Time Of Our Death
By Paul D Aronson
It is one thing to see your friend through the ins and outs of being a ghost. It’s another to see his dead, bloated body floating right in front of you. I wasn’t prepared for it, and neither was Lori. I mean, we knew we were dead, the five of us, but to see one of our number as a physical, lifeless corpse was a shock to the system.
He was floating under the bus, his coat snagged on the undercarriage somehow. I wasn’t sure how he ended up like that. Maybe when the mass of bodies surged towards the door and it swung off it hinges, Donald was trapped beneath them all, trampled into the river bed and pushed under the bus.There he perhaps tried to claw his way back out but got caught on something and couldn’t break free. .
Instinct made me want to reach for the body and free it, but if I did that there was the possibility it would buoy to the surface and be found by rescue workers. No, it was best to leave it there, where it may not be discovered until the bus was brought up. I looked at my friend’s face and felt a heavy sadness. All the things we would never do as living, breathing humans again. I had distanced myself from him in the past year as I tried to shake off my geek status, but to me he would always be the best friend I ever had.
“Are you okay?” Lori asked.
I nodded. “Yes, I’m fine.” I looked to where his coat had snagged on the metal of the bus, wondering if there was some way I could make sure it wouldn’t spring loose. After all, that’s why we’d come down here in the first place, to try and make sure no one retrieved our bodies easily. Brian and Kelly’s were nowhere to be found, but ours was weighted down by another body inside the bus itself, so I wasn’t worried as much about Lori and I. But Donald’s concerned me.
I grabbed another corner of his coat and looked up at the chassis for a place to wedge it, and that’s when the truth caught my eye. The truth were cables, lines really, that were hanging down where they weren’t supposed to. I was no mechanic but it looked like they should have been attached somewhere close to the brakes. One end appeared to be ,but the other was floating freely in the water. Murky the river was, but it looked like other cables or lines were also dangling unattached close to the other wheels.
I looked closer to determine if they had somehow popped free, or had worn down until frayed ends couldn’t hold it together anymore. Were these the brake lines, and had pressure somehow built up in them until they burst? Mechanical malfunctions do occur, I thought, but then I saw they had been cut. You could see jagged rips in the line, as if something with a serrated edge had been drawn across them in a sawing motion. To my untrained eye, it looked like the bus had been sabotaged. The crash was no accident; it was murder.
We didn’t waste much time getting out of the river. After I had pointed out the cut lines, and it was apparent we were victims of something more horrible than we imagined, we rose to the surface and emerged onto the river banks like two desperate wraiths. I looked back the way we’d come and noted the distance from the bridge. The bus had drifted from where it had initially landed in the water, but not by much. In the morning, rescuers would return and after a little searching would find the bus. Despite it all, it was very possible they would recover our bodies in the next twenty four hours. There wasn’t much time. We had to find and tell the others.
Lori wondered about the wisdom in this. She brought up the fact that even though we suspected foul play in the accident, we had nothing else to go on. “I can’t even begin to imagine who would sabotage a bus load of kids,” she said.
“Yeah me neither. But we have to do something.”
We sat on the bank on the river, trying to take it all in. Suddenly our experience as ghosts had changed. No longer were we wandering aimlessly wondered what happened. From is moment on, we knew what happened. Was this why we were still here? Was this the unfinished business that needed to be resolved before our souls moved on? If that was the case, the selfish side of me, the side that was enjoying the after life, didn’t want anymore answers.
Lori seemed to be thinking he same thing. “Maybe we shouldn’t tell them. Some things are best left unknown. If I could go back and not know mom was cheating on dad, I would. “
I looked over at her. I thought she might cry , but she was stronger than that now. She wasn’t going to let family secrets destroy who she really was. If she had been flesh and blood alive, she would have held her head up high and walked right into school like nothing ever happened. Which is exactly what she suggested we do now.
“When morning comes, we should meet the others at school. We can tell them what we found if you want, but personally I think it will just screw everybody up.”
“Okay,” I said. “What about when they pull us out of the water? Everyone will known then.”
“It won’t be our responsibility. When that happens, we probably won’t even be here. They bring our bodies up, we might be like Reginald. Poof, were gone.”
