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, again. It’s– uh
Sorry, it’s. I don’t know if it’s cold or if it’s just me. That’s a lie. I know it’s just me. It’s been–
SOUNDS OF MOVEMENT
um, uh, 48 hours since I last drank any of the blood. I just slept for five hours or so. I. I have foodbut I haven’t been hungry for days, if I’m honest with you. I just. It’s not right. I’ve hooked myself up to some more IV fluids which I warmed up, so hopefully that’ll help.
I’m going to try to go as long as I can before I drink any more of the Blood, if only to just. Put off making this decision. There are no guarantees, Casper said. But I’m going to die either way. Only, if I string out my doses, that’s an extra few hours of–
That’s the big grand choice. Live three more days, maybe, depending on how much my tolerance builds up between doses, or bite the bullet and drink the last two at once and then. Just. See.
Casper says it’s not totally random, who lives and dies through the process. Yeah super comforting that, isn’t it? Not totally random. He said he reckoned I had a decent chance of getting through because I’ve responded so well to his–
God, I-I’ve been trying to av-avoid calling it what it is. His blood. Doesn’t matter now really. I must’ve drunk almost a gallon of it. Fuck, I hope he’s okay. I hope he’s not hurt because he’s given me so much. I could tell it was hard, stocking me up like this. But he said he’d be back. Three days ago, he said he’d be back and I can’t help thinking something terrible has happened to him. Granted, he’s pretty hard to kill. I watched him come off a speeding motorbike with only a bit more than a scratch. But he can be hurt.
Especially if he’s weaker, right? I– I don’t how it all works, but like. That makes sense, doesn’t it?
God, anyway. This isn’t helping anyone, me just fussing about that. Right. Um. What was I…
Oh yeah, Casper reckons I could probably live through this change because I’ve done pretty well with the blood so far, but he wouldn’t go as far to say he was sure I’d live through it. Like a fucking doctor avoiding g-g-giving a t-t-time-frame to a terminally ill patient.
Which I guess I technically am.
Apart from the patient part. Mum would say I’m terminally impatient.
ALFIE LAUGHS BITTERLY
This is all besides the point anyway. Uh. I think, before I napped, I got up to mum asking me to move out, didn’t I? Y– yeah. The great irony of it all is that I remember the girl on the gurney more because it was the day mum spoke to me about leaving again, not the other way around, like Casper would insist. Because after that happened, stuff was just… normal. I didn’t see another one of the victims with the torn out throats for months. I’d taken my mum’s kitchen pep talk to heart and dedicated myself to finding somewhere else to live, and just shy of a week before I was due to move to my new one bedroom abode, I saw another one.
[INTRO MUSIC; this is ‘Not Quite Dead’, Episode Two, Beer and Bloodlust]
It was early on a Tuesday morning at the tail end of a long shift. R-rushed in by an ambulance, the patient was an older guy, in his seventies. He had the same loafers my grandad always wore shoved onto his limp feet. He was a sparrow of a man, so light when we lifted him onto the hospital bed that I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn his bones were hollow. The gash on his neck hadn’t been wadded with gauze, but a tea-towel, pressed there by the neighbours who had found him down the side of the house when they went to put the bins out.
Underneath, the wound was a violent, ugly thing. I think back to the girl on the gurney, how the gash in her neck had been similar. It couldn’t have been accidental, the depth and rage needed to cut so wide, so deep, but it wasn’t a cut, it was tear, ragged-edged, strips of skin hanging over exposed muscle. There was hatred in what had been done to this strange elderly man who always said hello to his neighbours, who fed their cat when they went on holiday, who watched the kids after school for them when they had to work late.
Ambulance Terry told me all of this after the fact. This guy had clearly been there some time. By the time we’d so much as hooked him up to the monitors, he was as good as gone. We tried some useless CPR, but of course, there was barely blood inside of him for his heart to pump, so it didn’t help.
‘It’s funny,’ Terry said. ‘Injury like that, you’d expect there to be blood everywhere, but that bit on his shirt was the worst of it. Little splatter on the paving slabs, and that’s it. Don’t you think that’s weird?’
