Darkness

by Laurie

The smoggy grey sun poked its head over Chicago when life began to flourish from the small apartments below it. Lake Michigan sparkled with grime as men set out to the slaughter house to commence their daily mutilation. The streets bustled with loud chatter as women commenced their daily shopping for dinner that day and children ran wild down the filthy streets.

It was in a bedroom where Edward woke up to the sun piercing through the holes in the blinds. A brisk wind pierced through the slightly cracked window chilling him to the bone. Shivering, he stepped slowly out of his lumpy cot. Keeping his gray wool blanket wrapped tightly around him he stepped quickly across the creaky wooden floor to his pile of clothes laying in the far left corner of his room. Pausing for a moment, he coughed ridgidly.

"Edward, breakfast," a woman shouted from the room next to his.

Picking up his pace, he slipped into his loose fitting black pants, and tucked in his slightly yellowed work shirt. Attempting to wiggle his bare toes and unable to, he decided it was better to place his worn out black boots on.

"Edward! Hurry up! You are going to be late again!"

"Coming," he plowed through the door.

"I wish you would not do that! You are going to hurt yourself one day and my heart can not take that!"

"I know," he smiled despite her nagging.

"Sit! Eat! You are becoming skin and bones!"

Smiling, he took a seat at the shabby decrepit wooden table with only two chairs in the small prison cell that they called a kitchen. He could hear cars rumbling down the street below him.

She took the pan off of the stove and poured slimy white eggs onto a plate.

His mother's fragile figure moved across the room. Her mouse-like fingers curled around the plate holding it as delicately as she could. Her curly brown hair with a hint of red was tied up in a bun and she wore her yellow waitress uniform. He noticed her pale face glistening with cold sweat and tinted the slightest shade of blue.

"Mom?" He whispered, "Are you feeling well? You look sick."

"Oh, I am doing just fine." she shrugged off his concern. "It is probably just a touch of fatigue. Mr. Andrews has had me working double shifts lately. I will be fine with a little bit of rest." She placed his plate in front of him.

"You need to take better care of yourself. I do not know what I would do if something happened to you."

Smiling, she put her hand under her only sons chin and pulled his head up. "You do not need to worry about me."

He pulled his head back down and nodded shamefully. He really did worry too much about her but what could he expect. After his father died from cholera he had been alert of every little malady his mother had, watching out for her well being.

"Hurry up! Eat! You need to get to work soon!"

Scarping his under-cooked eggs down, he ran out the door. "Bye," he shouted on his way out the shabby, broken, wooden door.

The street outside of his three story apartment building already bustled to life with shoppers eager to get their morning bread. Pausing for a moment he looked down the dusty road to the staggering gates that marked the entrance to hell. He could see train after train pulling into station to unload cattle for the butchering. Hundreds of men all dressed the same filed into the gates with their lunch pails and butcher aprons in hand. Just outside the gate he could see several other men roughly around sixteen waiting outside the gate for him.

The sun was already so high in the sky that he doubted that he would make it to work on time. Running down the street, he weaved in and out of the eager shoppers. Nearly falling face first into a bread cart, he spun around crashing into a big, burly, bald man.

"Watch where you are going!"

"Sorry," Edward shouted already a hundred meters away from the man. The cement grounds outside of the stockyard already were even more crowded than they looked from a distance. Men pushed pasted Edward eager to get to work and home again.

"Edward!"

Spinning around Edward saw a man dressed similar to himself but with sandy blond hair and harsher eyes.

"Why are you so late?"

Edward remained silent. Attempting to stare down to blond haired man.

"Oh. Forget it. Just get inside we have seven trains here already!" The blond haired man waved Edward towards the towering hellish gates.

"Yes sir." He walked past his boss keeping his head held high.

Marching to the stone gates, one of the boys waiting on the side of the gate shouted ecstatically, "Hey, it's Edward." Then turning sarcastic said, "Finally decide to crawl out of bed?"

Grinning at each other, they walked towards each other to meet up. They shook hands.

"So what's new?" The boy on the side said.

"Nothing Charles."

"I heard your mother screaming at you this morning when I was leaving. What did you do?"

Edward's face turned red. Ignoring the question, he decided to head inside to check in.

"Edward, wait." A woman in a black skirt with a white shirt running up to the gates.

"Hold it," shouted several of the boys shouted at Edward.

Her jet black hair fell in front of her breathless red face, "Edward...It's..."

Edward already knew what she was going to say. Plowing through the crowed of stragglers Edwards headed back up the road to his apartment.

The girl with black hair followed him the best she could meeting several disgruntled stragglers grumblings about his rudeness.

"Edward!" She tried to get his attention again but her voice was too weak for him to hear. "Edward!" She tried a little stronger but she was inaudible over the crowd. All she saw was the blur of his yellowed shirt as he turned the corner pummeling the door down. Running up the stairs he threw open his apartment door.

"Mother!" He frantically shouted. "Mother!"

The house remained silent. Just by the sink his plate from breakfast lay shattered on the floor. He was too late. He knew she looked sick this morning. Why did he go to work?

The young girl in the black skirt huffed, "she is not here."

"Where is she?" He growled approaching her while crouching in a hostile stance. His eyes blazed with hatred and anger with a hint of despair in them.

"At..." she gasped for breath, "the hospital. The doctor said it was influenza." She quickly said with all her strength.

Edward's eyes widened. A jolt of fear glimmered in his hostile expression, "Let's go."

"What are you? Crazy?" He voice was frantic. "It is contagious."

"Well I am going. If you do not want to that is your problem." He marched past her smashing some small shards of plate with his torn up boots.

Sighing she followed him. "Edward this is crazy. It's dangerous..."

He cut her off, "I already lost one parent. I will not lose another."

"And what about you?" She stopped followed him.

He whirled around to face her, "What about me?"

"Edward you are 16. Do you think your mother wants you dead?"

Ignoring her question, he continued jogging in the opposite direction from his work. Sweat poured from his tired face.

Giving up, she decided to follow him to the hospital, "Edward. Wait up!"

The road to the hospital seemed even longer today than it did other days when he went to observe the doctors at the hospital. Frustrated drivers honked their horns at Edward as he ran across the street dodging their cars. The frost nipped at Edward's ears as he gasped for air while trying to keep up his pace on 95th street. The halfway point, a small, abandoned wooden shack on Chicago Avenue, passed by. Edward knew he would be there soon.

The tall brick walls of the hospital rose out of the ground. All around it cars lined the street causing traffic jams on 58th and 51st street. The site hundreds of sick people holding bloodied handkerchiefs over their mouths sickend Edward but pushing it out of his mind he pressed on.

Suddenly, he stopped just outside of the hospital.

"Marissa." He did not turn to look at the girl in the black skirt.

Cautiously she walked up behind him. "Yes," her voice suddenly became weaker.

"Go home," his eyes remained fixed on the floor. "I do not want you to get sick."

Grabbing his arm she said, "I am with you. No matter what."

Nodding he shook her hand free from his arm and stepped into the hospital. The lights instantly extinguished and were replaced by the blinding white ceiling lights that lined the halls. Hundred of people lied in beds and sat in chairs lining the hall way, while nurses and doctors attended their every wound. The room filled with the groans of sick patients, their bluish facing seemed like something that would haunt Edward's nightmares. Blood sprayed from several patients who were coughing as the smell of decaying corpses filled the air turning Edward green with nausea. Cautiously he walked through the crowd, keeping his head held high, his eyes straight ahead he ignored their pleas and searched for his mother.

"Excuse me..." he began to address one nurse wearing a white dress.

"I am sorry sir but these are the best accommodations that we have."

Realizing that she was not paying attention to him he frantically began to search through the patients.

"Mom?" He placed his hand on one patients shoulder.

Rolling over, she stared at him with her wide bloodshot eyes and gripped his exposed wrist. "Help me," she gasped. Her grip tightened around his wrist, "Help me." A strand of her stringy brown hair tumbled down her face.

Edward's wide green eyes reflected the terror that his internal organs reacted to. With his heart pounding, he tried to pull his shaky wrist out of he clutch; but it was useless. Her white knuckles just tightened around his wrist.

"Let go," he voice remained the only steady part of his appearance.

Another pale hand reached around Edward's wrist. Prying Edward's mortified hand from the brown haired woman, the white hand dragged him across the room. Terrified, Edward allowed his eyes to venture a gaze up to the back of the hand's owner's head. Instantly Edward knew whom it was, the medium length brown hair tied back with the same navy blue ribbon was unmistakable.

"James?" His voice trembled with uncertainty.

The man in the bloodied white shirt did not answer.

"James?"

Finally he answered, "Yes."

A sigh of relief overcame Edward. His body immediately relaxed, every muscle felt at ease.

"Why did you come here?" James growled with frustration.

"Marissa said that my mother was taken here."

"And this provoked you to endanger your own life and her's," he flicked his head back gesturing towards Marissa.

"I told her to go home," Edward defended himself.

James stopped. "She's through that door."

Edward marched past James and into a small blindingly white room where his mother lay. Her bluish hand clenched a bloodied rag. She groaned, "Edward. Edward. Where is my son?" Her reddish brown hair stuck to her scalp, cold sweat dripped from her face, and through all of this her wary eyes remained tightly shut.

Edward ran to her bed side tugging the bloodied rag out of her hand and replacing it with his right hand.

"Edward!" James bellowed.

Edward's reluctant eyes turned to look James in his pleasant yet distressed face.

"She is contagious."

Nodding Edward turned back to his mother. His eyes fixed on her distressed face.

"Edward!" she cried.

"I am right here." His grip tightened around her hand.

Her face relaxed a little.

"Get some rest."

When Edward was sure that she was asleep he slipped his pale hands out of her dainty grip and went to find James.

It was not terrible hard to find James. He generally stuck to the darkest parts of the hospital, which was just the hall that Edward was in and the one running perpendicular to that one along the south end of the hospital. James worked attentively on a patient just two beds and a chair down from where Edward's mother was.

"James?" Edward placed his hand on James' shoulder, alerting James. The cold from James's shoulder permeated through his clothes, chilling Edward to the bone.

James shifted pulling his stone cold shoulder out of Edward's hand. "Yeah?" His eyes never left his patient.

"How bad is she?" Edward's voice became a mouselike whisper.

Dropping his hands to his side James shook his head, "It's not good."

Edward's eyes widened, usually James would tell him good new even if it was bad, his bluntness scared Edward.

Reading Edward's mind James said, "I know you would prefer me to tell you some elaborate story about how she would be fine in a few days, like I did with your father, but you are old enough that I do not need to lie to you anymore."

Edward's eyes became stone cold.

"Have you visited him lately?"

Edward remained silent.

"You need to visit him, Edward. he was your father no matter what he did."

"He ran off with the army the minute I was born. How could anyone consider that a father. By the time I was five he had six other families throughout Chicago alone, and it is not like he tried to even hide it."

Sighing James persisted desperate to get Edward out of the gloom of the hospital for a while. "Just go visit him."

Edward's conscience got the best of him as he observed James administer morphine to a sickly patient. "Fine." Edward marched back to his mother's room.

"Edward," James called after him. For the first time in their conversation he turned to look at him, "now. She will be fine."

"I know I was just looking for Marissa."

"I convinced her to go home."

Nodding Edward turned left down the hall. The groans and pleas of the patients began to wear at Edward's shield. If only he could help them, but he lacked proper medical training.

The dim light from the outdoors was a pleasant replacement for the blindingly white lights the filtered through the hospital. Allowing his pupils a moment to adjust, Edward headed down Woodlawn Ave. Even this street was lined with cars. They stretched as far as Edward could see, but he assumed that they were not all for the hospital. Angry drivers honked their horns and shouted out of the windows at each other while Edward made his way to the cemetary. Just a few yards in front of him someone dumped a bucket of dark colored liquid out of his third story window hitting a man on the head.

"Watch where you are pouring that stuff!" His face was red with anger. His black suit sopping wet.

"Yeah? What are you gonna do about it?" The man in the window shouted.

"I'll come up there and..."

Edward tuned them out. He saw stuff like that everyday. The man on the street would keep talking and then by some miracle a cop would show up and break up the feud.

Edward vaguely remembered where his father was buried but he knew it was in Rosehill cemetery. Walking across the street he approached the fortress-like gates that marked the entrance to the cemetery. The stone gates still terrified him a little bit but not as much as when he first came here four years ago. The road inside the cemetery split off into many different sections. Edward had nothing but a four-year-old memory to go off of to find his father's grave. The grave yard was eerily calm, almost peaceful amongst the city's chaos but Edward prefered the chaos to this.

The memories of the bright sunny day when his father was buried flooded back into Edward's mind. At the time, he was 12 years old and terrified of what was happening. He clung to his mother's arm in his hand-me-down black suit. He still remembered his heart was about to burst through his black suit. James, the family doctor, stood right by them, tall and strong, comforting them. James was with Edward and his mother throughout his father's sickness. He became very close to the family during that time. Shortly after the funeral ended the small procession filed out of the cemetery, except Edward, his mother and James. Pulling Edward's mother aside, James said something inaudible to anyone but her, she nodded and left Edward and James alone in the cemetery. Edward watched as the weeping figure of his widowed mother got smaller and smaller.

"Edward?"

Edward's terrified eyes shot up to James, his knees her trembling.

"Relax," he smiled.

Edward tried but he could not.

James continued despite this, "I know that it has been tough on you and your mother lately but I just want you to know that if you ever need anything, anything at all, I am here for you."

Edward did not speak instead he nodded.

"Okay, good. Let's catch back up with your mother."

Edward's legs unlocked and he ran across the field to his mother waiting at the end of the road. At the time James terrified Edward but over the year he came to respect James as a wise man and a father figure, even if he was only about thirty years old.

Edward's father's tombstone looked just like the rest of the stones in the yard, plane white. This just furthered Edward's belief that his father was not a special man. If he was then he should have had a special grave like all of the great men he knew about. The longer Edward stood staring at the tombstone the more infuriated he grew. The cemetery began to get hazier.

"Why did you do this to Mom and me?" He shouted at the grave. "If you did not want me then you should not have married mom when you found out she as pregnant. Instead you worked all day and stayed out all night. You slept with other women! You hurt mom and me. I wonder exactly how many illegitimate children you really did have?" His face boiled with rage. "You were the most useless father ever. I wish I would have never met you. Why couldn't you have been there like a normal dad. Every time the other children's fathers returned from the stock yard I would wait outside the apartment looking for you. You would never come. Then one day long after I gave up you march home from work on time and announce that you are my father and I should respect you. You disgust me." Edward's fists were clenched, his heart raced. Infuriated at the flood of memories rushing back to him, he spit at the grave and stomped back to the hospital.

The walk back to the hospital was considerably shorter than before. The rage kept Edward's mind preoccupied until he reached the hospital gates. The sun hid itself behind the clouds as little drops of rain attacked the ground. James waited outside of the hospital, enjoying the fresh air and rain.

"How did it go?" James asked

"Usual," Edward stopped at the door.

"You need to forgive him. You can not keep living your life with this hatred towards him."

"I know but as long as I don't see his grave I will be fine."

"Good enough," James smiled.

"How is she?"

"She's resting. I have a nurse with her at all time. We are trying to make her as comfortable as possible."

"Thank you."

"For what?" James looked at him directly in the eyes.

"Everything. You are a good man."

James nodded, "You better take care of yourself. You're starting to look sick too." His voice was light but his eyes were grave.

"I don't need to worry about myself." Edward fought James' warning.

"You better go back to your mother. I will be back in in a little while to check on her." His mood became dark.

Edward walked through the door. This time the change in light was not as dramatic as it was before. The patients had quieted down a little bit, but their cries still pierced through the halls. The doctors and nurses were out of sight. Edward found the hospital eerily calm. He guessed that the doctors had administered drugs to relax all of the patients then went to take a break.

Edward's mother lay perfectly still on her bed sleeping. She looked at peace, like she was just sleeping and nothing was wrong with her at all. She shivered under her covers. "Can I get another blanket," she mumbled in her sleep.

A nurse sat at her bed side keeping a watchful eye on his mother.

"Excuse..."

Terrified, the nurse leapt out of the chair by his mother's bed.

"It's okay."

"Oh dear I thought you were getting me for an emergency. You can never be at ease in a place like this. You know? I have had the assist in seven incidences today."

