Sammy stared at the small, scrunched writing and mused softly to himself. “I suppose I could have said oranges in my sleep.” On the next page he found cinnamon scratched between two lines of printed text. “There’s no way I would have said that in my sleep.” Two thirds of the way down that same page he found Locater written on a downward slant off the L in sleep. He read the paragraph.
Sleep paralysis broken. Possible inclusion of Reaper mania. Trying essence to induce stability. Results unproven.
“What the hell?” He glared at the words results unproven. “I’m a test subject?”
“I told you, you’re the first to survive.” Trypette was back with another plate of cookies, this one filled mostly with gingerbread men. Carrying them to the tray table she swapped out the plates and, with a cautious look at Sammy, carefully swept the dissected gingerbread man on top. “Everything about your recovery is experimental,” she said as she moved to empty the old plate in the trash can.
“Did you decorate these yourself?” Sammy asked, cocking an eyebrow at the new gingerbread men. Each face had a straight line for a mouth with the corners drooping just a little. “These smiles look… different.” Returning to slide the empty plate beneath the full one, Trypette studied the cookies.
“Hmm, I hadn’t noticed,” she said. “But you’re right, they do look at bit off.” Sitting down on the chair she gave Sammy a nervous smile. “I didn’t make them though. I can’t cook.” Her round cheeks flushed at the surprise on Sammy’s face.
“A gnome that can’t cook?” He shook his head in mock judgment. “Your family must have disowned you.” Trypette’s giggle made Sammy smile. The moment spun out awkwardly and he cleared his throat. Looking at the chart on his lap he asked, “Uh, who is responsible for my care? Who’s my doctor?”
“It should be written at the top of the first page.” Hopping to her feet, the golden haired gnome slid gracefully around the tray table and climbed up the bedside steps to lean in and look at the chart. The scent of lavender brushed against Sammy’s nostrils. His eyes bulged a little, but he didn’t pull away. “Yeah, it’s right there.” She pointed at the line labeled Attending.
“It says Alba. That’s the Discharge Clerk.” Sammy shook his head and corrected himself. “I mean the Reaper.”
“No.” Trypette shook her head too. “The Reaper is his nephew.”
“What!” Sammy’s eyes became thunderous. “That sounds like a massive conflict of interest, don’t you think!” He glowered viciously at her. Looking nervous and unsure, Trypette pulled away and started to repeat her last sentence, but he stopped her with a jerking wave of his hand. “I heard you the first time.” He nodded at the cookies. “And I suppose the baker is his niece?” His sarcasm sliced between them, making Trypette’s shrug look very much like the cowering movement of a pet who had just been slapped. Watching her back down the steps and turn away, Sammy took a slow breath and nibbled regretfully at his bottom lip.
“I have no idea who makes the cookies.” Trypette said shortly. “And Alba is your doctor because he has intimate knowledge of Birch Elf physiology. He’s probably the most qualified person alive who can help you right now.” Her expression was completely closed off, her brown eyes dark and shadowed. Sammy looked ashamed.
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly. The look on her face as she met his eyes said his apology was lacking, so he added, “I shouldn’t have snapped at you.” A couple seconds rolled by before Trypette nodded her acceptance. She sat down on the chair and looked very seriously at him.
“I know I’m only a healer and not really qualified to judge a patient’s mental health, but you seem really agitated and—” she glanced at the cookies, “— angry. More angry than most people are when confined in a hospital,” she added. “Is there something you want to talk about?” Despite the shadow still behind her eyes now, the sincerity in her voice and the open expression looked genuine. Sammy blinked several times before answering.
“I’ve lost a friend,” he stated rather ambiguously.
“That makes sense.” She gave him a small, encouraging smile. “Was Alba the one that took him?” Sammy tightened his lips for a second.
“Alba, the Reaper?”
“I should tell you,” Trypette chuckled. “All male Birch Elves are named Alba.” She sat back and grinned at the blank look on his face.
“How do they tell one from the other then?”
“That doesn’t seem to be a problem for them, just everyone else.” Her grin stretched wider as Sammy yawned deeply and gave his pillow a longing look. “How about you rest for awhile,” she suggested and stood up. Laying the clipboard beside him on the bed, Sammy yawned again.
“I feel like I’ve been awake for days,” he said sleepily. “But I swear I only ate breakfast an hour or so ago.” He curled back onto his pilled and closed his eyes, missing Trypette’s hesitant look.
“I can come back later if you want? To talk?” She looked at the clock above the door which clearly showed the time to be a quarter after eleven, a full four hours past when breakfast was served. “I could bring more cookies,” she added.
“Sure,” Sammy mumbled and started to snore.
* * * * *