Finally finished this one. I’ve also been editing and submitting a bunch of stories to magazines recently, so… Hopefully? We’ll see. I’ll be working on City Intersection again now and am hoping to make another episode of 108.3 next weekend.
The hospital hummed and beeped. The beeping didn’t come from one specific origin, it just beeped in rhythm with George Xavier’s heartbeat. An oxygen tube ran up from somewhere beside the bed and underneath George’s nose. His eyes, mostly shut, flickered occasionally with what seemed to be pain. Pain so bad that even a sleeping body unconsciously responds to it is the worst.
Little Thomas Xavier stood by the side of his father’s bed and held his motionless hand. Thomas’s finger traced a circle on the cupped palm of George’s hand then patted the back of it and laid it gently on the slowly rising and sinking chest.
The hospital hummed and beeped, even when Thomas had left George’s room. Perhaps the beeping came from other rooms, perhaps it was merely the heartbeat of the building itself.
Little Thomas Xavier had read a bit too much in his childhood. His family never did things together; so he read anything and everything he could find. But while in his reading, he had learned of the supernatural and the things it could do.
Thomas looked down each direction in the hall, checking to see that he was alone, then slipped inside a broom closet, wiping the remaining drops of blood that had been on his finger onto his pants. Once inside the room, he locked the door, turned on the lightbulb that dangled above him, sat down, and opened a book onto his lap.
The pages he opened it to were covered in symbols and words in some undecipherable language – undecipherable to a layman, that was, but not Thomas. He knew just what those words meant, just what they signified.
So he read the words aloud. He prayed – not to any god, though – that this would work. It was his one chance to help his father.
“Kkrenhaek Cschaupfterein” would be a good approximation of the two last words he said. They meant “eternal life”.
The lightbulb above flickered, though that could’ve just been due to the old wiring. Thomas took it as a good sign nonetheless.
All rites finished, he closed the book, turned out the light, and left the room. He made a point of not returning to his father’s room, not just quite yet. He wanted to give it a bit of time first. A bit of time was all he and his father needed for this to work.
That evening Thomas and his mother went into his father’s room. It seemed as though he was awake, as he was for only a few minutes a day at this point, and they stood by his bed and looked with sadness and pity at him. He, with no small amount of excertion, rested his hand on his wife’s. A moment later, something started to happen. His eyes widened slightly, not as thoroughly in a droopy, drugged state. Some small amount of color returned to his cheeks..
“Hi,” he said, and Thomas’ mother let out a choke of tears. No one had heard George’s voice in three years. A doctor was in the room when it happened, and she turned around in surprise upon hearing it.
“How long had you known he was getting better?” Thomas’s mom asked the doctor.
“We… didn’t. We didn’t think he’d be able to speak again. This is… Highly unusual. I think I’ll have someone else take a look at this.”
“What’s there to look at? He’s getting better!”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t make sense.”
George’s hand had remained on his wife’s the entire time, and seemed to be getting visibly better and better all the while. By the time his wife turned back to him, though, she seemed more aged, older, albeit far happier than she had been a minute before. She pulled her hand away, grasped his head, and kissed him on the forehead.
“We’ll get you out of here in no time,” she said with a smile.
Thomas’s eyes stayed on where his mother and father touched. He stepped forward once his mother was done and wrapped his arms around his father.
As he and his father were locked in each other’s embrace, Thomas felt his father’s grasp grow stronger and stronger as the seconds passed by. When Thomas pulled away, breath shallow and face pale, color had returned to his father’s cheeks. With an expression of surprise, he pulled the sheets off his legs and sat up, dangling his feet just above the floor.
Thomas and his mother looked at George in astonishment. While just a few minutes ago he had been barely conscious, barely holding on to life, he was now flexing his toes and pushing off of the bed to stand beside them.
Two doctors, the one who had been there earlier and joined by another, walked into the room and froze, staring at George.
They ran up to him and immediately started checking his vitals, counting under their breath while peering at small charts and indecipherable screens. They checked everything once, twice, three times, but couldn’t figure out why on earth he suddenly seemed to be back to normal.
They asked him a few questions, making notes on clipboards, then left the room in disbelief. Once they were gone, George kissed his wife and rustled Thomas’ hair. Something caught his eye and he fingered through Thomas’ hair until he found it again; a dry, grey hair had taken the place of one of the normally silky, rich brown hairs.
