1. The Ogre in the Polo Shirt
Standing in the entrance hall of Severnside train station Hannah Davies watched the rain blatter against the automated doors. Late running commuters came and went, bringing the rain in with them. Rather than try to fight the rain for control of her phone, she studied the screen and tried to memorise the directions it was giving her. She extended her umbrella, stepped out into the rain and it was enough to keep her suit dry.
Hannah was just passing under the medieval ruins of one of the city gates when she saw something in the corner of her eye. This stopped her mental interview preparation. She dreaded what it might be and tried to ignore. She failed. Slowly she turned to face the disturbance. About ten meters away, In amongst the crowds milling about the pavement was a figure that stood well over two metres tall but for its stooped posture. It or he, for he seemed male to Hannah and reality probably was, had leathery grey-green skin, a heavy set face and wore a black polo shirt with Hannah figured had to have been bought from a specialist store. The “man’s” eyes lacked irises and only his tiny pupils suggested where he was looking. Her heart began thumping and suddenly she didn’t notice the rain, focused as she was on the creature in front of her. She studied him as he in turn smiled and spoke to someone seemingly oblivious of the creature chatting with them. “It’s just a man,” Hannah began to think to herself, “just some tall guy who hits the gym, who you’re projecting this image onto. It’s probably just stress, you have an interview” she said, unconvinced,
She checked her watch and considered if she could take a detour around the man without being late for her interview. She took a deep breath, steeled herself and quickly walked past him. She stole glances at him as she walked. The “man” didn’t notice her and carried on conversing with his friend. His enormous leathery hand dwarfing his takeaway coffee. “He’s not real” she repeated in her head. He looked real. He sounded real. As she passed she sniffed the air and her nose was filled with the smell of set off fireworks and rain on mud. He smelled real.
Hannah hated coming to Severnside. Something about this city just brought the monsters out of the woodwork. Maybe it was just the crowds. Crowds always seemed to make her hallucinate more. Maybe it was a subconscious expression of a fear of crowds. She wasn’t sure and she hadn’t dared speak to a professional about it.
Ten minutes later she sat in the reception of Burroughs-Leary Pensions awaiting her interview. While she was still mentally preparing for the interview, she found her mind kept turning to the “man” she saw on the way here. She’d never got that close to one of these monsters before and never close enough to smell him. She looked at her reflection in the glass receptionist’s desk. She wore far more makeup than she usually liked to and thought she still looked tired. Her hair was wet but tidy, her once-blue undercut now redyed brown and grown out in hopes of getting a new job. A door opened and she and sharply dressed young man stepped out. He had an obviously forced smile on his face. “Ok Tim thanks for coming we’ll be in touch soon,” said a woman’s voice from behind him. Hannah tried to assess how well her interview competitor had done by his demeanour and expression. He walked past with his well pressed, dry suit, good haircut and sense of confidence. She formed an unintentional sneer form on her face but her expression quickly vanished as the voice spoke again. “Hannah Davies?” She turned to see a smartly dressed woman and nodded, before finally managing “yes, that’s me,”
“Hi, I’m Sarah, we spoke on the phone,” the woman said, looking to her with a pre-prepared smile “If you’d like to come with me,”. Hannah picked up her belongings and followed. Her thoughts of the monster in the polo shirt drifted away as she began to focus on the interview. She was lead through the door and across the open plan office which if it weren’t for the Burroughs-Leary signage would look like half a dozen other offices Hannah had been in while unemployed. She stole a glance out the office’s floor to ceiling windows. The office was on the seventh floor of the city’s only modern office building. Hannah thought it stood out like a sore thumb from the exterior but from inside she had to admit it gave a wonderful view of the city centre with its uneven slate roofs, tiny streets and imposing gothic spires.
Sarah turned to Hannah “I hope you don’t mind, I’ve invited Steve to sit in on the interview. He’d be your team manager if you were successful in your application.” Hannah nodded
“Sure, of course,” she smiled convincingly.
“As much as skills, we like to know how each candidate would fit into the feel and personality of the team,”
“Absolutely,” she smiled professionally.
Sarah went into the interview room first, followed by Hannah. Hannah noticed there was a strange smell of damp in the air as she walked in and her gaze immediately went to the other interviewer. Hannah stopped walking for a second. Steve was a goblin. That was the only word she could think of. Save for the pink fitted shirt and sky blue tie he looked for all the world like a goblin, last seen hunting Frodo Baggins through the pages of a Tolkien novel. “Hi,” said Steve the Goblin.
