The small red Mini swept into the small space between the two larger cars. Angela wrenched the door open and swore under her breath as the door bounced off the side of the black Mondeo next to her. Squeezing out of the tight gap she pushed the door back and locked it. She was late, something she hated. She had forgotten to turn her alarm on last night and this morning she had woken alone, the sun shining too brightly through her window, the curtains forgotten like the alarm the night before.
Angela Carter was a pretty, twenty one year old nurse. She was not as beautiful as some but her face had a happy, smiling glow to it, an inbuilt breathless excitement that caused men to approach her in bars. She usually agreed to their request for a date but rarely did she bother with a second one. She got bored easily and her nature never let her stay in one place for long. In fact her job as a nurse was the only consistency in an otherwise transient lifestyle.
Her straight blond hair hung down to her neck, swinging lightly as she ran for the door to the hospital. Her eyes, large and bright blue shone with excitement as she ran between the sliding doors, breathless from hurrying to work and from the thought of seeing Sean again. He had had to leave her flat earlier than herself, to travel home to collect his things ready for the morning. Although she knew he started work earlier than her, the empty space next to her when she woke had still evinced a sense of emptiness within her.
As Angela called brightly to her friends she hurried past them to the locker room. She scanned the corridors for a glimpse of Sean as she ran. She reached the locker room without catching sight of him though. He worked as a doctor in A&E and she was a nurse in the same place. Usually though he would be busy in one area, working with the new arrivals while she worked on the beds, treating the minor injuries such as cuts and burns.
Angela had dreamed of being a nurse ever since she was six. She had been fascinated with the idea and for along time had wanted to be a doctor until she came to a state of self-realisation that she would never be able to cope with the extent of education and dedication necessary. She wasn’t doctor material and never had been. Yet the loss of her dreams, even though they had only ever been carried and abandoned within her own mind, had still caused her pain.
Yet she loved her job as a nurse as she had ever since she had started her education in the field. Even now, while other nurses became disillusioned by the dreary routine and backbreaking shifts,, Angela continued to love the job.
It was Angela’s attitude towards death that stood her apart most of all though. While others saw a death as a failure, Angela didn’t. She had become used to death at an early age, he grandmother dying when she was seven, her mother dying when she was fourteen. Her father had died of a heart attack a few months after her graduation from university and although she hadn’t cried at the funeral, afterwards, as she sat in her father’s house on her old bed, the old walls empty and silent as the last guest filed out, she’d wept at the loneliness and her own helplessness.
Yet Angela wasn’t broken by her early experiences, rather she had realised something her friends now didn’t. She knew that that being a nurse wasn’t about fighting death but about extending life, if only for a few minutes. The slightest victory, the slightest gain of life filled her with pride. And death, rather than signalling her own failure, rather signalled an end to her victories
. Angela slammed her locker door shut, checking her watch and grinning as she realised she had made up the time she had lost in the traffic. She whirled around with a bright smile on her face and hurried out to do the job she loved.
Sean Docherty finished the stitching of his patient’s arm and left the cubicle to get a coffee from the machine. It was a slow day and as he did the routine tasks he found his mind drifting inexorably to the previous night. He couldn’t stop himself analysing it, his mind refusing to accept his own good fortune and searching for an answer, for a reason. And as he did it his mind turned to what he’d done, exactly what he’d said, that one stupid joke she hadn’t understood.
He hated doing it, analysing every word he’d said, cringing inwardly as he remembered the stupid things he’d said, convincing himself he’d made a fool of himself. It was a bad characteristic, his incessant introspection. But when he had a moment to himself sometimes he couldn’t prevent it.
Sean usually protected himself with walls of professional detachment, impenetrable shields that he let no one through. As a child, Sean had been small, weak, short sighted and too intelligent for his own good, while not being clever enough to hide it. It had made him an instant target for bullies and he had protected himself in the only way he could, never showing his feelings, never letting the taunts and calls and threats touch him. He had laughed at their jokes against him, smiled as they insulted him and so they did it more, thinking he did not hurt.
Equally he never let the teachers’ concern or the pity of those few friends he had reach him either. Later as his body matured and he became stronger he found he had a natural talent for sports and, when he scored the winning goal in the final of the school cup he was never bullied again.
