MyNanoWriMo 2016: A couple of graphics

So, I’ve been toying with different ideas for graphics for my NaNoWriMo project, “Time Of Our Death.” Just thought I’d post and share them in case anyone is interested. The first is a cover design or header I created from three different elements. 

The second one here is my original vision for Lori. It’s actually a picture of my wife as a teenager turned into a painting 😉

So there ya go. Just a few things I was trying to create to add a little visual to the tale. Have a great evening, everybody.

My NaNoWriMo 2016 Day 28: Chapter 28

Time Of  Our Death

By Paul D Aronson

Twenty-Eight

There are moments in one’s life, when you stop in the middle of everything and say to yourself, “I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life.” Holding Lori to me and dancing across the gym floor, breathing in her hair and the scent of her skin, would have been one of those moments. But the truth was the rest of our life had already ended and we were now just two wraiths discovering the true affection of another that was denied us in life. Still, the moment was eternal, seemingly endless, and I hoped beyond all hopes, that if I could take one memory with me when our ghost life was over, this would be it. 

The DJ, having reclaimed his turntables, spun the perfect songs for young lovers. Cutting Crew’s “I’ve Been In Love Before,” Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”, and my personal pop favorite, “Purple Rain.” It was during that song, we finally came up for air and dared to say a word.  

“Wow,” Lori breathed. 

“Yeah,” I agreed. “Wow.” 

She looked around at all the other kids. “I wish they all could see us.” 

“Me, too.” 

“I guess we are still nobodies.” 

“That’s alright,” I said. “I kind of like it that way.” 

She raised her face to me again. “Yes, so do I.” 

“Why did I wait so long to kiss you?” 

She smiled slyly. “Because any earlier and I would have kicked your ass.” 

I grinned. “True.” Then I kissed her again, not worrying if I had butt kicking coming or not.  

The song changed mid kiss, and the sounds of excited kids applauding and cheering us on made me smile. But pulling away from Lori, I realized it wasn’t us they were clapping for, it was the song the DJ selected. Michael Jackson. Thriller.

Lori laughed, and it was the most joyous sound I ever heard. She grabbed my hand and said, “Come on,” as she led me over to where a large group of students were doing the signature dance from the popular video. Thankfully, the only living dead in the room were us. Still trying to avoid “bumping” into other students, we joined in the best we could, though neither of us knew what we were doing. Brian and Kelly were better at it, except they didn’t care if they passed through the other students or not. They were having just as much of a blast as anyone else. The same could be said of Donald, as he randomly danced beside other students, mocking their moves with great exaggeration. I got the feeling his silliness was for our benefit. If you’d stood us all next to each other, you would have thought we were all friends. That for years we’d been close companions through and through. Seeing us at the dance, it would be hard to believe that just days ago most of us spent the majority of our school life trying to avoid the others. For three of us anyway, we just wanted to be invisible. And now we were. 

“You want to get some fresh air?”  

Lori smiled. “I wish we could.” 

“Okay, let me rephrase that. Want to get out of here?” 

She nodded. “Yeah, I think I’m done with my Molly Ringwald at the prom moment.” 

“Pretty In Pink wasn’t that bad.” 

“Oh no, it wasn’t. I loved it actually. Though it pissed me off. Ducky should have got the girl.” 

We left the dancers to the gym floor, making our way for the exit. The rest of the Dead Kids Rule gang were lost in their own evening that they didn’t notice we were escaping the scene. 

“I wish we could have seen it together,” I said, as we passed through the wall and into the night.  

“It would have been a nice first date,” she agreed. “And it would have given us a year together instead of a few days.” 

I didn’t want to get depressed, and certainly not over a movie that had come out last year. “I like the first date we were given,” I said, reaching for her hand. She curled her fingers around mine. 

“Oh, you think this is a date?” 

“Well,uh..” 

“You didn’t even buy me dinner, shame on you. You dance with me, kiss me, and now you want to take me home already. Am I that bad a kisser?” 

I looked at her a moment, trying to gauge if she was being serious or not. She wasn’t. But I was. “You’re the best, Lori,” I said, and pulled her close, enveloping her spectral form into my arms. “And you make me feel the best, too.” My lips found hers waiting, and our mouths softly collided as the stars blinked overhead in the October sky. 

“You guys are starting to remind me of the face sucker in Alien,” Donald said from behind us minutes later.

We stopped kissing and nearly laughed in each others mouth. “Donald,” I said. “You would interrupt Madonna losing her virginity.” 

He laughed this time. “Like I’m that old.” 

“Is the dance winding down?” Lori asked him. 

“Nah, it’s just boring when no one can see you making fun of them.” 

“I can imagine.” 

“And you know the party is winding down when they start playing oldies,” added Brian, who had also arrived with a flushed Kelly in tow.  

“Oh yeah?” I asked. “What are they playing?” 

“Don’t You Forget About Me.” 

“Dude, that was only two years ago.” 

“Like I said, oldies.” 

“So, what’s next, guys?” Kelly asked. “I’m tired of being the bride.” She closed her eyes, and like Tabitha on the old Bewitched TV show, nodded her head with a wrinkle of her nose and changed back to the clothes she was most comfortable in. “There that’s better.” She put her hands to her hair, teasing it with her fingers. “I like my hair big, but not that big.” 

Brian decided he didn’t want to be Frankenstein any longer, as well, and changed back into his usual kind of lumbering idiot. “It is Friday night, everybody.” He looked at me. “Headbanger’s Ball,” he said with a grin. 

I didn’t take him for one who watched the popular MTV show, even though for me it was like watching the Bible reveal itself to sinners. “So?” I asked, with a noncommittal shrug. 

“So, everyone should be watching it, dummy. And I do mean everyone.” His mischievous grin told me he was back to being the king of pranks. 

“Yeah!” Kelly whooped. 

“Oh god,” Lori mumbled. “Now it’s Bon Jovi for everyone.” 

We left the dance behind, but not its memories, and hours later we were going house to house, turning on televisions and tuning them to MTV, cranking the volume as loud as it could go. For those Television sets that were already on, it was fun to walk by them and watch the channel change, enraging unsuspecting viewers. Some nearly jumped out of their seats, when the volume went up and Twisted Sister’s ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ assaulted their sensibilities. Just the visuals alone was enough to send them into cardiac.

We’d gone through about a dozen houses, when Lori and I started stumbling on the secrets. I had never really thought about the lives that other people lead. I’d always just known what went on in my house, and didn’t really care about what my neighbor was doing. As far as I was concerned, everyone had their own lives, and whatever they did with theirs was on them. But being a ghost gave you a different view of things. You were able to move among people in their own homes virtually undetectable. All the things they didn’t want you to see, you saw. All their private moments could be exposed to you if that’s what you wanted. It is not the way I intended things to be. Ive always been respectful of one’s own space and privacy, but the crying baby changed all that. 

Lori and I had split away from the others, choosing to move as a pair through the houses on our hair raising Headbanger’s Ball adventure, when we entered a house who’s quiet was being shattered not by heavy metal on the TV, but a baby squalling like somebody stole his milk and blanket. We quickly followed the headache inducing sound to a small room set up as a nursery.  

The room was your typical baby friendly place. Done up in pink with My Little Pony and Rainbow Brite as its motif, it should have been a calm and peaceful place. But it wasn’t. A Bay was screaming its head off in the crib, desperately trying to get someone’s attention. When Lori leaned over the crib and opened her mouth to “shhh” the baby, I didn’t think anything would happen. After all, we were ghosts, and only one other living person had even seen one of us in this state. Infant babies were different though. Uncluttered with all the emotional, rational minded baggage of age, they obviously could see us. 

The screaming infant girl saw Lori leaning over the railing. It was clear right away she could see the teenager who had come to her cry. She stopped screaming, yet still awash in sobs, and cooed at Lori. 

“Hush,” Lori said quietly. “It’s okay, baby girl. Mama Lori is here.” 

I stood there in shock, wondering if the baby could both see and hear her, and when I too leaned over the crib, the infants eyes turned to me and widened in joyous surprise. Now there were two friendly faces come to comfort. 

“It’s alright, little one, “ I whispered. “There’s no need to cry.” 

As if fate were attempting to prove me wrong, the baby’s door banged open, the knob striking the wall as it came to rest against it. Into the room walked a woman, clearly out of her mind and removed from her senses. A rubber tube was wrapped loosely around her arm and in one hand she held an empty syringe. Her eyes were wild and crazy, but not nearly as bad as Lori’s in this moment. It was the easiest thing in the world to know what was going on. This mother, if you really wanted to call her that, had left the baby to shoot up. For her, the drugs were more important than the well being of her child. This may seem like a harsh assessment, but the fact the baby had been crying for so long, showed where the mother’s concern lied. 

