It was the middle of the day. The sun shone brightly through the ceiling high glass windows with their thick black frames and standard white blinds. The hospital room in which the sun shone so brilliantly smelled strongly of cleaner and other various chemicals. Machines hummed in the background, the I.V drip, the oxygen mask, the catheter with its steady trickle, but the beep of the heart monitor was the loudest sound of all. Some cartoon was playing on the television only added to the background noise.
The uncomfortable bed with its bright white sterile sheets sat in the middle of the room, the layers of cheap, thin blankets the only things between me and the chill March air. Next to the bed stood a single chair with a ducky rose colored upholstery in which sat my mother, her slight frame was bent forward so she was closer to me, he light brown hair pulled up in a sloppy pony tail at the crown of her head, he sky blue eyes watching me intently.
At eight years old I should have been outside with my friends, running around and goofing off. My biggest worries should have been if I was going to get in trouble with my parents for cutting my sister's hair or if I would make it home in time from school to watch my favorite cartoon that day. In a perfect world I would be a normal eight year old with a normal life and the closest I would get to dying was riding the roller coasters at the local theme park. But the world wasn't perfect and I wasn't a typical eight year old.
The sterile hospital room with its open windows and painted ceiling tiles had been my home for the past year. I was dying of terminal cancer. I had been fighting my disease since I was five and I felt I was finally about to lose. Years of chemotherapy, surgery and medications had done nothing to save my life; they had only prolonged my torture. The doctors had lost hope, though they didn't tell my parents that. But I could see it in their eyes when they came to give my parents updates on my blood counts, MRI's and the myriad of other tests and pokes and prods I was subjected to. There was nothing they could do for me anymore; my life was over before it had even truly begun. I would never go to school, learn to ride a bike, skate, drive a car, dance or sing, get married, have kids...I would never live.
I wanted to live, I wanted to fight, but I was so very tired of fighting. I didn't want to struggle anymore; I didn't want to fight for every breath and heartbeat.
Mommy gave me a sad smile and leaned over, kissing my cheek. I closed my green eyes, feeling my body get weaker, heavier. The steady beep of the heart monitor slowed. Mommy looked up at the screen panicked, then down at me. A sob broke free as she realized what was happening. I was letting go. I smiled up at her, feeling hot tears slip down my face.
"I love you, Mommy," I croaked.
"I love you, too, Princess," she sobbed. The room was suddenly enshrouded in darkness as though someone had drawn the curtains closed, but this darkness was worse. The air grew heavy and I shivered as a strange cold filled the room, soaking through the blankets. There was a thick black mist and from within it stepped forth a man. He was tall, well-dressed, wearing black pants, a black vest and a dark red shirt. He was pale white with long jet black hair that had been pulled back into a pony tail at the base of his skull and his eyes were a glittering Onyx color. He had perfect arching eyebrows, an aristocratic nose and sharp jawline which reminded me of pictures of vampires I had seen.
"Poor little child," he crooned. His voice was like honey and butter, deep and soothing. "Pitiful one, sentenced to die before you have truly begun to live." He walked closer to me, almost gliding so great was the grace of his stride, and stopped at the side of my bed.
"Sweet little one, the world is so cruel," he continued. I felt more tears gather in my eyes as I came to the cold realization of who he was and what he was there for. "I can end your pain, dearest. I can give you relief," his hand came out and his long, graceful fingers caressed my cheek, "I can give you peace." I stared at him, scared of what he offered yet wanting an end to the pain. His skin was like fire, though he touch was gentle. He pulled away and held out his hand, waiting for me to take it. I stared at it, a million things running through my mind. They say your life flashes before your eyes and it's true. Suddenly I was transported back through my life.
I was two, standing in my crib, crying. The door opened and Daddy came in, bleary eyed and stumbling. He was bare chested, wearing old sleep pants with some beer logo on them.
