Graveyard Shift: A Short Story (Part 2)
CAITLIN OUANO

You can read Part 1 of the story here.

Sonya’s lessons were always interesting, and Trish soon had her own composition book filled with notes, documenting plants and herbs. Trish preferred potions, a witch’s chemistry, as it were. The only books mom could get Ronan to look at were astrology, which Trish found laughable. Especially when, as teenagers, Ronan read her mother’s tea leaves and predicted that they would have a “bountiful” autumn and nearly all the crops in the county died. It was a good thing they lived in the twenty-first century. Ronan insisted she had merely read the tea leaves upside down.

Ronan could manage some basic spells — never Trish’s excellence — about which she felt a haughty superiority as she grew older and older. Sonya glowed with pride the 95% of the time when Trish reached the answer right, when her potion glowed purple, when the leaves fell from the trees in a certain order, when wine turned to water. When she didn’t, Sonya was encouraging, and put her arm around her and made her chocolate cake, a feat she could do without a working oven or any utensils, a spell Trish was never allowed to know. “All witches must have their secrets,” Sonya had said, “it makes us immortal.”

Tea Leaves

Dan rolled over in her bed, panting, looking at the ceiling. He was playful, fun. Mysterious. And seemed to throw life into her.

“5:00 A.M.”

“I’m surprised we have so much damn energy,” he said.

It was the thirteenth day of clinicals, no rest, barely any time, and yet there was time for this and Trish had to be up in three hours for homework.

He rubbed his feet against hers, then stopped.

“What is that?”

She laughed. “A wart.”

“Gross,” he said, not finding it gross at all or sounding like he found it gross at all.

“I get them.”

“Hmm… high propensity? You swim a lot?”

Scientific in his analysis, he got up to look at her foot. His immediate work focus was incredibly sexy, adding to the fact that feet were erogenous zones, and witches’ warts were enormously sensitive.

“It’s not an STD,” she said.

“I know, because I would’ve seen them somewhere different.”

He ventured elsewhere, somewhere, within her.

The sun was out. Trish had no idea she could enjoy autumn sunshine, but in fact she could. Uncomfortable as it was, the day felt different as she walked into the hospital yet again, the dirt from the previous day still sticky to her.

Not a minute in and paramedics rushed an old woman in, brown and gray bushy hair. Trish edged to the wall as they brushed past. Something strange about her. Something odd. Probably the lack of sleep. Trish proceeded to the locker room, thinking, maybe, she didn’t have to be alone.


The rounds that day were pretty dry, which bolstered her good mood. She was also grateful because she was tired and wasn’t as sharp. Dan stood near the edge of the group, occasionally walking with Trish, the two sharing a smirk. At one point, standing in the back, he whispered in her ear the proximity of an empty room, making the hair on her arms stand up.

“Jane Doe. Homeless.”

The brown, gray, bushy hair, the same woman, asleep. Some weird current went through Trish. She reminded her…

Dr. Morrison proceeded to a whisper:

Naegleriasis.”

The group was jolted awake. What the fuck—

Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis. Wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t cover it yet,” said Dr. Morrison, balancing her tone to temper the scientific excitement of such a rare case with the morbid prognosis. “Only about four hundred cases in the past sixty years.”

Trish racked her brain for the name, where she’d last read it. A brain-eating amoeba.

“She’s being treated now but—”

She’d be dead within a day or two.

Fascinating.

Naegleria fowleri (Source: Wikipedia)
Naegleria fowleri | Source: Wikipedia

You got it through your nose. Started off getting a little sick, like a case of meningitis. Then the amoeba progressed to your brain and started eating your nerves. Up close it looked like a human eye. Gross and weird and odd. Trish felt the pang of her mother’s witchy scientific interest in such pathogens. If Sonya could get a sample of something like that she’d be mashing it up and experimenting with it like crazy.

The woman, Jane Doe, was homeless, she stunk of it. Her teeth were rotted. Likely mentally ill as well. She could’ve gotten it anywhere, maybe trying to bathe in a lake somewhere. Maybe lying in some dirty soil.

Someone raised their hand, “A girl in Spain had this last year, I read about it.”

“She was diagnosed early, so she—”

Suddenly, Dan left, down the hallway. Rushed off. An absence found its way into Trish’s chest.

IV Drip

Later, no Dan. Something odd.

He wasn’t in lecture. She muttered something under her breath, inveniet, rubbed a doorknob. Waited a moment. Something magnetic pulled her forward, like a hook, and she followed it to a supply closet.