“What the shit is going on here?” The woman slurred, her damp unkempt hair sticking to her sweaty face. “You shut up just as soon as I get here?! Are you just trying to punish me, you little whiny bitch?” 

“No, I am,” Lori said, picking up a small metal trash can that sat beside the crib. She hurled it at the woman, who was too slow to react. The metal clanged against her head, and dirty diapers spilled out of the can to land on the woman, now sprawled out on the floor. I would have laughed at the scene, or called out Karma, but in her drug addled state and armed with a syringe , the woman clambered to her feet, looking for her assailant. Any normal person would probably have freaked out and ran in terror from the room, But she wasn’t normal or freaking out, at all. In fact, she was charging right at Lori. 

Even though she had nothing to fear, natural instinct and surprise made Lori back pedal to get away. The woman passed right through Lori and hit the floor with a thud. “Damn you, “ she snarled. “What the hell are you? Get out of my house!” 

She got back up, and shook her head, as if trying to make sense of it all. She could clearly see Lori, and turning in my direction she saw me too. Perhaps the drugs had opened the doors of perception, allowing her to see all states of reality. We were as real to her as the crying baby itself. 

“Get away from my baby!” She screamed, suddenly acting like any normal mother would, protective and angry. She lifted the syringe as if it were a weapon. “What do you people want from me?!” 

Lori swung. Her open hand smacked the syringe right out of the woman’s grip. It went scattering across the floor, and stopped at my feet. I lifted my foot and crushed it under my heel. “We want you to be a mom, “ I said. 

Tears welled up in the woman’s eyes. The wildness seemed to dissipate replaced with anguish. At first, I thought her sorrow was over the crushed syringe, but she took the rubber tubing from her arm and flung it in the corner, letting out a wail born of guilt and regret. She sank to her knees on the floor, with her head in her hands. “Oh god, I’m sorry, “ she cried. “Please, don’t take my baby.” 

I don’t know what she thought we were. She knew we weren’t human agents from welfare or the Police. Perhaps in her drug altered mind we were avenging angels or demons of justice sent to punish her for the life she lived.  

Lori took a step towards her. “My mother was selfish too, “ she said. “And now it has cost her her family. Step up or let somebody else raise her.” 

The woman was shaking. If Lori could, she would have smacked the drugs clear out of her bloodstream. Instead, she turned from the woman and walked back to the crib. She looked down at the child , who had started crying again. “Shhh, it’s okay, little one, “ she said. “Mommy has been gone from your life awhile. But she’s coming back.” She turned her gaze back on the woman. “Aren’t you?” 

The woman hung her head in shame. “Yes,” she said quietly. 

“And what kind of mother are you going to be?” I asked. 

She dared to look up at me. “A good one,” she promised. 

I instantly regretted I ever smoked weed. Though I wasn’t a regular user by any means, I thought to myself that if I had lived, I too could have progressed to this stage eventually. For this woman, drugs had taken her over and become her life, her happiness, her very reason for being, when it should have been the baby she brought into this world that provided those things.  

Lori, having successfully quieted the baby, stepped aside, as the woman got to her feet and approached the crib. “I’m so sorry, Bethany. I..” she sobbed in her tears and she picked up the baby and held her to her chest. She lay the side of her cheek against her daughter’s head. 

“Don’t make us come back,” Lori said. She walked across the room to where I waited. 

“I won’t,” the woman said. “Thank you.” 

“Thank yourself. We’re all in your mind. You woke yourself up.” 

We both passed through the wall and left the room. “You want me to find her drugs and dispose of them?” I asked. 

“No, “ she replied. “She has to do that on her own.” 

We left the woman’s house, trusting her to do the right thing, and start life over as the mother she should have been all along had the drugs not taken hold of her. Lori sat down at the curb and began to cry. “Donald’s right. I don’t want to know everyone’s secrets.” 

My NaNoWriMo 2016 Day 27: Chapter 27

Time Of Our Death

By Paul D Aronson

 

Twenty-Seven
To be honest, I had been to only one school dance in my whole life. That was back in Junior High, eighth grade. In that stage of school, all dances took place during fifth and sixth period, and was more of a way to get out of class than to take a girl to a dance. Most of the boys stood around pencil fighting or finger flicking, while the girls sat on the gym bleachers wishing they were older so they could go to a real dance. The All Hallows’ Eve dance at Murray Senior High School was much different. It took place at night for one, as most teenagers had drivers licenses and could drive to the school themselves. For another, boys had noticed girls in a big way, and pencil fighting was so stupid when there was a real DJ playing records that teenagers actually liked.

When the five of us sauntered through the gym wall, we were assailed with the sound of Def Leppard’s Hysteria and I knew it was going to be a good night, if we could survive it. A bit of fortune had come our way. Earlier that evening, the news had spread that the cranes and winches they planned to use to bring the bus up malfunctioned. Mechanical difficulties, they reported. We hadn’t done anything ourselves, so maybe Sister Fate had a little mercy left for us. No matter the reason, it was being said around town that they wouldn’t be able to get things working again until tomorrow afternoon, or even later. We all drew a collective sigh on that one. We could relax and enjoy the dance. Well, as far as any ghost could anyway.

We were taking the Halloween dance seriously. It wasn’t just another to crash or place to play pranks. We dressed up in costume just like anyone else, though us five were the only ones who could see it. And we had to rely on things we had already owned. For some reason, we just couldn’t go into a costume shop and take what we wanted. If we had, everyone would have seen bodiless clothes just moving around the dance floor. Not a good thing if you were trying to blend in. But like we had done a few days ago, we learned we could ‘think’ our way into clothes we owned, or had owned at one time.

Brian took advantage of this by creating a makeshift Frankenstein costume and then allowing Kelly to apply green and black makeup to his face. For bolts in the side of his neck, she used two of her favorite lipstick holders. Apparently, you could share these items you owned with other ghosts. I made myself a mental note that if we had enough time I would write the ghost handbook to help other spirits that might come after we are long gone.

Kelly had taken an old white dress and some of Brian’s Ace bandages he used for football sprains to fashion herself as Elsa Lanchester in The Bride Of Frankenstein. An entire bottle of hairspray and temporary black face paint helped her create the bride’s frightening hairdo.

Donald took the easy way out and made himself into a punk rocker again, down to the misfits t-shirt and safety pin through the eyebrow. He had let Lori draw the anarchy symbol on his cheek, and to top things off, he spiked his hair and applied four different colors to it. You would have thought Johnny Rotten had just crashed the dance.
Lori dressed herself as a dark gypsy. With her black goth make up, she looked like a cross between Stevie Nicks, Elvira (minus the revealing cleavage), and that chick from the Lost Boys movie. In my honor, she had adorned her cheek with the Kiss logo. Of course, I’m not sure if she intended it to represent the hard rock band or a target spot for Robert Smith’s mouth.

For myself, that’s right you guessed it, I cheated and went as a long hair rocker. Jeans so tight I could hardly move in them, a spandex shirt that revealed way too much of my bare chest, and black boots with chains wrapped around them. On my head I wore a Guns and Roses headband, on my hands black leather fingerless gloves. Lori had gotten me with the makeup too, adding a bit of painted flourish to bring out my eyes and cheeks in ways that made me look like I was auditioning for a spot in Poison. Brett Michaels would have been proud, if not downright jealous.

We drifted among the costumed dancers. Many of the boys were Freddy Krueger, Jason, and Michael Myers, with a few Klingons and Imperial Stormtroopers thrown in. Girls had selected Princess Leia, the wicked witch of the west, and She-Ra. One adventurous lass was dressed as Sheena, Queen Of the Jungle, but several chaperones made her cover up.

The DJ, a young man with mullet and beard, changed the song to Whitney Houston, and altered the tempo of the dance floor. It was easier to dance to Whitney than Leppard, so the gym floor found itself with a lot more kids dancing. Some swayed as couples, but most seemed to be single individuals hoping for someone to dance with. Because of the nature of costumes as disguises it seemed our peers were braver than usual and actually approached each other to ask for a dance. Or perhaps it was the newly realized notion that life was short and could be taken away at any time that caused everyone to take a few extra chances.

I looked at my favorite companion. I had to ask myself how in the world I had missed her all this time. How did she move through high school without me taking real notice of her? She was beautiful. Not just pretty like other girls, but strikingly beautiful. She’d hidden it all under her goth attitude an make up, but really when it came down to it, she put others to shame. Kelly may have been the reigning queen of the high school, but Lori was like the gorgeous princess hiding her true self from the wicked stepmother.

“What are you staring at?”

Her voice brought me out of my thoughts with an embarrassed flush. “Um, no reason. Just glad to be here.”

She smiled. “Me too. I don’t think I’ve really been envious of anyone, but I’m feeling kind of jealous now.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Jealous? How?”

