Aphelion Issue 241, Volume 23
July 2019
 
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The Edge of Tomorrow

by Bruce Memblatt


Voices in the dark:

Join us tomorrow for another installment of The Edge of Tomorrow, brought to you by...

"Push another two milligrams of epi, Sarah."

Cold fire in his chest, then pressure, on-off-on-off, as if someone was using his ribcage for a trampoline.

"One, two, three, and hold --"

Pressure: on-off-on-off.

"Again...one, two, three, and hold --"

Pressure: on-off-on-off. A thin, electronic beeping replaced the shrill, steady tone that had been there all along under the voices.

"I think we have a pulse."

"There. He seems to be stabilizing," Doctor Phil Simon stated as he wiped the sweat off his brow. He peeled back the patient's eyelids to check pupil response to the glare of a pen-sized flashlight and nodded to himself. "Normal response to light -- I don't expect any permanent brain dysfunction."

"He was only down for about a minute before the drugs and the stent restored blood flow," Nurse Sarah Rodgers said. "Should I tell his family? They're out in the waiting room."

"Yes, please," Simon replied. "I'll be there in a moment. It may be a while before he regains consciousness -- even a minute without blood flow can have unpredictable effects, and I'd like to try a few simple tests before I speak to them."

"I'm on my way, Doctor Simon," the nurse said as she carefully stepped away from the bed. "I'll just turn off the TV."

"Leave it on for a while," Simon said. "The sound coming from the TV may stimulate his senses. Either way it's not going to cause any harm."

####

The small waiting room on the fifth floor of St. Agnes was just a few doors down from Justin Clarke's room near the end of the hall. The room where family members waited for good news, or bad, or none at all, had a sense of sad abandonment about it. Its tattered furnishings, like the patients that populated the small hospital, conspired to remind anyone who had to linger there that life was a transitory affair.

Justin's wife Paula sat on the couch. Her hands steadily flipped through a magazine she had no interest in while Justin's nineteen year old son Kevin stood by the window fidgeting aimlessly with the controls on the radiator below, as if he'd developed a new sport to pass the hours.

Nurse Rodgers was a portly woman with a pleasing demeanor. When she entered the room she felt a sense of relief. She didn't have to report Justin Clarke had died.

"Mrs. Clarke?"

Paula quickly threw down the magazine. The long wait for news had been as painful for her as any bad news could possibly be. She faced the nurse. Kevin placed his hand anxiously on his mother's shoulder. Their eyes grew with anticipation as Sarah drew closer.

"Your husband's condition has been stabilized," Nurse Rodgers said calmly. "The doctor gave him some drugs to help to restore circulation, and inserted a stent in the blocked artery. He's just checking a few things so he can give you a better idea of Mr. Clarke's prognosis." A small smile emerged on her lips.

"Thank God, and Dr. Simon too," Paula said.

"It was touch and go for a minute," Sarah said, "and there's still a hard road ahead, but ..." She let her voice trail off. Never promise too much, she thought. Then she continued, "Dr. Simon will be here in a moment to fill you and your son in on the details. Personally I want to tell you both that I'm quite optimistic."

"Thank you, Nurse Rodgers. When can we see him?"

"When Doctor Simon comes in he'll let you know. Justin isn't awake now and he's been through quite an ordeal." Should I tell them? Doctor Simon will mention it anyway, and he forgets to be gentle sometimes. "I think you should know that Mr. Clarke was actually clinically dead for a few moments."

"Dear God," Paula said. She pressed one hand against her chest as if she was suffering a cardiac event of her own, and Kevin's grip on her shoulder grew tighter. In that moment she saw her future as a possible widow: the empty rooms, the lonely nights spread out over year after unforgiving year. Even if their marriage wasn't without its wrinkles, life would be -- what? That was the problem, she didn't know what it would be without Justin. And there was Kevin, who seemed to need his father now more than ever since the sorry trouble with the police last year.

"I know. Mrs. Clarke. But he is alive, and with God's help he'll soon have a full recovery."

