Time Of Our Death
By Paul D Aronson
When “Keep Your Hands To Yourself” bumped to Michael Jackson’s latest, “Bad”, the look on Brian’s face was priceless. Kelly seemed to like it, but Brian never came across as liking The King of Pop much. Especially not in the middle of a heated moment with the head cheerleader of Murray High. Seeing Brian and his irritation however, made me think of something.
Why, when Brian’s father passed through me, did I catch a glimpse of something in my head? Whether I was reading his memory, or glimpsing something from my own, why then? People had been passing through us ever since we’d died, and not once did I ever get a flash of anything. What made that moment different? Was it a similarity of experience that caused the connection? Or were we somehow connected through something else? Maybe he had something to do with the accident. No, that didn’t make sense. He may have driven his wife away and violently abused his son, but to try and kill a bunch of kids on a school bus was pushing his evil just a little further than I thought it went.
“Goth girl tells me we’re going to go tear some shit up,” Brian said, taking me out of my strange orbit and returning me to earth. Both, he and Kelly, had come over to where I stood, while Lori went to see if Don was coming with us or not.
“Yeah, “ I said. “But it’s for a good cause. To keep us dead and ghostly.”
“Well, I’m into that, “ he replied, winking at Kelly. “I’m starting to love this ghost stuff. You can make out wherever you want and adults ain’t yelling at you. Very nice.”
One look at Kelly and you knew she agreed. It was nice seeing them together like this. I got the impression that when alive they had to sneak around quite a bit. I couldn’t see his dad approving, and though I hadn’t met her parents I couldn’t imagine them giving her the green light to have sex with her knucklehead boyfriend, football star or not.
Lori came up to us, and to my surprise, Donald was with her. I smiled and nodded. “Everybody in, then?” Looking to each one for a sign of mutual agreement, I put my hand out, palm down. “Team ready?” I asked. One by one they laid their hands over mine, face down, like we were the five musketeers making a pact of all for one, one for all. The only hand I could actually feel out of the bunch was Lori’s.
Some of the rescue people and vehicles were obviously still at the river, trying to do what they could in the never ending pouring rain. We didn’t want them stranded there with nothing to do but search, so we focused on the vehicles and equipment at the rescue squad building first. We left fire trucks alone. Ambulances were kept at the hospital, and they were off limits too. There were some rescue trucks, some on loan from another jurisdiction, and we decided to make short work of these first. Keep rescuers stranded in the squad building for a day or two anyway.
“I got this,” Donald said, as he passed through a work truck’s hood and began to wreck havoc in any way he could.
Brian and Kelly rummaged through a van that seemed loaded with equipment. Everything from winches and ropes, to diving tanks and rubber swimming gear. They tore the hoses off of tanks, ripped up the swim gear, and were in the process of tying the ropes in multiple knots. That may not have accomplished much, but as many knots as they made it would at least take a couple hours to get them undone.
I looked at Lori. “I got the tires,” she said. I watched her go over to a metal cabinet. She pulled it open and pulled out a screwdriver, holding it up like she was the lady of the lake offering a sword to King Arthur. She grinned, walked over to one of the vehicles and jammed the driver into one of the tires.
I could almost see the headline later. Kids vandalize rescue squad. Those children are a menace, says local authorities. I laughed at the thought, walking over to the garage bay doors. They were operated by a chain system connected to a motor high above the massive doors. A key was stuck inside a control pad on the wall beside it. I removed the key and threw it over in a trash can that was already filled with garbage and food. I shoved it underneath the debris so they couldn’t find it.
Armed with the realization our efforts might not do much to slow them down, it was still fun. I had never been one for pranks and vandalizing property, but I was starting to see the thrill of doing stuff you weren’t supposed to do. I’m not saying I always listened to my parents, and obeyed authority; I had just been to skittish and shy to try anything so brazen as this. I looked at the others enjoying the destruction and thought to myself, Go team! Never had I felt so part of something before. I was not the loner rocker geek anymore. I was belonging to something bigger than myself, and despite the destruction, it felt good. For a brief moment I wanted to run up and hug and kiss each one of them in the excitement. I decided against that, and instead wrote “DEAD KIDS RULE” in the floor with a can of spray paint I’d found on a shelf in the corner. Perhaps the hug and kiss would have been more subtle.