“They get to enjoy this next year. We wont be here.” I thought I saw a glistening tear at the edge of her eye. “I can’t believe how I never appreciated any of this. How I just came to school because I had to.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean. But hey, we don’t have to miss it just yet. We’re here now. At the All Hallows Eve Dance. Together.” I took a deep breath. A thousand butterflies invaded my stomach. Under the gym lights, she looked so beautiful I wanted to cry and just take…

“Look at them silly asses,” Lori said, pointing out on the dance floor, and making the butterflies scatter as if hiding from a collector’s net.

Brian and Kelly were in the middle of everyone, Frankenstein and his Bride doing a hilarious variation of the twist. While it threatened to become dirty dancing, it was quite comical as they were exaggerating every move. You would think they believed all eyes were on them and that they were still the king and queen of the ball. Perhaps they were.

“I’m going to go to the punch table,” she said. “See if I can sneak a glass without being noticed. You want anything?”

I hesitated. There was, but I couldn’t speak it. “No, I’m alright, “ I said.

She flashed a brief smile. “Okay. Be right back.”

I watched her walk over to the refreshment corner, careful to avoid as many people as she could. A few passed through her, but none had the effect that had overcome me at Brian’s house. Her gypsy dress swayed around her, her bare feet gliding across the polished floor. I couldn’t take my eyes away from how she moved with a slight swish of her dark hair as she lightly bounced up to the table. She reached for a glass of punch, and I turned my head away to see Donald out on the dance floor now acting like a fool. No, that wasn’t right. I was the only fool here.

A new song began. Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes. I’ve Had The Time Of My Life. I looked to heaven as if to utter a prayer, and then went on the move. I dodged around dancers, shifting from foot to foot, graceful and fluid, as if I were Johnny Castle in the movie. I reached the table where Lori was standing. She had spotted me swaying towards her across the floor and was laughing at my antics. I bounded up to her and held out my hand with the biggest, bravest grin I could muster.

“Nobody puts baby in the corner,“ I drawled. “Not even herself.”

We both stood there a moment, me with my hand held out, and her savoring the moment. Finally she smiled and took my hand, allowing me to pull her out on the dance floor. We tried our best to emulate the signature moves from Dirty Dancing, but it was no use. I was no Patrick Swayze, and thank the stars she wasn’t a Jennifer Grey. But we were Christopher and Lori, having fun under the gym lights, and dancing the best we could, not caring how goofy our attempts to be footloose and fancy free might look. Only three other people in the whole place could see us anyway. Lori laughed as I spun her, one hand holding hers straight out from her, and the other lightly on her hip. Then someone scratched the record.

It was a loud, scraping sound, like long nails on a chalkboard, as the stylus needle was drawn across the black vinyl of the record, interrupting the whole mood. We turned our head to the DJ table and found him looking at his twin turntables in complete confusion. A hush fell over the room, except for a solitary snicker. Donald stood beside the DJ with a finger to his lips, grinning foolishly. Then the DJ’s second turntable started to spin a new song.

“Oh My God, “ Lori whispered, with an exasperated sigh. It was Whitesnake. The song, ‘Is This Love?’ began to play and she looked up into my face. “Well, it looks like you get your wish after all.”

“I don’t see a disco ball,” I replied.

“You can’t have everything. This is 87, not 79.”

I smiled. I did have everything. I pulled her close to me, and folded up into my arms easily. She lay her head against my shoulder as I began to sway with her in time to the power ballad. If you’d asked me days ago if I would be dancing with Lori O’Donnell in my arms to Whitesnake under the gym’s bright spotlights I would have accused of messing in the super weed, but tonight it was just as natural as breathing. The slow yet steady bass and drums of the song propelled us in slow circles to new dizzying heights of existence. We were truly ghosts now, because for me nothing else existed but the girl in my arms. And as the verse moved into the chorus, with the singer pondering the notion whether it’s love or a dream, Lori lifted her head to me and I kissed her. Her lips met mine softly, as if they had always belonged there, pressed against mine and breathing in my kiss. Her arms slipped around my neck, mine around her waist, and we danced so close we could have been one entity. And in this embrace, her hips swaying gently against mine, her mouth partially open on my own, I no longer felt like me. Now I was us, and nothing, not even the reaper himself could drag me away from this girl, this song, this dream. And no matter that the song ended four minutes later. We swayed, and turned, moving like forever lovers that none could separate through three more songs, our lips never once leaving the other.

 

My NaNoWriMo 2016: Opening Theme

So to celebrate my NaNoWriMo win, I thought I’d share a little song with you tonight. If “Time Of Our Death” were being made into a movie, this would be the opening theme. As I was writing the early chapters, I kept on imagining this being played on a boombox somewhere on that fateful bus. Having lived through that time period myself, it seems to fit the generation of whom I’m writing. Not only that , it helps to fit with the Bon Jovi wisecracks that come later in the story 😉 I also like the line in the song that says, “if you want to cross that line, break on through to the other side.” Just kind of seems to fit the story…

Hope you enjoy! Rock on dudes and dudettes 🙂

My NaNoWriMo 2016 Day 26: Chapter 26

*Wow, I can’t believe I did it! I hit the 50k mark, and as I type this blog out I’m so excited that I completed NaNoWriMo during my very first attempt. For years, I had always put it off as this big impossible task, so I never even attempted it. But this year, after the suggestion was made to me by another writer, I started thinking on it more as something that could be achieved. I have never written a novel as fast as this, but having a word count deadline gave me something extra to work for. I’ll actually be sad when the month is completely over. Now, I haven’t officially validated my success through the NaNoWriMo site yet, but the Month is not over yet. I thought I’d get that word count a little higher while I continue to work on the novel. With that said, no I did not write a complete novel in 30 days, but I got over half of the way through it. The important thing, and what I’m being judged on, is the 50k word count, so I’m clearly happy with the results of this month. For those who have been following the story as I have been posting it, that is not going to change as we move into December. I plan on to keep writing this without taking a solid break until it’s finished. I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep up the momentum of November, but I’m going to certainly try and stay on the same writing schedule. I’ll also keep this story under the menu and title heading of My NaNoWriMo 2016 to make it easier to keep up, and so that any new readers can start from the beginning. 
I have had a blast and thank you all for your support. Now here we go with Chapter 26….*

Time Of Our Death

By Paul D Aronson.
Twenty-Six

We spent the rest of the day having fun at the mall. For me it seemed like the last act of teenaged defiance. One of the guys I had partied with recently had a t-shirt emblazoned with a picture of this tiny mouse giving the middle finger to an eagle that was swooping down to eat him. That’s how I felt about our relationship with death. We were defying it every moment we spent here as ghosts. Soon, Death would tire of the game, and either we waited for him cowering in fear or give him a big “up yours.”

The five of us seemed to blaze a trail of pranks and confusion throughout the mall. Going through nearly every store, we did something to mark our visit. In one shop, Brian disrupted the security cameras long enough for Kelly to rearrange the window display mannequins into a rude scene of simulated sex. In another, Donald turned on all the faucets in the customer’s bathrooms and let them overflow. The store employees were none too happy.  

Lori and I switched all the tags in a bridal shop, before moving on to a hair salon and removing the screws from the chairs. Then we sat down and watched the ensuing mayhem as patrons found themselves in the floor when their seats collapsed. The things teen ghosts do when they are bored and killing time. 

Eventually, the five merry pranksters ended up at Layton’s Electronics, probably the largest shop in the mall. Here they sold the latest in technology for us to mess with, but before we could play any pranks I saw something on all the display televisions that stopped me in my tracks. There in big bold letters, caught on film for everyone to see, were the words “Dead Kids Rule.”

It was a news report shot live at the rescue squad earlier that morning. Scenes of our destruction intercut with the words I’d left behind soon faded, to be replaced with the newscaster out front of the building reporting that authorities believed it was the work of a teenaged gang bent on marking their territory. 

“Whether this incident has any connection to search and find operations that are going on now to recover the bus that fell from Bay Bridge days ago has been unconfirmed. However, this is where most of the equipment for that operation was housed. Authorities are treating the vandalizing of the building behind me as serious, but are more focused on recovering all the bodies from the bus accident. There are still over half a dozen students that remain unaccounted for, but were confirmed to be on the bus. We should have more details on tonight’s evening news after the bus has been pulled from the river bed. In other news, Halloween preparations are well under way, as the youth of our town get ready for trick or treating excitement, starting with the annual All Hallows eve dance at Murray Senior High. ..” 

We stood there for a moment, silent, all lost in our own thoughts. If the report was to be believed, they were getting very close. Kelly was on the verge of tears, and Donald was teary eyed as well. I don’t know when it happened, but at some point Lori had reached for my hand. Our fingers were barely touching, but the need for comfort and reassurance was there.  

“It can be anytime now, I guess,” Brian flatly stated. 

