Time Of Our Death
By Paul D Aronson.
I knew the neighborhood in which both Brian and Kelly lived, but I had never been there. Until now, there had been no need. I think I had driven through it once with my mom and dad, as they admired the houses and immaculate yards. It’s what mom referred to as a wish neighborhood, meaning she wished we had the money to live there. I couldn’t quite understand why myself. Unlike our neighborhood where all the houses had their individual personalities, the homes of Lochshire Hills were cookie cutter cutouts, identical in both layout and style. All the yards seemed to be like the perfectly manicured hands of its occupants. Sparse, yet expensive Halloween decorations marked the path to every front door, where as in South Maine Heights the decorations were so overkill you would have thought everyone was trying to win a prize for the gaudiest Halloween yard ever.
We followed Don down the street, past these huge homes in which three families could comfortably share, and I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe the people knew something we didn’t. From the looks of things, maybe they thought you could take it with you.
“There’s Kelly’s house,” Don told us, pointing to what was probably the biggest house on the street. It looked like a mansion from ‘Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous.’ I expected to see Robin Leach come out the front door and say to us, “Champagne wishes and caviar dreams, kids.”
“Wow,” Lori said, “No wonder she thinks she’s an untouchable princess. I’m surprised they don’t send her to a boarding school overseas or something.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “If Brian’s house is like that…”
“It’s not. His is probably the smallest one on the street.”
“You still talking about houses?” Lori joked.
We went around a curve in the road and started up an incline, the houses rising into the hills around us. “It’s nice not getting out of breath anymore,” Don remarked.
He was right. It was different as ghosts. All the things that would tire you out didn’t seem to matter anymore. It made me wonder where our spectral energy came from. We had been going non stop since we arose from the river into the spirit world. Would it one day run out? Diminish until we couldn’t pick up objects or interact with the physical world? Perhaps that’s where all the ghosts I’d ever heard of came from. Maybe they were entities that had run out of energy and were now trying desperately to let others know they were there. Slowly fading away until they were just a cold draft in a room or a felt presence no one could quite put their hand on.
Donald broke me from my curious, wandering thoughts when we were two thirds up the hill. “There it is.” He pointed at a house on the left. It wasn’t as large as the others, but the five of us could live there without bumping into each other too much. There were a few Halloween decorations. A pumpkin on the porch. Black cat static clings in the upper floor windows. But that’s not what drew my attention. No, my eyes immediately honed in on the picture window out front. Behind it’s curtains and backlit by a bright light in the room was a shadow of someone sitting. You couldn’t tell if they were reading the paper or watching television, but it was clear someone was home, and we wouldn’t be entering an empty home.
“Should we knock?” I asked, as we went up the front porch steps like three trick-or-treaters on a quest for candy.
“We didn’t knock anywhere else, “ Lori reasoned, and stepped through the door into the house. We followed behind, me stepping lightly over a sleeping cat just inside the foyer. The feline didn’t stir when we passed and I thought that was a good sign. There was no sound in the house except the TV in the living room left of the hallway. We followed the noise. It sounded like it was on a religious channel. A man’s calm voice was reading bible passages, every now and then raising his voice slightly for a “can I get an amen?” Or “hallelujah” in five syllables.
The room was lit by a free standing lamp that had three bulbs pointing directly to the front window. In a rocking chair by the window a woman sat. You could tell from her long blonde hair, with fixed ponytails on either side of their head, that she had positioned herself in front of the television so she could see it head on. All we could see was the back of her head and a little a bit of the cheek, which had a rosy flush.
There was no point in saying hello. She wouldn’t hear us. In fact, it seemed nothing could distract her. She sat motionless staring at the flickering screen.
“This is weird, “ Lori said, as she stretched out her arm and touched the back of the chair.
“What are you doing? “ I asked her.
“I just want to see..”
She turned the chair, and it swiveled towards us, the woman’s head falling off her shoulders to roll across her lap and into the floor. Lori screamed and took a few steps back in horror. Donald turned to run. The chair kept turning , bringing the headless body into view. A metal rod stuck out of the top of its neck and it’s entire lower torso was gone. A hand gripped the arm rest, the other hand was missing, also with a metal rod protruding from the wrist.
“Hold up,” I yelled, trying to be heard over Lori’s hysterics. “It’s just a mannequin.”
“Holy shit, I thought that was real,” said Don, regaining his composure better than Lori. She was crying it had scared her so. To her credit, it had scared the piss out of me, too.
“It’s okay, Lori. Look.” I reached down and picked up the head by its hair. There was something gooey in it, a styling gel or something, and it slipped through my fingers to bang on the floor. In an act of defiance Donald kicked it and it rolled across the floor to knock against the television stand.
Suddenly a sound came from the floor above us, like a door banging open. “Who the hell is down there?” a loud, angry voice called out.
