Hospitals are so boring. Jared thought.
It didn’t matter that his parents raved about his cousin Susan’s new baby; he just didn’t like the smell of hospitals. All disinfectant and soap.
Tomorrow Susan would go home with Peter Tristan, her new son. Jared’s family seemed more excited about the event than Susan herself. It wasn’t that Jared disliked Susan; far from it, he thought she was lovely. The baby wasn’t cute yet, just a helpless blue bundle with hands no bigger than a kitten’s paws and Jared was frankly sick of hearing about the little creature.
He’d stood patiently for an hour at the foot of the bed before he asked if he could go and get a can of pop from the vending machine. Timing was of the essence and he’d learned a long time ago that he had to be exceptionally crafty to get treats. When Jared was born his parents had struggled to make ends meet for a couple of years until his father got promoted.
However, for reasons that Jared couldn’t understand, his mother still liked to perpetuate the myth they were “poor.” Yeah, right. His father was a bank manager and his mother now worked as a supervisor in an accounts firm. The only time he’d tried to argue, his mother had tutted and subjected him to a half hour lecture, with tears in her eyes. She told Jared about how young and naïve he was and that her and his father still “struggled” to make ends meet.
With this in mind, getting a can of cherry pop was something he had to time very well. He’d waited until his mother had asked for what seemed like the fifteenth time how Susan was, and then quietly asked if he could get a can--with his own pocket money of course.
His mother had paused, the smile fading slightly from the pure joy of being with Susan and the baby. She’d tutted, reminded him that he was supposed to be saving his money, and told him to be quick. Before he made it out the door, she had turned back to Susan, her conversation with Jared forgotten.
Now he stood in front of the machine. He put in his money and was rewarded by the reassuring clunk of the can dropping into the tray.
It was nice to be alone, even if just for a short while. He couldn’t take too long or his mother would fret about him, even though the hospital had security guards.
He opened the can and sucked the froth from the rim, the bubbles tickling his upper lip. This hospital looked more like a hotel, with wooden walls and dark brown tiles covering the floor. There were some paintings on the wall too, most of boring, predictable stuff like yachts and peasants ploughing fields
A souvenir shop stood to the left of the pictures. A stupid idea, Jared thought. Hospitals were places you came to get better. Why would anyone want to have a teddy bear or a pack of playing cards to remind them of an illness?
A clock chimed; he’d been gone for about five minutes. He could probably be gone about fifteen before they’d notice, so he decided to walk back the long way, past the children’s ward. Anything to forestall the boredom of being back with his family.
The kids’ ward was up one floor. Jared took the staircase slowly. At the top of the stairs, he turned left and walked along the corridor. Children’s pictures drawn by little nursery-age kids hung on the Sister’s station. It was empty, and further along he could see the white ward doors with round windows; they reminded him of those on an old sea ship.
The sound of the television came from the ward. Jared turned left again, taking another gulp from his can and stifling the burp that rose in his throat. A smaller corridor appeared with rooms off to one side and posters and notices on the opposite wall. One proclaimed that visitors should use the dispenser pumps to wash their hands, alerting everyone to the perils of spreading germs through contact. Another tattered sign read “Watch Out, There’s A Thief About” with a silhouette of a thief making off with the “o” from the “about.”
It never failed to amaze Jared just how boring life could be. The problem with what you see every day is that you eventually stop seeing it, Jared thought.
He passed a room marked “Sophie Roberts.” Jared had heard her name before. Eleven-year-old Sophie had been on the local news about four months ago after being in a car accident. Physically she hadn’t been badly injured, but she’d fallen into a coma. At the time, Jared had wondered where she was being looked after. Now he knew.
He glanced in the square window as he passed and something caught his eye. A strange multi-coloured light was pulsating from the room. He paused, uncertain but reassuring himself that nothing was amiss. He’d heard that sometimes they played TVs or radios for people in comas hoping they’d hear them and wake up.
The light was pulsing brightly into the central corridor and casting patterns on the window glass. Jared was about to turn around and walk away when he heard a strange sound. Something like whispering was coming from the room. It sounded like someone was having a conversation in there and it certainly didn’t sound like a television. He was worried and a little concerned now.
The pulsing light was still playing colours across the window of the ante-room, purple gold and blue, then red and green. All washing over the glass like when you mix petrol and water. Jared hesitated and looked left and right. There was no-one about and he was curious.
