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
- – descriptions of violent injuries, but not the violence that caused them
- – hospital settings
- – mentions of blood
- – a character experiencing dissociation
- – a character struggling with memory issues
Hello, whoever is listening. Police? Journalist?
If it’s Casper, I– I hope you’re okay. Right now I still haven’t decided. I’ve got three more measured doses of the blood left, and this time, today, I’ve prepared. I’m ready. I–
I stole blood from the hospital. It– it’s for me, for a transfusion, I don’t think it’d help me if I drank it. I’m not a vampire, not yet. Maybe not ever. It’s just as likely as anything. But I only have one dose of the blood left before I try, so I thought. Blood transfusion. I’ve got fluids, too. I can warm them up. It might help with the creeping cold that sets in right as I’m starting to feel the need.
I wonder if it’s an effect of the blood itself or the state I was in the first time I drank it. I’ve seen my X-Rays; broken ribs, fractured skull and vertebrae. All the bones were split but lined up perfectly in place. Haley said it was the freakiest thing she’d ever seen. I shouldn’t be able to walk. I shouldn’t be able to see. I should be dead.
But I’m not.
Not quite, anyway.
[INTRO MUSIC; this is ‘Not Quite Dead’, Episode Three: Everyone’s Miracle]
But yeah, those injuries, I probably have a lot of internal ones, too. Punctured lungs, torn ligaments. The kind of stuff that makes you bleed. The kind that makes your temperature go down.
The pain starts in my chest, first. You’d think it’d be the head. The breaks in my skull are pretty bad, but no, it’s right here, on my right side…
I should stop thinking about this. It’s not there now. Im not feeling the cold now. I’m not feeling the need, the need for the blood. I should make the most of this whilst I can. So, yeah, I went to see my family today. My mum is worried, and I’m just making it worse every time I go back there, but. I don’t know what else to do. I can’t just. I have maybe four days to live. I wanted to say goodbye to them, you know?
But I couldn’t actually say goodbye because then I’d have had to explain it and I don’t know if I can, not to them. Knowing this. All of it. It’s… dangerous.
Casper. He’s a vampire, and so he knows, but he’s gone, now and I get more and more worried every day that passes that he’s just… not going to come back.
It’s been four days now.
There are people out there, looking for people like him, and I think. I’m starting to think maybe they’ve taken him and I–
PANICKED LITTLE BREATH
But. How could I even.
It’s just all so fucking hopeless.
But I went to see my mum and Tammy, and it was nice, and Grace, I called her. She’s in Cambridge, off at Uni. If I asked her to come back she’d come in a heartbeat but, what good would that do any of us?
No. It’d worry mum. Yeah. Best to leave things as they are.
Whatever happens. I’ll try to make it so they have an answer. So they won’t always be looking for me. They deserve that. Mum’s been watching this happen from a distance. She knows something is wrong. So. Maybe it’ll be easy for her to believe I did something stupid to myself, if I leave a note.
I… this. It’s not what I’m supposed to be telling you about. Not really. Ugh. Sorry, I’m all over the place.
Last time I spoke with you, I was telling you about Linda, my fifth. Over the next month, I saw two more. Six and seven. In the staff room the tally was rising, and there had not yet been another Linda. They had found a young man floating in the river, neck ripped to shreds. There had been other bodies, too, on the moors, in the almost-suburb villages of Heslington and Nether Poppleton. Over thirty dead, in total, and just Linda, my fifth, who was still alive.
Reporters stopped being coy about the possibility that these deaths were unrelated. People started bandying about possible names for what they assumed was some kind of serial killer. Nowhere in the articles did it talk about just how impossible it all was, how unlikely people are to live to that level of exsanguination, how bizarre that there was barely any trace of blood to be found.
They interviewed Linda on the radio, and she had very little to say about it. She stuck to that same story she’d told when we’d spoken to her during her period of lucidity in A&E. She saw nothing, remembered nothing, and was grateful to be alive.
Over the next few weeks Linda became everyone’s miracle. By that point, Linda’s story was being told people who were not only not working that night, but who didn’t work in A&E at all.
Saniya, a paediatric nurse, asked if Mel was there. ‘For the life of me I can’t remember who else was on shift.’
From the back of the room, I said that I was.
