Time Of Our Death Chapter 40 (NaNoWriMo project)

Time Of Our Death

By Paul D Aronson.
Forty
By the time I caught up, they had already wheeled Dawn into emergency and doctors were beginning to work on her. I didn’t know myself how they had lost her in the ambulance, but I guess sometimes the body just gives up after a fight. We had been fighting to keep her awake and alive, and though I believe survival begins in the mind, perhaps she was tired of it all. When one attempts to take their own life , often the will to live has already fled the building.

It was chaos in the room, because being of spirit, you hear both the living and the dead. On the living side, they hadn’t allowed Angie into the room, but instead charged her with trying to locate Dawn’s parents. So she was at the nurses station trying to call everyone she could think of, even her own mother. Over the hospital’s public address system it was like a highway of jumbled traffic, as one doctor was called here, another called there. Waiting patients complained about everything from their pain to the wait time, while telling everyone they could, even other patients, about their ailments. In addition, it was still Halloween, and spirits of the dead were roaming the earth right here in the hospital, under the mistaken belief that this was home. Even in the emergency operating room, a few wandered aimlessly, lost and confused as to what happened to their house, which apparently had once stood on the site of the hospital.

Lori tried to shut them out by concentrating on Dawn. She stayed by her sister’s side and whispered things in her ear that I could not hear from where I stood. I didn’t need to know those kind of particulars anyway. It was easy to see her whispers were pleadings with her to live.

I didn’t know what to do. Maybe there was a way to manipulate their machines, help bring her back to wakefulness and breathing again, but I felt I could do more damage than good. This was definitely a time when only the living could work miracles. The dead, as they always have been, were helpless to alter fate. So I just prayed that fate would work in Dawn’s favor, and the beautiful blue spiraling colors of death would stay outside.

“There it is,” I heard someone say, and for a moment I feared death had gotten in, until another voice added, “I got a heartbeat.”

“Can you hear me?” One of the attendants was saying over Dawn. “We need you to open your eyes, okay?”

I held my breath, as her eyelids fluttered but did not open.

“Heartbeat a little weak, but it’s picking up. We need some oxygen over here.”

Lori, still leaning over her sister, was kissing the girl’s face. “I love you, Dawn. Now I need you to open your eyes and look at me, please. Let these people know you want to live. You don’t want to die. The voices will stop soon, I promise.”

Dawn’s eyelids fluttered again, and slowly opened. They squinted against the bright emergency room lights, but stayed open nonetheless. She tried to speak, but it came out as something between a gasp and a moan.

“Welcome back,” one of the attendants said. “Can you tell us your name?”

“Dawn,“ she whispered breathlessly, staring right through Lori, her eyes focusing on the lights.

“We’re going to give you a little oxygen to help you, okay? Just breathe in naturally.” She put the mask over her face and Dawn managed to slowly take it in.

Lori let out a sigh of relief and turned to look for me. I stepped towards her and put my arm around her. She leaned her head over on my shoulder, exhausted but happy her sister was going to live.

“Sorry about this Dawn,“ I heard a voice say, “but you took a lot of bad stuff and we are going to have to flush it out of you. Have you ever had your stomach pumped?”

The girl slowly shook her head, still breathing through the mask.

The doctor tried to reassure her with a smile. “The good news is it shouldn’t take long. We understand you already threw some of it up. But after this, I don’t think you’ll be wanting to pop a bunch of pills again.”

I recoiled a little. I had heard of the procedure before and had no desire to witness it. “Maybe we should wait outside,” I told Lori, and she allowed me to usher her through the doors and out into the hallway.

Angie was sitting on a bench opposite the ER doors. We sat down next to her, and her worried demeanor made me wish we could tell her that Dawn was going to pull through. Lori looked at her with a proud smile and was just about to pat her on the shoulder, when the double doors opened and one of the ER doctors came out to talk to her.

“Are you the one who came with the O’Donnell girl?” He asked.

“Yes,” Angie replied nervously.

He sighed. “Well, I can’t tell you much, simply because you aren’t a parent or guardian, but I wanted to let you know she’s going to be okay. In a couple days she should be on her feet.” He started to walk away and then stopped. “You did a good job. Quick thinking saves lives. Are you related to her?”

“Yes. Cousin.”

“Well, she is certainly lucky to have a cousin like you.”

I thought Angie was going to burst into tears and hug the guy, but she didn’t. Still, it was easy to see she was very relieved. After all, she had been the one responsible for her while Lori’s mom was gone. Which brought up a new point to wonder, where was Lori’s mom anyway? Or her dad? And where were my parents? I guess I would never figure that one out. Death would be here for Lori and I before they showed up. I have to admit I was pretty disappointed in all that. All this time as a ghost, and my parents had done me one better and apparently left the planet.

A couple of the ER attendants came out of the room next. A pair of thirty something nurses, their hair crammed up into nets and still wearing their sterile gloves, were discussing Dawn in semi hushed tones. “O’Donnell. O’Donnell. Where have I heard that name before?”

Her companion frowned. It was one of those looks that your face took on when discussing lost causes and terminal patients. “Probably from the woman in ICU. Her name is O’Donnell too.”

Lori looked at me. “What woman?” Before I could even ponder the question, the hopeful look on her face fell. “Oh no. Mom.” She sprang to her feet. “That’s why Angie couldn’t find her. She was already here!” She took off down the hall towards the intensive care wing.

I took off after her. “Lori, wait!” Running down the hall, I looked out the rows of windows and saw the blue swirling sky, those colors of death personified, trailing us as we ran. Having lost the opportunity to claim Dawn , perhaps it now was setting sights on Lori’s mom. But what had happened to her? Car wreck? Had that guy she’d been seeing beat her up or something? Or had her distress over losing Lori and the dissolution of her marriage sent her over the edge like Dawn?

We both careened through the closed doors of the intensive care unit. If you’ve ever been in an ICU, you already know it’s really one big room, with small units partitioned off with curtains. These units are usually just big enough for the hospital bed and maybe a chair or two for loved ones to seat themselves, sometimes in a final vigil. A nurses station is at the head of the room, as visitors are very limited, typically just immediate family members with no more than two at a time. None of this really mattered to Lori and I. We couldn’t be seen or stopped from entering, and as Lori called frantically for her mom, she passed through the curtains with no concern for privacy.

The first makeshift room held an elderly man with no visitors, just an incessant beeping of life support machines. The second held a sleeping woman with shallow breathing. Another woman sat in a chair beside her holding her hand and reading a devotional magazine in her lap. Through the third curtain, Lori stopped short. The intake of her ghostly breath told me she had found her mother, even before I reached her. Mrs. O’Donnell was sitting up in a chair, looking haggard and tired. Across from her sat her husband, equally worn down. And between them on the bed lay the other O’Donnell woman the ER nurses had mentioned.

“Oh no,” Lori breathed. “It can’t be.”

