The Cleansing

Joshua Simmons lies on a small, uncomfortable hospital bed, his head propped up by two fluffy pillows. A plastic tube juts out of a mouthpiece over the lower half of his face. At the other end it is connected up to a tall machine on a stand. A monitor sits on top, measuring Simmons’ vitals. A UV drip and stand are also attached to him. His eyes slowly open and stare groggily up at the ceiling above. The harsh glare of the overhead light is too much for him so he closes his eyes again. He repeats this process several times. With each repetition he is able to keep his eyes open for a little longer until eventually he is able to lie there with his eyes completely open. They are puffy and red, thin slits staring up sleepily. Simmons shifts his attention to his hands and experimentally he wiggles his fingers. The digits feel stiff and heavy. The tendons and muscles ache, feeling stretched and weak. The door opens and a thin, rather severe looking nurse enters. A doctor, also female follows behind, dressed in a long white coat. Simmons, disorientated and unable to cope with the presence of other human beings, quickly shuts his eyes. The nurse moves overs to the bed and glances over him with an uninterested eye.

‘Looks like he is still dead to the world.’

The doctor picks up a tablet hanging off the foot of the bed and begins tapping away on it silently. The severe nurse wrinkles her nose at Simmons.

‘He needs another bath. And a shave.’ She adds, inspecting Simmons’ messy tangle of facial hair. ‘Not that it will improve things much, he is an incredibly ugly man.’

Simmons has to use all his might and willpower to stop himself frowning at the severe nurses’ blunt turn of phrase. To his surprise, the female doctor joins in, agreeing with the nurses’ statement.

‘Give me Mr. Collins in room 3 over him anyday. I sometimes think it would be better to just pull the plug and be done with it. Put him out of his misery.’

The nurse laughs. Simmons has no idea what is going on. Are they just nasty people or is this behaviour perfectly acceptable? He grows certain that if he opens his eyes right now, both women would hastily change their tone.

The female doctor produces a torch and is just about to pull back his eyelids, when Simmons suddenly opens his eyes. She jumps back in surprise, much to Simmons’s delight.

‘For heaven’s sake, you nearly gave me heart attack you daft bugger.’

‘What?’ Simmons croaks, his vocal chords struggling to be heard.

The nurse carefully disconnects the tube and mouthpiece. Simmons takes a deep lungful of air, feeling as if he has just swum up from the bottom of a lake and broken the surface. His throat feels like a cement mixer and his mouth is dried and cracked.

‘You better move over. I will need a lie down after that.’ She continues.

Simmons’s head hurts, as he frowns at the two nonchalant women. This wasn’t the reaction he had expected. He had presumed that when he opened his eyes he would be met with guilty faces and perhaps a meek muttering of an apology. But neither of the women look bothered by their behaviour. Instead they wear expressions of irritation, as if Simmons’s return to the world has annoyed them.

‘How are you feeling?’ The severe nurse asks, peering over the doctor’s shoulder at the tablet.

‘Okay.’ Simmons replies.

‘Well that’s doesn’t add up. You should be feeling like absolute rubbish.’ The doctor states.

‘Excuse me?’ Simmons frowns.

‘Mr Simmons, you have been in a coma for thirty years. At the very least you should be feeling groggy and a little disconnected with everything.’

Simmons gapes at the doctor and looks around the room. They must be pulling his leg.

‘What are you talking about?’

‘Ah of course, the amnesia. Yes its common with most coma patients.’

‘But how?’

‘Car crash.’

She scrolls down the tablet with a finger.

‘According to your previous doctor, you were involved in a car collision with a young family.’

‘Are they alright?’

The severe nurse shakes her head and says bluntly. ‘They died upon impact as a result of your reckless driving.’

‘I beg your pardon?’ Simmons manages, slightly taken aback.

‘I quite agree. It was entirely your fault. I hope you’ve learnt your lesson Mr. Simmons.’ The doctor chips in.

Simmons stares at the two women, his mouth open, unable to process this sudden and startling information.

