#DirtyGoggles Blog Hop, 2014

Nurse to the Dead

754 words

Eric Martell/@drmagoo

Steampunk

Truth be told, I wasn’t a very good nurse. I 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 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, his skin so pale as to be translucent, but he was also the only doctor who spoke to me as if I was a person. Taking on the hardest cases, patients more dead than alive, he told me that he learned the most from the ones he couldn’t save. He let me stay in the room as he worked, teaching me 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 and heard raised voices, I was concerned. 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. “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 I must leave now. If you wish, you could join me, and we can continue our work.”

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

Doctor Franklin was waiting in his front room, but I almost did not notice him, 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 motioned me to follow him in the direction they pointed as he began talking.

“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. “I must 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 bronze and opaque glass. Doctor Franklin stopped and turned to me. “In the hospital, when someone dies, what do they do with them? They throw them away, put them 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. With a click, the door swung open.

Superficially, the room behind resembled a hospital ward, a half-dozen beds lining each wall, but there the similarity ended. Each bed was surrounded by an endless supply of gadgets. 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. And each was occupied by someone I recognized – men and women who had died on Doctor Franklin’s operating table. I straightened my uniform and bent over to examine the first patient. They were dead, but I would help keep them alive.

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4 Responses to “#DirtyGoggles Blog Hop, 2014”

  1. Macabre, but full of hope…a revolutionary piece!

  2. Thanks so much for posting the first draft of your story as well mate. It was interesting to see where you pared it down to get under the word count

  3. Ooh, how intriguing! And a reflection in some ways of what happens here in the 21st century – people survive illnesses and injuries nowadays that would have been impossible only a few decades ago. Compelling to read!

  4. Intriguing peek into the hidden cutting edge. Very nice.

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