The PreacherSubmitted by Spam at 2006-10-10 04:40:22 EDT
Rating: 2.0 on 4 ratings (4 reviews) (Review this item) (V)
“I have a message for you John. From your ‘friend’.”
The voice comes from over to my left, near the door. It’s young. Has that naïve sincerity to it that I’ve fucking hated since I died and ended up in this shithole. She’s the only one I’ve never seen, too scared of me to even lean over my bed when she talks and obstruct the 6-foot square area of flickery strip lighting and ceiling tiles that has become my entire world. I’m not going to acknowledge this bitch. Fuck her for being frightened of me, if she thinks talking to me is difficult for her, than she should try seeing things from my point of view. Or not, as the case may be.
The uncomfortable silence as I refuse to reply is broken only by the ever present bleat of the infernal ECG that keeps me awake at nights and the click and rush of compressed air being forced into my body by external machines.
She’s still not saying anything.
“Well? What the fuck did he have to say for himself?” I yell at the roof, my speech impaired slightly as my chin grates against the fucking brace at my neck that keeps me starring at the same damn spot all day, every day.
There’s a nervous cough and she sounds even more unsure of herself when she replies.
“He says he can’t make it today… Sorry”
I get the impression that the ‘sorry’ is from her and not from the damn bastard that’s become my nemesis - that cunt doesn’t know HOW to apologise. He’s never done anything wrong in his life.
“Good,” I say. I have to pause and wait for another rush of oxygen to be pumped through my lungs before finishing off. “Maybe if you fuck off too, I can get some peace and quiet for once in this hellhole.”
I can almost hear her nod sadly before she closes the door gently and leaves me alone in the company of my machines.
It’ll be hours before the lights go out and longer still before I sleep. Before I dream.
The dinner table.
Grace is wearing one of those stupid fucking jumpers she always has on during winter, completely masking her glorious figure. I don’t care though, because that’s not her beauty, not why I love her, nothing more that a fringe benefit. She smiles at me and I realise that I must be scowling again like I always do when I’m thinking. I try to scowl harder but she just laughs that laugh of hers and, as always, it washes everything away, I can’t even pretend to be mad at when she does that.
And THAT’s why I love her.
The girls are unwrapping their Christmas presents now, although something tells me in the back of my mind that that’s wrong, that they can’t be unwrapping them now because they always do that shit before the meal. As if we could ever get them to eat before they see what Santa’s bought for them this year.
My brow furrows at some of the more extravagant gifts and I look over in semi annoyance at Gracie who’s responsibility it’s always been to buy them.
Pig-tails and cotton dresses. Gap toothed smiles as they hug and kiss me for my generosity.
Again my scowl dissolves.
I guess it was worth the money.
I smile and see my wife’s eyes light up with delight. I only ever smile when I mean it, when I’m happy. When I’m Thankful.
Except I’m not happy. And I’ve nothing to be thankful for.
Because none of this is real.
And I can’t smile anymore.
Because they’re all dead.
My panicked eyes flash open and if I could still breathe by myself I’d probably be gasping. Sweat soaks my face and the Cardiograph hooked to my chest is going ballistic, hopefully this’ll be it, the final check-out.
But just like every night, it slows and finds it rhythm. Bastard thing.
The room is pitch dark but for the soft glow of the heart monitor and blinking lights of the other contraptions and with my heart-rate normalising, a general peace is restored to my bleach-soaked prison.
“Is that the dream you told me about then?”
A normal man would start or jump at such a surprise, an unseen voice that watches from the shadows, but both these reflexes are denied to me, so the only noticeable evidence of shock comes from the Cardiograph and a slight quickening of it’s unending beeps.
It’s him, the kindly old bastard. I let him know what I think to his nocturnal activities
“What the fuck are you doing here at this time of night you piece of shit? You almost scared me to death.”
“You’d like that wouldn’t you John?”
I hear a scrape as he pulls the shitty plastic hospital chair closer to my bed and then I feel a cloth gently dabbing at the nightmare’s residue on my forehead. Normally I’d say something about this but he leans over into my vision before I have the chance and I see he’s been crying as he locks his red puffy eyes on mine and holds my gaze for a long, sad minute.
“How are the bed-sores?” he asks in that gentle voice of his.
“Go fuck yourself” I reply.
He sighs and in the six-months he’s been visiting me, for once I think I’ve actually got to him. Shame generated from the tiny part of me left that’s still human strips me of my joy at this fact. I feel an unaccustomed wave of remorse pass through me, so, for the first time since the accident, I say something genuine:
“Shouldn’t you be at home by now chaplain? I thought you finished at nine?”