I came up short alongside of her and felt both my heart and voice catch in my throat. Lori herself lay in the ICU hospital bed, a myriad of tubes and machines hooked up to her. Her body was still, in a seemingly comatose state. An oxygen mask covered her lower face, forcing air into her lungs. Tears welled up in my eyes. She was still alive. All this time, she hadn’t been a ghost at all, but some kind of a projection of herself, a wandering soul stuck between life and death, roaming with the rest of us and believing herself dead.

The Lori I knew turned to me. On her face , a look of shock and horror, with the realization of what all this meant. “No,” she cried sorrowfully, looking from her bedridden body to me with a pain only those who have lost a loved one can know. “I don’t want to go.”

“I don’t want you to go either, but you have to.” I wiped a tear away with the back of my hand. “You’ve seen your body. It’s time.”

She shook her head. “I don’t want to live without you. I just found you, Chris.”

I tried to smile, but I knew it wasn’t convincing. “You’ll find me again someday.”

“No, I want you now….” She stopped, her eyes fixing on something behind me. I turned my head. The swirling, electrified blue that had been in the outside sky was seeping into the ICU, filling up the room with a crackle and pop. No one but she and I could see it , nor did anyone else feel it. But I knew now what it was. It wasn’t Death trailing behind us, trying to claim us for the final time. It was life, coming for Lori, to push her back into the beautiful frame she had been born with.

“Lori,” I said. “Don’t fight it. Just live. Please.”

She threw her arms around my neck and clutched me so close I felt like she was trying to crawl inside of me to live forever. “I love you so much, Christopher. I’ll never love anyone the way I love you. I’ll never marry…”

“Whoa, hey, hell of a time to be getting this kind of serious, don’t you think?”

She knew I was trying to make a joke, to make things easier for her and I both. Through her tears I could feel her smile against my neck. “You are the very best thing to ever happen to me and you know it. My long hair rocker nerd boy.”

I smiled, even as I felt the electric static moving through the air behind me. “You are everything I ever wanted, Lori. I’m glad I got to have you for awhile.” My voice choked. I was happy that she was really alive, but sad to lose her in the same token. I was torn emotionally, feeling as if I were being ripped in two. “I love you,” I said, my tears busting forth like a ruptured dam letting loose the flood waters. “Don’t forget me.”

“I won’t. Goodbye Chris.”

“No. Never say goodbye. Say, see you someday.”

“Someday,” she sobbed, as my hands held her cheeks and I planted final kisses across her beautiful lips. Her mouth opened against mine and in the most intimate of kisses I felt like we were back at the dance with “is this love?” still playing over the loud speakers. I felt something move through me, and I opened my eyes to see the blue energy separating us. Like long thin fingers it seemed to gently nudge her towards the bed where her body awaited. The taste of her kiss was still on my lips, and my body trembled from the knowledge of having known her, yet now losing her to fate’s final whim. Her dark eyes never left me, as the energy that was her life, here and yet to come, pleasantly pushed her back into her body. One last “I love you” whispered across her lips, and then she was gone. The machines around her began to beep and her father leapt to his feet.

“Hey, something is going on in here!” he yelled to the nurses.

Lori’s fingers twitched. Then her foot. Her hand attempted to flex, her leg made a struggling effort to bend. At last, her eyes opened. She looked around the room, unable to move her head, and for a moment I thought her eyes saw me. But it was only a moment and then it was over. Our time as ghosts in love had come to an end. I blew her a kiss she would neither see nor feel, and then stepped from the curtained partition out into the ICU room. I took a deep breath and tried to compose myself. With my hands I tried to wipe the tears out of my eyes. A radio on the nurses station desk was turned down low but the song it was playing wasn’t lost on me. Never say Goodbye. Bon Jovi.

I tried to smile. “Tell me about it, Jon,” I sighed.

“Grace, I think we should really notify your sister. She would want to know.”

I turned to the voice. It was so familiar it was almost like coming home. I looked around me but no one was there, just the nurses going about their usual duties.

“We really need to go home soon. She can help out if you just ask her. I know you don’t get along these days, but now’s the time, you know.”

I walked down the aisle of the ICU seeking the speaker of the voice. Two partitions down from Lori , I found him.

“Dad?” I asked.

He didn’t turn to look at me, but for a moment my mother seemed to. She turned to my voice, then shrugged helplessly and returned her attention to the body they had kept constant vigil over for days straight. My voice choked in my throat at the sight of myself. I began to cry, overwhelmed with emotion. I too, hadn’t died. I too, wasn’t a ghost at all. I was just lost, not knowing where to go. But now I knew. I didn’t know how this was possible, as I had seen our dead bodies on that bus. Maybe it hadn’t been us at all. I never got a clear a look at the faces. It must have been someone else. I felt a weight lifting off of me. Both Lori and I had made it, but as our bodies hung between life and death, our souls went wandering with those who had died, believing ourselves to be deceased with the rest. And like the rest, only the sight of our own bodies could compel us to go where we belonged. I turned to greet the swirling blue colors of life and spread my arms wide.

I felt the energy swelling up around me, enveloping me in a warmth that permeated my whole being. My mind seemed to temporarily separate from my spiritual frame, and I thought of Donald, Brian, and Kelly, all taken from the mortal coil and propelled into that which comes after. For a moment, I imagined that was happening to me, and I feared that I truly would not see Lori again. But then, I felt the push, the nudge that sent me back to my body in its comatose state. The memories of my time spent as a ghost seemed to catalog themselves deeper within me, so they could not be taken nor removed. I wanted to remember everything. To learn from it. To grow from it. To spend my life being better. But more than that, I didn’t want to forget the time with friends. I didn’t want to lose the memory of loving Lori. As with all important moments in my life, a song came to mind. Alive and kicking. Simple minds. I was alive. And I was ready to kick down the doors of the future and live as I never had before. I couldn’t wait to see Lori and tell her all the things I’d confessed when we were ghosts, to share new moments reserved for the living and loved. I opened my flesh and blood eyes and the world looked back at me and smiled. I’d had the time of my death, but now I was ready to live.

 

Advertisements

Time Of Our Death Chapter 39 (NaNoWriMo 2016 Project)

Time Of Our Death

By Paul D Aronson.
Thirty-Nine

The rescue squad guys regained their composure fast and ran after the gurney. They grabbed it and started rolling it for the stairs, where they lifted it and began to carry it down the flight.

“Did you see that shit?” One of them asked. 

“No I didn’t. You didn’t either, so don’t say a word about it.” 

“What the hell would I say? An unconscious body lifted itself onto the gurney and began to roll itself across the floor?” 

“I’ve decided I don’t like Halloween.” 

They reached the bottom of the stairs, set the gurney down and rolled it so fast towards the door they almost looked like a movie reel that had been sped up. Angie followed behind them. She was visibly shaken and kept looking over her shoulder as if expecting to see angels or demons on their tail. She didn’t see us of course, and even if she could, she wouldn’t have spotted us behind her because we were right alongside the paramedics helping to move the gurney along. 

