Something a little different for you today. May I introduce Emma Newman, a hugely talented author I had the privilege of editing for both Chinese Whisperings anthologies, and whose own anthology of short stories, From Dark Places, was published in May of this year by eMergent Publishing. Em’s doing something a little unique between now and November 2012. Over to you Em…
This is the second in a year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds. If you would prefer to listen to an audio version, you can find the link (and all the other stories as they are released) here.
Just the walk through the hospital corridors had been an effort. The bizarre smells, the strip lighting that hurt his eyes, the prevalence of those cursed computer machines, all had given him the most horrendous headache. That was forgotten now he was at the room itself, a box of vanilla fudge tied with string in one hand, hat held in the other.
Whilst he knew Thomas would be an elderly gentleman, he still reeled from the fact his dark brown hair was mostly gone, and what was left was wiry and white. The strong brow the nurses had smoothed with cool hands in the field hospital was wrinkled beyond recognition, and had the appearance of a gentle landslide over his eyes, the brows resting on top of his eyelids.
Charles didn’t want to disturb his rest. He would leave the fudge on the bedside cabinet with a red silk poppy and a note.
“Captain Papaver?” The patient woke as he scrawled a message on the back of his calling card. “Good grief, is that you?”
Charles forced himself to turn and smile at him. His friend’s brown eyes, once large and bright were now red rimmed and partially obscured by the sagging brow. “Good morning Thomas. Thought I’d drop by when I heard you were unwell.” His own voice sounded so loud in comparison.
“Saints above, it is you!” Those rheumy eyes didn’t leave his face as he struggled to sit up straighter in the bed. With slow, jerking movements, the old man saluted him and Charles returned it smartly with a swell of pride in his breast. “You don’t look a day over thirty sir. You’re really there aren’t you?”
“Yes. The years have been kind to me. I brought you some fudge.”
“You still remember,” Thomas was openly weeping now. “Sorry I can’t get out of bed sir.”
“Don’t be a fool,” Charles said, pulling a nearby chair to the bedside. “Besides, we’re out of uniform now, the both of us.”
“I got your letters sir,” Thomas reached unsteadily towards him and they shook hands. Charles wanted to recoil at the feel of the papery skin and lumpy bones. It wasn’t the hand he remembered. “All tied up in string they are, at the home. I insisted on taking them with me.”
“Do they treat you well?”
“Oh yes sir, and here too. They said you…” Now he was breaking down.
“Least I could do,” Charles said. “My man told me about these other homes, I couldn’t have you ending up there.”
“And this hospital too, they told me you saw to that.” Charles gave a nod, not wanting a fuss. “Still looking after me sir, after all these years.”
“I take my responsibilities very seriously,” Charles replied, smoothing down his moustache to cover the flicker of emotion in his voice. “I understand your children can’t visit.”
“They’re out in Australia now. They’ve got grandchildren, they’re too old to fly back. They write. They’re good girls. You have grandchildren sir?”
“Not yet,” he said, unthinking. “I have a son and two girls. He’s a fine lad, tall and strong. Bright as a button.”
“Takes after you sir.”
“But I named him after you,” Charles smiled.
The door opened and a nurse entered with a bag of clear fluid. “Got a visitor Tommy? That’s nice.” She smiled at Charles as she replaced the near empty IV bag.
“This is Captain Charles Papaver, he was my commanding officer in the First World War!”
“Is that right?”
“Finest man I know. He carries me out of no-man’s land on the worst day of the Somme, both of my legs blown off, shells landing all around us, takes me back to the trench and then,” he pointed a crooked finger at him. “Then this man goes back up the ladder and saves three others. Got the Victoria Cross he did.”
“Did he?” the nurse was obviously humouring him.
“And not only that,” he croaked. “He wrote to every one of us regularly and sent a gift on Remembrance Sunday. Every year for over ninety years! You should shake him by the hand, meet a real man.”
“Could I have a word with you?” The nurse asked and Charles excused himself.
They stepped outside. “You’re the one paying for his treatment?”
“I’m the Captain’s grandson,” he lied, having prepared for such an eventuality. “I’m seeing that my grandfather’s will is carried out to the letter.”
“Seems he was every bit a gentleman as Tommy says. I’m glad you came, all his family are overseas. I’ll give you an extra half an hour over the normal visiting hours, but he will drift off and sleep a lot, just to warn you. It’s the medication.”
“Is he in pain?”
“It’s managed, but he doesn’t have much longer.”
“Thought I’d imagined you sir,” Thomas said as Charles went back in and sat back down. “Listen, I wanted to thank you again, for what you’ve done for me and the others.”
“It was nothing.”
“It was everything to us. I’ve been blessed to know you sir.”
Charles patted his hand. “Really, it was nothing.”
“I’m not going to die here,” he remembered Thomas saying all those years ago as he shook violently in the field hospital, both of them covered in his blood. “I’m going to die an old man with dozens of grandchildren, in my sleep sir. Not here.”
Charles decided he would make that wish come true, and he’d waited almost a century to see it done. He watched Thomas fall asleep. He looked peaceful. It was time. “Goodbye old chap,” he said softly and brushed the old man’s lips with his fingertip, whispering the charm he’d bought at the Emporium and adapted with his family’s gift. Thomas would not wake again. He would sleep peacefully until his time came.
Duty discharged, Charles stood, saluted his old friend and left him to his gentle dreams.
Thanks for hosting Paul! I hope you enjoyed the story. If you would like to find out more about the Split Worlds project, it’s all here: www.splitworlds.com. If you would like to host a story over the coming year, either let me know in the comments or contact me through the Split Worlds site. Em x