“What are we going to do?” Kelly asked. 

“There’s not a lot we can do. They are going to pull that bus up no matter what we do and discover the truth.” 

“Discover what truth?” Donald asked. 

Lori squeezed my hand and then let it go. I turned to others. “I didn’t tell you guys because I wanted everyone to just go on living the best we could.” 

“Tell us what?” Brian asked. 

I sighed. “When Lori and I went down to the bus, we found something. It doesn’t look like what happened was an accident.” 

Donald had a concerned , frightened look on his face. “What did it look like then?” 

“I think someone planned it. Call it murder, homicide, whatever, but under that bus a lot of wires and lines were cut. I followed some of those lines to the brakes. I’m no mechanic but I think someone either severed them enough to break or they cut them completely.” 

“Who would have done that?”  

“I don’t know exactly, but I have a theory.” 

“Alright, let’s hear it,” Brian demanded. 

I told them first about Lori’s prophetic dream and the little clues it planted. They didn’t seem ready to accept that until I told them about the bug van, the flower shop lady and the work truck at the end of the bridge.” 

“So you think it was some guy who drives for the exterminating company?” Donald asked. 

“I think it’s a possibility. The news said there was a witness to phone in it. I saw no one else around. The driver of the truck could either have driven to a phone booth and made that call, or maybe called his dispatcher on the radio if they have them in their vehicles.” 

“That doesn’t make him….the killer.” 

“No it doesn’t. But this flower shop lady. When we saw her leaving the theater she was distraught over the fact a child , or child in the making, had died in the movie. She’s here in the flower shop now and she still looks visibly upset.” 

“Maybe she had kids on the bus with us, “ Kelly reasoned. 

“Or she felt guilty about kids on the bus,” Brian added. “Okay, I follow you, I guess. It’s very loose connections but its worth looking in to.” 

“Yet we don’t have much time,” Lori said. 

Donald nodded his head in agreement. “Where’s the flower lady? We can wait until she gets off of work and follow her.” 

“Yeah, maybe we can learn something from her.” 

“And what if we don’t?” Lori asked. “What if we learn nothing from her? What if she is just upset over her own children or something? What if the truck on the bridge was just a witness and nothing more? Then all our running around after them will be a waste of time.” 

“Don’t you care that we died, you stupid witch?” Kelly asked, anger in her voice.  

“Yes I do, “ she answered “But I care more that we are here right now. This may not be living. This may not be life. But it’s the closest we’ll be to it ever again, and I want to hold on to it.” A tear dropped from her eye and ran down her cheek. “You had everything in life, Kelly. I had nothing. But now, I have something. I have a reason to want to live and I don’t want to see it fade away before my eyes like Reginald did. If we find out what happened to us, it’s the end. The wrong that was done will be resolved, and we will be nothing but fucking vapor.” 

“Lori..” I said, reaching for me, but she turned away and walked away from us all, her head in her hands. I looked at everyone else. “She’s right. I spent a lot of time dwelling on this, wanting to figure out who did this to us, but in the end it doesn’t matter. Its not going to change the facts. It might bring the killer to justice, but that will do absolutely nothing for us.” 

“You should have told us sooner, “ Brian said. “We could have done something before now.” 

“Yeah, I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t think it out. I just wanted everyone to enjoy what was left.”  

Donald put his hand on my shoulder. “Thank you, Chris.” 

“For what?” 

“For letting us forget and just live.” 

I shook my head. “My reasons were selfish,” I admitted, and then went to join Lori.

Lori had returned to the flower shop. She sat on a bench right outside, where she could see the flower lady at work. “Look at her,” she said, as I sat down beside her. “I’m just like her.” 

“How so?” 

“Look at her face. Its written all over it. Her sorrow. Her grief. She has nothing left but these flowers. And when she picks one she likes…” She hesitated and looked at me. “…it eventually withers and dies, no matter what she does to keep it.” 

“Are you saying I’m a flower now?” 

“Maybe a scraggly looking one, but a flower just the same.” She leaned her head over on my shoulder.  

“I found a flower too, you know. And to keep it alive, I’ve been trying to keep it in water.” 

She sniffled. “I know. Thank you.” 

“I just thought if we could find the killer it would delay them. That they would focus on him, instead of us. But I know I’m just fooling myself. The inevitable truth is we don’t have long. So, how about we go look for costumes for the dance, hmm? We can at least try to get that in before someone stomps on our flowers.” 

I couldn’t see her face because of how it lay against my shoulder, but I could feel her smile spread gently across my skin.  

“You know, I went by your house last night,” Donald said, minutes later when he found us. “No one was home.” 

“Yeah, “ I replied quietly. “I haven’t been spending much time there.” 

He sat down next to us. Lori’s head was still over on my shoulder, and he looked at her. “Don’t worry, Lori. I have a feeling you guys will get through this okay. Just stick together and wherever you end up, there you’ll both be.” 

“Donald, the poet, “ I said. 

“Hey, somebody has to do it. You might be able to play guitar , but you can’t write a love song worth shit.” 

I opened my mouth to protest. I wanted to say he had the wrong idea about us, that it wasn’t like that, we were just friends. But he would have just laughed and said, sure you are. So I kept my mouth shut and smiled a little bit inside.  

“My mom is starting to do better, “ Don said, changing the subject. “I worry what will happen when they find us, though. I won’t be here to help her, I don’t guess.” He was silent for a moment. “But maybe that’s the way its supposed to be.” 

Lori raised her head from my shoulder. “How did this conversation go from love songs to grieving mothers in two seconds?”  

“Sorry.” Don shrugged. “What I was trying to say in a roundabout way was we know how the rest of our parents are doing, but Christopher’s folks are missing in action.” He looked at me. “When I went there last night, it didn’t look like they’d been there for days. No food in the garbage cans. Mail uncollected. Newspapers piling on the porch. It’s weird.” 

“Yes it is,” I agreed. While all the other parents were fighting their way through the loss of their children, mine were just gone. While we’d always had what I thought of as a normal family life, this was not normal. Something was wrong or off. How could they just disappear like that? That mystery to me was more baffling than the mystery of who killed us. “Maybe they just don’t care, “ I reasoned aloud, and no one knew what to say. Not even Brian and Kelly who finally rejoined our ragtag bunch of dead kids. I looked around at everybody. At least I had this. We may not all have been the best of friends in life, but in death we were changing, becoming closer, and leaving all that social order bullshit behind. 

My NaNoWriMo 2016 Day 25: Chapter 25

Time Of Our Death

By Paul D Aronson

Twenty-Five
Brian and Kelly had spent the night at her house, being as normal as any living teenager could have been. According to her, they had raided both the refrigerator and liquor cabinet while her parents slept. Their experiment with food and drink had been fun, and to their surprise quite appetizing. It was something I myself hadn’t attempted as yet. I figured with being dead, why bother with eating. We didn’t exist off of human food now. And while that might be the case, Brian and Kelly made the most of it.

“It sucks though, because we couldn’t get drunk. I put away three bottles and it didn’t do nothing.” Brian shook his head. “But spin the bottle is pretty fun with just two people.” 

Kelly blushed, and smacked him in his arm. She looked at us. “Mom and dad are bowling partners with the Housemans. We hitched a ride out to see how many showed up for the funeral. I’m surprised they are even having school today. I mean, he was on the football team, for god’s sake.” 

“It’s all cool, “ Brian replied. He looked at us. “Things go on, right? No matter what, the big old world keeps turning.” 

“Yes, I suppose so,“ I agreed. “So, you going in?” 

“Nah, I’ll just go to the grave side. You know they found somebody else, didn’t you?” 

“I heard. Just don’t know who it was.” 

“It was a senior named Jacobs. I didn’t know him. They said on the news he would have graduated this year. Honor roll, college bound frat boy in the making. I guess not anymore.” 

“This sucks,” Kelly said. “We’re just like him, except nobody knows it yet. Our funeral could come at any time.” She looked at us, and it appeared she wanted to cry. “I don’t want to go to any of you guys funeral.” 

I’m not sure if she meant it as a heart felt thing, or if she just dreaded seeing someone she had spent time with being put in the ground. Either way, I took it kindly. “If I had my way no one would ever find us,” I said. I looked at Lori and frowned. “But I don’t think its going to work out that way.” 

“Why is that, hoss?” Brian asked. 

“We saw on the news they plan on bringing us up within twenty four hours.” 

“You mean, we only have a day left?” Kelly asked. 

“Looks like it could turn out that way.” 

“Well, shit bricks, we better skip the graveside and party it up right then.”  

I looked at Brian. Maybe he had the right attitude all along. We had known for awhile that we were dead. Though I hadn’t told them about what we found on the bus yet, did it really matter anyway? We were existing on borrowed time. Would solving what happened to us fix anything? Maybe it was best to just spend what time we had left living life, so to speak, to the fullest. 

