2019 Auricle Writing Competition Second Prize
By Bill Wang
Prompt: Imagine you are fresh out of med school and it’s your first day as an intern. What will be the scariest/ wholesome/ funniest situation you encounter?
The floors were scrubbed clean, or as clean as anything could be in the wake of an explosive end to a jelly-based alien, the dangers of space peri-peri chicken for organisms without proper gas venting mechanisms it seemed.
A few janitors were still standing in the corridor, waving vacuums across the last of the goopy green jelly that still plastered much of the windows and ceiling with a vengeance.
‘Watch yer step’ one of them called out in broken Galactic Basic as Consta walked past.
Consta shuddered, it was only his first day since graduating medical school from the prestigious Monash Space University and the stress of the ward round was already getting to him. He had trained to deal with problems humans had! How could they expect him to suddenly treat an Ethereal with end stage hocus-pocus space disease?
Even worse was the resident that he was on call with. The man? Jelly? Amorphous blob? Had not spoken a word of galactic basic and only method of communication seemed to be increasingly agitated vibrating whenever Consta was making a mistake.
He shook himself from that moment of self-pity, aware that the janitors had stopped their vacuuming to watch him stare into the literal empty void of space beyond the window. He wondered if he should say something – anything to reassure them that the newest intern in Galaxia had not already fallen insane – an event that appeared to befall over 78% of all new interns at the hospital.
The bleep strapped to his waist suddenly burst to life.
‘BOOP! CONSTA TO WARD 1102’
He thumbed down to silence it and continued his brisk pace down the corridor, stepping cautiously around the green slime puddles.
Ward 1102 sounded familiar in his mind, ‘did someone mention it during orientation?’ he mused.
Whatever the case, he did find it slightly concerning when holographic signs along the path to Ward 1102 started popping out.
‘DANGER’ screamed one, providing an additional picture of an exclamation mark.
‘INSTANTENOUS AND SLOW DEATH AHEAD,’ announced another.
‘IT WILL BE SUNNY WITH LIGHT METEOR SHOWERS IN SPACE CLAYTON TODAY,’ came the next.
‘hmm,’ Consta muttered. Had he forgotten to take his washing in today? Getting meteor impacts out of fabric was quite costly this far from the tailor star systems. Regardless, he was on call for another 36 hours so that would have to wait.
Finally, he found himself outside the heavy airlock that sealed the entrance to Ward 1102. A set of 3 massive hydraulically sealed doors manufactured from indestructible-ium he would have to cycle each door one by one before he could even enter Ward 1102.
As he stepped to the first door a robotic voice gave a coolly called out, ‘Attention, you are about to enter Ward 1102, containment unit for indescribable patients. Incidental death or insanity is not the responsibility of Galaxia Hospital.’
With that the hiss of pneumatic pumps de-pressuring the airlocks filled the corridor and as Consta began to walk forward the doors slid open and closed behind him with resounding thunks. Then he stood in the darkness.
‘Over here,’ came a whispered voice from the darkness, ‘be very still and calm, they can sense fear.’
A splodge of goop landed beside Consta’s foot – he realised it was his resident.
‘You can speak Galactic Basic,’ Consta shouted in amazement.
‘Shush!’ came the panicked voice back, ‘if they hear us it will be over.’
Consta snorted. ‘This is all some elaborate rookie hazing prank isn’t it, the over the top warning messages, all the dramatic build up? I’ve read my share of horror novels; you guys aren’t going to get me.’
His resident swore quietly under it’s breath, ‘We don’t have time for this, here take this and for the love of whatever you believe in take me seriously – if it does turn out to be a prank you can shoot me with it.’
Consta felt a tendril drop something heavy into his hand, faintly he made out the outline of a plasma pistol. Now that was something that definitely wasn’t allowed inside a hospital. ‘Fine I’ll play along, what do you want me to do?’
‘Look one of the indescribable patients has escaped from their containment room, the ward staff have cut the power and vented the entire wing with paralysis gas. We need to secure the subject and return it to containment before they can turn the lights back on.’
‘That doesn’t sound like a job for doctors,’ remarked Consta.
‘It’s because we are expendable, the space uni’s churn out medical students by the dime a dozen – hospitals can’t afford risking perfectly capable security guards on these trivial matters. Anyway, enough talk, we need to sweep this wing.’
And so, Consta began searching, stepping cautiously through the darkened wing – the faint glow of his plasma pistol guiding his steps across the ward. He suddenly realised he didn’t even know what he was looking for – what even was an indescribable patient?
The scream suddenly split the silence – short and panicked before cutting out again. Consta immediately spun around and started sprinting towards its direction, skidding to a halt outside a consult room he realised was faintly illuminated by an emergency beacon that was independent of the main power supply.
Hefting the pistol he slammed through the door and pointed it into the room.
He saw his resident pointing a disintegration beam at someone else in the room – what was it? As Consta slowly made sense of the situation he realised the other figure was an exact copy of his resident – staring back at the first copy with a terrified look.
The copy with the disintegration beam called out to Consta first, ‘quick! I have it cornered! It seems like the indescribable patient was hiding in this room and the light has restored its functions! On my count we need to shoot it together to bring it down, my beam alone can only hold it off!’
Almost immediately the other copy cut in, ‘Don’t listen to it! The indescribable patient’s gain the ability to steal memories and take the forms of those around them as their disease progresses! You need to shoot it now with your pistol to stun it!’
Consta swung his pistol wildly between them, realising that during both their pleas they had both inched forward towards him. ‘Get back!’ he yelled, ‘I may have taken the WHO oath to consecrate my life in the service of humanity but you two are definitely not human, so I won’t hesitate to shoot!’
The copy of his resident holding the beam weapon started bubbling, growing taller and twisting and turning as its outer layer slid off like a snake shedding skin. From inside his sister stood up. ‘Oh Consta, you wouldn’t shoot me, now would you? Now be a dear and shoot that indescribable patient before anything else has to happen.’
Consta swung the gun towards the thing masquerading as his sister and fired, splashing it with a bolt of sizzling plasma. Before it could even finish the unearthly echoing scream, he turned the gun again and fired on his resident. As he watched their forms burn away to reveal the twisting shadowy masses within Consta finally let out the breath he didn’t realise he was holding – his knuckles bone white from his grip on the pistol.
Consta jumped when the gravelly voice came from behind him. He swung around just in time to see the black visors of the hospital security team as they pointed a scanning device of sorts at him.
‘He is clear, get him out of here.’
Two of the guards stepped forward and grabbed Consta by the arms, dragging him towards the exit. The rest stepped into the room and began firing, the whomps of plasma impacts accentuated by the further screams of the indescribable patient. Outside in the corridor his resident ran up, vibrating in agitation. It produced a set of pen and paper and began writing in broken galactic basic.
‘Sorry, shouldn’t have sent you in there alone. Didn’t know it was unsafe. Assumed it was a simple task to locate and return patient to bed. Go home and rest.’
Consta could only nod.
‘Thankfully you realised I can’t actually speak,’ called out his resident as Consta walked out into the bustling world beyond the warded gates of Hospital Galaxia.
Photo Credits to Josef Barton