The world seemed to slow down around Alain. From the corner of his eye, he could see his wife, almost frozen in time, screaming into her phone as she tried to remember how to make a call; yet, he couldn't hear a sound from her lips. On the floor, Camille was scratching her throat until it bled, her eyes rolling back; that, however, he heard clearly, resonating deep within his skull. A high-pitched and irregular whistling, like a kettle about to burst: the sound of her breathing penetrated him so intensely he felt his eardrums might tear. But his gaze was fixed on something else, right next to his daughter's head: a puddle of vomit. He saw its outlines with incredible clarity, and he was simply mesmerized by the contrast of colors against the white and cold tile. He could almost make out, or imagine with his eyes, a wisp of smoke rising from it.

“Metabolic crisis, buddy, hospital, now,” a voice in his head said, almost unnoticed.

But Alain didn't move. On the other side, Léna had finally managed to dial emergency services, and he vaguely saw her lips moving; his eyes still glued to the stain on the floor: he imagined the person who could be on the other end of the line: Bianca.

A scene unfolded before him, as if he was glimpsing into the future while everything else around him had stopped: he saw paramedics taking his daughter on a stretcher and stuffing her into the ambulance like a small loaf into an oven, while he remained still, unable to move. He watched the ambulance speed away from the neighborhood, sirens wailing, before it changed direction and took a detour through the forest. The sirens went silent as the driver parked in a recess of the brick wall, retracing their fresh mud tracks: Jovian.

He had a carnivorous smile on his lips.

“Are you going to give her twenty minutes, you son of a bitch?” Alain thought. “Or are you just going to unbuckle your belt, move to the back, and put a pillow over her head?”

Now, he saw himself in the emergency room waiting area. Jovian slowly shaking his head in front of him.

“We couldn't do anything,” he would have said.

And then, that bastard would have handed him a card. Alain took it in his mind, and there, he even felt the contact of the cardboard between his fingers, the edges slightly pressing into his skin, causing him pain.

He saw the card of the funeral home they knew all too well.

“Give her the premium service, Alain, you owe her that,” Jovian's voice in his head said.

"Sorry man, we couldn't do anything...” the voice continued, then burst into laughter.

It was the smell of vomit that finally reached his nostrils and gave him the slap he needed. Rage rose in him like water under pressure, and he lunged at his wife:

NO!!!” he screamed, snatching the phone from Léna's hand.

She jumped, and her incomprehension turned into pure terror as she laid eyes on her husband: he was red, with crazed eyes and frothing at the mouth.

“We don't have time!” he managed to lie, “I'll take her myself!”

He grabbed his daughter and cradled her in his arms: time had resumed its normal flow, and he realized that the little girl's chest was rising and falling at an alarming rate. He barked at Léna, an unintelligible growl more akin to a rabid dog than a human, but she managed to guess that he wanted her to open the door. He rushed outside, as his wife grabbed the car keys, knocking over all other keychains from the small clay bowl. He dashed down the now almost flooded driveway. The rain whipped them violently as if commanding them to turn back and go inside: the drops slapped Camille's now expressionless face, her eyes half-closed, cleaning the small orange trickle coming out of her mouth.

Léna overtook him and unlocked the car. She opened one of the rear doors, and Alain gently placed his daughter on the back seat.

“Give me the keys!” he bellowed.

He stood up and snatched them from her hand. He circled the car and dove into the driver's seat, barely taking the time to close the door behind him. He struggled to insert the key into the ignition, missing the slot twice as he cursed. Meanwhile, the raindrops hammered against the car's body as if trying to get in, drowning out the sound of Camille's labored breathing. He managed to start the car, and without thinking, he put it in reverse to leave the driveway, nearly hitting his wife. He swerved into the street, narrowly avoiding the neighbor's car, and revved the engine to head towards the hospital, leaving a stunned Léna still standing in the driveway.