“That’s probably a good idea,“ I agreed.  

“So hell, where’s the party?” 

One look at Brian and I knew he was itching to have fun again. “Wherever we want it to be,” I said. 

“Hell yeah! The mall cops are going to regret ever kicking me out!” He looked at Kelly. “Hey babe. Let’s go to Spencer’s Head Shop and see what we look like under the black light…naked.” 

She laughed and punched him in the arm again. If he’d been alive, his shoulder would have been all bruised up by now. She looked at us, probably figuring if there was anyone interested in a drug paraphernalia store, it would be us. “Ya’ll coming?” 

“I’m not a Spenser’s gal,” Lori said. She looked at me. “But I would like an Orange Julius.” 

I looked at the door of the funeral home. I had two choices. One was to wallow in the misery of what had happened and what was yet to happen still. Or, I could say to hell with it, and ride off into the day with my most favorite sidekick ever. I looked back at Lori and realized that there had never really been a choice to make. “Okay, Let’s go.” 

Northview Shopping Center was relatively new. Built a year earlier, it was where every kid wanted to go. Unfortunately, it was built on the outskirts of town near the interstate, making it difficult for kids to get to, unless they had their drivers permit already or could talk their parents into bringing them. I had been only twice, and Lori said she had only been once. Brian and Kelly practically lived there, however. And they would, considering their social circle. Northview is where all the up scale shoppers went for high quality designer clothes and gifts that screamed its exorbitant price tags at you. Everyone else went to K-Mart. 

Because it was Friday, the mall was fairly busy. While kids were in school, parents shopped. One thing I noticed while standing in front of Orange Julius waiting for Lori was that here were collected all the parents and families not affected by grief. These were the untouched. No one here today had a child that had been on the bus with us. This was a true example of how life goes on. Completely oblivious to the misery and tragedy of others. All except for the woman in the flower shop. 

While Lori had been dunking her head under the soda fountain, and letting her favorite orange drink pour into her mouth straight from the tap, I had been drawn to the woman with haunted eyes working at the shop across from us. It was a floral shop whose specialty seemed to be elaborate arrangements and flower themed gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, and the like. The storefront window seemed to scream that sheer happiness was to be found inside. That’s why the sad woman stood out so much. She truly looked like she didn’t belong there. Or anywhere. 

She was also familiar to me. I had seen her somewhere. She hadn’t been dressed in a floral print apron then. Nor had her brown hair been pinned back away from her face either. It had flown freely in the October breeze, walking across the theater parking lot to get in the exterminating van.

Kelly came up along side of me, Orange Julius still on her chin. “What are you looking at?” 

“It’s her.” 

“Who?” 

“She was with the guy in the exterminating van. She walked right by us.” 

“Yeah, she was upset about Penny’s abortion,” she remembered. “I didn’t like that part of the movie either. Well, except when Patrick Swayze jumped the railing to kick that dude’s ass.” 

“She’s connected to what happened to us. Somehow she’s a part of it, I know it.” 

She put her hand on my arm. “Chris, maybe we should just let this go. What are we really going to accomplish by finding out who sabotaged the bus? Maybe we’re not meant to know. Ignorance is bliss, they say.” 

I looked at her. I knew what she was saying. I knew I should just forget it, but something was drawing me on. Something that said the woman knew the truth about the accident. “Yeah, but don’t you see, Lori? Its all connected. Come on, you dreamed of the bugs. Now here’s the flowers. All the pieces of your dream are staring us in the face.” 

She seemed to consider this. “So what are you proposing we do now? Find the killer? Bring him to justice?” 

“Yes.” 

“That’s a noble idea, but its not going to help us. If anything, it could end up righting the wrong that keeps us here as ghosts.” 

I hung my head. I didn’t want our ghostly state to end, but I also didn’t want a killer out there running free either. I had never been the heroic type. Sure, like any other teenage guy, I’d dreamed of rescuing the princess and saving the world, but I always knew that was out of reach, until now. 

She seemed to know exactly what I was thinking. “Look Chris, I know you want to do the right thing, and I’m in this with you whatever you want to do. But you don’t have to save me. I’m not some princess. I’m quite unremarkable. And forgive me for saying so, but before the accident, so were you. Let’s just go on being unremarkable. Together.” 

“Is this what you want? To ignore it? What if this is why we are here? To fix things?” 

“Maybe we’re just meant to fix ourselves, “ she replied. “Maybe we’re not here to be Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps its simpler than that.” 

“You’re afraid, aren’t you?” 

“Yes I am. I’m terrified actually. This may be our very last day. I don’t want to spend it like Riggs and Murtaugh.” 

I couldn’t help but laugh at the analogy. After all, in the Lethal Weapon movie, Riggs had been suicidal, and Murtaugh had been over the hill. “Okay then, “ I replied. “Tell me what you want to do.” 

“I’m going to be really pissed if you don’t take me to the Halloween dance.” 

I smiled. “I thought you weren’t that interested in it.” 

She shrugged. “Im not, but what the hell? Might as well go out dancing, right?” 

“Sure. But you need that wipe that orange drink off your chin first.” 

We caught up with Brian and Kelly, not at the head shop, but at National Record Mart. They were browsing through the albums and doing their best to freak out other shoppers. One guy was looking at a Huey Lewis and The News record cover, when Brian smacked it right out of his hand. A pair of girls were gushing over Duran Duran trying to convince themselves they were Simon Le Bon’s ideal type. Kelly blew in their hair, making the girls shake their heads trying to rid themselves of the pesky fly attracted to their hairspray. And not far away, Donald was taking all the plastic off of the Lionel Richie albums, so they couldn’t be sold.  

I was so glad to see Donald there and having fun again. When I approached him, he looked up at me with a jovial grin and said, “Lionel is so yesterday, man. I mean, come on. Dancing On The Ceiling. What kind of drugs is he on anyway?” 

“It’s good to see you, Donald,” I said, with a smile. 

“Hell yeah, its good to see me too,” he agreed. We both laughed at his jab and it almost felt like old times. “By the way, I think that girl over there likes me.” 

“Which girl?” I asked, turning around to look. 

“The cute blonde. She wants me to shake her love.” 

I shook my head. It was great to see him in a better mood. “Yeah, but that’s only in your dreams,” I replied, seeing the big hanging poster of Debbie Gibson he was referring to.  

“So, besides lusting after the unattainable, what you been doing?”

“Just needed some time to breathe, man. Think things over. You know how it is.” 

“Yes, I suppose I do.” 

He looked over at Lori, who was now browsing through albums too. Whoever thought of specialty shops where they sell nothing but music was genius. You could distract a whole crowd of teenagers and keep them occupied for hours. “So, how’s things with Lori?” 

“What do you mean?” 

He gave me an exasperated look. “You know.” 

I shook my head. “It’s not like that, Don.” 

“Sure it’s not. You want her to be Robert Smith’s girlfriend forever?” He pointed to The Cure banner that was hanging directly over her head. Across its face, Mr Smith’s hair was standing straight up, and he was wearing bright red lipstick that looked like it had been put on by a monkey. “That dude is a freak.” 

“I don’t think I can compete with that,” I replied.  

“What the hell is going on?!” 

The screaming voice that interrupted our conversation was standing not far from us. The store manager was looking at a cardboard stand up of the Christian metal band, Stryper. Decked out in yellow and black spandex with matching guitars, with the album title, “To Hell With The Devil” across the top, I didn’t see what was so wrong. After all, weren’t there supposed to be hand drawn pentagrams painted on their cheeks with eyeliner? 

I looked at Lori, who bit her lip and smirked guilty, still browsing through records. 

My NaNoWriMo 2016 Day 24: Chapter 24

*Hello everyone, I didnt get much time yesterday for posting or interacting because of the Thanksgiving Holiday, but I tried to stay on point and wrote when I could. My family has been very understanding this month. Their support, and the support of everyone who has been encouraging me during NaNoWriMo with likes and comments , has been essential to my perseverance in telling this story that has been buried in my head. With that, I’m happy to report we are over a hundred pages in, and only a few thousand away from hitting the 50k goal of NaNoWriMo. If all goes well, I should hit that mark later tonight 😉 Almost there, friends!:)
Time Of Our Deaths

By Paul D Aronson.

Twenty-Four

We caught a ride out of South Maine Heights in the back of a pickup. No point in walking, when you can hitch a ride with anyone you like. If we’d still been flesh and blood the chilly October breeze would have given us a cold for sure, but as spirits it blew through us as easily as it blew through the bare trees. When the pickup stopped at a convenience store close to Kelly’s , we bailed out and welcomed ourselves back to richville. I was hoping we wouldn’t discover something as disturbing as the day before at Brian’s. That’s why, when we arrived at Kelly’s , I sent Lori in first. She came out a few minutes later, after having drifted through the whole house without seeing anybody.