A couple of people looked surprised. They’d all been talking about Linda in my presence for weeks. I could never seem to make myself join in.
I felt a rush of something in my chest, a flash of irritation at the lack of context to Mel and Linda’s back and forth. It would be stupid, reckless, even, to bring up this mysterious man now, but from everything I’d just heard about Linda’s interview and the coverage on the news, nobody knew about the man, whoever he was. I would be doing myself no favours bringing him up. It all seemed so bizarre, so ridiculous, that it was easier to think it was some fevered misremembering.
Too often, though, when I stumbled in late at night, bone-achingly exhausted from a shift twice as long as it should have been, I’d crawl into bed and behind my closed eyes I’d see him. The dreams didn’t frighten me, exactly, but they were unsettling, full of shifting shadows, things that moved at the edges. I could see him so clearly, his piercing gaze, his hand outstretched. I didn’t hear him speak, I didn’t know his voice, but somehow, still he called to me, silent, eyes wide with shock or something else. Sometimes it seemed like amusement, or mischief. Others, fear. Most often though, it was a kind of fluttering curiosity, as how a cat regards a bird through a window.
What made the dreams unpleasant rather than simply odd was the feeling that I ought to be running and screaming or saying just something, anything, but the words would not come. It was like the sound and action was stuck in my throat and my limbs, like I had seized up and become trapped, statuesque, and just from this simple glance from this man I did not know, as he held his hand aloft and blood dripped steadily from his clenched fist. So I couldn’t forget it, even though so much of me wanted to– to let go. To believe I’d imagined it. And my knowledge of him was making me feel on the outside of the sensation wrapping itself around an event at which I was present. On top of the weirdness of the man, the horror of Linda’s attack, the gruesomeness of the deaths of the other victims, there was this twisted sense that it was all ridiculously unfair to me specifically, too. So I was going to tell them.
‘Yeah. I saw the whole thing,’ I said, raising my eyebrows. ‘That car accident came in, right before it all happened. She was a goner, irreversible shock. She was bradycardic, systolic pressure under forty, diastolic under thirty, massively oxygen desaturated. She was practically dead. It wasn’t a misdiagnosis. When we got the call about the car crash, we jettisoned her.’
Saniya was smiling and frowning, slightly shaking her head. ‘I don’t understand.’
I took a deep breath. ‘It’s not an exaggeration that she was on death’s door, and then she just turned it around. I helped close the wound; it should have been more complex than it was, I’d seen it when she was first brought in and I’ve seen other patients with the same neck injuries? Those are complicated wounds. But Linda’s just… it just sealed right up. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before.’
Mel was frowning, but I remembered her expression when we’d been sewing Linda’s throat closed. She had been just as surprised as me.
‘It was strange, yeah,’ said Mel, slowly. ‘I’d forgotten about how easy the close up was. Didn’t even need staples.’
‘Should have needed surgery, but just a couple of dissolvable stitches internally, strong sutures in the skin, and it was fine.’
‘Yeah,’ said Mel, frowning. ‘I remember, it was odd, because she was speaking before we’d sealed it, remember, Alfie? She just sat right up and started chatting like she didn’t have gaping would in her neck taped over with a bit of gauze.’
‘Yeah, it was fucking odd,’ I said, quietly. ‘That’s why I didn’t bring this up before, I think. I just got caught up in how odd it all was…’
‘What?!’ Saniya asked, excitedly.
Here it was; the moment to say it. I opened my mouth. Saniya and Mel looked at me expectantly. I was thinking the words, willing my mouth to make the shapes, but it was like some vital connection had been severed. All I could think of was his piercing gaze, how it had rooted me to the spot.
‘Alfie/’ said Mel. ‘Are you alright?’
‘I don’t know,’ I admitted, quietly. My voice was oddly shaky. Saniya and Mel eyed me, confused, until I turned my back on them to add water to my pot noodle. As I stirred my noodles, my hands were shaking.
Saniya and Mel didn’t strike up their conversation again, and when my food was sufficiently brewed, they didn’t look up from the backs of their hands, so I went to eat outside to leave them to their whisperings about Linda, and no doubt about me being a spoil sport or whatever.
