Time Of Our Deaths
By Paul D Aronson
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.”
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.”
“Remember at the theater yesterday. The couple that was leaving as we were getting there?”
“They got into a white work van. It was an exterminating company.”
“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.