“If they came here, they are gone now,” she said. “Doesn’t look like anyone has been here in a day or two. Living people, I mean.” 

I looked up the street. “Maybe they are at Brian’s.” 

She gave me a glance, and I knew she was weighing the idea in her head. “We can go check. I’ll go in and take a look.” 

“That’s probably a good idea,” I agreed. “I’d rather stay away from his dad.” 

She laughed and I wondered if maybe the beating I gave the man was Lori approved.  

Minutes later, we were at Brian’s, and Lori went in. I stood outside, looking up and down the street as if I were a lookout for a home burglary. It wasn’t long before Lori returned with a little shake of the head. 

“Gone,” she said. “But I think they were here at some point.” 

“What makes you think that?” 

“Someone spelled out, Go to hell, bastard, with refrigerator magnets. I guess you influence everyone you meet, Chris.” 

I shook my head. “ It’s a shame I had to die before becoming a leader.” 

“Fate has got to be a woman,” Lori replied. “Her sense of humor is vicious.” 

“It’s not her sense of humor I worry about.” I looked up and down the street, trying to determine what to do next, when something caught my eye. Four houses down the street, a family was coming out. Mother, father, two children. They were all dressed in what could only be described as Sunday’s best. The dad wore a dark suit with tie, the mother in a somber black dress and veil. The kids, both of elementary school age, were also formally attired, dressed to match their father. Seeing it was Friday, I knew they weren’t going to church. Then it dawned on me. Funeral.  

“I think they might start burying us today,” I said, pointing to the mourning family.  

Lori frowned. “Yeah, that would be about right. I wonder who they lost.” 

The family got into a car, the father shutting the doors behind his charges. He walked around to the passenger side, stopped for a moment, and looked in our direction. He stood there a few minutes, seeming to stare right at us. He frowned and nodded his head, and then got in the car. 

“Holy hell, I think he saw us,” I said. This was something new. So far, no one had acknowledged our presence in such a way. We may have tried to let people know we were around with messages, and moving objects, even touching them briefly at times, but this was the first person to actually see us.  

“How is that possible?” 

I looked at her. “I don’t know. Come on, let’s follow them.” 

Though it was risky, we sprinted towards the car as it backed out the driveway. Since we had been spotted, I didn’t think it would be a good thing to hitch a ride inside the vehicle. The guy had looked calm enough, but that could change if he looked in his rear view mirror and saw us in the backseat with his kids. So instead we grabbed onto the back bumper and let it pull us down the street as if we were on skateboards.  

It was weird. I had been pretty good on a board. In junior high, I had forgone my bicycle in favor of one and rode it everywhere. In the local church parking lot, some other boarders had built jumping ramps out of plywood and bricks, and when they had abandoned them for other thrills, I spent hours hitting those ramps, making myself airborne, to come back down feet first on the board. Sometimes I made it, other times I missed the board entirely, but each time I felt like Evil Knievel jumping the Snake River Canyon. Riding the back bumper of the car was kind of like this, exciting and dangerous. I’d heard of kids doing this for real, hitching rides and boarding, but I never thought I’d be doing it, and especially not without a board. 

Glancing over at Lori, I could see she was enjoying it too, looking down at her feet as they glided across the pavement, pulled by the now accelerating car. But then I turned my eyes to the passengers in the car. They were all looking ahead, solemn and quiet. All except one. The driver. He was looking right at me through the rear view mirror. He didn’t seem to bothered by the fact he was dragging us down the street. His face was calm, like he was resigned to the fact ghosts were around him every day. And that to me, I didn’t understand. I mean, why him, and not others? And then it dawned on me. He was in complete grief over whom he had lost. Because of that’s, now his eyes were open. 

Once when I was a very small boy, my maternal grandmother died in our house. She had come to live with us because of an illness, whose nature was not described to me. Several months later, during a small family gathering she collapsed in the floor and never got up. For days afterward, I sore I kept seeing her, or at least something, moving through the house. At first it was just movement detected out of the corner of my eye, and I put down in my young mind as imagination, perhaps a trick of the light. But then, one night I was sitting by the TV watching whatever show was on, I think it was that old Hardy Boys series, when I looked over and swore I saw grandmother sitting in her favorite rocking chair. It was just for a moment, because I blinked and she was gone, but she had been there clear as day. And the thing was I just had been thinking about her, and growing sad over the fact she was no longer with us, and boom there she was, clear as day. Perhaps in the grief process we open ourselves up to that other realm for a moment. Maybe it weighs on us so much, a window is opened that allows us to see our loved ones, or even strangers, on the other side. Maybe it was this way with the mourning father. In his grief, his eyes were open and he could see us. We didn’t know each other in life, but maybe that didn’t matter. Maybe his sorrow was so great, it was as if he were dead himself, and we his escorts to the afterlife. 

Before I had much time to dwell on this, we reached our destination, a funeral parlor parking lot. Not many cars were there yet, as the family was arriving early, and as the car slowed and pulled under a carport awning, Lori and I let go and regained our footing.  

The car stopped and the driver got out. He walked around and opened the doors for his family, every now and then stopping to glance at us. He made no motion to indicate to the others he saw us. His wife, escorted the children inside the building and he sat down on a stone bench by the doorway. He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his jacket pocket and lit one up. He inhaled, deeply then looked at us again, calm as your please. Part of me wished I knew who he was, or who his child had been. Maybe then I would have dared to speak to him, but I thought if I opened my mouth and let words to form it would break whatever connection had been made.  

Lori took a tentative step towards him, and in the oddest of gestures, he held his cigarette pack out to her, offering my friend a smoke. Then his eyes went wide, as if he just realized he was interacting with someone who was no longer alive. He dropped the pack at his feet and said, “I know you.” 

It wasn’t said out loud, but more like a thought, a recognition that spread across his face. But how did he know Lori? I looked at her, and she returning my glance, just as confused. Then we both looked behind us. Brian and Kelly stood there. They were the ones he recognized. 

“Mr. Houseman,” Brian said quietly. “I’ll miss Derek too.” 

It clicked. This was Derek Houseman’s dad. Brian’s sidekick on the bus and every day at school. He who had sailed a paper airplane into my lap that last day on the bus. He had been one of the last people I remembered seeing before we skidded into the railing and went off the bridge. I had liked him about as much as I liked Brian, which wasn’t saying much, but seeing his father before us, made him different in my memory. No longer, was he a punk bully who had helped Brian extort money out of kids ever since the seventh grade. No, now he was just another lost life. Another boy who would never ride to school again. Or play football in a field, or take a girl to the prom, or get married and have kids. Everything about Derek Houseman, good or bad, was gone now, and all that was left was people’s memories of him, good or bad.  

Brian stepped up to Derek’s father and reached down and picked up the pack of cigarettes that had been dropped. He set them on the bench beside the man. “He’s in a good place, “ he told him. “He says you can be sad for him, but not forever, okay?” 

The man looked up at him, tears brimming his eyes. “Okay.” Then he got up, leaving the cigarettes behind, flicking the one he had out in the parking lot. He went inside without another glance back. 

Brian exhaled loudly, as if he had been holding his breath.  

“Did you see Derek?” I asked. “Did you talk to him?” 

“No, “ he replied. “But that’s what he needed to hear.” 

My NaNoWriMo 2016 Day 23: Chapter 23

Time Of Our Deaths

By Paul D Aronson

Twenty-Three

At first I thought Dawn’s wish had come partly true. That God, or the powers that be, had finally caught up to us, and were now taking Lori away for good. But that couldn’t be. This wasn’t like when Reg had disappeared before our very eyes. This wasn’t a fading of the spirit. This was exhaustion of the soul. The events we’d been through had worn her down and sapped whatever energy ghosts possessed. Proof of this fact is when I lifted her from the floor and placed her on the bed, she sank through it like vapor to be back on the floor again. She couldn’t hold it together, and I worried if eventually she would also pass through the floor.

I sat on the floor beside her and cradled her head in my lap. My energy didn’t appear to be diminishing, as I would able to hold her like we were both flesh and blood. Maybe her exhaustion applied to just the material world, and not other ghostly matter. Regardless, I held her like that, my fingers brushing her dark hair out of her face. 

“What’s happening to me?” She asked weakly. “Am I dying all the way now?” 

“No, no you’re not,” I tried to reassure her. 

“I feel so weak.” 

“I think you’ve just used up most of your energy. We’ve never considered it before but I imagine even in a spirit state we are going to burn out and need to replenish.” 

“How do we do that?” 

“Same as we did in the real world I suppose. We sleep.” 

She looked up at me, a worried expression in her dark eyes. “What if I don’t wake up?”  