Moving nearer to the glass, his can almost forgotten, he peered through and tried to see into the girl’s room. The light was more subdued now, as if the source had been dimmed but he could still hear the whispering. It sounded creepy, like the wind in the trees mixed with the sound of a bully quietly threatening you.
He still didn’t think it was anything to be afraid of. After all, Jared thought, they were in a hospital and the children’s ward at that so there must be grown ups about who would be able to help and knew what was going on. If someone had got into the room who shouldn’t be there, then Jared could see them, alert the ward matron and then everyone would think he was a hero. Jared always believed that people in control knew exactly what they were doing.
He gently pushed open the door and peered in, stepping quietly through. He expected only to take one look inside and then beat a silent yet rapid retreat if he saw anything suspicious.
Looking in, his breath caught in his throat and he froze.
The girl was lying in bed on the far side of the room. Pipes in her arm and a tube going into her nose. The sheets were pulled up to her chest and the gentle “beep, beep” of her heart monitor kept a steady beat. She looked peaceful as if she was just asleep with no signs of injury from the car accident that had put her here. Either side her bed were two cabinets. One had flowers and cards on it and the other was adorned with more cards and a large but old looking brown teddy bear. The moonlight shone through the window behind her and a small wall lamp in the corner casting a reassuring glow across the room. The shutters were half closed and the scene was more or less exactly the way Jared had imagined it.
Except for one thing…
Hunched on a chair, next to Sophie’s bed was the strangest man Jared had ever seen. He had on a scruffy, blue blazer that was too big for him and the fabric looked worn, rips showing in a couple of places near the collar. He was wearing dark blue suit trousers, faded and old looking. He was completely bald and his head was angular, almost coming to a point. He was sniffing every few seconds as if he had a cold. As he leaned over Sophie he whispered quietly but frantically.
“Took so long to find you. Thought we’d never find you but we did. Don’t want to do this, I really don’t but you see if I don’t then they’ll punish me. I like my fields and my house you see. I want to be nice to you, I like nice people but they told me I have to do this.”
Jared watched mesmerized, realising something was seriously wrong but not knowing what to do.
The man moved slightly and Jared realised that the multi coloured lights he’d seen were from something he was holding in his right hand. The man held it up slightly and Jared saw it was a knife. His stomach knotted with fear. The blade was rainbow coloured and bright, casting vivid shades over the girl’s bed, the lights playing over her face.
“Don’t want to but I have to you see? This is not something I enjoy but each to his own life and all I wanted was to live mine and then they found me and said I have to do this.” The man grunted irritably and sniffed loudly again, his shoes scuffing in a quick pattern on the floor beneath his chair and then going still.
He raised the knife over his head and spoke to the sleeping girl once more. “So, you see I am so sorry little girl but they told me this is a must and I have to do musts you see. I will try and make it quick for you.”
Jared realised what was about to happen and dropped his can from numb fingers. It hit the floor with a wet thud, the remaining soda foaming crazily over the side of the rim and on to the floor, leaving a damp sticky puddle. Instantly the man stood up from his chair and turned quickly to where Jared stood, the knife held before him.
“WHO IS SPYING ON ME?” he shrieked loudly and then Jared saw his face clearly and the terror took almost complete control of him. The man wasn’t a man, but some kind of monster. His forehead and chin sticking out a full few inches beyond the rest of his face. His nose was prominent and large, jutting forward, while his mouth was a slash of teeth, jagged and yellow. The skin on his face was smooth and taut, stretched tight as a drum and his ears were tiny against his head, more like little stumps. Most terrifyingly of all, he had no eyes, just smooth skin where they should have been.
He stood up and the chair scraped back on the floor. “Spying on me! Come here!!!” he snapped, beckoning with his free hand and sniffing the air loudly, moving his head from side to side. Jared shook his head and stammered incoherently. He tried to move backwards but the creature sensed his movement and raised the free hand in the direction of the door, waving it in a small circle. The door, which had already been closed, now glowed briefly a bright, brilliant blue around the edges. There was a sound like rustling paper, the light glowing in a rhythmic pulse and the window turned black, impossible to see through. Jared managed to stagger back and put one hand on the handle to get out. It was stuck and wouldn’t open.