Dan was crying. Jane Doe, something about the patient had gotten to him. Trish knelt down and put her arm around him and he collapsed into her. It was so strange, and she cringed at the way he felt. The vulnerability seeping out of him. She fingered an iron keyring in her pocket, seeking calm. He was no longer the stoic guy who could take a lumbar puncture from a five year old girl, who could examine the body of a dead infant, who would laugh at the death of a playboy. The amoeba had wormed its way in him too.

Something occurred to her.

“Is she… related to you?”

The question hung in the air. Dan quietly sobbed. She’d guessed it, a shot in the dark, but the emotional Dan suddenly made sense. The dying brown haired woman, Jane Doe, his long lost mother, his pain. He never spoke about his family, and no one suspected a boy like the dark haired, tough, emotionless Dan Lin had a mother with soft brown hair and mental illness. Trish could feel his body softening closer to hers. Sticky and unbearable, like a dying animal. Something in Dan had died.

“She has schizophrenia, she left one night, we never found her,” he said.

Until now. And now was about to turn into never again.

Trish thought of something.

Dan felt heavy on her skin, he didn’t want to leave. He had to stay rooted, she knew. But she had to go. She could help. She felt that manic productivity but smothered it, preferring scientific, logical focus. She stood, slipping away.


The ragged book was left open from a previous night when Trish had been making a sleeping draught. She flipped to the spell she had read a thousand times, one of the only ones she deemed… There was never a point to brewing clear, un-tastable poisons or bewitching pregnant women into getting miscarriages. But there was a point to other things.

She skipped through the book, her mother’s book, her grandmother’s book, now her book, all the way to the end, the difficult spells, a screaming warning label of red paint lining each page to remind them of what they knew. She was shaking past the necromancy chapter. Its missing page glaring up at her. She froze. She heard screaming. But there was one that gave her purpose, and she needed to flip through to find it.

Three Windows

She strolled the halls, time was running out, she had to find one. Past the children, past the coughing nurse, the hospital was far too small. She rifled through charts on the walls, anyone she could find. Most rooms filled with sleeping family, snoring children, the halls seemed dimmer by the second. The night was filling her with new strength, but her optimism faded. Please, please. A few children alone while their parents ate in the cafeteria, not them, she couldn’t use them, please, she couldn’t use them. None, all fine, some had six months, even infants in the NICU were stable, no one, there were people everywhere, their emotions sinking into her, Dan sinking into her…

And then, a woman.

All alone. Old. Trish tiptoed in.

“More morphine.”

Trish looked at her chart, avoiding, constantly avoiding. The woman asked again, “more morphine, nurse.” Trish turned off the lights.

Trish wasn’t a nurse, and had no time, and she looked through the chart. Terminal. Cardiomyopathy. The woman was weak. Trish exhaled.

“Please.”

With relief, Trish looked around. No one. She pressed a button, increasing the take. The woman sighed a bit. Trish avoided eye contact, looking at her frail body.

“Tha—thank—”

“You’re welcome.”

Trish took a water bottle out, along with a torn page from her book. She dumped it in a plastic bowl nearby, stirred it once clockwise, once counter, once clockwise, once counter, until it turned hot and purple. She threw a vial of newt’s eye, some frog blood, carefully measured, she had to get it right.

The doctor’s footsteps down the hall, Trish masked in the shadow of the room. Hovering over the woman relaxing into her morphine sleep.

“Celeri morbo translatio.”


The full moon hovered over a silent, still night, radiating through the emptiness.

Full Moon Over Water

A warm night. Trish emerged from the hospital, exhausted. Day twenty-one. Back to class on Monday.

“Cigarette?” asked Dan. “Are you gonna avoid me again?”

Dan was upbeat. Smiles played through him more.

Trish paused. “How’s your mom?”

“In a facility.” Dan seemed… bright about it. He had come back to life. But more than that, he was charged with something electric.

“You’re happy?”

“I can visit her whenever. She can get treatment. Fuckin’ miracle she lived through that, I can’t believe it. Really makes you see how great life can be.”

Something had left him. Something smoky lingered in him until now. It was like his air had cleared.

“I never knew where she was, now I know. I always thought she was going to die alone on the streets. Now I know she won’t. Life goes on. I can, I don’t know, enjoy things more.”

He was clear. Clear. Softer.

“Do you wanna… get drinks with everyone? Celebrate the last day?”

