The halls of Marbleham Hospital were quiet as Nurse Marilyn made her rounds. She went from room to room, carrying out her duties, sometimes casually making polite conversation with the patients, but mostly her thoughts were somewhere else tonight. She felt uneasy, and a little awkward in her own skin, though she couldn’t quite pinpoint why. She chocked it up to lack of sleep and found herself anxiously checking the time whenever she would pass by a clock. At one point, she almost gave the wrong pill to one of her patients, but she was lucky he was paying enough attention to point out her mistake.
The rest of her evening passed rather uneventfully until she entered Room 302. That’s when she saw the dark figure sitting beside the girl’s bed, staring intently at the heart monitor, as if entranced by the rhythmic movement of the lights and soft beeping.
“Excuse me,” Marilyn said, timidly.
The man did not look up.
She cleared her throat. “Um, excuse me. Sir? Visiting hours are over.”
They had been for quite some time and she wondered, briefly, how he’d even gotten in here without her noticing.
“I’m sorry,” the man said—though, now that she thought about it, she couldn’t be quite sure he was a man in the first place. It was hard to get a good look at him. In fact, it was simply hard to look at him. And his voice was odd. Low, melodic, yet somehow very soft. She could hardly be sure she’d heard it at all.
After a few uncomfortable seconds, Marilyn cleared her throat again and said, a bit more forcefully, “Sir?”
He lifted his face to look at her, and she supposed she should have been slightly turned off by the skeleton face that stared back at her, but she didn’t give it a second thought and continued, “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to leave.”
“Alright,” the man said, but he didn’t make any sort of move to get up.
Marilyn pursed her lips and began to tap her foot, impatient. She opened her mouth to say something, but then—
“Do you ever wonder what it’s like,” the man said suddenly.
“What what’s like?”
“Dying,” he said, turning his attention back to the girl on the bed. Her chest rose and fell steadily, the loud sighing and clicking sounds of the air ventilator almost drowning out his soft words. “Do you ever think about it?”
The nurse blinked. “No,” she lied. “I don’t, really.”
Marilyn toyed with the idea of calling security. Or at least threatening to. She stood there, weighing her options. Well, maybe you just weren’t forceful enough, Marilyn told herself. Maybe you need to be a little more assertive. She tapped her fingers nervously on the side of her clipboard.
The man heaved a sigh and leaned back in the chair. “I do,” he said, cutting into her thoughts.
“Think about dying.”
“Oh.” She blinked.
“Oh,” the man echoed flatly, almost as if he were being sarcastic. She thought she heard a faint clack as he shifted in his seat, but she couldn’t be too sure.
“Well, people die,” Marilyn said, matter-of-factly. “Everyone dies.”
“Yeah,” the man said. “I guess they do.”
“Are you this girl’s father?”
“Any sort of family member whatsoever?”
The man shook his head.
Marilyn sniffed, almost haughtily. “Then what are you doing here?”
“Honestly?” The man laughed softly. “I was just curious.”
The nurse frowned. How odd, she thought. It wasn’t a normal answer, by any means, and something clicked in the back of her mind that told her this wasn’t a normal sort of man—if he was a man at all. She suddenly felt something, but couldn’t quite place what it was. A flash of guilt? Of fear?
“Curious,” Marilyn echoed.
“Well, look at her.” The man made a wide gesture towards the monitors and machines collected around the girl’s bed. “What is this?” He leaned forward and extended a bony finger—no, a finger made completely of bone, Marilyn corrected—toward the tube extending from the girl’s neck to the machines.