Candyeyes dances in the children’s intensive care unit, his oversized shoes slapping the tiled floor in counterpoint to the chirping of monitors. His lab coat is covered with animals and rainbows, scrawled in crayons held by fingers long dead. He spins and kicks his legs high, pulling colored scarves from the sleeves of his coat and confetti from his pockets. Some of the children laugh weakly. Robots the size of rats hiss and purr as they crawl over the children’s bodies. They adjust the fluids that keep them alive and remove their deadly excretions.
Candyeyes stops suddenly and wiggles his fingers inside his rubber gloves. He shakes his head fiercely, the orange and purple dreadlocks of his wig covering his painted face like furry snakes.
“Who’s the happiness man?” Candyeyes grabs his ear and tilts his head, as if he’s slightly deaf.
“Candyeyes,” a boy says in a voice grown old. A few of the others croak too weakly to be understood.
“Righty right right!” Candyeyes bunnyhops to the cabinet on the wall and punches in his code number. It scans his retinas through his peppermint-striped contact lenses with a ruby laser. It clicks and opens to reveal a pair of spray cans, one green and one black. Candyeyes pulls out the green one, the one full of friendly hallucinations, and waves it over his head. “Who wants some fairy dust?”
Most of the children manage to raise their hands. Bruises cover their arms like splattered paint. Candyeyes sprays each child with a fine mist that smells like cinnamon. They smile and close their eyes.
Candyeyes bends over one girl who seems a little stronger than the rest. “Who are you?”
“I’m a dolphin,” she whispers. “The water is so warm, and I can swim so fast. Little fishes are racing with me.” Candyeyes pulls a blue crayon out of his pocket and places it in her hand. The girl draws a crude image of a fish on his lab coat.
Each child who can speak tells Candyeyes a dream. One is a tree, tall and strong, his leaves laughing in the wind. Another is the sun, giving life to all the Earth’s creatures. They draw their visions on his coat with thin, trembling fingers. When they are all lost in their reveries, he walks back to the cabinet and removes the black can, the one full of death and ecstasy.
In the dimmest corner of the ward, behind curtains the color of thick cream, lies the sickest child. Her dark skin is covered with weeping wounds that smell of corruption. She has been in a coma for several days. Candyeyes approaches her quietly and lifts one of her eyelids. Her pupil is fully dilated, nearly hiding her iris. The sclera is yellow and full of blood vessels, like a map of a river delta running through a desert.
Candyeyes pulls a heavy seal from the lid of the black spray can. It begins ticking quietly, to remind him that in a few seconds it will deactivate itself. He carefully places the can near the girl’s eye and presses the dispenser gently. A tiny cloud of mist falls onto her pupil and makes its way to her brain. The can stops ticking. Candyeyes releases her eyelid. It falls slowly shut, like a flower closing at sunset.
A few seconds later the girl opens her eyes. She smiles. “Candyeyes,” she says softly. It is the only word she has spoken for nearly a month.
The girl’s eyes roll back in her head and her back arches. For a moment Candyeyes thinks he has already lost her. Then he realizes that the spray is having a more powerful euphorant effect than usual.
“Who are you?” Candyeyes leans closer to her.
“I am God.” The girl collapses. Her monitors shriek briefly, then grow silent. Candyeyes removes the tangled wires and tubes from her body. He refuses to allow the robots to assist him. He lifts her from the bed and wraps her in soiled sheets. It is the only ceremony he can offer her.
Candyeyes carries the girl past the other children, still lost in their dreams of joy. He places her in one of the disposal carts in the hallway outside the intensive care unit. It shuts itself securely and begins its long, slow journey to the incinerator. Candyeyes takes the stairs to the ground floor. He doesn’t like the elevators, with their cheerful, artificial voices.
The hospital lobby is vast and brightly lit. Candyeyes remembers when it was full of people. Now there are only a handful of physicians, nurses, and medical technicians in full biohazard suits, along with a few like himself, who have no need for such things. As Candyeyes passes through the decontamination chamber, out into the dying world, he wonders again why he was cursed with immunity.
Michael Peralta lives on a wooded hillside in the southeastern corner of Tennessee with fellow writer Rose Secrest, to whom he has had the honor to be married for more than a quarter of a century. They are childfree by choice, but live with more than a dozen cats. He has had science fiction and fantasy published in small circulation magazines since the 1980’s.