Author's note: This story was an entry in Koromo's Song Competition. This story was inspired by the Joy Division song "Atrocity Exhibition".

She sat at the table, across from the man she hardly knew anymore, and tapped her fork rhythmically against the green leaf of spinach that she had deemed inedible. There was nothing particularly wrong with it, to the naked eye. It presumably tasted just fine as well, but as soon as the plate had been placed in front of her, that piece had stuck out like a sore thumb. She had avoided it for the entire meal, for to her it was contaminated. She knew how toxic these obsessive, compulsive thoughts were, but she couldn’t lie to herself, OCD wasn’t the most urgent matter in her life at the moment. After all, her seventeen year old son had been in a coma for the past seven years. And after today, those seven years of sustained existence would come to an end. For some reason, OCD didn’t seem to take priority over that issue.

“I’ll go clean his room,” she said to the man opposite her. He took the hand wearing an identical ring to hers away from his forehead and looked up from his meal, dropping the fork he held. He seemed like he wanted to say something, to disagree with her decision, perhaps. He stared at her, his eyes tired and withdrawn. He’d given up on arguing. He returned the hand to his lined forehead and picked up the fork again, a grunt of approval quietly erupting from somewhere within him. She placed the dirtied napkin on her lap, neatly folded it and then stood from the old oak table and made a left turn out of the dining room and towards the stairs.

She took them one by one and slowly elevated herself towards the door with the rainbow cut out letters that read Samuel’s Room. She opened the door, knocking first to let him know she was coming in, even though she knew he wasn’t really there, and then proceeded to straighten the already tidy room. She glanced over the neatened room, and grew angry that there was nothing left to clean. Her OCD had formed over the past seven years, a result, she presumed, of having one less distraction in her life. Now her mind was fueled with thoughts of ridding the contamination from every inch of her house.

Frustrated with her own helpless state, she opened all the drawers and threw his belongings across his floor and bed, and then placed the emptied drawers back. She stormed from the room, slamming the door behind her, and she waited for half a minute before turning back to the room and knocking on the door again.

“Samuel, honey? I’m just going to clean your room, okay?” And she set about straightening the room once more. Downstairs, she heard the man softly sobbing, and so she joined in with him as she worked. Her soft sobs allowed her to keep with a rhythm, made the whole process tick by more quickly. Before she knew it, she was finished. The room was tidy again, and she blew a kiss towards Samuel’s bed and told him she loved him. Then she went back downstairs, wiping her eyes to dry them.

She curled up next to the man she didn’t allow herself to be close to anymore and they cried together until sleep took them gently. However, the nightmares were not as kind. They flooded her mind with memories of that night. The house alarm ringing out and waking all three of them. Her husband rushing out of the room in his pyjamas, calling out in the darkness. She moved across to their bathroom, took out her phone and began dialling when she heard her little boy cry out.

She ran across the landing, screaming for her husband to help and caught a glimpse of him rushing up the stairs. She scattered the rainbow letters as she forced the door open just in time to see the man throw the little boy head-first into the mirror. And then he turned to her and gritted his teeth with anger, and uttered those same words over again.

Why don’t you love me like you love your little boy?!”

Spittle flew from the man’s mouth as he spoke the words for the thousandth time, as if he himself were annoyed at having to say them once again. And then he grabbed her, just as her husband reached the door. He swung his fist into the man’s cheek with all his strength behind it, and the man’s head twisted as his limp body weight brought him to the floor.

She reached for the phone, thrust it into her husband’s hand and let him dial for help and she scrambled over to her little boy. There were shards of mirror sticking into his scalp, and his head was bleeding profusely. She heard him moaning as she held up his head, trying everything to stem the blood flow. He was still conscious. In hindsight, she really wished he would have stayed that way.

She started screaming for help, grabbed a pillow and gently laid his head on it and grabbed all the medical supplies they kept in the house. She ran back upstairs, placed his bloody head on her lap and tried to soothe the little boy to sleep. He was crying, but couldn’t manage to scream. His brain was shutting down.

She needed to do something. She grabbed a bandage from the kit, placed it around the base of one of the bigger shards of glass, and then grabbed the tweezers from the medical bag. With one hand, she kept the bandage pressed tightly against his head, and with the other she worked the tweezers, gripping the glass and easing it slowly out from within her little boy’s scalp. He began to scream, and she cried, and her husband yelled directions into the phone.

She tugged on the glass, felt it give, and tugged once more. It broke free from the boy’s head, the bottom edge covered in his blood. She looked into the wound. It had gone deep, deep enough for her to see the bone through her tears. She hugged his little head against her, and screamed for help again. That was when he fell unconscious and, as she would find out later, into a coma.

When the police finally arrived, the ordeal was over... for them. The man was identified as one of her work colleagues; the creepy, middle-aged man who used to leave strange notes on her desk, and always hung around outside her office cubicle she had mentioned to her husband before. He had obviously thought that the best way to punish her for not loving him back was to kill or even seriously injure her son and watch her suffer. To enjoy her pain and anguish, that was his twisted revenge.

