You'll find an assortment of stuff here that I've written over the years.
Belief in the afterlife...
The story of Sister Gant began life 24 years ago when I studied drama at school, and was originally part of a monologue for a short play, with only two people in the entire piece - a nun, and an angry young woman questioning the point of religion.
It was put to one side after the play, but I never forgot the characters. The play was left to collect dust in the attic until it was rescued last year. It now has a new lease of life as a short story, and is radically different from the original piece, with a more up to date background setting of nightclubs, revelry and booze, but the characters remain unchanged.
IN THE HANDS OF SISTER GANT
Dreamscapes. Salt and pepper dreams.
A purple mist seemed to linger. It looked beautiful, somehow enthralling and exquisite, like a nebula expanding across the dark cloth of an unknown universe. Darker ribbons of colour threaded through this dream, brightening the darkened corridors of her mind with splashes of brilliance. She felt weightless, free.
The mist fascinated her, smothered her with its charm. The way it moved, the way it throbbed. The way it breathed.
A sound came from outside her conscience, pounded through her senses. The sound of a heartbeat, dull, rhythmic and constant. Her eyes fluttered open.
The dreamy violet plume instantly vanished, swiftly replaced by an overwhelming brightness. She shielded her face with her arm, waited for a few seconds for her eyes to adjust to the light. The glare eventually weakened enough for her to take in her surroundings.
She gazed up at the ceiling, focused.
The light above her was bright, reflective and cold and not as welcoming as the purple haze. She was a little disappointed her dream had ended, but she put the vision down to the amount of alcohol she must have consumed; after all, blurriness and strange coloured dreams were no stranger to her. It seemed she’d ended up in hospital yet again, and yet one thing throbbed at the back of her mind with irritating clarity. There was no headache. No hangover. No nausea.
She stared at the ceiling for a long while, wondering why it was so bright when there were no strip lights, wondering why it was so silent, despite the dull heartbeat. Eventually she glanced around. The candescence seemed to emanate from every corner.
Her muscles tensed as she tried to move. She slowly sat up, looked down at herself. She touched her shirt. There were no beer stains. No half-eaten junk food smearing her shirt, no greasy smudges on her jeans. She then noticed that she was sitting up on a rigid bed – one with no covers, one that looked more like a shiny white slab.
Somewhere in the back of her mind a voice laughed. This looked more like a mortuary.
She swept sandy coloured hair from her eyes and shook the voice from her mind. She blinked slowly, deliberately, adjusting to the brightness. Her curious gaze drifted around the room. It was clinically bright, sterile, but nothing like she’d ever seen before. If this was some sort of hospital room, then it was one she’d never been to; after all, she’d seen her share of nurses and hospital cubicles over the years.
There were no tiles. No pictures or posters, no crumpled magazines. Not even a window.
‘You’ll get used to the brightness.’
Nicki turned on hearing the voice behind her.
A woman dressed in a black flowing robe stood against the far wall, her clothes stark against the clinical pallor of the room. A belt of beads hung around the old woman’s waist, neatly gathering the material to make her waist look slightly plumper than it actually was. A wooden crucifix dangled from the beads. She crossed her hands in front of her. From a grey, lined face, the nun’s frosted blue eyes closely watched for Nicki’s reaction.
The old woman reminded Nicki of a stern school ma’am; austere glances and drawn back expression veiling a feigned compassionate core.
Nicki’s voice croaked on her first attempt to speak. She coughed, cleared her throat, and then tried again. ‘W...where am I?’
Thin lips stretched into a smile. The nun’s voice sounded like surf across drenched pebbles. ‘Safe.’
Nicki swung her legs round and straightened. She glared at the nun, blunted by the short response. ‘Sorry, but I’m not religious.’
‘Yes, I know,’ the woman said intuitively.
The nun’s eyes mesmerised Nicki; their swirling ocean colour drew her in. ‘I’m sorry, I really can’t stop and talk. I have to get home.’ A cursory glance at the time made her shudder. The realisation shimmered in her mind. She looked up at the nun. ‘It’s four o’clock. Is that morning or afternoon?’
