Argentina, located at the southern most point of South America entered twilight. The city of Buenos Aries lit as an orange blaze on the dark side of the planet, the December air still warm and humid from the previous day as their summer brought to them warmth and clear skies.
Amongst other vehicles a black and yellow taxi arrived at the Fernandez hospital that evening. A tall well proportioned man of good health, aged by decades with a balding crown and sobered by the occasion stepped out of the vehicle dressed in his norm of casual smart clothing. He approached a significantly younger woman at the front door who looked at a loss. Her grey blue eyes were glazed as though she’d been crying; with a polite smile she greeted him. She held back more tears - seeing his face brought back memories she’d wished to keep under mental lock and key. Now all she could see was his son, her brother in law and of course her own sister, having died two years prior; still something she’d not come to terms with though his calm look, wiped clean of former joyous smile seemed to cope.
“Louise?” he greeted calmly in a well spoken Coventry accent, “Are you alright?”
She nodded, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye, “Yourself?”
A firm nod was her response, “Naturally I came as soon as I could. How is he?”
“He’s holding; it’s only because of the nurse though. She’s done so much; it’s a miracle he’s still here.”
“Where is he?” asked the man.
“I’ll take you to him,” she said, reaching for his hand.
At this hour the hospital premises was relatively quiet. His grandson was kept in quarantine in a room at the end of one of the wards. A few doctors standing outside consulting medical text for a multiple array of unknown symptoms both turned to Louise as she led the elder down the halls to the room.
“Is it alright if we go in?” she asked.
They took one look at both of them and gave a firm not, stepping back to let them pass with no quarrels, only understanding.
“How is he feeling?” asked the man.
“Feverish.” She replied, letting go of his hand as they entered the small room, where a young boy sat in a bed looking over some pictures he’d drawn.
“He’s been drawing since we got in here,” Louise smiled, “Some very wonderful pictures, he’ll have to show you.”
“Granddad!” the boy cheered, lifting his arms as his grandfathered entered.
“Gavin,” he sighed in relief, leaning in to give the boy a warm greeting hug.
“Harold!” cried Louise before he got too close.
“I’m sorry granddad; they said I’m not meant to touch people in case they get sick too.”
“Don’t worry,” said his grandfather with a soft smile, it seemed emotion came back to him while in his grandson’s presence, “I’ll be fine,”
Louise remained silent as she watched Harold hold his grandson close. There was little else she could do, debating the science of a possible contagious and unknown illness against the ethics of separating Harold Kennedy from his last remaining blood family.
“How have you been then?” asked Harold, sitting beside the bed his eyes assessed the boys pale complexion, the saw red look around his eyes, the bloodshot look and dried cracked skin of his lips.
With a brave smile the boy nodded, “I’ve been alright, aunty was showing me around the places where they were cutting down the trees. Why did they do that? She said you’d know?”
“Well, we need the wood,” nodded Harold, “to build homes and hospitals.”
“But what about the forest?”
“He’s a budding environmentalist.” laughed Louise, slowly approaching the bed.
Harold smile widely, “My grandson, going to save the world by making us greener.”
“I like plants and animals,” he smiled, “they make me think of mum and dad.”
“You’re the perfect mix of the two of them,” he thought, stroking the boys arm to keep him calm while the IV drip fed him.
“Oh,” thought the boy, “I have a surprise for you.”
“A surprise?” he asked, “What is it?”
“You’ve got to leave the room so I can finish it.”
“Why don’t I just cover my eyes?” he asked.
“No, it’ll take too long. Aunty Louise, can you make him leave.”
“I’ll scare him off,” she winked, taking his arm, “Come on; let’s give the little monster his time.”
Harold took her hand and squeezed it tight; unable to leave his grandson’s side until she pulled him back.
“Go out of the room!” he said, unable to raise his voice, “You can’t see!”
“Alright, tell us when we can come back in.” said Louise as she pulled Harold through the door. It closed and locked with a click.