Rolling across the foyer, we all went out the door, which they had left open, knowing they’d need quick access to the ambulance. They didn’t, however, leave the rear door of the ambulance open, but I took care of that quickly. I sprinted ahead and pulled it open. They stopped for a moment, seeing it swing open on its own. They looked at each other, and then at Angie, who looked like you couldn’t even shove her onto the ambulance now. 

I returned to my spot, and together Lori and I got them moving again by pulling the gurney to the open door. Though they were clearly bewildered, and maybe a bit afraid, they went with the pull and lifted the gurney into the ambulance. The two paramedics took a moment and looked back at the house with fear as if they’d see a pig with glowing red eyes in the window like in that Amityville movie. Then one of them began to work on Dawn, while the other came back out and helped Angie climb aboard. She too was looking back at the house afraid. Something told me that after this, you’d never be able to get her to go inside it again. I felt bad about that, but it couldn’t be helped. 

The EMT shut the doors behind her, ran around to the front of the ambulance and jumped in. Immediately he started the engine. Lori and I jumped through the closed rear doors as the emergency vehicle pulled off and we headed for the hospital. 

The paramedic who worked over Dawn was having problems. It seemed he could wake her up, but when he did, within a few minutes her eyes would close again and she would sink into sleep or unconsciousness. In an attempt to help, Angie held her cousin’s hand and talked to her about whatever came to mind. She told her how she couldn’t wait until they were both going to the same school next year, and about one of her neighbors Mrs Shelton, who it was rumored was a little too sweet on Jamie Botts, the college age paper boy. Anything to try and keep Dawn awake and focused.  

“It’s not helping, is it?” She asked the paramedic. 

He gave her a reassuring smile. “Everything helps, miss. Keep talking to her. Give her something to focus on.” 

So, she began telling Dawn a story that she obviously was making up on the fly. It was about a girl who had a crush on a fairy prince who lived in her garden. I was impressed with her natural abilities and thought to myself one day she’s going to be a writer. I turned to look out the back window and saw something that brought me a small measure of concern. The sky behind us didn’t look right. Darkness had fallen by now, with trick or treaters still visible doing their rounds, but the sky had an eerie blue finger running through it. I say it was a finger, but it was more like a flashing streak, lightning that glowed a beautiful blue as it struck its way to earth like a skeletal digit.  

I tapped Lori on the shoulder. “Look at that,” I said. 

“Oh my god,” she said. “What is it?” 

I didn’t have the answer to that one. Though we were moving away from the blue streak, it almost seemed to be following us. The blue shade was not constant either. It changed its shade like a lava lamp in the sky, swirling in color within the confines of its shape. Aqua, sky, neon, baby. Every shade of blue you could think of, it morphed into, while following some distance behind us. And then I felt the crackle, an electrical charge that seemed to be building up in the air outside. So far it hadn’t entered the ambulance, but it wouldn’t stay outside for long. 

“Oh no,” I said, looking at Lori with fear on my face. “They must have brought our bodies up.” 

In a display of courage and nerves, she shook her head. “We haven’t seen them yet. Everyone else had to visibly see their bodies.” 

I nodded, agreeing with her, but the sky and its faint hissing of electrical activity bothered me. It was as if death were chasing us, telling us there was no escape, it’s time now. I looked at Dawn on the gurney, fading in and out of consciousness, and then it occurred to me. Yes, Lori was right. In our ghostly state we had to see our bodies before the final claiming , but maybe it wasn’t coming for us in this instant. Perhaps it was after Dawn. 

Lori seemed to think the same thing. “Oh no,” she moaned. “No, you can’t have her.” 

She got up and planted herself between the rear door and her sister. Angie was still telling the semi conscious girl the story of the cute fairy prince, while the paramedic kept her vitals stable. I don’t know what Lori thought she was going to be able to do, but her sheer defiance made me love her even more, and so I stood by her side in an attempt to block death from seeing Dawn. 

“How’s she doing?” The driver called out to his partner. 

“She’s holding, but I don’t think she’s going to make it to county. That’s a hell of a drive.” 

“We don’t have a choice. They are at full capacity everywhere else.” 

“Your decision. You’re the driver.” 

“Oh to hell with this,” I said. “She needs the nearest hospital, you guys.” I went through to the front of the ambulance and into the cab. I didn’t know how to tell the driver to make the turn to the nearest medical facility, Murray General Hospital, so I did it for him. 

“Holy shit!” He yelled. “What the Christ is going on?”  

He struggled with the wheel, but I had already done this once before with Kev, so I was experienced at taking over.  

We swerved into the other lane and the paramedic in the back yelled out. “What the hell is going on up there!?” 

“I’ve lost control of the steering! It’s like it has a freaking mind of its own!” 

As if to convince him that it did, I made another turn, putting us on a direct path to the overcrowded, yet closest hospital. At first the guy fought me, but then he relented and relaxed. He didn’t let go of the wheel, but instead just held it loosely and let the thing steer itself, which it did with my help.  

“It’s taking us to Murray General,” he yelled to his co-worker. Then he lowered his voice so only I could hear. “Hey look, I know it’s Halloween, All Hallows’, ghosts walk the earth, or whatever, but whoever you are I would feel much safer if you’d let me drive. I promise to take the girl to Murray, ok?” 

I let him have the wheel back, and he breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you,” he said. He picked up the radio off the dash and called in, telling his dispatch or whomever they were going to the local hospital, as there was no way the patient would make it anywhere else. The person on the other end protested, but he was firm about it. “Hey look, we’re almost there. Just make room.” He threw the radio back on its cradle. “How is everyone doing back there?” He called to his passengers.  

“We’re holding,” the other paramedic replied. “But her vitals are all over the place. We need to hurry.” 

The driver nodded and pressed his foot to the gas. He honked the horn a few times to let the traffic ahead know we were barreling through. “You know,” he said softly. “When I was a boy my grandmother died. I loved grandma so much, I wished she would come back as a ghost or something just to let me she was alright and safe. I used to sit in my room and wait for some kind of sign from her. But nothing came. A few times freaky things happened in my room or the house, but I knew it wasn’t her. Maybe another spirit, but not her.” 

He turned in his seat, as if trying to see where I was. When he didn’t see anything, he returned his focus on the road and shook his head. “I guess I’m just crazy. I don’t even know if you’re there. But if you are, and if you’re able to, could you let my grandma know that I’ve missed her. Her name is Alva Mably. My name is Greg.” 

I felt bad for the guy. He had been carrying this grief with him his whole life. He was just seeking some kind of closure, a reassurance that everything was alright in this world and the next. I knew how he felt; I’d lost my grandmother at an early age as well. I reached out and put my hand on his shoulder. I could feel him tense just slightly, but I knew our common ground made the connection possible. I patted him on the back a few times to try and let him know I heard him and his request. I felt it would probably be impossible to fulfill his request, but it is far better to give someone hope than to dash their spirit. To some this would be the same as lying, but from my new perspective I considered it healing, and a necessary need of the human condition. 