The nun’s voice was compassionate yet distant. ‘Afternoon. You’ve been here since they brought you in.’
Nicki tried to shake the cobwebs from idle corners in her mind. ‘I was out with the girls, Friday night. We came out of...’ She shook her head, slowly realised. ‘I...I...can’t even remember.’
The nun gestured. ‘It was quite an injury to your head.’
Nicki touched her forehead. ‘Really? Where?’
The nun moved from the far wall and oozed forward as though floating on a pocket of air. Her black robe billowed, but to Nicki it seemed as though something living and breathing hid beneath it. It made her shiver.
‘It’s healed,’ the nun replied.
‘Healed? What do you mean?’
The nun settled in front of Nicki. ‘Healed. No scars, no marks, no bruises. All good as new.’
Nicki stared dumbly the woman. Behind the frosted visage, she was trying to shake brain cells back to life, trying to remember what had happened. Snapshots flitted in and out of her mind; she remembered a bar somewhere, drinking, the lights, dancing, laughing and...what?
The street. The sound of car horns and drunken squeals.
She closed her eyes, forced herself to remember. ‘It’s Saturday, right?
The nun shook her head. ‘Sunday.’
Silence coiled around them, constricting the cool air.
Nicki touched her head, ran her hand over her scalp. No bumps, no scar tissue, nothing untoward. If she had healed, then that would mean she had been in hospital some time. It was Sunday. But she didn’t know which Sunday. She realised then that the misty, coloured dreams she’d experienced were some part of her closed conscience, the result of a coma perhaps.
Nicki’s voice was quiet. ‘What happened to me?’
‘Your memory will come back,’ the nun offered.
‘Just tell me what happened. How long I been here?’
‘Do you not remember anything?’ the old woman wondered.
‘No.’ Nicki quickly searched her clothes. No mobile phone, no keys, no wallet. ‘Where the hell’s my stuff?’
The nun raised a haughty eyebrow. ‘So many questions, child. Your belongings are quite safe, but they’re not allowed in here.’
Nicki’s brows dropped into a frown. Colour retreated from her face. ‘Who exactly are you?’
‘My name is Sister Gant.’
Nicki peered out of the corner of her eye, noticed the faint outline of a door almost camouflaged against the brightness. ‘So what really happened to me, why am I here?’
The nun sighed as though releasing some inward tension. ‘You were out with your friends and you had an unfortunate accident.’
Nicki smiled wistfully, but behind the smile, her expression remained colourless. ‘Yeah...that figures. I was pretty drunk.’
There was no reaction in Sister Gant’s expression. ‘Yes, you were. It’s seems to be a sickness of youth.’
Nicki shook her head. ‘What are talking about? We’re just having a good time. We’re not hurting anyone.’
‘No one but you,’ the nun said tonelessly. ‘Or so you think. Others can suffer because of one drunken night out, those who must clean up after the damage, those who must cope with the aftermath.’
‘That’s a tad dramatic,’ Nicki sniffed.
‘I think not. I see it all the time. Your drunken night out brings consequences,’ the woman said, moving.
Nicki watched her. ‘It’s a choice. Nobody puts a gun to our heads and forces us.’
Sister Gant eyed Nicki oddly. She said nothing, but the uneven pallor of her eyes shadowed the rest of her face; a greying flurry swirled with unceasing energy.
Nicki slipped off the bed and stood. ‘Which hospital is this?’
The nun reached out and placed a hand upon Nicki’s shoulder. ‘It’s natural that you would want to get back to your family, but you have an important journey to make,
Nikki glanced down at the hand resting on her shoulder. She realised the lined, flaccid skin belonged to someone much older. She recoiled. ‘Now what the hell are you talking about?’
‘You’ve already left the hospital,’ Sister Gant said. ‘You’re in the Gateway.’
Nicki shook the nun’s hand from her shoulder and stepped back. ‘Okay, now you’re freaking me out. How about some straight answers, huh? What the hell is the Gateway? Just where on earth am I?’
