A Murder Mystery
A Murder Mystery
I wander around. The staff don’t bother you, really, as long as you keep to yourself, stay out of their way. I sidle along the wall past a rushing gurney. No-one I know. It gets quiet. A hundred souls pour through this place each day, some on their way out, some to linger for a time. Every once in a while it dies down, with a last flutter of surgical scrubs around the corner, a pair of gloves slithering down a sanitary bag. Then you hear it, the real noise, the background scatter which lends the place its horror, its ongoing dirge which each new voice can only modulate. Pain and despair, screams, groans and sobs have saturated these walls. The rooms may be soundproof but they still remember. Walls vibrate with the pressure of a million gritted teeth.
You drown it out as best you can. Television was designed as a distraction so I distract myself in the room up the hall, keeping the little boy with the broken arm company. I’ve never heard of the show he’s watching. Must be a kid thing.
Sometimes I visit the old man on dialysis down the hall. He drifts in and out. Once in a while he’ll groan softly and open his eyes, washing the sparse décor in a blank, weary gaze. He wears thick, grungy, chipped old glasses, slips them on with shaky fingers before talking to the doctors or nurses, but never with me. He squeezes his eyes shut again, whimpering. Maybe he doesn’t want company today.
I avoid the maternity ward. For some reason the sight of the squirming little bundles in their hospital-issue hypoallergenic packaging makes me think of decay, of rot, organic matter repurposed. Keep wondering what they’re made of. I can’t stand the sight of their adorable little cheeks, their adorable little noses, their adorable little grooves above their upper lips. They hunger for more than just milk.
Sometimes I visit the old man on dialysis down the hall. The nurse wrinkles her nose as she leaves. I lost my sense of smell at some point. Probably for the better. He’s patting his blanket, smoothing it as I come in, then starts at seeing me. He turns his head away from me with a gasp. Some incomprehensible sounds part his cracked lips heavily.
The elevator can take you down to the morgue.
I can’t find my room. They might be cleaning it.
Down in the emergency room, a middle-aged man shoulders the door open, dripping red from a large towel hiding one of his arms. His girlfriend, one of those eternal twenty-nine-year-olds with giant hoop earrings clinking proudly against a gold and diamond necklace, snorts in annoyance as she’s forced to catch the door behind him. She explains to the nurse exactly what he did wrong (even though she told him so) while he unwraps the arm, submitting for their consideration a deep gash blackened in motor oil from elbow to knuckles. Her hand is already fishing her phone from her purse when he fumbles one-handed with the clipboard and pen.
I can’t find my room so I visit the old man on dialysis down the hall. I think I’ve been in his room a while. It looks a lot like mine. He wakes up, blinks and sighs at seeing me then rolls painfully on his side to stare at the wall. There’s something I’ve forgotten, but I forget what. That doesn’t make me laugh. Nothing seems to. I’ve stopped crying too. I remember doing that much once, in my hospital bed, another note lost in the symphony.
The hospital recycles a lot. They waste a lot too, little biobags, plague packets, collected in giant sealable sacks to await their turn at incineration, but they recycle a lot too. Plastic cups, paper, even the grisly tools of their trade. I ask myself if there’s any difference. Does anyone ask a scalpel its preference? Maybe it just needs a sharpening stone.
I can’t find my room. It was down this hall. They were cleaning it at some point, top to bottom, changing every sheet and wiping every surface. There’s an old man in a room this way now. Been here a while. I’m forgetting something.
I ride the elevator down, all the way down, to the people who no longer need rooms with a view. People stand away from my corner of the elevator. Eyes forward. Why don’t we ever look back?
I’ve been down here for a while. As peaceful as the neatly catalogued cupboard of corpses looks, though, I have to get back to my room. I left something behind there, if I can find it.
I’ve been in my room for a while. There’s an old man in here now. I keep forgetting. I keep coming in to see him, or for him to see me. He’s been in here days, maybe weeks. Before that, they had to clean the room. Before that, a family milled around in there, or what might pass for one, checking the time on their phones, counting the hours. Bored. Ah, yes. That brings it back. Bored of me.
What was it that gave out? My pancreas? To this day I don’t even know what the stupid thing does but apparently you need one, or they take you down to the metal drawers. Now I remember. It’s been a while. The cupboard is bare. What was left of my pancreas-deficient corpse probably already got carted off from downstairs and incinerated as per my instructions. But I’m still here. Turns out you don’t really need a pancreas after all. What do I need with any of it? I remember now, remember myself, by whatever means. I wonder if I can walk through walls then remember I’ve done so on numerous occasions. It’s been a while. Months, years maybe? TV shows have changed. The old man wasn’t the first after me.
