a face, a cold blue face, a face he recogn
ized. Brad! he thought. The orderly who had quit.

He screamed, pushing himself away from the closet. The body fell to the floor with a thump.

BRAD! BRAD! BRAD!” the old man screamed, over and over, until young men in white coats rushed in to control his flailing arms, wrap him in a cotton jacket and remove him from the kitchen, still shaking and sobbing.

“Brad, it was Brad!” the old man kept saying. “I saw Brad!”