A white room. Static.
Stein woke slowly—heavy like a hangover after a wild party. Booze, beer, weed and man those girls…those girls had it going on. He shook his head and pushed up off the floor. There was nothing, but there was pure light and—
His face was grimy. He needed a shower and a shave. The dead didn’t need showers and they didn’t shave. Laughter.
His eyes clung to the polished walls, following the angle to a door. Seamless, it opened. Sounds filtered in through the static. Beeping. Squeak of footsteps on a freshly waxed tile floor.
Stein stood, swaying on his feet. He was in a hospital gown. Two ID tags brushed against each other around his wrist. He walked through the door.
Nurses brushed past him, around him, and through him. He coughed at the taste of her Winterfresh stick gum. Her name was—
It didn’t matter. Focus. He had to focus.
He padded down the hall on bare feet. His toes pressed against the tile. Cold air wavered around him. Somewhere, a woman cried. An old man changed the channel. A teen girl took a bite of cafeteria mashed potatoes. Stein gritted his teeth.
He pressed on, curious of his location. He arrived at a T-intersection. Two choices: Prenatal/OB Ward or The Morgue. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. He turned right and went through the double doors into the OB Ward. Ahead of him were delivery rooms.
The ward was silent to the point that whispers were easily interpreted. He inhaled sharply through his nose. His chest throbbed, a needle of searing pain that laced through his shoulders up into the base of his skull. He glanced at his ID tags.
They were blank.
A cry broke the stillness and he quickened his pace. It was the only sound here. The only presence here, this individual and she was in pain. His walk broke into a slow run. His feet slapped the tile in long strides. He stopped in front of a door. The room was completely dark. He slipped his hand into that almost tangible darkness to feel for a switch. His fingers brushed the plastic toggle and yanked up.
The room was flooded in light.
Marisol lay there, belly swollen and tight. She was in labor. A black mist swirled around the wheels of the gurney. She raised wide, wild eyes to Stein and screamed again.
It was like he was watching a scene on stage. The viscous inky fog divided and drew upwards to form a solid shape. Stein’s mouth fell open. He recognized the figure but couldn’t come up with a name for it. He couldn’t describe it. He could only look on in abject horror as Marisol pushed and gasped, white-knuckled to cling to the gurney’s steel tubing.
The dark thing blocked his view of the delivery. Stein wanted to run to her side, to pull her off the stretcher and get her out of there but his feet remained rooted where he stood. He opened his mouth to call her name but he had no voice. Tears fled his eyes, mirroring hers, only hers were of blood. Blood seeped from every orifice in her face. Red tinted her teeth as she screamed in agony. The dark thing turned. In its clutches, a set of keys. They flashed in the light. In the light of…
Stein opened his eyes. He was face down and rolled over on his back on the highway, under the watchful headlit gaze of Isobel.
The moon was a bone chip in the starless sky, frozen in orbit.
Roger straddled Stein, peering down at him to fill his view.
“What was that?” Stein croaked and slid out from under him. He hugged his knees.
“You can’t really be there Stein. You’re here.”
“Where is here?”
“You know the answer.”
Stein snorted into his jeans. He raised his head to look at Roger. “If I knew, I wouldn’t ask.”
“So why are you asking?” Roger laughed. His smile was predatorial and pointed. His black tongue licked multiple fangs. Stein blinked hard. Roger was Roger again.
“We should move,” Roger said casually, but his pitch gave an ominous tone. “They’ll sniff you out soon enough.”
“It’s quiet here,” Stein said and lay his head back on his knees.
“Not out there it isn’t,” Roger said, and extended an arm. His hand disappeared inch by inch. At the same time, the unearthly howl of the damned in limbo violated Stein’s headspace.
“What the fuck?” Stein stood up too quickly and fell against Isobel’s grille and hood. The heat reminded him not to linger.
“Seems she’s protecting you.” Roger’s eyes cut to the car. “We’re invisible to the eyes of the dead.”
“The angel died a mortal death,” Roger said, “Seems she couldn’t undo her mistake.”
“How can she be dead? She wasn’t over thirty!” Stein felt his breast pocket and fished a cigarette out of his soft pack. Roger produced a flame out of thin air to light it. The smoke filled his lungs, thick and pungent, aromatic and calming at the same time. In Hell he never ran out of cigarettes.
“You’ve been out for awhile then,” Roger said with a shrug. His hands went to his pockets. He was back in the priest’s cassock. Behind them, Isobel’s engine started and the veil of silence dropped. Roger and Stein exchanged glances.
“Time to go,” Roger said with a sneer.