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My thoughts were interrupted by Al’s harsh whispers from the inside.
“Spruce!” He sounded quite tense- like he’d messed up something.
Oh shit. Not again.
I hurried in. The Creator was still asleep, thank god, but Al looked like he’d seen a ghost. He was clutching his left arm, the syringe lying half-empty on the floor at his feet.
My hand automatically clapped over my mouth.
“Yes. Now hurry.”
Al had assured me that he would not die, at least for the time being. He had about three hours to live unless he was treated. We’d already lost the thirty minutes taken to get to the nearest hospital (counting in Al’s vomit stops- otherwise it’d have taken us twenty), so counting in death’s grace time, Al had around two hours.
By now, Al was clutching both his left arm and his stomach. He’d vomited twice already, and he was slowly but surely beginning to zone out.
“Spruce- you should-”
He almost fell. I grabbed him by the shoulders.
“-tell my mom-”
“Hey!” I shouted into his ear. “Hey, listen to me, douchewad. I don’t want any of your sentimental crap. If you love your mom so much, go tell her yourself. You hear me?”
Al smiled a small smile.
“Dude, you’re dying.”
“You’re beginning to talk like me.” With that, he almost fainted, but I slapped him hard and kept him awake.
We barged in through the glass doors to the ER.
“Emergency!” I shouted, which was pretty unnecessary considering that we were in the said room. But whatever, my best friend was dying.
Two nurses clad in blue uniforms ran up to us.
“My friend here is dying,” I pushed Al towards them and said as calmly as I could. “He has injected himself with a lethal dose of potassium chloride.”
One of the nurses called to someone, and promptly a man pushing a trolley stretcher came running up to the nurses.
While the nurse who’d called to him told him to ‘establish IV access and initiate ECG monitoring’, I and the other nurse helped Al up on the stretcher.
“Don’t you go dying on me, you little son of a bitch.”
I started to go with the man and the nurse who’d called him, but the other nurse held me back.
“Sir, you will have to wait outside, please, while we initiate his treatment. You will need to register your patient at the reception desk.”
“But I’m his friend. I should be with him- he hasn’t even got any family here,” I tried to argue with her.
The nurse replied with her trained polite professionalism. “I understand, sir, and I’m very sorry for his predicament, but you’ll have to follow the procedure.”
I sighed and walked off to the reception.
A plump lady in one of those blouse-and-long-cloth attires I’d seen many times earlier- a saree, they called it, I think- sat at the desk. I told her I’d taken ‘my patient’ to the ER, and she handed me a form attached to a clipboard along with a blue ball-point pen. Under ‘Patient name’, I wrote Alden Woodston and faked both our ages to twenty.
As I sat down in the waiting area, I wondered what could’ve compelled Al to inject himself. He wasn’t so close to the Creator that he’d do that out of guilt or something- even I wouldn’t do that, however guilty I felt.
And as far as I knew, he wasn’t suicidal, just looking for an opportunity to check out and grabbing it when it presented itself. The fact that he’d allowed himself to be carried to the hospital supported that fact.
A hit-and-miss? No way. However crappy aim you have, nothing turns around 180 degrees from the intended target. There was only one reasonable explanation.
The midnight man.
He’d managed to mess our plan up in the worst possible way. If the Creator or her parents had woken up, that would’ve been something. We would’ve got an earful and possibly even arrested on the charges of breaking and entering, but no one who didn’t need to die would’ve died. Now Al was treading the thin line between life and death. The element of surprise hadn’t worked our way.
I hated the midnight man. I hated that asshole more than ever. He’d already taken one of my friends, and god help me if he was going to take another. Al’s life was on me. I would not let that demonic asshole take him. I would not let the midnight man take anyone else, ever.
I looked up. A nurse with a clipboard under her arm was looking around for me.
“Here.” I waved to her.
“Are you Brad Arnold, friend of-” she referred to her clipboard “-Alden Woodston?”
“Yes. Is he alright?” I got up.
“Yes sir, we have administered calcium chloride, sodium bicarbonate, insulin and dextrose to him intravenously to shift potassium intracellularly and to stabilise his cardiac rhythm. And the oral kayexelate resins and diuretics administered to him should flush out the excess potassium in no time,” she said cheerfully.
She was clearly new, looking to show off her knowledge to ‘lesser’ people.
“So he’s alright, then?”
She gave one of those fake smiles which meant that she actually wanted to sigh loudly and roll her eyes. “Yes sir, he’s alright.”
“Can I see him?”
She took me to Al’s ward. He was sleeping soundly on the white hospital bed, the inside of his elbow connected to three sacs hanging on a stand beside his bed. An ECG monitored his heartbeat, which seemed to be steadying slowly.
Phew. Thank god.
A tall, well-built doctor stood beside Al’s bed. He put a heavy hand on my shoulder. “Don’t worry, Brad. You did well to bring Alden here in time. Just you wait and see, he’ll be better than he was before in no time.”
The doctor had a too-clear, booming voice like a reality show host- every word stood out by itself. He was one of those instant-friendly people.
“Thank you, Doctor-” I glanced at the badge on his white coat “-Bhardwaj. When can I take him back?”
“Tomorrow morning. We’ll need a day to stabilise him. And, Swati-” he glanced at the nurse who’d brought me to the ward.
“Yessir,” she piped up and nodded knowingly. She led me outside. “About the payment, Mr Arnold-”
“Oh. Yes, sure. How much?”
She quoted a price. It seemed a tad too much. Surely, some chemicals, a doctor and a hospital ward for a day couldn’t be that pricey? I told her so.
“Oh, well, you’ll receive a detailed bill in a few hours, Mr Arnold. Does he not have health insurance?”
I had no idea what the term ‘health insurance’ meant. So I told her he didn’t.
She pursed her lips and looked at me pityingly. “You can pay half now and half later, sir.”
After negotiating the details of the payment at the reception desk, my gurgling stomach reminded me I hadn’t had my breakfast yet, so I sat down with a coffee and a sandwich at the hospital café.
The midnight man would not let us do anything, I realised. It was either kill or be killed. Whatever we did now, however ingenious a plan we devised to kill the Creator, it simply would not happen while he was alive. In a ridiculously twisted way, the midnight man had become the guardian angel to the Creator.
I was sure that even if we tried to go back without killing her, he’d trap us in limbo between the universes or something. The labradorite stone with which we’d come here was, after all, given by him.
We were essentially trapped here now unless we somehow offed the midnight man himself.