Contest #147 shortlist ⭐️

43 comments

Fiction Horror

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

I watched Edna Powell die last night.  I sat at her bedside and held her thin hand as her breathing slowed.  I watched as her eyes became fixed and glazed, and her skin became pale and waxy.  I leant forward and put my ear to her lips as the remnants of her final breath whispered.  The death rattle signified the end.  

I let go of her cool hand and put my stethoscope against her chest to listen for a heartbeat that I knew was not there.  A life had been lived.  I stood up and took one last view of the scene before me.  Taking a deep breath to ground myself, I stepped out from behind the privacy curtain, and dimmed the light as I made my way to the duty station across the passage. 

Dr Bobat answered after four rings.

“Yes?” he said sleepily.

“Sorry to wake you Dr Bobat.  It’s Sister Turner from Ward 3B.  I’m afraid Mrs Powell has just passed away.”

“Edna Powell?  Really?” he asked, sounding surprised.  “I really thought she would hang on for a few more days!”

“So did I,” I said.  “I noticed she was struggling when I checked on her half an hour or so ago, so I increased her oxygen flow and sat with her.”

“Aah, bless you, Christine.  She was fortunate to have you with her.  They certainly don’t make nurses like you anymore.”

I smiled at his compliment.  “Shall I notify the family?”

“Please.  And could you draw up the death certificate, I’ll sign it in the morning during rounds.”

“Will do doctor.”

I disconnected the call, and fetched Mrs Powell’s file from the pigeonhole marked “Bed 12”, just as Avril returned from the tea lounge.

“What’s up?” she asked.

I told her about Mrs Powell’s demise.

“How sad.  Such a sweet old lady.  I really thought she would have been with us a few more days.”

She passed me a Notice of Death form from the top drawer.  It wasn’t unusual for people to die on our shift.  Ward 3B was where they sent patients who had exceeded all their options.  Many of these were “Do Not Resuscitate” patients for us to take care of and make comfortable in their final days.  Edna Powell had been one such patient.  End stage bowel cancer.  

I picked up the handheld and dialled the next of kin listed on Edna Powell’s file.  Her daughter sobbed quietly as I reassured her that her mother had not been alone and had passed away peacefully.

“Thank you, Sister Christine.  You have no idea how comforting it is for me to hear that you were with her in her final moments.”

She opted not to come to the hospital, preferring to remember her mother as she had been in life.  

“I understand.  Many families make that choice,” I said gently.

I explained that somebody would be in contact with her in the morning with a list of funeral homes and details for collection of the death certificate.  I reiterated how sorry I was for her loss.

“You really are incredible, you know,” Avril said as I hung up.

“What do you mean?” I said, picking up the form.

“Just the way you are with people.  I don’t think I’ll ever get used to telling people their family member just died.  You just do it so calmly and flawlessly.”

“Twenty years on the job,” I sighed, and wrote “11h23” next to “time of death”.

Avril notified the mortuary, as I quickly completed the rest of the details on the form.  When I was done, she went to check on the other patients in the ward, while I returned to Edna Powell’s silent room to prepare her body for the afterlife.  

Her oxygen mask lay where I had placed it on her pillow so as to keep her final breaths unfettered.  I disconnected the oxygen and her drip bag, and removed her veinous port from her hand.  My hands looked almost red against her translucent blue skin, which was colder than it had been earlier. Dropping the mask, port, drip bag and tubing into the red incineration bin, I listened to the familiar jingling of the equipment falling onto the used medicine vials.  I opened an antiseptic swab and began wiping her face and neck.  I didn’t wear gloves.  I preferred it that way.  I rolled her frail cancer-ravaged body onto her side and untied her hospital gown.  Working quickly, I cleaned her front and back, then placed an absorbent pad beneath her pelvis to catch the fluids that would soon drain from her body.  There was certainly no dignity in death. Finally, I positioned her thin arms close to her sides to make it easier for the undertakers when rigor mortis set in.  Once Edna Powell’s corpse was cleaned and positioned, I leaned over her face and peered into her lifeless eyes.  

“Goodbye old lady.”  I closed her eyes with the palm of my hand.

I was startled by Avril’s voice from behind the curtain.

“Need some help?”

“All done,” I said quickly pulling the sheet over Edna Powell’s face.

The rest of the shift passed relatively uneventfully.  The porters removed Edna Powell to the mortuary.  Mrs Johnson needed a sedative to help her sleep and Mrs Jamaal needed additional pain meds, which I administered from the schedule seven cupboard, documenting it carefully in the register.  I took my tea break on the third-floor balcony adjacent to Ward 3B. As I watched the sun rise serenely over the sleeping city, I thought about how today the world would be different because there was one less person in it.  

At 7 o’clock I left Avril to do handover to the day staff and fetched my bag from my locker.  I scanned my access card and took the elevator to the ground floor.  Taking the long route out the hospital, I turned left down the hallway where the employee of the year awards were displayed.  I paused to look at a framed photo of a younger me.  Sr Christine Turner, RN: Employee of the Year 2018.  I smiled to myself.  This is why I do what I do.  