Harold leaned against the door and stared through the glass window, he could see in the reflection of the window view of the city his grandson climb out of bed and go to the bedside table where he pulled out a large picture book before taking a sip of water and some crayons.
“How was your flight?” asked Louise, keeping clam and quiet now he was around.
“Alright,” he said, “I’ve been so worried.”
She put her hand on his shoulder, “I’ll get you some coffee. I’ve been living on the stuff for the past few weeks.”
He smirked, “Thank you for taking such care of him.”
“There’s no need for thanks,” she added, before leaving to the nearest vending machine.
“What are his symptoms?” he asked the doctors who now stood alone reading over the notes.
“Your grandson seems to be keeping well, which is a miracle in itself.” said the doctor with a broad Spanish accent.
He glanced over his shoulder at the aged and tanned man, “What’s wrong with him?”
“We can’t quite tell. It’s displaying many flu like symptoms but it’s not a normal fever. It’s giving him a high temperature and shivers, but also burns around his eyes and gives him days of extreme blindness. We’ve had to keep the room perpetually dark for him to be comfortable.”
“Well, we’ve not done full tests, he was only brought in a few days ago. What we know is that he can’t swallow anything too warm, he was struggling with water for some time but recently our nurse managed to get him to drink some, though it doesn’t seem to be helping. He’s also been complaining of headaches and abdominal pain, and his skin is chapped and dry, we’re treating him to ensure there are no secondary infections.”
“Will he be alright?” asked Harold.
Thinking it suspicious, the doctor paused, “…can I ask who you are first sir?”
“Dr. Kennedy.” He replied, “I’m Gavin’s grandfather.”
“His aunt mentioned you briefly. There are no other relatives, correct?”
He shook his head in response.
“So, will he be alright?”
“To tell you the truth; we’re not sure. The illness is spreading fast. It’s the first case we’ve seen so we can only fight the symptoms until we know more about it. We’re trying to point a source but all we’ve had so far is that its from the rainforest somewhere, neither the boy nor his aunt seem to know where about exactly though. His aunt isn’t showing any symptoms and doesn’t seem to have any indicators in her blood, we did a precautionary check to make sure.”
“What parts of the forest did they tour?”
“They were making their way from north to south according to her.”
“Have you got any samples of the illness?”
“A few, but they’re being bred and examined exclusively in our pathology department. We’ve not sent them off for further tests to any other medical institution yet but we’re currently planning to.”
“I’ll need to take some samples back; I can do a diagnostic at my own laboratories.”
“What is it you do?” asked the doctor.
“I dabble,” he replied, “A little of the main sciences.”
“Come back in!” cried the boy, closing the book and placing a black crayon at the bedside.
“Do not touch the boy, you might contract the fever even if his aunt has not. We can’t take any risks.” said the doctor.
“Too late for that,” he replied, entering the room while leaving the doctor stunned for words.
“Where’s aunty?” asked Gavin.
“She’ll be back in a moment,” said Harold, “Should we wait for her.”
“No,” thought Gavin, “It’s probably best not to just yet. It didn’t say anything about her; it only wants you to know.”
“Well, it was a she.” thought Gavin, “She was very pretty though, she can be whoever or whatever she wants.”
“Who’s … she?”
“She didn’t tell me her name; I don’t think she has one to us. But she said she’d take me back to mum and dad, they’re waiting for me.”
Harold paused by the end of the bed, “What do you mean Gavin?” he asked in a distraught tone.
“…nothing,” he said, glancing away before he opened the book, “Look, she gave me ideas of what to draw when I was asleep. It just makes me feel more ill when I do them, but I have to do them for you to see.”
With a concerned look on his face Harold took a seat next to the boy and felt his forehead, it was a feverish state of warm and clammy, “Are you feeling alright?”
The boy nodded, and pointed at the first crude picture of a woman in a nurse outfit with a cross hanging from a chain, “This is Pandora. She’s my nurse. She makes me and all the other people in the ward feel a bit better.”
