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The Hospice

Julian Mortimer Smith has worked as a board game editor, a university teaching assistant, and a military clarinetist. He currently lives in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. His stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, and Terraform. You can read more at his website: julianmortimersmith.com.
The banshee is wailing. There's going to be a death tonight.
We never know for sure who it's going to be, but my money's on Mrs. Johnson. Over the last few days something's felt different about her. She's already elsewhere, no longer present in her crumbling body.
Some of the other staff complain about the banshee, blaming her for headaches and nightmares, but I appreciate her service. A death takes a lot out of you, no matter how many you've seen before, and her warning gives me time to get ready, to prepare the paperwork and armor my heart.
I spend the night turning Mrs. Johnson every few hours, swabbing her dry mouth, rubbing Vaseline onto her desiccated skin. I can hear the fluid in her lungs when she breathes. It can't be long now.
And yet by the end of my shift Mrs. Johnson is still breathing. She even gives me a weak smile as I turn her. I perform my final rounds in a panic, frantic that someone else has passed while I've been focused on Mrs. Johnson. But no. There are pulses all round.
It's raining as I sign out and climb onto my bicycle. The banshee is still wailing, but her shift is nearly over too, and she's a stickler for rules. I guess she just got it wrong this time.
With drooping eyelids I pull out of the parking lot, and her wail is drowned out by the whoosh and roar of rush-hour traffic on slick streets.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, August 6th, 2015

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