An Episode of Not Quite Dead.
Episode Content Warnings
- Please bear in mind that this show is a work of horror fiction and frequently places characters in situations which jeopardise their psychological and physical health. This episode contains:
- – mild profanity
- – references to sex
- – discussion of the process of dying
- – medicalised descriptions of death processes and dead people
- – death, including violent death
- – references to medical procedures
- – hospital settings
- – mentions of blood
- – mentions of infidelity
- – descriptions of blood
Hello, my name is Alfie and I’m not quite dead.
I’m Alfie and if you’re listening to this tape I’m probably dead or. Not quite dead, but in a different kind of way, and. Jesus this all sounds ridiculous doesn’t it?
This is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. Did I think it would be easy to write my own obituary? Is that was this even is?
Honestly, I didn’t give it much thought before I sat down I just knew I had to say something, leave a little piece of me behind, you know?
So, the basics; I’m Alfie. I used to be an A&E nurse, but now I’m just. Me. I haven’t left my flat in, uh, eight days? I think I’m dying– I know I’m dying. I should be dead already, really but. I’m not. And There’s been a lot going on, honestly, and I just need to say this all now, before I make any decisions, because whatever I choose, I’m dead or undead, and either way I’m pretty sure none of this is going to matter to me so much after that.
Whatever it is that’s happening to me now, it’s important that people know. Not because I’m important, I am really, really not. But this is. So, yeah. If you could just make sure my mum and my sisters don’t hear this tape? That’d be great. Yeah. Anonymise me or whatever. Call me, I dunno, Ben or something. Yeah. Ben. Ha. And Casper can be Bill.
Wait, no there’s already a vampire called Bill, isn’t there. Wasn’t he confederate or something?
Ah, I’m really waffling aren’t I?
Mum always says that I worry too much about whether people like me, she’d say like ‘christ Alfie, you’re picking up your anti-depressants not doing an improv bit’, and I’d be like ‘why not both’.
ALFIE LAUGHS, BUT IT’S SHORT LIVED
Well. Poor Darla the pharmacist won’t have to deal with my terrible customer service stand up routines anymore so there is good to come out of this situation after all.
I think I got this dictaphone to do poetry. God. I will spare you my slam poetry phase, nobody needs that in their life.
God none of this is important and I need to get this out, I need to, and there are only snatches now where I’m awake enough to speak, and I think it’s only going to get worse. So.
I’ve lived in York for almost twenty years, right now I’m twenty nine, and in approximately… four and a half days, when my supply of this… blood runs out, I’m going to either die, or become something… else.
I’m getting ahead of myself.
I need to start at the beginning, so you understand what happened.
And the beginning, for me, was the people with the torn out throats. The first one was the girl on the gurney.
[INTRO MUSIC; PIPPIN: This is ‘Not Quite Dead’, Episode One, The Girl on the Gurney]
ALFIE: The girl on the gurney came in at half ten on a Saturday night. Saturday night’s a bad time to get hurt, because everyone’s getting hurt on a Saturday night. That night there was a guy down the hall with a rake in his foot, a woman who’s cracked her head on the kerb, two lads getting their lips stitched in triage. We were understaffed. Of the too few people who were actually working, there were three of us that knew the hospital well. Me, Tracy and Haley, the Junior Doctor, Haley.
When the girl on the gurney came in I was on hour sixteen of a twelve hour shift, with lead bones and eyes so wide I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever be able to shut them again. At the time I barely thought anything of it. The ragged gash on her neck was unusual but not surprising. I didn’t have the energy for surprise. When we transferred her over from the ambulance gurney to another, she’s cold to the touch, limbs loose, head lolling over the wad of gauze taped to her neck.
Terry, the ambulance guy I’ve known for years, told me that they thought it was a mugging, that she’d been drinking with her friends and got separated, and when they found her, her throat was torn out and she was barely conscious.
I don’t remember what I said in response. It’s not my job to care, not about that. The girl’s eyes were half open. Her hands were clammy, loosely clutched over her chest, satin dress torn to allow for heart monitors. Her blood pressure was through the floor, her oxygen levels no better. Beneath the pad of gauze her wound was jagged and strange, but despite its depth, no longer bleeding. The ragged flesh looked grey, and almost dry, but I didn’t have time to think beyond assessing that this wouldn’t be the thing that killed her right away. With trauma, it’s about priorities, and right now we need to do whatever we can to get as much fluid into her system as possible.
