The Shadow of Finality

A standalone excerpt from something longer.

Length: 1,313 words

The Shadow of Finality
Written by Sudo (Pseudinymous)

Cold echoed steps languished their way down the hospital corridor.

It all felt slow, and dry, and unreal. The lights were low and the staff mysteriously absent, almost as if they could sense the presence of a man who knew how to bring the storm by his whim. The air was as unnatural as the desolate fluorescent lights, filled with antiseptic and distaste and a rot to the lungs.

How dare they bring him to a hospital like this.

Cold steps quickened as his soul made him go. With the storm or without was the feeling of tepid horror, following along behind him in unfolding plumes of vile miasma. None else had decided to come, not even Sofia of matriarchal infamy, nor Davide, the man who quietly followed along behind her.

The ones who had all but abandoned their very own.

A doctor looked up and slipped out of the way of Lucio Alvira, the man who walked mortified down the hospital floor in a scrupulously clean tailored grey suit. A silken red tie flowed effortlessly into his waistcoat, a look either straight from the car dealership or perhaps worn everywhere, a symbol to tell the world at large he deserved status and respect, in both heaven and in hell.

And this was definitely hell.

His breath ran shakily into his lungs, and for a few minutes in this terrible place, he remembered that he was mortal, and that death might take him, too, at its own discretion and whim.

With the way he felt now, perhaps it already had.

He stood in front of the doors he didn’t want to go through for more than a minute before someone approached him, reluctant even to attract his attention.

“Sorry… are you alright?”

Lucio’s darkened face, Lucio’s shadowed face with its lines and its pallor seemed to change. He smiled, mournfully, at the nurse who had brought her concern. And it was as if he had suddenly gotten younger; the lines faded, the shadows moved almost by themselves to arrange him into something likeable. “I suppose not,” he admitted, watching her for a moment before looking back at the door. “My nephew is waiting for me.”

The nurse gave him a significant look, and opened the door labelled MORTUARY to allow him through.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

Lucio smiled again, weakly. “I shall try to rest my nerves. No one on earth was more befitting of Heaven.”

The nurse offered him a pleasant but confident nod. “He always takes the truly good young, as they say.”

“As they say.” Lucio repeated, his voice soft. And then he took a step beyond the barrier of the halls, into the entranceway of the world beyond.

It was cold.

It was cold, and it matched his footsteps, which were cold.

“Lucio… was it?” called a voice down the hall, echoing along the refrigerated air. Lucio swallowed the knot within his throat.

“It was.”

A doctor in a not quite as pristine white coat slid around the corner. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he greeted, for perhaps the tenth time that day. Lucio clicked his tongue, but said nothing of it. “You were here to see Nate, that is correct?”

“It is. Thank you.”

“Come. I’ll take you to him.”

Lucio followed the doctor, not wanting to put one foot in front of the other anymore but his body was so numb and the signal so involuntary that he couldn’t stop it. They came to a drawer labelled #26 in big bold sans-serif, and the doctor gently pulled it out.

A sheet covered something that could have been a make-believe doll for all Lucio could see. But it was definitely human. What else could it have been? What else had he expected?

And it was about Nate’s size, too.

“Have you bore witness to those who have passed before?”

Lucio, stone-faced, nodded wordlessly.

“And you are ready?”

Lucio nodded again.

“Very well.”

The sheet was pulled down to just above the neck. Beneath it a chilled grey face, sunken shadowed eyes, and a mop of black hair that was only not a mess because someone else had clearly gotten into it with a comb. It was lifelike still, as if it might wake up and move, but dead as well, as empty as what the cicadas left behind at the end of every summer.

“He looks just like you,” the doctor commented.

“Dead?” asked Lucio, numbly. The doctor stumbled.

“No, no, my lord, I am sorry, I only meant his—”

Lucio shook his head, holding up a hand. “… Sorry, I know what you meant.”

Lucio swallowed, and the doctor seemed to fade off into the background.

Lucio Alvira had found himself the unfortunate witness of a few dead bodies throughout his life, and didn’t know why he had expected any different this time. Perhaps, he had thought, that because this time it was Nate it would be unique, that the pain would cut him through the jaw in a way that little else could. But it did not.

Instead he felt himself still, paralysed and unthinking, at the sight of this one departed. There was nothing he could feel.

“Here, have a seat,” offered the doctor, and pulled a flimsy plastic chair up to where Lucio was standing. “These things are never easy, I’ll give you some time.”

Lucio sat, wordlessly, as the doctor left.

And then he reached up, pinched the sheet that strategically hid the real damage his nephew had suffered, and pulled it back.

An indescribable rage suddenly took over Lucio’s entire being. It was true.

It was all true.

His nephew’s throat had been sliced and he had been left for dead at the bottom of Plenty Gorge, a helpless and undeserving victim of an absolutely vile crime.

Violent images of the scene flashed through Lucio’s mind as he unwillingly imagined what Nate must have experienced. The sheer terror of being set upon and attacked, the horror of having your neck torn open. His last moments would have been unbearable to contemplate, confused and scared and with a terrible knowledge that this would be the end.

Ever since Nate had left the Catholic Church, Lucio had paid extra in secret to ask for the forgiveness of Nate’s nonbelief. He had paid more than that, as well, but Nate had had such a pure mind and an ease of piety in life that his other sins had come cheap.

Even so, Lucio couldn’t contemplate the terror he would have experienced if he had died while unaffiliated with the church.

Had Nate begged forgiveness in his final moments?

If it were up to Lucio there would be nothing to forgive, but God was beyond the comprehension of Man.

He still hadn’t moved.

Even in his fit of anger Lucio had not budged even an inch, had not reacted, as if he were merely still numb and not filled with righteous horror and malice. He took a breath, lips pressed together until they were quite thin, and took the necklace of the cross off from around his neck, normally hidden beneath the collar of his dress shirt.

Taking the chain between both hands and letting the cross hang next to Nate’s face, Lucio prayed.

He prayed, and he prayed, and he prayed until he finally cried in the absence of others, thick watery tears that stained his perfect life and perfect face and perfect suit. He devolved into terrible stammering sobs, knowing that he could not face his brothers this way, not over Davide’s son, his nephew.

What could be in God’s Divine Plan that could necessitate something so helplessly cruel?

By the time the doctor came back, Lucio was back to sitting, staring at the cut in Nate’s neck.

But after something like that, no one can hide the vessels in their eyes.

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