“Thank you,” he said, his voice near to cracking. Then he took a deep breath and pulled us into the emergency entrance of the hospital.  

“Shit,” the other paramedic said from the back. “We just lost her.” 

“No!” Lori screamed. “Bring her back, damn you!” 

I went through the cab wall and was at Dawn’s body in an instant. If she was gone , I wanted us to be the first ones she saw when she became spirit. But nothing happened. She wasn’t leaving her mortal frame, not that we could see anyway. The back doors of the ambulance was opened and a couple more medical people were climbing in to help rush the gurney inside. Beyond the doorway, the skies had changed from its myriad of blues to a whole multitude of colors that swirled in the sky like watercolors thrown against an electrified canvas that sizzled and sparked. 

“Give her back,” I pleaded. “Don’t take her.” 

As the technicians wheeled the gurney out the back and onto the pavement, Lori was nearly throwing herself across her sister’s body, while Angie, tears streaming down her face, followed behind. I got out of the ambulance and looked up at the colors. Any other time they would have been beautiful, but now they were nothing less than menacing. Mesmerized, I stood there staring, transfixed by the sight. There was a buzz rising in my ears like radio static coming through headphones. The very air was starting to sizzle around me.  

I ran for the hospital entrance. The others were already inside ushering the gurney down a hallway to the emergency room. I passed through the solid entrance doors and looked back. The sky and its colors seemed to just be waiting there outside, biding the time while it swirled in different shades of its ever changing energy. 

Time Of Our Death Chapter 38 (NaNoWriMo project)

Time Of Our Death

By Paul D Aronson.

Thirty – Eighty

 

“I’m going to go check it out,” Lori said, looking towards the stairs. She headed across the room. I noticed cousin Angie was not only oblivious to us, but she hadn’t heard the thud overhead either. She was still bobbing her head to her teen pop.

“Hold up, “ I called out to Lori. “I’m coming with.”

I followed her up, looking back towards Angie and the television. The news report was still going on, except now the footage was an image of Kev, the killer. I couldn’t tell what they were saying, because up on the landing the only thing I could hear was that damn Cutting Crew song still playing. Someone must have put it on repeat because it was back to its opening lines of “I just died in your arms tonight.”

I didn’t have time to think of this any further, because Lori had already surged ahead to check the bedrooms. The hallway was empty, but for a moment I felt that someone else was in the house besides us. I looked over the railing to the first floor to see if I detected any movement down there, but Angie hadn’t budged.

Lori’s scream erupted from one of the bedrooms. I bolted down the hall, following her cries of “no,no,no!” and found her in her sister’s room. Dawn was laying prone on the floor, motionless. Eyes closed, I couldn’t tell if she was sleeping, unconscious, or dead, but I feared the worst.

Lori was shaking her. “Wake up, Dawn, please wake up.”

I knelt beside her. “Check her pulse.” I would have done it myself but I didn’t think I had the emotional connection required to make physical contact.

She put her fingers on her sister’s wrist. “It’s very light.” She leaned down and put her cheek to her nose. “Breathing is shallow.” She shook the girl again. “Dawn, come on, open your eyes and look at me.”

I got up and walked over to a bedside table. A small boombox sat upon it and I was getting tired of the song that was playing, so I shut it off. An empty bottle of sleeping pills sat next to it, along with a note that read: “I can’t stop the voices. This is the only way.”

I picked up the empty bottle, realizing this was our fault. In trying to interact with her, we caused all this. She thinks she’s gone crazy. I returned to Lori , who was getting more desperate in trying to get her to open her eyes.

“We have to get Angie to call 911,“ I said. “She took a bunch of pills.”

“How many?” Lori asked, the worry in her voice.

“I don’t know. I’ll be right back.”

I ran out of the bedroom, and down the hallway. Heading down the stairs several steps at a time, I banged my hand on the balustrade to try and make some noise, but Angie was oblivious. Coming into the living room , I could hear she was now listening to “I think we’re alone now” at full volume. I thought to myself, “like hell you are,” and brought my fist down on top of her Discman. The portable player nearly exploded from the force, pieces of plastic cracking and shooting into the air beside her.

Angie sprang from the couch as if someone had just walked in and opened fire. She threw herself to the floor, pulling her headphones off her head and throwing them as far away as possible. I couldn’t allow her to just lay there cowering in the floor, so I grabbed the damaged Discman and threw it at her. She screamed and sprang to her feet, running for the front door to escape.

“Wrong way, “ I muttered, and got ahead of her. I banged my fists hard against the door, and it almost seemed to echo in the house like thunder. She stopped short, and looked around herself for another avenue of escape. Then it finally hit her. Dawn. She had to get her out, too.

She bolted for the stairs, yelling her cousin’s name. I ran behind her, helping to herd her up the steps by stomping my feet on the stairs as we went. Any other time it may have seemed comical, her running up and glancing over her shoulder with fear, with goofy me stomping behind like I was auditioning for Monty Python’s silly walks sketch. But this was not any other time. This was now. And it was serious.

She ran into Dawn’s room and screamed. Though she couldn’t see Lori, the shock of Dawn’s still body on the floor was enough to bring a fresh round of hysterics. Despite this, I had to hand it to her, she was a quick thinker, and without even checking Dawn’s body, she went to the girl’s dresser to retrieve the phone. Lifting the receiver off the cradle, she quickly dialed 911. She twirled her fingers through the spiral cord nervously as she waited for the connection.

I walked over to Lori, who still sat there by her sister, trying to talk her back awake. “Any change?” I asked.

“No,” Lori mumbled, defeated. She looked up at me with tears in her eyes. “We’re going to lose her.”

“No, we’re not. Angie’s calling 911. They’ll be here soon.” As if to confirm this for myself, I looked back to her cousin who was now speaking with someone on the other end. Then, I turned back to Lori. “Open her mouth and stick your fingers down her throat.”

“What?”

“We don’t know how much she took. If it’s still on her stomach, we might be able to get her to throw it back up. If anything, maybe it will wake her up.” She looked at me, unsure. “I know, it’s dangerous. But we cant let her fall asleep for long or she might not wake up.”

Lori lifted Dawn’s head and mumbled an apology to her, before following my advice. At first the girl just gagged against the intrusion, her eyes not opening. But at the second attempt, she retched, and Lori twisted her onto her side so she could eject the contents of her stomach onto the carpet. Her eyes fluttered open, glazed over and confused.

“Lori?” She groaned in a lethargic voice. “What are you doing here?”

I’m not sure what bothered me most, the thought she could see her sister, or that Angie, having hung up the phone, was now standing there slack jawed. I guess it looked freaky with Dawn on her side, elevated by something she could not see, throwing up onto the carpet. Again though, she regained her composure, and ran to Dawn, kneeling in the same space occupied by Lori.

“No, honey, it’s not Lori,” she corrected her. “It’s Angie, your cousin. Hang in there, help is on the way.”