"Yeah," Edward smiled.

"You must be her son. Doctor Masen said you would be back to visit her."

Edward remained at the door trying to make sense of her nervous rambling. Her wide eyes flicked across the room as she twiddled her thumbs. Her brown hair was pulled back tight in a bun with hairs sticking out accentuating her nervousness. "Why don't you take a break. I can watch her for a while."

Her shoulders dropped in relief, "Thank you." Her hazel eyes reflected her gratitude and she walked out of the room.

Edward's mother stirred a little as he sat down in the chair next to her bed. The pillow under her head was soiled with blood that sprayed from her mouth each time she turned her head to cough. The silent room started to become like a tomb for Edward. The white wall seemed to press inwards at him and the darkness tried to strangle him. His breathing became shallow and more frequent as the walls shifted and spun around him. Gasping for air and gripping his mother's hand everything turned black.

When Edward woke up the room was pitch black. The only illumination came from the street lamp outside his window filtering through the shades. His mothers still figure lay on his left, death-like. His heart pounded out of his chest. She was dead he knew it. What would he do now?

Her chest rose slightly up and down underneath the white sheets. Edward relaxed. His heart still fluttered but the pounding had stopped. In the chair where Edward sat a dark figure replaced him. It was not a delicate as the figure that took his place before but a more masculine figure. Its eyes were wide peering through the dark at Edward. Rising from his chair, the man quickly moved towards Edward not making a sound. Something seemed odd about the man's movement, he did not walk like a normal person but glided instead. The figure was right above Edward now. His features were vaguely distinguishable,

"James?" Edward asked.

"Sleep," James said.

"What..." his throat was dry. "What happened?"

"You have Influenza also." James was so calm about the matter.

Fear pinched Edward making him just up. His head spun and his abdomen hurt.

"Rest. You will be fine."

"You lie," Edward snapped at James. He did not know anyone who survived influenza and for James to give him a sliver of hope made him sick.

"You will be fine. We are not even sure yet if that is what it is," James lied.

Edward held his hand up to the dim light, a blue hue radiated around it. "I know the symptoms."

Giving up James sighed and left the room.

Edward lied back down his heart racing but strangely enough he felt nothing. Death looked him dead in the face and Edward did not feel afraid of it. James' words rung in his ears as he stared at the black ceiling in agonizing pain. His head throbbed, it felt like he had been punched in the face by a man twice his size. Blood trickled out of his mouth and onto his pillow when he coughed into it. The countless hours flew by as Edward stared at the ceiling in agonizing pain. Eventually his body gave out and he fell asleep.

Edward woke up to the bright sun piercing through the drawn shades in the window. His mother rolled around her face pouring with cold sweat.

"Edward?" she moaned.

"Yes mom? I am right here." He tried to jump out of his bed but a sharp pain piercing his stomach forced him back down. Clenching his teeth, he stifled a yelp.

"Are you feeling alright? Doctor Masen told me you had a spell." Her teeth chattered and her entire body shivered with chills.

Grateful that James did not tell his mother the truth he said, "Yeah. It must have been from worrying too much."

Smiling she said, "I told you that you should not..."

A coughing fit consumed Edward. Blood continuously poured from his mouth.

"Help!"

No one came.

"Help," She shouted even louder. Attempting to get out of bed, she was pushed back down by the nurse who rushed into the room accompanied by James.

"Pull the back of the bed up!" James took command.

Edward stared at him with wide eyes pleading for help. Coughing, more blood spewed from his mouth. It was pouring in a continuous stream now.

Another doctor rushed in. "Okay we need..."

"Out," James roared.

The man retreated back out the door.

His coughing fit was subsiding and the blood was going down.

"What is going on?" Edward's mother demanded when she was finally sure that he was ok.

"Hemorrhaging of the lungs. It started last night," James turned to her before continuing. "It is step two for people who live past the usual twenty four hours of influenza."

Her mouth was agape, "You mean..." She pointed at her only son. Tears filled her eyes. "No," she cried. "It's all my fault."

James turned to the nurse, "Comfort her. I can take it from here."

The nurse nodded and rushed to Edward's mother's side, "It is okay dear. He will be fine."