She came pre-hooked to IV fluids, ambulance Terry’s work nimble and efficient, as always. The girl’s breath come heavy and slow. That’s normal when your blood pressure is that low, but it’s not a good sign. When you first start losing blood, your heart beats faster, your breath speeds up; there’s less blood in the system so your body is working extra hard to make sure what it has left is being used as best it can be. When things start to slow down, it means your body is running out of steam. It was very clear the girl on the gurney was almost entirely steam-less.
I remember really distinctly was she was lying there, is she looked at me with those half-shut eyes, and she tried to say something. I couldn’t hear her, so I just smiled and said something generic like ‘we’re going to look after you’, like I would with anyone. She looked me in the eye and it wasn’t acceptance, exactly but it was like she knew. And then she smiled as best she could, and very slightly shook her head.
Behind me I could hear the junior doctor, Haley, going spare, talking fast about calling the consultant, about booking a surgery suite, about ordering more bloods, more fluids to restock the fridges, and I couldn’t make my body move.
Haley grabbed my arm, waffling still about calling the consultant or whatever, and I looked up from the patient’s half-lidded eyes and Haley just immediately shut up. It felt like we stood there in silence for ages but it was probably only a second or two. It was one of those transparent moments where you can see right through to exactly what is going to happen next, but for not you’re just stuck there, knowing, powerless. Haley released her grip and swallowed. Her expression was set, drained, and we were still for a second, looking at the girl on the gurney. I nodded at Haley. She nodded back.
We did everything we could, filled her with fluids, blood, plasma, but she died there, on the gurney, just like Haley and I both knew she would.A
Hastily fitted IV’s were stopped. Monitors detached. I closed her eyes. Haley performed the slow, arduous task of pronouncing the definitely dead girl dead, and me and the other nurses went back to flitting between the other patients in A&E as best we could. ll in it was thirty two minutes since she came through the door.
I don’t remember who I was seeing to next, stitching some gashes on an arm, fitting an IV, drawing blood, but I know I looked up to see distraught woman in slippers and pink flamingo pyjamas and a duffel coat bounds through the door. She was the spitting image of the dead girl on the gurney. Haley had just finished pronouncing the girl dead, and as soon as she saw the woman her face paled.
I didn’t hear the conversation, but I caught glimpses between pressing icepacks to the forearms of a small boys and checking the drips in the back of elderly ladies hand. The woman covered her mouth with her hands, then her face. She sat down slowly, shoulders rising to her ears. It’s always the same.
Haley wandered over to me, limply and I politely excused myself from whatever tide I was attempting to stem to meet her half way. She told me it was the first person she’d declared dead that wasn’t elderly.
I sighed. ‘Come on.’ I ducked towards the nurse’s station. I grabbed my pack of cigarettes from under the intake box and we trailed outside.
We smoke down the back of the hospital, under unnaturally bright white lights which make the darkness beyond feel even darker. Haley and I stood slightly too far apart. I held out the box of cigarettes. Haley wasn’t a smoker, but she took one anyway. We stood there in silence, trailing smoke in thin wisps up towards the flood lights.
Out of nowhere, Haley made a strange noise like a kicked dog.
I looked up at her in alarm with my saucer-wide, sleep deprived eyes, half expecting her leg to have fallen off or gallons of blood to be pouring out of her ears but instead, she was just… crying.
She pulled the sleeves of her jacket over her hands and covered her face with them. All of a sudden, she looked very young. I don’t really know what it was, she just looked really small.
Junior doctor is a bit of a misnomer – Haley had been out of medical school for two years by the time she’d come to work with me on A&E. At that point I didn’t know her well; she’d only been at York Hospital for a couple of weeks, but over her stint working with me I’ already learned I liked her a lot. She was kind, in spite of a job that punished that sort of thing, but she was a laugh on a night out and never took things too seriously. She felt more like a nurse than a doctor and I mean that as a compliment. Not to diss doctors or anything but they can be a bit up themselves. But Haley always listened to us when we gave her advice, always remembered staff like me and Tracey might not have been doctors but we had been working in the hospital for years, something she and her fellow junior doctors didn’t have the luxury of doing.
It was sad, seeing her so distraught, so broken. But I understood it.
I told her it was ‘fucking horrendous,’ because it was. It always is. You get used to it in some ways, un-shocked by death and horrors, but it doesn’t do you any good to get like that. Deep down under the layers of thick skin you always feel it. Sometimes it’s sharp enough to poke through to the surface.
We didn’t say anything else, and just stood in an awkward triangle as Haley near-silently wept. I didn’t escape A&E for another four and a half hours. Seven more people died, and by the time I pulled into the drive and let myself in through the back door so I didn’t wake my mum and sisters, I’d almost completely forgotten about the girl in the gurney completely. I fell face down onto my unmade bed like a dropped marionette, fully clothed and sticky with sweat and god knows what else, and finally, finally I slept.
