Short Story 9: Halloween special
[Happy Halloween everyone! I thought I should put up an aptly themed story today. People have suggested alternative endings to me but I’m sticking to the original here. It’s slightly longer than most of my stories so I hope you read on till the end. Hope you like it.]
She’d never looked at him like that before. Like she could actually see him; like he wasn’t just another one of the many creatures placed on this earth to make her existence less difficult. Despite her middleclass background, she was cursed with an air of superiority which she had found impossible to shake even after spending most of her adult life mingling with the sort of people who were supposed to make her seem less of a snub.
Peter leaned back in his chair and smiled. “Maybe I am different. It’s been a while since we last met.”
She spared him another quizzing look then rolled her eyes. She was not in the mood for games today. “So how have things been with you? You’re still not seeing that Alicia girl, are you? The Stepford wife in the making.” She chuckled at her joke and was pleased to see that Peter smiled back. He hadn’t reacted that way the last time she had let him know her views on his girlfriend.
“No, you were right this time. I think she’s now seeing someone better suited to her financial aspirations.”
At least she had the good grace to look a little sympathetic but he knew she wasn’t sorry at all that his thing with Alicia had ended. That relationship had probably had something to do with the recent hiatus in their friendship. After numerous attempts to meet up with her and an equal amount of carefully worded excuses, he had been surprised when she agreed to meet him for lunch today, albeit a brief one as she had said something about having somewhere else to go afterwards. Which meant he didn’t have time for anymore chitchat.
“I have something to ask you.” As he spoke, he pulled out a small glass vial from his pocket which was filled with a clear liquid. He placed it on the table and watched her face for a reaction.
“What’s this? I don’t understand. Is this…”
“It’s nothing illegal, I promise. It’s just something I need for you to…take.”
A half smile touched her lips. It wasn’t an amused smile. “You want me to drink it. And you’re not going to tell me what it is?”
“I’ve known you for twenty three years Beth and you know I would never ask you to do anything that would hurt you. I can’t tell you what it is but you need to trust me on this, you need to drink it.”
“No, you’re high, that’s what it is. You’re high on whatever this is and you want me to join you. Is this why Alicia really left you? There is no other rich guy, is there? There’s only this. I can’t believe this is happening, to you of all people. You were always so sensible.”
“Which is why you know I would never give you something illegal in such a public place. Look, I could easily have slipped this in your drink at some point but I didn’t. What I need is for you to trust me.”
She looked down at the vial, almost as if she was contemplating what he was asking but then she shook her head. “I can’t Peter. You know I can’t.”
He nodded. He hadn’t expected her to give in easily. He knew he would have put up a fight too. “Ok, if you won’t drink it,” he said as he picked up the vial and slipped it back into his pocket, “will you indulge me and accompany me somewhere.”
“You’ll see when we get here.”
“Beth, please for old time sake, trust me.”
He got up as he spoke and stared intently at her. This was it; she was either in or out. If she didn’t get up and follow him, he wasn’t sure what he was going to do but he knew he had to do things differently this time. All his plans had failed to work the last four times he had attempted them and maybe that was because he had been treading too softly.
Beth looked around the half empty coffee shop as if searching for someone to deliver her from this madness but no one was paying any attention to them. Why would they? To any onlooker, there was nothing odd about whatever was transpiring between her and Peter. She sighed and got up.
“You know I have to be somewhere in a little while.”
“I know. It won’t take more than ten minutes. We’re only going up the road,” Peter assured her as he led the way out of the coffee shop. So far so good, but he knew he couldn’t get complacent now as he had done last time.
True to his word, he only led her about six buildings up the busy city centre road. He had chosen to meet her at that coffee shop because he knew it was close to their next destination.
“Why are we going in here?” Beth asked as they stopped outside the entrance of St Martins’ General Hospital.
Peter didn’t answer her this time; he just carried on into the building knowing that she would remain close behind him. She’d come this far, she wasn’t going to turn back now. They spoke to no one in the building as Peter led her into the elevator and up to the fourth floor.
Beth read the acronym ‘ICU’ off the elevator button panel and frowned. Something was definitely wrong but she didn’t think asking Peter for an explanation now would giver her any satisfactory answer. She was going to have to see how this situation played out.
