Series: Strange Tales Story: Ghosts by M Kizzia part 5
“Come on.” Mya said, taking the lead. She grabbed Nathan’s hand before she stopped briefly at the hospital map on the wall. She seemed to know where she was headed. This time they took the stairs down one flight and she pulled him through the authorized personnel only hallway to enter a different wing of the hospital. Nathan guessed where they were going, but he said nothing. They spent a long time looking through the glass at all of the babies, but she did not want to go inside. At last, Nathan thought they needed to change venues, so he asked as kindly as he could.
“Are you hungry?” Mya looked up at him with a forlorn expression that proposed never leave her face. It broke Nathan’s heart to see it. He realized that he missed the little girl smile that had meant so much to him and kept him steady, especially at the first. Mya had accepted the truth before he did, and she kept him going with her smile. She kept him from thinking too hard about it all and maybe becoming morose. Little Mya had no morose in her until the subject of bumps and babies came up. Now, she was in danger of becoming hopelessly mired in her own sense of loss and what would never be, and Nathan desperately wanted to save her from that. She certainly deserved better than to be depressed forever. “I could go for some Italian right now. Do you like Italian food?”
Mya looked up at him with her tear streaked face and those big brown eyes with their sadness etched into the black depths. She said nothing, but she did not resist him when he took her hand and headed them toward the stairs. Nathan hoped there was food left in the hospital cafeteria since the time was getting on, but he would not have been surprised if it was all cleaned up and put away for the night. Hospitals, like grade schools, tended to run on a very strict schedule.
The cafeteria was located on level B-1, which was ground level at the back of the building. There was still some service, though only one worker behind the line, wiping a spill around the macaroni and cheese. A couple of men and a few women in white coats were sitting around, talking quietly and nursing their coffee and tea, having pretty much finished eating. Nathan supposed they were doctors, nurses, or more likely attendants of some sort hanging out to get the full extent of their breaks. There were a few tables with dirty dishes, but the man behind the counter did not seem in any hurry to get out and clean them up. Instead, the man looked at the clock on the wall as if waiting for the right moment to close.
Nathan also looked. It was nearly eight-thirty, perhaps five or five and a-half hours since the accident. He brought Mya up to the line, but they quickly realized that they could not pick up the trays, plates or silverware. Their hands simply passed through the items, and while it was a bit of a shock at first, Mya spent the next few minutes passing her hands through all sorts of things; and she nearly smiled at the sensation.
Nathan looked at the food. There was some spaghetti in a kind of dark brown crust that might have been an attempt at meat sauce. It was real thick spaghetti and it did not look too appetizing. Still, he would not have minded a taste, though to be honest, he was not hungry in the least.
“I don’t think we can eat anymore.” Mya said, putting her hands right into the hot macaroni and cheese and swirling them around with no effect on the dish or her hands whatsoever. “But that’s OK, I wasn’t really hungry.”
“Me neither.” Nathan said, and he looked up to see a big man staring at the deserts. To his surprise, the big man turned and looked right at them and with a quick comparison to the attendant behind the counter, Nathan recognized that this was another ghost.
“I’m hungry.” The man said.
“You’re fat.” Mya said as she stepped up beside Nathan. She clicked her finger nails on the metal cafeteria rail a couple of times and Nathan thought she needed some chewing gum to complete the pre-teen picture. “You should go on a diet.”
“Screw you, kid.” The fat man said.
“That was very rude.” Nathan turned and scolded Mya. She looked up at him with some concern to be sure he still liked her. She knew she was being rude, only now, after being scolded, she felt she paid her penalty and so she did not feel like saying she was sorry.
The fat man looked down for a minute before turning his eyes again at the deserts. “The doctor said it was the fat that killed me. What does he know? The quack.” He looked at them again before his eyes were drawn back to that last piece of chocolate cake. “I didn’t think it would be like this.” He said, and he seemed to need to confess. Nathan stayed to listen, so Mya stayed, too. “I used to eat everything and anything I wanted. Mom was a great cook, and there was always plenty of junk around the house, you know, cookies, chips, Hot Pockets, frozen waffles. God, I can’t think about it.” He paused to take in a deep breath. “I didn’t think it would be like this.” He began again. “I pretty much lived my life whatever the hell way I wanted. I didn’t let anyone tell me no. I lost a couple of jobs, but screw them. I screwed everyone I wanted and when I wasn’t screwing, I was eating. God there was this one restaurant that made… but forget it. I thought when I died, like it would not happen so quick. I thought I still had years left to live and I thought I would straighten things out some when I got older.” He looked at them again. “I didn’t have the time. It all went by so quick.” He looked again at the cake and reached for it only to have his hand pass right through. “I thought when I died all of these old habits would be taken away, you know?” He looked up one last time and asked. “Why are we still here?”
“Maybe so you can have one last chance to straighten things out.” Nathan suggested what he and Mya were both thinking.
“Maybe you need to let go of some things.” Mya suggested, reaching for Nathan’s hand which he readily gave her.
The man merely nodded and then ignored them. His hunger had him once again.
Mya and Nathan went out from there wondering what to do next. Then Nathan saw Mya yawn a big yawn and he thought they might find a deserted room in which to rest. He led the girl back to the elevator. He was feeling better than he had in years and feeling no pain at all, but he still was not sure about climbing a bunch of steps. Fortunately, the elevator was empty at eight-forty-five in the evening. They went again to the third floor, but Mya resisted seeing her grandmother. Thus they wandered in the other direction, past 315, 314 and 313. They found someone in room 312, and would have moved on if he had not shouted out to them. When they entered the room, Nathan noticed the bed was stripped clean and the man was sitting on the edge of it, fully clothed as if waiting for a ride home. There was another patient in the room, but he was sleeping.
