by Samantha Bryant
It was a miracle. As Michael watched, the flatline blipped once. Then again, slowly. He shook his head and rubbed his eyes, telling himself it was just exhaustion and grief playing tricks on him. He had hardly left Emily’s bedside in the two weeks since the attack, hoping and praying for a change. He was underslept and overwrought. And now that she was beyond his hopes and prayers, it wasn’t surprising that his mind would play tricks on him.
Michael brushed Em’s soft, blonde hair back from her forehead and leaned in to place a kiss on the smooth skin there. Her flesh was still warm. He fought the urge to succumb to tears again. He should go and let the staff attend to her body. He’d have to make the call to her parents and her sister, then his own family. Em would want him to make sure that everything was done right. He’d been too late to protect her from whoever had done this to her, but he owed her a proper memorial at the very least.
Then, he saw it again. He had imagined it, hadn’t he? No! There it was yet again. A blip, and then another. He ran to the hospital room door, his face still wet with tears.
“Nurse!” His voice echoed down the strangely deserted hallway. Where was everyone? Not two hours before, the hall had been filled with visitors and bustling staff. He’d never seen the hall completely empty, not even in the middle of the night. “Nurse?” he called again, uncertainly.
No one came. He ran back into the room, leaving the door open so he’d hear if anyone approached. His heart felt like a knot in his chest, pulling tighter with each pump of blood. He wanted someone else to come, someone to say that it was really happening. He stood just inside the door, gazing at his wife’s body, propped up in the hospital bed.
Emily appeared unchanged, her pallor still deathly pale and her unmoving body still wrapped in bandages that covered the deep wounds in her arms, legs, and torso. Her chest did not appear to rise and fall with breath, but the monitoring machine continued to blip and beep. There were two sounds now. He wasn’t sure what the signals indicated. Brain activity? Breathing? A pulse?
But if she were gone, there would be nothing to detect. He was afraid to trust his own senses. It was impossible; the machines were malfunctioning. Hadn’t he seen her on the floor of their apartment, so covered in blood that he couldn’t tell which part of her bore the wound?
He knew then that he had lost her, even if it took two more weeks for her body to give up its last hold on life. In that entire time, she had never once shown any sign of coming back, not even a pupillary reaction when light was shined in her eyes, the most basic sign of brain function. Her pupils stayed wide and dark as if she were permanently in a pitch-black room. Michael thought she looked frightened, but the doctors had assured him that she wasn’t experiencing pain or emotional distress.
Several different experts and consultants had come in to review the case—he’d been surprised at how many—but none had been able to offer him any hope. Some of them had actually seemed a little afraid of Emily, as if she had a contagious disease instead of a grievous injury. They stood at some distance from the bed, taking notes and leaning their heads towards one another to consult in quiet tones. Michael had mostly ignored them, only letting go of Em’s hand when he had to allow them to examine her. He hovered over the proceedings, watching everything that happened.
One of the experts—a woman from Yugoslavia or the Czech Republic or something like that, to judge by her accent—had held his arm for a while, looking at him with almost tearful sympathy, stroking his hand and telling him that they would see to her care in this life and the next. She had weirded him out a little. He wasn’t used to religious discussion in a medical setting; he’d always had the impression that most doctors were atheists or believed they were gods themselves.
Another of the consulting doctors had seemed more like a police detective. He had peppered Michael with questions about the crime scene, and seemed disappointed that it had all been over before Michael had arrived home. But Michael had not seen the assailant and had no idea why or exactly how she had been attacked. Emily had not been able to speak at all. Her body had trembled in his arms until it finally became still when the paramedics injected her with something.
The one point on which all the doctors agreed was that there was no brain activity, and Michael had eventually acquiesced to their advice and agreed to disconnect the breathing apparatus that was keeping her technically alive. They had reluctantly left him alone to say his goodbyes once all the monitors had gone silent and still.
“Are you sure that’s wise?” he’d heard one of the nurses inquiring as they walked down the hall.
“He’s made his choice,” the supervising doctor had answered. “Maybe we’re wrong.” Closing the door behind them, Michael had sat down and let himself weep for the woman he loved.
But now the monitors were beeping again. Michael punched the call button about 15 times. An annoyed woman’s voice came on. It didn’t sound like the nurse he had spoken to before. This voice was dark and angry.
“She’s alive!” Michael shouted into the speaker. He was almost incoherent with joy at the prospect.
“What?” The woman sounded shocked, and something else, too. He heard her murmuring as if she’d placed her hand over the mouth of a phone to muffle what she was saying to someone else in the room. “Are you sure?” she asked when she came back on. She still sounded incredulous, breathless even.
He was incredulous himself, but miracles happened, didn’t they? Michael didn’t know what he’d done to deserve a miracle, but he wasn’t going to turn one away, not if it brought his Emily back to him. If she made it through this, he’d spend his life praising God for the miracle of her recovery.
“Her machine, it’s blipping. She’s alive!”
Giving up on getting the woman to listen, he dropped the device on the bed and grabbed Emily’s hand. It was cold and unmoving, as was her face. He thought there might be a little color in her cheeks now, but it might have just been a trick of the light. The monitor continued to beep steadily, picking up speed bit by bit. He didn’t care if the nurse ever came now.
“Em? Can you hear me, Em?”
Her hand twitched, then gripped his fingers. Michael gasped. He wasn’t imagining this. She was definitely beginning to move. Em’s grip tightened and tightened again. It was incredibly strong. Painful. Michael tried to pull his fingers away and found that he couldn’t.
“Em? Em, honey? That hurts. Em? Can you hear me?”
It really did hurt. He’d never felt this kind of strength in her grip before. He thought his fingers might break. Was she having a convulsion?
Emily didn’t open her eyes, but Michael could see the quick movements beneath the closed lids, suggesting that she was conscious or dreaming intensely. He suppressed a yelp of pain as she continued to squeeze his hand.
“Help!” he yelled toward the hallway. Fumbling for the remote, he pressed the call button again, but no one answered this time. He yelled into it anyway. “Somebody help! She’s breaking my fingers!”
Em let go of his hand. Michael jumped back from the bed, pulling his injured fingers against his chest, afraid to move them and find out the full extent of the damage. In one fluid movement, Emily sat straight up in the bed and turned her head towards Michael. The movement was impossibly fast, not at all like someone who had just been unconscious and presumed dead. She moved like a tiger.
The stare she turned on Michael froze something deep within him. The eyes were cold and seemed to look through him rather than at him. They weren’t like Em’s eyes at all. There was no recognition in them. Michael looked behind him quickly, praying someone had come. Someone who could help. Instead, he saw only the door, closed. He was sure he’d left it open.
He turned back and Em was standing right in front of him, near enough to kiss him, if she chose. He hadn’t heard her leave the bed or cross the floor.
“Em?” he said one last time, his voice soft and pleading.
The woman in front of him cocked her head to one side, then smiled, revealing a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth. Michael didn’t even have time to run before she was upon him.
Copyright © 2014 Samantha Bryant