My Friday quick-write, NaNoWriMo prep. Just under 50 minutes, 1182 words.
Dead but not Forgotten
“I thought someone should tell you that your mother has died.”
The line was delivered with such callousness that I thought it must have been a joke.
“Your mother has died,” the nurse said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my duties.”
“But wait! What… how… What do you mean?”
She stopped mid-stride and turned to me, with an expression that suggested I was a dolt.
“Your. Mother. Has. Died,” she said, emphasizing each word like I was a particularly daft child.
“But I just saw her half an hour ago. She was fine.”
We’d been on a cross-country trip, part of the celebrations of Mom’s sixty-fifth birthday. The whole family was getting together at my sister’s on the west coast and we’d thought it would be fun to make the four day drive, seeing the sights along the way. We’d only planned to stop in this quaint, no-signal town for a bite to eat before getting back on the road, but after the meal Mom wasn’t feeling well, so I’d brought her to the hospital. Next thing I know, she’s dead!
“That’s how it happens round these parts. One minute…,” she gave a huge, exaggerated smile, “the next…,” she rolled her head to the side and stuck her tongue out.
“But… she can’t be dead.”
She had me there and I just sputtered, struggling for reasons.
“Oh fine, you’re not going to leave are you?”
I shook my head.
“Fine, would you like to see her? She’s mid-meal, but if you’re quiet and don’t interrupt.”
“Eating? But you just said she’s dead.”
“Yes.” She turned away, marching off down the corridor. When she realized I wasn’t following, she paused and turned back. “Well, are you coming?”
Dumbfounded, I raced after her.
As I caught up to the nurse’s quick pace, she explained, “It’s not wise to disturb them when they eat. Any little distraction can set them off and they can be so unpredictable. Some will charge you trying to break through the glass, or hurt themselves attempting to gouge their way through the walls. Often we can’t placate those and they have to put down. Some with go catatonic. Still others will just start wailing. In some ways those are the worst, not only because the noise is so terrible, but because others in the hospital will hear and take up the call. They can often be sedated, but that’s not an easy task either. So, no loud noise or sudden movements, okay?”
I nodded, unsure what she was talking about, but willing to go along with whatever caution was deemed necessary by this strange woman.
The look on her face conveyed her dubiousness but she turned back to the task at hand, accepting that what will happen, will happen.
The corridor was immensely long and very utilitarian, like most hospital corridors. Attempts to make it look friendly and inviting, for example, by adding children’s artwork, or friendly informational plaques, only succeeded in highlighting the fact that this was a place of illness and whoever did the decorating had as equally difficult time extricating themselves from that thought as the hundreds of friends and family that passed through daily.
Finally, we turned a corner, passed the stairwell and came to a service elevator.
At my look, she explained, “They lose what technical abilities they may have had, so we have their quarters connected only by elevator. Its safer for all of us that way.”
The elevator door closed with an ominous clang and descended, shaking and wobbling all the way. At the bottom, after a ride so long that I thought we must be descending into Hades itself, the car came to a jarring stop with another clang.
“Stay to the centre of the corridor. We leave them in a fairly open plan, but a short leash so they can’t reach us in the marked area.” She indicated the floor, where there were scuffed and worn lines leading away from the elevator.
I was more distracted, however, by the inmates of this unusual ward. Torn clothes, dirty faces, and vacant, staring eyes, they were each anchored to the wall behind them with a harness fitted around their chest. One by one, as they saw us, they turned and attempt to lumber toward us, arms outstretched.
“These aren’t what I think they are, are they?”
“That depends on what you think they are.”
“Zombies is a horribly bigoted word that we don’t encourage the use of. Just think of the preconceptions you have from the portrayal in popular culture. It’s horrible. Poor things. They’re really quite sweet,” she said, as the nearest one lunged for my arm.
She pulled me away, admonishing the creature as one would a naughty dog.
“We prefer to call them Cerebrally Challenged.”
I was only half listening, my mind caught between shock and the desire to find Mom. I discovered her a few moments later, pacing back and forth and trying to understand why she couldn’t move far from the wall. As I was about to call out, an arm rested on my shoulder.
“Don’t please. It will only set them off.”
“But, how could this have happened?”
She shrugged. “It’s just one of those quaint, small town things. Some places have purifying springs, some have dinosaur bones, ours has a brain-eating virus.”
“But how… why are you not all… Nevermind, I don’t want to know. I just want to know how to get my mom back.”
“Oh, there’s not going back. Her brain has been almost completely disoloved. Well, except that small bit in the back that keeps her breathing, eating and moving.”
“Well, what can I… how do I…,” I struggled for words to explain my situation. Finally, I said, “We’re expected at a party, her party, in two days. How can I take her like that?”
“Oh, no, no, you can’t take her. She has to stay here.”
“What? What am I going to tell my family?”
“Just tell them the truth. She died.”
“After eating dinner on our trip to her birthday? They’re going to want answers. And I can’t just turn up without her. No, there must be something I can do.”
“Well, this would be highly irregular. Never done before, in fact, but she does seem peaceful. You’d have to make sure to give her raw meat regularly and keep her away from children.”
“Yes, yes, anything.”
“And you must promise to keep our secret.”
“Mom’s the word,” I said, before realizing that was probably in poor taste.
~ ~ ~
It took some explaining when I arrived, and it was the strangest birthday bash ever, but we adapted. Mom’s been like that for twenty years now, and hasn’t aged a day. We feed her lots of raw meat and let her roam the garden at night. We even take her out for a walk through the town on Halloween. We’ve never had any trouble with her. Except for those one or two times she got loose, but that’s for another story.