‘You don’t have a very good bedside manner.’

‘You’re right we don’t.’ The nurse and the doctor say together.

Simmons can’t figure out what is wrong with the two women. It is almost like they constantly speak their minds with no regard for anyone’s feelings. Simmons breaks into a coughing fit and the severe nurse helps him up to a seated position and assists him in gulping down half a cup of water. This also takes Simmons by surprise. On the one hand the two women are blunt, rude and prickly but on the other hand here they are taking care of him and by the looks of it have been for the last thirty years. A beeping noise goes off and the doctor pulls out a small see through glass square. It is pulsing red. Simmons stares at it curiously, wondering what it does.

‘I have another matter I must attend to. I will check back in on my way past. Julie here will look after you in the meantime.’

The doctor exits, leaving Julie and Simmons alone.

‘Can I get you a cup of tea or anything?’ She inquires.

The question seems so blase after the previous conversation where she accused him of killing a family. Its not even forced. Julie appears perfectly content, as if the matter has gone from her mind.

‘That would be great.’

Julie leaves and Simmons is left alone once more. He waits a couple of seconds before attempting to sit up. His body is limp and weak and it takes a tremendous amount of effort to readjust into a seated position. His face turns red with the effort and his temples burn fiercely. His attempt to climb off the bed fails miserably and his legs buckle underneath him and he crashes to the floor. His elbow stings hotly where he banged it. Somehow he manages to crawl across to a chair up against the far wall and pull himself shakily up. He stands, holding onto the chair for support, his skinny legs wobbling like jelly. A set of closed blinds face him. A panel is set in the wall beside it. Simmons brushes it with his hand and the blinds separate. A ray of golden light hits him in the face. Blinded, he stumbles back, shielding his eyes.

‘What do you think you are doing?’

Simmons feels a hand on his arm and looks round to see Julie, looking particularly severe.

‘Back to bed you.’

Simmons forces his gaze back to window and his mouth fall opens. A dense forest of trees and fauna stretch out before his eyes. Dotted here and there are a series of wooden cabins, some on the ground, some built up and around the tall trees. The sky above is clear and bright. The nurse smiles at his shocked expression.

‘Quite something isn’t it?’

Simmons nods silently, at a loss for words.

‘Come on you, let’s get you back into bed before you fall down.’

Simmons complies and allows Julie to assist him back to the bed.

‘How did this happen?’ Simmons asks, once he is settled back in bed.

‘What, that?’ Julie replies, gesturing at the window.

Simmons nods and takes a sip of tea. It tastes like cardboard and he grimaces. He notices Julie looking and forces himself to let out a sigh of relief, pretending to enjoy it.

‘It’s been like that for the last twenty years.’

Simmons chokes on his tea.

‘Ten years after I went into coma? What the hell happened to instigate such a change?’

Julie shrugs.

‘A lot of dirty laundry was shared and then after a while it was cleaned.’

Simmons forces down another gulp of tea.

‘Don’t drink the tea. I know it tastes like crap.’

Simmons swallows.

‘Why didn’t you say anything?’

‘Wanted to test a theory. You know you’re not like other people.’

If Simmons is the odd one then what must everybody else be like. Head starting to hurt again, he changes the subject quickly.

‘But what happened to all the buildings and skyscrapers?’

‘Gone. Well most of them anyway. There are still a few left but most of them were demolished after The Cleansing.’

‘The Cleansing?’

‘Oh of course you wouldn’t know, how silly of me. A law was passed, forcing everyone to be honest.’

Simmons breaks into a croaky fit of laughter. Julie’s face remains emotionless and Simmons’ smile fades.

‘You’re serious.’

Julie nods emphatically.

‘Hence this.’ She gestures once again at the window. ‘Think all of those corporations built on greed and blood money. Not a problem anymore.’

Simmons scratches his head, struggling to cope with this bemusing revelation.

‘But surely there must be a lot of problems?’

Julie shrugs.

‘Well…yeah naturally. But at least if someone does something wrong they have to admit it.’

