‘Stupid, huuuuuh, beeping, huuuuuuuh, driving me, huuuuh, crazy.’ The heart monitor’s beeping quickened briefly as Julia took each long, rasping breath, lying in her bed, alone in her room at the palliative-care unit. 

She winced with the pain, both in her head and in her chest. It almost felt like one of the hangovers from her drinking days as a teen. Ah, back in the day. 

A single tear rolled down her cheek, but she couldn’t even muster the strength to raise her hand. Instead she just bore that little droplet of water and mucous as much contempt as possible. 

Hurts, doesn’t it?

‘Oh God, not, huuuuuuuuuuuuh, this again…’

Of course it hurts. All those poisons flushing around your system…not that there’s much left to poison. You’re about to…what did your mother used to say?…kick the bucket? Yes, that’s it. You’re almost cooked. 

‘God, huuuuuuuh, please stop doing this to me, huuuuuuuh, please…’

Bless. Actually it’s funny you should ask God for something, when you know you don’t believe in Him. You also don’t believe Howie is in Heaven either. You think he’s in oblivion, don’t you? Eternal emptiness or some such thing. 

‘Why would a God, huuuuuh, do this to me?’ Julia whispered, so desperate now, she was willing to speak to that voice for the first time. 

Well Jules, God is cruel, isn‘t he. You of all people know this. First Howie, then this growth in your head…

‘But why? Huuuuh, if He is real, then why is He doing this to me?’

It’s true, God is cruel. All things know this on some level. But above all else, God is love. Who knows, maybe God is doing this so you can come to terms with Howie’s death. So you can understand, finally, what he went through, and accept it. Imagine if you didn’t. If you were to die right now, miserable, and so full of hate, then what do you think would happen? What would be waiting for you?

‘…..I’d end up in the big black void…’ Julia breathed. 

Exactly. God may be cruel, but if He is real, then maybe, just maybe, He acts in strange ways…

‘You mean, huuuuh, like a tumour in my brain?’

Maybe. Maybe He acts in many ways…dreams? A whisper in your ear? 

A pause. 

…Maybe a voice in someone’s head? 

‘You’re saying you’re, huuuuuuh, God?’

Maybe I am. Maybe I’m your conscience. Or maybe I’m just the sound of you losing it…Or, maybe, there’s no difference between the three. Same difference, doll face. 

Julia blinked. Doll face? 

‘That’s something Howie used to call me to tease me….I-I hated it….’ She drew another shuddering breath. Her lungs rattled and creaked like old rusty pipes. They hadn’t much further to go. The heartbeat monitor quickened in pace, but this time Julia didn’t hear. She swallowed. 

H-Howie?’ she croaked. 

You gotta be cruel to be kind. And sometimes people just need a kick up the ass to get going. Your mother said that once. Charming woman. 

‘Y-you mean it is you?’ Another shuddering breath. Julia’s lungs and brain were rapidly approaching quittin’ time. The heart monitor screamed it so, beeping faster and faster. The voice knew it too. 

Gotta be cruel to be kind, doll face

‘Howie…oh my God….it is you, isn’t it? Isn’t it?’ Julia was vaguely aware of nurses rushing around her bed now, shouting, trying to save what was left of Julia Macalister. But she was too busy for silly things like that. 

Maybe you just needed a kick in the ass. Or maybe you just needed a little faith, a little hope .Who better than me to give you that?


Julia’s grooved face cracked into a smile, something the nurses would talk about in the staff-room later. How odd it was. 

The heart monitor came to a thundering crescendo, just before a deafening silence. The nurses stopped, standing around the dried and diseased husk of Julia Macalister’s body lying there, unmoving. The smile still on it’s face. 

But that was okay, because Julia Macalister wasn’t really lying in the bed anymore. 

Hey, you made it, doll face, you made it. 

The End

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