"Wassa matta, princess?" he slurred, still half asleep. He gripped the edge of the crib to steady himself and peered in, looking for my pacifier. He spied it in the corner, poking out from beneath my blanket and reached over, picking it up. He tried to pop it back into my mouth but I pushed it away with a shriek and reached for him. He groaned and heaved me out of the crib, laying me on his chest. I snuffled and cuddled against him, his chest hair tickling my cheek. We stayed like that for a time, him rubbing my back and pressing gentle kisses to my forehead as he hummed out of tune. After a while I yawned and relaxed against my daddy's chest. His singing got softer and eventually stopped as he realized I was falling asleep. He moved back over to the crib and tried to lay me back down but I shrieked and wrapped my legs around him. He sighed and looked down at me, his green eyes heavily lidded with fatigue.
"Really, Tori?" he asked. I let out a sob and looked at him with big watery eyes. He sighed and grabbed my blanket and pacifier from my crib, walking back towards his room.
I was three, chasing around my puppy Lollipop and laughing. Mommy and Daddy watched with smiles on their faces. My older sister hid behind Daddy, a scared look on her face.
"Come on, Evelyn," Daddy said. "Astoria isn't scared of the doggie." Evelyn glared at Daddy, her tiny features pinching together.
"I'm not scared!" she insisted, turning to give the black and white dog a leery look. She moved from behind Daddy and walked closer to us. The dog turned at her approach and barked happily. Evelyn jumped and froze in fear. The dog looked at her, confused and bounded over, jumping up on her and licking at her face enthusiastically. She relaxed a little and petted it's head. Lollipop, thrilled with her approval, turned and ran back to me, tackling me to the ground.
I was five and I hadn't been feeling very good. I was tired and weak and had begun getting bruises all over my body. Mommy and Daddy had taken me to the doctor. I sat in the exam room on the table, watching as Mommy and Daddy spoke with the doctor outside the windowed wall. The doctor glanced down at his clipboard and shook his head, speaking to my parents. Mommy burst into tears, sinking to the floor and shaking her head back and forth, muttering something. Daddy went white as a ghost and gripped his head. He moved forward, grabbing the doctor's arms and asking him something. I didn't understand why they were so upset.
I was six, lying in bed sick from the chemo I had gotten that morning. Mommy tried to get me to sip on some broth, but the smell of it had me gagging. I just wanted to sleep, but Mommy wanted me to eat. I complained loudly until Daddy came into the room.
"Leave her be, Dear," he said. "She'll eat when she's hungry."
"The doctor said she needs to eat more," Mommy protested.
"The doctor doesn't have to take the Chemo or stay up all night puking," Daddy pointed out. "Force feeding her will just make her throw up more." He sat down next to me on the bed, but I immediately cringed away from him. The smell of his after shave was over powering.
"Daddy," I complained. "You're cologne stinks." He looked at me sadly.
"Sorry, baby," he said standing and moving away from me. "I forgot." I wanted to cry. I couldn't even be close to my parents because the smell of their perfumes and lotions were nauseating to me.
I was seven, recovering from my third surgery to remove a tumor. I had forgotten what it was like to not be in pain. Everything I did caused pain in me. Mommy, Daddy and Evelyn walked into the room, holding bags with the usual post-surgery gifts. But at that moment I didn't want them. I wanted to be held like I was a baby again, safe and warm within the confines of my parents arms. As if sensing my need, Mommy laid down at my side, wrapping her arms around me and holding me close. Daddy sat at the end of the bed and rubbed my legs.
"Will I get better now?" I asked. Mommy and Daddy shared a strange look. I felt Mommy tense beside me and Daddy's hand still. Neither said anything for a time.
"Yes," Daddy said, breaking the tense silence. I somehow knew it was a lie.