The little girl frowned, obviously disappointed it wasn’t her sister, and laid her head on the floor. She closed her eyes. “I just wanted the voices to stop,” she mumbled.

Lori looked at me. “What voices?”

I shook my head sadly. “I think we might have started this.”

The realization showed up in her eyes, and she frowned. “I didn’t mean any harm. I just wanted to let her know I was there.”

She got up from the floor and I put my arm around her. “I know you didn’t mean it.” I heard the sound of the approaching sirens and smiled. “Sounds like help got here pretty quick.”

Angie heard them too. She patted her cousin on the head and got up. “I’ll be right back, Dawn. Don’t go to sleep. I have to let the paramedics in.”

She ran out of the room and I heard her bounding down the stairs to let the rescue squad in. I could hear her heightened voice telling them to follow her, and then they were all coming up the steps. I ushered Lori out of their way to the back of the room. I knew we could all share the same space, but I felt it was best to just get out of the way and let them work.

The paramedics knelt over Dawn and tried to wake her back up, but she apparently had sunk into unconsciousness again. It all started to hit Angie now and she began to cry.

“Where’s her mother?” One of the emergency guys asked.

“I…I don’t know. She left, said she would be back in a few hours. She didn’t leave a number or anything.”

“The father?”

“I’m not sure. I think he moved out. There’s a number for him on the fridge, but I think it’s a motel.”

“Well, we can take care of her here. Why don’t you get some fresh air and maybe call that number, see if you can find at least one of her parent’s.”

“Okay,“ she sniffled.

We watched her leave the room, and the paramedics returned their full focus to the unconscious Dawn. One of them broke open a packet of smelling salts and placed it under her nose. Her body jerked and her eyes opened. She spasmed and tried to throw up, but nothing came. She lay her head against the floor and moaned.

“Do you know your name?” One of the guys asked.

“Yes,” she mumbled.

“What is it?”

“Lori,” she sighed.

The two paramedics looked at each other, as if they knew that wasn’t right.

“Don’t go,” Dawn sighed. “Please Lori, don’t go.”

Lori pulled away from me, and was at her sister’s side in an instant. “I’m not going anywhere, Dawn. I’m right here.” She put her hand on her forehead. “I’ll always be with you. But you have to live.”

“So do you,” she replied, faint and confused.

“I’m sorry Dawn. I can’t. I’m ….” She wiped a tear from her face. I could tell she didn’t want to say it, as if it would give death that final power to come take us, but there was no way around it. “I’ve died. I’m gone. But I’ll always be your sister, whether I’m here or not. You have to be strong for mom and dad. You can’t follow me. Not yet. Okay?”

“Uh oh,” one of the paramedics said. “We keep losing her. She’s out. We need to get her to the hospital now and get this stuff out of her system.”

The other paramedic stood up. “Okay, I’ll get the gurney and radio it in.”

“See if the girl got ahold of her parents, too. They need to be there when we arrive.”

Lori looked up at me, worried. Then she looked back at Dawn , who had slipped into an unconscious state again. “We have to help,” she cried.

“I don’t know what to do, “ I confessed.

Just then Angie came back into the room. “I couldn’t get an answer,” she said. “The phone just rang and rang.”

The paramedic nodded, cracking open another packet of salts. “Okay, we’ll try again once we’re at the hospital. Are you going to ride with?”

“Yes. Yes I can.”

“Do you know if she has any known allergies or medical conditions?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Okay, cool.”

The other paramedic arrived with the gurney. “We may have a problem,” he said.

“What is it?”

“Hospital is packed. Halloween night. We may have to go to county.”

The other guy shook his head. “She may not make it to county. I’m having a hard time keeping her conscious as it is. Whatever she took is working its way through her system pretty fast. She needs a doctor now.”

“Well shit, don’t just talk about it,” I said, exasperated. I ran over and started to scoop Dawn up. In my concern and desperation, the emotional connection was made, and she came up easily in my arms. Lori put her arms under her sister and helped me lift her onto the gurney.

The paramedics stumbled backwards in alarm and Angie screamed. We didn’t wait. We started rolling the gurney for the door.

 

 

Merry Christmas, WordPress friends :)

Wow, 2016 has been an amazingly creative year for me, and as such, I just want to say thank you to all who have lent their encouragement, inspiration, and friendship to me in the past six months or so. I have met some incredible poets, authors, and bloggers here on WordPress, so to my WordPress family , I want to just take a moment to wish you all a Merry Christmas and Winter Solstice. My hope for your holiday, and indeed the coming year ahead, is that you will continue to celebrate artistic freedom, creative diversity, and the wonderful gift of words that gives us our voice to the world. With much respect and admiration, I wish for you a wonderful holiday season and joyous times ahead. 

Warm regards and Holiday cheer,

Paul D Aronson

12/24/16

NaNoWriMo 2016: Time Of Our Death Chapter 37

Time Of Our Death

By Paul D Aronson

Thirty-Seven

I bolted towards the ambulance. It was still moving, though slowly through the crowded neighborhood streets. I wasn’t thinking about what would happen if I boarded the ambulance, only that something horrible had taken place. Kelly’s hysterical screams nearly buried Lori’s efforts to stop me.

“No, Chris!” She yelled, trying to grasp hold of me.

Just then, Kelly came out through the rear door, leaping to the pavement, and was running straight for us, as if we could protect her from whatever terror she had witnessed. Her eyes were brimmed with hysterical tears as she reached us.

“Oh my god!” She screamed.

“What is it?!” I asked in alarm.

“Oh my god,” she repeated. “It’s us!” She grabbed Lori. “Don’t let them take me. Please don’t. It’s us! I can’t believe it’s us!”

I turned my attention back to the ambulance just in time to see Brian exit, a look of fear on his face. Though he wasn’t as hysterical at Kelly, I knew that she was telling the truth about who was in the ambulance. He breezed past me and gently liberated Kelly from Lori.

“It’s okay, baby,” he told her, pulling her into his muscular, protective arms. “It’s going to be okay.”

“No, it’s not,” she cried. “I saw us. You saw us!” She began to look around, fearful eyes darting everywhere as if expecting hounds of hell to come drag her off screaming.

“Shh, baby. Shh.” He rocked her on the balls of her feet, and they seemed to sway slightly in the road, like they were the prom queen and king at the last dance.

I felt a light electrical charge growing in the air around us. I heard a sizzle, a crackling sound that told me the end was building up. Both Brian and Kelly’s hair seemed to stand on end like a science class experiment in static electricity. I could see Kelly draw further into Brian’s arms.

“Well, bro,” he said, looking over her shoulder at me. “I guess this is it.” He shook his head. “Who would have thought, huh? Of all the ambulances we could jump in it had to be that one. I guess fate has a funny sense of humor.”

“Yes it does, “ I agreed. “Listen, brian…”

“No, you listen to me now. Take Lori home. Don’t let her go in the middle of the street like this.”