ALFIE BREAKS OFF, COUGHING, WHEEZING
Sorry. Um. Where was I?
The girl on the gurney was gone from my mind completely by the time my mother woke me the next morning. I was fully dressed under the covers, and I was not ready to be accosted when she burst in and immediately started going on about how long my shift had been. It was not an ideal living situation, much as I loved my mum, and the weird thing was, she hadn’t talked about it at all, really, until that morning, the day after I saw the girl on gurney die. I’ve wondered about that since, you know, like it feels like a weird cosmic coincidence.
Casper says it probably wasn’t a coincidence, that despite how many times I’ve told him the girl on the gurney was no worse than any other patients that died that night, apart from how it had affected Haley, but he doesn’t believe me. It’s bloody survivorships bias, is what it is. Or hindsight, making connections it wouldn’t have been possible to make at all at the time but which feel really obvious when you look back. Only it’s not obvious, it’s just convenient.
That’s just how it is with Casper though.
Sorry, I’m getting off track again.
My mother was standing at the kitchen sink, holding a cup of tea and when I walked in she said ‘you look awful’ even though she hadn’t even turned around.
I told her thanks and set about making some breakfast. One of my sisters had clearly stolen my expensive imported Golden Grahams because there were only a few stale pieces left at the bottom of the box. I padded them out with cornflakes, and was mid-retrieval of a spoon from the dishwasher when my mum said;
‘Have you thought anymore about moving out?’
I froze in place like a particularly shit street performer. I looked at my mother with a raised eyebrow. The truth was I had thought about it, almost constantly, since the moment I’d had to move back in, and it was only very partially to do with the laissez faire approach everyone else in my immediate family seemed to take with cutlery storage.
Mum’s house was, like I say, a less than ideal living situation for me, and not just because I was a twenty seven year old man forced to share a single bathroom with another adult, an almost adult, and a pre-teen.
Midmorning is a good bet for showers in mum’s house; Tammy, the littlest sister, has baths in the evenings, mum showers at the crack of dawn, and Grace, in the glory of her mid-teens, does not usually emerge from her bedroom lair until early afternoon.
When I first moved back, my old bedroom was full of the Christmas decorations, including the artificial tree, still decked out in all it’s bauble-and-light glory. Mum told me her friend Janet had been doing this for years; you just wrap the bastard in a couple of loops of clingfilm and shove it out of sight. Janet had a spare room, which mum had never had before, so as soon as the opportunity arose, she seized it. She seemed to have also applied this same logic to other occasional-use household items, because my old room was also home to: the never-used stationary bike, dressed in several winter coats; the fully assembled ironing board, complete with a decorative layer of shirts that had never even heard of an iron, let alone been subject to pressing by one; a dog’s bed filled with dog toys for the dog, Millie, who had died five years previously. In fairnessMum had cleared the suitcases off the bed before I arrived, stacking them in a haphazard tower between the bike and the tree in it’s clingfilm condom.
‘Will we need to move anything else?’ she’d asked, and I told her no, because I’d thought I’d only be there for a few nights at worst.
I’d come home because my partner, who I had previously been living with, had forgotten to check in with me about when my shift would likely be ending and so had failed to kick out the younger, hotter version of me he’d apparently been sleeping with for months before I got home. Younger, hotter me was a medical student, who was also named Ben, which I found a particular kick in the teeth. It wasn’t that he was called Ben, which was my partner’s name, too, or even that he was younger and unquestionably more attractive than me. It was that he was a medical student. My Ben had started sleeping with me when I was a trainee nurse.
I remember the night I left for my mum’s house, right before I walked out of the door, I looked at them, sat together on the couch that My Ben and I had bought together, and asking, dazed, if they said each other’s names during sex, because wasn’t that weird, saying your own name? They both just looked at me with the same mix of horror and embarrassment they’d been regarding me with since I walked into the bedroom and My Ben had his pelvis nestled against the Other Ben’s arse cheeks.
I’ve since come to the conclusion that they absolutely did, because My Ben refused to answer this question no matter how many times I put it to him.
I trudged across York – on foot, because the car was broken – with my rucksack and my phone, and I was still crying when mum opened the door to me.
She made me a cup of tea, finished moving the suitcases, and put me to bed, surrounded by all the strange, off season objects which had taken up residence in my absence.
I had assumed, that first night, that My Ben would come to me with snivelling apologies, and I’d forgive him like all the other times I’d discovered his infidelity. However, when I returned back to our flat to pick up more underwear and found Other Ben making a cup of coffee in the kitchen, entirely nude but for a pair of my socks.
At that point I decided I could probably do better.