“What is going on?” The man asked right away. “I can’t get anyone to listen to me, not the doctors or nurses or anyone.”
“What do you think is going on?” Mya spoke right up before Nathan could get a word in. Her words were not exactly meant to be rude as if to suggest the man was being stupid or something, but they came out that way and might have been taken that way. Nathan pulled her hand up to his chest and patted her hand to keep her quiet, even as her grandmother had patted that same hand.
“I don’t know.” The man spoke honestly to them, but there was something else behind those blue eyes. Nathan and Mya just stared into those eyes until the blue turned a little gray and the man turned his eyes to the floor. “I think I am dead.”
Mya almost said something, but Nathan hushed her and spoke instead. “I think you may be right.” He said calmly.
The man slid off the bed and threw his fists up to cover his eyes. He turned his back on them and began to spout. “I have a wife and three kids who need me. I can’t be dead. You don’t understand. I was just working on a big deal at work that was going to make my career. We were going to be set for life after that, and… and I was going to be able to spend some quality time with Sharon and the kids. I can’t be dead. I never got the quality time. It isn’t fair!” He blustered himself out and despite the closed eyes and the fists over the eyes and also the fact that his back was turned, both Mya and Nathan knew he was crying, just a little.
Nathan thought that you have to smell the roses every day as you go along or otherwise you will never catch them in bloom. That was what his mother taught him, but of course he did not say that out loud. He looked down. Mya was being good. She was feeling the man’s pain, and she looked up to get Nathan’s unspoken assent before she said anything at all.
“It will be all right.” She said. “That is what I keep getting told, and…” She looked up to catch Nathan’s eyes again. “And I believe him.” Nathan smiled, dropped Mya’s hand and threw his arm around her for a big squeeze. He needed to hear that as much as she needed to say it.
“What do you know?” The man turned on them with a little anger. They felt it, but not nearly as they felt the cruelty of the puppy owner, perhaps because this man was not among the living. “You know nothing. You don’t understand. How could you? A girl and a doddering old man. I have to get back to work. I have to finish the project. I have to succeed. I spent my whole life striving to be successful. I got the right wife, the right kids, and the right job; and now, just when I am on the verge of reaching my dream, my only dream, I have it yanked out from beneath my feet. It isn’t fair, I tell you. It isn’t fair!”
“I’m sorry.” Nathan said. It was the least he could say and probably also the most he could say.
“Forget it.” The man said, having vented for the moment. He threw his hands out as if dismissing them. “It isn’t your fault. I wouldn’t expect you to understand. There is nothing you can do about it. Just leave me alone for a while. Please. I need to think about this. I need to think.” He sat again on the edge of the bed, closed his eyes, dropped his head, put his thumb to his temple and began to slowly rub his fingers across his forehead like a man in deep concentration.
Nathan turned Mya by the shoulders until they faced the door, and before she could say anything else. Then he withdrew his arm and took her hand once again. Room 307 had two empty beds, and as Mya seemed to be yawning up a storm, he thought that this was as good as they were going to find.
“Now we are definitely past my bedtime.” Mya said.
“Mine too.” Nathan agreed, and he was not entirely joking. Any time after nine o’clock was late for him. “Do you want the bed by the door?” He asked. Normally, the gentlemanly thing would have been for him to take the bed by the door to protect her against any intruders. At least that was the right instinct, but in this case, since she was already dead, he imagined there was not much that could hurt her, and he also imagined if they brought someone to the room in the middle of the night they would more than likely put the person in the bed by the window, interrupting him, not her. Mya was just looking at him.
“OK.” She said, sitting on the bed, but she did not sound too sure.
Nathan nodded and opened the bathroom door, just to check things out, not that he had to go or anything. He turned on the light and paused at the sight in the mirror that greeted him. It was his own reflection, and he was first of all surprised that he even had a reflection. “Of course, I’m not a vampire.” He mumbled to himself and grinned at his own humor. Then he touched his teeth. They looked good, better than he had seen them in some time. He had let them go a little and raised his eyebrows at himself for that thought. Then he wiggled his eyebrows and looked quickly at his hand. It was still fairly wrinkled, but not so bad, and most of the age spotting was gone. He looked again at his face. The hair was still gray, but there seemed more of it, and in fact he thought that maybe he looked more like he had when he retired at about seventy-two, or maybe when he first retired at sixty-eight. He definitely did not look eighty-four, and it was the first time he admitted that while Mya was growing up, he was getting younger. It was also the first time he wondered if they might meet somewhere in the middle.
“Let me see.” Mya pushed her way into the room and Nathan backed up. She smiled at her reflection, pouted her lips, checked out the curve in her eyebrows and puffed her chest out, but there were no bumps yet. “I am growing up.” Mya said with some excitement. “I am.”
“Yes you are.” Nathan confirmed as he turned away. “But right now I am tired, even if you are not.” He lay down on the bed. “Funny our not being able to eat but our being able to sleep.” He reached down and pulled up the hospital blanket that was folded at the foot of the bed, and let his head rest on the pillow.
“We’re not asleep yet.” Mya said as she turned out the bathroom light and crawled under Nathan’s blanket. She curled up with him like any young girl might curl up beside her grandfather on a cold winter’s night, and Nathan willingly slipped a protective arm around the girl. Neither was uncomfortable with the arrangement and soon enough they were both fast asleep.