I was too tired for weird. I felt like I’d been too tired for weird for about a hundred years. I didn’t know what to say to Terry. Terry could tell. We just stood there smoking and then he said he’d seen my ex in town the other night, throwing up in a gutter on Micklegate.
ALFIE LAUGHS SOURLY
Then he invited me to go our for a pint.
I hadn’t been going out for a while. I kept giving excuses I– I don’t know what it was I- I was busy, I was tired, looking for flats was taking up all of my free time, but apparently this was not a sufficient excuse and Terry had been conspiring with some of my other co-workers it turned out, and he’d even checked my rota to make sure I wasn’t working the next day. I was quite charmed but I was also annoyed. I’d been looking forward to sleeping in and not thinking about anything for a few hours, but Terry was right; I’d hardly seen my friends outside of work for months because all my spare time had been rammed with flat viewings and scrolling through RightMove, which had replaced Grindr as my chosen app for mindless scrolling and hopeless attempts at matches.
I actually quite enjoyed looking at houses when I wasn’t actually trying to find somewhere to live. The reason it had taken me the best part of five months to actually find a place was that within twenty minutes or so of opening the app, I’d find myself removing the maximum rent I’d allow myself to pay, and eventually switching out to properties for sale, sorting from most to least expensive. It perhaps wasn’t the healthiest hobby, looking at the interiors of luxurious homes I’d never be able to afford, but it was something.
Still, it probably didn’t say anything good about my state of mind, so I let Terry talk me into going out clubbing after a horrifyingly short thirteen hour nap. He told me ‘consider tonight your big ‘good luck with moving out’ piss up.’
I went home intending to sleep as I’d said, but in the end spent a couple of hours packing and another hour helping Grace help Tammy with her homework. I slept maybe two hours before Terry called. The sun was going down and the sound of my phone made be jump. I remember I hit my head on the exercise bike and it was a good job it was still covered in all the winter coats otherwise it would have been a nasty bruise. I could hear Grace and Tammy arguing downstairs, mum occasionally interjecting, and for a split second I was glad I was moving out soon.
It was short lived, though, as I waded through boxes trying to find something to wear. I ended up thoroughly overdressed, in a floral shirt and raspberry chinos I hadn’t seen since I moved back to my mum’s. They were lurking at the back of the built in wardrobe behind mum’s wedding dress and the zipped tailor’s bags which held dad’s old military stuff, so it’s possible I hadn’t seen them since before I’d originally moved out. When I arrived at the pub, Terry whistled at me which didn’t make me feel any better about the outfit.
Anyway it took a couple of drinks to get me there, but I did, begrudgingly, begin to have a good time. People were asking me when I was moving out and every time I said ‘Monday’ everyone would cheer and kept buying me drinks and just kept doing shots. I ended up getting horrifically drunk, I was stumbling between pubs and bars.
We accrued more friends each time we changed venues as people finished shifts at the hospital. By midnight the party was nine people strong, and we were headed for a club down by the river. It was one of my favourite places to go. A lot of places in York feel geared towards a specific group. A third of the city’s population at any time is university students, so they had their bars, and another third was tourists, who had their own places, too. Little pubs tended to be the home of the locals, which I technically was, but I my proclivity for campiness meant I didn’t often fit in very well there. This club, though, it was one of the rare spots not specifically populated by anyof these one three groups, a real mix of younger locals, students and tourists who weren’t afraid to step off the beaten track, and the music was always great.
As soon as we arrived, Terry insisted we did shots, which was definitely a mistake. The room was already spinning and I was starting to sway on my feet. We found a table on the balcony above the dance floor, which was normally a great spot, but I couldn’t stop myself from looking down at the flashing lights swirling on the dance floor and it did nothing for the spinning. With a half hearted tap on Terry’s shoulder I got up and made my wobbly way down the stairs and out into the cool night air.
I breathed deep, people smoking and chattering around me. I thought about maybe sitting down on the pavement, but even as hammered as I was, the stickiness of the floor in the cordoned off smoking section did not seem appealing to me.
Steeling myself, I stepped out of the ropes, and turned down one of the little alleys between buildings, where I knew there were some stairs I could sit on. As soon as I turned the corner though, something felt wrong.
