Stories

Archives

About Me

Chapter XVIII

 

            The halls on the eleventh floor of the hospital were unusually quiet compared to the other sixteen floors.  Our Mother of Majestic Grace was the largest hospital in Future City and employed close to forty-five hundred people.  The upper floors were designated for superhuman treatment and emergencies.  Those three floors stayed busier than the others. 

            The hospital was looked upon as a respite from the calamity of the outside world.  An unspoken rule had been declared amongst the heroes and their adversaries that Our Mother of Majestic Grace was off limits from attacks of any kind.  Within its walls those in need of medical assistance were simply patients, despite their allegiance.  That wasn’t to say that all were welcome.  Those that were not allowed within its protective walls knew who they were, and had never been as close as the front door.  They sought medical attention elsewhere; either in the underground sectors, or outside the city. 

            The elevator doors to the eleventh floor slid open with quiet precision, letting Jillian Berg out.  Jillian walked down the hall to the nurse’s station, ready to start her shift.  She wore scrubs with little complicated mathematic equations and atomic symbols printed all over in a deliberately random pattern.  The scrubs were free issue based on designs by Dr. 253, who had been instrumental in designing many of the hospitals critical care floors and their more intricate equipment. 

            “You’re just in time, Jellybird.” Siobhan called to her.  Siobhan was the head nurse for the eleventh floor.  She and Jillian had been friends for three out of the five years Jillian had worked at Our Mother.  Jillian had moved from the ER after eight months to the quietness of the eleventh floor.  The ER was too much for her to handle as a young nurse.  It was too much for most people. 

            The eleventh floor was where the patients in a state of coma were attended.  The job was fairly relaxed, compared to the rest of the hospital, and rarely had any emergencies.  Because of this, the nurses would, at times, be called away to handle crisis on other floors.  Siobhan had been the head nurse for over ten years, and was wary of any new people on the floor.  It took several months for her to warm up to Jillian, but afterwards they became close friends on and off shift. 

            The patients required very little.  Regular cleaning, monitoring of their stats, some mild physical therapy to keep the muscles from atrophying, and regular fluids.  Many of the patients on the floor were unfortunate victims of some catastrophe; most had been caught in the middle of a hero battle and suffered some form of head trauma.  Those were more common than not, and many of them returned to consciousness within a few days.  Others had been caught in the neural disruptor ray that the Grand Despot had fired from a satellite, putting them in a state of unconsciousness.  The majority of those caught in the ray had return to active conscious thought after several days to a week.  The others weren’t as lucky with the remaining victims still comatose after two years.  The remaining were either in some form of catatonic shock, or their cause was unknown.  The patient in room 1120 was the latter. 

            “Just in time for what?” Jillian asked.  She walked up to the computer and started logging in. 

            “To take care of your boyfriend.  He’s hungry again.” 

            Jillian tried to hide her smile, but couldn’t.  All of the nurses on the floor referred to the patient in room 1120 as her boyfriend.  It was Jillian’s attention and care to him that made Siobhan accept her as a true member of the floor, and not just another slacker looking for an easy shift.  Our Mother paid well.  Very well.  But the work was hard.  It wasn’t that uncommon for the doctors and nurses to work 72 hour shifts, with an 8 hour break before having to be back at work. 

            “He went through three bags last night.” Siobhan stated. 

            “Let me put my purse in the locker room, and I’ll bring him his lunch.”  Jillian hurried off to the locker room, and returned in under two minutes.  Siobhan looked up at her over her 1/8 inch thick glasses.  Jillian was still smiling. 

            “Girl, you need a real man.” 

            “Stop it.  You know it’s not like that.” Jillian said in mock defense. 

            “Don’t get me wrong, I understand the attraction.  He’s just like every other man I’ve ever known.  He lays there all day and makes you wait on him hand and foot, and wipe his butt.  On the plus side, he doesn’t talk, and lets you have your free time.  He’s not all clingy and needy like some guys, but who’s gonna kill the spiders in your apartment?” 

            “Stop it, Siobhan.” 

