O, Death: Part XVI

by Matt P.

The hallway was dark, and the intermittent power apparently had included at least a little bit of the air conditioning. It was warm, uncomfortably so despite the fact that it was December. The hallway was exterior, but the windows showed only an endless inky blackness, leaving it lit with the same red emergency lights as they’d encountered before. Between the pale green walls washed out to scarlet, and the seething ebony outside the window, it gave a hellish tint to the corridor. “Well, I guess sunshine and rainbows would have been asking for too much…” Siobhan murmured to herself as she walked out in to the hallway.

There were four rooms on the left side of the hall, with the windows on the right side looking out into their disturbing nothingness. The air seemed to grow thicker and more humid as she, Antigone, and the eisenhund walked toward the first door. Sweat pricked on her brow as she felt something cold on the back of her neck.

“Do you feel that?” Antigone asked from behind her. The cold grew, spreading with icy fingers down Siobhan’s spine, and she nodded. “Watch out, weird stuff incoming…” she murmured softly, and the two of them tensed up as they crossed the threshold of the first door.

A man burst from it screaming, crying out in agony as flames licked at his body. “Shit!” Siobhan cursed, stumbling back in to Antigone as they both bolted back two long steps. The smoke rose to the ceiling in great gouts, tendrils of fire chasing after them before disappearing and becoming the smoke in turn. The man’s eyes were closed and he reached up as if to protect his face as he filled the hallway with agonized cries. He fell to the ground, sobbing, before he lay still; and when he was still, his body dissolved in to the same blackness as outside and drifted slowly away.

“Oh God…” Antigone gasped, tears in her eyes beginning to roll down her cheeks at the horrible death scene that had just played out so shockingly in front of them. Siobhan blinked tears back herself, as she looked around. No imprint of the man remained, no darkening of the ceiling from smoke or fire or any sign that he had been there—but she could still see the light and feel the unexpected heat.

“He suffered…” A voice offered from nowhere, low and resonant. “He suffers no more, now.” Siobhan carefully moved the point of her sword around, trying to follow the voice to no avail—it seemed to be coming from many places, or from nowhere distinct.

“Balls…” Siobhan cursed, burying the sudden spike of sorrow and fear in familiar vulgarity as she took careful steps down the hallway. “I was hoping for like…ninjas or something.”

Antigone sniffled a bit as they crept carefully toward the second door. “We should be so lucky,” she offered. The cold grew down the back of Siobhan’s neck again and she swallowed. “Do you hear that?” When Siobhan listened, she could. A slow, repetitive beeping. It sounded like someone who had left their stereo on too long, or…

“Mary?” A hesitant, distorted voice came from the room. The beeping continued, a hospital metronome counting heart beats. No response came to the plaintive question, and as Siobhan crept forward she could see why. There was a woman, only in her thirties, laying on a bed; she looked wasted and worn in that way only sickness could leave someone, as if they had been hollowed out from the inside. She was unconscious, with a man sitting next to her and holding her hand. The man stroked the woman’s knuckles with his thumb in slow repetition, keeping time with her heartbeats. A beep came, and he breathed in; no beep followed it, and he held his breath in the terrified eternity before the machine let out a low and constant tone. The man slumped, putting his head in his hands and crying.

“He mourns, but he has closure, and she has moved on…” The voice came again, closer this time. “The book closes, and they are relieved for it. That has been my purpose.” There was a presence in the hallway when the voice spoke, a feeling like if Siobhan looked over her shoulder she would see the speaker standing there. But when she did, he wasn’t—there was only Antigone, openly crying now and matching the tears on Siobhan’s own cheeks. She dashed them away with a hand, as they walked forward.

“This was my purpose. There are many of us, and we do this Work,” the voice said, the capital letter obvious in the final word. This was a duty, inviolable and long held. “But now it is different…”

Their slow walk took Siobhan and Antigone to the third door, and inside there was no speaking. Only the familiar beeping of heart monitors, and the rasping of assisted breathing. Within the third room lay children in beds next to one another. Each was in a modern hospital gown from the very hospital they were in, and they recognized the living children from the Pediatrics wing they had worked in. Their breathing was labored and their brows sweaty as the fever worked its way through their systems, slowly killing them.

“This is not needed. Some may have needed shepherding. Some would not have. I am pushed to call them, to keep others from saving them.” The voice had shown no emotion before, speaking like a being (impossible to tell if it even had a gender) that was only stating well settled facts. The facts might have been regretful, but they were the facts. Now the voice took on a tone of sorrow, and that sorrow settled on both girls’ shoulders as they made their way past the living they were trying to save. It bore them down with the wight of the regret, their slow walk almost shuffling by the time they reached the fourth door.

“I do not know why it is done,” the voice said. Within the fourth room was a tableau, almost a painting. Not a moving memory like the man on fire or the dying woman had been, but also not the trapped living like the pediatrics patients. A figure half seen in shadow and inky darkness surrounding two children. The girl was reaching for something that couldn’t be seen, while the boy was standing between her and the darkness with a flash light and a pocket knife.

“Matty and Natty,” Siobhan whispered, transfixed and horrified.

“Once they locked me away, and it was safe. But now I am free. And I do not know why I am doing this,” the resonant voice spoke. “Neither can I stop. I must keep them all safe!” The voice had plenty of emotion now, and it crashed against the two sisters like the ocean. Their knees knocked, and even the Eisenhund bayed as with a crash, the emergency lights burned out and they were plunged into the complete darkness.