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A & E

The Writers' Block #17 - Theme: A & E - a maximum of two characters

The booth used to look inviting, in a corporate kind of way. An assumption that this is what people want from an information and check-in point. Now it was faded and dirty.

Ryan pressed the Open pad and it juddered wide allowing him access. He stepped in and the aroma of stale urine stung his eyes. He wanted to retch, but that would only add to the suspicious stains around his feet.

The freezing wind forced most of the smells out and as the door squeaked to a close, the lights faded up in a pretend friendly glow. There was a silence in here. The weather was outside, the whole world could go by, in here he felt momentarily safer. His breath visibly dispersed before him as the screen lit up and the eye scanner searched around until it settled on his face and focussed on his iris. Scan complete it rudely disappeared. He shuddered. It was just as cold in here.

‘Hello Ryan,’ the over-soothing voice said. ‘I am AToM, your automated triage manager. How may I help you?’

He’d thought about this. Assuming, at this time of night, the officers weren’t paying attention at the police station, he could try to get into A&E. He just needed a convincing ailment to get the token that allowed him inside.

‘Err..’ He hadn’t spoken since he had started running and the effort made him cough.

‘Take your time, Ryan. Tell me, are you bleeding?’


‘Are you in pain?’


‘Where does it hurt?’

‘My side. My abdomen.’

AToM paused. Perhaps it already knew he was lying, he thought. He added, ‘It’s very sharp. It comes and goes, but makes me vomit when it’s really strong.’

‘I see...’ Ironic because that was one thing the machine could not do. ‘Which side does it hurt, Ryan?’

‘The left side.’ He hoped that was right. Aiming for appendicitis, was it correct that the appendix was on the right but it was the left side that hurt? Damn. He should have chosen something else. Food poisoning or something. Too late now.

‘If you put pressure on the area, does it cause the pain to increase, Ryan?’


‘How long has the area been painful, Ryan?’

‘Most of the day. I thought it would go away but it’s getting worse.’

‘And it makes you vomit?’

‘Yes.’ Come on, he thought. Why does it take so long? What can I say that would convince you?

‘Have you taken any painkillers, today, Ryan?’

‘Yes. They don’t seem to be having any effect.’ He just wanted to get inside, to the warmth, in the dry, have some food, find fresh clothes somehow, maybe even catch up on some sleep.

‘Place your hand into the chute, Ryan.’

A section slid away in front of him, just beneath the screen. A dark hole beckoned.


‘I wish to take your blood pressure and a small sample of blood to test, provided you don’t mind, Ryan. It will confirm whether you need to see a doctor.’

Or you could drug me or handcuff me, he thought. Maybe the police have spotted me and these AToM’s can hold me until they arrive. Shit, what do I do?

‘Ryan. Do you understand why I need you to place your hand into the chute?’

Now it was his turn to pause and deliberate.

‘Fuck you!’

The chill night air blew itself into his face as he stood beside the booth. Now what? He combed his hair with his fingers and felt the stubble on his face.

Pacing a little, trying to keep his circulation going even though his fingers and toes were numb, he tried to clear his head, to think. His breathing was heavy and he was beginning to panic. So much so that he never saw the approaching figure. It jumped passed him and aimed for the doors of the A&E. He let out a short scream in surprise before realising it was a nurse, probably arriving to start her shift. As he moved towards her, she turned, reached inside her coat and grabbed her taser. Her hand shook as she pointed it at him. ‘Stay back!’

‘Sorry, but I nearly fell. I’ve just got my token and I need to get inside.’

‘Don’t move! Show me the token.’ She was edging towards the door and slid one arm over a censor. It hissed open and she backed in. ‘Show me the token or I’ll just let the doors close.’

She was inside now and with one step she would be out of reach.

Ryan limped, pretending to be in agony and let himself stumble forwards. He was almost by the doors when she fired. The fifty thousand volts floored him immediately and he writhed around, feeling the intense, internal heat, the twenty pulses every second, jabbing his body into convulsions, turning his mind white. If he could have spoke he would have cried out in agony.

She unhooked her gun and ran down the corridor. ‘I’m calling Security!’ she shouted.

Ryan ached all over. He sodden clothes steamed. As darkness returned to him, he almost laughed. Now AToM would have to believe me, he thought. This is real. As he came to his senses, the stabbing, bruising and throbbing of his ankle sharpened his mind. Concerned that he had twisted, or worse, broken it, he glanced along his own body. His eyes finally focussed six feet away. It was the doors that could not close because his foot was blocking the entrance. An unexpected result.

He groaned and sat up. Gathering his wits as quickly as possible, breathing hard, he forced his leaden limbs to move, crawling through the doorway and rolling away to let the glass sigh to a close.

Now he simply had to get up and move away, just in case security did come.

Just resemble any other patient, he ordered himself. Blend in, moan aloud, argue with a receptionist and grab a hot drink from the first trolley that passes by. Easier to say then achieve.

Using a bench, he climbed up onto all fours, then onto his knees. The movement hurt so much he dribbled and gasped. It felt like he was never going to do it, but to his amazement, he was standing, wobbling and hyperventilating. The signs on the wall opposite floated around awhile but the word he was searching for came into view and he set off, leaning against every wall and door he came across.

His quest was for the safest, quietest place in the whole hospital: the Chapel.

Just before entering he saw a food trolley in the distance and hailed it.

Within moments it was beside him. ‘Good morning. Thankyou for callling me. On behalf of South West Middlesex Hosp-’

‘Shut up.’

It paused as though affronted. Then the smug voice, having assessed the situation, got straight to the point. ‘What would you like to order?’

‘Hot food. What do you have?’

‘At the moment, I possess nutritious soups with bread rolls.’

‘Just give me a soup. Any flavour. And bread. And a hot coffee, black, lots of sugar and a bottle of water.’

The trolley shuffled things around internally for a moment. ‘Here we go - just remove it from the hatch. Remember, some of the ingredients are hot and we take no responsibility should you -’

‘Shut up.’

It went silent as Ryan removed his order. The hatch closed.

‘Do you require anything else?’


‘Thankyou for using the mobile beverage facility. On behalf of South West Midd -’

‘Shut up.’

The trolley did an instant three-point-turn and silently trundled up the corridor in search of other living things to annoy.

Ryan looked around. He still seemed to be alone. With his cold hands struggling to keep hold of his order, he elbowed the Open Pad to the Chapel.

The door opened silently and he stepped backwards into the room. The door closed by his face and he rested his forehead on it, feeling the cool hardness against him. He sighed, turned and wept with relief. He was alone, warm and about to eat. As the feeling returned to his fingers and toes he sometimes found it hard to consume his carrot and coriander concoction. Wolfing the bread down, he recognised that he was acting just like people on the run do. Trusting no one, surviving on instinct and using good luck when it presented itself.

He huddled into a corner and scrutinised the icons presenting themselves to him. The Chapel was a multi-faith hexagon, each straight wall having something familiar and important to the main religions. Yet it was apparent by the dust, no one had been in here for some time, not even the cleaners.

As he stared at the prone figure of Jesus, he eyes closed and he fell asleep.

When he awoke, having no watch, he was confused about what the time could be. Beams of coloured sunlight barred the door as they burst through a non-denominational design on a high window.

What should he do now? Stay here forever? The idea, at this moment, appealed.


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