I poked my head into a room marked with a flag, and the bed was empty. The window was open as well and the blood flowers were blooming outside under the green sun. They whispered and hungered, and I might’ve even reached out to touch them had they been closer. It was always beautiful this time of year, where the fanged vines could just reach out and stroke your cheek. But out in the court yard, I could see them, where the red moon dipped with light that turned the world amber, and the gleaming citadel of the stars was bound in conceptualized light like an artist’s sketch.
“Imagine,” The television said. “How lonely the burden of being a god might be.” I could see them both there in the field and on the screen. Where did the hospital end?
Channel five was interviewing a prisoner of war. I paused in the threshold, fingers beating to the thump of my heart against the doorframe, and walked over to the screen.
“You are ontologically conceptualized. You are what you are, and you do not change. The cascades of your life are anchored to the point of your creation. The idealization of yourself may never deviate. Some might call you driven, utterly dedicated, but the natural multiplicity of form of mortal life never intervenes or bares its head again. You are what you are.” Her skin was red, and blood dripped from her open mouth onto the interviewing chair. Barbed wire bound her wrists together, slashed with fanciful paints, like the white mask placed over her skin, baring just her mouth.
Her teeth were pointed cruelly. What monster would do that to her?
“How lonely it must be to be certain and fixated. Magnetic north in a world that has such limitless potential for change. Philanderers remain fixated and loose. Murderers rage against the cessation of their crimes. Zeus cheats on Hera. Hera punishes Zeus. Hephaestus pleads for someone to accept him at last, and he never meets a soul that considers him worthy, no matter how many creations he makes. Capricious and clever, he lurks, perpetually orbiting what he wants, like tantalus, but cursed to shirk and retreat him the ending he has been promised.”
“What does this have to do with your crimes?”
“What can I do but burn at the end?” The prisoner asked. “I am fire, I am death, I am destruction. No amount of petty illusions or pains will staunch the blood I crave, or give me what I seek. Even when all is fire, what can fire do but consume itself?”
My fingertips touched the screen, and the eyes, harrowed and pained behind the mask, flicked over to me. “Whose happy ending is this supposed to be?”
“Happy ending?” I asked.
“We’re all alive,” the woman saidasked. “But here I am in chains. We are all bound to beds, and only the wanderers remain.”
“I don’t understand,” The newswoman said, though her expression remained fixated as the day the ink was spread across her contours. “Can you tell me more?”
“We have not yet lost. Ideas can’t die.” The prisoner barked.
The newcaster held up her hand. “We’ll see about that. Fire at will.”
The prisoner laughed and laughed and laughed and her blood spilled across the ground. Twenty seven rounds hit struck her in the chest, liquifying her organs and turning her bones to dust.
and the screen blared with static. I jumped, and my shoulder collided with it, knocking it over. It crashed against the ground, screen detonating like a hand grenade, and my left hand clenched, muscles shredded and ruined, and I staggered around like a stranded sheep, hitting the side of the bed, right hand clenching around my heart, and I felt it race like long lances of metal were pinning the delicate muscle in place, and I hissed, and touched it and wanted it to stop because it was so close to what I wanted.
“Gale,” Another voice said. I was in the bed now, tugging the sheets over top of me. I blinked a few times, scattered, and collected myself with a lasso, turning to look at the door.
Father was there.
His face was etched with age and scars.
His face was young and bountiful, with an ease that belied the wounds behind his eyes, like hooks had dragged him here through his brain. His hair was wind tustled and touched with a bit of sun, the same energy that crackled behind his eyes and in the warmth of his gaze, oh father I have sinned, oh father I have been broken and I want
His face was etched with age and scars.
“You know that’s not your bed to lay in,” Hurricane said.
I looked down blankly at my hands, and marveled at how small they were before looking back at him. “Isn’t it?”
“You’re not sick,” Hurricane said, stepping forward. The scientist hero knelt down before the bed so we were more on level.
“I’m not,” I said, slightly more sure, and pulled the covers down. Felt half bare without them, though I was still clothed. “I’m not,” I repeated, and slid off of it, rather blank. The green sun beat across the back of my neck.
“I’m not really here either,” Hurricane proposed, and sat on the bed next to me, narrowly avoiding my legs.