For their ten year old son, the trauma to his young brain had caused so much swelling that by the time emergency services reached their house it was a miracle he was still alive. In a coma, that was true, but alive. She couldn’t help contemplating what might have happened if her husband hadn’t been there.

She woke, screaming. But at least she woke.


Every so often he would almost surface from the coma, hovering on the cusp of awareness, consciousness. He would become aware of all the sounds around him, machines beeping and nurses hurrying about. Somewhere to his left a person was crying. He knew he was in some kind of hospital. But for some reason he was unable to emerge from his slumber. It was as if he was floating in a vast ocean, just below the surface, and every time he felt he was ready to breach the surface a boat passed overhead blocking his escape, or some kind of creature grabbed him and pulled him down again. He’d become used to this state, of being aware but not awake. Limbo.

He didn’t really ever dream, except for one dream that seemed to reoccur every now and again. The dream was of a man who would stand beside his bed from time to time, and then without warning would grab him and throw him violently across the room, turning his vision to black and then the dream would fade away. He knew this man meant something to him. An important event in his past life. But without enough information it remained only a dream. A nightmare that faded away every time he slipped back underneath that ocean of unconsciousness.

He was completely unaware of how long he’d been in this state. It could have been months, it could have been years. How old was he now? Was he still ten years old, the age he pictured himself as? Was he much older? There was no way of knowing for him. The only sensation he had was his hearing. He couldn’t feel a thing, although he worked out from the sounds around him that he must have been in a hospital bed. Then that word that often drifted in and out of his mind reappeared once more.


That was it. That was what was wrong with him. He was in a coma.

Every so often a lovely woman could be heard softly singing to him. He’d heard her in this Limbo state, and wanted so badly to open his eyes and see who it was, but he never could. No matter how hard he tried he never could open his eyes and wake up. His heart jumped in his chest, and panic flared through his veins. What if he, really, truly never could wake up? What if he was stuck like this forever, only hearing the world outside and never knowing what it looked like?

He felt the panic spread through his body, his heart pounding at a million miles an hour. All of the outside sound was drowned out by the sudden pounding in his ears. He-he wanted to kick and scream, he wanted to pray and thrash his body, and he wanted to call for help. He needed help! For God’s sake, why wasn’t anyone trying to help him?!

He felt the ocean of unconsciousness shift, the currents whirling, propelling him closer to the surface. He knew he would not be able to breach the surface by himself. He needed a hand to pull him out of the water, to lift his head beyond the surface so he could breathe again. He outstretched his hand, waiting for help. The currents below him pushing away the tentacles and redirecting the ships. He was almost awake.

He heard a machine beeping next to him, the noises getting faster and faster and never ceasing. Then he heard footsteps rushing in, a whole bunch of people standing around his bed, conversing. Discussing what the matter might be, why the machine was malfunctioning. He couldn’t see, he couldn’t touch, he couldn’t speak or taste but he was certain they were watching him. Watching the contorted expression on his face as he strained to wake from his sleep. Watching him, observing carefully, but never helping.

Why was it that nobody wanted to help him?! Did they enjoy his pain, his suffering? He dug through the memories of his life, re-watched those movies about the gladiators in their arenas. Humans, placed in front of an overwhelming foe. Lions, tigers, bears and even other people stuck out in the open to be laughed at, to be watched as they died. Other humans, watching their distress, placing bets, roaring with laughter.

Was he a modern day gladiator? Some kind of deranged experiment for other people’s amusement? The world beyond his tightly sealed eyelids made no sense to him. If only he could wake up and prove to them that he was alive, that he was a human being and not a play-thing for someone’s personal entertainment. He just had to wake up. Wake up. Wake up! WAKE UP!

“– get me the needle... his vein... no it’s the machine...,” he heard snippets of the conversation around him as he struggled to make his body conscious again.

The beeping next to his ear grew thunderously loud... and then suddenly slowed again. He felt the currents of his ocean change, moving rhythmically now, soothingly. And he started to sink. He drifted slowly back down from the surface keeping his hand outstretched. And then he heard that voice. The voice that would come and sing to him from time to time. She was singing again. And he followed the voice back up towards the surface.


She walked into the room, arms wrapped around the man-with-the-same-ring's arm. She was crying, but nobody could blame her. Today she was to bid farewell to her son. A nurse approached her, handed her a tissue. She wiped her eyes, but didn’t stop herself from crying. She didn’t think she would be able to anyway.

“I know how hard this must be for you, Mrs Wilders. But I’m afraid our machines are unable to cope anymore. They have been running for seven years, and continue to malfunction. Also, he has stopped responding to most of his injections. His body is fighting everything we give him that will help.