Sat on a low wall down the side of the main hospital building, I tried to convince myself that it was fine, that I didn’t feel slightly sick. I couldn’t stop turning it over and over in my head; me not being able to speak, the look on the man’s face when I’d walked in. The effect it had on me had been instantaneous, though; I was rooted to the spot as soon as his gaze had met mine, and every time I thought of it again, it happened. It was just so weird. It was all ao bizarre it was impossible to talk about.
I knew even then that the weirdness went deeper. I’d known it since he’d looked me in the eye and held me in place without a word. What I didn’t know was that everything was about to get a whole lot stranger, that this man who’d been stalking my subconscious for weeks was far more bizarre than I’d had the capacity to imagine at the time.
In that moment he was just odd and infuriating and it was just embarrassing and a little unsettling. It wasn’t yet frightening, like it would be later.
It was one of the weirdest events I’d ever seen, but only marginally more strange than hundreds of weird things I saw everyday, working in A&E. So I picked myself up and went on with my shift.
What else could I do, realistically?
People started treating me differently, after that. Like I might break without warning. Even Haley, when we met up for coffee in town. She’d ask me if I was okay in the gentlest, softest kind of way, and of course, I had no idea how to respond.
And then, after months of dreaming about him, I saw him again.
It was mid-November and my ancient piece of shit car decided not to start. My insurance company said they wouldn’t be able to get to me for five hours. If I’d not just worked twelve hours I might have walked the two miles home, but my legs felt like they were made of jelly, so I trailed back into the hospital and started ringing around people to see if they could give me a lift home. It was not going very well.
Instead of hanging out in A&E I went upstairs. Thew staff rooms seats were not very comfortable so I packaged myself away near the reception in oncology. There was a row of padded chairs opposite the reception desk so I trailed over and sat down heavily. I rummaged in my bag, knocking aside an uneaten tangerine that had been in there for god knows how long, and finding my tangled headphones to pick up the unhinged playlist my sister, Grace, had most recently prescribed me. Grace had a strange and slightly frightening obsession with failed musicals and her current particular object of fascination was the musical version of Carrie. I usually didn’t indulge her in the musicals thing; I enjoyed them well enough but she had such a level of extraneous information about these obscure musicals stored readily in her head that she could easily talk about them for hours. She still hadn’t quite forgiven me for moving back out, so last weekend I’d let her talk at me about spandex and an insanely expensive pig prop for about three hours, and for some reason promised I’d listen to the ripped the original version of the soundtrack (which she assured me, adamantly, repeatedly was crucially different from the revival) and I’d give her my thoughts.
So that’s what I did, sitting there, having text a few people to see if they or AA would get back to me, resigning myself to just wait for five hours.
The soundtrack ended and I wrote a list of possible talking points I might bring up with Grace, and somehow, miraculously, fell asleep.
My phone buzzed and woke me up. It had been hours.
It was the insurance company; they now wouldn’t be able to get to me until tomorrow. I was still from working long hours and then sleeping sat upright, and tried to stretch out my aching limbs as best I could before resigning myself to a long walk home in the cold and dark. At least I’d napped I guess.
I went o the bathrooms, washed my face, and the man I’d seen the day Linda didn’t die, whod’ dripped blood into her eyeball, he just… stepped out of a cubicle.
He met my gaze in the mirror and froze.
I turned around to face him properly. He was wearing hospital scrubs, the dark blue that hospital porters wore, and he had a name tag on his chest. It said Casper. His hair was swept back off his face as it had been the last time I’d seen him. His gaze was dark and focused.
‘I saw you,’ I said. My hear sped faster in my chest. It was the first time I’d been able to acknowledge it out loud.
Casper man hummed. The sound twisted something inside of me. He kept clenching and unclenching his hands. He wasn’t looking directly at me.
‘Who are you?’ I demanded.
Casper smiled. His teeth were exceptionally white. ‘My name is Casper,’ he said. ‘I’m a porter.’ He spoke smoothly, easily, like this explained everything.
‘You put something in that woman’s eye,’ I said.
Casper’s grin disappeared immediately. ‘You are mistaken,’ he told me, and then he started to head towards the door. I bolted sideways, my heart hammering, and blocked his exit.
‘Casper,’ I said, pointing at his name badge. ‘Like the friendly ghost.’
‘I’m not very friendly,’ he said, and even though it was an absurd thing to say, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
He raised an eyebrow. ‘Are you coming?’ he asked, and then he reached out and pushed me aside like I was made of cotton wool, and left.
