Reincarnation of the Morrigan: Birth of A Goddess
The whole world looks different for Angelica these days. Working as an EMT has left her feeling as though she is not doing enough in the midst of a worldwide crisis.
“The Way of Kings is upon her; it shall keep her, it shall bind her
and through her, the kings of the earth shall fall.”
- The Ancient Book of Morrigan, Passage VI
The inside of the tenement building reeked.
My mask did little to block the odors.
“This used to be a decent place. Now it smells like someone's been murdered here,” I muttered to myself as I stepped up the sagging staircase to the fourth level. Both the stairs and the railing felt like they would give way at any moment. If it weren't for my job, I wouldn't have come anywhere near this godsforsaken place.
I reached the landing and surveyed the narrow hallway, peeling wallpaper, and exposed brick in the dim light of the small amount of sun allowed through the window at the end of the hall. What the hell happened here? Did the owner just decide to up and leave?
I wrinkled my nose. It smelled like cigarette smoke and piss.
I heard movement behind me and turned. Two men had stumbled out of the room across the hall. They smelled even worse. Their eyes raked over me, full of predatory intent. “What are you doing here, little girl?”
I stiffened. The men were taller than me, but I was by no means little. I fixed the one who had spoken to me with a cold stare. “Out of my way.”
The man's brow rose, and he snickered. “You shouldn't be here.”
Why the hell not? I thought. Who was he to determine where my job should and should not take me? He grumbled to his companion before shutting the door with a bang and trudging down the stairs. It was like they didn't even care why I was here. My fingers curled into fists.
Outside, the streets were vacant and had been for some time. Nearly a year, I reminded myself with no small amount of indignation. Fear had struck, and the crowds had thinned. It had been inevitable from the start, ever since we first heard from the other side of the globe of the sickness that would soon spread.
I reminded myself that there were over thirty thousand hospitalized already and shook my head. So much could have been done to stop the spread. My job was the same since I still performed my Emergency Medical Technician duties daily, but there was an added weight. Don't let the patient know there isn't room for them. Help them think they will be okay. Especially, I thought, if it is a child.
For once, I was glad I wasn't more than an EMT.
The paramedic was ahead of me. He had already found the room from which the call had been made and the girl inside. He gathered the small malnourished child in his arms. I looked her over. She's not older than ten, I realized. The girl's blonde hair was matted with sweat and blood, and her arms and neck were bruised. Seven minutes from when we had received the call until we'd arrived.
I looked for a phone. There wasn't one in sight. I looked for other people. There were signs of them, but they were not here. They abandoned her, I thought, my blood beginning to boil.
Maybe that was for the better. Had the abuser been nearby, I would have broken protocol and acted in what my superiors considered an “uncooperative” way. Our job is to protect people and save lives. Why shouldn't that mean breaking a leg or two on those who get in the way? Thankfully, I had never broken anyone's leg or been fired from my job as a result, but these days, it was more tempting than ever.
We took the girl to the emergency vehicle and switched the sirens back on. I examined her as the paramedic drove us to the hospital. After a quick assessment, she had three cracked ribs and a broken nose. I could well imagine how she'd acquired such injuries. To my relief, none of her bleeding was internal. If I ever find out who did this to her, they're going to pay, I promised.
The paramedic glanced at me in the mirror. His expression said, “Stay cool, Ang. We're almost there.”
Didn't you see what her living conditions looked like? I could have shot back. This was not the time, however, to start an argument with my colleague.
Along with the paramedic, I jumped down from the vehicle and helped carry the girl in on the gurney. Hospitals were currently the most crowded places in England. If they tell me there is no room, I'll make room for her myself, I thought as I remembered how many sick people were already here.
We walked in and were given doubtful glances. “It looks like she's been given all the treatment she needs,” one of my superiors said.
I started to object, but the paramedic laid his hand on my arm. “You should have seen where we found her. She can't go back.”
I'll give her my bedroom at home if I have to, I was prepared to say, but our superior gave one last long, doubtful look before nodding. Even if the hospital was overrun, it was a safer place for the girl. Within minutes, the child was admitted, and I was given leave to go. I checked my watch. I had started my shift thirteen hours ago.
“A whole eternity ago,” I muttered to myself.
The paramedic nodded at me. “Good job.”
I returned his words but didn't feel satisfied. There has to be more I can do. Every time I entered a hospital, I felt like a cabin boy aboard a ship during a storm. I didn't do the same job as the sailors, but I could feel the storm just the same. Walking toward the exit felt like trudging through a battlefield after a long, hard rain. Perhaps I was exaggerating, but I felt like a soldier whose job was far from done. We might not have been fighting a war with guns and bombs, but we were fighting all the same, and I was on the front lines.
I folded my arms and stared at the Accident and Emergency Department's doors. She‘s a child, I thought with simmering rage. What the hell is wrong with this world?
I submitted the paperwork describing the incident and what had been done for the patient, then finished with disinfecting the emergency vehicle and checking the equipment inside so it was ready for the next patient. “Everything good?” my replacement asked as I hopped down and closed the back doors of the vehicle.
I nodded. “Takes longer to disinfect these days.”
“Have a good night, Angelica.”
Feeling like I would collapse at any given second, I reentered the hospital to gather my personal items but kept to the side of the hall so the other workers could make their way around me more easily. “Ang!” a voice called from somewhere behind me in the crowded hallway.
I was surprised to be able to hear my name amid the commotion in the hospital. Who is calling me? Only the people closest to me got to call me Ang. I could barely keep my eyes open, but I turned to lay them on a tall, slender man approaching me. I would know his pleasantly browned skin, the trimmed facial hair beneath his mask, and his soft, dark eyes anywhere. I mustered a smile. “Simon, hello.” To myself, I thought, I'd love to chat, but you have no idea how badly I need to sleep.
Simon halted, and concern drew his brows together. “Long day?”
I nodded. “Long year.” I straightened my posture so he would not see the fatigue weighing on me, though there were plenty of other signs of it. The last thing I'd be doing when I got home would be looking in a mirror. I didn't need to see the dark circles under my eyes to know they were there.
He sighed. “Tell me about it.”
“It’s different out there. You get to see what’s going beyond these walls.” I gestured at our sterile white surroundings. At least this place was clean, unlike the tenement building we had just come from. I was eager to meet whoever the owner was and give him a piece of my mind. That’s not your job, I told myself. But what if I made it my job?
“What is going on?” Simon asked.
All who were employed in the medical field could only go to work and their homes. Walks outside or venturing where uninfected people might be found were off-limits, so we didn’t accidentally infect them. That was the cost of being a warrior during this time. “They’re all inside, just like the rest of us. It’s empty. The countryside should feel empty, not the city.”
Simon nodded. “I miss the countryside. Remember—”
“Haiti,” I finished. My smile grew broader beneath my mask. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently. There were so many children and too few beds.” Haiti had been on my mind every second I wasn’t on call in the past several months.
“Too few of most everything,” he added.
It had been ten years since Simon and I were in Haiti with a team providing hurricane relief. Undernourished people without homes and with severe injuries had been more than enough reason for each of us to go. It had been the beginning of a new perspective for me; the world was so much bigger than I used to think it was. Haiti had made me see that, and now, in England’s overrun hospitals, I was glad to have adopted that way of thinking.
Simon leaned against the wall and crossed his arms. He flashed me a grin. “You were a spitfire in Haiti.” He was teasing me, but he wasn’t wrong. “Spitfire” was perhaps too light a word to describe the woman he had been with on the island. I had gone into that country innocent but willing and been forged anew. At least, that was what my mother had said. I’d needed to be tempered, she had said.
I returned his grin. “Yeah, yeah, you all had to keep me reined in. You think I’ve changed, but you haven’t looked closely enough.” Simon laughed, and I wondered which memory he was thinking about. “I’m being run ragged,” I confessed before he could pick one. It was obvious, I knew, but I still felt weak saying it. “Like you can’t tell.”
Simon’s grin faded. “I can see that. I brought up Haiti because I wanted to remind you what we said there: if we don’t take care of ourselves, we can be of little use to those around us.”
I nodded, agreeing with him, but stiffened. “I won’t take time off. I can't handle that kind of guilt.”
“I couldn’t handle it either, but I’m going to find a way. I hope you can do that as well.”
I gave him a wry grin. “Thanks for the reminder.” What I didn’t say was that there was no way in hell I would willingly take a break. That girl we just brought in doesn’t get a break from her life, so why should I?
Simon gave me a gentle smile. “It was a reminder for me too. I know the guilt you speak of. I think everyone here does. I’ll let you go now. Make yourself a nice meal tonight and read or watch something you like.”
He’s just trying to help, I reminded myself. Aloud, I said, “Thanks, Simon. I think I will.” As I turned to leave the hospital, however, the last thing on my mind was a hot meal and a distracting television program. The girl we had just brought in had probably not had either for a long time.
I glanced back at the Accident and Emergency Department. “Fight through it, little one.”
I meant it for the girl, but also for myself.
My flat looked dingy with the curtains pulled, dirty dishes in the sink, and unclean laundry in various piles. Under normal circumstances, I could get my shit together, but between shifts, I could only manage few hours of sleep and quick-to-make meals. Cleaning wasn’t a high priority for me right now. If I opened my curtains, a sliver of the sunset would stream in, and soon after would come sweet, soft moonlight.
I slumped onto my faded green sofa and kicked off my shoes, not bothering to open the curtains. The electricity powering the lamp’s bulb hummed faintly in the otherwise silent air. When my flat was this quiet, I could hear everything with my keen ears. After the sounds of sirens and a full hospital all day, the silence of my flat felt like divine peace.
I lived alone but was often visited by my winged neighbor. The crow liked to caw from my windowsill and peck on the pane. Another reason for me not to open my curtains. As soon as it saw me, it went into a frenzy. Anyone who’d regularly heard me say, “Fuck off” to a crow probably thought me insane. I agreed. You need to sleep, I told myself.
As soon as I thought this, the thump, thump of bass from across the hall reached my ears. I groaned. My neighbors loved their late-night parties. They’re part of the reason we’re still in a pandemic, I thought.
I hated being in my flat almost as much as I hated being in the hospital. Everything felt too heavy. Burdensome. England was burdened, and I knew the rest of the world was feeling it too. I didn’t want to begin to consider how a country like Haiti was faring during a worldwide pandemic.
I was just beginning to turn my thoughts toward what I would have for supper when my phone dinged. I scanned the notification, and my insides tightened unpleasantly.
Angelica Morgan is instructed to take a week’s recuperative leave by order of the Emergency Department Director.
I groaned again. This day just got better and better. Had the paramedic told a superior I had been slacking? I had felt off and distant today, but that hadn’t stopped me from doing all I could to help that poor girl and my previous patients. I had responded quickly, and we had arrived in time. I opened the message and reread it. It was signed by someone familiar.
My eyes widened. Simon and I had worked at the same hospital for years, but since I was outside the facility most of the time, I seldom saw him. I had assumed he was just a doctor, but apparently, he had moved up. Desperate times make more leaders, I mused. Despite my irritation at his message, my heart warmed. Good, he deserves it.
My phone made another sound, this time indicating a call. “Hello, Mum.” I leaned into the sofa and pulled my long dark hair out of its braid.
“How are you, dear? I haven’t spoken to you in nearly a week,” my mother responded. A week to her was a long time. For me, the days blurred together. My concept of time was utter shit these days.
“I’ve been working,” I answered, then realized I sounded irritable. Reasonably so, but I didn’t want my mother asking too many questions. The thumping stereo across the hall grew louder, and I was tempted to throw my shoe at their door. “It’s a strange world,” I added. “How have you been holding up?”
“Oh, nothing to report here. I feed the birds and the cats. I read the papers, but they all say the same things. I play chess.”
I imagined my mother flashing a charming smile. “I can have more than one personality if I want.”
I laughed, feeling better. “I don’t believe chess requires much personality.”
“How are you, really?” my mother prodded.
I’m burnt out, Mum, I almost admitted, but I didn’t want her smothering me with concern. Now that I was her only child, I received all of her attention. Sometimes, it was too much.
“The hospital is having me take a break, but I don’t think I’ll be able to stand it.” The thought of being inside my flat for a week while there were children in horrible situations like the one I had attended to today made my stomach churn. Anger and frustration flared within me, but I realized Simon was trying to be generous.
He’s always tried to help me, I thought with fondness. My time with him in Haiti had been a bittersweet experience. I didn’t like to think about the feelings I had developed for him while we were there, especially since we had returned to normal life as mere friends. Now he was a colleague with whom I had once shared an adventure, nothing more.
To my mother I said, “Simon Lorne. You remember him? He was in Haiti. Well, he’s the new Emergency Director, and apparently, he deemed it necessary I take a break.”
“Oh, yes,” my mother responded. Her tone grew more cheerful.
Here it comes, I thought.
“A wonderful young man. A bit of a studious one, I remember, but quite handsome.”
“Studious” was my mother’s way of saying “nerdy.”
With a sigh, I responded, “Yes.”
“I always thought you two would make a lovely pair. Are you sure—”
“That was ten years ago, Mum,” I cut in. I leaned forward, rubbing my eyes. “Now I work under him.”
“Still, you know I’m not getting any younger, and I would love to be—”
“A grandmother,” I finished. “And I would one day love to be a mother, but now is not the time. I’m not sure it ever will be.” The world was in shambles, and I could barely keep my own life together, let alone that of a child.
My mother sighed. This had to be the hundredth time we’d had this conversation.
“I’m sorry I won’t make you a grandmother anytime soon, but this world needs to change before I’ll be comfortable having a child. So, since nothing will change the world right now, you are stuck with just me, Mum.”
“I understand, Ang,” my mother replied in a sad yet earnest tone. “Perhaps, though, change is coming.”
A silence fell between us, and I could sense my mother searching for words on the other end. “You should take a true break, dear, and go visit your grandmother. It’s quiet out where she lives. A change of scenery.”
I thought back to what Simon had said earlier about the countryside. My grandmother lived in a cottage surrounded by forest, and although it would be a delightful location to rest, my grandmother could be tedious company. A long drive there, and even longer stories to sit through. Despite this, I had past memories of staying with her that were pleasant.
“I don’t know, Mum.”
If my mother had been with me, she would have shrugged, pulled me into a hug, and said, “Do something for yourself.” I didn’t get a shrug or an embrace, but she did say the words. My spirits warmed when I heard them.
“Thanks, Mum. You're right.”
I knew her eyes sparkled as she replied, “Always.”
Something tells me that the righteous indignation that keeps rising up inside of Angelica is going to serve her well in the future. Get ready for the release of Birth of a Goddess: Reincarnation of the Morrigan Book 1. Ready for pre-order now, and available to all readers July 21st, 2021.