On the bus home I gazed out the window and watched people starting their day.  The city was waking up as I was about to sleep.  I thought of Edna Powell, now permanently sleeping.  Death is a strange concept.  We always say, “rest in peace”, but do the dearly departed really rest?   Is peace not just the end of suffering? When it came to Edna Powell, I knew the answer.  Despite my long shift, I felt invigorated thinking about the role I had played in her passing.   I had held the hands of many people as they took their last breath and passed to the other side.  While most of them had been expected to die, not one of them had been ready to die.  Each family, every doctor had been grateful for me having been with the patient as they took their final breath.  In fact, I had been told that it was my empathy with terminal patients and their families that had led to my employee of the year award.

I exited the bus at my stop and briskly walked the short distance to my apartment.  I couldn’t wait to get home.  

Pushkin was waiting for me and curled his fluffy tail around my leg, meowing as I closed the door behind me.  I turned on the kettle, dished up his breakfast and watched him hoover it up.

“I got another one!”  I whispered to him.

I went through to my bedroom and closed the curtains.  I sang to myself as I changed out of my scrubs and showered.  

Ten minutes later I climbed into bed with my tea, took out my cell phone and clicked on “photos”.  I had been looking forward to this moment all night. I opened my most recent photo, and saw the dead face of Edna Powell.  Her mouth was open, her lifeless eyes stared, unseeing, from my screen.  I swiped to the previous photo.  Edna Powell stared back at me, a look of fear across her face.  This was taken right after I had injected a massive dose of beta blockers into her port, along with enough insulin to fell a horse.  I had needed her to die quickly before Avril returned from her tea break, but not before I told her that she was about to die and photographed her horrified response.  I had even turned the lights up and removed her oxygen mask to get a better photo of my subject’s expression.

“N-no!” she had gasped weakly, the fatal chemical cocktail already taking effect.

I switched back to the dead Edna photo and enlarged it with my forefinger and thumb.  I made it so large that the entire screen was filled with her dead eyes.  

“Gotcha!” I whispered.

I chuckled to myself as I toggled back and forth between dead Edna and live Edna.  After a few minutes, I moved both photos into the folder where I had stored the pictures of the others who had come before Edna Powell.  I had built up quite a collection.  All of them had been expected to die and none of them had required a post-mortem.  I, a revered nursing sister with twenty years’ experience and an employee of the year award, had written “natural causes” on their death certificates.  I had laid out their bodies and had sent the evidence for incineration.

I put my phone on charge, turned out the light and rolled over.  

I killed Edna Powell last night.  

May 27, 2022 17:11

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43 comments

Zack Powell
16:27 May 29, 2022

Great use of the prompt, Andi. There were so many directions you could've taken it with this narrative, and the one you chose was well-done and well-written. The ending legitimately made me scrunch my face and recoil, so kudos to you for getting some emotion of out your reader! I worked in a hospital for four years of my life, and I've gotta say that this story feels like it was written by someone who also has extensive experience in that environment. There were so many true-to-life hospital moments I found myself nodding along to here: the...

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Andi Hyland
18:31 May 29, 2022

Thank you so much for the feedback. Really appreciate it. Noted about the final sentence - I never even thought of that, and I think you are right. Thank you.

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Forever Williams
14:03 Sep 23, 2022

This story was so sad I almost cried

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Nevaeh Donald
13:49 Sep 13, 2022

Omg i was shook not gonna lie to ya! Great story!!!!!

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Yvonne Shaw
18:36 Aug 05, 2022

This is an awesome, but sad story to read. Thank you for your contribution. I as well have seen many people die before me, but in real life, and I know it is not an amusing view. Trying to help, when you can't because someone else hinders you from helping them stay alive sucks. Blessings your way!

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Andi Hyland
14:13 Aug 26, 2022

Thanks for your comment. I'm sorry to hear about your sad experiences

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Horatio Mogollon
17:07 Jun 29, 2022

Well done. I like your style. Imo the most terrifying theme is the unknown and the savageness of the human mind. Please keep making more of these.

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Andi Hyland
04:03 Jul 02, 2022

Thank you so much.

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Amanda Lieser
04:10 Jun 17, 2022

Oh my gosh! This absolutely deserved the short list! It was such an incredible read from start to finish. And I love how you wrapped it all up very nicely with the final line. My priest was just sharing during mass this past week about the difficult parts of working in death and this piece reminded me of him. The twist came at such a great surprise. I love how you created this world and played with it. Nice job!

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Andi Hyland
09:43 Jun 25, 2022

Thank you so much, Amanda.

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L.C. Schäfer
20:29 Jun 16, 2022

That was a shocker! She felt too good go be true, but I didn't expect her to turn out to be that horrible! Excellent read, well done 😁

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Andi Hyland
09:42 Jun 25, 2022

Yeah she was pretty nasty! Thank you for your comment.

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Brett West
17:51 Jun 09, 2022

I am new to Reedsy, and was browsing the site, when I came upon your story. The very first line draws readers in. The details paint a clear picture of Edna, the nurse, and the scene. The "kicker" is to find out the nurse is a mass murderer who delights in the macabre of photographing the deceased in their final moments and once death sets in, without anyone suspecting what she does. An enjoyable read.