For a moment I was so stunned I just stood there as the door swung shut. By the time I pulled it open, he was already sloping away down the hallway, his stride long and elegant. He didn’t even glance over his shoulder as he walked towards the lift even though he must have heard me follow. He didn’t look around when he pressed the button, standing waiting for the doors to open as I closed the space between us. My heart was hammering frantically again, so hard and fast I was feeling dizzy. Still, Casper did not turn, though he did hum again, his head tilting upwards towards the ceiling, his hair jostling, releasing the heady smell of sandalwood, flowers, and something else, almost sweet but not quite, like whiskey but with a different edge to it.
The doors slid open, rattling slightly, and in the mirror on the back wall of the lift I saw myself, tiny, mousy blonde, red cheeked, behind this tall. The eyes of his reflection were fixed on mine, his mouth set hard, his hands balled into fists at his sides. We stood like that for what felt like too long, like the lift ought to be sliding closed and leaving us there, cutting off my view of his face, his lips.
Casper hummed again and stepped forwards, turning fluidly on his heel so he was facing me, hands clasped before his hips.
The stillness splintered.
I gulped, hopefully not audibly, and I stepped in after him.
The doors rattled shut.
We stood shoulder to shoulder.
My stomach lurched as the lift began its descent. My heart was so loud my ears were ringing. I tried to keep from looking up at him, trying to peek without moving my head, my chin following my gaze inexorably, until I was looking directly at his face.
His eyes flickered to mine and he smirked.
The lift juddered to a halt.
‘You’re staring,’ he said. He stepped out of the doors before they were fully open and it took a moment for me to remember to follow him, and I had to do an awkward half jog to catch him as he stepped through the main doors and into the biting shock of cold that was the night air.
The sudden rush of it into my lungs cleared my head, and I suddenly remembered the point of this whole endeavour. ‘Hey!’ I demanded. ‘What the fuck?’
‘Fair question,’ said Casper. He turned, his hands held out slightly in a meek surrender. He smiled closed lipped, and it didn’t meet his eyes. ‘Don’t you need a ride home?’
I opened my mouth, closed it again. ‘What?’
‘Your car has broken down, hasn’t it?’ he asked.
I admitted it had, and he offered me a lift again. I blinked at him, dumbstruck.
‘Are you coming or not?’ he asked.
I nodded. Wordlessly, he held out a hand for my rucksack. Wordlessly, I gave I to him.
His car was black, nondescript but clearly expensive. It flashed in my mind to ask how he could afford a car like that on the wages of a hospital porter, but I was too tired, and too distracted by him opening the passenger door for me to slide in. As soon as I was off them, my knees started trembling. I shivered.
‘I’ll turn up the heat,’ said Casper, somehow already behind the steering wheel.
‘Thank you.’ My voice was horrifically wispy. I was mortified. Warm air blasted out from the tiny grill beside the glove compartment.
‘You’re stubborn,’ Casper told me. I didn’t have the good sense to be offended by it, I just stared at him. ‘You’ve been trying to forget you saw me for months, but you won’t let yourself.’
I laughed and demanded how he could possibly know that, but, haha, I think my voice must have come out a bit high pitched because he was, of course, entirely correct.
He turned his gaze forward and asked whether an explanation would help me get if off my mind. I told him that very much depended on how good of an explanation it was. He laughed at that.
‘How about I tell you I’m a hospital porter. I went into the wrong cubicle. I was embarrassed, so I left.’
I shook my head. I had seen him drip blood into that woman’s eye, and I was not just going to let that go. This seemed to annoy Casper intently. He covered his face with his hands for a moment and drew a long, slow breath, which he let out all at once. I was washed over with this fresh, bright smell, like mint, almost, or some kind of spice I couldn’t quite identify.
‘Alright. I suppose I’ll have to live with that,’ He started the car’s engine and we streaked out of the carpark.
I turned, my head heavy on the head rest. Casper kept his face towards the road ahead, but his gaze flickered briefly towards me and the corner of his mouth twitched, maybe out of irritation, or perhaps because he was almost going to smile.
