Hospitals. They’re certainly places. I want to describe them as funny, but being buildings so throughout suffused with death it would take an exceptionally macabre sense of humour for that to be entirely true. Because even things which are funny-strange as opposed to funny-haha possess a peculiar background level of hilarity. So let’s just say that hospitals are “odd,” not a perfect word to describe them but it covers most of the bases and touches on the majority of the salient points of what I’m trying to get at.
Basically hospitals don’t make a whole lot of sense. I’m not talking about their fundamental purpose, that makes perfect sense, I mean as buildings. In that sense they are so far beyond the ken of man that you can’t see them with a telescope. They seem to have no rhyme nor reason to their layout, no way you could possibly fathom where things could reasonably be expected to be or which way you’d need to go if you wanted to find them. That remains an immutable and inviolate truth, right up until the point where someone explains to you where you need to go, the moment when someone makes you privy to its secrets.
Then, somehow, all of the confusion melts away like mist on a bright summer’s morning. It’s almost as if the suffusion of death and concentration of shattered mortality warp the fabric of the world upon which a hospital sits, wearing away the space between this world and the next, such that the building exists almost more there then it does here; Its doors a stepping stone between the two. The simple act of divulging defections somehow guides you across the threshold to a place where the seemingly random construction suddenly makes sense.
And that’s the world I find myself in now. A grey place somewhere between black and white. A world of faded colours where age hangs heavy and the air stinks of industrial strength disinfectant and raw formaldehyde. The souls I pass vary. There are those who stride with purpose and intent, with no deviation nor sideways glance. They know where they are going and what they are doing. Their faces are masks devoid of emotion, they are made of stone.
Then there are those whose eyes never stop roaming. The ones who turn and retrace steps or pause in thought. Even with the knowledge of the mysteries they are not entirely sure where they are supposed to go. They are lost in both spirit and form.
There are those who sit. Some patient, some restless. They have reached where they must go and now await some unseen signal to propel them upon the next step of their journey.
And last are those who simply drift. Drained of hope and purpose they float along corridors, borne aloft by unseen currents, they simply wander, waiting until the clock finally runs down.
My feet lead me across a rolling landscape of scuffed vinyl flooring, through a forest of swinging fire doors and at last out into the green and open spaces of a garden that dwelt at the heart of the hospital. A still place where wanderers and travellers could seek some scant solace before returning to the dead hallways. I strode through grass thick and heavy with dew and onward past stunted shrubs and ferns. With every step the neat and ordered regiment of bushes, annuals and biennials faded, giving way to regiments of sentinel pines and thick, coarse bracken. Much as with the inner bowels of the hospital, the paths and byways of this dell made little sense to a rational mind; coiling in upon themselves, sweeping into nothingness, all shrouded in a thin grey mist that cloaked from sight anything more than a few feet away.
My errant wanderings brought me by degrees down into a hollow. The ground was strewn with dead leaves and the mulch of life passed. At the opposite edge, built into the rim of the hollow, was a door. The door was of old, and weathered brown timber and stained darker still by water running down from the forest above. It was ensconced within a short tunnel of lichen spotted grey fieldstone, crumbling with age and threaded with the vines of enterprising ground plants. And here I stood motionless and in silence for a time. There was something unsettling about the door that made me clench my fists. While the rest of the world I had been wandering through skirted across the surface of the realm of death, this door felt like it led somewhere deeper and darker. Going through it would be like jumping from a boat on the open ocean and plunging straight down into the Deep. I was roused from my vigil of fear by the strange sensation of having something in my hand. I raised my fist and slowly opened it before my eyes. Sitting on my palm was a slightly scrunched scrap of yellowing parchment upon which was written in smudged ink “48.” I was entirely sure what it meant. As pondered, I paced the hollow; restless, impatient, but yet knowing it would be unwise for me to leave this place. As I fretted, a lone crow alighted on a stone by the tunnel. It fluffed its black feathers and hopped from side to side. Then it let out a single “caw” splitting the silence of the forest. It gave me the feeling that whatever lay beyond that door was waiting for me. It wanted me to enter its domain. So I did…
The door slammed behind me, sending an echo around the small, dark room I now found myself in. My eyes adjusted to the gloom slowly, revealing a crude dwelling of sorts. A fire burned low in a pit at its heart, filling the air with a thick blue smoke that stung the eyes, but not providing enough heat to drive away the chill. The walls were hung with skins and skulls of animals I could not identify. Every flat surface was dotted with jars and bottle made from clouded glass and filled with pale green liquids and meaty lumps that I didn’t care to dwell upon for long. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something detach itself from a shadowy corner. My eyes snapped towards the movement. But there was nothing to see, nothing more than a tattered pelt buffeted by the draft. I turned back towards the fire and before me stood a figure cowled in stained rags. But a moment before there had been no one there.
“Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees?” the figure drawled in a harsh and rasping voice.
By way of answer I held up the small scrap of parchment to its shadowed eyes.
“Ahh…” they replied. From their belt they drew a curved dagger caked in rust.
“Sharp scratch” they said with a smile and plunged the blade into my arm.
There was a sound of snapping latex. A woman clad all in white dropped a discarded pair of gloves into a bin. She picked up a pen and began to write on the side of a small vial filled with red, then popped it into a ziplock bag.
“Right, that’ll be all. Keep the plaster on for the next hour and we’ll have the results to your GP within the week.”
I stood up slowly, and tried to blink the confusion away. It must have been clear on my face, for the nurse spoke to me again.
“The way out’s down the corridor, first left, second right. Now off you pop love.”
So off I scuttled, back into the labyrinth.