There is a medicinal tang to the air of a hospital, an unmistakable, sharp biting odor, punctuated by the constant release of new chemicals and drones swishing them about promoting the illusion of health; as if cleanliness ensured healthiness.
It doesn’t always. Make no mistake about it, hospitals are about the dying, not the living. I never enjoyed finding myself in one and the main reason I was a health nut was to do my best to avoid visiting one of these mausoleums of the dying. Death has a scent, two actually. One of them is the odor of carrion and putrification; the other, a fresh and antiseptic scent. Death wears both.
You come to know its putrid perfume if you spend enough time around it. Digging mass graves after the Plague started, it was something everyone had to do sooner or later. My room stank of it, the strong scent of Death permeated every corner.
After the Plague began, hospitals became a luxury almost no one could afford. Triage centers, hospice camps, became the new medical facilities on the streets, away from anything truly important like surgery facilities for the wealthy. Advanced medical facilities were no longer for anyone, they were reserved for the very rich. Everyone else was forced to seek medical care where and if they could find it.
No one would have been more surprised than I was to find myself breathing in the metallic odors, brass, copper, stainless steel, shined and sanitized to perfection in a room barely lit, festooned with machines, tiny lights telling others how I was doing at a glance. I remember briefly waking to doctors sagely looking at my charts, making hmmming noises before nodding and walking away.
The occasional shake of their head made it through the drugged fog I found myself moving through with only one thing remaining constant, the white suited figure standing next to my bed. He rarely moved, and whenever I woke, however briefly in the beginning, he was there, his satanic eyes glowing red, looking at me with expectation and anticipation. Of what, I wondered before falling asleep again.
Finally, something changed, either my medication was reduced or I just started making some unexpected progress. There was less head shaking and more affirming noises. The machines made more noises, stronger, more regular and eventually, he even moved from my bedside for a moment or two.
Staring out the window when I awoke, he had the curtains cracked just a sliver, and the sunlight seemed bright, oh so bright. He closed the curtains and turned toward me. “Good morning, Benjamin. You’re looking better. Don’t try to move. It will be quite a few more days before you can get around.”
I tried to speak, my chest felt as if a rhino were napping there. I don’t care what you see in movies, I felt barely able to move my fingers and had more tubes, patches and bandages than I had ever known were possible. I couldn’t feel anything below my waist.
“How long have I been here?” The last thing I remember was tons of rubble crushing us.
“Benjamin Szandros, you have been here some months now. The medical practitioners did not have much hope for your survival.” He smiled as if we were conspirators discussing a booming stock market.
Despite my fatigue, my mind was surprisingly clear. My memory was returning and with it, a burst of fear. “What about the, whatever the hell you called it?
The smile faded, he was all business again. He seemed to be considering exactly how much to tell me. “The boomsha: it was gone by the time they dug us out.”
I let the implications sink in for a moment; mentally I was running on fumes. It was speared savagely through the heart, smashed into a ceiling, and then buried under tons of rock. “You got to be kidding me, it survived?”
“Why wouldn’t it? We did.”
If he had not reminded me, I would not have remembered he was there and in far worse shape at the time than I was now. He stood there unmarked, as if nothing had happened. He wore a white suit accented in grey and silver. His long coat was back, its unnatural sheen only reminded me of what it actually was, a pair of giant wings. Currently they were colored a dark grey and affected the look of a cloak over both shoulders. The clawed sections pretended to be buttons, looking innocuous, shimmering, beautiful. I tried not to grimace as I remembered how he speared the boomsha, with one of his wing talons, like a bug under glass.
“Max…” I began.
“Stop. I allowed such familiarity when we were facing imminent death. I am Maximillian Oak, last son of the House of Oak. You will address me as Lord Oak, or if you must affect some level of familiarity, Maximillian. Do you understand me?”
Okay, it’s like that. “Maximillian.” I said with as much venom as possible, “what happened to the rest of the people on the train?”
He turned away from me and walked back to the window. He opened the blinds again and the early morning sunlight spilled into the room, a river of gold separating the two of us for a moment. I saw a few particles of dust swirling in the sun beam and found myself fascinated without realizing it. He was in no rush to continue the conversation, I could feel it. “There were no survivors. The tunnel collapsed killing almost everyone on board. The White Sun chose the spot well. There were already existing weaknesses which made the tunnel vulnerable.”
I had no proof but I had a feeling he wasn’t telling me everything. “You’re lying. How did they really die?”
