My entry for this month’s Flash Fiction Draw is coming right down to the wire, it seems. You may have noticed that’s a trend. I think I’m overextended, is why.
But anyway. This month’s challenge came a little late because Cait Gordon gave those of us south of 49 a little bit of a break on account of the election we recently had in the United States. (You may have heard something about that.) As an aside, one of my common typos is to misspell “united” as “untied.” I think “Untied States” may be an apt description of the state of our disunion.
Again, anyway. This month’s prompt features the urban fantasy genre, set in a hospital elevator, and including a gun as an object. Well, if that’s not a fun set of parameters, I don’t know what is. Granted, we don’t spend much time in the elevator itself, and the gun remains in the protagonist’s pocket—sorry, Chekov—but they do help set the mood, I think.
First, though, a content warning: although there’s no on-page gore, it’s heavily implied, as I’ve been fairly bloody minded lately. (I can’t imagine why.) In any case, be warned.
Erin, the nurse who was not a nurse (or a human, for that matter), rode the elevator up to ICU with another passenger, who was a human, and who watched her with what she could tell was a growing sense of unease. Erin kept her hands shoved in the deep pockets of her smock, both to hide her talons as well as keep one hand resting on the butt of her gun.
The gun was a backup. Just in case.
The man got off the elevator two floors below ICU—his sense of relief was detectable even after the doors had closed—and she ascended the rest of the way in silence, no longer distracted by the sound of his racing heart. How was it that some of them knew even when they didn’t know?
Erin went through her plan one more time, and wondered if the target would know, too.
The target had the advantage of being unconscious. He would likely not feel a thing when she severed his carotid. Nor when she put a bullet through his forehead, just in case. Her customer wanted proof of a successful outcome, so she hoped she had time to remove the head. If not, a finger, at least. Proof of identity, if not of actually elimination.
Still, better a finger than nothing.
The elevator doors slid open to reveal a sterile looking hallway, but beneath the odor of disinfectant, she could detect it: the heady scent of death. She breathed deeply of it while trying not to look like she was enjoying it. (She was.) So much delicious malignancy, such exquisite suffering.
Maybe she should have become a nurse. She could feed off this agony for ages.
But first, the job. Squaring her shoulders and forcibly resisting the urge to skip in joy at the banquet of pain around her, Erin sobered her face and started down the hall. She lifted a tablet from a counter as she passed and stared down at it intently, not bothering to try and decipher the information it displayed but trying to look as if it made sense to her. Touching the device also gave her a flicker of information, an afterimage of thoughts from the last person who’d held it. In an instant, she had the target’s room number.
Of course, he wasn’t alone. That would have been too easy. Her last job, there had been… collateral damage. It was complicated. Still, she hadn’t been ID’d and the city council was talking about block grants to rebuild the neighborhood, so it wasn’t like it had been a total losing proposition for everyone.
The room she peered into was dim enough that she couldn’t make out much about the person sitting at the target’s bedside. Stepping further inside, she knocked gently on the door and tried her best to look, well, human.
It wasn’t the wife, at least. Thank heavens for that… although, if the rumors she’d heard were true, the wife had quickly processed her grief and was, so to speak, moving on with her life.
Well, good for her.
Possibly worse, though: it was the daughter. She crumpled a tissue in one hand, and her impossibly pretty face was sallow and blotchy when she looked over her shoulder. Erin braced herself for discovery, for the daughter to recognize that she was no nurse, was no human.
Instead, the daughter turned back to her father, looking forlorn. “Do I have to go?”
For a moment, Erin was at a loss for words. Making human sounds was a challenge at the best of times. She sounded like someone who was perpetually laryngitic. One of her nest said she sounded like Brenda Vaccaro, but she didn’t know who that was.
“I suppose,” Erin said. Then, surprising herself, “Are you all right?”
The daughter laughed and dabbed at her eyes. “I think you’re the first person here who’s asked me that.” She reached for her bag, which sat on the floor under her chair. She opened it and pulled out another tissue. “The way most people look at me, I think they must take me for a fucking idiot.”
Erin wasn’t one to be startled easily, but the casual profanity brought her up short. “Excuse me?”
“I may be foolish, but I’m not blind. I know what kind of man my father was… is. I know what his company makes and I know how many people are dead because of that. At least, I know the official unofficial figures. The real body count is probably even higher.”
Erin tilted her head, frowning. “So, why do you come, then?”
The daughter settled her bag in her lap, hugging it. “Sometimes, I imagine I’m waiting here in case he wakes up, and hoping that I’ll have the guts to put a pillow over his face. For the sake of the world.”
Abruptly, the daughter pushed her chair back—the legs squealed against the tile, but her father remained oblivious, of course. Erin stepped back to let her pass through the doorway, and had a feeling that if she hadn’t, the daughter might have bowled her over.
She stood a moment in the doorway, looking after the daughter until she disappeared around the corner toward the elevators. Erin finally took her hands from her pockets and shut the door, placing one claw briefly against the latch. She let it smolder beneath her palm until the entire mechanism was a twisted, immovable metal lump. Privacy.
The body—for it couldn’t really be called a man, not at this point, when the machines were the only things keeping him alive—lay motionless apart from the occasional rise and fall of the chest. It may have been life support, but as far as the board of directors was concerned, he was still alive, and nothing at the company would change as long as that was the case.
Maybe it would turn out that her client’s payoff would bring some measure of relief to the man’s daughter.
That was not her main concern, though, as she flexed her claws and traced a line across his neck, determining where she would strike and where she should stand to avoid the blood splatter. She had time for more than just a finger. And besides, she would enjoy the pleasing thunk his head would make when she dropped it on her client’s desk.