“Don’t get old on me, you hear?” George said to Thomas jokingly.
Thomas smiled, though only on the surface.
George, once he had gotten through several stages of rigorous testing the hospital staff forced him through, was released to return to his home with his wife and Thomas. Over the following weeks, though George didn’t notice it, Thomas and his wife began to seem more and more wearied. Tired, aged, downtrodden.
He did notice one thing, at least; more and more grey hairs began cropping up on Thomas’ head. George didn’t think anything of it. He didn’t think anything of much of anything, any more; he was far too happy to be out of the hospital and back with his family to do that.
His wife noticed it in herself and Thomas, though she assumed it was just a lasting effect from the immense stress they had been in shortly before with George getting sicker and sicker – and, as a result, closer and closer to death – day by day in that eternally humming and beeping hospital; the music of death.
George hugged Thomas and the skin on Thomas’ skin began to sag. It was wrinkled, now, worn by years that he had never lived. George’s skin was looking better and better; it had gained a sort of deathly pallor when he had been at the hospital, but now it was looking fresh and healthy. It looked like he was a good decade or so younger than he was.
His wife was overjoyed, of course. She didn’t care if her joints ached, if her skin stretched and wrinkled and sagged, her husband was healthy and he was with her. She didn’t care if she was beginning to look eerily like her mother – not only in likeness, but in age – if only he was happy to be with her, and he was.
Thomas made sure to spend plenty of time with his father; almost always holding his hand or hugging him. His father assumed that it was just due to relief at him being back at home.
Thomas laid his head on his father’s chest while he hugged him, head down to conceal his tears.
The hospital hummed and beeped. Once again, it had no definite origin, it was as if the hospital itself were alive; the hum was its breath and the beeps were its heartbeats.
Thomas laid still on the hospital bed. He could no longer by any stretch of the imagination be called “Little Thomas”, or even a child. He was an old man living his final days in the worst way; on a hospital bed.
George, looking even younger now, was joined by his wife, who looked a similar age to Thomas. They sat by Thomas’ bed silently, waiting to hear from a doctor. They knew the doctor would have no good news for them, but they just wanted to hear something definite at this point.
A man in a white jacket came in and spoke to them in a whisper. George’s wife fell to sobbing on his chest and he hugged her side.
George was distraught. He had no idea what was wrong with his wife and his son, and felt guilty for some reason; as if his impossible luck of recovering and getting out of the hospital and ending up better than he had even been before had somehow taken its toll out upon them.
Whenever he talked with Thomas about that, Thomas had denied it. Luck, karma, whatever, didn’t exist. It was a coincidence, that was all. But Thomas was only a boy, despite what his looks would imply, and George thought it might have just been the optimism of youth.
Thomas was only given a few weeks to live, though the doctors could pin it down on nothing other than “nonspecific organ failure”. Those weeks flew by for them all, and for Thomas they were filled with relief. He didn’t want to leave his father and mother, but knew it had been worth it. He had made a trade and had paid the price, but he was happy with the result.
But not fully. His father would continue to unconsciously drain years off of anyone he touched, and unconsciously give them to himself. It wasn’t only he, Thomas, that would be subject to that. He had given himself up for it, readily giving his years to his father, but it was clear that it had affected his mother as well.
Ah, that was fine, he thought in his semi-conscious state. It was all fine. She would live her remaining years in happiness with his father. His father would keep going. At some point he was sure George would figure it out, but until then he would live in happy ignorance.
Thomas hoped his death wouldn’t affect them too much. He struggled to gain more consciousness, enough to open his eyes and possibly say a few words. He had to focus on holding onto any consciousness he still had. It was an effort, but he felt he needed to hang on until he could say one last thing to his parents.
He moved his hand and his parents noticed, coming to his bedside eagerly.
“Don’t mind me dying,” he said to them in a whisper. “I’m happy with it. Stay happy together. I’m happy you’re better, dad. I’m… happy.”
He closed his eyes and released his grip on consciousness. The humming and beeping of the hospital increased for a moment as though freaking out, unsure of what to do, then fell into relative silence.
George and his wife didn’t cry. They stood by the bed in silence, staring at Thomas’ body, wondering how he grew up, not just physically but mentally, in such a short time. They didn’t cry. They wanted to do what Thomas said, stay happy together.