‘But what about people’s feelings? If everyone is honest, don’t people get offended?’

Julie’s faces darkens.

‘It is true that at first it took a while for people to come round to the idea. Gosh I remember one week where we had an influx of suicides. You know…the sensitive souls.’

‘That’s awful.’ Simmons exclaims, looking deeply mortified.

‘But its not like that anymore. Everyone can take it. Their skins have thickened.’

Simmons falls silent, frowning hard. It all seems so absurd. This hospital, the world outside, the words issuing from Julie’s mouth. Julie gives Simmons a sympathetic look.

‘Why don’t you lie back down for a while? It’s been quite an intense morning for you.’

Simmons is keen to know more but his head burns with a deep migraine and fatigue keeps making his eyes droop. He nods silently and offers no resistance as Julie assist him in lying down. Once he is settled and is beginning to drift off, Julie quietly closes the blinds, turns off the light and exits the room. As Simmons slowly fades out of consciousness The Cleansing is the last thought occupying his throbbing head.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mrs. Mayhew

Sam Townsend was woken by a loud knock and looked up groggily from his slouched position in the chair. Townsend was in his late forties with grey, balding hair and white flecked stubble. He reached for a half full mug of coffee on the desk in front of him and grimaced as he took a large gulp. It was stone cold. A second knock on the door forced him out of the chair, the desk wobbling slightly as his podgy gut bumped against it. He wore a crumpled yellowing shirt, creased dusty trousers and a purple tie lowered to half mast. At the door he paused and regarded the shadowy outline through the frosted glass. Townsend extended his hand out and placed his palm on the glass of the door. A blue outline pulsed around his fingers and a loading bar appeared above Townsend’s hand. When it reached 100 percent he removed his hand and straightened his tie. A holographic image appeared on the glass in front of him, projected onto the outline beyond the door. It displayed a woman in her mid twenties with blonde hair and blue eyes. Townsend swiped the display aside and another display popped up to replace its spot. This contained information on the woman from the previous slide such as name, age, place of birth. When Townsend was satisfied with the display he rolled up his left sleeve, revealing a silver panel strapped around his wrist. Using his right hand he swiped the two displays over on to the panel, saving them as a portable copy and pulled his sleeve back down. There was a third knock on the door, louder and quicker. Flattening down his shirt and clearing his throat, Townsend opened the door and put on his best smile.

‘Mrs Mayhew I presume?’

 

Townsend emerged from the taxi, his large overcoat trailing behind him. The driver nonchalantly thrust his arm out the window, revealing a silver panel of similar design to Townsend’s strapped to his wrist. Townsend produced his own panel and placed it face down above the driver’s. There was a whirring noise as a series of numbers decreased, turning red on Townsend’s panel and a series of numbers increased, turning green on the driver’s panel.

‘Later Sam.’ The driver said with a tip of his flatcap and pulled away from the curb.

Townsend watched the taxi disappear into the line of traffic crowding the solar paneled road. He glanced at his wrist panel and sighed at the negative number display. Private investigating didn’t pay well and as he stood there on the sidewalk Townsend was seriously considering changing his profession to cabbie. Tall buildings and skyscrapers towered above and around him. A large percentage of which which had whole floors dedicated to mini gardens of plants and bushes. This resulted in many of the tower blocks consisting of several levels of offices interspersed with these garden style balconies. Townsend swiped through a couple of displays on his panel until he found a miniature map. A red pin flashed in its center. He tapped it with a finger and a 3D projection of the map materialized around him, mapping itself onto the street. A small restaurant on the opposite side of the street, situated between a tall skyscraper and a block of offices turned a bright shade of red and began pulsing. Townsend’s lip curved into a smile and he tapped the panel again. The 3D projection vanished and the red aura covering the building along with it. Townsend pulled the brim of his trilby down and crossed the road.