####

Night fell on the fifth floor of St. Agnes hospital. Justin lay asleep on his bed. A monitor above counted his heartbeats in cool detached blue LED beams. It was the only light in the room save for the small fluorescent light that glowed next to the monitor above his bed, and the trickle of light that spilled from the hallway by the door left slightly ajar. Justin's mind shifted in and out sifting through memories and fantasies longing to break into stark clarity. The time passed strangely for Justin as if it were rearranged haphazardly. With a shudder his right eye slowly opened. Through groggy indifference it caught a small child a girl, perhaps she was twelve, standing in front of the door.

"Are you all right?" Justin said, his speech hoarse and strained.

I'm not sure. Mother said to be careful, not to stand too close to the edge of the pool.

"You should be okay," Justin said. "The pool's still about a yard away from you." He drifted back to sleep.

####

When Nurse Rodgers entered the room the following morning Justin was still fast asleep. She had hoped he'd awaken with the morning. She whistled casually while she checked his pulse and tended to his I.V. She wondered about death as she gazed at Justin for the briefest moment, what it was like. Was it like anything, or was it nothing, an empty abyss? She hoped it was something warm and enveloping. Recalling Dr. Simon's passing words she reached for the remote and turned on the TV. Silly, she thought. If anything, daytime TV probably dampens brain activity. But nobody has time to just sit and talk with him, so...

####

When afternoon came Paula and Kevin stood anxiously in front of Justin's room. Paula dreamed that when they opened the door they'd see Justin smiling and alert. He'd say 'hello' and they'd talk about a future filled with possibilities. But when the door opened Justin was still miles away. She looked at him, paying more attention than she usually did to his appearance.

His brown hair remained vibrant and fell just a bit over the side of the pillow. At forty-five, Justin looked like he was in his thirties. The dichotomy was strikingly sad, a young man in such a precarious position.

Kevin walked to the edge of the bed and held his father's hand. Another day alone with his mother, he thought, would drive him mad."Dad, can you hear me?" His voice was unsteady, almost cracking, as awful things ran through his head, things he didn't want to think about."Dad?"

"Did you see her? The little girl?"

The words fell from Justin's mouth with confusion, but they brought a smile to Kevin's face. The relief he felt at that moment was as intense as any feeling he could remember.

"Dad, we missed you," Kevin said. "Mom, did you hear him?"

"I heard him, Kevin." Paula said as she walked over to the side of the bed, happy but stunned by Justin's words. She grasped her husband's hand tightly." Justin. Can you hear me?"

"Of course I can hear you," Justin said, his voice still hoarse and strange sounding to Paula's ear. "The little girl -- where did she go?" His eyes looked clear past Paula and Kevin to the doorway. "Oh, there she is!"

Did you see my parents?

Paula and Kevin turned to see Justin's friend -- but there was no one there.

"Are your parents arguing again?" Justin said loudly. "They shouldn't be putting you through that kind of thing when you're already sick!"

Kevin and Paula eyes caught one another's. They suddenly jumped back. Paula thought about a dark future. Kevin thought about the comforting past.

"Mom," Kevin quickly interjected, "Remember, Dr. Simon said that Dad might be disoriented when he came to --."

"I remember, Kevin," Paula replied. "I guess I just wasn't prepared for it." Tears trickled down her face and she raised her hands to wipe them away. "I thought he might have trouble remembering our names, or knowing where he was, but this? He's talking to -- to -- an hallucination, as if her problems are all that matter."

"Mom, it will be okay," Kevin said. "At least he's alive and speaking. He'll be his old self soon,. I'm sure." Kevin prayed the words were true as they fell from his lips. He knew his mother would drone on pessimistically because that was her nature. He felt like leaving the room, or pulling out his hair. He looked towards his father.

I think so. They argue so often, the little girl said. Her hands fell to her sides. Her white summer dress fluttered in a wind that touched nothing else in the room.

"I don't blame your dad. All that trouble your mother got into with Harrington," Justin said clearly. His eyes stared vacantly in the direction of the door. In his mind's eye it was a warm summer day. He was lazily resting by a tree in the backyard that faced his neighbor's pool.

Harrington was a fool. Mother never really cared for him, the girl said.

Justin thought that this was a bit odd, coming from a child so young, but also pretty accurate. "Harrington was a fool, but what about your dad? What was he supposed to do?"

It will turn out that the trouble will just bring them closer in the end.

"What do you mean?"

Hearing only one side of a conversation that Justin found much more interesting than his own family both frightened and infuriated Paula. "Justin!" she shrieked. "Justin, say something to me! Speak to me! Speak to Kevin! Not that -- that nothing..."