It was six months ago and I was sitting in my hospital bed as Evelyn put the finishing touches on my makeup. Mommy and Daddy had run out to get something and left us alone. Without my parents there I had confessed to Evelyn that I felt ugly. I had no hair, my skin was a sickly grey color and I was rail thin. I wanted to be a pretty girl. She had looked at me sadly for a moment then sprang from the bed, an excited twinkle in her big blue eyes. She had taken the plain white bandana off my head and used my markers to draw flowers and stars on it, using every bright color she could find. When she was finished she dug in Mommy's overnight bag and pulled out one of my mother's dresses, a green one with a wide belt on it. She had slid the too large dress over my head and wrapped the belt twice around my thin waist before buckling it. She had looked me over with a critical eye then retrieved Mommy's makeup bag, sitting before me and mimicking what she had seen our mother do so many times. Powder, white eye shadow, mascara, blush and red lipstick were applied over the sickly pallor of my skin. After she was done she had taken the silver hoop earrings out of her ears and put them in mine. She then picked me up and carried me to the bathroom. I stared in the mirror at myself, surprised at how good of a job she had done. I looked almost normal, I felt like girl again. I dropped my feet and walked unsteadily towards the mirror, reaching out and touching the smooth surface to assure myself that what I saw was really me. The lipstick went outside my lips in the corner of my mouth, one cheek had a bit more blush than the other, the mascara had clumped a bit and I had a smudge of orange on my forehead where the marker had leaked through the bandana to my skin, but I thought I looked wonderful. I turned and hugged my big sister tightly, squeezing with all the strength in my tiny frail body.
I was back in the room, staring at the out stretched hand with fear and trepidation. Beside me Mommy lifted her head from my shoulder where she had been weeping and followed my gaze. She flung herself across my body, almost crushing me with her weight.
"No!" she shrieked. "You can't have her!" The man jerked his head towards her, looking at her with sharp eyes.
"You can see me?" he asked.
"You can't have my baby," she cried, looking at him desperately.
"Your child is mine," he said calmly. "Her end has come."
"Take me instead!" Mommy begged. The man shook his head.
"It does not work that way," he explained. "I cannot simply trade one soul for another. She is the one meant to die." Mommy heaved me up from the bed, hugging me tightly.
"No, no, no, no," she chanted. "Spare her, please. I'll give you anything." He stared at her for a moment, considering her offer. I was surprised at this. Surely being who he was, he had heard such a plea before. What was so different about this one?
"Then I shall make you a deal," he said finally. Mommy looked up at him hopefully, not releasing her grip on me.
"What?" she asked.
"I will let her live, make her well again so that she no longer suffers," he said. "But on her 21st birthday I will come and take her to be my bride."
Mommy stared at the man, horrified.
"But then you are taking her anyway!" she exclaimed.
"You will still be allowed to visit with her," he said. "She will not be dead; she will simply no longer be with you. It would be no different than if she would get married to any other man."
"What do you want, Angel?" Mommy asked, addressing me.
Mommy looked down at me, blue meeting green as our eyes locked. I noticed that she looked so old then despite being only in her thirties. Her face was heavily lined with grief and sorrow and hopeless longing. She looked almost like my grandmother then despite the still bright colored eyes and the lack of gray hair, her face was a roadmap of loss and sorrow and everything that had tried to break her in the last few years. I was afraid. I felt her fear and sorrow. She didn't want to lose me. She had fought so long and hard to have me and keep me and in this single moment she would lose it all and I knew it would finally break her in the way years of failed results and unsuccessful surgeries had not.
"I want to live," I finally said. "I don't want to die." Mommy closed her eyes, breaking our gaze and nodded. She turned her head in the direction the man was standing without opening her eyes and gave a shuddering sob. She opened her mouth and the smell of mouth wash and nicotine assaulted me and she said the one word that would seal my fate.
A/N: WOW! I have to say this redo surprised me. What was a single page, what I meant to make maybe two pages suddenly exploded into four pages! But I just suddenly had to show you more detail of what was in my head. Take you back in time so you could better understand just WHO Astoria was and what her fight with her disease was and how it had affected those around her. I have to admit, I got a little teary eyes writing about this. I hope you enjoy this repost!