The face I saw on the train was the one he turned back to me. A face that was cold, indifferent, timeless; the face of an immortal determined to stay that way. “You don’t want the truth of the incident, so leave it be. We have survived the moment. With the escape of the boomsha, this is hardly over. In fact it has only just begun.”
I wasn’t willing to let it go like that. “So you’re telling me a ton of rock lands on top of me and I am alive because I live cleanly, drink Spirolina shakes and exercise regularly?”
He came over to the side of the bed and moved his face close to mine. There was no heat this time. If anything he was colder than I expected, akin to opening the door to my freezer, but the chill was nothing compared to what his words caused in me. I would do whatever it took to survive…
“Between the bomb and the collapse, there were massive casualties. Most would not survive, their injuries were too great, the time before rescue was simply too long. It took twenty hours before they could reach us. Most died, long before then, slow agonizing deaths. Without the help of my kind helping to dig and remove the rubble, it would have been days. If you must know the truth, yes, I fed. Several times, in fact.”
My adrenal glands having had a few months of rest, rose to the challenge and I was able to raise my voice above a broken whisper. “Those people had nothing to do with you or whatever you, the boomsha and the White Sun had going on. How could you kill them?”
“I see. You think I fed just to survive. Their passage into the next life was filled with pain and suffering. I will spare you the visions, you are too weak to survive them. I saved every moment of their passing for you, whenever you wish to see it. I knew you would be self-righteous and filled with survivor’s guilt.”
“Yes, and I see you survived, just like you said you would. Did you have to kill them all, or only a dozen or two.”
“Spare me your piteous mewling about those people. While you slept blissfully ignorant and protected beneath my body, I endured their cries as their air ran out, I listened to their bones breaking as their crushing injuries filled their bowels with blood. I was with them, all of them. When they could bear it no longer, when their terror overwhelmed their veneer of civilization, when their minds broke waiting for rescue, I was there for them. I took them and they are with me. Within me are the souls of thousands.”
I felt my face grow cold. My rage drained away. I felt pity, but only for a moment. Then I remembered. “You used me. You involved me in this vendetta of yours when I used my flashlight against the boomsha.”
“You were involved the moment you stepped on the train. I simply made you useful to me, in that moment. Do not presume to know my mind, Benjamin. You have only just begun a journey I have lived for five hundred years. You have no idea of what your people are capable of. You have not lived long enough. You are still filled with youthful idealism. I harbor no such illusions now.”
I wanted to say something more. I wanted to tell him what I thought of what he did, killing innocents, children. I wanted to be angrier. But I was alive and this seemed to trump my righteous fury. Seeing my impending surrender, he administered the coup de grace. “Why aren’t you enraged about the Church of the White Sun planting the bomb, in the first place? They certainly didn’t have any compunction about killing their fellows to enact their revenge scenario. Save your sanctimony for someone who still feels anything for anyone. I certainly do not qualify.”
The door to my room opened and a woman and two heavily armed military policemen entered. She was quite attractive, in that stern school-teacher sort of way. She was dressed in black bio-fatigues still sealed from the neck down and also wearing her gloves.
The PAIN logo on her left shoulder stood out against the black suit. She was carrying her filter-mask and headgear under her arm and carrying a data wand in the other. Her eyes were like flint, she analyzed me when she came into the room and decided I was no threat. When she looked at Max, er Maximillian, she seemed to be dissecting him, determining his threat potential, stopping only to look him directly in his eyes, almost challenging him.
He was unimpressed.
Her next words however, did get a rise out of him, only for a split second, but I saw it. Imperturbable my ass.
“Maximillian Oak, you are under arrest.” Her face was stern and she was coldly professional in her delivery.
“And what is the charge, officer?” Oak was equally chilling.
“Murder, using psychic means. We place you at the bombing onboard the train and can provide testimony to your use of your abilities to feed against the strictures of the Red Star Convention. Please come with us. Be advised, we are aware of your… vulnerabilities. They were provided when your arrest warrant was issued. This data-wand has the warrant for your perusal if you so desire.”
“I am certain your paperwork is all in order, Officer…?”
“Forester. Beth Forester, Psychic Analysis Investigations Unit, NYPD.”
“I am sorry, Officer Forester, I will have to decline to be arrested at this time.” He turned to look at me in my hospital bed. I had to attest to a bit of satisfaction with his arrest. Any fascination I had with the man was gone. He was a murderous fiend and would be getting what he deserved.
“If I am taken from young Benjamin’s side, within the hour he will sicken and die.”
House of Oak: Red Star, White Sun © Thaddeus Howze 2012, All Rights Reserved
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