On week five, David received his first visitors that he was articulate enough to recognise. It had taken the hospital a while to let people know that he was conscious for most of the day and was now worth visiting. His father hadn’t visited and he didn’t expect that he ever would, and his mother would have trouble visiting when she’d been dead for nearly 20 years now.
If his father did decide to visit, it would only be to tell him that he wouldn’t have got run over when crossing the street if he had of joined the army like His old man did.
David would then spend quite a lot of time going into the various other lovely ways he could have died if he joined the army, but he would have been wasting his breath. His dad had never listened to what he wanted and he never would. Hence the bad blood between them and hence why the last thing David would have wanted would have been a visit from him.
He had visits from a few colleagues from the college who brought him flowers, chocolate, and a few books for him to read. Most of these gifts proved useless. What could he possibly do with flowers? Maybe if he shoved them up his ass all of his ailments would be cured, eureka!
The chocolate was a box of those useless ones where you get maybe one or two good ones, and the rest are nut or coffee or fruit flavoured ones that no one ever eats. Besides, he was allergic to nuts. Bad allergic, as in nuts would kill him. It seemed fate was conspiring to kill him.
The fat and balding head of the English department managed to eat all of the good ones upon delivering them. He would shove two or three into his mouth and insist to David, while showering him in globs of spittle and chocolate that “Thees’ arr ‘eally good.”
David was sure that they were but at that point he wasn’t allowed to eat solid food and hoped that his boss choked on them. The books were appreciated, even though he couldn’t read for very long without getting a headache, they provided a welcome escape from his surroundings. The book ‘Coping with Sudden Disability’ of course remained as new; he never even read a page of it.
He was extremely relieved now that he would probably never have to read, unless he was unlucky enough to have such a serious accident again. Touch wood. There were visits from friends who asked him if there was anything he needed them to bring, McDonalds, alcohol, cigarettes and so on. He didn’t smoke and hadn’t had a wild night of drinking in ages but both sounded mighty appealing right now. Though he was certain the doctors wouldn’t really approve. This was a bit hypocritical he thought, because when he was wheeled outside for fresh air he would often see a huddle of doctors and nurses smoking in the car park.
They did manage to sneak him a Big Mac on their next visit a few days later, and he wolfed it down eagerly and quickly while they watched for doctors or nurses doing rounds. It tasted incredible and he gained a newfound respect for the fast food industry and its many workers. As he was eating it he could hear some of the other patients in the ward sniffing appreciatively and murmuring.
That afternoon, David was sitting in the patient’s lounge when something strange happened. He had asked one of the nurses if they would wheel him there so he could watch TV for a few hours. It took him to explain to the nurse that he would rather stare at the television blankly for several hours than stare at the roof, before she relented of her insistence that he stay in bed to rest.
Watching television made his headache, but the ache wasn’t as bad as the one caused by reading and he just wanted to move and have a bit of a change of scenery. Lying in the bed all day caused his whole body to whine and throb in protest. David was now sitting in his wheelchair between the two battered old armchairs that were in front of the ancient looking television. It was probably older than David, and he was struggling to make out a documentary on different religion’s interpretations on the afterlife when he heard a faint and struggling wheeze next to him.
David turned and recognised the old man as one of the patients on the same ward as him. The man was desperately old and frail looking. His skin was wrinkled and yellowed to the extent that he looked like a withered and rotten lemon. There was a faint wisp of white hair on the top of his head, but the majority of his hair was on his unshaven face and coming out of his ears and nose.
The man’s eyes were yellowed and blood shot, with cold grey pupils. He leered at David in a wild way, giving the impression that he had dementia or something to that effect. The man was in a wheelchair and David had never seen him move anywhere without help, though he had presumably wheeled himself over here. The old fella had also never made an effort to chat to David. D
avid cocked an eyebrow as if to say ‘Can I help you?’
The man looked at David for a long time, as if he was searching for something. He could see in the old man’s eyes that even though he was very old, he was still very much all there. David was about to turn away from the awkward staring when the make spoke again, in the same wheezing whisper.
“I know you can see him. I can see him too.”