“Not even now?” I asked.
“You have my attention, at least,” Hurricane said. “Cast through time and distant, as I prepare for the end. I’m sorry I can’t give you more.”
“I always disappointed you,” I said.
“Never,” Hurricane replied. “Even now you don’t. Your mother is proud of you, too.”
“Have I met her since?”
“She’s closer than you know,” Hurricane said, calmly. His hand slid over mine and squeezed it. “You know I never wanted this for you.”
“I scared you, didn’t I?” I said. “When you found out I was here?”
“It’s a very near fatal place,” Hurricane said. “But if someone would survive it, it would be Excelsior wouldn’t it?”
“I didn’t catch that name,” I said.
“It doesn’t matter,” Hurricane said. “I don’t have a lot of time until I have to leave again.”
He never had time for me. Not enough to matter.
Hurricane frowned, then looked out the window. “What a show for a prisoner,” He muttered. “Does the head of affairs not understand how much this hurts the veterans here?”
“I guess not.”
“Patrickson never cared much for the current state of affairs. Similar to your mother.”
“That’s why he treats diseases here?” I asked. “Like…” Words wriggled and squirmed behind my tongue and in the recesses in my brain, a thousand thousand things I couldn’t quite decide on. Words to use. “The Association?”
His eyes flicked like clockwork gears in his head. His hand squeezed tighter. “Some diseases can’t be cured, Gale,” He said, after a long ponderous silence. “You have to decide what’s worth fighting for, and what you can accept.”
“And sometimes, even enemies fight against the same threat.”
He paused, heavy and squeezed my shoulder. “So get up, alright? There are more people here in the hospital for you to see, anyway.”
“Yeah,” I said. “You’re right.”
“But the world can’t go back to the way it was,” Hurricane added. “And I want you to know that wherever I am, whenever I am, I am unspeakably proud of you.” He smiled. “If you want to get out of here at all, check the terminal wards. I’m sorry.”
I could remember that smile for the rest of my life, though I felt small in its radiance and the warmth had been sucked out of the room to fuel the brilliance of that reflection in totality. The room was darker after he melted away, and the scratches on my skin were visibly. My lip bled from where I’d sank my teeth into it.
The hallways were darker. The flags were older. I walked past, doorknobs on par with my head, and counted them one by one until I found the one I was looking for. Terminal ward.
There were endless closed doors here, empty, vacuous, vacant. Nobody was sick. Nobody was dying. My feet marched on regardless.
I turned the corner and—–
He was there again, Daniel, paused in front of a room. Over his head, a sign marked this as the Patrickson memorial ward.
I hesitated, listening to the slow drone of the medical equipment in the distance, the crackling of the lights, and the hum of the nigh faceless doctors moving things around.
“I financed the most of this place, you know,” Daniel said, turning to look at me with a smile. “I visit every so often, when I’m not on duty, to make sure everything’s alright.”
I laughed a bit, slowly tugged out of the building horror. “Is everything alright?”
“Mostly. Still the lingering hysteria of the war,” Daniel said, shaking his head. “But that’s not going to go away anytime soon, so we’re adapting.”
I took a step forward and he joined me, striding beside me. “Nice to see you visiting, Gale. You’re practically a celebrity, you know.”
“Not for anything good,” I laughed again. “What are they calling me now?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Daniel said, shaking his head. “You’re here visiting, and that’s what matters. Whether it’s from guilt or a need to make sure they’re alright.”
“The bloodvines are pretty this time of year,” I said, vaguely.
He looked over at me, mouth open for a moment, then shook his head again, like a crocodile ensuring the kill. “It’s a good start, I think. This hospital. I made sure they named it Patrickson, but it’s really for my dad,”
I looked over at him, passing by row after row of vacant rooms. Few people were lingering in the terminal ward. A good sign.
“You remember the rebellion, don’t you?” Daniel asked.
“Where the mexican president ran afoul of the military, and a coup happened?” I asked.
“That’s revisionistic, but close enough,” Daniel pointed out. “I was… Well, I was sick at tht time. Cancer.” He straightened up, adjusting flowers on one of the endless tables. The nurses looked on with heads like balloons. I bobbed my head at them. “And I was in a hospital very close to the capital at the time.”
