*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.
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.”