He sighs again inexplicably and then takes a deep breath as though he’s about to tell me something terribly difficult for him.
“I needed to speak to you John” He says, loosening the dog collar around his neck.
“More Sermons?” I ask in disgust.
“No John, I’m not here to preach at you this time. This time I’m here to tell you the truth.” – A long pause – “and to give you a gift.”
He’s quiet and there’s a deeply ingrained sadness in his voice that makes me shut up and listen. He’s normally annoyingly positive. I strain my eyes over to where he’s sitting and, even through my blurred peripheries, I can see that he hasn’t shaved for days and his black clergy-shirt is stained and rumpled.
“You see John, I don’t work here at all. I never have. I just told you that so that you didn’t ask me any questions.”
A thousand thoughts rush into my head but he hushes me before I can vocalise them.
“You’re probably wondering why I’m here and I can’t blame you. I mean why WOULD a lonely old priest like me catch the subway 45 minutes each day so that I can talk to a bitter, twisted, shell of man about a God that he doesn’t care about?”
Something clicks in my head and I know already what he’s going to say.
“Unless you were The Driver…” I finish for him.
“Would that it were that simple John, but No, I am not your Driver and you must accept that you’ll die before you ever meet the man that did this to you.”
It’s an oddly bleak thing for him to say and I can’t help but appreciate his lack of bullshit.
“I’m here because I was once like you John. Buth then I was given a task.. A task that at first was unfathomable to me but that in time, I grew to love.”
“And what is this task?” I whisper.
“I cure people, John - take their pain away” He begins to stroke my hair in an oddly fatherly way before continuing. “It’s not just you I see here you understand, I visit all the wards, a patient on each…. And they all get better.”
He stands now and I can hear him stroll to the door and take off his coat and hat. There is a further rustling I don’t quite understand until he comes over and sits back down and I see that he’s stripped down to just his white vest and undershorts, his exposed flesh a mass of scars and burns.
“But I can’t heal you John, you’ve gone too far. And for the longest time I thought that that was it.. But then I realised… I realised that there was a way I could help you, even though it would cost me dear. And this is my Gift to you.”
The ECG takes a step up in pace as I realise what it is he means, what it is he’s going to do. He’s going to end it, end this purgatory. He’s going to take me away from this whitewashed tomb of living dead. He’s going to turn them all off.
“Thank you” I say, simply.
“I hope one day, you can repay this favour”
He places his palm on my forehead and his hand feels unnaturally warm. I see his free arm break across my vision and there’s a click as he flips the switch on my ventilator and then removes the breathing tube from it’s hole in my neck. A weary peace begins to enfold me. Another click as the ECG is powered down.
And then a funny thought hit’s me. Out of the blue. A result of my last working neurons misfiring as parts of my brain die off from oxygen deprivation.
“Why did you take off your clothes?” I croak, confused.
The warmth from his palm grows and as my vision fades, It’s almost unbearably hot. But thankfully, I won’t have to put up with it for much longer.
And the old preacher smiles at me one final time before answering.
“I won’t need them anymore , so I’ve left them for you.”
And everything fades.
I sit bolt upright gasping for air. My lungs are agony as they are forced to expand of their own accord for the first time in half a year.
And then facts start to slide into place and reality delivers a stunning hook shot.
I’m sitting up. The breathing tubes have gone. So has the IV in my wrist. I whip back my bedsheet and see that the Stoma and Foley Caths have been removed too, leaving no trace of their existence on my unblemished skin. There’s also no sign of the old priest.
What the fuck is going on?
But before I know what I’m doing, I’m out of bed and spinning around my room for some indication that I’ve died and this is the afterlife, my legs and arms showing no sign of the muscular atrophy that should have beset them after so much time laid up.
And then I see the preacher’s vestments hanging on the cloak-peg and an idea hits me.
I feel self conscious striding through the corridors dressed like the Mr Amish Catalogue 2006 but my mind is in too much turmoil for it to register properly. Why aren’t I dead?
It hits me that the decision to leave the room was a strange one to make for a man in my position, but again for some reason this thought is blurred and foggy. Dwarfed by the unrelenting compulsion that drives me out of the hospital.
I need to get out of here. I don’t know why but I do.
I stop dead in my tracks and turn to see a young child, sitting up in her bed. She’s maybe only six years old and I can see that under her pink cap, she’s entirely bald.
“Yes Child?” I say in a voice that isn’t entirely my own.
“Won’t you sit with me father? I’m awful lonely.”
And all at once I understand everything that’s happened.
And I know exactly what the preacher wanted me to do.