Slipping back in the hospital, into the freezing morgue, unlocking the door easily with her keyring. She was using the craft more and more and more these days. The moon wasn’t even burning tonight. She just felt more need to be at ease.

The grey old woman sat in front of her. No family. No story. A cadaver. She could’ve slept with morphine another three weeks, could’ve called someone, could’ve finished a poem. Bloodless, lifeless. The brain-eating amoeba Trish had transferred out of Dan’s mother had died with the woman. Undiscovered. Everything a cost, life was one giant cost, one long day and no relaxing night. Trish had chosen one life over another, and there was no heroism. Or solitude. Only deep deep loneliness.


In the fog, Trish looked out. Typically she loved foggy days, sometimes would try to create them just for their sake. She clutched a mug of coffee. But today, she only felt small and unable to see, unable to grasp the largeness of the earth and sky, obscured by her one world, the one thing she’d built for herself.

She heard footsteps. Probably a neighbor.

Ruby lifted her head slightly, her shaggy hair twitching. She needed a bath.

“Do you smell something?” asked Trish. She didn’t bother to create an answer. The porch was dusty, ugh. She’d clean the house today. It was her day off. She’d brush the porch, scrub the toilets, clean the kitchen, before she knew it she was grabbing the broom nearby and dusting the porch, Ruby eyeing her out of the corner of her tiny brown pupil, her nose still pointed to the fog.

Trish went about it.

“How stereotypical.”

Trish looked up to Ronan appearing from the fog, an elegant black jacket, designer silky, billowing around her body, a rather plain chic outfit underneath. As if her clothes mattered. But, in Ronan’s case they did, because she looked far different from the skimpily clad teenager Trish had last seen moving to California, the one with crying hissy fits, the one who refused to learn anything from their mother as long as it served her.

“A broom and a tiny black dog. You’re basically telling everyone you’re the neighborhood witch.”

“I’m shocked, you’ve been at mom’s house for five minutes and haven’t thrown an emotional tirade yet.”

“Give it a minute.”

Ronan gave her sister a hug. Trish collapsed into it. Collapsed. It was so unexpected, so strange, the strangeness of the day, of her life, of what she’d done, of what she needed. And Ronan, oddly, seemed to know that, holding her sister up with her tiny little body.

Tea

They sat with hot cups of tea, roots they gathered silently together in the backyard.

“I’m moving in,” said Ronan, dumping as much milk and sugar in her tea as she could. As thin and organic as Ronan could be, she was decadent, and loved her sweets. They all were.

“California not doing it for you?”

“Oh, I left after that year, after you visited,” she said. “Too much desert.”

“Where’ve you been then?”

“New York, Dublin — there’s tons of witches there—”

“I’ve heard that. I’ve been meaning to gather some materials there.”

“There’s so many. Mushrooms. Angel’s hair, Fresh Prince—”

Trish laughed a little. Ronan smiled back. “They call it something different obviously.”

To keep other people from knowing secrets, witches had a habit of naming their own herbs unrecognizably. A new one their mother had found on a trip to the beach when they were kids they labelled Fresh Prince, which their mother remarked as geniously articulate, having little knowledge of television or sitcoms. Fresh Prince proved just a salty additive to patch up paper cuts and shine up your skin and de-bland bland food. But it was Ronan and Trish’s secret name that locked them together.

Ronan hesitated, putting her tea mug down.

“I missed you.”

Ronan paused.

“I missed home.”

The chattering of kids outside. A small Samurai and an Angel passed in front of the house on their way to school. Halloween. Trish missed Ronan too, though she didn’t know it. She didn’t know much of anything, though she knew a lot. Though she had a house full of books and two chairs to read them in. There were missing pages in what she knew. But she had a moment with a kindred spirit, and maybe she could tell her everything, release the heavy weight of solitude. Or maybe wait a bit.

Trish decided to enjoy it.

“I wonder how many kids we could steal in a day.”

Ronan laughed.

“They’d burn us before sunrise.”


Trish could wander, wander, wander as far as she could, within her mind, devoid of all thought and feeling. Somewhere in the family book there was a sketch of a rare herb that could let you walk on water for a few minutes, something similar to hellebore or hat mushrooms or frog toe, or something stupidly named and renamed. Maybe she could get it, grind it up, inject it with a needle, or pump it through her blood like an IV fluid, and see if it would stay permanently and she could walk the ocean to the end of the earth and then sink into wherever it let off.

That’d be easy.


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