            “I’m just saying.  You were peeing in the kitchen sink after you saw that spider in your bathroom.  And then it turned out that it wasn’t a spider, but a knotted ball of hair.”  Siobhan teased her friend. 

            “Hey!  I had had a lot to drink that night and I didn’t think I could make it to the bathroom.  You are so mean to me sometimes.”  Jillian was blushing all over.  The other nurses were giggling.  This wasn’t the first time they had heard the story, but even after five or six times, it was still as funny as the first. 

            “Anyway…” Jillian said.  “Changing the subject – three bags last night?  What’s his record, seven?” 

            “Don’t pretend like you don’t know everything there is about him, girl.” Siobhan responded playfully.  “Seven is the record, period.  I don’t know what’s up with that man.  No matter what we set the drip to, he drains those bags like he’s drinking it through a straw.  And last night…  Must be the full moon.”    

            “I’ll go and take care of him.” 

            “Go tend to your man, Jellybird.” 

            Jillian didn’t know what drew her to the mystery man in room 1120.  He had been there for over ten years prior to her coming to work on the floor.  No one knew who he was, or what had happened to him.  There was a faded scar across the left side of his forehead.  Jillian didn’t know if it was from surgery or the impact of some hard object. 

            Every six months an equally mysterious man would come and check his progress.  No one knew who he was, or who he worked for.  Jillian had been made aware early on that she wasn’t room 1120’s only caretaker.  After visiting with the comatose man for the better part of an hour, the mystery visitor would adjourn to a private room with Siobhan where she would spend the next five to six hours filling him in on the previous six months. 

            What was it about him that made her care more than the others?  Jillian didn’t know.  There was just something about him that made her think he needed more.  Something about him that made her feel that he deserved more. 

            Jillian’s mind continued to wander as she replaced the IV bag with a new one.  Without warning, the patient twitched violently.  Jillian saw his shoulders twist, and his fingers flex out.  The machines monitoring his cerebral activity became alive with sound and lights.  It was as if they were waking up, too. 

            The man in room 1120 jerked again.  His eyes sprung open.  Jillian could hear the footsteps of Siobhan and the others running down the hall. 

            The comatose man stared blankly, his eyes not fixating on anything.  Jillian looked deep into his rich blue eyes.  They were the color of the afternoon sky just before a violent thunderstorm.  She was lost. 

            As quickly as he had come to, it was over, and he went out.  The patient in room 1120’s eyes closed, and his arms went limp.  The monitors stopped sounding and went back into their electronic hibernation, waiting, like they man they were keeping tabs on, for their day to live and speak again. 

            Now, Jillian found herself waiting, too. 

*****

 

            Guru stood in the dimly lit room staring at the heavy metal door built into the concrete wall.  The room was a part of the underground complex that was built directly under the Factory.  This area was his private living quarters.  His sanctuary.  His secret. 

            Guru placed a hand against the cold metal door.  What was waiting for him on the other side should have been more heavily protected, but wasn’t.  Other than the room being slightly hidden, the contents weren’t protected at all.  The door didn’t even have a lock.  One would think that maybe he really wasn’t trying to hide it.  Maybe he wanted it to be found.  Maybe he was tired of running.  Tired of hiding.  Tired of lying. 

            “It’s getting close isn’t it?” Guru said aloud. 

            “Yes” spoke the voice from the shadows.  “You can feel it can’t you?” 

            “I can.” Guru acknowledged.  “It’s been years, but I don’t feel ready.  I need more time.” 

            “There is no more time for the time is upon us.  You’re afraid.”  Said the voice. 

            “Yes.” 

            “Fear, like many human emotions is useless.  Things are the way they are.  Being afraid of them will not change their outcome.” 

            “Acceptance will?” questioned Guru. 

            “No. But that is how it will be.  You can’t fight it.  After all, it is what you want, isn’t it?” 

            Guru didn’t answer.  He took his hand off the door.  He turned to the left, completely turning his back to the voice. 

            “Yes.” Guru finally answered.  “How do you deal with it?” 