“Shhh. Don’t talk like that. You will wake up and I’ll be right here waiting for you.” 

She smiled. “You’re sweet. But when I wake up will you do something for me?” 

“Sure. What is it?” 

She managed a grin. “Cut your hair.” 

I laughed. “Go to sleep.” 

She smiled and closed her eyes. I wiped another lock of hair way from her forehead and couldn’t resist running my fingers through the strands. Taking a closer look at her face, something I wouldn’t dare if we’d been alive, I found myself getting lost in her details. The way her black eyeliner had smeared just slightly on her lashes. The light freckles on her neck that was often covered by whatever top she wore. The shape of her thin soft lips, outlined in black. 

She opened her eyes. “What are you looking at?” 

“Um, nothing. Just trying to see if you’re sleeping or not.” 

She tried to smile, but as weak as she was, it came across as a smirk. “Do you think ghosts dream?” 

“I don’t know. I guess so.” 

“I hope so.” 

“What would you want to dream of?” 

“I’d like to dream of…before all this. Maybe we could be friends then.” 

“We’re friends now, “ I replied. 

“I’m glad.” She closed her eyes again and was out. 

I hadn’t intended it, but I fell asleep too. I didn’t dream of what it would be like if we’d met before though. My dreams weren’t as pleasant as that. I dreamed of still being in the river, still sucking water into my lungs and drowning. I was trying to claw my way to the surface, but the water was thick and black like oil. I couldn’t see anything around me, it was so dark, but I could feel my arms and legs trying to propel me onward and upward. I heard a voice calling me, faintly at first, but it grew louder the more I struggled against the murky dark.  

“Chris,” it called louder and I opened my eyes. I was awake in Lori’s bedroom, her head still in my lap. She was still sleeping, but I swore it was her voice that had called me from my nightmare. I looked around the room. Light was filtering through the casement windows, telling me another day had arrived. I must have been out for some time. I was only sitting there a few minutes when Lori woke up. She looked up at me strangely, as if her first words were going to be, ‘What the hell is my head doing in your lap?” 

“Welcome back,” I said. “See, I told you that you just needed sleep.” 

She sat up and brushed a few strands of hair back into her face. “Yes. I’m glad you were right. It felt like I was slipping away from myself. It wasn’t like real life sleep.” 

“Yeah, I nodded off too. Did you dream?” 

“I think so.” 

“What did you dream?” 

She gave me a strange look. “I don’t remember what I dreamed. Did I say something before I fell out?” 

“Um no, not really.” I breathed a sigh of relief. She had been to weak to remember things we talked about. Looks like I would get to keep my long hair. 

“I remember asking you to cut your hair if I woke back up.” 

“Shit,” I muttered. 

Lori wanted to go up and check on Dawn before we headed out. As soon as we got up to the first floor, we realized something had happened while we slept. A pair of suitcases sat by the front door. 

“Uh oh, what did I do?” 

“I don’t think you did anything,” I said. “I think your mom did.” 

Her father had come down the stairs and stopped in the foyer. He put his coat on and looked back. Her mom stood in the dining room doorway. 

Her dad looked like he was searching for the words. “It’s just for a little while. I just need time to think it all through. To digest everything.” He hung his head. “First we lose Lori, now this.” 

Her mother started to protest. “We haven’t lost Lori. They haven’t found…” 

“We’ve lost her. You know it. I know it. And now I’ve lost you, too.” She opened her mouth to reply, but he held up a finger. “Don’t say it, okay? Just let me figure out what I’ve lost or not.” 

“Daddy?” 

Everyone turned to the voice. It was Dawn. She was standing at the upper landing. It was clear to see she had been crying for some time. Her whole face was red and her eyes a teary mess. 

“Please don’t go, daddy,” she said.

He looked up at her. “I’m sorry, baby girl. I have to. At least for a little while. I’ll come by tomorrow and take you trick or treating. Would you like that?” 

“Yes,” she replied weakly. 

He looked to her mother. “See you tomorrow. Unless we hear something further about Lori.” He picked up his suitcases, and smiled grimly at them both. Then he looked at his wife once more. “Thanks for telling me. I know that took a lot.”  

I looked at Lori. She was crying with rest of the O’Donnell women. I felt like the odd man out. Probably because I was. Now was definitely not the time to tell her what I suspected about the exterminating van. Instead, I let her have her moment. I knew she had hoped her mom would come clean about the affair, but still it was a bit unexpected. 

I was going to follow her father out, but then Dawn said, “Oh no,” and ran back to her room. Mother called after her, but I knew this wasn’t a matter of distress; Dawn had heard something. I bounded up the stairs after her. Alarmed at my sudden action, Lori followed quickly behind. We ran down the hall, where her little sister had disappeared into her room. Dawn was sitting on the edge of the bed, leaning close to a Sound Design boombox that was now playing the local radio station. She must have heard the announcer from where she’d stood on the landing, and now she was trying to get all that he was saying.  

“…and now that there is a break in the storm, we’re going to try and locate the bus and bring it up,” a man was saying. 

“What of the reports of the rescue squad being vandalized during the night? I’d that going to hinder the process?” 

The man cleared his threat. “Well yes, that does slow the work down. We have a crew working to replace equipment that was lost or damaged, but we have another team arriving this afternoon to help. If the weather continues to improve, we hope to retrieve the bus within twenty four hours.” 

“Earlier this morning, authorities opened up the dam to let more water into the river. How do you expect that will affect operations.” 

“Yes sir. We were trying to get to the bus before that happened, but with the storm the water buildup around the dam was getting to be too much. I think they were afraid there would be a breach or that it would crack or something, so they let some of that water through. Hopefully, it wasn’t enough to wash anything further down the river, but they were thinking of the integrity of the dam and the citizens of nearby environs if the dam broke. We’ll just work with what we have, and hope for the best.” 

“Thank you , Captain. Now in related news, the body that was found on the shores of the Murray this morning has not been identified, but an undisclosed source has informed us it was a student from the bus accident. We’ll give you more details as they are released.” 

I looked at Lori. She had a very concerned look on her face. “Do you think it was one of us?” 

“I don’t know. We should try to find them. Donald said he was going to walk around. No telling where he ended up. The others were heading to Kelly’s. What do you want to do?” 

“We could go to the school. We did say we were going to go to the halloween dance tonight. But I don’t know if the others would go there yet. We trashed things enough yesterday.” She smiled at the memory. 

“Okay. Then let’s go to Kelly’s. Donald showed us where its at. Hopefully, they are still there. If not, well I guess we’ll just have to do a Donald and wander.” 

She nodded, and took another look at her sister. “I hope she’ll be alright. This is a lot for her to deal with.” 

“We can come back again later. Check up on her.” 

“Okay. Thank you.” 

“No problem. You want to check on your mom before we go?” 

She shook her head. “That’s okay. Let’s get out of here before the radio says it’s you or me.” 

The morning clouds had parted enough to let out the sun. However, the sun wasn’t having any of that. The sky still held the threat of the storm. It may have stopped raining, but I was willing to bet it wasn’t quite done. It was strange the amount of rain that had fallen since the accident, as if the Gods or Fate were masking the fact we were still up and walking around. Perhaps this was just one more way that unfinished business was intended to be taken care of.  

“On the way, keep a look out for a white bug van,” I told Lori, as we left her house. 

“A bug van?” 

“Exterminating company. Carter’s, I think.” 

“Why?” 

“Remember at the theater yesterday. The couple that was leaving as we were getting there?” 

“Yeah.” 

“They got into a white work van. It was an exterminating company.” 

“So?”

“You dreamed about bugs before the accident.” 

She shook her head. “That doesn’t really mean anything.” 

“I saw a similar work vehicle on the other end of the bridge right before the accident.” 

“So you think this couple is connected with our deaths?” 

I nodded. “Its very possible. I saw a thing on TV last night where they said a witness had called in the accident, but they didn’t know who it was. I think the witness worked for the extermination company. And the fact they wouldn’t identify themselves when they called it in says they didn’t want anyone to know they were on the bridge.” 

“Are you thinking they caused the accident? Remember all the lines under the bus that were cut?” 

“Yes, its weird. At the least, someone was there. A witness. We have them connected to the bug company. If we can find the van from the other day, maybe we can eavesdrop and find out something. I know it’s a long shot, but my gut tells me its all connected somehow.” 

“I guess it’s a worth a shot. I’ll keep my eyes open.”  

I hoped she would. I smiled, thinking of the night before, of holding her head in my lap. Before I had drifted off to sleep, I remembered watching her fluttering eyelids , how the eyes moved under the skin as she slept and dreamed. Open or closed, I thought they were beautiful. 

