© Cypherwrite Technical Services 2016
Kit Thornton
Short Stories
As    I    gaze    down    on    the sleeping   girl   my   heart   is   filled with     a     strange     mixture     of emotions.          I     am     sad.     Sad because   she   looks   so   frail   and vulnerable    as    she    lies    in    the hospital     bed     connected     by wires    and    tubes    to    machines clicking     and     whirring     with flickering    electronic    displays.      I   am   worried.      Worried   for   the loving      parents      and      older brother     who     are     constantly trying   to   hold   back   the   tears   as they   take   turns   to   sit   at   the bedside,    tenderly    holding    the girl’s    fragile    hand.   And,    finally,    I    am    amazed.    How    is    it possible?      How   can   this   have   happened?      For   although   I barely   recognise   her,   that   sleeping   girl   in   the   small   hospital room   is   Laura   Kennedy,   and   I   am   Laura;   the   sleeping   girl   is me. “Oh,   Harry,”   whispered   Sue   as   she   looked   sorrowfully   at their   sleeping   daughter,   “Please   tell   me   that   Laura’s   going to get better.” “Yes   love,”   replied   Harry,   gently   squeezing   his   wife’s hand,   “She   will   be   fine.      Remember   how   she   was   last   week; running   in   the   school   sports,   swimming   in   the   gala,   fooling around   with   her   brother.      Laura’s   resting,   but   she’s   fit   and strong.  She’ll get through this, I promise.” Harry   wished   that   he   felt   as   confident   as   he   had   tried   to sound.      Dr   Morris,   the   family’s   GP,   had   acted   quickly   when he   saw   the   symptoms   of   possible   meningococcal   infection,
and   Ian   Woodley,   the   young   paediatrician   attending   Laura, was   friendly   and   re-assuring.   But   during   the   four   days   since Laura   had   been   rushed   into   the   hospital   she   seemed   to   be steadily   slipping   deeper   into   the   coma   that   now   held   her   10- year   old   body   trapped,   immobile,   scarcely   breathing.   And earlier   today   Dr   Woodley   had   admitted   to   Harry   that   he   was a little puzzled. “Laura’s   brain   activity   is   not   quite   what   we   might   have expected,”   Ian   Woodley   had   said.      “Mostly   the   rhythms   are steady,    relaxed,    just    like    sleeping,    but    then    there    are extended   periods   of   tranquillity,   quiescence,   when   her   pulse fades   almost   to   nothing.         It’s   rather   worrying,   but   we   must keep positive.” It   all   started   with   Pogo,   you   know.   He’s   my   best   friend. Of   course,   no   one   can   see   him,   except   me.      Mummy   and Daddy   call   Pogo   my   ‘imaginary   friend’,   which   is   silly   because he’s   not   imaginary,   he’s   real.      And   they   think   I’m   too   old   to have   an   imaginary   friend   so   I   don’t   talk   to   them   about   Pogo any   more.     Anyway,   Pogo   came   with   me   in   the   ambulance   to hospital;   we   were   both   excited   because   the   ambulance   was going   so   fast.      We   could   hear   the   siren,   and   Pogo   said   the blue   light   was   flashing.     At   the   hospital   we   met   a   nice   doctor –   Ian,   he   said   his   name   was   –   and   he   took   my   temperature and   felt   my   pulse   and   looked   into   my   eyes   with   a   funny magnifying   thing.      I   was   feeling   sleepy   then,   and   I   don’t really remember much more until I heard Pogo calling me. “Wake   up,   Laura!   Wake   up,”   Pogo   said,   “But   keep   your eyes shut, and let’s go for an adventure.” Well,   I   was   confused,   and   a   bit   frightened   because   I   am only   ten.      I   remembered   going   into   hospital   and   now   I   didn’t know   where   I   was.      “Here,   hold   my   hand   tightly,”   whispered Pogo, “And imagine you can fly.”