Watching the light of the street lamps cast him in and out of silhouette was fascinating. His nose was small, almost pointed. His chin had a soft sort of taper to it, and then there was the slope of it down towards his neck, which was long. He swallowed; I watched it bob up and down. Now and then he’d flick his gaze over to me, and each time his lips would twitch, and eventually they parted, and I could see the hard line of his teeth, and the quick, soft outline of his tongue wetting his mouth, and the next time he looked at me his whole head turned just a few degrees, and his gaze dipped down from my eyes to my mouth.
My tongue darted out, as his had done, and he jerked his attention back onto the road immediately.
He swallowed again.
The car’s tires crunched to a halt outside my building.
‘You know where I live,’ I said, quietly.
He asked if that upset me which obviously, it did.
He turned in his seat so we were facing one another. The engine was purring, the vents putting out warm air.
He reached out across the space between us and gently ran a finger across my lips. \
ALFIE RELEASES A TINY GASP
I don’t know what I was thinking. I wasn’t, I suppose. But as he leaned in to kiss me I could hear nothing but the rush of my own blood inside me, felt nothing but his hand on my cheek and his lips against mine.
The kiss was short and sweet, almost chaste but for the quick dart of his tongue across my lip. I didn’t know what to say afterwards I just sat there, staring, and he stared back.
It’s fuzzy now, the memory, like all of my memories from that night and before it.
Some things I remember so distinctly; the shape of his face in profile; the way the traffic lights had cast him in and out of silhouette, it’s so clear. But then other things I have to go fishing in my head for markers outside of who Casper was and what he’d done that night with Linda, looking for anchors, something to hold onto. All those memories about what really happened, about what he did and what I saw… they get away from me. I remember really clearly listening to Carrie the musical, I remember the shape of his face, the way his lips had parted. My car had broken down. It was after work. The whole car ride he kept stealing glances at me instead of the road.
After he kissed me he ran a hand through his hair.
‘Sorry about that, but you clearly needed something stronger. You’re stubborn and you notice too much. It’s a terrible combination.’
I could only blink at him, stunned, but as I did I felt different, strange, almost drunk. Suddenly I didn’t feel real. The car door under my hand felt a million miles away. It was like I was in a room inside my own head, watching everything through a window.
Casper looked at me and smiled. ‘It’s alright, Alfie. Don’t be scared. Let it happen. Don’t fight it.’
I said, ‘don’t fight what, what have you done!’ but he didn’t answer. He just sighed.
‘You’re going to forget this. You’re going to forget what you saw me do. All of it. It’ll be as though it never happened.’
‘How could I forget this?’ I whispered.
Casper looked at me directly, his hands tightening on the wheel. ‘You’re been trying for months. Just let it go, Alfie. Let it all go.’
‘I don’t want to,’ I said.
Casper smiled. ‘You must. Now get out of the car.’
I did, without wanting to. He stared out of the car at me for a moment as a stood there holding my rucksack to my chest, and then he drove away.
Despite the mounting fog inside my own head, I desperately I clung onto the way he’d looked. To what I’d seen. To our interaction in the bathroom. To that car ride. I could feel a slipperiness in my mind already, like the memories were slicked in oil. As I watched the car disappear down the road, I pulled my phone out and I started typing. I typed what I’d seen with Linda. I typed about him in the bathroom, I typed about the car ride, the way we’d looked at one another, how I’d been scared and also…
I went inside, showered.
When I had dried myself off I checked my phone, and the notes were still there. I got into bed staring at them, and fell asleep.
When I woke up in the morning, I remembered a dream. I dreamed I’d seen a strange man. I dreamed he’d driven me home. I dreamed he’d traced his thumb across my lips, and kissed me. But it was just a dream, and details faded as the day wore on.
Days wore into weeks, I barely thought of it at all. When Linda came up in conversation I said it was weird because I hardly remembered it happening even though I’d been on shift that night, and it that the truth.
I didn’t check my notes app for three months.
Anchor points. I remember what happened with Linda because of the car crash. Because we were going to let her die. Because of the car in the ambulance bay. I remember the girl on the gurney because it was the day my mum asked me to move out.
Casper was right, though. I should have just let myself forget.
RECORDER SHUTS OFF
EIRA: Not Quite Dead is written, performed, and edited by Eira Major, under a Creative Commons 4.0 Attribution License. Live, laugh, bite.