“No way out now nosey little boy,” the creature said, sniffing loudly again and moving two steps towards him raising the rainbow coloured knife, which glowed in his hand. “Now come HERE!!”
Jared staggered again and tried to back away. He looked at the girl, still peacefully asleep in her bed, oblivious to this.
“Look I won’t hurt you,” the creature said smiling at him and then laughed. “Be easier for you if you don’t make me wait.” The snicker was like the giggle of some demonic clown and it broke the spell of fear Jared was under. He tried to slide along the wall of the room to the main window but the creature moved to block his path. “Naughty, nosey little boy,” it said waving its finger at him. “Nosey boys shouldn’t meddle.”
It moved towards him once more and Jared watched as it raised the knife higher, the blade glowing. He felt his palms sweaty on the wall, the tiles warm beneath his fingers. He glanced past the creature to Sophie, desperate to cry out for help but too afraid to try.
Then he noticed something near Sophie’s bed. The shapes and shadows in the plastic curtain nearest to her head started to move. Jared stared as the shapes broke and then came together, swirling and spinning and what he was seeing was even harder to comprehend than the foul monster approaching him. The forms merged into what looked like the shadow of a head. Then in the heart rate monitor to the girl’s left, the reflections in the glass over the readout display began to impossibly flow, bleeding into the shapes near the plastic curtains like food colouring dropped into water. Madly churning and flowing, drawn as if by some crazy form of gravity. Then the cards on the right bedside cabinet next to her head bled their colours upwards and at an angle to make a lopsided kaleidoscope.
He watched the scenes before him as if in slow motion, his heart racing. The creature still bore down on him, but the steps seemed slower now as if it was walking through water. It hadn’t noticed what was happening behind it, its whole attention focused on Jared.
The colours stopped forming and Jared could vaguely see what looked like a shadow of a head and shoulders with a chest and arms below. The image was unclear and as he looked it made less sense, his perception slipping as he stared and the image faded under his frightened gaze.
The shadows under Sophie’s bed and from the creases in her top blanket then detached like banana peel and moved suddenly upwards, like water drops when someone throws a large stone in a river. The explosion of shadows merging at their zenith to join the original shapes.
The creature’s smile widened, the yellow teeth shining with wicked malevolence and its breath foul in the air as it raised the knife once more, reaching out with its other hand to grasp Jared’s collar.
Finally the light and shadow play in the background finished. The shadow was fully formed and with a sudden burst of white and blue next to Sophie, a figure appeared, thrown from the light into the room. It landed on its feet and stood in front of the bed, erect and tall. The explosion spilled the cards from the cabinets, whipping round the room in a maelstrom. Sophie’s hair blowing over her face in the sudden storm, the cards and teddy bear on the other side swept away and tumbling to the floor. A plastic beaker of water fell, cracking open and spilling its contents in a widening circle. The cups next to it clattered down, burst from their cellophane wrapping.
Jared glanced up as the lights dimmed and then the bulbs exploded, shards of glass scattering over the room. As he raised his arm over his face he saw the heart rate monitor screen fizzle out, flat line and then come back to normal.
The creature turned at the sudden noise while Jared sat on the floor and stared transfixed at what was in front of him.
The newcomer was tall. Taller than anyone Jared had ever seen. He was dressed in a black robe secured with a cord at the waist and a hood that completely covered his head, the face just a dark shadow. He had a huge sword strapped to his back in an old, red sheath and secured with a purple sash.
The creature shrieked in anger and fear at the newcomer and dropped its knife.
“MORDALAYN!!!” it hissed in disbelief and fury.
The newcomer made no reply but advanced in three strides and grabbed the bald monster with both hands by the lapels of its scruffy jacket.
“No! Not my fault, don’t hurt me!” The creature pleaded pathetically, trying in vain to break free. Jared watched speechless as the wriggling creature was hauled into the air, squealing and kicking madly, trying to prise free of the grip. The newcomer pulled it forward to stare at its face.
“You would DARE?!!” he growled at the monster in a deep, gravelly voice and with a “snikt!” noise unsheathed claws from the fingertips on one hand which pierced the tips of his black glove. They were at least three inches long and looked sharp as razors. He slowly put his hand near the struggling creature’s face.
“No, please have mercy, not my fault, they made me do it!!!” The creature wailed, kicking like a fish on a line.
