The Crack in Lucy’s Eye
The crack in Lucy’s left eye appeared the day lightning struck down her father. Blue against her brown iris, it forked across her pupil like a strange scar. The doctors took out their ophthalmoscopes and examined it from every angle, and a specialist from London even wrote a case report on it, but no one could explain it. When they were certain that it didn’t affect her vision, the doctors finally ceased their poking and prodding. But they were wrong. The crack did affect Lucy’s vision; just not in the way they had thought.
At first Lucy’s mother thought her daughter had developed an imaginary friend. When she was five, it was cute when she prattled on and on to invisible creatures around her, but soon Lucy turned six, then seven, and her strange behavior continued. She spent her entire birthday party hiding behind the couch from the monster on Grandma’s back. Everyone laughed until the old woman turned up dead the next morning.
Lucy sat through the countless psychiatrist’s appointments patiently. She liked talking to the funny creatures sitting on the other patients’ shoulders, at least until her mother left her at the children’s ward for a whole week. After that she learned to stay quiet. But it didn’t stop her from seeing the creatures.
No one was surprised when Lucy chose to become a nurse after she finished school. After graduating, she found her place in a geriatric ward of forty-two patients, most with dementia. She got on well with patients, but her colleagues avoided her, especially on night shifts. Strange rumors circulated of her seeing things, but nothing concrete enough to threaten her job. She did have a few sessions with the occupational care psychologist, who thought the whole thing was ridiculous. Soon after, the worst gossip on the ward had some kind of breakdown and left. No one complained about Lucy after that.
Early on, Lucy had learned that some of the creatures could be reasoned with and others couldn’t. The bloated blue thing that liked to choke COPD sufferers sometimes left if she could persuade the patient to stop smoking, and the little imps that caused schizophrenia were easily distracted and hated the color yellow, but some beings just would not budge. The cancer demons were the worst. On her surgical rotation she had seen them hang onto the lumps of severed flesh right up to the incinerator. The dementia wraiths were also tenacious: once they had sunk their claws into your memories they would never let go.
This was the case for the poor Mr. Rutherford, who lay in his bed, his crow-like claws clutching a fuzzy toy cat one of his grandchildren had brought him. Every one in a while he’d make a “mew” sound and stroke the cat.
Lucy frowned as the grey wraith on Mr. Rutherford's shoulder pushed its claws deep into his head and pulled out another ragged, golden memory. There was a tearing noise as it ripped the memory to shreds. Mr. Rutherford stopped, confused, and then continued petting the toy. Another demon, this one a nasty orange-red, nibbled at his toes, and a third, slimy green, had its tentacles around his chest.
The man didn’t have much time left. Lucy made a mental note to call his daughter and swatted at the green creature. It detached with a squelch. The red demon looked at her and fled under the bed.
“Is that better, Mr. Rutherford?” she asked and straightened his blanket.
“Mew,” Mr. Rutherford answered. The wraith bared its sharp teeth, daring her to come closer.
As Lucy left the room she heard the smacking noises of the tentacle demon climbing back onto Mr. Rutherford’s chest.
Two days later Mr. Rutherford was dying. He had a high fever, and his breath came in rattling wheezes. His daughter had come in for a half hour, most of which she had spent fiddling with her phone. Lucy sat on a stool next to the bed and stroked the dying man’s hand as she waited for the doctor.
The door swung open and Doctor Bree Thomason arrived. She was young enough to not to have accepted her own mortality, but old enough that she had shaken any idealism she had once possessed. Like most doctors, she had a poison-green cynicism demon hanging around her neck. It smirked at Lucy as it licked invisible tears from the doctor’s cheek with its long, black tongue. The doctor swiped at her face as if brushing away a fly.
“You called?” she said, pulling out a piece of paper and a pen advertising a popular brand of antidepressants.
“Yes, Doctor. I believe Mr. Rutherford’s come down with pneumonia again.”
The Doctor took out her stethoscope and lifted up the man’s puke-colored hospital pajamas. “Sure sounds like it. How long has he been like this?”
“From last night. The fever went up this morning.”
“All right. Do you think he’ll manage the pills, or shall we give him injections?”
“He didn’t take any of his medications today. I can’t even get him to drink.”
The doctor jotted something down on her pad. “Injections it is, then. He’s in palliative care. We need to respect the family’s wishes. Nothing invasive. No IVs.”
She looked up at Lucy. “Maybe you’d better let the daughter know. He might not pull through, this time.”
“She just left, but I’ll call her.”
“Thank you. I’ll come round tomorrow to see how he’s doing.” The doctor’s gaze rested on the stuffed toy cat and the demon licked another tear off her nose.
Mr. Rutherford got even more restless as the night progressed. Lucy came in as often as she could and chased the demons away, but she couldn’t neglect her other duties. A little after midnight she came in and found the daughter sitting by the bed.
“Hello,” Lucy said.
The woman didn’t take her eyes off her father. “It’s going to be tonight, isn’t it?” she said.
“I’m sorry. There’s no way to say for sure.” Lucy checked the man’s breathing. The rattles were getting more drawn out and there were long pauses between them. The dementia wraith had curled around the man’s head like a strange, spiky hat.
“I wish I could have talked to him, just once more. He was a good dad, you know, before.” Her voice shuddered.
“I’m sure he knows you’re here.”
“I hope so.”
Lucy swallowed, trying to remove the lump from her throat. Mr. Rutherford might still wake, if she could get the wraith off him. But to do that she needed a little privacy. “Why don’t you go get a cup of coffee, have a little break? I’ll stay with him.”
The woman hesitated, but after a while she gave in. “Okay. Maybe just a short one? I’ll be right back.”
As soon as the door closed, Lucy grabbed one of the demon’s legs and pulled. It kicked and scratched and bit like an incensed cat, and every time she made a bit of progress, the thing scrambled back onto Mr. Rutherford’s head.
“You’ll never get him off like that,” a deep, dark voice said from behind her.
Lucy turned around.
Death leaned against the wall, cold and skeletal in its dark robes embroidered with moonlight.
“Well, what do you suggest?” She wasn’t afraid. Death was no stranger to her; it was a colleague, like Doctor Thomason.
“You’ll need a bait, my dear. Any memories you’re willing to part with?”
Lucy thought. “It can have the two weeks of stomach flu I had last year.”
Death shook his head. “That won’t do. You’ll need something tasty.”
She sighed. “Fine. The day at the zoo when I was five?”
“That will do. Permit me?” Death reached a bony finger towards her head.
Lucy nodded. It didn’t hurt, but its touch was cold and smooth like surgical steel. Death held a glowing shred of memory, writhing like a snake in its grip. The wraith sniffed the air and started crawling down Mr. Rutherford’s chest.
“Quick. In here!” Lucy lifted the lid off the bedside commode. In went the memory, and the wraith pounced after it. She slammed the lid down and lifted a few heavy boxes of disinfectant from the supply cupboard on top of it. The commode rocked as she pushed it into the connecting, empty room.
Mr. Huntington blinked and his eyes focused. He coughed.
“Nicely done,” Death said, “but I’ll need to take him soon.”
“Come on. Let’s have a cup of coffee so his daughter can say goodbye.”
Death dug an hourglass from its pocket and checked it. “I suppose I can spare a few minutes.”
They passed the daughter in the hall. Lucy smiled at her.
“I was just coming to get you. He’s awake.”
The woman rushed inside.
Lucy took Death by the crook of its arm. “Come on. I have some of those animal crackers you like.”