Story one in the new book...
‘Don’t look at him straight in the face, whatever you do’the grandfather said to his grandson ‘Why grandad?’enquired the young child as he held his grandfather’s hand, now with a firmer grip than previously.
‘He is a zombie, the living dead’ he remarked. ‘If he looks at you and you look back at him, he will measure you up for the coffin you will soon be lying in’he added. Julian never forgot that. After all, this was quite the weighted statement for a young child to hear in the sponge-like formative years where all is absorbed, digested and learnt.
The person he was referring to was a strange; dysmorphic man that always wore a shirt, tie and dark suit.
He was dishevelled despite the attire, which incidentally was ill fitting and looked like they belonged to somebody else, twice his size. This man, Mr O’Hara, looked quite frightening as his head seemed out of proportion to the rest of his body, small and pea-like in comparison. His arms were long and a short torso carried him through the busy streets of the town. He always seemed solemn and down. What made matters worse was that he never seemed to be clean shaven or sport a beard. It was that scruffy and annoying in-between growth. The eyes were his worse feature. One looked at you, the other away from you…! All in all, it was easy to believe why he was called “El Muerto”the dead man. His function was that of an assistant to a funeral director. He was lowly paid for all the grafting he did when a funeral was in the planning. He would liaise between the local grave diggers and the family and help ensure all went well. As well as a funeral could go. The rumour had it that he was born from an incestuous liaison between siblings. This was unverifiable but it created the negative mystique this man bared and carried on a daily basis. He was visible on a daily basis. He would walk through the town conducting his funereal business and occasionally run into some kinfd of argument with a passer by taking the liberty of bullying him. Nevertheless, Julian always respected and remembered what his grandad had said and never looked him in the eye. It was many years later that as a young student nurse, he came in on duty for a shift on the surgical ward and lo and behold, there he was…Mr O’Hara was sitting on a bed, in red and white, candy stripped pyjamas, again, looking like they had been borrowed off someone else. The shoulder areas hanging well off the shoulders, top tucked in the trousers and his trousers tied around the top of this with a thick cord. Not a great sight by any means. He looked at Julian, straight in the face and smiled as if to say hello. This young student was taken aback by this. How was he supposed to react with the inner conflicts that now run through him? His grandfather had advised avoidance of any contact in his formative years but now he had to be professional and make some kind of contact with him. This was his duty and obligation. Julian smiled back, a disingenuous smile but none the less a minor breakthrough. ‘Hello young man, what is your name?’Mr O’Hara directed the question straight at him. ‘Erm, Julian’he replied. ‘ErmJulian?, that is a strange name?’remarked the patient, mocking the young man…‘No Just Julian’he added hastily. ‘Pleased to make your acquaintance, I am Tony’the man said as he now stretched his hand out in friendship and awaited the young nurses reciprocal hand. What a dilemma, not only was he having to face him, talk to him but now having to touch “El Muerto”but he did. He inwardly shuddered but made no obvious signs of outward revulsion. This was awful as the judgements he had made over the years that were just malicious rumours were having an impact on his interactions with a patient. Julian composed himself. ‘So, Mr O’Hara, what brings you into St Augustine’s then?’‘I have a hernia that needs repairing, been shifting too many bodies around I guess’as a broke into an eerie chuckle. So much for the breakthrough, the inner child kicked in and he stepped back slightly, enough to be noticed by the older man sitting next to them. He said, ‘don’t let this old bastard tease you with his stories, he is alright really, don’t be frightened, it’s the living you have to fear, not the dead’and they burst out laughing. The ice broken, Julian slowly recognised that this poor man had been dealt a very raw deal in life, remarkably well spoken and witty; he had never been given the chances he should have had, because of his physical appearance. Julian felt sorry for him rather than fear. Over the coming days he got to know the man and not the infamous legend that shrouded him. He managed his care and grew quite fond of him, helping out wherever he could in the pre and post-operative stages to his full recovery. He had spent a good week in hospital, he was now clean shaven daily and seemed to have filled into his attire a little more. Mr O’Hara was now mobilising well and his pain was under control, the wound was healing and discharge home loomed over the horizon. It was just after the evening meals had been distributed and prior to the evening medication round, Julian stood beside his patient and asked, ‘All ready to go home soon then Tony?’