As the newcomer seemed to be on the verge of deciding what to do, he glanced in Jared’s direction. Jared shook his head and after a pause the figure grunted angrily and threw the pathetic form down to the floor. The creature whimpered and covered its head with its arms. “Don’t kill me, I’m sorry.” It gibbered frantically, trying to curl up into a ball.
The man scooped up the rainbow knife and held it for a moment. The colours faded out and the blade turned a dull brown. The metal changed to a lump of jagged rock which the figure placed in a pocket in his robe.
He glanced at Jared and then reached into another pocket. Jared staggered slightly and his legs collapsed and he fell back against the wall. The man turned to the fear stricken would-be assassin and picked it up by its collar again. It shrieked indignantly and continued pleading. “No, no!!! Let me go, I’ll be good.”
The huge figure opened his hand. In it was a green jewel, encased in silver. He blew on the jewel which rose up and hovered over the squirming creature. The bald figure’s shrieks rose like a tocsin in the room and the jewel began to spin fast over its head. The newcomer then let go and stepped back and as the jewel span, a brilliant green light enveloped the thrashing creature in a diamond shape and held it.
Just before the light flashed brightly and closed in on itself, taking the creature with it, the bald monster turned and glared at Jared and flung its hand out; the gnarled, twisted fingers pointing at him. “Nosey little boy!” it shrieked and a bolt of black energy launched from its rotten fingertips. Jared was frozen for a moment, unable to scream as it entered his chest and pinned him immobile to the wall. The hooded figure glanced quickly at Jared and shouted in anger but then the monster was gone, the sudden wind from the explosion signaling its absence, once more scattering the cards that littered the floor.
The man leaned forward and neatly caught the now clear jewel as it fell, spinning from the air, putting it back into his pocket. Straightening up he turned to Sophie and walked over to her bedside. Dropping to one knee amongst the chaos littering the floor he bowed his head, placing his hand on her arm. He whispered quietly and taking another crystal, held it in front of him in both hands and broke it in two. A glowing orange liquid, just a few drops, fell to the girl’s sleeping body. They ran backwards and forwards as if on a sheet of glass, forming lines and lines and then vanished. Sophie glowed for a second and then was normal. The man rose and turned, crouching down in front of Jared, his face hidden in the dark depths of his hood, a scarf covering his mouth and nose. He had eyes of emerald green, shining brightly amidst the shadows of his hidden face.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said softly but in a voice that was deeper than any Jared had ever heard before.
Jared shook his head, his ears still ringing and his vision full of dancing white dots.
“What’s your name boy?”
“J, J, Jared” he stammered after a few seconds.
“Are you hurt?”
“No, he didn’t touch me. You got here before he could.”
The figure rose. He extended his hand and Jared took it and struggled to his feet.
Just then there was a frantic banging on the door. “It’s locked,” one man’s voice said.
“Kick it in!” someone else shouted.
“I have to go Jared,” the man said taking him firmly by the arm. “The spell he placed on you means his people, my enemies can track you.” He pulled back Jared’s right sleeve as the pounding on the door and the frantic shouts grew louder. Removing a bracelet from his own huge forearm he placed it on Jared’s wrist, whispering something as the metal curled in and shrank on itself to fit his smaller arm. The round jewel in its centre briefly glowed before returning to a cloudy green. Jared tried to pull away but the man held him firmly.
“This is a warning sigil,” he explained over the increasing din as the people outside hammered on the door. “It will alert you if my enemies are close. The jewel will glow and become warm if they are near to you. If it does so, hide wherever you can, don’t let them get hold of you, do whatever you can to get away.” Jared nodded mutely, still confused and frightened. “I promise you I will come to protect you” the man continued. “One final thing. Do NOT tell anyone about me.”
Jared was about to answer when the door to the small corridor behind them finally broke in and the people from outside spilled into the small room. Almost too fast to see the man let Jared go and sprinted the three or four steps to the window behind Sophie and hurled himself at it, his arms out in front of him. The glass shattered loudly and Jared watched dumbfounded as he disappeared into the night, the rain of glass following him down.
Jared turned from the shattered window to the security guards and a nurse who were piling into the room. They looked around quickly and saw the chaos and disarray. The nurse moved quickly to Sophie and checked her vital signs and pulse, then turned to the others. “She’s ok,” she said, exhaling heavily, relieved. Then she glared at Jared and seethed. “Just what the HELL happened in here young man?!!”