DO NO HARM • by Sean Donaghue Johnston

Cass stood at the top of the steps and listened. Her mother and her sister were downstairs in the living room, watching the news. The news story drifted up the stairs like a cold draft.

“…miraculous escape from the clutches of a suspected serial killer… whereabouts still unknown…”

Cass put her hand on the railing and stepped down onto the creaky, hardwood stairs. Down below, the television flipped to the Leafs game.

“What’s the score?” said Cass as she entered the living room.

“No score yet,” said Amy.

“Want some popcorn?” said her mother. Then, looking Cass up and down, she said, “You’re not going out now, are you?”

“Listen, Mom,” said Cass. “I called the hospital. They said they’d put me back on call starting next week. Also — I’d like to move back into my own house again.”

Mom and Amy exchanged a glance.

“Do you really think that’s a good idea?” said Mom. “It hasn’t even been a week. And what you went through…”

“Plus he’s still out there,” added Amy.

“Amy!” said Mom.

“Well, it’s true, Mom,” said Amy.

Mom seemed to concentrate all her attention on smoothing the wrinkles of her pyjama pants. “Fine,” she said. “But if you’re going home, I’m coming with you. That’s nonnegotiable. I’m not letting you stay in that house by yourself.”

“No — no, it’s fine,” said Cass. “I’ll stay here for another week or so.”

“Good,” said Mom. “But — you’re not still going out now, are you?”

“Yes,” said Cass. “I’d like to get some fresh air.”

“Let me get dressed,” said Mom. “I’ll come with you.”

“That’s okay,” said Cass, and she was out the door before her mother could say another word.

Cass walked quickly down the sidewalk, relishing the cool October air. A light breeze made the leaves dance gently on the branches, sending some of them pirouetting to the ground below, while jack o’lanterns watched from porch steps, grinning stupidly. The moon bathed the whole performance in silver light.

Cass had walked seven blocks, and her house was only one more block away, when a set of headlights illuminated the street from behind her. She could hear the car pulling slowly to the curb. Then the engine cut off and the lights went out. Cass held her breath as a flood of unwelcome impressions filled her mind: a cloth held to her face, the smell of chloroform, rope cutting into her wrists, the metallic taste of blood, the grit of a basement floor against her cheek…

With great mental effort, Cass controlled her breathing and turned to face the car. She stood there for what seemed like an eternity. She stared at the windshield, where she knew the driver was sitting, but saw nothing but a reflection of the moon.

Then the passenger side window rolled down. Cass put her hand in her purse and felt for her canister of pepper spray. Keeping a safe distance, she walked to the side of the car and peered in.

Of course.

It was Ben, Amy’s fiancé.

“Sorry if I scared you,” said Ben.

“What are you doing here, Ben?”

“Amy sent me. She wanted me to make sure you were okay.”

“Well — I’m okay. You can go home now.”

“Oh, good. It’s just that — well, Amy will kill me if I just leave you here.”

Cass looked down the dark street, towards her house. “I’ll tell you what,” she said. “I just want to go into my house for a little while — to check on things. I’ll be about forty-five minutes, an hour at the most. You can wait for me outside and give me a ride home afterwards. Deal?”

“Deal.”

“Stay in the car.”

“Okay, I will.”

Inside her house, Cass made a show of turning on lights and checking window locks. Then she went down into the basement, where the previous owners had built a soundproofed recording studio. Cass unlocked the door to the recording studio and entered.

“David?” she said, closing the door and locking it behind her.

At the far end of the room, in a little nook where the drums used to be, was a man lying in a hospital bed. The left side of the man’s face drooped, as though an earthquake had caused some invisible fault line to shift.

“Remember me, David?” said Cass. “Do you remember what happened? You had a stroke. And it’s a good thing you had your stroke before murdering me, or we’d both be dead now.”

David followed Cass with his dull, doleful blue eyes as she put on a pair of rubber gloves and set about changing his catheter bag and tending to his IV.

“Can you move your feet?” she said.

David said nothing.

“I’ll take that as a no,” said Cass. Then she began methodically to prick his feet with a pin. “Do you feel this? No? What about this? No? Let’s try your hands.”

Throughout this examination, David stared at the ceiling with tears pooling in his eyes.

Then Cass rolled David onto his side.

“Please,” David said thickly.

“Did you say something?” said Cass, lowering him back into a supine position.

“Please.”

“Please what?”

“Please — just — kill me.”

“I can’t do that, David. I’m a doctor. It’s my job to keep people alive. I swore an oath. And I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that you live a long, long life. I promise. Now, let’s shift your position a bit. We wouldn’t want you to develop any bedsores, would we?”

When she was finished tending to her patient, Cass locked the door to the recording studio, locked the house up, and got into Ben’s car.

“All good?” said Ben.

“All good. Let’s go.”


Sean Donaghue Johnston teaches philosophy at Niagara University and Canisius College. He lives in St. Catharines, Ontario, with his wife (and first reader, and best friend) Caroline and their two incredible children, Atticus and Finula. “Do No Harm” is his second published story.


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