What follows is the first part of another longish story. This one will be a fairly quick release (over the next couple weeks), but each segment is going to be a bit longer than other stories that have been released on the pages here. This first section bears the title of the overall story.
Without further ado I give you, a fairy tale, of sorts anyway…
Thorns of the Apple Tree
The blankets rustled and twisted as she tossed and turned in fitful sleep. Cicile’s eye lids fluttered as she searched the landscape of her dreams, but still she did not wake. Terrence pulled at her sheet to untangle it from Cicile’s twisted limbs and body and then draped it over her again.
“How much longer will she be like this?” he said. He had turned to look at the clipboard still held tight in Dr. Panok’s hands. Just as well he couldn’t see the information written on the charts, the doctor’s scribbles made little sense when he could see them clearly.
Dr. Panok’s lips moved as he read through the chart and made notes in several places. He scribbled once more on the chart. “I don’t know.”
“What the hell do you mean, you don’t know? You’re supposed to be the best. You’ve worked with cases like this before and won.” Terrence clenched and unclenched his fists and then grabbed at the bed’s safety rail as he swung back toward Cicile.
“Yes, yes I have beaten cases like this in the past,” Panok said. “But every case is different, as different as the people who fall stricken with White’s Disease. We have yet to find a commonality that can be linked as the core cause, well, other than the only victims have been women.”
“She was young, vibrant, full of life. We should be in Bermuda right now,” Terrence said. The pictures in his mind hadn’t strayed to their honeymoon in Bermuda, instead he slipped into work mode. Visions of the office and the pile of paperwork on his desk that he wouldn’t be able to get to anytime soon. The cutthroats that would take over the work out of need to advance. He could leave her side, catch up with the work and she would never notice. But, there was always a but, he couldn’t do it and think well of himself. He couldn’t sacrifice that part of himself not for a paycheck, not and feel like he would matter in her eyes anymore. He placed her hand between his own and gave her a gentle squeeze.
The pressure sent her into a convulsion; her body twisting and tossing around the bed. Dr. Panok pushed Terrence aside and jabbed a syringe into Cicile’s arm. An amber liquid pressed from the needle into her flesh, lingered at the insertion site for a brief moment and then faded into her system.
“I warned you,” Panok said. “Warned you of the dangers of physical contact. If you insist on touching her you must wear the gloves we provide.”
Terrence looked down at his hands, hands that could so easily destroy the fragile thing on the bed, they were wet and sticky with the blood that had seeped out of her at that brief moment of physical contact. Not only the restless coma but physical contact, flesh to flesh caused her to bleed, her life to slip away from the points of contact.
“Please wait outside,” Panok said. “I must do some tests and I can’t have you in the way.”
A nurse stepped into the room and took Terrence by the hand. She guided him out into the main hall without a word, left him staring at the back of her head as she joined the doctor in the room at Cicile’s bedside. The door closed and blocked his view a moment after he saw the doctor pull some testing implements from the closet beside the bed.
The cold hospital hall, empty but for the occasional nurse wandering into the rooms throughout, gave him little comfort. He should be inside the room, in a place to offer comfort to Cicile. Even there he had failed her. She fell ill days after their wedding, another victim of this mysterious disease. They called it White’s disease in honor of Snow White, the girl to set into a coma only to be woken by true-love’s kiss.
A kiss couldn’t wake Cicile though. Contact with his flesh did more harm than good. That was how he woke up that morning a few weeks ago. Their bed had been covered with blood, her blood, drained from her body in the places they had touched. She lost more when he checked for her pulse.
She still lived but in a state that would not allow her to have a life. The paramedics hoisted her away on a gurney, wouldn’t even let him in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. She was his wife dammit, only married, god, only a month now. Storms happened in marriages but this was a hurricane, a typhoon to rip the mores of their life asunder.
And he could do nothing, nothing but pace helplessly in the hall, while a doctor, the best and only chance for a cure ran more tests. Doctor Panok had been called in from research in Germany. He had been the only doctor to have cured any of the women to suffer from this disease.
He had no answers, none that would bring them any closer to saving Cicile. Leaned against the wall and slid down to the floor, helpless and alone. His hands covered his eyes as dry tears did not fall from his eyes. He had cried himself dry days ago, lost in the mire of another day in the hospital.
After a time he pulled his phone from his pocket and tapped the power button and let it fade to power save mode several times before he finally opened the dialer. Numbers didn’t flash through his mind, the faces of people he could call remained hidden in the shadows of his thoughts. He typed numbers into the dialer without a thought, without looking at what he typed.
“Hello?” A soft female voice at the other end asked. His thoughts lingered on the sound of her voice as she said it again. He had no words, couldn’t bring himself to speak into the receiver. “Terry? Is everything alright? How is Cicile?”
“Nothing’s changed.” He paused a beat, filled his lungs with air and released it all in a heavy sigh. “The doctor can’t figure it out, hasn’t been able to bring her back.”
“You have to give it time,” she said. “Do you need me? Do you want me to come to the hospital?”
Another deep breath, and he still couldn’t answer her. Ellen couldn’t do anything for her, nothing more than he was already doing. But she would be someone he could talk to. Face to face was always better than the phone. She had spent the past few days by his side already and stood ready for him to get a break, at least get a shower at home. He hadn’t been home since Cicile had been in the hospital. “Are you sure?”
“Of course,” she said. “My offer still stands. You’re my family now too.”
She arrived at the hospital an hour later. He could have sworn that he woke her but she didn’t show it. Make up and hair perfectly placed, the only thing that appeared the same as her daughter was the beauty. Ellen had an effortless beauty like Cicile. She never looked like she used much makeup and she always seemed to be fresh and vibrant. They looked so much alike, long dark wavy hair, skin the color of fresh cream, a soft nose and rosebud lips, a stranger wouldn’t have known them to be step mother and daughter.
“I thought I woke you,” Terry said. “You could have come by in the morning.”
“It’s okay,” she said. “I was worried and the thought of you spending another night in the hospital didn’t help ease my guilt.”
“The doctor hasn’t said anything about the last series of tests,” Terry said. “I just don’t know anymore.”
She clasped his hand in hers, so much smaller than his, he always thought of a child’s hands. “These things can take time. I am sure he is doing his best.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I just feel so helpless. This has got to be horrible for you.”
Her view traced a line down the hall and then back to the door to Cicile’s room. “I cope,” she said. “When we lost her father, I was devastated. I cried for days and there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t believe how much it took from me when he died, like a piece of my soul went with him.”
He gave her hand a squeeze. “Cicile was close enough to be your actual daughter too. I can imagine this has been an emotional roller coaster again.”
“I cried all my tears for her father,” she said. “I cried again when she married you. Sure it was a joy for her happiness but at the same time I knew she was yours then and I cried as much in mourning then as in joy. Now I am here for your pain. I hate to see you both suffer through all of this.”
Terry stood up and offered his hand to Ellen and helped her up as well. “Let’s go inside,” he said. “I hope both of us will give her a reason to pull through all this.”
The woman on the bed had sunk further into delirium. She no longer tossed or turned in the bed, her eyelids no longer flickered as she searched her dreams.
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