The Crime Writers' Association

Voices - Lauren Everdell

“Someone do the handoff?”
“Jane Doe, Patient Foxtrot Alpha One One, found semi-conscious in an alley. Multiple stab
wounds to the torso and apparent blunt force trauma to the back of the skull. Query traumatic brain
injury. Glasgow Coma Scale score of 7 on site, flexed and opened eyes to painful stimuli, but
remained non-verbal. Seized twice en route. Treated with Valium 2mg, IV, for a total dose of 4mg.
GCS then dropped to 4. Blood pressure, hypotensive after fluids at 80 over 55.”
“Ok, if that’s everything? Thank you. Hustle up, people, we’re running out of golden hour.
Someone check her capillary refill, I don’t want any nasty hypovolemic surprises. I want
vasopressors rea—”
“Dr Reed, she’s seizing.”
“Hit her with another 2mg Valium.”
“It’s in…No effect.”
“Give it a minute.”
“Dr. Reed?”
“I know, I know.”
“If she seizes any longer the risk of brain damage, let alone the underlying trauma—”
“I get your point. We’re not picking out a spot for her in the vegetable patch. Not on my
watch. Nurse Kendall, get someone from Anaesthesiology down here, you know how they love to
check our work. Dr. Singh, get her intubated and prep the thiopental. We’re putting her in a coma.”

#

I was dead.
But no. I’d opened my eyes to blank white space. A bare white room. White nothing.
Without feeling, without sense. Without sight.
Until, so many voices.
But not heard.
Seen.
I could… see them.
Colours, where there should’ve been sounds. Dancing spikes of sound waves painting
themselves on the walls of the white room. Green for one voice, eggshell blue for another. Bitter
orange and deep indigo. A jagged, chattering rainbow.
Talking about me. Which meant I wasn’t dead.
Yet.
It didn’t look good. They didn’t even know my name.
“I’m Cordelia,” I said, though with no mouth to speak it.
And no sound came. Instead, scribbles of bumblebee yellow joined the waves on the walls.
My words.
“People call me Lia,” I saw myself say.

#

There were hands on me. Invisible hands, on a body that wasn’t there.
Fingers grazing my disembodied collar bone. Sharp scratches beneath unseen skin. Pressure
on my chin and something grinding past my teeth. I wretched, choking on nothing. Then a moving
circle of ice against the echo of my chest.
“I’m in, lungs clear bilaterally. She’s intubated.” Orange words on the walls, and striking
my bodiless mind; urgent but low. An image passed by me. Deft, brown-skinned hands. A gold
wedding ring, chipped with age.
“Push the thiopental.” Green waves, and a flash of the practiced twisting of red hair into a
no-nonsense knot. The press of a hand where my arm should have been. “Work with me, darling.
Stay with us. Do that, and I can get you through this.”
Smoke. White smoke, rising from the floor and twirling toward me in curious tendrils.
Climbing inside me, up my nose and down my throat. Smoke that made me spin.

“She’s stabilising.” The eggshell voice, awash with peppermint and the endless checking of
a wristwatch.
“Get her to imaging, bribe as many people as you have to to get her to the front of the
queue. We need to see what’s going on in that brain.” Green on white: commanding.
A glimpse of red in answer, like old iron’s shed skin. Some man’s muttered yes. The tremble
of my whiteout in rolling motion, until I sank into blackness and a sound like the sea in the hollow
of a shell.

#

“What a mess, poor thing. Do they know who she is yet?”
“Cordelia Miller. 26 years old. Police’ll be by in a bit. Forensics, so we can’t clean her up
yet.” A new, heather purple voice, and the eggshell one from before. Cool and pretty in the white
room.
A breathing hush, like the air in a cathedral. The fall of careful, rubber-soled feet. That
endless check of a wristwatch again. An idea floated through me: nurses.
“They know what happened?”
“They have CCTV of a guy robbing a liquor store at knife point two blocks over. Blood still
on the blade! Out of his tree on bath salts, looked like.” A tsking sound, like the shiver of a
rattlesnake tail. “They’re tracking him down now.”
Memories that played like a film behind stained glass. Crack of my head against brick. The
bite as he punched the blade through my animal’s hide. A gust of rotten-tooth, cigarette breath.
As if he was there. Right there with the pale voices in the world outside.
A pounding shook my white room, like the headlong stamp of wild horse hooves. My
panicking heart.
“He isn’t here,” I said, painting my yellow wave words over the memory. “Listen.”
“God, the things people do…”
“I know. Anyway, a detective’s coming by to check her nails, so they can get him dead-torights
with DNA soon as they pick him up. Liquor store owner apparently said he’s got scratch
marks on him like you wouldn’t believe. She didn’t let him off easy.”
“Good girl.”

Hands on my ghostly hands, and the catch of scraping metal under my fingernails. A
camera’s click-click-crunch and a navy blue voice with the smell of shoe polish behind it.
“There we go, love. You did beautifully, we’ve got it from here.”
“Gonna lock him up, then?” asked the heather voice, on a passing taste like hot sweet tea.
“We’re optimistic,” came a navy not-answer. And, after a pause. “I’ve a daughter this
age…”
“Is it alright if we clean her up now then? Only, her boyfriend’s been asking to visit.”
“Of course. We have everything we need.” Then, “she’ll be…?”
“You see to the creature that put her here, detective. We’ll get her back on her feet.” The
press of a cool palm against where my forehead should’ve been. “She’s a fighter.”

#

Swab of a damp, warm cloth over intangible skin. The noise of it loud in my place beside
death.
“How’s my bunkmate then, still heroic?” asked a new voice. Merry rose pink, round with
heat-reddened cheeks and billowing steam.
“Be quiet now and think healing thoughts. She don’t need the likes of you disturbing her.”
But a smile in the heather words.
“Whatever can you mean? I’m a picture of health.”
“Says the clumsy broad who let herself get burned half to a cinder by a boiler should’ve
been replaced decades ago. You know they call you a frequent flyer down in the pit. How many
fractures, cuts and burns before this?”
“I’m a tough old nut, no grumbling little boiler’s gonna take me out.”
“Considered a career change?”
“My Daddy was a plumber and his Daddy before him. Family business.”
“For a woman?”
“I wasn’t gonna let the old toad be right about his company dying with his dreams of a son.
It’s the 21st century, Nurse Hale, time to catch up.”
“Good for you.”
Alone, I smiled. Letting their gossip ripple past my mind’s eyes.
“Keep talking,” I said, my dandelion yellow joining the heather and the rose. “It reminds me
I’m alive.”

#

Blood.
Red on white. Oozing then flooding from the corners of the white room. A tide that rose and
never fell.
“She’s bleeding. Christ, she’s dumping her volume.” The green voice, tasting like metal. Or
was it the blood? “Hang more fluids, and activate the mass transfusion protocol. Call ahead for an
OR. Tell them we’re coming in hot.”

#

A vice?
Or… a hand?
A hand. Holding mine in the outside world. Fingers clamped tight.
And, at last, a voice that felt like home.
“I’m here, baby. I’m here.” Rich royal purple, with a glimpse of sunlight through Sunday
morning curtains. The smell of coffee and chocolate, and sandalwood soap. The washed-soft brush
of a plaid shirt and the tickle of a gingerish beard.
Toby.
I tried to grip the hand that gripped mine. Tried and failed.
For the first time, I screamed in my body-prison. My yellow scrawl voice pitching itself into
long strokes of agony in the blind white.
“I know you can hear me, Lia. I know you’re in there. Come back to me, baby. I love you. So
mu—”
Then, more voices. Scratching their colours over the purple.
“You’re trying to cheat me, you useless bitch.” A growl like sandpaper on raw skin, muddy
on my walls. “You think you can get money out of me for this?”
“No! Stop. You’re drowning him out!”
“Easy tiger.” The rosy pink of my bunkmate, the plumber. Not so friendly now. “I’m only
looking for what I deserve. That thing was a death trap.”
“You won’t see a penny, you grubbing bi—”
“Take it up with the union you cheap basta—”

Visions of falling, crashing, metal things. Meat-shrouded bone connecting with flesh.
Cursing, like freezing wind through my white room. Heavy breath that dripped something thick.
“You broke my goddamn nose, you—”
“Take your bullying somewhere else, before I make you. People here need peace.”
“Enough!” The heather nurse. Hale. The law in both places; the real and my own suspended
one. “Leave, right now. Security’s on the way.”
“What about him?” A muddy whimper.
“He’s needed here.”
Silence. White silence.

#

Had I opened my eyes? Was there dim light and more shadow than there should’ve been?
Sigh of machines. Rustling.
Fabric on fabric. And pillowy drumming. Like… like heels on a bed. And, was that? Was
someone screaming far away? Or screaming nearby. Into a pillow. Or a thick-fingered hand?
There were no colours; no voices.
Someone was dying. But it might’ve been me.
A furious, seagull scream and a noiseless shudder like something giving way. Giving up.
“Code blue! Get the crash cart!”
“It’s no good, Kendall. She’s gone. Turn off that machine.”
“Dr?”
Breathless nothing.
Before…
“Time of death… three seventeen am.”
“Keep talking,” I said. “It reminds me I’m alive.”
But the rose pink voice had vanished.

#

Silence. Nothing but the machine-press of breath into my unbodied chest to tell me time was
passing. In and out. One and two. In and out. Rise and fall.
The rose pink voice had vanished.

Its owner had died.
Then an eggshell whisper on a sad sigh of peppermint scent.
“Must’ve been her heart gave out.”
“No!”
An elastic snap outside my white walls. Bed-making rustle. Hale’s heather-shaded hum of
yes.
“No. She didn’t just die. She was killed.” But all the voice I had was colour no one else
could see.
“Was it that man who came before?” I tried to see the owner of the muddy voice. A big man
maybe. With thick-fingered, smotherer’s hands?
“Hello? Who— Oh, it’s you again. You can’t be in here. In fact, how did y—”
“I’m here to see Kit, don’t you—” As if thinking had summoned him there. The voice like
silt stains in my white room. A footprint voice.
“I’m so sorry.” The heather Nurse Hale. “Ms Moore passed away last night.”
“You… You’re saying, Kit’s… dead?” A splash of sniffling like frogs into swamp slush. “I
don’t… I mean. She could be, she was… and we… But— Dead? I— I can’t imagine the old place
without her.”
“I understand, it must be an awful shock. Let’s get you some tea and a sit down, eh?”
Scuff of footfalls away and away. And I was coming undone. If he had killed her, he’d have
known she was dead? Not come to visit the next day.
And if not him, then…
An alley, and a beast in a torn denim jacket. The stink of dead cigarettes shrouding mossy
teeth. Whites all the way around his eyes.
Had he come to finish me, and found her by mistake?
Kit Moore.
Who, to me, had only been given her name after her life had been stolen.
I’d never seen her face. Never would.

#

Fire.
Fire everywhere. The dizzy shimmer of its heat in the air, like sand roasted by tropic sun,
and its roar numbing my mind.

Except, maybe… almost there behind the blaze, a distant voice. Spikes of deep green.
“You were right. She’s burning up… 101.3. Kendall, get me bloods. A full panel. We need to
find out exactly what the infection is. Until then, hit it with broad-spectrum antibiotics. Let’s see if
we can’t get ahead of it.”
“Yes, Dr. Reed.”
“And Nurse? Please, pull every string to get her a priority spot in the lab. I don’t want her
going septic. Her system simply won’t be able to handle it.”
“Of course, Dr.” Deep red in the orange fire. Flames blooming with blood, taking up the
stain like it was fuel. “I’ll run them down myself, right now. They owe me a few favours.”
“Thank you, Kendall.”
Silence that for me was all chattering flames. Until a faint, forest-coloured whisper like a
glimpse of clear air beyond the inferno.
“This isn’t what’s going to get you. Do you hear me? Not this. You survived that knife. No
common little infection is going to get you. Do you hear me, Cordelia. This is not it.”

#

Dark, then light, then dark again. And the flames burned low. Burned out. But the heat
lingered. A bed of glowing coals for the floor of my white room.
The face of a monster. Rising like smoke from those coals, his gaping mouth trying to pull
me in and chew me up. Over and over again.
“It was you. Wasn’t it? You came back and you killed Kit. You’re still killing me!”
But he couldn’t answer. He was no more real than a nightmare.
For now.

#

“Her vital signs are not heading in the direction we’d like.”
“What does that mean?”
Was it my tired eyes or were the colours fading? The green, and the rich purple of someone I
knew. Or thought I might have known. Once upon a time.
“It… sometimes, if a patient doesn’t have the will to fight. Sometimes, I know it’s difficult to
hear, but they give up.”

I was so tired. And if they went away, maybe I could rest, without the colours to confuse me.
“That’s not her! She’s the strongest person I know, she’d never give up.”
“I promise, we’re fighting as hard as we can for her, Toby. But… she has to meet us some of
the way.”
Toby?
The firm hold of a hand over mine. A hint of something drifting in the scalded air?
Something I liked. What was it called?
“Excuse me, sir? You’re Miss Miller’s boyfriend, am I right?” Navy words on my walls,
faded like the rest.
The grip of the hand tightened.
“She’s my fiancée.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I wasn’t aware of that.”
Quiet. Something heavy in it. Maybe thoughts unspoken.
“How’s she doing?”
“Not as well as we were hoping, detective. Is there something you need? I’m not sure what
else she can do—”
“No, no. That’s not it at all. I’m sorry. I… I have some news about her case.”
“Oh?”
“We caught up with him. And the DNA we retrieved from under Miss Miller’s nails was a
match. That scumbag’s been locked up tight the last three days, and he’ll be staying there. Thanks to
her.”
A pause, and then a whisper, as if there were only one voice in the whole world. Rich purple
in my whitewash, punching up through the fade of eyes going tired and blind.
“I know you heard that, Lia. They got him. You got him. He can’t ever hurt you or anyone
else again. You’re safe now. So come back to me, baby. Ok? It’s safe to come home now.” Words
landing in me like summer rain, dousing the final glow of my fever coals.
A few seconds’ breathing silence. Then the splash of tears, felt where the back of my hand
was.
“Thank you, detective, for taking the time to come and tell us.”
Us.
A cool wind through my white room, that brushed the dead-fire swirl of ashes aside. A scent
in it. Sandalwood. Inside the scent, a memory.
Toby.

Toby on his knees in parkland grass, the sunlight picking out the red in his beard. A bottle of
champagne in an ice bucket beside him and a jawbreaker smile on his face.
Toby, asking me to marry him.
“My pleasure.” The navy strokes of the detective. Hint of a shoe polish smell. My senses
returning. “Anyway, I’ll let you two alone.”
The sound of a door, but he wasn’t gone.
“Son, the whole department’s thinking of you. She… well, we’re all pulling for her.”
“Thank you, detective.”
Toby and I, alone. Us. Strong fingers threaded through the ghosts of mine. Brush of a kiss
where my forehead should be.
Safety, like a scent of its own in the air.
Then, a shadow…
It wasn’t the monster with his fang of filthy metal who’d come in the night. He’d been a
prisoner when Kit was killed.
So then, who?
But I was so tired.
And the question haunted me down into the dark.

#

Rolling. The squeak of a tricky wheel under the footfall drum of someone walking.
“Don’t worry, Cordelia. You’re with me.” Rust red, his voice, and full of begging echoes.
“I’m the flow of life in this place. And you’re one of mine.”
Half a thought that I’d heard him once before.
“Who are you?” But all I had were colours, and no sound to make him hear me.
“I choose who lives and who dies.”
“Who dies… Do you mean— Was it you?”
“These hands raise up the suffering and the weary. These hands snatch the chosen from
death.”
“Who are you?!”
“And I’ve chosen you, Cordelia.”
“A surgeon then? My surgeon? Tell me who you are!”
“I am God within these walls.”

#

“Cordelia? Can you hear me? Follow this light with your eyes.”
“Oh my God, Lia? Lia, baby.”
“Toby?”
“I’m here,” he said.
Because he’d heard me.
“I’m right here, I’m right here,” he said it again, as if now he couldn’t stop. And he elbowed
a woman aside to pull me into a hug.
Arms that held me, in the world outside my head.
“Toby?”
“Did I hurt you?” He flinched back.
“No,” I said, burrowing into the circle of his hug. “Tighter.” And then he was laughing. His
breath in my hair and his smell in my nose. All of it bright and sore and real.
“How do you feel?” the woman asked. I looked at her. Auburn hair and green eyes. “I’m Dr
Reed,” she added. “Your surgeon.” A woman. Not the red voice I’d seen with my mind’s eyes then.
The red voice of a man. Or… what was I talking about?
“My—?” I shook my head.
Memories fading like footprints under falling snow.
“Lia?”
I looked at the bed beside mine, but couldn’t remember what I’d wanted to ask about it.

#

There was sunlight beyond the doors and Toby’s hand was tight around mine once again as
the hospital porter wheeled me to the exit. We stopped, and the porter put the brakes on the chair
before helping me to me feet.
“It’s good to see you up and about, miss,” he said, his hand at my elbow.
Rust red, that voice, and full of begging echoes.
I could almost see it. And with it, a memory.
A voice, all pink like blooming roses. That belonged to a dead woman I’d never seen.
A woman called Kit Moore.

I looked at the man. Thin lips, and curling brown hair. Looked at the hand on my arm.
Chapped with scrubbing, the nails blunt and cracked. The fingers thick.
And I looked up, into dull brown eyes that were waiting for me.
“It was you.”