Matthew lives in San Antonio with his family and during his free time he likes to read, play games or incessantly tease his wife, whom he credits for every positive aspect of his life. While he never turns down a good story, his favorite authors are Brandon Sanderson, Michael Crichton and Larry Correia.
In the Room
He sat numbly, staring without seeing, mind racing without thought. The lamp over her bed flickered, briefly dimming the small hospital room. She lay perfectly still, chest rising and falling in a slow rhythm—too slow. Within the room silence pressed in like an unseen waterfall, even as bits and pieces of distant noise filtered through.
As he blinked, he again heard the screeching of tires, smelled burning rubber. An earth shattering impact then… nothing. Now there was the chair, the bed, and her. Nothing outside the stark room mattered, and he didn’t have the capacity to remember how he had gotten there, how long he had been staring at her, waiting for her to wake up.
She was perfect as she lay there, stripped of everything superfluous. Bathed in uneven light with no makeup or jewelry or fancy clothing and yet gorgeous. Even moreso because of the lack of it, he thought, admiring the curves of a face peaceful and free from worry as it so seldom was. Despite the heavy burden that had settled on his shoulders, he felt a contentment as he waited. It seemed that for as long as he could remember, he had been sitting there lost in the feeling that being in her presence brought.
The light dimmed again as the door softly opened and a nurse in tidy white scrubs stepped in. “Have you made a decision, sir?” she asked kindly was she walked to the other side of the bed. The nurse didn’t glance down, only looking at him. It was as if she pointedly ignored everything else in the room. He glanced up, confused. “A decision?”
“Yes sir. We’ll need to know when you plan on leaving. Given the circumstances the staff will be happy to bend the rules and leave you in here a bit longer, but I’m afraid we can’t let you stay indefinitely.” The nurse looked at him expectantly, smile unwavering but with insistence in her eyes.
He felt an anxious lump form inside his stomach. He hadn’t given any thought beyond the current moment, couldn’t fathom the world outside the tiny room. How long had he been here, anyway? Since everything had gone sideways it had been difficult to think through the quiet maelstrom swirling around his head, and the inconsistent light was an ever-present distraction. He felt that, once he moved through that doorway, he would simply lose himself. Outside was madness, but he had an anchor in here; she was a beautiful tether holding onto him in a way he didn’t even understand. He mused that it had actually always been that way.
“I’m not sure. I’ll… I’ll get back to you.” His voice was a whisper. The nurse gave him a long look before quickly nodding and disappearing outside. The room settled back into stillness as the door clicked shut and the lamp steadied. He once again sank into the chair and became little more than a living statue, filling his eyes with the only thing that seemed to matter anymore. In the silence he could hear disembodied voices, apparently speaking about him.
“He hasn’t left, but I don’t know that he’s all there.” It wasn’t the nurse but a different speaker, probably the doctor. “We’ll leave him be for now. I wanted to make sure you know the injuries are severe. It might be a good idea to make sure you’re prepared.” The voice was hushed but thundered across his ears nonetheless; he couldn’t hear the response over the booming echo of those words. It was strange, though. For all that talk she looked imminently peaceful, with no bandages to speak of or scratches marring her soft features. He knew that the nature of injuries that you couldn’t see were something to be truly feared, even she looked as perfect as she’d always been.
He closed his eyes and felt himself drift. He latched into the feeling of her, the soft warmth that had taken residence within him from the first moment she smiled at him. That was a smile you could feel as much as see; you could hear it in her voice as easily as a bird chirping on your shoulder. He considered it a true tragedy that something so wonderful seemed at times a well-kept secret. Still, it was his secret and he clung to it, something to keep him present and above the turmoil he felt inside.
The warm feeling spread though him, pinpricks moving down his arms and into his hands. Through the haze he could almost feel her gripping his hands, holding him, her strength giving him strength. With effort, he used that strength to open his eyes, finding the lamp dancing fitfully between light and dark and felt a sudden anger bubble up. That damn light! Didn’t she deserve better than to spend this time under some shoddy lamp? Why couldn’t he have this time alone with her, uninterrupted or distracted by a flickering bulb, without silent eyes watching him from beyond his sight. It was a simple request, and he couldn’t have even that.
The anger melted into frustration as the light continued to taunt him, and he felt hot tears move down his face. When he went to wipe them away he found nothing but dry skin; it seemed he had already used up his tears. With the light finally calming, he again reached into his memory for the feeling of her embrace and felt his pulse slow, the waves of emotion temporarily smoothing. Everything around him stilled, while the well of anxiety slowly filled.
He felt them coming. He knew they wouldn’t let him stay—he had been there too long already. He also didn’t know what to do, what the next steps were that needed to be made. As he pondered he heard the door click open, felt the presence of bodies enter the room. “Sir, it’s time. There’s nothing more you can do; you need to leave now,” said the nurse. Unable to take his eyes from the most precious thing he had known—knowing deep within that if he left her side he would never see her again—he felt hands gently encircle his arms. As they began to tug him away he fixed the image of her resting there in his mind, her hair fanned out and framing her face, too slow breathing easing her hands up and down on her stomach. The embodiment of every good decision he had ever made.
“No. I’m not leaving.” He struggled against the hands, which began to pull more earnestly. The lightbulb finally gave up and slowly began to dim, leaving the shadows to slowly encroach upon her. That wasn’t fair. She deserved better than that, to be left alone with the darkness. “Leave me be. I need to fix that lamp.” It was the only argument he could think to make, weak as it seemed. He moved toward the bed but felt himself come up short, held back and moving inexorably to the doorway.
“I said no!” He struggled against the strength in those hands, feeling suddenly like he was moving through tar. The nurse chimed in, “It’s time to go, sir. There’s nothing left for you.” He knew that wasn’t true. She was still there, being covered by the darkness as the light failed. She had always been everything he needed, and he felt a tearing sensation the further away he moved from her. He pulled harder, fighting against the iron grip. Only now did he realize that no one else was actually in the room, that the nurse’s voice was simply there, and that some unseen force had decided it was time for him to leave. He would not be taken away.
Very slowly he lost his fight, pulling against the force to no avail with his feet dragging on the floor. The light got dimmer, her figure becoming obscured, and the low murmur of voices swelled around him. He blinked—squealing tires. He stepped forward. Blinked again—screeching metal. Another step. Blink—bone-shattering impact. Step, blink—the heat of a fire. Step, blink.
Her smile, twisting all the way to the depths of his very self. And he found the strength to wrench free.
The force disappeared. No slow fade, but a sudden vanishing sending him rocketing forward to the bed, the darkness retreating at his steps. She was still there, her warmth spreading within him once again as the lamp grew stronger still. Through his chest, his arms, his legs. He felt her phantom grip before he was close enough to touch her hands, felt the dry tears on his cheeks once again. He pulled up short of the bed, the bulb almost blinding next to his head. He took her still, peaceful figure in once more before slowly reaching out with a shaking hand to touch her face.
The light exploded with the brilliance of the sun.
* * *
His eyes felt like they had rust on them. He could swear he heard a creaking sound as they slowly, slowly opened. The brightness retreated to the edges of his vision, and as it did the blurry haze resolved itself into a face hovering inches over his. Her face. Her hands gripped his like vices, her eyes were filled with wonderful relief, and large tears dripped down onto his skin. Her smile was larger and deeper than he thought possible, so wide that the memory of it would never be able to fade from her face. She wrapped him in an embrace and whispered into his ear, “You came back.”
He shifted on his hospital bed and slowly shook his head. “No.” He looked into her eyes, sank into her warmth. “You brought me back.”