“Oh,” I said, brightly, dimly. “That’s…”
“Yes, I was in the hospital they burned to the ground,” Daniel said. “Dad had been called to another part of the country to put down rebellion. He said he’d make sure nothing happened to me, I needed the treatment. It went bad fast out here, when the base defected, severing communication lines. He managed to convince command to run missions to evacuate the civilians out of the capital.”
I was silent.
“He and ten other soldiers broke through enemy lines and invaded the hospital I was at,” Daniel said. “Heart monitors were screeching, and the rabble were approaching with torches and street rifles.”
“It was,” Daniel admitted. “I was eight at the time, and utterly convinced I was going to die.” He smiled, adjusting a name tag. I tried to read it but my eyes glazed off of it instead. It was a nice gesture regardless. “And then my dad shows up, kitted to hell and back, and hauls me out of the burning room. It’s filling up with smoke, and it’s all chaos and anarchy, and he stopped to pick up children and run them into safety. He came back for me. And he looked at me and he said
I have waited a life time for you already,” Daniel repeated, eyes locked into the middle distance. “I will give my life again for you.”
“He left me in the base, ready to be evacuated, and went back for more people from the terminal ward,” Daniel said. “He got eight more people out before they found him. They gunned him down in the waiting room, trying to protect everyone that’d been locked inside.”
“You made this place in his honor?” I said. I felt stupid, talking about the obvious like that.
“I think he’d’ve liked it,” Daniel said. “He never liked it when I said I wanted to be like him when I grew up, I think. He didn’t want me to go to war.”
Daniel shrugged, gesturing at the medals on his jacket. “I didn’t listen then. I wish I had. Made something of myself. I’d’ve made a decent doctor, maybe, been a bigger part in saving things.”
He quirked an eyebrow at me. “What about you? You have a geneticist and a storm chaser as parents. What’re you going to do?”
“That’s where this is going?” I asked.
“Well, I gave you my reasons,” Daniel smirked. “Come on, what are you going to do?”
“Not the military,” I said. “Not after what happened.”
“I heard,” Daniel said. “And I believe you. Someone dropped the grenade, and you tried to cover it before it took out everyone.”
A brief moment where my mind reeled back into the explosion, that moment of twisting pain and heat and the crackling buzz of charred skin, the people screaming my name.
“They said I was suicidal,” I said, distantly. “In the debriefing. That I’d never get anywhere in that program.”
Daniel shook his head and stopped by a door. The light showed it was occupied. “I think they were scared of having a soldier that felt too much, Gale. The military doesn’t want that, not really.”
“I know,” I said. “I know.”
“Chews people up,” Daniel said. His medals were dimmer in the pale light gleaming from the fluorescent overhead, their crackling as pitched and distinct as the separate noises individual vertebrae made underfoot.
“But we’re at peace now,” I said. “Maybe we can roll back on the military.”
“You can never really cut the military,” Daniel said. “It ties into the civic cult, it represents the people. Once you’ve flexed your military might, you have to maintain it. Basic geopolitic,” he said.
“Maybe an ambassador,” I said, finally. “I think I’d like that. Preventing things from happening.”
“Bureaucracy,” Daniel said. He clapped me on the back. “Well, I have to spin off to the veteran ward. There’s a lot of people there who are just now trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives as well, Gale. Maybe you should swing by sometime.”
I shook my head. “I just… don’t feel comfortable. Don’t feel like I’ve done the time to understand them.”
“It’s up to you,” Daniel said. “We’re all here willingly. To heal.”
He walked off after that. I didn’t know what to say to him, not really.
The dim lights of the terminal ward bore the brunt of atmosphere, a dark tendril of crackling lights and empty hallways.
I had a final room to find.
I turned the corner, and greeted the empty rooms like the emptiness of my heart, and the crushing realization that this world was all wrong.
But I wanted it.
I wanted it to be real, because when I thought it wasn’t, I felt aches and pains and a burning hot rage behind my eyes, so thick I could taste it.
It scared me.
The sole occupied room sat at the end of the corridor. There had been guards there, once, and I could still smell the ashes from their cigarettes. Where they had gone, I couldn’t say, as there wasn’t a way out of this hallway that didn’t pass me.
I opened the door.
It was time.