‘Yes indeed I am, I cannot wait to get back to work and get out of here’. ‘Oh, why the hurry?’‘Well Julian, you know they call me “El Muerto”don’t you?’Ashamedly he replied ‘Well yes, but that is nonsense and very cruel’‘Thank you for the vote of confidence but there is some truth in that I do see and speak to the dead’Julian now regressed to his child-like state, all the work he had done to ensure he was not put off by the malicious myth that surrounded this man was well and truly out of the window…Tony sensed this and replied ‘You have nothing to fear as long as you remain as helpful and compassionate as you are but be aware’. ‘Aware of what?’he asked nervously, not really looking forward to the reply. ‘Be aware that there are many spirits in this place, the long departed that have remained here for their own gains, some are good but many are not’. Julian was uncomfortable with this and challenged the patient by saying ‘surely you do not believe in all of those ghosts stories do you?’‘They are not all stories, be warned, be careful and be vigilant, there is a lot of danger in here, I have seen it over the last few days’. ‘Do you remember the last two patient’s that passed away?’‘Yes of course’he replied. ‘Well they were taken by the Dark Angel’. Now terrified, he tried to rationalise the statement by saying that the patients he was referring to had died as expected due to their underlying pathology. O’Hara now looked at him straight in the eyes. His meandering eye, strangely focussed on him and said ‘There is a dark Angel in this ward that does its rounds every night, it floats in and looks at everyone, whilst they sleep, I have seen it’. ‘Once it decides on who it wants, the dark matter engulfs he person and they are taken by it…’‘Come on Tony, don’t say these things, they cannot be true’‘Well if they aren’t true, then tell me why they seem to die between the stroke of two and quarter past the hour?’‘Check the records if you do not believe me’‘I will’replied the young man ‘…but why are you telling me this?’‘I like you, you have been kind to me and I want you to protect yourself, the Dark Angel will take many and is not fussed by who it takes, if he takes a fancy to a staff member, it will take them…’Mr O’Hara now said firmly as he held Julian’s arm ‘Leave this ward, leave this hospital as soon as you can, it is not safe’. Saved by the bell, the call buzzer was loudly blowing and Julian made his excuses and left him to attend to the needs of another patient. The shift got busy with numerous tasks and admissions galore. Although he was intrigued by the tête-à-tête with his unusual patient Julian did not have a chance to return to his patient “El Muerto”. The conversation had remained unfinished and maybe this was a small blessing. Julian had pondered on the significance of this all and how it would affect his career choices, based on ghost stories? Maybe leaving the dialogue hanging could help him in not making any rash decisions? He was on another late the next day so he knew he would not get to say goodbye to the much maligned man he had got to know, like but now fear again. The next day, on shift, he came in a little early in order to look at the ward register. He was inquisitive and a little intrigued. Was there any truth or pattern to this ? He took out the old register and looked at the deaths and noted the vast amount of “time of death”entries for 02: 00 –02: 15. It seemed unnaturally high. He looked down at the register over the last few weeks and it seemed to give substance to the supernatural theory That O’Hara had eluded to. He followed the register down to the last week and then …there it was, the latest entry “Mr Anthony O’Hara; time of death 02.14”. The “Dark Angel”, the angel of death he had referred to had come to collect him. Julian wondered if Mr O’Hara had guessed this was going to be the outcome? Improbable and quite impossible however the facts were there…Mr O’Hara was expected to make a full recovery, but as “El Muerto”himself had said if the angel wants you, he will take you…. There is no choice!