I couldn’t describe exactly what it was. I could still hear the music from the club, the chatter of the smokers outside, but it was like they were all much further away than they should have been. The streetlamp was at the end of the alley so it should have been bright, but for some reason it felt immensely dark. I could feel sweat cooling on my skin as though an icy wind was blowing, but the air was completely still. My heart was thumping in my chest.
There was something on the floor, down the side of the stairs.
I– I should have turned and run but something in me made me take a step forward instead. I don’t know why, maybe it was the booze, or maybe the strange, cold, dark silence of the alleyway, but I couldn’t stop myself. I stepped forward, closer. Closer.
I knew what I was going to see before I saw it. A man, crumpled over himself, like he’d been stood up fine and then all of a sudden all his limbs had given up at once. His eyes were open, staring unseeing past me as I crouched beside him. His neck was torn open, and though there was blood on his shirt and smeared on his neck, the wound itself was almost dry, just glistening in the low light of the alley—
ALFIE SOUNDS LIKE HE’S RUN OUT OF BREATH. HIS NEXT WORDS ARE FORCED AND UNSTEADY.
He was– the third one— I saw.
AFLIE SLAMS INTO THE TABLE
ALFIE MOANS. THINGS MOVE AROUND.
Oh, god, it’s. I shouldn’t have waited this long.
ALFIE PANTS AND WHIMPERS
A BRIEF SILENCE
WHEN ALFIE SPEAKS HE SOUNDS STRONG AND EVEN.
I wish I could explain to you what it feels like. The blood is cold but as soon as it touches my tongue it fills me with heat. It tastes like– like sweetness, like daylight like– life. Casper, he says to him, the blood of a vampire tastes like fortified wine in comparison to the freshly squeezed juice of a grape of other blood. I don’t know what he means. Not yet, anyway. Blood, it tastes like blood. This blood. Casper’s blood. There’s iron there, yes, or maybe copper, the taste of a penny on your tongue, and ugh.
And the quiet in my head, in my bones. The quiet. Soft. It’s like being wrapped in cotton wool. The first time it was like this for so long, but. I wonder how long this will last now, I…
Whatever happens I am… I am changing. There are no guarantees, Casper was careful to make that clear. I know even if I drink every last drop that I have right there’s a chance that nothing will happen, except I’ll die. But it’s. Made me different already. I’m already something I wasn’t before. If I die what they bury isn’t going to be human, not the whole way, not after this. That’s okay, though. I’ve lived weeks I would never have seen. It’s. Okay. Whatever happens it’s okay. Really, I should let myself die. I should string out what I have and use it to go visit my family, to eat my favourite foods, do all the things that dying people do. And at the end of it I should just lie down and let the injuries the blood is holding at bay slowly take hold. The problem is, we’re pretty sure that drinking the blood of the undead makes your body slowly stop producing new blood cells so as soon as I run out that’s going to hit me too, and the more of the blood I’ve drunk, the longer it’s gone, the worse, the harder it’ll hit, the pain of my body shutting down.
The right choice would have been never to drink the blood at all, but.
We’ll get to that.
I was telling you about the alleyway. The man, crumpled like a rag-doll, his neck torn ragged like his stitches had come loose. I stared at him for a long moment before I remembered what you’re supposed to do in situations like that and called the police. They closed the club. They strung up crime scene tape across the bottom of the alley. An ambulance came to take the dead man away. I made a statement to the police as they rolled his body into the back of the ambulance.
The whole time I felt sort of numb. Almost I feel at work; disconnected. But as soon as I got in the cab, I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t stop crying when I let myself into the house, and though I tried my best to be quit, my mum emerged from the bedroom anyway. She didn’t ask what was wrong. She just made us tea and we sat on the couch, my head in her lap. She stroked my hair until the sun came up.
And that was the third one I saw.
I didn’t see another one of the patients with torn open necks for a long time after the third one? You’d hear stories sometimes in the break room. Every few months, it seemed, one of them would roll up into A&E and die on the gurney. There was nothing we could do for them. The problem is, when you lose that much blood, your heart speeds up to try and work as hard as possible to get what blood you have left around your body, but it can only work that hard for so long. It’s a very short window where there’s enough power left in the muscles to effectively get enough blood and fluids back into a patient before their heart just gives up.