“Hello,” Hannah forced out. She sat quickly and looked across the conference table to Steve and Sarah, or more accurately, to Steve. His skin was a deep green and seemed permanently wet and greasy. His ears were long and each one tapered to a point long behind his small, rounded skull. He had professionally styled black hair. His teeth were jagged and each ended in a slightly rounded point and interlocked as he smiled at Hannah and leant forwards, offering her a hand. “Hi Hannah,” he said, his voice screeching and nasal and yet undeniably amiable and polite. It took a second for this to register with Hannah before she returned his greeting and shook his hand. It felt as wet as it looked.
She desperately tried to focus on the situation at hand. Surely, she thought, he was just some bloke who probably had greasy skin and bad teeth and her stress about the interview had morphed him into the creature before her. She hoped her reaction came across as simple interview stress. Which it was. It was, she insisted to herself. “Thanks for coming in Hannah,” Sarah said with the same practiced and well-worn smile.
“No problem, thanks for inviting me in,” Hannah said with similar practice. Although given she hadn’t been successful in finding a job she considered she should perhaps change up her replies. “The role seems very interesting, and the view from your office is amazing,” She continued as she held one hand in another, knuckles white in her lap. Sarah glanced over her shoulder out the window. “Yes, we’re quite lucky in that respect,”
“I’m from a small town, so being this high up is still very novel in that respect,” Hannah commented and the other two laughed.
“You went to University in Bristol though, that’s much bigger than Severnside,” Sarah replied.
“University of West of England,” Hannah said, “so I wasn’t exactly in the city centre, and living with my parents for three months makes you forget how big cities can be” This was going needlessly off topic, Hannah thought and she stopped there in an act of damage control.
“Right,” Steve began “What attracted you to this role?” Hannah could see his tongue, long and pointed like his ears, whipping around inside his mouth, visibly affecting his speech pattern. She could even see a slight reflection of Sarah on the right side of his slimy face. “Well,” Hannah began before realising she’d forgotten the rest of the sentence. She tried again. “I’ve got, I have,” another pause. She could feel her heart in her chest .. “I’ve got the range of skills as requested in the job advert.” she said, desperately trying to string together an answer.
“We asked for someone with at least a year’s experience in the office, all your roles to date have been in retail” Sarah replied. Hannah had expected this.
“I believe I have the relevant experience one would gain with a year in an office environment,” she said, her eyes flitting from Sarah to the Goblin. Hannah’s mind skidded to a halt as the goblin raised an eyebrow or would have if he had any. The bridge that overhung one of his sunken eyes raised in scrutiny and his tongue smacked around his teeth, stretching a good inch beyond his mouth. The smell of damp was obviously coming from him and Hannah found it was overpowering. “You know what,” Hannah suddenly said and she stood. She found her face stretching in a nervous grin. “I don’t think this role is for me, and you’re right.” she continued “I don’t have a year’s experience in an office environment,” she said as she gathered things. “My apologies for wasting your time,” and she left before the woman, or the goblin, could get over their stunned silence and reply. She crossed the office, signed out at reception like a good guest and took the lift back down to the rain covered streets.
She ignored the rain as she pounded the pavement back towards the train station. Her knuckles were white as she gripped her umbrella like a sword. She just wanted to be as far away from this city as possible. Maybe there were jobs in Ledworth? Who was she kidding, Ledworth was practically two streets, five pubs and a church. Hannah looked up to see where she was going and let out an audible curse as she saw what was ahead of her. Hannah had often mused on why her brain picked such clichés or easily categorizable creatures when she saw these monsters. She figured her subconscious was clinging to archetypes of fiction, drawn from childhood stories or creatures from films or telly. Like the goblin not ten minutes before there was no other way of describing the woman ahead of her than as a demon. The Demon seemed to be defiant against the rain in a sleeveless top and Capri jeans as she chatted idly to a friend. The first thing Hannah noticed was her eyes which seemed like lumps of coal burning from her eye sockets. They gave off flames that rose gently for several inches into the air, somehow leaving her eyebrows and hair alone. As the demon talked, Hannah could see she had interlocking pointed teeth. Behind her she had a long tail which ended in a vicious, horn like barb and whipped around behind her like a cat that had just spotted its prey. The light from the flaming eyes danced over her dark brown skin as well reflecting in the glasses of her companion. Two long bone white horns curled back over her head.
Hannah cursed again as she noted the woman stood in her way back to the station. She considered going around but she was gripped by a feeling of defiance. She wasn’t going to let these hallucinations dominate her life. She kept walking forwards past the demon woman and again stole glances as she went. Hannah walked close enough she could feel the heat from the flames of her eyes against the cold autumn day.
Hannah thought for a moment that without the hallucinations, the woman would be really cute when she stepped out into the road and collided with an oncoming car. Hannah didn’t remember a lot else after that. She remembered a brief moment where somebody dressed in green shone a torch into her eye and pinched her ear. The figure had fiery red hair which weaved about like something underwater. Someone picked her up, she looked at him. This was a figure with grey skin and huge tusks that caught the light of something flashing blue. There was a green flash of light and then nothing.
Beep, beep, beep. Her bloody alarm. Hannah thought. Beep beep. She’d get up soon.
“Can someone turn that noise off?” an elderly voice asked. She wondered what was this person doing in her bedroom. The more she thought about it, the beep wasn’t an alarm and she was sat propped up in bed. Suddenly She remembered the goblin, the demon and a brief mental image of a car bonnet
She opened her eyes and saw a fluorescent tube light hanging overhead. She turned her head towards the beeping and winced. “Can someone turn that noise off? It’s not like she can hear it, poor thing,” the old lady voice remarked again.
“It’s okay. I’m awake,” Hannah replied
“Oh sorry dear, I thought you were still out,” the old woman added. Hannah shifted her weight slightly. Her chest was tight and every movement hurt. The whole world seemed far away. She looked to the old lady. Was the figure very small, or very far away. Whatever had happened to her had shot her perspective. The figure seemed a foot or two tall but otherwise shaped like a human. A lady in her seventies perhaps with long white grey hair. Hannah went to feel herself but felt a tug at her wrist. She tracked the sensation to the cannula in her hand and felt the plastic tube under her skin, going into her vein.
The fact Hannah wasn’t in agony led her to figure she was on strong painkillers. This would explain the light-headedness. She wasn’t entirely convinced she wasn’t floating above the bed. She was reminded of having teeth removed as a teenager. Her first sensation of or like being drunk, years before she first tasted alcohol. She braced herself for neck pain and looked around. She moved her head and a dull stab went up the back of her like a blunted knife. Well it was definitely a hospital, that was reassuring. There were five other beds, four were occupied. Along with the tiny woman there was another woman, who sat reading the Daily Express. She had a pack of Snakes coming from her head. Some looked over the paper while one tried to eat it. Hannah laughed in a daze as the misbehaving snake was slapped away by the woman reading the paper. The laughter hurt. Another woman looked normal to Hannah though her white hair went all the way to her waist and covered her like an ever present shawl and Hannah kind of hoped she looked like that when she got old. The final bed was occupied but with curtains around it. Hannah eyed it as a green glow came from a gap in the curtains.
She craned her neck down with a wince. She definitely had whiplash or something similar. She was in a grey hospital gown. She considered the events leading up to the accident. She’d felt the heat from the demon and she’d smelled the goblin in the interview and all the patients sat around her seemed real. She thought on this for some time and it dawned on her that the idea of it being real was probably far more terrifying that it being fictional. Despite this all, eventually, she fell asleep again
Hannah woke up. A woman with a thick glossy beard was shining a torch into her eyes and saying her name. She fell asleep again.
Hannah woke up. A man with a blonde buzz cut was near her. “Hello?” she managed. She looked to him. His right arm had a sleeve tattoo of strange symbols. They seemed to move and dance around his skin. They constantly changed order and formed shapes and patterns on his arm. He put the clipboard down and looked to her and smiled warmly.
“Hello Hannah,” She fell asleep again.
Hannah woke up, it was night. someone was looking at her. A pale woman in a dark blue nurses uniform. Her eyes shone a bright red at their centre like she’d had LED’s placed inside her pupils. “Don’t mind me Hannah, I’m just changing your drip,” she said in a west country accent. She smiled and Hannah saw that two long fangs reached down over her lower teeth, each like a freshly sharpened knife. She opened a box. Something inside it gave off a bright blue light and cast long shadows across the room. Hannah could just about see other beds, with people asleep on them. The nurse produced a plastic bag filled with a liquid that was clearly the source of the bright light. It shone and danced over the nurses pale skin like patterns underwater as she hung it on the drip stand. Hannah watched the blue liquid move down the fine tube into her arm before she fell asleep again.
She woke again. An alarm had gone off. She opened her eyes to see figures rushing to the bed opposite her. Someone wheeled a trolley into the bay and pulled some machine off it. Despite the noise, Hannah fell asleep again.
Hannah woke an indeterminate amount of time later. She went to sit up and realised she was already propped up by the bed. She remembered the previous day and her monstrous surroundings before the pain meds had knocked her out. A quick glance reminded her than the patients were still there and mostly still not human and the glowing blue liquid was still flowing into her veins. It was dawn outside and the smell of toast and coffee filled the room so she figured it was morning. She ached everywhere, mostly in her head and her left arm. She followed the tube from her wrist to the strange blue liquid hanging next to her bed. She studied the bag briefly and saw it was marked with what looked to her like Norse runes and other strange symbols. She glanced around, double checking she hadn’t been dreaming. No she definitely was in a hospital. Nurses in various coloured uniforms stood talking to patients and serving food.
She looked at the patients. The woman with snakes for hair was enjoying her breakfast. The snakes moved around and some of them tried to get a bite of the breakfast cereal and others were fighting amongst themselves. The two foot tall lady sat nursing a seemingly huge cup of tea. The fairly human looking woman with hair down past her waist sat on the bed next to Hannah sipping coffee A man came in and checked the charts at the end of her bead. She recognised the slightly short man with a brown buzz cut with the moving tattoo. “Morning,” She said to him
“Morning Hannah, how are you?” he asked politely. He was well spoken with a hint of a local accent.
“Unsurprisingly, I feel like I hit a car, or a car hit me,” she laughed
“Well you’re not wrong there,” he noted.
“What’s the damage,” She asked, sitting up slowly. Her head felt warm and heavy.
“Well the doctors will discuss that later, but you’ve fractured a rib and they had to apply stitches to the back of your head.” Hannah instinctively went to feel the stitches and found the skin was sensitive to the touch. She looked back to the nurse
“Oh okay, cool,”
“I’m Nick by the way, I’m one of your nurses today,”
“Hi,” Hannah managed.
Another nurse approached them and spoke. Hannah noted the new nurse was reassuringly human looking. Nick looked to Hannah and smiled.
“I’ll be around if you need me, just ring the bell,” he gestured to a remote by her bed with a big red button on it. She nodded and smiled
She watched as two Healthcare assistants came in and asked what people wanted for breakfast. Hannah smiled as they both appeared reassuringly human. One of them, a short older woman with close cropped greying hair came up to her and offered her options in a slightly tired nasal voice. She ordered Brown toast, marmalade and corn flakes. All normal, all mundane. It was reassuring for a second until she looked past the nurse to see three of the twelve snakes on the other patients head looking straight at her. A thought hit Hannah. “Excuse me, nurse?” Hannah knew the woman wasn’t a nurse, but calling her Healthcare Assistant seemed awkward.
“Call me Kim,” she said with a tired smile.
“Ok, Kim, what day is it?”
“Tuesday,” So she’d only been out a day. Between the monsters and injuries and everything else this just warranted an “oh okay.” before adding “And I’m at Severnside Hospital?”
“Severnside Royal Hospital. Ward Thirteen,” she paused “Bay C Bed 5 to be specific” Kim said with a smile.
Kim returned with breakfast and placed it on the bedside table that could be pulled across her lap. It was only now she realised the small piece of paper. An NHS “With compliments” slip with a message hand written on it. “Cariad, see you soon, love of love, mum and dad,”
“Excuse me, do you know if my parents were here?” Hannah asked. Kim thought for a second.
“They phoned up last night. I think they are planning to come this afternoon,” Hannah’s face beamed with a smile and the HCA couldn’t help but smile back. “Thank you,” Hannah said. It hurt to smile, but it was so worth it.
Hannah ate her breakfast silently, removed from the wider world by her sleepiness and the painkillers going through her bloodstream. She found it hurt when her teeth applied pressure to anything. As she swallowed she could feel the bruising down her neck. Someone came and served her coffee. It was cheap instant coffee and the best and worst thing she had ever drunk as her body screamed for caffeine that it’d gone without for a whole eighteen hours.
Another indeterminate amount of time passed. Hannah knew she’d checked the clock but she’d forgotten what it had said. She checked and forgot again. Finally two figures entered the room. One was a Doctor and judging by the different coloured nurses uniform Hannah figured the other person was a Sister, or whatever senior nurses were called. Were Sisters still a thing? It took a moment to notice next to the doctor floated a pair of gloves. They were brown leather gloves with large metal rings around the cuffs. They moved around as if attached to an invisible person walking alongside the doctor. “Hello Doctor!” the woman with snakes for hair said quite loudly,
“Hello Mrs Katsaros, I’ll be with you in a minute, I just need to speak to this lady here. The two stopped at the end of her bed. The doctor, who was reading through Hannah’s file, offered her a polite smile. He was tall, with light brown hair in a short in an immaculate quiff. His white shirt was rolled up and he wore a Brown Paisley Waistcoat. “Hi Hannah, I’m Doctor Cunningham, this is Anne, she’s the ward manager. The nurse was quite striking. She was tall and quite imposing and even under the loose uniform she was quite muscular and toned. Her face was quite stern with defined cheekbones and a shaved head. She smiled politely. Hannah smiled back, admiring the woman’s look and pondered briefly if she should shave her head. It distracted her for a moment from the gloves which now floated just to the right of Doctor Cunningham, their fingers intertwined.
“How are you feeling,” Cunningham asked
“Okay, mostly high as a kite,” Hannah replied, frankly.
“Yes, you’re on opiates as pain management , they can have that effect. Are they managing your pain though?” he enquired
“Yeah, I think so. I occasionally get stabbing pains and my chest feels tight, it’s hard to tell, I’ve not long woken up”
“Right well if the pain gets worse we can give you something extra,” he said. Hannah’s gaze kept moving from him to the strange floating gloves and back again.
“Right, we’re going to send you for an MRI later today if possible,” Cunningham
“Is that the Big Ring one you go through or the big thing you go inside,” Hannah asked, a little excited
“the one you go inside,” He clarified
“cool,” she remarked. “I’ll have to take my piercings out?”
“Yes please, We just want to check if there’s any trauma to the brain tissue, we may also do X-Rays if thought necessary,” he said plainly. There was a pause, “If that’s okay?” he finally added.
“Yes, thanks,” Hannah said and they said their goodbyes. She watched as they walked to the next bed.
The doctors moved on and Hannah watched them speak calmly to the woman with the long hair in the bed next to her. She heard the woman’s name. “Jean”. Jean, Mrs. Katsaros, they all had names. Were they people? What if they were real? Did that mean they weren’t people? Or people but not human? Her mind considered this vast thought for a moment before a stabbing pain in her side overrode this and filled her head at the cost of all other thoughts. She reached for the buzzer and pressed it, soon enough. Nick was there. She asked for painkillers and Nick swiftly returned with a sweet tasting liquid to help and soon enough her eyelids grew heavy and she fell asleep again.
She awoke as one of the porters arrived mid-morning to take her down to radiology. A wheelchair rested in front of him. “Hello,” The porter smiled. He looked reassuringly human.
“Hi,” she said, smiling back.
“Radiology? MRI?” he said politely. She nodded and she swung her legs out of bed and hobbled over. She landed with a thud in the chair. “Careful,”
“Sorry, I think I’ve pulled a muscle in my,” she paused and sighed “Everything,” he chuckled at this.
“That is the correct medical term, yep,” he said before turning the chair around with Hannah in it . He headed first out of thee bay and then the ward. Hannah watched the patients and members of staff go past. She was a little disappointed to find out they did indeed still look like elves, ogres goblins and whatever else. Even the normal looking staff members seemed to have an eccentricity about them with bright, luminescent hair or dancing tattoos. Glancing into other bays she could see they too were populated by an even mix of monsters and normal looking humans. Well maybe they were all normal looking humans, she considered but to Hannah’s battered brain, many looked like inhuman creatures.
They left the ward at a tremendous pace. At first Hannah felt quite unsafe but was reassured by the knowledge that the porter knew what he was doing. Soon enough she was waiting in radiology and bathed in the normality of it all. Normal patients waiting for normal treatments. No glowing liquids or moving tattoos or whatever else. Was it chance that the hallucinations seemed to stop at the ward door?
The MRI was exactly what she had expected. With more wincing and slow movement she lay back on the stretcher sticking out from the enormous machine. She’d been dosed up again on drugs before the MRI and resisted screaming with pain as she lay flat. The Radiologist handed her a button to hold while she was inside in case the enclosed space became too much. There was one final check that she’d removed all piercings. She reassured the radiologist that all her piercings would’ve been visible if she still had them in. She hadn’t been convinced that they were magnetic and had to be removed but figured it was sensible given the potential alternative. She rested her head in the surprisingly comfy rest that engulfed her ears and muffled all sides. As the stretcher slid inside the huge machine she wondered for a moment if metal sparked and lit with plasma inside this machine, magnetic or not. Like her grandmothers plates with the gold inlay when put inside a microwave. Hannah’s grandmother had been so confused when she found her granddaughter microwaving clean, empty plates for fun.
THUNK. Hannah jumped briefly, taken by surprised. Another THUNK all around her and an enormous mechanical whirr, like she was inside a giant dot matrix printer or floppy disk drive. More whirrs, more thunks. Thunk thunk thunk thunk thunk. She found herself tapping her foot as the massive machine started putting out a beat. She found herself singing along, ”Hearts on a string like an old fashioned phone can, bang ringy ring and you think you’re gonna get some,” She mumbled to herself. The beat got louder. Her mind drifted onto another song. “Good morning Killer King you’re a Star. That’s perfect hold it right where you are, the weather’s kinda lousy today, dum de dum de dum dedum dum,”
The radiologist looked to his assistant, “Is she saying something?” they both frowned and looked through the glass at the patient inside the MRI. “I don’t think so,” his assistant replied
“She’s tapping her foot,” the Radiologist observed. “Is it affecting the scan?”
“No, we’re looking way further up,”
“Whatever, carry on then,”
The regular thumping of the machine continued and Hannah was off in her own world inside the machine. “Do you wanna dance? Do you wanna fight? Do you wanna get drunk and stay the night? Do you wanna smoke? Till our throats are sore? Make out then and then talk and then make out some more,”
“She’s started moving about quite a lot in there,” The radiologist commented, “and is she shouting for help?”
“She hasn’t pressed the button,” the assistant replied. The radiologist leant into the microphone.
“Are you okay in there Hannah?
Hannah froze on the spot as the radiologist’s voice came in through the pads holding her head in place. Her face flushed bright red. “Sorry, I um, yes! I’m fine!” she said quickly. “I guess I was singing to myself, sorry,”
“It’s fine, we just wanted to make sure, and can you stay still while you’re in there please?” the Radiologist added.
“S-sorry,” she stuttered and stopped singing. Still the song carried on in her head.
Following the scan Hannah returned by chair, to the ward. She braced herself for the return to her fantastical surroundings. In fact, the first member of staff she saw was a tall, lithe creature she could, true to cliché, only describe as an elf. She was taken aback by the man’s inhuman beauty. Silky arrow straight hair was tied back into a bun and he moved with a grace and purpose. The whole image was only spoiled by the slightly oversized white polo shirt he wore, adorned with a badge that told Hannah he was a physiotherapist.
A bright light caught her eye. A flickering yellow and gold. Her heart began to beat faster as she saw a familiar figure ahead of her. Speaking with the brown haired nurse from when she first came in, was the demon she’d seen in the street. She now wore green overalls with reflective stripes. Her hair was worn naturally with her horns sticking up from her brown curls and as before her eyes burned softly and their flames cast shadows over her and the nurse. Hannah’s eyes went wide, contemplating what this meant. Only to be taken into her bay and out of sight. “No!” she yelled. The porter stopped. They were already at her bed.
“It’s alright, you’re here, what’s wrong” he said, sounding ignorant. Hannah wondered whether wilfully or not.
“Nothing, I’m fine, thanks,” she lifted herself out of the chair and onto the bed with a wince.
Why was the demon here? If they were all hallucinations why should another one repeat itself so specifically? Perhaps it just meant the woman she was projecting onto worked here. Long odds of a city this size but it was possible.
The smell of dinners filled her nose. Shortly after, Kim the healthcare assistant walked in. “Hannah, love. We weren’t able to offer you a choice of lunch yesterday as well, you weren’t conscious” Hannah chuckled at this, laughing still hurt.
“It’s okay,” she said, focusing on the human looking woman in front of her.
“We’ve got Jacket Potatoes with beans or Tuna, Sandwiches, Chicken Curry, Shepherd’s Pie.” Hannah looked around and noticed the curtain around the bed three had been drawn back. Sat on the bed was a woman, bent over and aged. Her skin was a deep green and even by day she emitted a steady green glow. The old lady opened her mouth, her tongue snaking around her teeth. Her voice echoed around the rooms, into Hannah’s ears and down her spine, leaving her shivering.
“WHERE’S MY LUNCH?” She asked
Hannah interrupted Kim at this “Jacket and Beans is fine! Can’t go wrong” Kim looked at the menu
“Apple or orange Juice?”
“Um, er, orange?”
“Apple crumble for pudding?”
“Sure!” Hannah said, still looking at the old lady.
“WHERE’S MY LUNCH” she repeated again
“We’ll bring your lunch in a minute, Hannah, excuse me,” Kim turned away and faced the glowing woman in the corner. “Your lunch will be with you in a minute, Mrs Mortimer,” the old lady frowned.
“YOU DIDN’T ASK ME WHAT I WANTED!” Mrs Mortimer snapped. Kim smiled
“Yes we did Mrs Mortimer, you filled out a form yesterday. I think you asked for a shepherd’s pie,”
“I LIKE SHEPHERD’S PIE,” Mrs Mortimer smiled. Kim nodded politely
“Good, that’s what you ordered,” she said and walked back out of the bay. The old lady looked squarely at Hannah who felt like she couldn’t move her arms as the lady began to speak,
“DO YOU LIKE SHEPHERD’S PIE?” she asked, Hannah panicked
“YES,” Hannah forced a smile
“Y-yeah. I do. M-my mum makes a good shepherd’s Pie.” Hannah replied nervously. The old lady smiled a fanged smile back.
“SO DOES MINE, GOOD MOTHERS,” She said before she was distracted by her dinner. Soon enough, Hannah was too and she tore her gaze off of the old woman. Maybe it was the painkillers but she couldn’t seem to be worried for very long.
At some point after she must’ve fallen asleep as Hannah woke in darkness, something hit her in the face and she struggled to breath. She struggled for air and clawed at her face. She could feel the thing smothering her and grabbed at it pulling it away. Light filled her vision as she pulled held it in front of her and saw a hooded sweatshirt in her hands and heard a familiar laugh. “Dad, you utter cock!” Hannah said, looking up at her parents.
“I tried to convince him not to,” Hannah’s mum, Mary said with a sigh.
“I’m sorry Cariad, I couldn’t resist,” said Lloyd, Hannah’s dad, “Do I still get a hug?” he asked.
“Yes,” Hannah replied as her dad moved in for a hug, “but that doesn’t disqualify you from being a cock!” Her mouth felt weird, like it wasn’t well attached to her. Words were hard to get out. She then hugged her mum warmly. “ We came as soon as we heard you’d woken up, well, and once you were allowed visitors, How are you feeling?”
“I’m not really, to be honest, I’m doped up to my eyeballs,” Hannah said frankly.
“I bet!” Hannah’s mother exclaimed
“Well you did hit a car,” Her dad added,
“She knows that Lloyd!” snapped Her mother
“Well she might not, memory loss and all that.” he suggested
“It was rather silly of you,” her mum said, clearly filling the silence with whatever came to mind.
“Thanks mum, that helps,” Hannah sighed
“Yeah, thanks mum,” Hannah’s dad joined in, taunting his wife, “Now who’s being overly honest,” Hannah chuckled at this.
“I honestly thought you’d be hospitalised playing that sport of yours!” her mother said
“I’ve not so much as sprained a wrist playing roller derby, mum,”
“No head trauma? Might explain why you did what you did,” Hannah thought back to the burning eyes of the demon. Then she wondered how the heck she’d explain that to her parents.
“Otherwise, you came out of it pretty well!” Hannah’s dad smiled. Hannah looked at her then at her warmly smiling father. Then at the patient’s around them. They didn’t see any of them, did they? Then again maybe this was all in her head. Any semblance of security at her situation and conviction in her opinions melted away again back inside her own, probably malfunctioning brain. She was in the right place to find out though, her internal monologue insisted, and at least her mum and dad were there. They’d support her whatever. She knew what she wanted to do. She just needed to find the courage.
Hannah was left with a warm feeling in her heart, her laptop and a bunch of films to watch. She placed the laptop screen as a wall between her and the rest of the world and finished the wall with her headphones. Only the bravest member of staff would climb over this wall. She felt her head float and her movements not feel quite like they were her own as the painkillers continued to do their job.
As a film finished she pulled out her headphones, closed her laptop, inhaled deeply and purposefully pressed the call button. Nick answered.
“You’re still here!” she remarked
“14 hour shift,” he said with mock exhaustion
“Ouch, that hurts, and I’ve just collided with a car,” Hannah laughed, so did Nick. That was reassuring
“How can I help?” Nick said matter of factly. Hannah paused. Nick was about to ask what was wrong.
“Your tattoo moves about,” she remarked. “like, it moves about over your skin and you were talking to a woman with eyes that were on fire,” once she started she couldn’t stop. “I saw a man in an office with green skin, the vampire nurse, all of it!”
Nick thought on this then spoke quietly.
“So you can see?”
“Everything? Yeah,” .
“Snakes for hair?” he asked
“That shouldn’t be happening, you should be seeing wall to wall,” he paused, “well, humans,”
“Nick, I’ve been seeing things for years,” she found she was crying, “I thought I was hallucinating,” Nick smiled reassuringly.
“I probably shouldn’t be so blunt with you but no, you’re not hallucinating,”
“The woman with flaming eyes and a tail! She’s real?” Hannah said, sobbing slightly. She wasn’t sure how to feel about all this.