He left the neighborhood at seventy kilometers per hour over the speed limit, which would have earned him a spot in the newspaper had he encountered the cops. He ran two red lights but had to brake hard at the third when he saw a van coming: the rain, like a malevolent entity, had poured a layer of water on the asphalt, and he had to swerve when he realized his brakes were simply useless on the slippery road. His daughter was thrown against the door, and he let out a scream of rage.

“Jovian, if you touch my daughter, I'll fucking kill you!!” he screamed, completely insane.

At last, he saw the hospital in the distance, or rather ghostly lights dancing through the ever-thickening curtain of water. He pressed his foot harder on the accelerator, realizing he was still in socks: he didn't fucking care.

He took the familiar path he had walked many times, but never with such urgency. The tires screamed as he slammed on the brakes in front of the emergency entrance; he stopped ten meters too far, startling a nurse on a smoke break. By the time he got out and extracted his daughter from the car, two alert staff members had already joined him.

“Six-year-old patient, severe metabolic crisis. Affected by oxidative phosphorylation. Currently on Coenzyme, Carnitine, and Riboflavin.”

These words came out on their own, and he was completely stunned. How could he be so detached while talking about his own daughter? He didn't even realize the two emergency responders had taken Camille from his arms, and when he finally came to his senses, he was sitting in the waiting room. He was wearing his work shoes that he kept in his locker, and two hours had passed according to the wall clock.


Night had fallen over an hour ago, the sun swallowed by the waters off the coast. Yet, there was no beautiful photo of the sky ablaze with colors, nor a midnight swim under the stars: the daily demise unfolded in private, hidden from the world by a thick, gray veil.

Alain nervously tapped on his steering wheel, parked in front of a fence topped with barbed wire. He scrutinized the gated entrance adorned with welcoming signs like “NO TRESPASSING”, “AREA UNDER VIDEO SURVEILLANCE”, and “PROPERTY OF LAW ENFORCEMENT”, feeling a knot in his stomach: this place scared the hell out of him.

He had taken a winding dirt road that climbed along a slope, moving away from civilization to reach “the farm”, lost in the middle of the forest. He wanted to start his car and escape from here, go back to the hospital, and stay with his daughter for the night, but the doctor's words kept echoing in his head:

“Camille is stable, but we're keeping her under observation for the night. She's out of danger, but the progression of her disease is concerning...”

No, not that. What he had said next, averting his eyes and fiddling with his stethoscope:

“Alain, management has turned a blind eye for a while because you're one of us, but they're starting to pressure me to discharge Camille first thing in the morning: the payment delays... I'll do what I can to keep her a bit longer, but you need to find a solution quickly...”

But Alain hadn't backed down: he couldn't recall the details, carried away by a madness he didn't know he had, but he vaguely remembered, through a red filter, screaming in the hallways until the management intervened. He hadn't left before making sure his opinion on how the big shots in suits had treated a patient, a parent, and an employee was clearly heard. And all this, conveying the message through an intermediary, a poor doctor who must have been on his second consecutive shift.

“Fucking bastards in suits...” he muttered.

No, he knew he had to stay: it wasn't for him, but for Camille. If he wanted to catch up on his payments at all, he would need to shake some pear trees. And even if it was the last tree at the foot of which he wanted to bark, he didn't have much choice.

All thanks to Mrs. Aubry and her late husband.

His musings were interrupted when a beam of light blinded him through the fence. He blurted out a curse, something like “fringed whore!” and the gate slowly slid open into the night, the light dancing to invite him in. He got out of his car and put on his raincoat: the rain had calmed down a bit, but it cast a mysterious and oppressive veil around him. Reluctantly, he started walking, and his guts twisted anew as he entered the premises of “the farm”.

“Alain!” a tall man with skeletal features called out, his face hidden by his hood and the dark, distorting mask of the night. “Why such a late visit, at night? Have you come to see how our dear Mr. Aubry is doing?”