Yet his laughs and jokes in the locker room, and his boasts of his own sexual conquests remained false, his impenetrable outer shell becoming an academic and professional detachment that he found it difficult to drop. Relationships continually eluded him. He couldn’t imagine letting himself be hurt, dropping his guard, revealing his vulnerable, inner heart for anyone less than perfect. Yet his fantasies of a perfect, gorgeous girl appearing from nowhere and falling instantly in love with him never became reality and merely added to his defences against relationships.
Although handsome, his short, blond hair and his warm brown eyes framed by pleasant, youthful looks, he had never even summoned the courage to ask a girl out and he explained away his fear of rejection to himself as waiting for the perfect girl and later, as he busied himself in medical college, as being too busy with his career.
Yet then he had met Angela. Although she did not match his previous fantasies her bright, blue eyes and smiling face had dissolved his defences instantly and the imagined perfect girl had vanished in an instant as he spoke to her. As he saw her around the hospital, his heart would leap and, yesterday, as she walked away from him to see to a patient, his legs had moved of their own accord and carried him to her, to speak to her with his face so hot he couldn’t believe she could miss it.
“Of course.” She smiled at him. “I’d love to. Pick me up outside after my shift would you?” And she’d smiled at him and turned with a sweep of her hair.
“Sean!” Sean turned and grinned as he caught sight of Angela running to meet him. She came up to him and smiled shyly. “About…About last night. I just wanted… I don’t usually…you know…on the first date. I didn’t want you to think…” Sean ran his hands through her hair and couldn’t stop himself moving to kiss her on the mouth.
“I know. I still think you’re the most wonderful girl I’ve ever met.” Angela smiled in relief.
“I just thought I’d say…” she replied. Then Angela abandoned her struggles to explain her muddled feelings of guilt and kissed him back.
“I’d better get back to work,” she grinned at him and left, looking back over her shoulder as she walked away.
Sean smiled and he turned back to his work, ignoring the amused grins of his colleagues. He smiled. That was why he loved this woman; she was impulsive, yet her impulses were innocent. He didn’t understand her, such incautiousness anathema to his character, or it had been before he met her. He just felt so comfortable around her.
On Thursday night, their first date, he hadn’t stammered or felt stupid like he usually did in social situations. He talked freely, deriving confidence from the interest and beauty shining from Angela’s eyes. She had whirled him through three clubs, more than he thought this little town contained and he had danced with a confidence he had never had before outside of a hospital’s surgery, not conscious of his own limbs but only of her body, her touch on his arm.
He had fallen in love with her that night, even before she had invited him inside her flat, the coffee abandoned in their love. He loved to see her work, to walk past him in the corridors, almost skipping with repressed excitement at what the new day held.
Sean made his way to his next patient, gently sipping the scolding coffee in his hand. Suddenly his daydreams were shattered as a commotion erupted from the front door. His cup was left ignored on a table as he ran towards the shouts and calls, the familiar sounds of an emergency being rushed in. Sean hurried unthinking to the recovery room, arriving just as the patient did and the sight that met his eyes froze him to the spot. It was obscene. It was the body from the house on Poplar Avenue
The body lay, like an emaciated corpse, long dead and wasted away, smelling of old rot and bedsores, its sunken eyes staring blankly up, deep sockets holding shallow pools of white within. The stretched, translucent skin of it was pulled over the too-prominent bones. It lay there, a vicious parody of humanity. Sean couldn’t believe such a broken thing could still be alive. Sean swallowed back the bile that rose to the back of his throat, fighting to keep down his revulsion.
“Surely he’s dead!” Sean yelled to a paramedic hurrying past. The paramedic turned to him with a strained face. The man shook his head in sorrow and Sean’s face twisted up at this news. Then, with a shuddering groan, the corpse dragged a breath over its tortured throat, managing to rattle out a faint exhalation. Sean stared aghast as the room was filled up with people shouting orders. Doctor Ullman was in charge, shouting for adrenaline and blood. The dried out husk of a body on the bed seemed to have had neither for a long time.