            “There is no dealing.  It simply is.  Such is my life, your life, and everyone else’s.” 

            “I’m a little relieved that it will all be over soon.” Guru started, but he realized that his words went unheard.  The smell of lilacs, motor oil, and burnt hair told him that his guest was long gone. 

            “Dear lord, let them forgive me.” 

*****

 

            Jonni moved around the house like an automaton.  It had been a week since Johnny Wonder’s summoned visit.  Jonni wasn’t as despondent as she had been the weeks before, but she still wasn’t herself.  She would move from room to room, cleaning and straightening.  It was just busy work, something to keep her mind and body preoccupied so that she wouldn’t think about Celia. 

            Her new behavior wasn’t lost on her husband.  Charles felt alone.  More than just alone, he felt helpless.  He felt powerless.  He missed Jonni.  He missed her voice, her smile, her laugh, her touch.  Those were all gone from him now.  Though he focused his thoughts on his wife, Charles also missed Celia, a lot. 

            Celia was his daughter.  He met Jonni for the second time when she was seven months pregnant.  He and Jonni had raised Celia.  He was her father, not… 

            It made so much sense now.  Charles couldn’t believe that he had never put it together before.  Celia’s dislike for him.  His name was rarely mentioned in their house.  Charles knew that Jonni had spent time in Colonel Courageous’s company, but he was never mentioned in her book.  Even in the follow up that she was currently writing – or, had been writing up until recently – there was nothing in the plans to include him.  Charles recalled asking her about it, and she dismissed the idea with very little thought. 

            Jonni’s words to him were: “There’s so much written about him already, the book doesn’t need it.  Besides, I want some of the forgotten heroes to be remembered again.”  Charles recalled her saying the last part with a smile and a kiss on his cheek. 

            Charles started to wonder.  He would never have asked her who Celia’s father was, and Jonni knew that.  But, would she have told him if he did ask?  He was confused.  Charles decided that there was only one thing left for him to do.  It was the one thing he feared.  He would have to ask Jonni about her relationship with Colonel Courageous. 

            Charles found Jonni standing in the middle of Celia’s room.  She was looking over the room, checking to make sure everything was in order and in its proper place.  He would find her like this four or five times a day.  He asked her once what she was doing.  She replied that the room had to be just right, exactly as Celia had left it.  When Celia returned, she wanted her to know how much they had missed her.  Jonni then broke down and cried.  She told Charles that she was afraid that if things weren’t in the right places, that Celia wouldn’t come back. 

            Charles entered the room slowly.  He didn’t want to break the calm, but he didn’t want to startle her either. 

            “Honey.” Charles said quietly. 

            Jonni turned and saw him standing behind her.  Her eyes were red and swollen with the prospect of fresh tears.  She held a small grey and white teddy bear in her hand. 

            “I can’t remember where Ian goes.” Jonni said, her voice cracking.  “I don’t remember if he sat on the bed, or on the desk next to the stereo.” 

            Charles tried to put on a comforting smile, and directed Jonni over to the bed. 

            “The bed.  To the right of the pillows.  Remember, we had to move the dresser away from the bed because Ian kept falling out, and she would bump her head on the dresser when she leaned out to pick him up.” 

            Jonni smiled and placed the bear on the bed. 

            Charles gently placed his hands on Jonni’s shoulders and eased her down to sit on the bed. 

            “We need to talk.  You and me.” Charles began. 

            “I’m wrinkling the comforter.” Jonni said, trying to stand and smooth the bed covering out. 

            “It’s okay.  We’ll smooth it out.  I need to talk to you.  I miss you.  Things have been… exhausting these past few weeks.  I believe we’ll get through this.  In all the things you and I have been through, I believe that we can get through this too.  Not just you and me, all of us.  Celia, too.” 

            Charles sat down next to Jonni.  His hands slid from her shoulders, down her arms, and to her hands. 

            “I know that this isn’t the right time to ask about this, but Johnny Wonder said some things last week…” Charles began again.  Jonni could sense where he was going.  Her eyes widened in fear, and she started to pull away from him.  Charles held her hands, and kept her close to him. 

