Chapter 4: Why?

The white-washed walls had turned black. So had the whole world, night engulfing the conglomeration of dust, dirt, and water in the cold embrace of nothingness as the globe spun through space, endlessly spinning, spinning, spinning around the sun, that fireball that gave life to all creation. The surface of this listless sphere, once touched by the warmth of a shining star some millions of miles away, now turned its face away, cooling and darkening in a cycle as old as time itself.

And as the circle of the earth, cradling life on its blue, white, and green hued surface, continued its endless march on towards Judgment Day, one small soul in an ever-growing sea of people lay dying. He was just another drop in the ocean of suffering, one more tortured body destined to kiss death sooner than most. The framework of his material body was killing itself, as its own cells, the very ones that caused him to continue on existing, turned on themselves and overwhelmed his mind, slowly and surely driving him closer and closer to oblivion.

The young soul lay on a hospital bed, green eyes riveted on the empty space above him. He wore a simple blue smock and black-and-white bandana, where once long black hair had found purchase, hair that had reached back to the nape of his neck. Despite that, there was nothing particularly striking about him. He had a strong jaw and a naturally smiling face, though his once well-built body had become eerily thin and frail. It was better than inflated, though, because Kory knew that there was soon going to be a chance his body would swell up like a balloon from whatever new treatment the doctors were going to inject into him.

A blue curtain separated Kory from his companion, an old man he had glimpsed just once when the man was wheeled in, bald except for wisps of hair on the back of his skull, covered in those large brown liver spots common to the elderly. Nurses came to attend to the old man once in a while, but being mostly unconscious these days, Kory rarely saw him or the nurses. He didn't even know the man's name, actually. Pity. Maybe he could have struck up a conversation or something.

But that was unimportant. What was important was that Kory was in a bad mood. For starters, he was awake, and he wanted to be asleep. For another, he was awake at 12:42 in the morning, at least according to the black-and-white clock hanging on the wall, ticking on and on in an irritating staccato that kept him from falling back asleep. Worst of all, though, was the fact he wasn't even tired. He supposed he deserved that, being asleep for the better part of a day. He'd nearly missed Lydia when she came in, only waking up as she was picking up her purse to leave.

"Uuugh…" he had mumbled, seeing Lydia's face disappear from view as she stood up and the sight replaced by her brown-and-gold skirt. She had sat down again instantly, though, as she heard her boyfriend make the first noise of the day, and glimpsed one emerald eye crack feebly open.

"Hi, honey…" she cooed, voice dripping tender care. He was going to miss her.

"Huuuu…" Kory said, in an attempt to get out a cheery 'hello'. He smiled a little at his own inability.

"No, no, it's OK," Lydia assured, voice becoming unnecessarily anxious. "You don't have to talk. It's just fine that you're awake."

Kory ignored her, shaking his head and nearly puking in the process. That had hurt. A lot. "Really, I'm fine," went his brain. "Mmm FNN…" went his mouth.

The his brain disagreed with his mouth, and the last thing Kory saw before sliding back into darkness was Lydia's beautiful blue eyes and her smiling face. A very nice thing to see before falling asleep, he had thought.

And now, here he was, wide awake and perfectly coherent, though he hadn't attempted talking yet. Served him right for missing Lydia. Of all the people he would miss when he was gone, she would be the one he missed the most.

Kory had come to terms with death soon after being incapacitated by his condition. Certainly not happy about it, but not in denial anymore. However much he would have preferred going out eighty years from now, or at least with a bang, he knew his days were numbered. And he spent them sleeping.

Except for, of course, now, when even healthy people were asleep. At some ungodly hour of the morning he found himself awake, but not when his friends were there, not even his girlfriend, not even his parents. But they were always there, he knew. They had probably only left about an hour ago, never wanting to leave their little boy's side. And they wouldn't, he knew. He smiled. It was always good to know people cared.

Sighing, Kory turned as slowly and cautiously as he could, casting his eyes on a small red button. That button injected medicine, or drugs, or something into his body. He wasn't sure what; all he knew was, last time the doctor told him to push it, he had fallen dead asleep. And now, he really, really wanted to push it.

Struggling for the button, Kory sighed as his arm refused to budge, and he let his head fall back into place. He'd probably fall asleep soon enough, without all the effort. But he really, really wanted to sleep… go back to peace

What really worried Kory was not his own well-being. It was his friends. How were they going to survive? Lydia was all but killing herself, he knew, from the way her eyes had looked so sullen, her body looking so much skinnier; almost as thin as him, he thought half-wryly, half-worryingly.

And then there was Mark, who could barely talk whenever he dropped by the hospital for a visit. Kory was worried about him. Mark may not be making the best choices, but Kory also knew that Mark had no real friends. Plenty of fellow troublemakers and kids he could hang out with, but no friends. Not one.

And John… John really worried him. He wouldn't even look Kory in the eyes. He would always look to the floor, or the wall, or the ceiling, or anything but him. When Kory had remarked on that when John had come by, he'd only laughed nervously and called Kory crazy. But Kory could see the hurt in his eyes, the worry. And he couldn't figure out why.

John had always been a close friend; sometimes a little too goody-two-shoes, but never enough to ruin their fun. But now… now, he wasn't himself. Something was up, and Kory only wished he could figure it out.

Turning back to the button, Kory summed up the last of his strength and managed to get his fingers on it. Pressing down with all his pitiful might, the button came down. Kory smiled. Now, time for sleep.

After about two minutes, Kory's grin faded away. He wasn't even drowsy. Last time, he had felt the effects almost instantly, barely able to mutter "Wha…?" before waking up to bright daylight the following day.