“Shit,” Donald muttered.
Heavy footsteps came bounding down the stairs. “Whoever is in my house is going to be so fucking sorry!”
The man came bounding into the room. In one hand was a steel baseball bat with tape wrapped around the handle. I noticed there were already bloodstains on the tip. “Brian, is that you? You piece of shit.”
He glared around the room. His eyes were red rimmed green, like emeralds thrown into a raging furnace. His face was equally crimson, a flush brought on by the bottle of Jack he held in his other hand. “It’s about time you came home, you worthless punk. I hope you know what you got coming to you.”
We stood stock still, careful not to manifest ourselves enough to bump into anything else. He couldn’t see us, but he sensed something. He knew he wasn’t alone. He just wasn’t thinking it was ghosts. He raised the bat and banged it down on a coffee table. The wood at the edge splintered , and the bat made a hollow thunking noise.
“You better come out!” He yelled, pushing his unkempt black hair off his forehead with his bottle. “Don’t make me come find you! You know what happens when I have to hunt your ass down.” The floor creaked behind him. It was just a settling of the floorboards, a result of the damp, wet weather outside, but he spun on one heel baseball bat raised. Without even looking, he swung it. If someone had been standing there, all their teeth would have been scattered across the room. As it was, no one was there, and the momentum of his swing spun him around in a half turn so that he was facing me.
Brian’s father was right in front of me. I was glad that I never met this man in life; that it had been only his son who ever picked on me. I had gotten off light. If Brian was a bully, his father was the monster that created him. He was so full anger his jaw was making a grinding noise against his teeth. He lifted his liquor bottle to his mouth and took a nasty swig, some of it pouring down his chin and onto his shirt. “Just like your damn mother,” he spat. “Scared and useless.” He looked down. The mannequin head was at his feet. He reached down and tried to pick it up by its hair too, but he was unwilling to release the bottle. When he couldn’t do it, he kicked the thing away. “Didn’t need you anyway, bitch,” he snarled.
“Chris, let’s get out of here.” Donald was already making his way to the door.
“He can’t hurt us,“ I said, still up close to the man. His alcoholic breath would have knocked a person down otherwise, but now all it was to me was haggard and tired. “And he can’t hurt Brian anymore either.”
“I don’t think Brian’s here,” Lori said.
Suddenly the man shouted. “Hey boy, where you at?!”
It scared us and we all jumped. He stepped right through me, and in a moment that may have been a fluke, a break in the world of the living and the dead, I saw something. I caught a glimpse of Brian’s world. It was a flash, perhaps a vision that seared through my head like a hot poker pulled out of burning coals. A little boy facedown, shivering in fear upon a cold concrete floor. A man looming over him undoing his belt. ‘This is what adults do,’ he whispers menacingly.
I fell back in a cry of complete terror and outrage. I grabbed the baseball bat out of the man’s hand. In his drunken, addled state, he was unable to grip it tight enough to jerk it back. He stumbled backwards, a look of confusion on his face, and I swung the bat. I missed his head, but it banged his shoulder. There was a loud noise like that of bone cracking, and he let out a scream of pain. I swung it again. It hit him across the back.
“You son of a bitch!” I screamed. “You’ll never touch me again!”
I struck him again, before Donald grabbed the bat. “Holy shit, Chris! What are you doing?!”
I let Donald take it and I fell backwards on the floor, landing on my haunches in exhausted anger. Lori was looking at me with concern in her eyes.
“Are you okay?” She whispered nervously, as Brian’s father groaned loudly just three steps away. “What was that about?”
“I saw something. When he passed through me.” I struggled to catch my breath.
“What was it?”
“I’m not sure.”
I tried to shake the cobwebs from my brain. Whatever had happened, whatever vision had come as he passed through my spirit form, I wasn’t sure if the memory was his, Brian’s, or my own.
We left Brian’s dad in the floor, wounded and broken. We didn’t try to call an ambulance or anything for him. Let him heal his own damn self. Maybe when his mind cleared he’d reflect back on things and realize just how close the hand of justice had come to taking him out.
“I don’t think we should tell Brian,“ Donald said. “Let him think intruders broke in.”
“Yeah, I guess,” I replied. I was still shaken over what happened. At first, Lori seemed a little scared of me, as if she had caught a glimpse of a demon lurking beneath my surface. “I guess you know my secret now,” I said.
“No, no I don’t.”
I sat down on the curb on the edge of Brian’s yard, and looked up at them both. “When I was little, there was a man. He was a friend of my parents. He lived with us for awhile.” I shook my head. “He did some very bad things to me.” My voice cracked. “I think Brian’s dad did something similar. When he passed through me , I don’t really know what I caught a glimpse of. What happened to me. Or to Brian. Or maybe some of both.” I wiped the beginning trace of a tear. I wasn’t going to let it fall. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”