“That’s very nice,” he smiled, “She has a lovely smile.”
“You’ve got to meet her,” said Gavin, “She can help you,”
“Help me?” asked Harold, “Help me what?”
“You’re going to get ill,” said Gavin, “Like me.”
Silence came between the two, “She can keep you safe until you need to go too.”
“Gavin, what are you on about?” he asked.
With no explanation he opened the next page of the book where a man and woman stood holding hands in a city of cracked windows and burnt out cars with a dark red sky. The man was frowning; he stood taller than his mate with black hair and a long fringe, while the woman was much more petite with longer hair and a gentle smile to counter his glower.
“Don’t look for these two; you’ve got to get someone else to look for them.”
“Who are they?”
“She didn’t say, and doesn’t know. She only knows what she’s told. She said that they’d appear in the future when they’re needed.”
Gavin coughed and spluttered across the pages he reached for his drink and had some more before turning to clean the page and turn to the next.
“I’ll hold that,” said Harold, taking the water from him.
“Find this man,” he said, “His name is Sam. He’s from Spain like my nurse. You need to find him before she does.”
“Your nurse she?”
“No, a different lady, she’s not the one who told me these things, but she is very important.”
“Do you know who she is?”
“I don’t. I think there’s a picture of her in here somewhere,” Said Gavin, “Names don’t really mean much in surreality,”
“Surreality?” he asked.
‘Sam’ was tall and tanned with slick black hair and covered in dirt, holding a shovel in one hand and dressed in adventurers clothes while standing in a desert, “She said you’ve got to help make him and her -” he pointed to a red headed woman on the next page, riding a bike before a vast mountain range “- fall in love again, they need to be with each other for these two to appear.” He said, flicking back and pointing to the man and woman holding hands, “Do you understand?” asked Gavin.
“I need to find this man and woman, and make them fall in love so this other couple will be around in the future?” he asked, thinking it wise to humour his grandson.
“That’s right,” he nodded, “If you don’t get those two together, these two won’t come, and he can’t get rid of the other woman before it’s too late.”
“What is this other nameless woman going to do? Why is she so important?”
“She’s going to look for you,”
“Is she a bad person?” Harold asked.
“No, she’s kind really; she’s a smart person like you. But she had a bad person for her father, and now she needs you to make her feel better.”
“So why can’t I make her feel better?”
“You might make her feel worse; she needs her soul mate to make her feel better. And that’s not you.”
“Soul mate?” he asked.
“Everyone has one.” said the boy, “They just might not be in plane sight.”
“And what is this kind woman going to do if she gets to Sam first?” he asked.
“Rip the world apart.” He said; flicking to the back page where he’d coloured it all in black with one big white streak through the middle; what looked like galactic swirls and stars all moved towards it. He flipped the page and showed the same picture, but a reverse of colours; a black streak on a blank page where the galaxies entered and broke apart.
“What are these two?” he asked curiously.
“One is our reality, the other is surreality.”
“Surreality?” asked Harold.
“It’s where mum and dad are waiting.” The boy coughed again, he put his hand in the way of his mouth just as a few tears appeared at the corner of his eyes. Harold handed him the water. Gavin wiped his hand against the sheets smearing pale red across them.
He spat out the water and pushed the book across the bed to get it to a safe distance, loose papers and pictures fanned out across the bed as he threw the water back up and fell forwards coughing across the sheets, speckled blood patterns.
“Find this one first!” he cried, pulling one sheet of paper from a group and handing it to his grandfather, “She’ll help you most! You can trust her.”
Without caring for the picture, Harold threw it back to the others and went to help his grandson, “Get the doctor in here!” he roared while Gavin held his chest and winced a few tears.
The monitors at the bed side flickered and Gavin went into convulsions in Harold’s arms. The door burst open and two doctors came in with a nurse and Louise. The doctors sat Gavin back across the bed where as the nurse helped move Harold back form the bed side. Louise dropped the coffee and covered her mouth looking at the blood on the cloth.