Sister Gant remained polite. Her voice softened. ‘This sometimes happens with injuries like yours. You don’t always remember.’
‘You telling me that this Gateway is a recovery hospital of some sort? I’ve never heard of it.’
Sister Gant moved around Nicki, circling her, her voice filling the room. ‘It’s for recuperation and preparation, especially if there’s been trauma.’
Nicki’s fingers began to flex nervously. ‘What kind of trauma?’
The nun stopped, but she did not look at Nicki. ‘Trauma is any kind of pain or distress.’
Nicki pointed to the nun’s habit. ‘And you look after patients?’
‘Yes I do look after them. It’s my job to ensure they’re fully recovered from disorientation before moving them on. It’s always confusing when they wake and find themselves here. We’re here to provide support and reassurance. You’re in safe hands. You’re in my hands.’
Nicki’s eyes shuttered. ‘So how long was I unconscious?’
‘For quite some time.’
Nicki swallowed the ache clogging her throat. ‘How long?’
‘Weeks. Several weeks.’
She turned, hands soothing the faint throb in her temples. ‘My family. They know I’m here, right?’
‘Oh yes,’ Sister Gant replied. ‘They’ve spent this palliative time very wisely. You were looked after very well.’
Nicki smiled, but then it slipped just as quickly. The stillness gathered around her as though to mock, and she shuddered again, unsure what to think.
Sister Gant remained expressionless beneath the glare.
Piqued, Nicki turned and marched to the door, but when she looked down, she saw there was no handle. ‘How do I get out?
Sister Gant glided across the pristine tiled floor like a dark, invidious spectre. ‘The door only opens when you’re ready.’
Nicki’s brows dropped. ‘I don’t understand.’
‘Adjustment is not an instant process,’ the nun said, matter of fact.
Nicki’s voice bounced from the walls. ‘Adjustment? Jesus, what the hell kind of place is this? Some sort of punishment, just because I was drunk? So I’m held here like a prisoner?’
Sister Gant’s voice remained soft. ‘No child, you’re not a prisoner, far from it. You just haven’t accepted yet. You clearly don’t remember.’
‘Clearly not.’ Nicki held her head as though holding back the darkness in her mind. She closed her eyes, tried again to force memories from murky corners, but nothing came, nothing between the slow motion blur of coming out of the nightclub, turning around and...
The click of the hammer.
She looked up. ‘I heard something...’
The nun nodded slowly.
A stream of consciousness ploughed through the bank of fog clouding her. ‘There was some kind of fight outside the club, lots of shouting...’ Her mind turned and fizzed with effortless spite, trying to recall. ‘But I just can’t remember...’ She rubbed her aching temples. ‘Please, I just want to go home.’
Sister Gant drifted close. ‘You have an essential journey to make. Think of it as a new home that you’re going to.’
Nicki’s eyes reddened. ‘What new home? No way. I want to go to my home, right now!’
Sister Gant touched Nicki’s hand. The old woman’s touch was warm, despite the Arctic coolness of the room. ‘You can’t. You can never go back home, child.’
‘Just what the hell kind of place is this?’ She hammered on the door. ‘Hey! Let me out, someone, please!’
Sister Gant leaned in to whisper. Her voice was low, calm, close to Nicki’s ear and yet loud against the gleaming tiles. ‘You can’t go back, Nicki. But you’re free to leave. You just have to make the door open for you.’
Nicki stared; a bonfire flared up behind her eyes. ‘Why the hell can’t I go home? You can’t keep me here against my will.’
‘You must accept before you can move on.’
‘Accept what, for Christ’s sake? Stop talking in riddles.’
Sister Gant did not smile this time. A sombre grey cloud clung to her face, like cold vapour, and her eyes blackened.
‘Dammit, tell me! Accept what?’
‘You’re dead, Nicki. You were shot dead seven weeks ago outside the nightclub. A bullet to the head. You died instantly.’ The nun was unblinking. She smiled colourlessly. ‘So, you see, you can never go back. Never.’