There was a flash of static, and for a moment they looked like a negative image shot through with television interference. The moment passed and they were just Brian and Kelly again. The end seemed to be fighting them somehow. It wasn’t smooth and seamless the way Donald had been. Perhaps that was because he was ready, and they were not.

“It’s been real,” Brian said nervously.

“It’s been fun,” I added.

He smiled. “But it ain’t been real fun.”

I look at Lori and she rolled her eyes at his last opportunity for a joke.

He thrust his hand out and I looked at it for a second before grasping it with mine. “Wish we could have been friends earlier,” he said.

“Me too.”

There was a loud pop in the air as if fate herself were trying to break through a wall to take our friends. The static started to build up around them visibly, and as Kelly finally turned to look at Lori and I , they reminded me of the couple from that A-ha video, going from real life into comic strip and back again. “Look us up sometime,” she said, in an attempt to be brave.

“We will,” Lori said. She leaned in and kissed her once enemy on the cheek. “Love you, sister.”

A new tear fell from Kelly’s face. Out of all the friends she once believed she had, the truest one had been someone she didn’t even like days ago. “Thank you,” she whispered. “Love you, too.”

Any other time and Brian would have made a crack about this exchange, but instead he beckoned me closer. He leaned his face close to my ear. If I thought he was going to say something equally mushy, I was wrong. It wouldn’t have been him anyway. Instead , he whispered his last words into my ear: “let us die young or let us live forever.”

I smiled and he looked at me with a question on his face. When I didn’t reply, he said, “Come on rock boy, you got to know that one.”

“Forever Young. Alphaville.”

“Well shit,” he mumbled. “I’ll trip you up one day, I guess.” Then he clutched Kelly to him, kissed her trembling lips, and began to softly sing another line from the song, “Let’s dance in style, let’s dance for awhile, heaven can wait, we’re only watching the skies…”

As the end came to claim them we could still hear them both singing, going into the great unknown together, as the energy of all they were was released from their ghostly frames and seemed to dissipate into the air like cigarette smoke under colored concert lights. We watched the beautiful colors – neon reds, blues , greens, and yellows – swirling in the air, as if someone had just swirled a paintbrush against invisible glass, and it was now running down the sky in ever changing rivulets as the colors blended and created new shades. As it was with Donald, we were seeing Brian and Kelly as they truly were. This was their energy, this was the color of their souls. Despite how they had been in life, how they had once treated others, this was the true beauty finally showing through. And as sad I was to see them leave this existence, I thought it was an amazing thing to witness. I looked at Lori, and she was in awe as well as the colors seemed to swirl and fade, until we stood there alone hand in hand, the last of the Dead Kids Rule gang.

Around us, the dead still wandered, seeking their homes, while unsuspecting trick or treaters went door to door themselves seeking the sugar fix the holiday brings. I looked at Lori again and saw a heavy sadness in her eyes. The loss of Brian and Kelly had affected us both in ways that were hard to describe.

“I think maybe I should take you home,” I finally said.

“Why?” She asked somberly.

“I just think you should be home among your loved ones when…you know.”

“I want to be with you.”

“I’ll stay with you, Lori. You don’t have to face this alone.”

“What about your folks?”

I thought about it for a minute. “I haven’t seen them since this happened. There’s no more time to look. If they cared, they would have been home.” I looked at her and gave her a reassuring smile. “You’re my home now.”

She reached for my hand. “Thank you, Chris.”

“What for?”

“For everything. You got us through all this as far as you could. I would have just given up and sat down waiting for the end to catch up with me. You kept me going. And you loved me.”

“Correction. I love you. Present tense. Future promise.” I leaned close to her and kissed her soft on the lips. “And whatever happens to us, wherever we end up, either together or apart, I will find you.”

She allowed my kiss to linger upon her mouth, and as all other thoughts seemed to fall away from me, there was still that lingering echo of Brian and Kelly singing Forever Young in my head.

We hitched a ride to her house with a group of giggling girls who were heading out to a party. Inside the blue VW bug they had the stereo cranked on the local top 40 station which was playing “Forever Live And Die” by OMD. I had to wonder if Death was just messing with us now, sending us messages within the music to say, ‘you don’t have forever, so get over it.’

Lori lay her head over on my shoulder as the song played, the other passengers oblivious to our presence. I had to marvel at the fact they were laughing and chatting and having a good time, completely unaware it seemed that life could be over just like that. If there was one I had learned in all this it was that life is short. We spent so much time just wasting it, waiting to grow up and be adults, that we didn’t take the time to truly live. We just breezed through the days, hoping to get to the next one without earning detention. Maybe Lori and I would have found each other sooner if we had just had our eyes open, instead of just looking at the ground and kicking along the sidewalk. Any of these girls in the VW could be gone tomorrow, and all they were concerned with, if one listened to their conversation, was how to get their makeup looking like Christie Brinkley.

We jumped ship when our ride was a couple blocks from Lori’s. We had no idea where the party was they were going to, and we didn’t want to end up even further away than we had been. We walked the rest of the way in near silence, each of us lost in our own separate thoughts. Though I was trying not to think about it, my mind kept returning to the bus and the fact they were even now pulling the bodies up. I wished I could have made a radio materialize out of thin air and find out what was going on.

Lori’s house wasn’t accepting trick or treaters. All the lights were off, signaling Halloween revelers to stay away. I guess her mom wasn’t in the festive mood with the loss of her eldest daughter and the departure of her husband, all within the space of a few days. We entered in through the closed front door and came into the foyer as we would have in life. The sound of both the television and a radio was coming from the living room, while another stereo upstairs blared out, “I Just Died In Your Arms” by Cutting Crew. Again, I was hoping Death wasn’t trying to send me a message.

We went into the living room first to discover a girl about Lori’s age watching TV. On the couch beside her she had a Sony Discman she was listening to with headphones over her ears. Her head was bobbing with the music only she could hear , but it sounded suspiciously like a muffled Debbie Gibson. As far as I was concerned, she could be kept muffled.

“Who’s this?” I asked.

“It’s my cousin Angie. I don’t know what she’s doing here though.” She sighed. “Mom must be gone again. Go figure.”

I was half listening. Instead I was focused on the television. School pictures of both Brian and Kelly were on the screen. A voice over was declaring them the latest identified victims of what was being referred to as the “Bay Bridge Tragedy.” Angie didn’t have the TV turned up very loud, so I moved closer to it to catch what was being reported.

“…were discovered under the bridge in what one of the divers has said was an emotional and moving scene.”

It switched from their school photos to the video image of a diver on the river bank, his wet suit still dripping wet and his face mask resting on top of his head so he could speak. “They were just sitting there under the water, “ he said. “Resting against one of the supports. She was sitting in his lap and he was holding her like they were two kids sneaking behind the bleachers, you know. I don’t know how the bodies stayed under so long without rising to the surface, but there they were. If it weren’t so tragic, it would be almost beautiful.” His voice choked up. “Young love. Makes me want to go home and hug the wife and kids.”