James looked down at Edward whose breathing became shallow. "How you doing?"

"F...F...ine." Edward's voice quaked.

James smiled. "You could not just get better." He left the room before Edward could utter another word.

The nurse remained behind sitting on the edge of his mother's bed. "It will be fine. Medicine has advanced a lot since we were kids. I'm sure Doctor Masen has a plan."

Edward turned away from his mother. Lying on an awkward slant, he stared through the holes in the window. Slowly he drifted to sleep but remained slightly aware of everything that was happening around him. Two people walked into his room. He did not bother to open his eyes and turn on his back for them.

"Doctor?"

"Yes?"

"How long do you think they have?"

Edward knew those voices. It was James and the nurse that James assigned to sit with his mother just before he fell sick.

"Not long. The mother has pneumonia and the son's lungs are hemorrhaging badly. We need to keep him sitting up at all times to keep the blood down."

"Which one do you think will go first?" Her voice lowered and shook with fear.

"Edward."

Edward's ears perked up. He was going to die first. Instead of feeling the intense burn of fear that he felt when he found out his mother was sick a morbid serenity took its place. So this is what it felt like to die, he thought to himself.

"Edward?" A hand touched his shoulder.

Edward opened his eyes and rolled over. An angel towered over him. She was dressed in a nurse's uniform and her kind eyes were filled with sorrow and pitty.

"How are you feeling?"

"Good," he lied.

She smiled. She could see through his pitiful attempt to lie.

"How is my mom?"

"She is doing okay." A fake smile stretched across her face.

"What did Doctor Masen say?" Edward felt awkward saying that. He never said Doctor Masen he always used James.

Her eyes dropped to the bed. "He said..." She struggled to tell him, "he said that she had pneumonia too."

"But she'll be fine..." He stared at her with hope. "Right?"

"I have never seen a case of influenza like her's get better."

Edward turned to look out the window. "So we are both. Done for?"

"I am afraid the outlook is..."

"Janie!"

Both of them snapped their heads towards the door.

"What are you doing in here still." James eyes raged with fury.

"Nothing sir." She curtsied, in panic, and scrambled out the door.

James followed her out the door with her eyes then turning back to Edward said, "What did she say to you."

"Nothing." Edwards glare matched James'.

"James." Edward's mother whispered across the room.

"Yes ma'am." James turned away from Edward and walked to his mother.

"Come here."

James leaned down so that she could whisper something inaudible into his ear.

Edward stared at them wondering what they were saying.

James stood up and nooded.

"Promise?" she said.

"Yes," James nodded.

"No say it." She demanded.

"Alright I promise."

She collapsed back into her bed and James left the room.

The day dragged out without much entertainment. Despite Edward's nausea, stomach pain, and breathing problems he felt like a baby calf in a box. He needed to get out of the room but his pain paralyzed him. Pulling open the blinds, he stared out the window at the over crowded street trying to imagine what the people could be doing instead of being at the hospital. He imagined that one family was dining at the restaurant right across the street and another going to the pet shop down the street looking for a dog. This served as a decent way to pass the time but it only lasted as long as Edward's imagination could hold out but shooting pain replace all thoughts in his mind. Turning over he looked out the door. Nurses and doctors rushed by but none of them paid any attention to him or his mother. Edward looked over at his mother. She lay, eyes wide open staring at him in horror. Blood trickled down her jaw and dripped onto the floor.

"Help!" Edward shouted. "Help," he jumped out of bed and crumpled on the floor in pain. "Help," he crawled across the floor.

Several nurses and doctors ran into the room.

"Pick him up," one doctor shouted at two orderlies. They ran over to Edward and threw him back in his bed. Edward fought against their grip but he was too weak. Edward's heart pounded out of his chest as he watched the doctors try to save his mother's life. He scanned the crowd of doctors and there was James eyes boiling with fury as he worked diligently to save her life. Shouting out unintelligible commands at various doctors and nurses, they rushed across the room.

The emergency seemed to ware on for hours but it only lasted for moments. Eventually James reached down, took her pulse, and shook his head.

"Time of death 2:59 pm."

A nurse in the corner jotted it down as James pulled the white sheet over her head.

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