Kevin was certain the entire fifth floor of the hospital had heard his mother's outburst. He couldn't leave the room now. The stares from the people in the hall who had heard her deafening scream would be unbearable.

"Mom, take it easy," Kevin said urgently, taking her hand. "Give him some time to get oriented. Please try to be positive. Maybe if we're positive it will help Dad."

Paula glanced at Kevin and felt suddenly proud of her son and shamed by her impatience.

"You're right, Kevin, forgive me. I'm over-tired and over-reacting. The three of us have been through so much lately," she said. She pulled away from him and whimpered, " and now this, what did I do to deserve this?"

Kevin winced. For a second there, his mother had risen above her usual self-centered viewpoint. Two seconds, tops. "Mom, it's not about you," he said. "It's about dad. You didn't do anything." Blonde strands of hair fell over his eyes as he tilted his head towards his mother "You wouldn't happen to know anyone named Harrington, would you Mom?" Again words slipped out that he didn't think he'd say.

"Justin, really. Have you gone mad too? I can't take another moment." She cried and wondered if life would ever be the same again.

"Why so defensive, Mom? It's not like you've been a saint." Kevin could feel his blood boiling. He thought about his father lying on the bed below and tried to steady his nerves. At that moment Nurse Sarah Rodgers stepped into the room. She guessed direct medical diplomacy was the way to handle the untenable situation she knew was quickly developing. She was tired. She wanted them to leave anyway. For a moment she thought how blissfully peaceful it would be if none of the patients had family.

"Mrs. Clarke, Kevin would you guys mind stepping into the waiting room for about half an hour? Or maybe you'd like to grab some coffee. I have to change the sheets on Justin's bed and write up his chart." She smiled winningly, as she knew the pair would excuse themselves and leave the room without question and poor Justin and Sarah could get some peace and quiet.

####

When night returned to Justin's room his thoughts were cloudy. He sporadically watched the faucet in the sink across the room endlessly drip. His eyes turned toward the window with the blinds carelessly drawn. He knew he wasn't home, yet he couldn't remember home clearly. He knew he must have a home somewhere, but the word failed to conjure any specific images. But then his eyes met the door and suddenly green grass and sun imbued his strange view.

Maggie appeared. I thought I'd stay out here till they were finished, she said quietly. Her eyes remained fixed on the grass.

"You know they're never finished." Justin said imagining soft grass beneath his feet.

It wasn't always like this,. she cried as she sat down on the grass.

"When wasn't it like this? I can't remember a time." Justin said wearily twisting a blade of grass between his fingers.

Before he came to town, I remember, we had barbecues out here and mother was happier.

"Maggie, when you were a little younger, your mom tried to keep things from you. But lately, she's gotten careless. Your dad, too."

You're lying! Maggie shouted. It used to be perfect! They were happy! We were all happy...

"Mr. Clarke,. I have to check your temperature. This will just take a moment." Sarah said firmly, as she drew close to Justin's bed. "There, just hold this under your tongue for a moment. "She placed the small tube into Justin's mouth.

Justin stared quietly at the wall. It was a hell of a time to be unable to talk, to convince Maggie that he was telling the truth.

Sarah noted the direction of his gaze and sighed. One lousy minute with no heartbeat, and this is what he gets. Poor guy. She held the thermometer steadily in his mouth for what seemed like hours until the soft beep sounded. "Thank you, Justin. I'll leave you to your company."

You lie and you talk about my dad like you're his friend, but I know better, Maggie muttered.

"I'll see in the morning," Sarah said. "Sleep well. I've got to get home and get some rest myself. Now if you need anything just press the buzzer by your side and Nurse Randall will come in and help you." As Sarah left the room she thought, "Maggie? I wonder who Maggie is." She shook her head in disbelief.

"What are you trying to say, Maggie?" Justin said.

You wanted to be with my mother. That's why you killed Harrington. You were jealous. You wanted to kill father too.

Justin frowned. "Harrington? I didn't -- Maggie I think you've been out in the sun too long. Maybe you should go home, and get some rest."

You think you're clever. But I saw you, Maggie snapped.

"Now, Maggie, that's crazy talk." Justin felt anger growing inside him.