I    trusted    Pogo    completely,    so    I    took    his    hand    and imagined   that   I   had   wings.      I   flapped   my   wings,   gently   at first,   and   then   a   bit   more   strongly.      “Don’t   worry   about wings,”   said   Pogo,   “We   don’t   need   them.   Now,   you   can   open your   eyes   and   look.”      So   I   opened   my   eyes   and   looked,   and there, asleep on the hospital bed just below, was me! And   here   I   am,   looking   at   myself   sleeping;   it   is   really weird.      But   Pogo   is   tugging   at   my   hand;   “Come   on   Laura,” he   says,   “Let’s   explore.”      I   don’t   really   want   to   go   because   I can   see   Mummy   and   Daddy   talking   to   two   nurses,   and   I   want to   hear   what   they   are   saying,   but   Pogo   keeps   pulling   my hand so I go with him. I   don’t   understand   how   he   does   it,   but   Pogo   takes   me out   of   the   ward   and   along   the   corridor.      I   am   trying   to   hide from   all   the   people   we   pass   but   Pogo   squeezes   my   hand   and says,   “Don’t   worry,   Laura,   they   can’t   see   us   and   they   can’t hear us.  Where would you like to go?” I   tell   Pogo   I   want   to   peep   at   the   children’s   ward   and then   go   outside.      I   am   in   a   small   room   by   myself;   at   least, that’s   where   my   body   is.   (This   is   very   weird,   isn’t   it?)      But   I know   there   must   be   other   children   in   this   hospital   and   I want   to   see   them.      In   a   moment   I   am   looking   at   a   long   ward with   rows   of   beds   along   each   side.      Some   have   curtains around   them.      Most   of   the   children   in   the   beds   are   sleeping; some   are   just   lying   there,   eyes   open,   looking   so   sad.      I   wish I   could   help   them,   make   them   smile,   take   them   with   me. But   now   Pogo   tells   me   I   must   rest.      It   is   my   first   adventure, he   says,   and   next   time   we   will   be   going   outside.      I   close   my eyes… “There,   can   you   see   that?”      Dr   Woodley   was   pointing   at one   of   the   flickering   displays.      “Laura’s   sleeping   normally again.”
Sue   Kennedy   was   doing   the   bedside   shift   just   then   and she    sighed    as    she    heard    Ian    Woodley’s    words.        She    was learning   to   read   the   machines   and   she   felt   as   if   she   had been   holding   her   breath   ever   since   she   noticed   the   drop   in Laura’s   pulse   rate.      Now   she   patted   Laura’s   hand.      “Good girl.  Just keep on fighting.” For   our   next   adventure   Pogo   took   me   right   outside   the hospital   and   into   the   countryside.      I   found   myself   looking down   on   an   amazing   coloured   patchwork   of   fields;   green grass   with   cows,   sheep   and   even   a   few   horses;   bright   gold   of the   sun   on   ripening   corn;   glaring   yellow   of   oilseed   rape;   and the   darker   speckled   green   of   trees   and   bushes   in   the   woods and   hedgerows.      This   is   brilliant!      I   remember   my   holidays on   Uncle   Fred’s   farm   and   Pogo   says   we   can   go   there.      I recognise    the    farm    buildings,    and    even    my    room    in    the farmhouse.        Uncle    Fred    is    working    in    the    farmyard    and Auntie   Emma   is   feeding   the   chickens   in   the   paddock;   I   wave at   them,   although   I   know   that   they   can’t   see   me.      Now   I   am riding   Blackie,   Auntie   Emma’s   black   pony,   and   we   gallop across   the   meadow,   slowing   to   canter   through   the   open   gate into   the   woods   beyond.      I   love   the   feel   of   the   breeze   in   my hair   as   I   guide   Blackie   amongst   the   bracken,   and   we   play   at riding   on   the   beams   of   sunlight   filtering   through   the   oaks and   beeches.      I   slip   easily   from   the   saddle   and   stretch   out on   the   soft   ground   while   Blackie   nibbles   at   the   grass   beside me.      I   want   to   stay   here   forever,   but   Pogo   reminds   me   that it is time to go back… “She’s   still   with   us,”   said   Harry   Kennedy,   watching   the displays   as   they   indicated   that   Laura’s   brain   activity   had resumed    a    stronger    rhythm.        He    felt    emotionally    and physically   drained   and   he   knew   that   his   wife   was   the   same,
