Dirty Goggles Blog Hop story, first draft

Alright, this sucker needs some serious editing, but here’s my first shot at a story for the Dirty Goggles Blog Hop, and the first steampunk story I’ve written. 

Nurse of the Dead

The carriage had once been well-appointed, with rich fabrics and polished brass, but it had been many years since those days. Still, it was the nicest I’d ever had the chance to ride in, and the worn brocade and uneven cushions were echoes of a decadent life I couldn’t believe I had been invited to join. The driver had pulled up outside the boarding house promptly at six o’clock, his thick cloak and fur-lined cap a much better bulwark against the cold than my flimsy uniform. I’d been hired as a nurse, though, so as a nurse I went.

Truth be told, I wasn’t a very good nurse. I’d wanted to be a doctor, to cut people open and see what was inside them, to feel their lungs expand and their hearts beat, but the medical colleges wouldn’t even consider admitting a woman, much less one with my skin color. So I became a nurse, but I’d been relegated to the worst shifts and the worst patients, and there’s only so much vomit and excrement you can clean off before deciding that it’s just not worth it. Then one day he showed up.

Doctor Franklin was the thinnest man I’d ever seen, and his skin was so pale as to be translucent, but he was also the only doctor who spoke to me as if I was a person. He took on the hardest cases, patients more dead than alive, and told me that he learned more from the ones he couldn’t save than he ever did from those who lived. Since he let me stay in the room as he worked, I didn’t have to hide my interest in what he was doing, and he began teaching me all about how the body worked.

His techniques were different than the other doctors’, and a higher percentage of his patients found their way out the back door to the morgue than out the front to their homes, but he never seemed discouraged. Still, when I showed up for work yesterday and heard raised voices, I was concerned. Doctor Franklin never yelled, and the man he was arguing with was the director of the hospital.

“…will leave this hospital and never return. Only the barest shred of professional courtesy has kept me from contacting the authorities, and my patience is at an end.”

The door swung open, and Doctor Franklin stormed out, his gaunt face twisted into a knot of anger. When he saw me, he stopped for the briefest of instants. “Maria, I am sure you heard the end of that unfortunate confrontation. I am doing great work here – with your assistance, I must add – but they are too short-sighted to see the future. I must leave now, but if you wish, you could join me, and we can continue our work. I will send my carriage to your home tomorrow, precisely at six o’clock. Good day.”

I didn’t have to think that hard about the doctor’s offer. There was nothing for me here, nothing but a lifetime of being dismissed as inferior, day after day. And so when the carriage showed up, I was waiting.

My life in the city had been restricted to a fairly small area – my home, the hospital, a few markets which didn’t kick people like me out – and I’d never had the chance to travel into the surrounding countryside. Even in the light of a waning moon, it was clear that I was in a world which bore only a passing similarity to the one I was used to. The carriage rolled over hills that took me past enormous estates, bordered by rock walls which led to iron gates, each seemingly more ornate than the last. Just as night was beginning to replace the day, the carriage slowed. The gate we were approaching was large, but plain, and as the lead horse neared it, it swung open on its own. I looked for an attendant, but saw none. It was the first of many marvels awaiting me in the doctor’s home.

The doctor’s house matched the carriage, and had clearly been a seat of importance once upon a time, but the worn steps and flaking paint on the shutters made it clear that no one had been paying much attention to property upkeep for many years. The carriage pulled up outside the front entrance, and the driver carried my bags as he led me up the stairs. As with the gate, the door swung open as we approached, again with no doorman.

Doctor Franklin was waiting in the front room, clearly agitated. “Finally. I should have better considered the time of the commute from the city in my planning for the night. Matters will be coming to a head shortly, and I have need of your assistance. Come, we will talk along the way.”

I almost did not hear what he was saying, so startled was I by his home. Whereas the outside was worn and nearly dilapidated, the inside was pristine. Spartan almost to the point of ascetism in decoration, it was instead filled with gadgetry the like I had never seen. Faint blue lines appeared on the ground, and the doctor began following them as he talked.

“When I have need of you, you will hear me call via the box on the wall. My home is large, but you will never lose your way – just follow the lights which appear and you will be able to assist me as necessary.” He paused, just for a moment. “I should speak to you of the nature of our work here, Maria. What, do you think is the most fundamental question of our existence as living beings?”

I had no answer, but he didn’t wait for one. “It is simple, really. What does it mean to be alive, and what does it mean to be dead?

“Doctors have worked for millennia to keep people alive, but what does that mean? And while it is obvious that we can cross over from life to death, is it, as they say, a one-way trip? What of miraculous recoveries, people who seemingly have died but once again become one of the living?”

We reached a small door, made of polished metal and opaque glass. Here Doctor Franklin stopped once again and turned to me, his face alive with an energy I had never seen him exhibit before. “In the hospital, when someone dies, what do they do with them? They throw them away, into the ground to rot. That’s what other doctors do. Not me.  I bring them here.” He put his hand to the door, and the same blue light from the floor glowed around his fingers. There was a click, and the door swung open.

At first glance, one would have thought that the room behind was nothing more than a hospital ward, a half-dozen beds lining each wall, but each was surrounded by more of the gadgets I’d seen in the front room. Bellows to force air into their lungs. Pumps pushing blood into their bodies. Arrays of lights blinking red and green, though to what purpose I could not say. I straightened my uniform and bent over to examine the first patient. Each of the beds in the room was occupied by someone I recognized – men and women who had died on Doctor Franklin’s operating table. They were dead, but I would help keep them alive.


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