Sarah sat at the reception desk. She was on night duty and was alone. The night was hot, stuffy and the air conditioning was barely functioning. The breeze from the open window was very welcome.
The area was called ‘the one-way ward’ by some of the staff. It was the wing of the oncology department where the hopeless cases received palliative care to ease their last days. The name wasn’t meant to be cruel; it was an attempt to inject some gallows humor, to lift the somber atmosphere.
There were eight private and semi-private rooms in the area, all within easy access of the main desk. It was an easy job. The patients were drugged to the eyeballs, heavily sedated. They slept away their last few hours.
Sarah’s eyes closed without her even being aware she was falling asleep. The book she was reading slipped from her fingers and landed with a soft bump on the desk.
She woke with a start. Glancing at the computer on the desk, she realized fifteen minutes had passed. She checked the monitor. No alerts.
A man walked out of one of the semi-private rooms. Sarah knew there were two teenage girls in that room. Her hand flashed to the security call button.
“Don’t,” he said.
Her hand froze. All she could do was stare at the man.
“Come with me.”
She rose and walked towards him. Her mind was screaming; this was insanity, he was going to kill her and do terrible, unspeakable things to the helpless patients. She couldn’t stop herself, some external force was driving her legs. She stood beside him, unwillingly compliant.
“Walk with me.”
He headed into the next room. She followed, still trying to force her legs to move towards the reception desk and safety.
The two patients were both men in their forties. Yellow skin was stretched over cadaverous faces. They lay, eyes closed, on their death beds, surrounded by technology that was unable to save them. The drugs kept them pain free, that was all. The chemotherapy, the radiotherapy hadn’t worked for them. Modern medicine was making huge inroads into treating cancer, but there were still people for whom no treatment had worked.
The man walked up to the nearest bed. He stroked the forehead of the patient.
“Dream, my brother.”
The man in the bed, still unconscious, suddenly smiled. His eyelids flickered and his mouth twitched.
The man moved to the next patient and did the same. The patient responded in the same way.
Her companion moved from room to room, touching each patient on the forehead speaking the same words. Each time the patient responded in the same way.
They returned to the reception area. Sarah felt herself released from whatever hold he’d had over her. She felt weak, her muscles ached.
“You are now free to call security.”
“Who are you? What did you do to those patients?”
“Gave them life.”
“Life? They’re dying.”
“The life they would have lived, had they not been here. In their minds, they are living, falling in love, having children…working, travelling, laughing, crying. Everything they are going to miss.”
Sarah believed him. She had seen the patients’ faces.
“Who are you?”
“I’m cursed. I’m blessed. This is my life, my part to play.”
Sarah, a believer, whispered.
“Are you an angel?”
The man smiled.
“Angel or demon, it does not matter. I am here. That is all that matters.”
He walked out the doors of the ward.
“See to your patients.”
Sarah did as she was told, moving between the rooms, checking each patient carefully. They were still now, but it wasn’t the stillness of sedation. It was the stillness of death. Each one, every single one had died. Sarah supposed in their dream state they had lived full, rich lives and died, surrounded by family and friends. Her unknown visitor had given them quite a gift, but he’d also given her quite the problem. How was she going to explain how the entire ward of patients had died all at exactly the same time?
∼ RJ Meldrum
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