probably   more   so.      Although   he   sometimes   caught   himself dozing,   it   was   impossible   really   to   rest   in   the   little   room where   he   seemed   to   be   surrounded   by   the   clicking,   whirring, buzzing,   thumping   machines   that   were   holding   on   to   Laura’s life. “I   wonder   what’s   going   on   in   that   pretty   head,”   Sue said,   “Is   she   dreaming?      Can   she   hear   us?      Does   she   know how much we love her and want her back home with us?” “I’m   sure   she   does   know   that,”   Harry   replied,   “And   now that   she   seems   a   little   stronger   I   think   you   should   take   a break.  Try to get some sleep while I sit with Laura.” I   have   always   wanted   to   go   skiing   but   Mummy   and   Daddy told   me   I   must   wait   until   I   am   older.      When   I   reminded   Pogo, he   said   why   didn’t   we   go   now?      So   here   we   are   in Austria.      I knew   what   it   would   be   like   because   I   had   looked   at   pictures on   the   Internet,   but   it   is   amazing   to   see   it   for   real.      It’s   just like   a   page   from   a   fairytale;   a   winter   wonderland.      I   am whizzing   down   a   long   snowy   track,   dodging   great   boulders that   stick   up   through   the   snow.      On   each   side   there   are steep   slopes   covered   with   white-tipped   pine   trees,   and   in the   distance,   over   the   tops   of   the   trees,   I   can   see   pale snow-capped    mountains.        Suddenly    I    come    out    from    the trees    into    a    wide    open    space    where    the    snow    has    been shaped   by   the   winds   into   rolling   dunes.      There   is   an   alpine village   with   snow-covered   roofs   and,   further   away,   I   can   see people   on   the   snowy   fields   like   ants   crawling   over   a   white table-cloth.   It   is   magical;   I   want   to   go   back   to   the   top   of   the mountain   and   ski   down   again.      But   Pogo   tells   me   I   must   not try to do too much; I must rest between adventures… “This   is   interesting,   but   I   am   worried.”      Dr   Ian   Woodley was   talking   to   the   nurse   who   had   been   sitting   with   Laura while   her   parents   went   off   for   a   meal   together.      They   were
both   looking   at   the   machines   monitoring   pulse   and   brain activity. “Her    pulse    has    strengthened    again,”    said    the    nurse, “And while there’s life there’s hope.” “We   must   try   not   to   use   such   clichés;”   Ian   Woodley smiled   at   the   nurse,   “But   you’re   right,   of   course,   and   we need to keep on encouraging Mr and Mrs Kennedy. “In   the   meantime,”   he   continued,   “I   think   we   should   be trying to wean Laura off the sedatives.” I   want   to   go   home.      I   know   that   I   can   see   Mummy   and Daddy   but   I   want   them   to   be   able   to   see   me;   I   mean,   to   see me   awake.      I   want   to   talk   to   them;   to   hug   them;   to   tell them   that   I   love   them.      I   want   everything   to   go   back   to   the way   it   was.      I   attempt   to   explain   to   Pogo   but   he   looks   a   bit doubtful,   which   worries   me.      Let’s   do   another   adventure, says   Pogo,   and   I   know   that   he’s   just   trying   to   take   my   mind off   going   home.      How   about   Florida,   I   suggest;   Disneyland, Universal   Studios.      Or   perhaps   exploring   the   Amazon   rain forests;   or   playing   with   penguins   in   the   Antarctic;   there   are so   many   places   in   the   world   that   I   want   to   see.            But   Pogo tells   me   to   set   my   imagination   free.      You   are   a   child   of   the universe,   he   says;   let’s   go   to   the   moon,   the   planets,   the stars,   he   says.         And   then   we   are   off,   up   and   away,   soaring into the heavens. This   is   the   most   beautiful   thing   I   have   ever   seen.      I cannot   believe   that   it   is   Earth,   The   World,   and   that   I   am looking   down   on   it   from   the   sky.      I   thought   the   sky   would   be blue,   but   it’s   not,   it’s   black.      The   Earth   is   blue.      Bright   blue with   swirls   of   white   cloud.      It   reminds   me   of   one   of   the   glass marbles   my   brother   used   to   play   with.      I   can   see   America, and   I   can   even   recognise   the   shape   of   Florida;   that’s   where Disneyland   is.      I’m   just   about   to   ask   Pogo   if   we   can   go   down