I had to agree with her way of thinking, despite this inner voice screaming, ‘but someone killed us!’ It was almost pointless to solve the mystery of who did this, the sheriff would discover the truth soon enough and launch an investigation into the sabotage. Maybe it was naïve to think so, but they would find our killer and justice would be served. Perhaps Brian had the right idea. Just go with the ghost thing and have fun.
I looked to the sky. It was still dark out, but I could see a gathering storm above us. They had been forecasting a large one coming our way, and it looked like it might finally be arriving. As if in agreement, thunder rumbled in the heavens, and a sharp flash of lighting lit the sky.
Lori looked up too and smiled. “I used to love sitting in the rain. There’s a big tree in my backyard and every time there was a storm I’d go sit under it.” She shook her head and laughed. “Mom would get so mad. She’d say I was going to catch the death of me.” She looked over at me. “But that was the whole point. I wanted to catch the death of me. I’d say to myself this was much easier than cutting my wrists.”
“Why did you want to do that?”
She shook her head. “You wouldn’t understand, Chris.”
“I’m not ready yet,” she replied. “I can’t. I don’t want to lose myself by telling someone else how I feel.” She shook her head. “I guess that sounds stupid.”
“No, it doesn’t. Sometimes our secrets are all we have.”
“Do you have secrets?”
I hung my head. “Yes, I suppose I do.”
We sat in silence for awhile. The rain began to fall from the sky. We could see the drops as they hit the river, causing little mini ripples across the surface.
“Here comes the rain again,” Lori sighed. “Falling on my head like a memory.”
I grinned. “Falling on my head like a new emotion,” I added with the next line of the song.
Lori got up and started to spin in the falling rain. She held her arms out to her side, and lifted her face to the storm. The rain splashed down but didn’t touch her. I laughed at this and stood up. For all her time spent wishing the rain would take her away from her own personal hell, it now couldn’t do nothing. It couldn’t even splash on her skin, much less give her a death of the cold.
She spun around faster and nearly fell into me. “I want to walk in the open wind, “ she sang. “I want to talk like lovers do.” She collided into me. I don’t think she intended to, it was just she lost her balance, and I was there to catch her. At first, I don’t think either of us really registered the fact that I actually caught her. She didn’t pass through my arms, but rested in them. Then a look of surprise crossed her face. The next line of the song, went unsung but it still echoed in my head, ‘I want to dive into your ocean…’
Her look of mild shock must have affected me somehow because she started slipping through my arms. I couldn’t grasp her or hold her anymore. She righted herself and wrapped her arms around her own ghostly torso. I fumbled with my hands, eventually sliding them into my jeans pockets.
Thunder echoed across the sky and flashes of light illuminated the sky. The clouds burst open and a torrent of rain fell all around us. For me it was like I was standing in the midst of the storm, an at anytime I could take one step towards the calm and find the shelter all teenagers dream about. But I couldn’t. And neither could she. We were ghosts, and despite being cast together in this strange adventure, that’s all we ever could be, and nothing more.
I don’t know how long we stood there, together yet separate, but I finally broke the silence. “Well, maybe they won’t find us today after all.”
She was looking up into the rain. “This one is going to last awhile, “ she agreed. “We should make the most of our time.”
I looked at her and wondered what she meant. She cast a mischievous glance my way. “You know, I’ve never run through the boy’s locker room before.”
I laughed. “You’re not missing much.”
“Well, I never told Abby Hayes she’s a heartless bitch.”
“Yeah, I heard about her. Sorry, Chris, but the locker room sounds like more fun.”
She was grinning, and I couldn’t help but match it with my own. “Yeah, I get it. Okay, let’s get you to a boys locker room,” I snickered.
“You can run through the girls locker room,” she added, slyly.
“Actually, Brian pushed me and Donald into it last year. They held the door so we couldn’t get out. Needless to say, it want a pleasant experience for anyone. So, I think I’ll just go write obscenities on chalkboards or something.”
She smiled. “Works for me.”
“Hope they haven’t cancelled school because of the …accident.”
“Only one way to find out. Come on, let’s forget the bus and just have fun.”
She walked away, and I watched her dance lightly in the rain, humming The Eurythmics as she went. Before she got too far out of my sight, I jogged after her, falling in line and singing along. I guess to an observer, if there had been one, it would have reminded them of Dorothy and the scarecrow skipping down the yellow brick road.