            “I just need to hear it from you.” Charles said.  “Is Colonel Courageous Celia’s father?” 

            Jonni stared at Charles.  She didn’t know what to say.  She couldn’t deny it.  Johnny Wonder had already said it.  He wasn’t one known for lying or tossing around half truths.  Not to mention, that in the sixteen years that they had been married, she had not lied to him, not even once.  Even the day he turned to her and asked if he was losing his hair.  She told him, “Yes”. 

            Jonni couldn’t lie to him, but she was afraid of what the truth would do to them.  Charles had never asked, and she hoped that he never would.  She never envisioned how the conversation would go.  Anytime the thought entered her head, she would immediately push it aside. 

            Jonni had told Celia when she was eleven, after the first time the kids at school teased her about her parent’s and not knowing who her real father was. 

            “Yes.” Jonni finally answered.  “Colonel Courageous is her father.” 

            Jonni pulled her hands away from Charles’ and looked away from him.  Her eyes focused on her reflection in the mirror on the wall.    

            “We were only together about a month.  It was a couple of months after Johnny Wonder had come to me and told me…  I’d never met Johnny Wonder before, and didn’t know much about him.  All I knew was that the other heroes didn’t like being around him, said he gave them the creeps.” 

            Jonni reached to her left and picked Ian up off the bed.  She held the small teddy bear in her lap. 

            “I had gone to ’82 to kickback and have fun.  I wasn’t looking to find anyone, just being free.  The Colonel found me.  Of course he knew who I was.  We… We had fun.  He’s not the way the press and media always try and portray him.  In private, he’s much different.  He would let his guard down around me.  Once he compared himself to Atlas, and asked how long could he continue to hold up the world.  Being a hero is important to him. At times he would wonder how close he was to the line between hero and adversary.” 

            “We only had sex a few times.”  Jonni smoothed down the fur on the bear as she talked.  “Most of the time we talked, and he… he just was.  I can’t explain it.” 

            “Why did the two of you break up?”  Charles asked. 

            “I got pregnant.  I knew right away.  I don’t know how I knew, but I did.  It was like someone flip a switch, and suddenly I knew I was pregnant.”  Jonni hugged the bear to her belly. 

            “I woke up with this feeling.  I looked down at my belly, and then over at Gary lying asleep next to me.  I got up, quietly gathered my things, and I left.  I didn’t go to the normal places.  I just dropped off the radar.  I knew from that point on that my life was different.  It would have to be.” 

            Jonni started to cry.  She set the bear back on the bed.  She grabbed the hem of her shirt and wiped her eyes. 

            “I never told Celia.  She doesn’t know all of that, just that he’s her father.  He doesn’t know that she exists because I never told him.  She hates him, and it’s because I never told anyone the whole story.  Not Gary.  Not Celia.  Not you.” 

            Charles reached out and took his wife in his arms.  He held her tight.  His arms locked around her in an embrace that rivaled that of his alter ego. 

            “I’m sorry.”  Jonni said between tears. 

            “It’s okay.  I never asked.  A part of me was afraid to know.” 

            “I never expected anyone to find me.  It was a complete shock bumping into you the day that I did.  I almost ran, afraid that then everyone would know, and know where to find me.” 

            “I remember.” Charles said with a half smile.  He lifted Jonni’s head from his shoulder and looked into her bloodshot eyes.  They had never looked more beautiful.  Her eyes told him that she still loved him. 

            “Come on.  I’ll make you a cup of hot tea.”  Charles said.  His voice was filled with joy. 

            “Wait.” Jonni called.  “I need to ask you something now.” 

            Charles looked at her with genuine surprise.  There couldn’t be anything she could ask that he hadn’t told her about before.  Like Jonni, he had never lied to her.  Whatever she wanted to know, he was certain that he had already told her before, and would give the same honest answer now that he did then. 

            “When you called Johnny Wonder with the candle of summoning, the candle had already been used.  He asked what was so important that you would call him twice.  Why did you call him the first time?” 

            Except that.

Tags:

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment