Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NaNoWriMo '09, Chapter Ten: A Negative Bodycount

The below is a section of the novel that I wrote for National Novel Writing Month. It isn't a stand-alone story, and it's probably not worth your time to read. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word novel in a month so wordcount is valued above quality. This is a good thing, as it encourages people to actually finish a project. Nobody expects that the result will be ready for public consumption without heavy editing. If you want to read it for some reason you can view the whole thing in one place HERE although that's still totally unedited and terrible. You have been warned.




Mary is chatting with an ambulance driver when I find her at the door, which is unusual. She's generally quiet, although part of that is from other people since they think she's homeless - her hair is a tangled mess of pink with ghost-white roots, and she wears a stained dress that looks like it was designed to be worn by either a bridesmaid or the subject of a particularly nasty practical joke. I've never seen her wear shoes, but her feet are always in perfect condition - dirty, yes, but never damaged. I suppose that's not a surprise. The head of surgery walks past and starts to say something to me before noticing who I'm with and turning to walk the other way. It's not an insult, it's a sad attempt at plausible deniability.

"I didn't realize you had white hair," I comment, trying to fill the empty air as we climb onto the elevator. Mary's perfect youthful face crumples into a frown and she sighs, patting her head as if to reassure herself that her hair is still up there.
"Oh, yes. I used to have such lovely auburn hair when I was younger, but you know how it is. Grey, then silver, then white. I try dyeing it fun colors but I still miss it sometimes."
"Mary, you can't be a day over twenty."
She laughs, eyes twinkling as she slaps me on the arm and steps off of the elevator.
"Bless you, child. I'll be ninety-eight next month."
And I suppose that's not such a surprise either.

Mary knows where we keep the lost causes, and she heads straight over. Stepping lightly from bed to bed she touches each one, and I can see vital signs picking up all over. Some of them seem to be improving just from proximity, though that might be my imagination. The first time I saw her, Mary had snuck in without permission and healed an entire wing of the hospital before someone called the government in. One of the nurses smuggled Mary out and made her promise to be more careful, and now she hits a different hospital each day and tries to leave some of the external damage while healing organs and clearing out infections. It's less obvious that way. She gets tired sometimes and we can't have the numbers get too unbelievable anyway, so the local hospitals track the lost causes and fight to keep them alive until 'Nurse Mary' shows.

We make sure never to mention the ones she was too late for, even if she only missed them by five minutes, and we've never asked for a way to contact her in an emergency because there's always an emergency. We take what she gives, and shut up about it. Nobody knows if Mary would be able to heal herself after working too hard and passing out like she did that first time.

On the chart of each one she touches I mark a small 'M' as I follow behind her, so that the doctors won't be caught off guard by the change in condition and will re-assess any medication. It's a good system, one that even the most paranoid and anti-"freak" doctors have silently signed off on. After all, they can tell she's not doing any harm.
"I was worried when you didn't come yesterday, Mary."
She stops and looks at me as if she's confused. Her hand is still on the forehead of a patient and I wince as I realize the scar over his eye has vanished. Unless I'm mistaken, it was from some previous incident and long since healed. I really shouldn't distract her when she's working.

"Oh, right," she says, "I had to go to Las Vegas on short notice. The government burned down my friend's bar, did you hear about that? Burned it right down. Not that I can get drunk anyway… I used to take the most wonderful pills, I remember when I found some LSD that my granddaughter left lying around - it was the sixties, you know, and I couldn't really be too upset - and I took it and had the most incredible trip. Just lovely. I can't seem to do it anymore, though. I should ask Maggie if she remembers that. Her memory isn't what it used to be, though - she's only sixty but it seems to run in our family."

It's the most that Mary has ever said to me. Just like that she's silent again, flitting from one room to the next and working her magic. She steps into the last room and I hurry in after her - I'm not sure she should do anything with this one. His injuries are so severe it's a wonder he's made it this long, and Mary's options will be to perform an outright miracle and risk exposing our system or do such minor repairs that he'll still wish he was dead. She's just staring at him… maybe she's having the same thought.
"He… he was hit by a bus, Mary. On the freeway. He didn't have any identification on him, but so far nobody is looking. I don't know how you are with brain damage, but… he might be best off without help."

"Damage I can do fine. It's brain defect I'm bad at. Anyway, I think I know this one."
She leans over and for a second I think she's going to kiss his cheek - and then instead she screams in his ear. "Chuck, you reckless goof!" the outburst startles me, but not as much as what happens next. Mary throws her arms around the mangled remains of the patient and before my eyes the bandages stretch and push aside, allowing a new arm and leg to push past - pale and new like a sprout in a garden. The patient gasps and sits up as best he can with Mary all over him, then sees her and squeezes back, laughing.
"Nurse Mary, you filthy old woman! Do you have any idea how long I was waiting for you to find me? Worst game of hide and seek ever, darling. Is everyone okay? Is the Spider alright?"
Mary wails, burying her face in the man's hospital gown so that it looks like he's grown a tuft of pink and white chest hair. "Oh, Chuck… the Spider is gone. Franklin got us out, mostly, but he left Big Dave and the bouncer and Eddie Shorthand behind. White was despondent, couldn't stop crying about David. She hadn't admitted it yet but she has a real thing for him."

It's like I'm not here. Maybe it's better that way, though - plausible deniability and all that. Still, I can't help but listen in and try to put the pieces together. The bar must have been full of people like Mary… lord, that thought gives me the shivers. I'm grateful for all that Mary does, of course, but a whole bar full of them…
"Don't worry, Mary. I know where the feds keep everyone. I can explain things to Franklin, get him to take us in there and get everyone out. It'll all be okay."
Mary holds up a finger and looks at her watch, then seems to be counting in her head. Her lips are moving a little.
"No… no, I think it's probably too late to talk to Franklin about anything… but you're right that everything will be okay. Oh, speaking of!"

Mary pushes past me and looks out the window at the storm clouds gathering.
"Oh, Chuck, we're late. I thought since the hospital was so close it would be okay. We have a very important meeting to go to at the Squid. Very important. Can you carry me dear? I'm exhausted after giving you those limbs back. Tread carefully, your legs might be a bit lopsided for a while."
The patient is just a blur and a rush of wind and both of them are gone. I look out at the clouds, and something looks wrong about them. I don't like this one bit. I head down to the staff lounge and look at the faded poster next to the phone. The emergency "freak" hotline number is there, along with a reminder about how dangerous they are and how urgent it is that they be reported.

I pick up the handset and stare at that poster for a long time. I read the paragraph about all the charges that can be leveled against you for failure to report, the statistics about how many people freaks kill each year… except… those numbers don't count everyone, do they? Nobody is tracking the lives Mary has saved. She's been coming for six years, hitting five hospitals a week at least and probably treating the homeless in-between. How many people does she save when she does her rounds? Forty a week doesn't seem unreasonable. I look at the poster again. "Each year, these dangerous biological weapons kill more than fifteen hundred people in the Los Angeles area alone!" Hmm. Forty people a week, fifty-two weeks in a year… I dial the phone. An internal number.
"Hey Greg. Look, we're not too bad and I think that I'm coming down with something, so… I'm going to take the rest of the day off. Yeah? Thanks."

I clock out, still unsure if I'm doing the right thing. I used to drive past Disneyland every day, I grew up being told how dangerous the "freaks" are. Not that they were ever dangerous enough for us to move away, of course - nobody moves away from southern California for reasons of safety. Wildfires? Fine. Landslides? No problem. Earthquakes? Eh, not that often. Super-powered terrorists blowing up theme parks or - more often - robbing convenience stores certainly isn't enough to tip the scales. The universe will have to try a lot harder than that to scare people away from SoCal. Still… I can hear the thunder rolling outside, and I hurry to my car hoping I can make it out of town before the storm starts. Just in case.