©2001 Posti -- all rights reserved
Andy's pace slowed and he glanced around the hospital corridor. Other than the woman at the Nurse's Station at the far end of the hall, he couldn't see anyone. Shrugging, he continued towards the elevator.
He stopped this time. The voice had been soft, quiet. A child's whisper. There was no one around him, yet the sound seemed to come from close by. The door on the left was open, and he looked in. An older woman, maybe in her 50s, gave him a curious look from the single bed. He gave a quick smile and ducked back out.
Weird. Well, he'd stayed way past normal visiting hours. Paul had been starved for company after a week in this place. His office mate had almost died from pneumonia, ignoring what he had thought was just a bad cold until he'd collapsed at work. At least he was recovering quickly. Probably be back at the office next week. Figures. The crunch should be over by then. If Andy didn't know better, he'd have sworn Paul had planned this to get out of the past week's inventory.
The elevator arrived, and he stepped in. Sighing, he pushed the 'L' button and watched the polished metal doors slide closed.
He spun around as the elevator began to drop. The voice had come from behind, yet no one else was here. Definitely a child. Stabbing at buttons, he jumped out as soon as the doors opened up. What the Hell?
The voice was a little louder, still next to him. Yet he saw no one. Blinking nervously, he edged back to the still-open elevator.
How could one word convey so much desperation and loneliness? More importantly, where the Hell was it coming from? Curiosity overcame the strangeness of the situation, and he found himself moving towards the double doors of the next wing.
Pediatrics. The corridor was mostly the same as Paul's, but a variety of colorful animals and flowers had been pasted on the otherwise drab walls. He could see the brightly lit Nurse's station at the other end of the hall, but it appeared empty. Whoever was on duty must be making rounds.
Most of the doors were open. The first room was empty, but the next two were occupied by small, sleeping forms. Not the source of his mysterious voice. How he knew that, he couldn't say. Moving further down, he checked the remaining rooms. All of the young patients seemed to be sleeping peacefully.
The call had a direction this time. Spinning, he went back to a room a few doors down. At first glance, the child laying on the bed seemed to be just another kid with a broken leg. However, when he moved closer, he noticed a lot of extra equipment surrounding the bed. Hoses and wires disappeared under the sheet, presumably connected to the boy's arms and body.
It was a boy, he decided. Maybe 10 or 11. Of course, it could be a girl just as easily. The hair was short, but these days you never really knew for sure. Still, the voice sounded male.
As if cued, the sound came to him again. Yet the boy's lips didn't move. In fact, Andy suddenly realized that the words weren't being spoken at all. He was hearing them with his mind.
The boy's eyes were open and unblinking. Only the slow, steady movement of his chest gave evidence of life. Though he'd never seen anyone like this before, he instinctively knew what was wrong. A coma. How terribly sad.
"Is someone there?"
Andy cleared his throat quietly. "Uh, I'm here."
Moving closer, he gazed down into the pale, empty eyes. "I'm right here next to you, son. Can you hear me?"
Apparently, the child was deaf. Or maybe his mind was cut off from his senses. The pitiful cry for help tore at Andy's heart. But he didn't know how to help. For that matter, it seemed impossible that he was actually picking up thoughts.
Thoughts! Maybe that was the key. Swallowing, he closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on thinking his answer. "I'm here. Can you understand this?"
"Oh! Yes! Who are you? Where are you?" There was no mistaking the joy, but the desperation seemed even more intense.
Andy leaned over the bed, looking for some sign of recognition. "I'm right here beside you. Can't you see me?"
"Hold my hand, please. I'm so alone. It's dark and quiet, and so empty."
He took the small hand gently in his and gave it a slight squeeze. "I'm here. Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes --"
Andy recoiled from the sudden onslaught, giving a strangled cry as the room spun around him. Then everything went black.
He woke in darkness. Lying on his back. An incredible awareness of self exploded in his mind. The coolness of the sheets, the pulse of blood in his veins, tiny points of pain from the needles in his arms. God, no!
Andy screamed silently, realizing that he was now the comatose boy. "No! Come back! Please, don't leave me like this!"
The reply was faint, growing more distant as his stolen body moved further away. "You'll have to wait for another. Wait, as I have waited..." Then nothing.
Andy screamed for a long time after that. How long, he didn't know. There was no light, no sound. Only the awareness of his body to indicate that he existed at all. And after a while, his screams faded to a single, desperate thought...