Sean took his place at the side of the bed working with practised care, attaching the wires to the wasted chest, recording the heart rate and respiration. Both were frighteningly faint. Drips were pushed into the thin arm, little more than a bone. There was a struggle to find a vein in the meatless arm but somehow, eventually, the drips were inserted. The patient was hitched up to an artificial respirator and Sean worked fast, the sight of this wasted, dying man filling him with anger at the person who had done it.
He worked quickly and professionally, with a calm face and short sharp reports, obeying the commands and questions of Ullman with cold detachment. He had long learned to still his feelings in this place; it had taken many nights of sleepless horror before he had managed it but now he could manage to shut himself off, able to save life like this one where once he would have hesitated. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Angela rushing through the door with a bag of blood.
“His heart’s too faint.” Ullman snapped in response to Sean’s report of it. The ECG was almost flatlining, broken only rarely by a single blip.
“Breathing shallow, we’re losing him” Sean yelled. He yelled for the defibrillator as the ECG flatlined.
“Clear.” a voice yelled by his ear as pads were placed on the man’s chest. And the fragile body arced involuntarily as the electricity coursed into the heart.
“Again.” Ullman cried.
The doctor did it again, and then suddenly, a single blip broke the harsh whine of the machine. The blips’ pattern speeded up.
“He’s back!” a voice yelled and the pads were removed and the doctors busied themselves with the drips, filling the anaemic flesh with blood and nutrients.
Sean whirled around at Angela’s cry of shock. He turned to face a man, blond hair and blue eyes, wearing white. His face, though outwardly calm fra,med eyes that flashed desperately around the machine furnished room.
“How did you get in here?” Sean cried. “Nurse, get this…” The man ignored him and leapt forward towards the body.
“I have to…” he mumbled as Sean stepped in front of him.
“Sir!” Sean grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him away from the bed. A blow struck his arm, knocking it away with a force that nearly dislocated his shoulder and made him spin around to the side. A hand pushed against his chest and suddenly he was sprawling helplessly across the floor, his hip numb and throbbing agonisingly from where it had caught the side of the bed.
He looked up in shock as Ullman stepped forward and the stranger’s hand lashed out to disappear painfully into the doctor’s belly. He grunted and folded up like a rag doll, slumping heavily to the floor without a word, struggling to breathe through the pain.
Mark grabbed the wasted body from the bed and slung it over his shoulder. He turned from the room and fled past the nurses who stepped aside, fear in their eyes. He could feel everything now, surely it was too late. But he was still apart, still somehow separate.
But even as he pushed past others in the corridor, running down it blindly towards a pair of doors across the reception hall, even as he struggled to run he could feel the presence, closer than it should be, pressing against his sense of who he was, threatening to merge with it, to overwhelm it with its weight of pain.
He ran from the hospital, almost sobbing with the now-full knowledge of what was coming if he couldn’t escape. He ran outside into a parking lot deserted of people, stumbling as the body in his arms twitched, pushing himself to his feet again off a red Mini, stumbling blindly away from the hospital.
His head swam as he staggered away. It was too late, too late. His paradise was over; the perfect ideal he had found was gone, snatched away from him. Mark fell to his knees, seeing, not the parking lot in front of him but his own feet. Suddenly he realised he was looking through the eyes of the Sleeper again.
The Sleeper’s fingers twitched, muscles awaking for the first time in decades, the blank eyes focusing slowly as if awakening from an age long hibernation and Mark screamed as long-forgotten pain seared through his body. Pain that hadn’t been felt for as long as he could remember.
With a shuddering, body-wracking cry the Sleeper dragged itself awake. And with a rip of air and a sharp tear of the world, Mark Rescinded.
With a scream of pure, impossible agony Mark Camden opened his eyes for the first time in decades, his mouth wide and twisted with pain, his wild staring eyes gazing up unfocused from where he had fallen, unseeing at the sky above, seeing nothing but his own pain, hearing nothing but his own screams, feeling nothing but his weakened, wasted body and knowing nothing but his deep, unquenchable loss.
As doctors, nurses and security guards poured out of the doors of the hospital behind him, staring in horror at the discarded, agony-stricken body, lying helpless and screaming on the hot tarmac, Mark Camden mercifully sank into unconsciousness.