I’ve gotten better at it, remembering myself. I still end up wandering dreary spans of crepuscular fluorescence through these halls, looking for my room, but I’ve been improving my routine. A memento mori will usually do the trick, bring to mind my own mind, re-coalesce it out of whatever etheric nothingness stalks us. Few others stick around. The old man faded fast after his corpse. The little boy wound up sucking a bit of his own clotted blood up, up, up until his eyes rolled up into his skull and he twitched and twitched - until he didn’t any more. He wandered about, confused, for a long time. We never spoke. I don’t know why. Maybe there’s just nothing to say. He never seemed to remember, just wandered around the nurses’ station aimlessly, or stared at his old bed as I used to. He faded but I did not. I keep myself together.
The man with the arm wound wound up bleeding to death eventually. Notfrom that alone, not immediately. He just showed up a few days later, like me now but very talkative. He’d follow the nurse who’d admitted him around, telling her no you don’t understand she’s not here wantin’ to help me, she’s just with me is all and all she cares about is that necklace I bought her to go with her stupid earrings and she wouldn’t help me and she gets to keep the car I bought her but she wouldn’t help me in return, just stared at me but wouldn’t help me down there on the ground just stared wide-eyed and tiptoed away so the blood wouldn’t stain her designer brand heels and wouldn’t help me, look, please, you have to readmit me, you saw her, you saw how she is, you were here…
Bags grew under the nurse’s eyes. She began to walk faster. She kept earbuds in all the time and was reprimanded for it. Sleeping pills began to find her hand from her patients’ prescriptions, more and more at a time. One day, they were both gone.
There’s something creepy about newborns. Where do babies come from?
I’d forgotten myself again. A doctor screamed in panic when a piece of equipment shorted out. He almost wound up walking these halls alongside me. It shook me back to consciousness. So many others have lost themselves but I remain. I’ve been trying to get myself to wander farther from my old deathbed. I take notice of the new foods in the vending machines, keep an eye on the shift changes, keep my mind active. I’ve made it out to the hospital grounds. Staring directly at the sun helps, tracking its motion, staying aware of the passage of time. Maybe I’ll visit it someday. What’s to stop me? I can’t feel sunlight anymore but I can see fine in the dark. Watched a few muggings. They throw a rock through the streetlight down the block first so the CCTV cameras can’t distinguish details, then wait for someone to be discharged. A man who’d passed some kidney stones got knifed in the kidneys. Really didn’t seem fair.
I’ve been keeping myself together alright. I can do this. Every so often I need to come back to my old bed, to remind myself of myself, or else I risk losing myself again, but I’ve been making it out farther and farther, lasting longer and longer. I spent an entire day and night sitting on a bench by the entrance watching everyone go in and out. It’s amazing but I can do this. Death is not the end, I want to scream, I want to sing, I want to shake my message into every pile of meat walking in and out. Use that pile of meat to give yourself a good head start then launch yourself into purity and freedom, an intellect unchained. This miserable, brutish, sick existence, your nine to five and your two-kid garage, that’s just the start. If you just work at it, holding yourself together, screw the definitions. Life? I think, I move, I learn, I go on. Not as expertly as before, no longer on the pro circuit, yet I live. Diet life. Life *light* might make a better slogan. I can market this. I’ve been learning what I can and can’t influence. Those on their way out, they can see me sometimes, but it’s impossible to speak with them, or they don’t want to listen. Maybe I’ll find one of those afterlife mediums, see if any of them are worth their salt.
I made it across three streets today. Stood in the middle of traffic, letting cars pass through me, bathing in the noise of the city. You know what? Screw the mediums. Going to find a scientist, a true knowledge-seeker. I can nudge electronic machinery here and there. Little blips and static. It’s something to work with, a good enough way to get the attention of a truly inquisitive mind, one of those physicists maybe. I’ll dance a little quantum jig on their instruments. For now though, I have to recharge. I have to touch base, see my old room again. I could take the shortcut but just to maintain a civilized decorum I walk calmly in through the front doors when they slide apart for an old woman being wheeled in by a young couple and a little boy explaining to his grandmother exactly why the video game she got him last year was a piece of junk. The elevator opens for a grizzled old doctor conferring as she walks with a video on a tablet computer. There’s so much more for me to learn. I can go on forever. My life, unburdened of life, can live forever. I won’t forget.
Around the corner toward my old room, something stands by a parked gurney. Almost looks like it’s dressed in a hospital gown but no-one would mistake it for human. It gazes in amusement at the electronic dance of a cardiac patient’s vitals, then turns to look at me, directly into my eyes as I turn the corner as though it had been expecting me. It takes two clean, purposeful steps across five room entrances and pauses before me. Its features stretch neatly, gleaming from within and impossibly smooth, glossier than plastic and soft as water, neither male nor female. It grins the sparkling triumph of a long hunt’s end. I know why it’s come here, with the rush of absolute certainty of every victim, every prey. I wish I could run. I wish there were somewhere to run. I want to beg, to fight. Above all I want to ask why.
It lifts a finger to my li-