The diner was busy with sounds and smells. The chink of cutlery on plates and wafts of sizzling bacon from the back kitchen causing Townsend’s eyes to water from the intensity. He scanned the populated tables and booths. A vacant booth at the rear of the diner, near the toilets caught Townsend’s attention and he moved over to it. He squeezed past a flustered waitress who smiled at him awkwardly. The red leather sagged beneath his weight as he settled into the booth. It was a hot day, not helped by the heavy cooking fumes from the kitchen. Townsend removed his hat and wiped his sweaty forehead with the back of his sleeve.

‘Morning hun. What can I get ya?’

Townsend looked up to see a young, blonde waitress hovering impatiently over his table, chewing gum noisily.

‘Coke.’

‘Ice?’

‘Yep.’

When the waitress had left, Townsend leafed through his panel displays until he found a screen with two small photographs, side by side. Glancing round to make sure no one was looking he positioned the panel over the table face down and a moment later two larger copies of the photographs appeared on the tabletop surface. The photograph on the left was of a short brunette with cat’s eyes and a mole. The one on the right showed a man in his mid thirties with dark hair and a goatee. Townsend studied the photos intensely and then glanced round at the surrounding booths and tables. It took him a while but eventually he spotted the pair sitting at a table near the window. The man was wearing a smart black suit and had a briefcase on the chair next to him. The woman wore a long green dress and red heels. She puffed from a thin cigarette holder between her fingers. The man sat with his back to Townsend, making it hard for him to see what he was doing. The waitress returned with his coke and ice and plonked it down hard on the table, making Townsend jump. Townsend took a sip from the glass and felt instantly cooled by the iced beverage. Reaching into his pocket he produced a pair of dark ray bans and put them on. He slid a finger down the left temple of the glasses and a small camera in the left lens zoomed in on the woman. Her face blurred for a second and then faded into focus. She was laughing at something the man had said. Townsend spotted a mirror on the wall above the woman’s head and repositioned the camera on it. Through the mirror he was able to see the man’s reflection. It wasn’t the clearest image as the mirror was a little dirty but it was enough to show the man’s expression. He was eyeing the woman  hungrily, his left eyebrow arched in intrigue. Townsend moved his finger over to the right temple tip and he gave it a tight squeeze. A red button began to flash in the bottom left corner of the right lens, recording a video of the man. The woman reached out and placed her hand on top of the man’s, leaving it their to linger. Townsend shifted the camera to their hands, continuing the recording.

 

Townsend stood in the shade of a narrow alley, puffing on an electric cigarette. His attention was focused on a large, suburban house on the opposite side of the street. An electric Honda sat in the driveway and the lights in the house were on. Two shadows moved behind the curtains of one of the upstairs bedrooms. Townsend reached into his coat pocket and produced a small mechanical toy. It was designed to look and move like a wasp. He stroked a finger along the toy’s back and it powered into life, its wings beating the air rapidly. As it hovered in front of him Townsend brought up a live feed from the wasp’s internal camera on the panel. As well as providing him a live feed he was also able to control and direct the mechanical bug and this is exactly what he did. He made a beeline for the upstairs window, using the panel to steer the bug around a nearby telephone poll. At the window he slowed the bug, allowing it to hover in front of the house while he decided his next move. The window was open by a crack. Townsend took a deep breath and with extreme delicacy and skill maneuvered the small bug through the tiny gap and into the room.

 

Townsend placed his cold cup of coffee on a thin glass plate on the desk in front of him. The plate turned a shade of crimson and steam began to rise from the mug. There was a loud ping and the crimson from the plate faded. He scooped up the mug and blew on it a few times before taking a sip. Returning to his chair he searched the video library on his panel, his finger hovering over a video with a icon of two people entwined on a bed. He held down his finger on the video until a list of options popped up. He selected Send To and cycled through his contacts until he came across Mrs Mayhew. He selected Send To Mayhew’s Panel and a few seconds passed as the file was sent. There was a kerching sound on his panel as he took a sip of coffee and consulting the device he discovered a increase of funds in his account. There was a knock on the door and Townsend closed his eyes and sighed. On the second knock he climbed out of his chair, leaving the half finished mug of coffee on the table.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.