Obviously, victims families had been demanding inquests and autopsies, and even though it wasn’t usual to be kept up to speed with what happened to patients you’d seen after they died, news about these ones with their torn necks would make their way back down the grapevine. All of them had died from heart failure due to massive blood loss, from an injury in their neck, where something had torn through skin and muscle, right through to the jugular vein.
Rumours started to go around that there was a serial killer, that the victims were being attacked elsewhere, drained of their blood, and dumped in the alleys and on the cycle paths where they’d been found. That didn’t make a lot of sense though, we all agreed, because draining blood like that would take so long that their hearts should have gone into distress and failure long before they were at the levels of blood loss we were seeing them at.
Whatever was happening, their blood was draining fast enough that they were alive when there was hardly any of it left.
The fourth one I saw was a middle aged woman in athletic wear. She was young, fit, healthy. Her heart kept going longer than it might have otherwise, long enough that we made through a whole transfusion of blood before she died under our hands. It was mysterious, bizarre, like all of them were. A few days later the usual findings came from the morgue. We talked about it all again, but by the end of our shifts, she and all the others had faded into the backs of our minds, drowned out by the hundreds of other patients we saw and treated.
It sounds so callous, doesn’t it? But. I don’t know.
The next day, I met Haley in town for coffee. She’d finished her rotation at York months ago, but we’d kept in touch. We’d got on during our time shared in A&E, and I enjoyed her company, and she enjoyed having someone to moan at over the phone about the shoddy practises in other hospitals. She’d been back in York two weeks, now a full licensed doctor, training at the hospital to be a haematologist.
She was several years into the long road to qualification in that field but had so many left to go. She’d be nearly thirty by the time she qualified, she told me, and then added with a wink that ‘twenty-eight is not nearly thirty’ when she saw me looking a bit dejected.
She was always sweet. She asked what I’d been up to so I filled her in about my latest trials and tribulations, namely a string of ill-fated hook-ups with a guy I’d matched with on Grindr who I didn’t like but was excellent in bed. He made insane amounts of washing up, this guy, like, every time he came round he insisted on staying the night and every time he did, he got up and made breakfast. Every single time.
Haley was kind of offended that I was so upset about this; she said he sounded ‘practically marriageable’, but like, she didn’t understand. This man, he would come in, and every morning he would raid the fridge, and he cooked like he was making a fucking YouTube video or something. He would puts everything into these little bowls before he adds it to the dish, he’d go through the fridge, uses all available crockery, and sure, the food was good, but like, I didn’t have a dishwasher. And there was not a lot of space in that kitchen. It was just carnage. He’d cook for me, and he’d expect me to be all grateful and then he’d just leave me with all of this mess.
And I’m pretty sure he was a tory. Like, ninety per cent sure. Can’t be a hundred per cent because, you know, he was gay and he was nice when he tried to be but he definitely ironed his underwear if you know what I mean.
Haley’s romantic life wasn’t fairing much better than mine. It turns out working ninety hour weeks in irregular shifts made a terrible basis for a relationship.
The weather was really nice. We found ourselves picking up our old routine we used to have, crawling from cafe to cafe, talking about nothing and enjoying each others’ company. It was extremely nice to have her back in town, and it was also strangely nice to realise that I had in fact missed her when she’d been gone. So much had happened, with moving out, with the weird torn necked-patients, and just work in general, that I’d sort of assumed I’d lost the capacity for sentiments like that.
Before too long, though, I had to get on a bus and head to work. Haley waved me off, intending to go home for some sleep before her own shift started late in the evening.
I was buzzing, I had so much caffeine in my veins, I think we’d been to four coffee shops that afternoon. I dressed in my uniform and comfortable shoes, my hands were practically shaking.
It was a Thursday, and Thursdays usually weren’t so bad. It is a great taboo for any workers in an NHS hospital to describe a shift as ‘probably quiet’, but were it not for fear of incurring the wrath of the gods, that’s how I might’ve described Thursdays. True to form I spent a lot of time setting broken arms, sending off for blood tests, and requesting a doctor review notes for requests for emergency medication.