to   Disneyland   when   he   tells   me   to   look   at   the   moon.      It   is enormous,   and   I   cannot   believe   how   close   it   is.   I   think   I could   almost   touch   it   but   Pogo   says   that   would   not   be   a good   idea,   and   so   we   set   off   again.      We   are   going   towards Saturn   and   I   can   clearly   see   its   rings   and   lots   of   moons around   it.      I   think   Saturn   is   even   more   beautiful   than   earth. The   rings   are   all   different   colours   and   I   try   to   count   the moons.      Pogo   tells   me   there   are   about   thirty   and   he   even knows   the   names   of   some   of   them:   Titan,   Helene,   Calypso, Janus,   Atlas,   Phoebe   —      I   tell   him   to   stop   because   I   will never   remember   them,   and   anyway,   I   want   to   go   on.      We pass   Neptune,   and   then   Pluto   with   its   moons,   Charon   and the   others.      And   still   we   go   on,   out   amongst   the   stars.      Is this   what   infinity   is   like?      Am   I   in   heaven?      There   are   lights all   around   me,   yellow,   pink,   green,   orange,   and   they   are constantly flickering, like fireworks a long way off. This   is   so   much   fun!      I   feel   thrilled   but   at   the   same   time I   am   sad.      Perhaps   I   will   roam   amongst   the   stars   like   this forever… “Mrs   Kennedy,   I   think   you’d   better   come.”      The   nurse had   found   Sue   in   the   hospital’s   little   chapel   where   she   had been saying a prayer for the daughter she felt she was about to   lose.      “I’m   terribly   sorry,”   the   nurse   said,   “But   I’m   afraid it doesn’t look good.” The   two   women   hurried   to   the   room   where   Laura   still lay   and   Ian   Woodley   stepped   back   so   that   Sue   could   sit   near the   head   of   the   bed   opposite   her   husband   who   smiled   sadly at   her.      The   doctor   gently   took   Laura’s   wrist,   feeling   once again   for   the   pulse   that   was   now   so   faint.      “I’m   so   very,   very sorry,”   he   said   to   Sue,   “Laura   seems   to   be   slipping   away. Even   without   the   sedatives   she’s   showing   no   sign   of   waking. There’s   scarcely   any   pulse   and   almost   no   evidence   of   brain
activity.”  He looked distraught. “We   know   that   you’ve   done   all   you   can,   doctor,”   Sue whispered,   trying   to   keep   her   voice   steady.      “We   can   only wait — ” I   don’t   quite   know   where   I   am   just   now   but   there   is   a man   sitting   on   a   stone   wall.   He   is   wearing   a   long   brown   robe and   he   has   sandals   on   his   feet.      “Hello   Laura,”   he   says   to me.      He   has   the   kindest   eyes   that   I   have   ever   seen.   Suddenly I   am   all   confused   and   shy.      I   think   I   am   blushing.      I   want   to say   hello   to   the   man   and   to   ask   him   who   he   is,   but   my tongue   doesn’t   work   and   so   I   say   nothing.      He   goes   on, “Laura,   my   little   one,   you   have   so   much   to   offer.   You   are   a child    of    the    universe.”    (I    hear    the    echo    of    my    friend’s words.)     “You     can     go     anywhere,     be     anyone,     achieve anything.      You   just   need   to   have   confidence   in   yourself   and be   determined   to   overcome   whatever   obstacles   you   find   in your   way.     You   are   fortunate   to   have   been   given   a   glimpse   of what   life   might   hold   in   store   for   you.      It   is   not   yet   time   for your   stay   on   earth   to   come   to   an   end.      Now   you   must   go back;   go   back   to   the   parents   who   love   you.     And   be   at   peace in your world.” Sitting   as   usual   in   the   chair   next   to   Laura’s   bed,   with Sue    sitting    opposite,    Harry    Kennedy    was    dozing    gently. Suddenly   he   became   aware   that   his   daughter’s   eyes   were open,   and   she   was   looking   at   him.      “Hello   Daddy,”   she   said. Instantly   Harry   felt   the   tears   spring   to   his   eyes;   an   up- swelling   of   emotion   that   seemed   almost   to   engulf   him.      On the   other   side   of   the   bed   he   could   see   that   Sue   was   equally overcome   and   Ian   Woodley   was   standing   with   an   expression of surprise and delight on his face. “Laura,   my   love,   you   are   all   right!”      Harry   said,   smiling
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through his tears. “Yes   Daddy,   of   course   I’m   all   right.”      Laura   grinned   at him   and   turned   her   head.      “Hello   Mummy;   hello   Dr   Woodley. I’m    so    glad    you’re    all    here.    I’ve    had    the    most    amazing adventures.      Just   wait   until   I   tell   you   where   I’ve   been; you’ll never believe it!” And,   naturally   enough,   they   didn’t   believe   it;   they   were simply too pleased that Laura had returned. © Kit Thornton 2012 Child of the Universe was first published in Competitions Anthology 2009, Sunpenny Publishing. (www.sunpenny.com)
Dream the impossible!