Totally just a coincidence that both this excerpt, and “The Silver U” are about Michael waking up. I swear he does more than sleep…
When Michael woke up next, it was to the rattling sound of someone coughing. He wasn’t aware of anybody else in the room, but as the strangled wheezing shook him from sleep, he felt a solid presence beyond his bed.
“Water,” the person sputtered through the phlegm in his throat.
Michael stirred, moaning feebly at the throbbing pain in his head. It was only when he turned completely onto his side, bringing his hands underneath his cheek, that he realized he was no longer strapped down.
“Water,” the person pleaded.
Please stop coughing, Michael thought, trying to will himself back to sleep. But the person didn’t stop. Michael groaned. He wanted to bury his head under the pillow to drown out the tortured sound of those disgusting coughs. The sound of wet choking was enough to sour Michael’s stomach, making him gag on his own spit.
How are they not hearing this?
“Nurse,” Michael called.
Michael rolled onto his back again and squinted through his eyelids. The overhead light was turned off, but he was not in absolute darkness: the door was open, a wedge of bluish light spilled in from the hallway, giving shape and substance to some of the shadows beyond Michael’s bed. He lifted his head to see the other side of the room, and the light from the corridor fell onto the curtain that separated the other bed from his own.
“Nurse!” Michael shouted, sitting up faster than he dared.
Wrenching his head from the pillow was like pulling a tooth—a sharp, instantaneous pain burst through the back of his head. But as he sat up, the room shifting around him, the coughing stopped. In the abrupt, buzzing silence Michael peered into the darkness beyond the curtain, listening intently for even the faintest trace of life beyond that ghostly veil.
“Sir?” Michael said.
No answer. He looked to the open doorway, but the corridor beyond was empty. Even for the skeleton crew of nurses that kept watch over the ill during the most lonesome hours of the night, this place was dead, and Michael was suddenly struck by the absurd realization that he might be alone in the hospital—he and the dead man in the next bed.
Michael flung his legs over the bed, his bare feet pressing into the cool linoleum.
“Sir?” he called again.
He was answered, this time, by a shallow, wheezing breath. Michael breathed a sigh of relief.
There was a pink carafe on a tray at his bedside, next to a stack of disposable plastic cups. Michael took one of the cups and poured the tepid water to the brim. He stood slowly, his body still weak from the medication. The wheezing grew louder, rising from behind the curtain until it filled the room. It was inhuman, many tortured voices wheezing as one, each shrieking with its own special kind of pain. Every sound that death makes whistled in that voice, and Michael shut his eyes until, suddenly, it stopped. The voice was human again, and it whispered:
“One bright day in the middle of the night,
Two dead boys got up to fight.
Back to back, they faced one another.
They drew their swords, and they shot each other.
A deaf policeman, he heard the noise,
And he came and he killed those two dead boys.”
The voice was clear and steady, and it growled, not with sickness, but with hate. Michael’s eyes were transfixed by the white curtain, now perfectly still. He knew that whatever lurked in the shadows behind that curtain wanted to hurt him.
The above is an excerpt from my novel, “Prince of this World.” All work published on this blog is the property of Stephan Maldonado, who owns the official copyright for “Prince of this World” from the Library of Congress. “Prince of this World”, © 2012 Stephan Maldonado. All rights reserved.