It was pretty quiet.
About four hours in I stole five minutes to go smoke when an ambulance hurtled into the receiving line. I tossed my cigarette down half smoked, more than a little bit annoyed, and went inside to clean up to help mitigate whatever disaster we were being faced with. Just as I headed inside, a car came screeching up behind the ambulance.
I started immediately yelling because you can’t just park in the ambulance bay, and the guy, he was getting out of the car, and he looked really annoyed. But he got back in the car and pulled away so there was that at least. The message was clearly received, though, because he pulled away immediately.
Inside, the new patient was being transferred onto a bed. Female, late thirties, wound to the neck, BP 80/25.
It was another one. The fifth one I’d seen with my own two eyes and just one day after the fourth.
We began preparing like we didn’t know she was going to die at any moment, but before we could start, all the doctor’s bleeps went off.
There was a massive car crash. There were three patients in critical condition arriving at the hospital in five minutes. Me, tracy and the junior doctor who was one that night all looked at the woman who was on the gurney, and it was just like…
So much of working in an emergency department is about prioritising. Sometimes it’s easy; the patient bleeding out on the floor is higher priority than the one with the broken ankle. Other times it’s not so easy. Ther we were all looking at this patient with her strangely bloodless neck wound, the heart monitor showing her pulse sluggishly continuing.
She was in irreversible shock. We all knew there was nothing we could do for her, not realistically.
There was a flurry of movement and efficient delegation; people ran to panic stations, cleared space, informed theatres. I was moving on autopilot, moving things, grabbing things, maximum efficiency, as the new patients rolled through the doors.
In the chaos of the circumstances, right behind the EMTs, a man walked in.
I don’t know why I noticed him. He was walking slowly, calmly, so he should have blended into the background and it seemed like to everyone else he did, because nobody thought to stop him as he crossed through the waiting area and onto the triage ward. His expression was unreadable, strangely unmoved in a scene full of such chaos and action. It was like he was walking across a different room entirely to the one the rest of us were standing inn.
He lifted his chin, eyes half closing for a moment, and he pulled back the curtain on the patient with the torn neck. And then he slid through
As soon as he was out of sight whatever it was about him that had caused me to freeze on the spot broke and I jolted forwards, knees strangely unstable. I was going to tell him to get out, to leave, but when I pulled back the curtain he was standing over the patient with one hand on her face and the other one above it, in a fist, like he was going to punch her.
I cried out, panicked. He turned to look at me in the same instant, and I realised the hand on the patient’s face was actually holding open her eye, and the fingers on his fist, just inches above her face, were outlined in red.
A drop of blood fell from his trembling hand and into the patient’s wide open eye.
I remember saying, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’, didn’t know what else to do
The man dropped his hand from the woman’s face and wiped his palm on his jeans, smearing blood all down, and said nothing, brushed past me, knocking me aside, I nearly fell down. I turned to follow but then the patient’s heart monitor bleeped violently and she gasped. She was rolling side to side saying ‘where am I? where am I?’. her eyes were wide open, her BP was climbing, her heart was hammering hard.
I was so stunned I was rooted to the spot.
I called for help, and before I could think we were hooking up IVs, pumping her full of fluids. It took an hour, but she was smiling, chatting with me and the other nurses by the end of it.
Mel, the other senior nurse, told me she’d never seen anything like it before and I told her I hadn’t either. I didn’t tell her about the man. What could I say? Some dude with his hair in a bun squeezed his blood into her eyeball and it magicked her back to life?
Number five, it turned out, was called Linda. She worked in a coffee shop not far from my mum’s place. I’d probably met her.
‘It’s strange,’ she said. ‘I was out with my friends, we were dancing. We were a little drunk, but I don’t remember what happened. I went to get another drink? And that’s the last thing I remember.’
that was all she knew. When I told her we were sending off her blood to see if she’d been spiked she looked really surprised because she’d been in this bar called the Star and Lamb and when she said that, I was surprised too. The Star and Lamb is this really fancy place, it did seem unusual that she could have been spiked there, but like, I supposed that degenerates are already degenerates and are unlikely to give much of a shit about the ambience of the establishment they’re in.