"He's shutting down Mrs. Wilders, and I’m afraid he could pass away more painfully if we do not take matters into our own hands now. I’m so sorry to have to put this burden on you, but I’m afraid Samuel may never wake. It is the kindest thing to him now if we end his struggle,” smiled the nurse gently at her. “Just sign this, if you can. Please try not to feel any guilt about your decision, Mrs. Wilders. You are making the right choice.”

The woman picked up the pen and signed the form with a shaky hand, the form that granted the doctors permission to pull the plug on her son’s life support. She placed the pen back, and gave the nurse another shaky smile, but let the tears flow at will from her red eyes. She moved over to her son, and took his hand in hers, sat down on his bed. He looked so peaceful the way he was, his face passive with no signs of pain. His hand was warm, and his chest moved up and down slowly with the tempo of his breathing. If she could choose any day to say goodbye, then she figured today was as good as any.

She kissed his hand, her sobbing growing louder. Then the man placed a hand on her upper back and shared in her grief.

Hang on. What was that? Did his finger just move? She was sure she felt Samuel's finger brush against her palm. She squeezed his hand, waited for another response. Didn’t get one.

It was only your imagination Dana, she thought to herself. It will only be more painful if you get your hopes up, just let him go. She looked up, and nodded to the nurse that she was ready to let him go. She placed his hand back down next to him and stood up, pulling a baby wipe from her purse and wiping both Samuel’s hand and hers.

It wouldn’t be long now, she thought. It wouldn’t be long until his own suffering was put to an end.


He heard her muffled singing through the gentle waves. She would sing a long note, and then would have to breathe a few times in order to get the note again. Her breathing was sharp and coarse, jittery even. But the song itself was beautiful. He could tell that it was coming straight from her heart. Her song wafted into sky above the ocean, swirling the water and manifesting into the shape of a hand. A hand that would help him out of the water.

All of a sudden, he felt something underneath his hand. He could feel things around his hand, actually feel the sheet below it! It was amazing! He knew where his left hand was, he could feel its energy in relation to his body! Give me a few minutes, he thought, and I’ll figure out how to move it! If he could have, Samuel would have cried with joy at the sensation of feeling something yet again.

Cried. He thought about that word, played with it in his memory, thought about how it sounded to cry. Then he realised that the lady wasn’t singing, she was sobbing. He recognised it. Who was it? Think, Samuel, think! This is the one person you might know so you have t... mum! It was his mother. He directed his attention away from his hand and focused on the conversation happening next to his bed.

“-burden on you, but I’m afraid Samuel may never wake. It is the kindest thing to him now if we end his struggle,” said a soft voice standing somewhere in the room.

Hang on. Had he heard right?! Was this woman completely insane?!

‘What's happening?!’ Samuel tried to scream but his mouth wouldn’t move. ‘Please! I’m still here! I’m not dead!’ In his mind he thrashed his body free and stripped his covers, pushed the two insane women from him and ran. But in reality he was trapped. Stuck in limbo, able to hear everything around him. Aware but not awake.

“-making the right choice,” the lady finished talking, and two seconds later he heard her move to his left side. The side with the machines.

He felt a hand close around his, his mother’s hand, tried desperately to move his fingers. Wake up, Samuel. Wake up! WAKE UP! He knew that he was waking up, it just wasn't happening fast enough. Whatever they had given him to calm him down was stopping him from waking, slowing down the process, He moved his finger slightly, pressed ever so gently into the hand holding his. He felt the hand react, squeeze his hand back. His heart leaped, and he poured all of his energy into moving his fingers. He’d done it once, he could do it again.

The hand was still just above the surface of the water. If he gave one more giant push, he could reach it. He readied himself, brought his hands up past his head, prepared to fling them down past his sides and push himself to the surface.

His hands flew downwards, propelling his body towards the hand. He reached out, connected, felt the hand pulling him...

He felt his fingers move ever so slightly against the sheet, but he couldn’t feel the warmth of the other hand anymore. Where had she gone? He heard the springs in the bed recoil and spring back to their normal position. She was gone. His mother was gone. Something wet brushed his hand and he tried to grab it, but couldn't.

‘No! NO!’ he screamed again and again, his mouth betraying him by not relaying the words. ‘Mum! Mum please!’ He thrashed against the water, his wet and slippery fingers failing to maintain a solid grasp on the retreating hand. ‘Don’t let me go! Please!’

He felt the tentacles grab his feet, and they pulled his hand away from the other one, destroying his only chance at waking. No. He could still do it, if he kicked away the tentacles he could swim up again before it disappeared! He didn’t want to die. There was nothing wrong with him! He was still alive!

The tentacles pulled, grabbing him around his waist and tugging him further from the surface. He watched the hand retreat, move away, and disappear entirely. He screamed, bubbles floating up around his mouth and playing with his brown hair as they reached the surface and made their escape.

As he was dragged down further than he’d ever been before, he used the last of his energy to try to scream once more.

‘Please don’t do this! I’m still here, mum! I still exist!’

Written by Natalo
Content is available under CC BY-SA