The horrible coma call’d living
Michael blinked, and the shadows receded to the spaces between the stacks, and along the exposed spines of the books. It was cold tonight, perhaps the heating had broken, as his breath misted outwards. He found it hard to concentrate upon the titles. They seemed to swim so in the murk.
One of the lights somewhere was flickering.
He sighed, looked at the reading list for the essay on the argument from evil. There was nothing here that made sense, and nothing of these in among the books that lay clustered upon the shelves.
Then, he found himself with a promising title: God’s Defenders, by S. T. Joshi. He pulled it out, with some small difficulty, as the slightly damp cover stuck to the other books, refusing at first to pull away. It made a faint sucking noise as it came out. It opened easily enough, though, the pages feeling limp beneath his fingers. And it opened to a point almost halfway, where something thin and slick served as a bookmark.
But the book itself hardly made sense. It was about dreams. It was, looking at the header, Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, and in wrong covers. So he sighed, closed the book, and put it aside; but as he closed it, the thing, the bookmark, fell out.
It was a photograph. It was the head, or face, of a sleeping young lady. The shadows were washed out, and it had been taken from above, so that everything seemed flat and pale. The face was unmarked, save for a pale and bloodless scar, fresh, upon her temple, which was otherwise empty. Round the edges, it looked like the picture had fogged; it seemed washed of any colour, save paleness and her black hair, eyebrows and eyelashes.
She seemed peaceful, though Michael felt disturbed by something.
He put the photo into his breast pocket, and went back to his bag. He packed what books he had found into the crook of one arm, and left to find the loans desk upstairs. There, the librarian waited in the otherwise deserted library, and the coldness seeped into Michael, as he allowed the silent figure to scan them, stamp them, and deactivate the tattle-tape.
The fog outside pressed unfeelingly against the window. He went out, books in bag.
Standing there, looking blankly at the fog, was the same young lady as in the photo, the wisps of fog curling damply against her black hair. He noticed that there was no scar.
“Can I give you a lift?” he asked.
“To Earl Page?” she replied.
“Sure,” he said, “that’s no problem. Follow me to the car.”
He led up the hill, past the shut bistro and shops, to the car park. Here, he led her to his car. He unlocked her door, then his, as she got in and put her seatbelt on. The cold and fog seeped into them, as he started the car, and set the heater, which barely gave out any warmth.
He didn’t speak, neither did she. Instead, they went silently in the fog, along the ring road, around and down to the intersection where they would turn right to the lower colleges, and to what was once the old annex, where Michael had his room.
He checked for traffic, then started to turn. But there was a sudden glare, an onrushing field of white in the fog, from the left. Then there was an impact, a dull, sudden noise, and darkness.
Michael opened his eyes to reveal a room lit by a single recessed light. It was pale but bright, washing the room into a chilling pallidness. There was only a narrow cot, an aluminium-framed bed with sterile white sheets. The walls and ceiling were likewise white. The floor was a faded grey, with scuff marks.
He called out: “Hello? Is anyone there?”
The sterile smell, which had faded to almost insignificance, and the sterility of both the room and the bed, led Michael to assume that he was in some hospital. Then he remembered the accident, and sat up.
He gingerly got to his feet, and looked for a bedside table, or a locker, but there was nothing. His head throbbed, ached. There was only the bed, and a door in one of the walls. He opened this, and tenderly made his way into a long corridor.
Directly ahead of him was a door, similar to his. At either end, thin wisps of fog led deeper into a white expanse. It was cold, and everything was white, so white that he could scarcely tell where walls met fog. Someone had left doors, or windows open, and the fog had come and filled everything. He went through the other door.
There was the young lady, in a coma perhaps, in a bed. As in the photograph. It was the same scar that marked her pale and bloodless forehead. There were no tubes, no table, and she, like everything else, and himself, Michael noted, was in white. There was a window. But outside was only fog.
Michael stepped out into the corridor again. He had to find someone, find out what was happening. He walked down one way, into a fog cold, and dampening, and depressing. The corridor never seemed to end. It just swallowed him up in its mist, and there was no end, no corner, no door or obstruction. Soon, Michael forgot where he was going, why he was going. Instead, there was this endless corridor, with its blank whiteness and endless fog.
He didn’t believe in this, in deceitful demons or dreams, just in walking, in walking… in walking….