I felt kind of bad after the fact. I hoped we hadn’t caused any lasting damaged, but I really felt it was us against them. We were just ghosts trying to stay that way. If I’d been alive, I never would have done it. Hell, I don’t even think Brian would have, but this wasn’t about pranks or having fun anymore. This was about survival. Survival of the deadest.
We left the rescue squad building, never once seeing a living soul. Either they were sleeping off their shift in another area of the building and didn’t hear us busting stuff up, or they were all at the river preparing to dredge us up out of its depths. I turned to the others.
“We need to stop them at the river,” I decided. “At least long enough for us to figure things out.”
Donald looked at me. “What do we need to figure out?”
I almost told him what Lori and I found at the bus, but I stopped myself. I was starting to harbor more secrets than I liked, but it seemed the necessary thing to do. To tell them about our murder would force me to reveal Brian and Kelly’s bodies were outside the bus somewhere, waiting for someone to find them. To talk of this would create too much panic. “We need to figure out how to stay alive until Halloween,” I said.
“Why is that?”
“Come on, you don’t want this to end without going to the All Hallows’ Dance, do you?”
“I never went before,” Donald replied, unenthusiastic.
“Exactly. Might as well do things you’ve always wanted to do while we can.”
Donald was too busy being a party pooper though. “I never wanted to go.”
“Then don’t go,” I replied, exasperated. “I’m just trying to keep us as ghosts as long as I can. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m starting to enjoy this.”
“Hell yeah, it’s rad,” admitted Brian. Kelly leaned over and kissed him, seconding his admission. I looked at Lori.
“I’ve never been to the Halloween dance either. Might as well see what I’ve missed all this time.” She rolled her eyes. She knew the real things I wanted to accomplish and none of them had anything to do with tomorrow’s stupid high school dance.
“Count me out this time,” Donald said. “I don’t want to be anywhere close to where we died. You guys go on to the river, but I’m staying here.”
“Okay, Don.” I wasn’t going to make him go with us. I wouldn’t have made him before if Lori hadn’t talked him into it first.
“I don’t know,” Brian said. “Fat boy has a point. I don’t know if I want to be anywhere near any of our bodies.”
Somewhere inside I had to agree. It was nerve wracking going down to the bus and trying to avoid seeing our bodies where we died. Maybe we had done enough at the rescue squad to delay them. Between that and the rain, perhaps we had a chance to survive the night at least.
When I looked at Lori to see what she thought, she gave me a shrug that let me know whatever I decided she was in.
“Okay,” I said. “We’ll scrap the river. So, what do you guys propose we do on a Thursday night?”
“I haven’t been home yet,” Kelly said. “I guess I should go. I’ve just been having so much fun being free.” She looked at Brian and smiled. “You’ll come with, right?”
“I’ll go anywhere with you, babe.”
A couple of days ago, he wouldn’t have spoke in such a way. Maybe it was just me and my recent experience with his dad, but Brian seemed to be changing before my very eyes. Made me wonder what his sidekick Derek Houseman, he of the paper airplanes, would think. Derek had been on the bus with us, but he hadn’t crawled up on the riverbanks when we did. Had he been one of the survivors? Or had he died , and without any unfinished business of his own, given up the ghost, so to speak? Maybe it would be worth checking up on; to go to the hospital and see who made it or who didn’t.
“I’m just going to wander around for awhile,“ Donald said. “I don’t really feel like doing anything, you know. Just explore and think, I guess.”
“You okay, buddy?”
“Yeah,” he sighed. “Just a lot on my mind, you know. This has turned out so different than I imagined. These last two days. It’s a lot to take in. I’ll catch up to you guys tomorrow if we’re all still here. We’ll go to school as always. Check out that dance.”
I understood how he was feeling. It was very overwhelming, especially when I thought how our time might be a fleeting thing. Part of me feared we wouldn’t even be here come tomorrow, but I didn’t express that. I was too scared of being the mood killer for us all. “That’s cool, Don. Well see you tomorrow. Be careful.”
Brian seemed to find this a little funny. “Be careful? What’s he got to be afraid of? Getting in a bus accident?”
Donald frowned, but it wasn’t a thing of anger. It was complete sadness. I was worried about him. I didn’t know how much longer he was going to make it like this. When he turned and walked away from us to go on his own version of the walkabout, I wondered if maybe he was just echoing what all of us were feeling deep inside: that this was not life, but merely a pale reflection of what it could have been like if we had not been separated by class and clique.