Carolan clocked in and started her shift. The nurse she was replacing, Sammy, rolled her eyes. “Oh, he’s in rare form today, all right. Tried to throw the bedpan at me. Cursing a blue streak. Days like these I’m glad he’s paralyzed. If he could get up, we’d never be able to handle him.”
Carolan smiled in appreciation. “Thanks for the heads-up, Sammy. Go home to your kids, grab yourself something to eat, and plop down on the couch.”
“Thanks, that’s just what I’m going to do. You try to have a good night, Carolan. Watch yourself around him.” With that, Sammy walked out the door, headed for her car and her commute.
Carolan put her purse and coat on the couch in the living room. She wondered why it was called that, because a more sterile and lifeless room she couldn’t imagine. There were even plastic covers over the couch cushions. She used it only as a place to put her purse and coat. Oddly, the house had no coat hangers for visitors. Or maybe not so odd. Mr. Pardoe never had anyone come to the house that she was aware of, other than doctors and around-the-clock nursing.
As she thought, she realized she didn’t know even the most basic things about him — had he been married, did he have children, what does he miss, what can he do without, all kinds of things. She had read his medical file; under ‘next of kin’ he had a law firm listed. The house hinted at old money, but it was dated. Nothing had been changed or modified in decades.
Shrugging, she walked up the stairs to Mr. Pardoe’s room, the master bedroom suite. He was sleeping, his mouth gaped widely open, his raspy breathing sounding loud in the room, which smelled of old skin, cleanser, his no-rinse bath fluid, with a faint overlay of feces. She stood in the doorway, the hallway light silhouetting her against the floor, casting dark shadows on the floor. Wait, shadows? She whirled around, but there was no one there. When she turned back, hers was the only shadow to be seen.
“That was weird,” Carolan said aloud. She looked at her patient again. He was no longer snoring, or asleep. He was lying in bed with his eyes fastened on her.
“Who did you bring into my house? Who’s here?”
“It’s just me, Carolan, your third shift nurse. Don’t you remember me, Mr. Pardoe?” She spoke in a sturdy, cheerful voice.
“You can’t fool me, I saw the shadows. All day I’ve been seeing that shadow, lurking around.”
Carolan thought about confirming his seeing two shadows, then decided against it. Nothing would be gained by it. Instead, she followed her training and acted like he was coherent and speaking truth as he saw it. At such times, she humored him, pretending to believe whatever fantasies he was spouting. Eventually he would come back around, not remembering his delirious hallucinations.
“Well, I’ll keep a sharp eye out, Mr. Pardoe. No shadows are going to creep up on you while I’m here.”
He made a noise that sounded like, “harumph,” and scowled. She kept a straight face but grinned inside. He was in his “not gonna” pose. His arms were nearly as useless as his legs, so he turned his head away from her, that sour-pickle expression on his face. It was his only real way to protest.
“How about I close all the curtains and blinds, and turn up all the room lights? Would that be OK with you?” She was hoping removing other light sources would help with shadows.
He grumbled something unintelligible, drifting back off to sleep. Then his eyes flashed open. “It’s you that needs to watch out, young missy.” His eyelids fluttered, closed again, and he was asleep.
Carolan didn’t believe in the supernatural. To her way of thinking, the real world was strange enough. She decided to go put on the coffee pot while he was sleeping. Leaving his room, with the baby monitor in her pocket, she went to the next room down the hall, which had been refurbished as a rough kitchen. As she opened the door, she again noticed two shadows on the floor in front of her. Whirling around, there was no one there. She shook her head again, and made the coffee.
The baby monitor in her pocket chimed softly. She pulled it out; that sound indicated motion in the room. Looking at Mr. Pardoe, still sleeping, she saw nothing unusual. Still, she grabbed her coffee and got back to his room post-haste.
Everything looked normal. Mr. Pardoe was sleeping, gape-jawed, lightly snoring. The room was bright, enough to startle the eyes. She looked away from the lights, seeing blue-white spots in the center of her vision. She closed her eyes, opened them, and saw her shadow on the wall… with the shadow of someone standing behind her.
This time, Carolan didn’t acknowledge the presence in any way. She just stood where she was, waiting, blinking, wishing away the sunspots in her eyes. She held them closed for ten seconds. When she opened them, the mysterious shadow was gone. She thought she heard the bedroom door snick closed, but when she looked, all was normal.