There wasn’t much to say about it after that, so I carried on with my shift, stitching cuts, helping monitor the car crash patients, handing out medications. After an hour of making my way around, I stuck my head around Linda’s curtain. She was lying flat on her back, eyes half closed.
When I’d left, she was sat up, texting people, letting them know she was fine. I said her name, no response. I crept up to her side, snapped my fingers. ‘Linda, can you speak to me,’ I said – nothing. Nothing at all.
I glanced at the monitors. Her blood pressure was tanking. It wasn’t as bad as when she came in, but it was about as much better as you’d expect it to be after one blood transfusion and a round of fluids. Her heart was racing, and she’d developed a new symptom; a raging fever, which was already making her sweat enough that it was soaking through the thin blankets she was draped in over her freshly installed hospital gown.
It took half an hour to restabilise her, and when we did, she didn’t regain consciousness. I was pretty syre she would after a few hours; that’s much more normal after the amount of blood she’d lost. The strange thing wasn’t crash and unconsciousness but the lucidity and return to almost normal blood pressure levels she’d experienced for almost two hours before the crash happened. She’d been on the brink of death, so deep into full system shock that we’d all but declared her dead, and then turned it around out of the blue.
Nobody could think of anything that would account for it. Her first round of blood tests came back and said she hadn’t been spiked. Her blood alcohol level was low enough that she could have legally driven, so she wasn’t lying about not being drunk, either.
Mel said that maybe because she didn’t have a lot of blood left in her, it wouldn’t have shown up, but we both knew that wasn’t how blood tests work.
I said to Mel that before she perked up, I saw something.
Mel asked ‘what?’ and it was so strange. It was like I couldn’t get the words out. I stood there for what felt like ages, uselessly flapping my mouth and eventually I just shook my head and said ‘sorry’.
Mel asked if I’d eaten anything. I’d only had a pot noodle, to be fair, so she told me to go off, take a break.
While Linda was still unconscious we took another round of blood tests. These ones said she had an abnormally high level of white blood cells, which hadn’t been the case in the first round, which we’d only drawn an hour and a half earlier, almost like she’d suddenly developed a massive infection, but there was no trace of whatever that might have been except for her body’s response to it.
By the end of my shift, Linda’s fever had broken, and she’d been transferred to a ward for monitoring.
Amidst the rush and the hurry, Linda faded from everyone’s focus except mine. She’d come up again, no doubt, the one patient with the ragged neck who’d miraculously survived. But I couldn’t shake it, because I’d seen him, the man, whoever he was. I couldn’t find a way to tell anyone about it, to explain what I’d seen, because every time that I tried it was like my throat was sealing shut, it was…
The only explanation I could think of was that it was just so strange that I could barely believe it’d happened let alone find a way to articulate it, but even in my own head that didn’t ring true. Whenever I thought about trying to explain what I had seen, my throat felt swollen and thick, like the words just physically could not leave me. By the time I was driving home, I had almost convinced myself that I’d imagined it. Almost.
I dreamed about him for the first time, the night after that shift. It wasn’t a nightmare but it wasn’t a good dream either, full of shifting shapes and things moving in the dark. He had been tall, but in my imagination he loomed even taller, the dark hair he’d kept back of his face falling forward, his eyes, blood shot, dark as a shark’s. I woke up sweating in the mid-afternoon. In the April sunlight, the strangeness of it all faded quickly, but I kept thinking about his face, his dark eyes, his hand aloft above that patient, blood dripping from his fingers.
I wish he’d come back. I just. I worry something has happened to him. He was scared, I think, though he didn’t want to let on. Casper doesn’t like to think of himself as something that can get scared. I think its easier for him, that way. But I know he gets scared because he’s careful. He’s very careful.
Except with me, he says. He always sounds really upset about that but I don’t mind it.
No. I don’t mind.
Okay. The sun’s coming up. I should shower and leave the house, I’ll try to see my family, before I–. You know.
Casper will be back. He said he would be. It’s been three days but he said he’d be back. And I’m not dead yet. Not quite.