Sighing, Kory's head lolled off to the side as he stared at the door. Why, he wondered, was this happening to him? In the beginning, he had been eternally hopeful, knowing his own aunt had overcome breast cancer; after all, if worst came to worst, there was always surgery, right?

But now, though he had come to terms with death, and spent most of his days worrying about his friends, there was always that nagging thought that threatened to tear him down in a way far worse than the cancer: What happens next? It threatened his happiness, his optimism, the only things that kept him from breaking down in tears. Even now, as he thought about oblivion, some tears rolled down his cheek.

Swearing, his fist came down hard on the button. Why wouldn't it work?! Tears began to flow a little more freely now. No! He wouldn't cry. It wasn't the time. With a start, Kory realized he could've very well just woken up the old man next to him, if he was there; but when no sound was made, he relaxed a little. The other man, at least, had found some reprise.

Head now turned again to the ceiling, Kory wondered what it was like outside. Was it cloudy? Could he see the stars? He was going to die here, in this box, these four bleached walls. No! No! He had to be happy!

But eternal darkness refused to leave his mind. Why couldn't they cure him? Why wasn't there a way out? Why wasn't there someone who could help him? Why? He thought, mind a frenzied whirlwind. WHY?!

Peter awoke to the sounds of crying beside his bed. Struggling to keep his eyes shut, he finally sighed and opened them. It was dark, starlight passing through the window to land on the tiled floors. It was also incredibly late – 12:57! What could be causing his roommate such pain, so late into the night?

Rolling over on his side, Peter tried to see through the blue curtain that separated him from the kid in the next bed over, a teenager who never seemed to be awake, looking like death itself, pale, bald, and skinny. He had instantly known he was a cancer patient; but from what Peter overheard by the boy's visitors, his youthful counterpart had sounded like a cheery kid, despite his condition. Why, then, was he crying?

"Son?" The words came out a little tentative, Peter wondering if it was really his place. He may be seventy-eight and a stranger, but the poor kid was suffering.

The crying ceased immediately. Thinking he had offended the teen somehow – his own son had often been like that as a youngster – Peter opened his mouth to apologize, but then a wavering voice returned: "…what?"

"I… I heard you crying, son." He pushed on, hoping he wasn't embarrassing the poor child somehow. "What's wrong?"

The kid actually chuckled. "Oh, nothing. Just a bit of cancer, you know?" Peter was thoroughly taken aback. From anyone else, that would have sounded highly sarcastic. But this kid sounded genuinely optimistic, despite the fact he had been sobbing a moment before. He seemed to be downplaying the situation he was in. "What's got you?"

Peter blanched. In all honesty, it was for two ingrown toenails; the doctors just made a huge fuss because of his age, not wanting to be sued or inadvertently kill the old man, despite the fact he was as healthy as a horse. Instead of inventing something awful, though, Peter decided on the truth. "Nothing. Just an ingrown toenail or two."

Another moment, and the kid replied, somewhat hesitantly: "My name's Kory."

"Peter Harris," replied Peter, as jovially as he could for nearly one in the morning. "Glad to make your acquaintance."

"Likewise," replied Kory, sounding as if he enjoyed the conversation. "I didn't wake you, did I?"

"No, no, of course not." Peter lied. Couldn't have the kid feeling any worse than he must already. "I actually enjoy staying up late, you know," he added.

"Oh." came the response, sounding a little embarrassed.

Peter realized the kid must have been crying for a while and thought he had been eavesdropped on. Attempting to steamroll his previous blunder, Peter pressed on with another: "So what're they treating you with? Chemotherapy? Radiation?"

The words hadn't half formed in his mouth when the stupidity of that statement hit him, and was affirmed by Kory's response: "Nothing." The words may have been said casually, but Peter wasn't blind. Stupid and old, but not blind. He knew the young man must be hurting.

"Well…" he said, trying to fathom what to say. "There's always a chance God could give you a miracle." If anything, Peter believed in miracles. He'd been a good boy, going to church since he was born, and a firm believer in there being a Big Man Upstairs somewhere. His new young friend didn't seem to agree, however, judging by the loud snort.

"What's the matter?" Peter inquired, since his new friend hadn't replied, hoping he hadn't offended the young man in some way. After a few minutes, he feared he had, since the young man made no sound.

"Do you believe in heaven?" A simple question, said just as simply, but Peter knew what he was really thinking. The kid's voice had been wavering even as he voiced it, fear poorly veiled behind the façade of nonchalance, fearful like a little child asking his mother to tell him 'Everything will be alright.'

"Of course," Peter affirmed quickly. Poor kid… death was coming for Peter eventually, he knew, but if he lived as long as Grandpa Bob he had another twenty years to go. This kid probably wasn't even that.

"I… I just…" began Kory, before falling silent again. "How do you get there?" The question ended as a sigh, the young man deciding against beating around the bush and taking the initiative. Dangit, Peter thought, but he was already missing the kid.

"My old mum always taught me it was by being a good kid," answered Peter, winking before he remembered the kid couldn't see him. Blast his stupid memory. He did remember the time he himself was a kid, though, getting into trouble every day, living the good life with his buddies. But this kid… he was being robbed. Robbed of life.

"Really?" came the voice from the other side of the curtain, sounding somewhat doubtful.

"Yes, really," answered Peter, smiling to himself. Best to give the kid some hope.

Almost able to picture the young man nodding to himself, Peter next heard a yawn. "It was a pleasure talking to you," said Kory. Polite kid.

"Likewise," answered Peter, rolling over onto his other side, trying to remember that old trick for falling asleep. It was nice to do some good in the world, he thought to himself, peering up into the sky, watching as the stars smiled their approval.

(((Muchos apologias for the long delay, but I'd run into a lack of inspiration which was just recently cured. Expect more soon.

-The Irish Penguin)))