Concluding our serialization of a photography themed short story, here is the thrilling finale of "In the Blink of an Eye." Be sure to catch up on Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 before finding out what happens to Charlie Sydcup's second attempt at capturing the soul of a dying hospital patient.
Charlie finished cleaning Jeffries and moved to the ward on the floor above, working his way slowly through the room. By 5am he had finished and went back down to Jeffries - he placed his cleaning equipment in the storage room before walking back in to the ward. A new nurse - Gemma - was now working.
"Morning Charlie - did you have a good night?" she said.
"Hey Gemma. Yeah, no dramas. All done and dusted - literally!" She smiled at his response.
"Mr Stowe…" His voice tailed off. "How's he doing?"
Gemma looked sad. "He didn't make it - no relatives. Can you believe that? He died peacefully."
"He was fine when I looked in at 2am," Charlie replied.
"He took a turn for the worse around 3:30am so I went in to him."
"At least he had someone with him at the end." Charlie paused, letting the moment hang, briefly.
"I just need to clean one of the cubicles that was busy last night, then I'm done."
"No problems Charlie. I'll see you later."
Charlie went back and grabbed his brush and mop, before heading down to the EEL room. Checking he was alone, he slid in through the doorway - the room was empty, tidy. He looked up - his camera was there, still recording. He clicked it off, put it back in his pocket and left. As fast as he could, he finished his duties before dashing back down to his locker. Stripping off the uniform, he grabbed his rucksack and raced out the exit. His bike was still locked, where he had left it. Inserting the key he leveraged the T-bar off and pulled his bike away from the railing, before relocking the padlock to it.
He jumped on the bike, adrenalin building as he thought about the enormity of what he had just done. Retracing his steps he cycled past Westminster Bridge, Waterloo, Elephant and Castle, arriving back at his flat slightly flushed. He took the lift back up and bounded in through the front door, straight to the bedroom. He turned his PC on, took the memory card out of the camera, and immediately started downloading the footage.
Importing the clip in to the video software he scrolled forward to 3:30am. 3:26, 3:27, 3:28… Gemma entered the room, but Mr Stowe was still asleep. She went up to him and checked his vital signs, but didn't write them down. Instead she moved back to the oxygen supply, finger on the power button. She paused, looking back at the old man, then flicked the switch. The airflow stopped - slowly the man became starved of oxygen as the blood, depleted of supply, surged around his body. The chest heaved as he tried to take deeper breaths. On the video Charlie could see him coughing as his lungs began to retch, trying to take in more air, to make up for the loss of supplementary supply. His eyes flashed open - he was alive, his body wanted to stay alive. Charlie could sense his weakened state, his inability to function. His head moved slowly as the eyes tried to rove around the room. Were they focusing? Could he see? Gemma stayed rooted to the spot, looking at the old man. There was a pause then his head swung around to her, fixing at her position. The lines on his face changed, relaxed, as recognition swept across his expression. She said something, or at least it looked like that. Instantly the expression changed - panic. The breaths became shorter, faster, shallower - the chest heaved, the body strained.
He passed away.
Gemma flicked the machine back on and left the room.
Charlie pressed pause, shocked by what he had just witnessed. He realized his heart was racing, blood pumping around his body.
What next he thought.
Snapping back to the moment, he realized he should process the footage. He clipped the video to a tenth of a second either side of the flash and then set the same batch job running. He couldn't stop thinking about what he had seen recorded but had to sleep - he changed in to a tracksuit and t-shirt before lying down in bed to try to rest. But his mind raced - he wasn't asleep, yet he wasn't awake. He kept replaying the scene in his mind - oxygen calmly switched off, eyes flicking open to relief then panic, terror. The stillness. It played again - this time he saw the flash in slow motion, his mind inserting images of his own father into the scene. He didn't know if he was awake, in a reality he had just walked in to.
There was a loud beep.
Shit he thought to himself.
He had forgotten to mute the monitor and his tortured sleep was interrupted. Then his conscious brain kicked in - the batch job had finished. He clambered out of the bed and back to the PC - it was midday. The cursor flashed on the monitor, the image processing was complete.
Charlie started viewing the images, scrolling through them. As with the previous set, they began quite faint and slowly increased in density and contrast, forms taking shape. The inside of the hospital room slowly came in to view, institutional fluorescent lights flickered overhead. The view panned down – the TV at the end of the room, mounted high, his camera hanging discreetly below it. Then he saw the end of the bed, a retractable table with a cup of water, reading glasses. The image was still slightly blurred, swinging towards the left - the door, a person. The movement stopped and slowly the image sharpened – he saw Gemma stood next to the oxygen supply, hand resting on the power switch. She lent forward, mouthing words – there was clear reaction as the view began to shake as recognition turned to panic. The view faded as Mr. Stowe breathed his last, changing to the last memory imprint – it was dark, slowly light filtered in to the scene. Two hands, a steering wheel. The head tilted back and he could see traces of blood. An accident? Looking through the window screen, the car had impacted in to a lamppost, the windscreen smashed, bonnet crumpled. The car looked old… no new. Charlie realized it was a new car, but an old model. When was this? The image shifted to the left and there sat next to the driver was a woman. His girlfriend? His wife? She was crumpled against the dash board, with a severe gash to her head, blood streaming from her nose. The view began shaking uncontrollably, then slowly came to a rest. Again the view shifted as the person looked over their shoulder in to the back seat, where a school girl sat, wearing black trousers, light blue shirt, tie, and blazer. She had her seatbelt on, but was clearly in shock. His daughter? Charlie looked again. There had been many intervening years, but she was unmistakable - Gemma.
Lead image courtesy of Free-Photos via Pixabay, used under Creative Commons.