by Johanna Kumpula
The first time I heard Don’t Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult, I was sitting in a dingy hospital waiting room riding the tail end of 1982. Hospitals were my entertainment at the time, a whole bunch of sick folk in one area waiting for death knocking on their door to finally get fed up with waiting and break the door down. It was a playground for someone in my profession.
Come on baby, don’t fear the reaper.
Shuffling through the fluorescent hospital halls that smelled of blood and cleaning supplies, I glanced into each room, looking for my next unsuspecting victim. Room 313 had a young child asleep on his bed with various tubes running from an obtrusive looking machine to his arms and head. He’s too young, someone will surely miss him and it’s not worth the headache. Room 315 held a healthy looking – or as healthy as one can be in a hospital – woman sitting on the bed, again with the tubes and such. She was perusing through some awful late-night Saturday romcoms and sipping on a cup of water while talking to a nurse. No, this one would be too suspicious. No one would believe it. The next room was dark and unoccupied.
Finally, I found someone who would work. Room 318 held an old man asleep on the bed and a crying older lady I presumed to be his wife. The man had IVs in his arms and an oxygen mask on his face. Older couples are the best in my line of work. Their death is always unexpected but typically accepted as natural. Carefully maneuvering my way through the partially opened door, I come to a stop at the side of the old mans bed. I place my hand atop his. He’s cold and unmoving, I suspect it’s the feeling of those who are going to die soon. The lady glances up at me.
“Are you going to take care of him?” She wipes at her tears with a handkerchief.
Shocked, I remove my hand from the man and turn to look at her. The tears have quit leaking from her eyes and her steely gaze stopped my response in its tracks. The woman was strong willed that’s for sure – her husband’s sudden illness had yet to break her spirits. We’ll see how long she lasts. I set my hand on her shoulder and nod.
“I’ll do everything in my power to make sure he’s as comfortable as he can be.” I wasn’t technically lying to the old lady, I was just omitting a couple of key truths. The woman nods before clasping her hands around her husband’s and bowing her head. If I had to take a guess I’d say she was praying. Won’t do him much good now.
Baby take my hand, don’t fear the reaper.
An eerie silence settles over the room. Moving over to a chair in the corner, I slouch down and wait, all the while the lady keeps her head bowed.
“I know who you are.” I glance up from the magazine I had started to read. She couldn’t know, could she?
“I’m here to take care of your husband, just like all the other nurses.” I close the magazine and set it gently on the side table. She has yet to turn and look at me.
“Freddie always said he could see ghosts. Something about them appearing and disappearing at random. He liked to talk to them when I wasn’t in the room. Thought it would scare me off.” Her uncanny statement catches me off guard.
“That’s quite an assumption, but I’m not a ghost, ma’am.” I close my eyes and wonder how she came to such a conclusion. She’s not all that wrong.
“No, of course not, silly me. You must think I’m a batty old woman going on about ghosts.” She’s starting to doubt herself. Good, that’ll make things much easier in the long run.
Before I could respond, a nurse enters the room. He does all the things nurses typically do; check vitals, check the chart, and check the beeping machines until he’s good and ready with the results. It’s oh-so interesting. He stops next to the old lady.
“Do you have any questions Maddy?” He definitely doesn’t want her to ask questions. He’s done with this job and this dying man and he couldn’t make it any more obvious if he tried.
“No, dear,” She can tell he’s bored. “but would you be so kind as to bring me and this nice lady a pitcher of water before you continue your rounds?” She gestures in my general direction. I wave at the man but I know he can’t see it. He looks perplexed but decides not to mention it.
“Yes, of course.” He walks off to get some water and returns a short time after, checking the corner I’m seated in one last time before making his escape for the night. This doesn’t go unnoticed by the old woman.
“So, not a ghost?” She finally looks over at me. She’s gone a bit pale.
“No, ma’am.” I shake my head subtly.
“But you are going to take care of him?” She takes a sip of her water with shaky hands.
We’ll be able to fly, don’t fear the reaper.
“Yeah, I promise he’ll be in good hands.” I stand up. She’d accepted this, which means my work here is almost done.
“Just make sure he’s safe without me. He’s a bit of a trouble maker.” She stands and sets a hand on his cheek. “I love you, Freddie,” she whispers, placing a kiss on his brow.
I carefully move over to the oxygen machine, making sure not to disturb Maddy’s last moments with her husband. I set my hand on her shoulder and with a simple nod and a few more tears from her, I remove the mask from his face.
Come on baby, don’t fear the reaper.
Johanna Kumpula primarily writes fiction within the genres of fantasy and sci-fi. She’s currently in her third year at APU studying to earn her degree in creative and professional writing. When she’s not writing or studying, you can find her fishing at the Kenai River or playing video games with friends. She enjoys long walks on the beach, rainy days, late nights, and her all-time favorite food chocolate chip cookies.