Harold struggled back against the nurse just as the doctors brought out a needle of adrenaline when Gavin fell back against the pillow and went silent. Then injected the boost into his arm but to no avail, all sound went silent and a world ended. Louise filled with tears the sound of her gasping for breath and the sounds of the doctors calling for help brought Harold back for a moment. He watched his last family fade away but kept strong and calm.
The doctors stood back and the nurse tilted her head to vow a silent prayer. Louise screamed out in the corner while rubbing tears from her eyes. Harold Kennedy looked over the pictures spilt across the bed, one of a tall stocky man holding a gun up to a towering beast with white fur and red eyes in the blizzards of a snowy mountain. Another of a man surrounded by computer wiring that shaped out like a face. A woman in cloaks sitting beneath the stars as planets and galaxies moved by. Two twin sisters standing in perfect form with their hands pressed together and the final one that Gavin had forced into his hand, a woman standing at the podium before a vast audience with flags hanging overhead. They were just a few of hundreds of others that fitted into this picture book. He opened the book and saw another picture of the nurse with a friendly smile wearing a golden cross from a chain and a small mole on her cheek standing beside a tall formally dressed man as he coughed with what looked like fire inside his chest.
While the doctors remained in the room the nurse took the other two out. Harold lifted the book, forcing the papers back in and kept it close holding it closer and tighter with each step he took away. Louise took a tissue and sat on a chair beside the door with silent tears.
Something burnt in Harold’s chest. He felt an ailing fire ignite in his lungs, a clench of the throat as though something was choking him, a sore feeling circled both eyes and made them tired and weary, he felt a drought drained his lips and skin of colour and aching took his body though nothing physical showed but an urge to draw in a deep breath. One loud cough erupted, he couldn’t turn his back on the notion that the symptoms had been passed on.
“Are you alright?” asked the nurse, standing by his side, her soft warming voice suited her blissful looks as the middle aged matron of the halls, “Would you like some water.”
He coughed some more and took notice of the golden cross hanging from a chain, then took a glass of water she fetched from the sink, “What’s your name he asked?” when she returned.
“Pandora,” she smiled, “Filipe.”
“Have you been looking after my grandson?”
She nodded, “I did all I could, I’m very sorry.”
She touched his shoulder and smiled warmly, the ailing fire quelled in his lungs. He felt the heat curl up and hide in the shadows leaving him with no sense of ill. She moved her hand away and the fires didn’t return, but the embers were still there in the shadows.
“You did good work,” he bowed his head, “Thank you so much for your help.”
“That’s not a problem,” she said, “It is my duty here to make people feel better, though I wish I could do more for more people.”
“Can I ask you a question nurse Filipe?”
“Of course,” she smiled, “What is it?”
“Have you heard of the Army of 40?”
With a glazed look she shook her head, “Should I have?”
“No,” he said calmly, “No, but we’d be most interested in having you visit some time.”
She smiled widely, “Well, I’ll have to see.”
“All expenses paid, and a free trip to England and back here. You deserve a reward for your efforts, and I’d be honoured to give it.” He nodded.
“Well,” she thought, “…what is your name?”
“Call me Dr. Kennedy.” He said, shaking her hand to feel the warmth that passed through.
“Well, I’ll have to get back to you on that Dr.” she smiled and nodded.
“Please do.” He said as she turned away.
“What are you doing?” asked Louise, “Harold, he’s gone. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have brought him out here.”
“Louise,” he said, placing his hand on her shoulder, “Its not your fault. Its nature, we can’t fight these things.”
She looked into his eyes and saw a glint of what she’d seen once before, at the funeral for his two sons, the same day as the funeral for her sister, all victims of a cruel twist of nature sourced by the oceans of 2004.
“He’s just gone to find his parents now. Someday soon I’ll follow, but not before making sure it’s all safe.”