I looked at Lori. Despite being a little teary eyed, she was smiling. “They stayed together,” she said.

“Yeah. Forever young.”

“Forever young,” she agreed.

We returned our attention to the television which had switched back to a reporter saying more bodies had been found within the last few hours but had yet to be identified. We both looked at each other, that old fear creeping back.

A loud thud banged the ceiling above us. We both looked up, startled.

“What the hell was that?” Lori asked.

I didn’t know, but it sounded a lot like a body hitting the floor.

 

+ +++

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo Lives on: Time Of Our Death Chapter 36

Time Of Our Death

By Paul D Aronson.

Thirty – Six

I broke the surface close to Donald’s freed body. It had already been spotted, and both divers and inflatable rafts were making their way to the spot. To say the search and recovery team was excited would be an understatement. This seemed to be the first breakthrough they had had all day and it was a boost to their efforts. Even on the shore where they had set up operations, there was a bustling of frenzied activity. I didn’t bother with any of this however, for my friends were waiting on the bank, rooted to the spot and taking everything in.

“It’s Donald, isn’t it?” Lori asked, as I emerged from the river to where they stood. 

I nodded. “Yeah.” 

She put her arms around me and gave me a comforting hug. “I’m sorry, Chris.” 

“Yeah, me too.” I looked into her face. “We keep edging closer. Our time is coming so quickly, I’m scared.” I pointed to where all the activity was going on in the river. “The bus is right under them. Any minute now they’ll figure out the body had to come from somewhere.” 

“What do we do?” Brian asked. 

I shook my head. “I don’t know. All I know is I don’t want to sit here waiting for it. I don’t want to see my body when they bring it up.” I reached for Lori’s hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “I don’t think anything happens until we look into the face of ourselves.” 

“What do you mean?” She asked. 

“Donald pulled his own body free. He held it in his arms. It wasn’t until he looked in the face that he began to change.” 

“Into what?” Kelly asked nervously. 

“Energy, I suppose.” I tried to find the words to tell them what I had witnessed of Donald’s transformation, but fell short. “The life force of what we all are, maybe. I mean, on one hand it was a beautiful thing, but on the other it was the end of all the things we know and are comfortable with. I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t want to be just energy. I want to be me.” 

I broke down and started to cry. I couldn’t help it. The thought of leaving this way of existence behind forever frightened me. I wanted to be here with Lori. I didn’t want us to be anything other than this. Donald may have been right. Perhaps this wasn’t living, but in my mind it was better than being pure energy and never knowing the touch and kisses of the girl who had captured my heart. I had waited sixteen years for this, and now I was only going to get it for an instant. A brief moment in time that some would say isn’t even real. But it was real to me. Whether I was a ghost or not didn’t matter; I was still in love. 

“Well, if you don’t want to see them bring up the bodies, we better go.” Brian pointed towards the bridge. “Looks like a few of them just went down.” 

“Yeah,” I agreed. “Let’s go. My body is going to have to get up and catch me.” 

Lori squeezed my hand to reassure me. “We’ll be okay.”  

“Yeah, I know we will. But we won’t be like this. You and me together. And that scares me to no end. I just found you.” 

She smiled and kissed me lightly on the lips. “For the record, I found you. Stop trying to take credit.” She smiled to let me know she was just being playful and trying to lighten my mood. 

“Come on, lovebirds,” Brian interrupted. “We can argue who found who later.” 

He was right. We had to get out of there. I didn’t know where we were supposed to go, but I didn’t want to be there. So, we left the river bank and returned to the road. Within a few minutes we had caught a ride on a white pickup driven by a young man who was apparently taking his little sister into town for some trick or treating fun. She was dressed as Strawberry Shortcake, and though she was younger than Dawn, it made me think of Lori’s kid sister. I didn’t say anything to Lori, because I knew how hard it was on her. She was probably the bravest girl I ever met, but I knew she worried about her broken up family, and leaving Dawn on her own was not something she wanted to think about. 

The driver turned up the radio. I couldn’t blame him. After all, the song itself told him to, the singer telling us, “I need the music, gimme some more.” I needed the distraction of music too. Donald’s final passing had affected me greatly. It made me realize this wasn’t a game anymore. It wasn’t about playing pranks, raising hell, or even uncovering secrets. This was about last chances. Lost opportunities. Making the most out of every single moment. And while part of me agreed I needed to savor the time left, another side just asked the question, why bother? Soon, it would all be gone and none of it would matter. 

A squeeze of Lori’s hand brought me back to the moment. Our moment. 

“Hi there,” she said. 

“Hi.” 

“I’m going to miss this too, Chris.” 

“I know. It’s just all coming home to me now. Just how final this is. I feel like we go on in some shape of form, but its not like this. God made human contact the most beautiful thing ever.”  

She leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. Then she put her hand on my chin and turned my face to hers. “So, let’s make contact.” 

Her kiss was electric, hot like pure fire coursing through my very veins. It wasn’t the kiss of first loves, nor did it hold the awkwardness of youth. It was purely passion, hungry and denied, now wanting to indulge every romantic notion within that one kiss. My hands reached for her, fingertips finding her neck and wrapping themselves up in her dark hair. 

“Somebody needs a room,” Kelly giggled. 

“Hell, somebody needs the whole motel,” Brian added. 

We couldn’t help but laugh, but then a parade of sirens reached our ears and the mood among us all changed again. Several ambulances sped by, heading back the way we had come, towards the river. My guess was they were to carry back whatever bodies they found on the bus. I could tell by the looks on everyone else’s faces that they were thinking the same. 

“I wish I could have said goodbye to Donald,” Brian said. “I feel like I didn’t say enough. That there was more I could have talked to him about.” 

“He knew you were sorry,” I reassured him. 

“I know. It’s just like you can never say enough. Never make the amends you need to.” 

“Maybe that chance comes in another life,” I suggested.  

“Yeah,” Lori agreed. “ When I was in seventh, my dad had this friend who was into eastern philosophy and religion, and he said that we keep on having more lives to correct the mistakes we made in this one. It’s like we keep on working to be better people until we finally get it right.” 

“If that’s the case, I’m going to have a lot of lives to go through to fix this one.” 

“Who knows?” I said. “Perhaps this was another life you were living to correct the one before it.” 

“Well, I screwed that up, now didn’t I? Next!” 

The driver changed the radio station and we found ourselves mellowed out by Genesis. In Too Deep. It made me think of Donald again and how he just couldn’t take anymore of what was happening to him in life, and in death.  

“You guys are depressing me,” Kelly lamented. “Aren’t we supposed to be going trick or…”

She stopped mid sentence, her jaw dropping. We all turned to see what her gaze had fell upon. The truck had just reached the town limits and we were turning down a neighborhood street. People were everywhere. It looked like the trick-or-treaters had come out in full force. Kids and grown ups alike were milling the streets, most dressed up in halloween costumes, others just wandering around, seeing what their fellow townsfolk were dressed as. I noticed a lot of period costumes: Colonial era, Civil War, Old West, 1950’s Sock Hop, Hippy 1960’s flashback. It looked like the whole town, and maybe part of the next had descended on this one neighborhood.