“Yeah, that’s Amy, she’s my flatmate. She’s actually a paramedic, she accompanied you in,” Nick smiled. “Actually she said she suspected that you could see the real her,”
“How’d she figure that?” Hannah asked
“Amy being,” Nick paused “well, being a demon, she doesn’t see the world like us, she can see emotions, auras, waves of happiness and anger, fear and joy, everyone giving them off and intermingling,” he paused “but around you, nothing,”
““I’m guessing most folks look at her and just see a normal,” she paused “or um, average human,”
“Yeah, non-human folks should be protected by” it was him turn to pause, “this may sound stupid but by a magical charm,” Hannah scoffed
“You just told me demons and goblins really exist, nothing can shock me right now,” Hannah chuckled and sniffed. Nick passed her some tissues.
“Amy’s human appearance isn’t super dissimilar to what you see but no horns, less sharp teeth, not-flaming eyes,” Hannah nodded at this. “Tell you what, I should get a doctor and we can have a chat about this,” Nick left her with her thoughts for a moment
He returned with Doctor Cunningham. Who drew the curtain around Hannah’s bed “So Hannah,” the doctor began “I hear you are seeing things as they really are,”
“Yep, demons, goblins, Mrs Katsaros’ snakes, whatever is going on with Nick’s Tattoo,”
“Right, we did wonder that about you” Cunningham said frankly.
“Because of the aura thing?”
“Partly that and partly because we’ve been trying to use magic on you for the last 24 hours,”
“That glowing blue liquid I was on last night? That some kind of magic potion?” she scoffed, finding the words absurd as they passed over her lips.
“More or less,” Cunningham commented “and we’ve been trying to cast magical spells on you,” Hannah raised an eyebrow to this. “Without my consent?!” she asked sternly and to her surprise she found she was actually offended. “Have I been sectioned or something?”
“No, no. It’s just. Under the Magical Secrecy Act we can perform magic on anyone deemed a threat to security, technically we were supposed to wipe your memory,” before adding, “but we didn’t! By the way!”
“You probably couldn’t if you tried,” Hannah said, finding her tone quite defiant and cocky.
“Well exactly,” Nick remarked
“As far as we can tell Hannah you’re basically the opposite of magical,”
“That sounds like an insult,” she chuckled. “What do you mean?” She asked
“Well most people are just about magical, have enough of a magical presence to be fooled by an illusion charm and go about their day, some people are more magically sensitive, some can train themselves to be more magically sensitive,”
“Like you two?”
“Well, sort of, actually I’m a Werewolf,” Cunningham said calmly. “In fact my first interaction with Ward Thirteen was after I was bitten, so I had to be introduced to all of this, like you. I understand how mind blowing it call all be!” he said reassuringly and Hannah found she was actually calmed by this
“And what about you?” Hannah asked Nick
“Ah, this is all standard to me, my family is a long line of people involved in magic in one way or another,” he explained.
There was a pause. Suddenly Hannah began to laugh. “This is so ridiculous! I can’t tell if I want to be terrified or relieved! Magic is real! Werewolves are real! It all sounds so stupid!” she paused “No offence. “ she added to the doctor. “So there magical creatures and people who can perform magic walking around, hidden in plain sight.
“Yes, pretty much,” Cunnignham said
“All over the country,” Hannah added
“Yes, well partly.” Cunningham began “over the years a lot of them have moved to Severnside, hence why Ward Thirteen is here,” Hannah nodded at this. Something started beeping at the doctors waist, Hannah noted it was a pager “Crap, sorry Hannah, can I get back to you,”
“Its fine, I’ve got enough to process,” she said quite calmly. “What’s the course of action now?”
“for what it’s worth the MRI didn’t show any brain damage, we can probably discharge you tomorrow morning,”
“And my um, new found knowledge of the world,”
“I’ll arrange for you to see Tariq, he’s an existential councillor. He really helped me after I was first bitten, helps people ease into this new world,”
“That’d be good, thanks,” And Cunningham was off again at full speed.
Nick looked to Hannah. “I should probably get back to work, let me know if you need anything,”
“You seem pretty calm about all this,” Nick said
“It’s partly the pain meds!” she chuckled. “Also,” she paused, “this might sound weird, but it’s reassuring. You’re just doctors and nurses and you’re all really supportive!”
“Good to hear,” Nick smiled. There was a pause
“I think I want to get some sleep,” Hannah said finally.
“Me too, half an hour left,”
“Good night Nick,”
“Good night Hannah,”