So my couple of nights became a few weeks. The few weeks became a few months. Christmas came and we de-condomed the tree, letting it take pride of place in the living room, and when the festive period was over, mum wordlessly removed the baubles, disassembled the tree, and shoved it up into the loft. The ironing board also resumed its old, folded position in the downstairs loo. I still shared the room with the bike and the winter coats, though.
Through all of this, mum had not once brought up the fact I could not, in fact, stay living back in my childhood home forever.
‘Are you hoping not to have to put the tree in the attic after Christmas?’ I asked.
Mum sighed. ‘No, it’s not that, it’s just.’ She gestured vaguely at my entire body. ‘You don’t seem happy, Alfie.’
I asked if she thought turning out on the street would put a spring in my step.
‘No,’ mum sighed. ‘Of course not. You can stay as long as you need to, but I’m worried that maybe you’re worried about moving on. Have you even, you know, been with any lads since?’
I asked her if she really wanted the answer to that question, which of course she didn’t. (The answer was no.)
‘Sorry. I just worry,’ my mum said. ‘You’re twenty six, you should be in love, you should at least be out looking for it. And you need to take fewer shifts at work. That hospital is going to put you in an early grave.’
I told her that least if I had a heart attack I’m in the right place for it.
She was right in the end, though. Though not in the ways she thought.
I took my sad half-Golden Grahams half-Corn Flakes upstairs to my room, and wondered if mum was right. It had been comforting to hear her telling me there was no rush, that I didn’t want to dive back into the dating pool before I was ready that was fine. My friends were in the opposite camp, strong believers in the not-so-old-adage that, hmpf, ‘the best way to get over someone is to get under someone else’.
I did briefly toy with the idea of looking for someone else called Alfie that I could sleep with just to see what it was like, but it turns out most men called Alfie would be considered geriatric patients if they came into the hospital and I couldn’t even tell whether any of the ones I’d found were gay. It was one thing to walk up to a pretty guy in a bar and flirt with him to test the waters, another entirely to approach someone’s grandad who isn’t even hot and say ‘hey you’ve got the same name as me, fancy a shag to cure my trauma?’
Feeling quite sorry for myself, I dug my phone out of my jacket to scroll through as I ate my depressingly padded out bowl of Golden Grahams—
A PHONE BUZZES.
Ah. There it is.
THE PHONE BUZZES AGAIN, THEN CUTS OUT.
That’s twelve hours since I last drank the blood.
Tsk, why am I telling you about the fucking cereal?! Why am I talking about Ben? None of this matters.
I’ve not started to feel it yet. There’s a cold that creeps in, when the blood wears off. That’s good, at least. Last time it was twenty hours before I needed more. Casper said the time between would get shorter and shorter, and that it’d help less and less, you know? Like building up a tolerance.
Casper got all wise with me when I made that comparison though. He said ‘yes, but this tolerance would build to your death’, like that wasn’t all we’d been talking about for the previous hour.
It’s the easiest comparison though. Building up a tolerance. And before I need to drink more of it, it’s like a process of withdrawal. And yes, Casper if you’re watching this, I know it’s not exactly like that, that what’s happening to me is all the… ‘dying’ that the blood is keeping at bay is slowly creeping back into me, but. It’s the best analogy I’ve got. And I need my analogies, Casper. They keep me sane.
The withdrawal starts off like a tingling in my fingers, almost like pins and needles, but kind of… cold. Like the feeling of mint in your mouth. And it creeps and creeps, and I can feel myself sweating, my heart starts thundering and I can’t breathe and all I can think about is the taste and.
I’ve tasted blood before but it’s not like Casper’s, it’s… like rust and nothing, normal blood. This is like — it– it’s sweet. Like… like honey and wine and musk, boozy and rich and.
God. I. I should sleep, before it starts. It’s getting shorter, every time I drink it, I need it again sooner. Casper said it would be like this. It can only serve as a pause, it can’t heal what happened, so. Either I spread it out, or I drink two doses at once, and I become like him. Like Casper.
But I don’t need to decide that yet. I have enough blood left. I’ve measured it out, carefully. I don’t need to decide yet. Could be a few days before I need to decide.
Maybe Casper will come back. It’ll be easier, if Casper comes back.
He said he’d be back three days ago, though. I don’t think that’s going to happen.
Sorry, I– none of this is important, I’ve stopped making sense, haven’t I? I’ll pick this up later when I’ve slept.
TAPE CUTS OUT ABRUPTLY
PIPPIN: Not Quite Dead is written, performed, and edited by Pippin Eira Major, under a Creative Commons 4.0 Attribution License. Live, laugh, bite.