(It’s our second year anniversary today, and in the spirit of celebration, we bring you a cute piece of fiction from one of our guest writers. Enjoy)
My name is Father Rupert Grimsky. I work in the Accident and Emergency Complex of the Divine Sisters of Mercy Hospital. It is not a very large place, but it is well furnished, and for the fact that it is operated and run by the Church, we get rather more cases than the other medical facilities around, in the name of charity. As a priest and a doctor, the work is hard, and often the demands of my two professions pull in opposing directions. Sometimes I find myself torn between giving a patient and or his family some encouragement in faith, or telling them the grim reality, which is more often rather sad, given where I work. I waver, torn between science and faith, between CPR and the Last Rites. But there are moments I live for, when a patient in critical condition responds to treatment with no complications. It is, I think, one of the most rewarding moments, both as a priest and a doctor, the awesome moment when you realize that, barring some other mishap, you have saved a life, and pulled one of God’s creatures from the cold, grabbing fingers of death. I have, while battling to save a patient, felt the air in the room change, seemingly thicken, and the hairs on the back of my neck suddenly rise. I can almost see the hooded, skeletal form of the Grim Reaper, see the macabre grimace that is his smile from beneath the cowl as he reaches past me with his hands. Long, impossibly long fingers tapping out arcane melodies on the sides of the gurney. I feel his hot, fetid breath, just over my shoulder, whispering death and despair, while the patient is in a haze of pain, shock, and confusion. I can almost sense his malevolence towards me….
Today is April 31st. St Walburga’s Eve. Walpurgisnacht. It is said on this day that the Devil himself rides out on his infernal steed to wreak havoc on the earth. It is a night occult practitioners associate with great success in their diabolical endeavours. It is a night when people die needlessly. For us in the A&E, it is just another night.
A gurney is being wheeled in. The patient atop it is bloody and restless, a car accident victim, I’m sure. As the interns work frantically to stabilize him, I call the theatre to arrange for emergency surgery. Victims are pouring in; fightings, stabbings, muggings. The emergency room is pure chaos.
The harsh bright lights of the theatre highlight the contrast between our clean, sterile blues and the patient on the bloody sheet. A car crash victim, he has multiple internal injuries, any one of which, by itself, is potentially fatal. As it is now, only God can save him. As we battle against time to tie off blood vessels and prevent bleedout so as to get a clearer picture, I’m also praying for his soul. Perhaps God can still have mercy. In truth, I do not see much hope, but then, it’s never over ’til it’s over, is it? Good Lord, intercede for him before your Father, if he cannot recover, at least let him not be turned back at the Pearly Gates.
There is a sudden chill. The air is suddenly dank, and foul, as though we were not in an air-conditioned room, but in some cold, dark cave. The whir of the air conditioners is almost inaudible, the chatter so surreal, I can feel death creeping in, reality being distorted. I scan the room for my colleagues…..
And then I see him. Tall, well built, even through his face mask I can see he is uncommonly handsome. It is the look in his eyes though, that gives him away. That, and the fact that unlike the rest of us, he is dressed in black, rather reminiscent of a pathologist, or a morgue attendant. But no, this is the real thing, the pathologists and morgue attendants are merely the cleanup crew left in its wake. I am not fanciful, my imagination has not taken flight. Before my eyes, like a supervising consultant surgeon, is death himself, or at least a symbolic representation, watching, waiting to step in should we make any mistake. Or flop somehow, except that his business is not life.
We battle grimly to save the victim’s life, but he sits there with a mocking expression in his eyes, daring us to slip up and give him access. As we tie off the last of the blood vessels and commence sewing up ligatures in the tissue, I look up and see him rise to his feet. A fluttering black shadow, very like a Norse Valkyrie,is up on the wall, and his mocking stare slowly turns baleful, malevolent.
The lights flutter and blink. The body seems to fade, getting dimmer and dimmer. Still he approaches, the eyes…..what hate! I’m rooted to the spot, sweating profusely, my cap getting matted to my balding head. My feet are quaking in my shoes, I can feel a trickle of urine running down my thigh, and I can hear my heart beating, like I’m running the 100m, but my feet won’t, can’t co-operate. I’m reciting all the prayers I know, every invocation to every saint, to every celestial force, but I can’t move. I’m trying to focus my thoughts on the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Blessed Sacrament, The Holy Grail…….no good. The Shepherd’s Psalm speaks of valleys and shadows; it makes no mention of staring death in the face. I know my lips are moving, intoning prayers my heart cannot remember, and in a dim, detached way I am suddenly conscious of, and grateful for, the mask covering my nose and mouth.
He moves from his position, heading towards the bed. The shade on the wall hovers above him, to the ceiling as he draws nearer…. It suddenly occurs to me that the rest of the team are seemingly ignorant, or unconscious of what is happening here; they are all intent on our charge, hooked up to monitors and equipment, in sweet oblivion, a coma from which he may never wake.
He moves right through them, I can almost feel the amygdalae in my head begin to swell to the size of a prickly pear; such is my terror. He walks right through as if we have no substance, but a voice in my head is screaming that HE has no substance, he is a ghost, a phantasm, a figment of your imagination, doctor, what in God’s name is wrong with you, can’t you see he’s not real? You should go easy on the fasting, else you will meet God before you find him………
Wait. He stops in front of me. He walked through the others like he was wading through a pool, but he stops in front of me. I close my eyes, in my mind I’m trying to picture myself covered by wings as the words of the ninety-first Psalm come dancing unbidden across my dry, fear-parched lips.
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow…………
I feel his hot, fetid breath on my face, once, twice, and involuntarily, I crack open my eyes.
I will say of the Lord, he is my refuge and my fortress………
He steps aside and walks past me, and the shade on the ceiling follows suit, tendrils from leathery wings dragging over and across my shoulder. He walks right through the wall.
Surely he will deliver thee from the snare of the fowler………..
I’m trying to process what just happened, wondering if this is just a dream, a vision, or whether…….
“Chief, you’d better stand this way, nearer to the air conditioner. You’re dripping sweat, and your scrubs are soaked.”
I turned. Startled, I look down at myself. My surgical greens are a darker shade, wet right through, and I have goose bumps all over. I excuse myself, claiming that the victim bears a resemblance to a deceased relative.
In the mirrored washroom, as I ditch my scrubs and gloves, the wisps of hair on my head look just the same. The face is unchanged, but the eyes, or so it seems to me, have a hollow, haunted look in them. Even as I towel dry and take another look in the mirror, I know I will never be the same again. I have touched death.
About the Author:
Ikeogu is a screenwriter, content creator and social media strategist. He has been published in a number of magazines, blogs and journals. He enjoys dabbling into speculative fiction.