Now, this was getting strange. This human-shaped shadow, evidently without a body, kept appearing. Turning to look revealed nothing. Mr. Pardoe had complained about the shadows, she remembered, said they’d been troubling him all day.
She still didn’t believe in the supernatural… but she had no explanation for that shadow. Then she breathed out a small chuckle, imagining the Grim Reaper, complete with scythe and flowing, tattered, black robe, lurking around, frustrated that Mr. Pardoe continued to live, tapping his foot, late for his other appointments.
She shrugged. He was on hospice; he could go at any moment. Sometimes she thought only his pure cussed stubbornness kept him alive, and she was probably right. Speaking of, it was time to take his vitals.
He didn’t wake as she went through the routine, blood pressure, oxygen saturation level, temperature. She logged the results in his chart, looking over the other readings from the day. His blood pressure readings were erratic, up and down. Her reading was near the lows for the day, but still not good numbers. Then she sat down, pulled out her phone, and started playing games.
It was nearly time for her meal, and he hadn’t wakened once. Maybe he was tired from all his emotions of the day, and catching up. In any case, it made for an easy shift. She’d gotten tired of playing word games on her phone, and pulled up the latest book she was reading. She read until her stomach let her know it was time to eat. She checked the clock; time for another set of vitals. His temperature was down a bit, as was the oxygen sat number.
Carolan left to go fix herself a meal in the little kitchen room. The dorm refrigerator was always stocked with lunchmeat, cheese, condiments, fresh fruits, juices and kombuchas. All the nurses were encouraged to help themselves. It was a nice way to save a little time, not having to prepare meals in advance to take to work.
Turkey on whole wheat, with little pickles on the side, and an orange juice; she put it on a plate. Then she hesitated. Nurses were encouraged to take their meals and breaks in this room, using the baby monitor to keep track of Mr. Pardoe. Somehow she felt uneasy, and decided to take her lunch back to his room.
She opened the door, and stopped dead — it looked like a dark elongated shadow was over Mr. Pardoe’s body. Not even thinking, Carolan pressed the emergency response button she wore around her neck. It would summon a team, firefighters, EMTs, police. She put her lunch down on an end table, and spoke as loudly as she could.
“Who are you, and what are you doing to Mr. Pardoe?” Her voice wobbled slightly, as did her knees.
In response, the shadow lifted up! She saw for the first time that it was a man wearing a long black cloak with a hood.
“What are you doing here! You should be having your lunch break now!” The man’s voice was shrill, demanding.
Then Carolan saw, with horror, that the man was holding a pillow over Mr. Pardoe’s face and head. She put her head down, and charged him like she was a quarterback on Sunday Night football. Her head collided with his chest, and knocked him off her patient’s body. The pillow fell away. Terrified, she checked him quickly for vitals. She found a thready pulse, and he was breathing again.
Her arm was grasped tight and twisted painfully behind her. She couldn’t turn to see who the man was, but again she could see their twin shadows on poor Mr. Pardoe’s bed.
“You stupid bitch, you’ve ruined everything. If you hadn’t stuck your nose into my business, you would have come back from your lunch shift to find him passed away peacefully in his sleep.”
“Why are you trying to kill Mr. Pardoe?” Carolan was perplexed. The old man hadn’t done anything to anyone, that she knew of.
“He needs to die because I need his money!” The man’s answer was sharp, abrupt. “I’m his only son, I’ll inherit everything. Then I can pay off my business debts.” His shadow pulled slightly away from hers, although his grip on her arm never loosened. “What a shame, that I came here to visit my beloved father in his last days, only to find a murder/suicide, my father killed by his nurse, who then killed herself.”
One arm, the one not holding her hostage, lifted high. Carolan coiled her body like a spring, and threw herself backward with all her strength. The move tore her imprisoned arm painfully — and then he let go of it. She jumped off him, raced toward the bedroom door.
Carolan threw open the door — exposing two officers, followed by two EMTs, ready to enter. They swarmed the room, grabbing the man in the black cloak, handcuffing him, then throwing back his hood.
She ignored everyone else, went to check on her patient. He was still asleep, or unconscious. She took his vitals again… and shook her head, astonished. His oxygen levels were up, and his blood pressure was down, much closer to normal.
As she was unstrapping the blood pressure cuff, his eyes snapped open. “You get that nonsense with the shadows sorted out?”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Pardoe. No more shadows will trouble you.” Carolan was beaming with pride at her part.
“Harumph. About time.” And with that, her patient fell back asleep.