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Working The Grave
written by: Belinda Brady
He’d only just been admitted to hospital after collapsing on the sporting field at school and was undergoing investigations for a suspected heart condition. One minute, he was chasing a soccer ball around a field, the next; he was being resuscitated on it. I’d started my shift early and I decide to hang back, watching his family leave his room, before coming to the door to introduce myself. He looks at me with fear in his eyes. I enter the room, ignoring the figure in the corner, “Hi Toby, I’m Liz, and I’ll be looking after you”.
“I’m scared. What if it comes after me again? I don’t…I don’t want to be alone,” he whispers from amongst the various monitors hooked up to his sixteen-year-old body.
“No need to worry. My shift –we call it the graveyard shift – is my specialty, and I take it very seriously. I promise you won’t be alone. I’m here, for as long as you need me to be,” I reassure him, “and lucky for you, I also love to spoil my patients,” I smile, handing him a small black bag, a felt orange jack ‘o’ lantern and purple and black lettering which read ‘Trick or Treat’ on its front.
He looks at it confused, “Trick or Treat?”
My smile widens, “You do remember it's Halloween, right? It’s the most wonderful time of year in my humble opinion, Toby, and everyone deserves to feel special on this night of spooks, ghouls, and a little fun, no matter where they are,” I place a little treat in the bag and hand it back to him, “And I have a feeling we are going to have some fun tonight.”
He smiles back weakly, holding the bag to his chest.
“So, Toby, tell me all about you,” I chirp, as I sit in the chair beside his bed, making myself comfortable. And like always, this chair is where I will stay until it’s time.
It didn’t take long. Toby was very sick and his young body just couldn’t take his illness any longer. The reaper that had been hidden away in the corner of his room acted quickly and assured me Toby felt no pain. As far as he knew, he had simply fallen asleep. I was next to him, holding his hand, exchanging stories right up until he closed his eyes, just like I promised I’d be. Releasing Toby’s hand from mine as the machines came to life around him, alerting staff of his passing, I get up from my chair and walk to the doorway. I turn to face the reaper, the white light in his outstretched hand slowly fading away.
“Is it time?” I ask.
The reaper nods in reply.
I give the slightest of nods back, “I best be off then. I don’t want to be late,”
Placing my hand on the door handle, I open it, leaning back to avoid the nursing staff racing into Toby’s room in a panic, calling out for medical equipment and hitting alarms on the wall. I step over the body in the doorway, stopping briefly to look at it. No matter how many times I look, it’s still hard. Shaking my head, I make my way to the hallway and stand opposite Toby’s room, watching the commotion taking place. I straighten up my uniform and turn over my ID, making sure it faces outward, and wait.
A dedicated nurse, I was working the graveyard shift when I collapsed attending to a patient in room thirteen. My co-workers tried to resuscitate me, but it was no use. The brain hemorrhage had already done its damage. I’d always been feisty and in death, this was no different, as the reaper who was waiting for me didn’t know what’d hit him when I argued that I should be allowed to stay. I simply couldn’t, and wouldn’t accept that I could no longer care for my patients. I’d taken so much pride in it; I was not leaving without a fight. Beaten down, he eventually agreed to let me come back to the room when someone was ready to cross over; but on one condition and one condition only. I could only return on the day I passed - Halloween – and he kept his word, for I’ve stayed with many when they leave this world coming to them, day or night, so they are not alone. I am then waiting for them when they cross over; a familiar face to guide the way.
A blinding light interrupts my thoughts, and Toby gingerly makes his way from his bed to the hallway. His face, crinkled in horror and confusion, is quickly replaced with relief when he looks up and spots me.
“Nurse Liz? Am I…am I…am I dead?’ he whispers, his shocked voice barely audible.
“Yes, Toby. You are I’m afraid,” I nod.
He looks at his body on the bed, and I walk over to him, placing my hand on his shoulder, “Take all the time you need. It’s a lot to take in.”
He looks from his body to the one on the floor. My body. I feel him stiffen and I move around to the front of him, careful not to block his view, and together we watch as my body starts to fade away, before disappearing completely, leaving empty floor tiles in its place; just like it does every year.
“You’re….you’re here? That means you’re, you’re…dead too?” he cries. Tears have formed and are threatening to spill onto his flushed cheeks.
“I am, Toby. I died on this night many years ago,” I dip my head to the reaper as he walks past us, disappearing down the hallway and onto his next soul, “but I was able to strike a deal where I get to come back every year and help those who need help when they die, in this room, on this day. And this year it’s you that needs my help.”
The tears fall and Toby starts hiccupping with sobs as his new reality sets in, “My family, my friends….I’m never going to see them again?” he whispers.
“Not like you did before, no. But guess what? You have a new family up there, some that died before you were even born, and they are so excited to meet you. And that’s just family, there are others that are super excited to meet you too!” I beam, placing a black bag in his hand.
Toby frowns at the bag and looks at me in question, “Trick or treat? This is the same bag from before,” he opens it and pulls out the party popper I’d placed in there earlier, “Why would I need this now?”
“Because it’s Halloween and we have the biggest, coolest, Halloween party happening right now, and you, Toby, are the special guest of honour,” I reply, as I glance at the clock on the wall behind a busy workstation, “And, I’m clocking off early from my graveyard shift to be your very own personal chaperone.”
A nurse comes charging between us, Toby jumping to the side to avoid her, while I stand my ground, laughing as she passes through my right side, “Not that I think they’ll notice I’m gone anyway.”
Behind us, a glowing blue tunnel appears, loud music and laughter coming from within. We turn to look at it, Toby’s eyes wide in awe. I hold my hand out to him, my own trick or treat bag hanging from the crook in my arm, and smile, “What do you say, Toby? Are you ready to have some fun?”