Past Lives: 1946: Haemoptysis

noun: The act of coughing up blood.

Aw, shit.

Famous last words, and all. Funny, he always hoped his would be more dignified.

He guesses it’s better than, Hah, they’ll never see me from he – ! It’s from some old war story a kid told him the other day. He thinks. It’s all kind of fuzzy now, but then, everything’s kind of fuzzy now, so…

He’s talking crap again. Someone needs to have a word with him about that. Actually, wait, someone is talking to him.

“List! List, stay with me!”

“He’s coughing up blood. Internal bleeding.”

Weird, really. You’d think the blood’s meant to stay on the inside, but he knows what that means.

“Is there something we can do? Tell me there’s something.”

Everything’s kinda… hazy. It’s fun, in a halfway-underwater-and-gonna-be-sick way. So not really fun, then. He definitely caught the words internal bleeding, though, and he knows enough to know he’s screwed. Well, that’s not good. Mom’s gonna kill him if he dies.

List! C’mon, I don’t even want to have to explain this to Elizabeth.”

Huh. Sounds like Mary’s had the same thought. It makes sense, he guesses – his mother’s pretty damn hard to forget in a hurry.

There’s… stuff in his throat. He tastes copper and slime, nasty, crawling up and into his mouth before he can stop it. No, no, no… He doesn’t want to move – shit, he’s so tired – but he tries to cough, and someone is saying something along the lines of God, that’s a lot.

The thing is, blood doesn’t bother him so much when it’s on someone else, or even when he’s wearing it occasionally, but apparently it tastes like the ass-end of a goat, and see, that bothers him. Great, he’s gonna die thinking of a goat’s ass. Classy.

Alister. Don’t you dare.”

Crazy blue eyes and a no-bullshit glare. Hey, Melinda. She’s crouching next to him. He wants to raise his hand and wave, but everything’s slow, sluggish, like he can’t move properly and why can’t he feel…

why can’t he feel…

Strong hands on his shoulders, lower, on wet cloth. Shit, his suit’s never gonna be the same again. Shit, shit, shit.


He manages to cough out something that sounds a little like, “List.” It’s croaky, like a frog and a dying man had a kid in his throat, and Jesus, the deader he gets the stupider he gets, too. He’s so glad the only things around are humans. He’d be ashamed if anyone could see inside his head right now.

He hears a “tch” and a sigh from Mary – he can hear her rolling her eyes, seriously – but Melinda’s… different. The glare drops a little. Her eyes go soft, and her voice does, too – it takes her a second to say, “List.”

No, no, no. You’d think that’d sound better, but that softness just sounds like she’s giving up, like he’s dead already. He knows she’s lost people – not how many, but definitely people – and he figures that she’s probably sick of watching people die. “Can’t – “He can’t breathe. He chokes; his voice doesn’t sound right.

“I know.” Not a platitude. He actually reckons she does. It’s in her eyes. She looks up, he’s guessing at Mary. “Get a doctor. The nearest one. Find a telephone.”

“Uh-huh,” Mary says, and List reckons she’s nodded. He hears the rapid clicks of heels on pavement.

Melinda’s head is turned like she’s watching Mary go – no, like she’s making sure she’s gone – then she sighs. Looks back to him. Frowns. Says quietly, “Forgive me.”

Later, he’ll say that that’s when he blacks out, God’s honest truth. Because it doesn’t make any sense, what happens next. For a minute, he swears he sees her reach into her boot, pull out a knife, cut into her arm until she draws blood. He swears he hears her mutter something under her breath, words in a language he’s never heard before, and then something glows…

But his head is swimming, nothing in the world makes sense, and when he’s sitting in the office later, bandaged up but miraculously without his guts spilling onto the floor, he’ll reckon it’s just his imagination. Makes no sense, after all. And in the post near-death haze, when he’s just glad to be alive and can barely focus easily, the memories’ll just… slip away, somehow. Easily as water.


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