“She’s here.” A small dark man dressed in what looked to be a badly fraying patient’s gown was standing outside the door of the room Peter had brought her to. She had noticed how no one else was paying them any attention, doctors, nurses, orderlies; it was almost as if they weren’t there at all. No one had bothered to question their presence on this particularly sensitive floor. Beth had never been to an ICU ward before but she would have imagined the sense of security would have been a little bit more stepped up with so many vulnerable people around.
“I told you I could bring her,” was Peter’s answer to the man’s excited remark. He looked extremely pleased with his achievement as he shook hands with the older man.
“I guess in your case, fifth time’s the charm. And not a moment too soon, I have to say.”
“Peter, you really have to tell me what’s going on. Who is this man? Why are we here? What does this have to do with the liquid you showed me earlier on?” Beth felt this was the time to become vocal again. She had been accommodating enough, following him without question. She really needed some answers now before she got really confused.
Ignoring her, the small man continued to address only Peter. “She didn’t drink it? How did you manage to get her here on your own?”
“Ok Beth, you wanted some answers and this is it. What date is it today?”
“5th of February. Why? Surely you know that already.”
“And what date does it say on that clock over there?”
Beth turned around and frowned. Why was it saying 19th of February? She could not possibly be that many days off the mark.
“That can’t be right.”
“Before today, when was the last time you saw me?” Peter carried on without offering any explanation.
“I don’t know, three or four months ago? Why? What does that have to do with anything?”
The small man pushed open the door to the room they had been standing outside and the three of them went in.
Beth’s gasp was probably audible from three rooms away. Lying on the first bed within the room was what looked to be her identical twin, except that she did not have an identical twin or any siblings for that matter. And even more puzzling was the fact that the person lying on the other bed in the room was Peter. They both looked incredibly pale and bore bruises to their faces and exposed arms, with Beth’s right leg raised above the bed in a frightening looking contraption. Peter’s mother sat sleeping in an arm chair by the window, oblivious to the new additions to the room.
“What’s happening? Am I dreaming? This is a dream, right? Answer me Peter.”
“I wish it was,” he replied sadly, his voice sounding much closer than she had expected. “You don’t remember any of it, do you? You never remember till I explain it all to you again.” Sighing, he went past her and stood by her ghostly figure lying in bed. “I did break up with Alicia and we did meet up on the 5th and then again on the 8th and finally on the 12th we had what you actually allowed me call a date. Twenty three years of knowing you and we only just went on our first date.” He chuckled here but then his voice went sombre again.
“I was driving you back to your flat. It wasn’t very late but you had a headache and I didn’t think you should stay out any longer; after all I thought we had the rest of our lives ahead of us. There was a truck…”
“You don’t have much time Peter,” the small man interrupted the tale as he moved towards Peter’s comatose body.
Peter looked confused for a second then snapped out of his stupor and turned to face the perplexed Beth. “Right, I almost forgot. You need to trust me on this Beth, you need to drink this.” He produced the vial he had offered her earlier on and uncorked it.
“What is it?” Beth’s whispered. She looked surprised that the words had even escaped her lips. Her brain was still trying to process what her eyes could see. If that was really them lying in the hospital beds, then what exactly were they doing standing in the same rooms with their bodies?
“It’s mostly water but there is something else in it that will help us…cross over.”
“Cross over? You want us to die?”
“Cross back, I meant cross back. Listen Beth, we don’t have any…time.”
That was when they started to fade.
“No,” Peter cried with exasperation. “I can’t do this again. Please Beth, trust me this one time. I wish I could explain but it will be too late by the time I’m done.”
He couldn’t bear the thought of repeating this scene for the sixth time. He didn’t know if he had it in him to wander around aimlessly for what seemed like days in the hospital ward before finding the old man’s spirit, listening to his explanation and solution and then trying to get Beth’s spirit back to the hospital. He knew that if he had to, he would repeat his actions for eternity or at least until their bodies both withered away and their spirits really had to cross over but it was wearing him down so much. This time he had come so, so close.
“Peter,” the fear in Beth’s eyes was heartbreaking but it was worthless if she didn’t do as he said. “Ok, ok, I’ll do it.” She grabbed the vial from his almost transparent hand and downed its contents.
Then a light.