David was completely confused, “Who do you mean?”
“You know who I mean.”
David shook his head slowly in disagreement. The old man looked around cautiously, as if he was afraid of being over heard. When he was satisfied none of the nurses or patients in the room were paying attention to him, he continued,
“What’s your name sonny?”
“I’m David, David O’Leary. What’s your name?”
He paused, as if trying to remember. “My name is Norman Patterson. Don’t act the fool with me David; I know you’ve seen him. The man who does the rounds and looks at our charts.”
David smirked, “You mean the doctor?”
Norman’s hand twitched and his eyes thinned into a glare. David was almost certain that if the man was in better health he would have backhanded him across the face.
“Don’t be a smart-ass son, it doesn’t suit you. I mean the man that the nurses don’t see, and I know you see him too.”
David felt like he had just swallowed a block of ice. If Norman had seen this man too, it meant he wasn’t hallucinating. Unless Norman hallucinated him too of course, but what were the chances of that? Even if they were both insane there was very little chance they would hallucinate exactly the same. The old man could read the fear as it spread across his face.
“Are we on the same page now sonny? Good. How many times have you seen him?”
David tried to remember, he dreamed about the man so much it was hard to tell which of the memories were real and which ones took place in his dreams, where the man turned from driver to monster over and over again.
“I don’t know, a few times maybe. It’s hard to tell, I have dreams and-“
Norman clutched his wrist with such speed and strength it nearly made him jump out of his skin. When he spoke his voice was slightly raised.
“Dreams? What dreams?”
“Of him, of the man. I see the accident over and over again and he’s there.”
Norman loosened his grip on David’s wrist.
“Is that why you’re here? What kind of accident was it?”
David explained to him about the accident, what happened, and the injuries he sustained. The old man looked sympathetic.
“I’m sorry sonny; I wouldn’t wish something like that on my worst enemy.”
David waved his hand dismissively. He had become rather casual about the extent of his injuries.
“I’ll be alright. What’s this all about Norman?”
The old man sighed deeply and closed his eyes for a few moments. David was becoming worried he had fallen asleep or died when he opened them again and began to speak.
“I have dreams too. I wasn’t in an accident, but I’m 91 years of age, I think my time is just about up.” He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and coughed several times into it, as if to emphasize the point. It was a painful sounding dry cough that shook the old man’s frail frame. David cringed in sympathy and waited for Norman to continue.
“In my dreams I see the same man. I see him with a rifle and dressed as the soldier who almost shot my head off in World War 2. I see him pushing me down the stairs when I fell 20 years ago and fractured my hip. I even see him standing by my bed when I first became very ill, just watching me.”
David listened and fear grew in his heart. His chest felt tight, and the hairs on his neck were standing to attention, as if they were listening to the old man’s story as well.
“Even when I saw him gallivanting through the ward I could have sworn I recognised his face.” Norman paused, and wheezed clumsily for a few seconds. The old man was speaking faster and louder, and it seemed to be aggravating whatever illness he had.
“Norman, calm down, please.”
“I have to tell you sonny, before it’s too late. Have you ever noticed how he reads the charts?”
David waited for another fit of painful coughing to pass before he answered.
“Yes, but I don’t understand why…”
Norman’s voice was barely above a whisper, he paused every few words to wheeze painfully. He was clutching his chest.
“I’ve been here long enough and watched him enough to see what’s happening. Most days he never reads a chart, but when he does, he usually only reads one. He doesn’t visit in any sort of pattern but the charts hold a pattern.”
“What do you mean?” David wasn’t aware that he was leaning forward anxiously in his wheelchair. The rest of the room, even the TV, were completely forgotten to him. Norman continued and what he said made David feel like the bottom of his stomach had just dropped out.
“When he reads a patient’s chart, they pass away the next day.”
“Norman that’s impossible, it must just be a coincidence.”
“No!” He was almost doubled over now, clutching his chest. His outburst attracted the attention of the nurses who were briskly heading towards them. Norman saw them and whispered to David urgently as they began to wheel him away and the nurses cast David disapproving looks.
“He read my chart last night Sonny.”