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Andi Hyland
09:41 Jun 25, 2022

Thank you so much Brett.

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Glen Gabel
14:58 Jun 07, 2022

Chilling. Such an unexpected turn - how the story started on the serene beauty of death and ended with the horrific nurse's motivations. Exceptional writing, Andi. I loved this piece.

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Andi Hyland
04:17 Jun 08, 2022

Thank you so much.

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Kevin Broccoli
16:05 Jun 06, 2022

The first line was perfect and you kept that same tension throughout the piece. Well done.

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Andi Hyland
04:18 Jun 08, 2022

Thank you Kevin.

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Michał Przywara
22:44 Jun 04, 2022

What a great story! Deserving of the shortlist -- congrats! Considering the horror prompt, and the very deliberate language the narrator uses, I had a suspicion from the start that Edna didn't die of entirely natural causes. However, what was shocking was the glee the narrator killed her with. And it's not just about the killing, but about the victim knowing it's happening. *That* is what makes this both skin crawling and fantastic! There's a line that really stood out to me: "I was startled by Avril’s voice from behind the curtain." The ...

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Andi Hyland
04:17 Jun 08, 2022

Great feedback. Thank you so much for both reading and taking the time to respond in such detail.

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Andrea Doig
06:39 Jun 04, 2022

Ps! East coast of Africa?! I’m in Durban (Umhlanga!!) where are you?? Durbs? PE? EL?

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Andi Hyland
21:52 Jun 04, 2022

Oh wow! I'm in Durban North. Haha! Small world when you;re online!

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Andrea Doig
10:47 Jun 06, 2022

Jeepers indeed! Well I look forward to more of your stories. That is just too funny!!

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Andrea Doig
06:38 Jun 04, 2022

Worthily shortlisted! Wow well done! Your first submission and an excellent one at that. Easy to read and follow… great style and a chilling ending… just how I like them! Ticks my boxes. I knew where it was going, obviously, based on the prompt… but for me the twist was how she was relishing the whole thing. So she turned from being a “hero” driven by kindness etc to a twisted murderous serial killer. That - I didn’t see coming. Well done!

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Andi Hyland
21:51 Jun 04, 2022

THank you so much.

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Rebekah B
00:59 Jun 04, 2022

Hi Andi, I really loved this submission and this character. Not much unnerves me, but this hit close to home as i am a nurse who has worked in both hospitals and aged care and have a lot of experience in palliative care. This was excellently written, as it was all in just the little things we do for a patient, like the respect shown before and after death. For eg, she removed the oxygen mask, this would be left on. The hands beside the body is unusual, as we put their hands on their chest crossed. Even not using gloves handling a deceased ...

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Andi Hyland
21:51 Jun 04, 2022

Thanks so much for the comment and compliment, Rebekah. I'm so glad you picked up on the weird (and cruel) things that she did to her patient (like the no gloves, removing the oxygen, and, of course, leaving her eyes open as long as she could). I was hoping those would all be clues.

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Todd Johnson
17:35 Jun 03, 2022

Andi, as many have stated, this one took me completely by surprise and left me chilled. Your description of Christine preparing Mrs. Poweii’s body was spot- on and the whole process was told in such a detached fashion that it never veered into melodramatic territory (which a story like this easily could have), also making the final reveal feel natural - although horrific - and not forced. A truly captivating read! Thank you for sharing.

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Andi Hyland
21:51 Jun 03, 2022

THank you so much, Todd.

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Todd Johnson
06:35 Jun 04, 2022

You’re welcome! I look forward to reading more of your work

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Shelby B
10:09 Jun 03, 2022

I never read the prompt or tags on stories because I like to be surprised. And I was definitely surprised reading this one! It flowed really well too and it gave me chills reading because it was so sinister. I loved this one a lot.

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Andi Hyland
21:52 Jun 03, 2022

Thank you so much, Shelby.

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Piper Ollie
06:07 Jun 02, 2022

This was such an interesting entry! I really liked how your tone felt so distinctive! I just joined Reedsy so it was super cool to see such a unique entry!

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Andi Hyland
21:53 Jun 03, 2022

Thank you, Piper. Really appreciate your comment.

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David Wu
20:37 Jun 01, 2022

Bro, this is so horror. I like the twist. This story deserves a follow

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Andi Hyland
21:53 Jun 03, 2022

Awesome. THank you David.

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23:59 May 29, 2022

Ding ding ding!!! LOL my favorite genre!!! ugh you killed this! Great job. Welcome to Reedsy. I loved it!! I don't usually follow people, but this deserves a follow!

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Andi Hyland
06:44 May 30, 2022

Thank you so much. That means a lot. xxx

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08:13 May 30, 2022

ofccc!!

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L. Maddison
17:38 May 29, 2022

What an absolutely chilling twist! So sinister. Both halves of the story written seamlessly and engagingly. This is fantastic.

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Andi Hyland
18:32 May 29, 2022

Thank you so much. x

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