The Night Shift

There is a cosiness about a nursing station at night.

The whispering young women, the low light, the sleeping patients.

Nettie had been nursing Mr Blake for only a week, but he had already become her least favourite patient. It was not that he was especially demanding. There was something about him that she didn’t like. A coldness that went beyond reserve.

He was a chronically sick man, although he was barely into old age. He was under the care of a pulmonologist because his lungs seemed to be slowly failing.

So, when she got a call to his bedside at about 3 am, she was not keen at all.

“Go on, Nettie, he is your favourite. Or you are his.”

“No, he doesn’t fancy me. I sort of wish he did. It would make him more human.”

“Well, sooner you than me. It won’t be anything.”

She went to Blake’s room, which he shared with three other male patients. What she thought she saw in the low light of the room made her stop and hold her breath. It looked like a dark patch, not quite a shadow, but inky black, hovering over Mr Blake at about the level of his hips. He seemed to be bucking slightly and straining upwards, as if in the early stages of some kind of fit.

She switched on the main light, which she normally would not have, since she had a serviceable torch.

There was nothing there.

Since he had fallen back asleep and seemed suddenly peaceful, she left him and turned the light off again.

Nothing happened the next night, but then on the following night Nettie was still on the night shift when she got another call from Mr Blake. She could hear him apparently in some distress, gasping a little. So, she went quickly.

This time the dark patch over his bed had resolved itself into what seemed to be a female form. It was like a silhouette, obviously of a woman from the long hair and breasts, which were visible in profile. Stunned, Nettie guessed that somehow a woman had found her way to Blake’s bed and was astride him. Presumably they were having sex … ?

But again, when she flicked the switch on, there was nothing, and Blake had fallen back on the bed, and appeared to be sound asleep. Alarmed for both her own sanity and the well-being of a patient, she shakily took some observations. Everything was normal enough, and his blood oxygenation was actually relatively good.

She went back to the nurses’ station and said nothing. Instead she got out Blake’s notes and stared at them. She must, she decided, have been hallucinating, although she didn’t feel especially tired, and she was not on anything that could cause her to see things. Perhaps she would broach the subject with some of the other girls … they might have seen things on occasion too. The mind could play tricks. Once, back home, she had glimpsed a white object out of the corner of her eye, and clearly perceived it as her white Samoyed dog. It turned out to be a white towel.

So she was not too spooked. And besides, she was on day shifts for a while.

But sooner than she had expected, she was put back on the night shift for a few days.

She did not receive another early morning call to Mr Blake’s bedside, but she was just checking each room in a routine way when she saw him acting very oddly. There was the same inky blackness, but it did not take the shape of a woman. Instead it seemed to be a pool or morass which very nearly covered his entire body. His nose and eyes were still above the shadow or whatever it was, and Nettie could see his eyes glinting. He was making curious, not quite normal, movements with his arms, as if trying to push himself out of a fluid. The repeated twisted circular movements went on for what seemed like minutes, together with the odd short gasp.

Finally, mercifully, Blake fell back and the darkness disappeared.

Her eyes fixed on Blake, Nettie moved backwards to the light switch and, waving her arm behind her a couple of times, finally activated it. Mr Blake lay perfectly still. She looked hard, but could see no signs of breathing. Mustering up all her professionalism, she moved to his bedside. His monitors indicated that he was dead.

Afterwards, she told the few people she confided in, that she would have called for help to revive him, but the thing was – for some reason – although he had only just stopped breathing – he was completely cold.

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