My NaNoWriMo 2016 Day 22: Chapter 22

Time Of Our Death

By Paul D Aronson.
Twenty-Two

Lori agreed to accompany me to the hospital to find out what we could about survivors, but she wanted to stop off at home first to check on Dawn. With Donald off wandering, and Brian accompanying Kelly to her house, it was just Lori and I once again returning to our neighborhood of South Maine Heights. We walked by my house first, but we didn’t stop. The lights were out ands cars weren’t in the driveway. My parents still weren’t home , and it was starting to concern me. Where were they? This time of the evening, they would normally be home, but ever since the accident they were just gone.

At Lori’s house however, everyone was home. Both her parent’s cars were in the drive, and once we passed through the walls and into the house we discovered everyone was sitting down to dinner. Her mom and dad sat across from one another, engaged in conversation about his work day, while Dawn occupied another place at the table, eating in silence. I noticed her Mother had a haunted, far away look on her face, as if she wanted to interrupt the whole meal and scatter food all across the table in anger. But as it was, she kept it contained, much to my relief. Even if that anger was self directed, I didn’t really want Lori to see it. 

There was a spot at the table for Lori. The chair was pulled out as if they were waiting for her to walk in and place herself in it. An empty plate with knife and fork sat on the table in front of it. One of her family had even poured a glass of sweet tea and set it at the place setting. If I had to guess, I’d say it was Dawn, as she was the only one at the table drinking tea. The parents seemed to be having coffee with their meal and were oblivious to Dawn, who kept looking over her glass at them. Like her mother, it looked like she had something to say, but just like the adults she didn’t talk about any of the things that bothered her. 

“So I guess I’ll be training a new supervisor next week,” her father said. “I hate that, but what can you do? Dennis isn’t coming back to work. It’s hit him too hard. Sammy was his world.” 

“I guess I was nobody’s world,” Lori said sadly. “Because nobody is even talking about me.” 

“They did set a place for you,” I tried to reassure her. 

“That was Dawn. Dad has always been too wrapped up in his work, and we know what mom has been doing. They could care less.” 

“I’m sure they love you.” 

“I’ll take the next couple days off,“ her dad continued, oblivious to our conversation. “We’ll decide what to do and make whatever arrangements we need.” He sighed, and I could see the pain written on his face. Lori was wrong; he really loved her. Finally, he looked at Dawn. “Life must go on, baby. As difficult as it is, it is the only thing we can do now, okay?” 

Dawn opened her mouth like she was going to lodge a protest, but then just looked down at her plate. She set her fork down right in the middle of her food. “Do I have to go to school tomorrow?” She finally asked. 

Her mother looked at her. “We can’t stop living because Lori…”  

“She’s not dead,” Dawn muttered, but they still heard her. 

Her mother reached her hand across the table and touched the girl’s own. “Dawn, we all love Lori, but we have to face what has happened. There’s no use in pretending. She’s gone. There’s nothing we can do.” 

The little girl looked up. “We can pray that God finds her and brings her back home.” 

Her father hung his head. I looked at Lori. She was crying. I reached for her but she sat down in the empty chair at the table. “I’m right here, “ she sobbed. “I haven’t gone anywhere.” 

“Sometimes,” her father said, “God’s wisdom is different than ours. He knows what is best for us, more than we do. She was on that bus; now she’s gone. She’s not going to come walking through the door. You have to understand that.” 

Lori swiped her plate across the table, and it went over the edge, crashing to the floor. “I’m right here!!” She screamed, tears streaming down her face. She knocked the glass of sweet tea over. She let out an anguished wail and reached for her sister, who had suddenly slid her chair away from the table in fear.  

I grabbed Lori, wrapping my arms around her, and dragged her out of the seat. “No, don’t!” I shouted at her. This was going all wrong. I had to get her out of there, or at the very least talk her down to some level of calm. I held her back against my chest. “You can’t do this. You have to stop. It’s just going to scare people.” 

“I’m scared,” she cried, struggling against me. 

“Shhh, I know. I’m scared too, okay? But we can’t disrupt their lives anymore than its been already.”  

We both looked at her family. No one was saying a word, but all were freaked out by what happened. Her mom’s face wore an expression of terror. First the library, now this. Her dad had a look on his face that was pure confusion. Had he missed something? Did Dawn jerk the tablecloth to make everything go flying, or had she reached over and just swept the plate in the floor while his attention was diverted to her mother? He seemed to be the kind of man who always sought rational answers, but this was defying his own judgement. Dawn herself had a completely different reaction. She was looking around the room everywhere, eyes cast in every direction, at the ceiling, the walls, the floors. She knew something was off. That maybe someone or something was in the room. She just couldn’t see it. Her mouth opened in a silent “Lori,” but her parents missed it. The message that her big sister had left her earlier was still fresh in her mind, and this was just adding to it.  

“Lori, we have to go. Don’t do this. I know you want them to know you are okay now, but this isn’t the way to do it.” 

“What is the way to do it then?” She asked, amidst her tears. “How else can we talk to our families?” 

“We can’t,” I replied. “We have to let them find their peace. In each other. If we interfere too much, we stop the process. We add more confusion and grief. We have to let them go.” 

“I don’t want to.” 

“I know. That’s natural. It’s okay.”  

Her sobs and cries were starting to subside. Her parents were beginning to look at Dawn with suspicion. The younger sister was picking up the broken pieces of plate and putting it back on the table. She righted the glass, and with her napkin began sopping up the tea. They didn’t say a word, but watched her go about her task in silence.  

“I think I’ll go to bed now,” she said, and turned around to go. 

“Dawn,” her father said, carefully choosing his words. “It’s going to be alright.” 

She nodded. “I know, daddy.” Then she left the room, her bewildered parents looking at each other, hoping one of them had the answer to what had happened. Neither of them did. 

Lori followed her sister up the stairs. I decided to hang back and give them some privacy. There are some places a boy just doesn’t belong. Even dead ones. Instead I went outside and sat on the porch. The rain was still coming down steadily. I imagined some of the lower lying streets in town could be flooding with all the precipitation. Perhaps even the banks of the Murray were overflowing. It made me wonder what that meant for the sunken bus. I glanced across the yard to the house next door. I didn’t know who lived there, but I could see the flickering light of a television through the window. At this distance, I couldn’t hear it, but I could just barely make out what they were watching. The news. 

I got up and walked over. An elderly couple were inside the house, but I moved about freely without any of the odd vibes younger couples got. Perhaps as we get older, our senses dull and we no longer feel those unseen presences in our lives. A cold draft is just bad insulation. That shadow out of the corner of our eye is just our imagination. Because of that, I was able to sit down in the room with them and watch television just as easy and peaceful as sitting down with my own grandparents.  

The news reporter on the television was of course talking about us. The storm and continuous rain showers had slowed down rescue efforts. In addition, the driver Mr. Mills hadn’t survived the crash. Because it had been impossible to question him, no details on the cause of the accident were known at this time. The sheriff’s office was saying the accident had been called in from a nearby phone booth, but trying to locate this witness was proving difficult, as no prints had been taken.  

This made me wonder who could have seen us go off the bridge. A fisherman perhaps? Maybe someone out for a morning jog? A motorist broke down on the side of the road? Wait a minute, I thought. I did see somebody that morning. On the other side of the bridge as we started across. A work truck or van broke down it seemed like. It was straddling the road, but I wasn’t sure if it had completely blocked our path. I think the hood had been up as if someone were working on the engine, but I wasn’t positive on that. The vehicle had been white and might have had writing on the side, but either we were too far away or I just wasn’t paying attention.  

I closed my eyes, trying to bring my memory of the day back into focus. There had been something on the side of the vehicle. A picture of something. A bee hive perhaps? Maybe an insecticide can? An anthill? It was all vague and fuzzy. What would these images be doing on the side of a truck unless it was…oh crap, I thought. I have seen these images. On the side of a van outside the theater. It wasn’t the same vehicle, but the design had been the same. The man and the woman coming out of the theater. She had been upset by the movie. They had gotten in the van. Was it Carter’s Exterminating? And then it hit me. Lori’s dream. She had dreamed of bugs.  

I ran through the wall and out into the rain. Dashing across the yard back to Lori’s, I entered the house through the dining room hall shouting her name. I knew no one but her would hear me. Mom and dad were still in the room talking in hushed whispers. I bounded up the stairs and hoped I wouldn’t barge in on anyone’s embarrassing moment. But it was quiet on the landing, and when I dared to peek into the rooms, I discovered Dawn laying across the bed, still in her clothes and sleeping. 

I called for Lori again, and there was no answer. Where had she gone? I had only been gone a moment. I made a mad run through the house, passing from room to room calling for her, and yet there was no sign of her anywhere. I passed through the floors all the way down to the basement. Shifting through the hanging bed sheets that served as walls for her bedroom, I stopped short. She was laying in the floor beside the bed. She looked up at me weak and frightened.  

“I don’t feel so good.”