You're going to kill me too. You're going to push me in the pool and I'm going to drown. That's what's supposed to happen.

"Supposed to happen?"

I know where the gun is. The gun you used to kill Harrington I'll show you. You buried it right over there next to that tree, Maggie said. She walked towards the tree and began digging with her small hands. She pulled out the gun.

Justin quickly stood and walked steadily towards Maggie as she waved the gun mockingly in her hand. "Maggie, stop this stop this right now!"

Maggie ran, still holding the gun.

"Maggie!" Justin shouted again. She was getting closer to the pool, too close to be safe. He leapt toward her. He watched Maggie trip and fall into the water. He picked up his pace. His heart began to pound as the edge of the pool drew closer. He saw her treading water right near the edge and the gun lying on the bottom of the pool. He stretched his body over the side of the pool and he held Maggie down till she stopped treading. She floated silently in the still water.

Nurse Randall was the first to hear the steady sound that screamed from the monitor above Justin Clarke's bed. "Code Blue in Cardiac ICU 314,"she piped urgently into the receiver. She ran down the hall towards Justin's room. She caught Justin clutching his chest and struggling for breath. She ripped off his gown.

Dr. Lewis tore around the corner of the hall and entered the room breathlessly. He began pounding mechanically on Justin's chest.

Two men in white pushing a cart with equipment followed Dr. Lewis into Justin's room.

"Hurry!" Dr. Lewis shouted.

Justin was standing over the pool wildly shaking the water off the gun.

They quickly attached the wires to Justin's chest. His body convulsed with each bolt. Sweat poured down his face. Nurse Randall was the first to notice Justin's heart had stopped permanently. Dr, Lewis stood over Justin quietly. They all stood silent under the cool electric fluorescent beam.

####

When Sarah Rodgers entered Justin's room the following morning she saw the empty bed, the sunlit room. The small boxes of uneaten candies and the flowers that lined the windowsill previously had vanished. She turned toward the orderly, her friend Amy, the one who always seemed to talk just a little too much. Amy was busily changing the sheets on the bed. Sarah knew Justin had died the moment she walked into the room. Regardless, she inquired."Where is Mr. Clarke? Did they move him?"

"They lost him last night."

"So sorry to hear the news, he was a young man. That poor wife and son of his. Just awful."

"Kind of takes all the fun out of working in a hospital. Say, did you catch The Edge of Tomorrow yesterday? It was a doozie. Turns out their next door neighbor Justin was fond of the wife. Remember? She was having an affair with Harrington?"

"I knew it. I could kick myself for missing it yesterday."

"Wait there's more." She continued in hushed tones." So it turns out he killed Harrington."

"No!"

"Maggie knew where he threw the gun. She taunted Justin. He held her down in their pool until she drowned. Right in their own backyard."

"Unbelievable, what some of those TV writers come up it."

"Bunch of crackpots if you ask me...."

THE END


© 2010 Bruce Memblatt

Bio: Bruce Memblatt lives in New York City He has had his stories featured in such magazines as Aphelion (most recently Dinner With Henry, April 2010), Static Movement, Danse Macabre, SNM Horror Magazine, Jeani Rector's The Horror Zine, The Piker Press, A Golden Place, Eastown Fiction, Short Story Me! 69 Flavors of Paranoia, Suspense Magazine, Audience Magazine, Black Lantern Publishing, The Cynic Online and The Feathertale Review. His short story "Pandora's Surprise" has been published in Pill Hill Press, Pandora's Nightmare: The Horror Unleashed. His short story "The Police Station," is featured in The Horror Zine's Anthology Twice The Terror. His story "A Cut Above the Rest "has been scheduled for publication in Bewildering Stories. A story called "The First Vampire," will be featured in the October 2010 issue of Dark Gothic Resurrected. "The Last Party" will be published in the 2010 Halloween issue of Yellow Mamma. "The Children's Room" will be published in Whortleberry Press' 2010 Halloween anthology. A story called, "At Arm's Reach," will be published in the forthcoming anthology titled "Dusted." from Static Movement. Most recently A piece called "Victim Number 13" has just been published in the July 2010 issue of Strange Weird and Wonderful magazine. Look for his story "The New Me," in the November 2010 issue of The Horror Zine.

E-mail: Bruce Memblatt

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