“Oh my God,” Kelly said, trying to complete her sentence. “Look at all the trick or treaters.” 

The pickup stopped before we reached any of them, and the driver got out with his young charge to approach the first house. He walked right through a pair of guys dressed as US Navy men.  

“I don’t think they are trick or treaters,” I replied. 

“Day of the dead,” Lori said. “The one night a year the dead can walk the earth.” 

“We’ve been walking it for several days,” Brian answered. 

“Maybe these are the dead who got closure. No unfinished business or anything.” 

“Perhaps,” I said, trying to take it all in. Finally, we got out of the back of the pickup and walked right into their midst. Some of them were real flesh and blood trick or treaters, but a large portion were most definitely dead, ghost and spirits like we were. “Holy shit,” I exclaimed. 

Lori grabbed hold of my arm. “What?” 

“It’s my Uncle Eddie.” I pointed to a man in gray khakis and a white t-shirt. His regular shirt, a blue flannel button up, was tossed over his shoulder, as if it were too hot too wear. On his head, a black stocking cap to cover up his thinning gray hair. “He passed away three years ago,” I added. 

“Cool,” replied Brian. “Maybe he can tell us what’s going on.” He flung his hand up in the air. “Yo Ed! Over here!” 

“Brian, stop. What are you doing?” 

“Hell man, don’t you want to see your uncle?” 

“Well yeah, but…” 

“But nothing. Yo, Eddie baby!” 

Brian started towards him, and the rest of us fell in behind him. My uncle saw us coming. At first he looked confused. None of the other dead were talking amongst themselves, so to have someone call his name was startling. Then he saw me, and a smile crossed his face. “Christopher!”

“Hi, uncle Ed,” I said, coming around the front of the others. 

He thrust his hand out and gripped mine, shaking it vigorously. “Great to see you, boy. What are you doing here?” 

“I might ask you the same thing,” I replied. 

“Well hell, I don’t know,” he admitted with a chuckle. “I feel like I’ve always been here. Today it just feels different. Know what I mean?” 

“Yes sir, I believe I do.” 

He smiled. “How’s your folks?” 

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I haven’t seen them for a couple days.” 

“Oh. Well, when you do, tell them I said hi.” 

“Um, I can’t. You see, there was an accident and we…” 

He waved me off and went off down the road amidst other spirit walkers.  

“Damn, that was rude,” Brian said. 

“Yeah,” I replied slowly, now watching the Halloween ghosts more closely. Numbers of them were walking up to houses and passing through the doors and walls. Others seemed to be milling about in small groups as if they were a family ready to set down for a meal in the middle of the road. “I think they’re all going home,” I said. 

“What do you mean?”  

“Day of the dead. It’s a homecoming. Spirits don’t just wander aimlessly around. They are compelled to return home. To where they had lived.” 

“So, your rude ass uncle blows you off to go back to his crib and watch the game?” 

“Something like that I guess.” 

“If I get to come back once a year, I’d go straight home too,” Lori offered. 

“Yeah, me too,” I agreed in a solemn tone. “But now I wonder if there will be anyone there anyway.”

“Hey cheer up, dawg,” Brian said. “We’ll hunt your parents down with you. I’m too old for trick or treating anyway.” 

Kelly grinned in his direction. “I was thinking more of treating,” she said. 

“Aw hell, Chris. You can’t compete with that,” he said, slapping Kelly on her butt. 

“It’s all good, Brian. We probably don’t have the time anyway.” 

As if to prove my statement , the sounds of ambulance sirens rang out again, this time coming back from the direction of the river.  

“That was quick,” Lori said, worriedly. 

We all turned. Coming down the main road were the very same ambulances that had passed us by when we were in the pickup. I reached for Lori’s hand. She grabbed it and squeezed it nervously. Brian and Kelly looked at us and knew exactly what we were thinking. 

“You want us to go check?” He offered. 

“No, that’s okay,” I replied in a weary voice. 

He shrugged. “Hell, we weren’t on the bus. We’ll check it out anyway.” 

He grabbed Kelly’s hand and as he pulled her along toward the rescue vehicles she gave us a reassuring smile. “It will be okay,” she said. “As long as you don’t look, we got this.” 

Lori and I watched them approach the ambulance. Despite our ghost forms, we had sweaty palms and weak knees. “It’s us, “ Lori said. She looked at me, her eyes relaying the deepest truth I have ever known. “I love you, Chris.” 

“I love you too, Lori,” I replied, as our friends went through the back of the ambulance. Within seconds, the screams began. 

NaNoWriMo 2016: Time Of Our Death Chapter 35

Time Of Our Death

By Paul D Aronson.

Thirty-Five
Before we left my parent’s house, I briefly considered leaving a note. Donald had done it for his mother. Lori had done it for her sister. I guess the only thing holding me back from doing the same was the fact I didn’t know what had happened to my folks, or even where they were. Did they even care that I was dead? We had gotten along during what little interaction we actually had, but to just disappear when their only son is reported being missing, and almost certainly dead, was beyond me. To say it hurt would be an understatement, and so I didn’t leave any messages.

The first thing I noticed when we got outside was the sound of the dog barking. I don’t know how long he’d been going off like that, but the tone was unmistakable. It was Jake. Glancing around I noticed the house next door had a high wooden privacy fence. The bark was coming from behind it. 

Lori and I passed through the fence, proving there is no privacy when ghosts are on the prowl. Once again, Jake saw us and ran to our sides. We took turns petting him, as his nub of a tail wagged furiously. I looked up at the house. Why in the world was Jake being kept in the neighbor’s backyard? 

When I voiced this out loud, Lori suggested they were watching and feeding him while my parents were gone. If that were the case I reasoned, they must be out of town, and perhaps the neighbors were the ones collecting the mail and papers. But how could they both just leave during this kind of crisis? It still didn’t make much sense. 

The back door of the house opened and a man stepped out. “Jake?! What’s going on out here, boy? Come here.” 

Jake looked at him and then back at me as if he were unsure to go to him or remain at my side. He wagged his tail, and I offered him a reassuring smile. 

“What are you looking at, Jake?” The man came down the back steps and began crossing the yard towards us.  

“Go on, Jake. It’s okay,” I said. “Let him take care of you now.” 

My long time pet and companion obeyed, bounding off towards the man. It was a strange moment. Most boys grieve the loss of their dogs. Their favorite pet dies and they have to bury him in the backyard. With tears, they say their childlike goodbyes, hoping there is perhaps a dog heaven somewhere. But with Jake, I was the one who died. It was I who had to console him and let him know everything was going to be alright. Watching him interact with someone else, in this case our neighbor, let me know he was going to be okay. He would be fine without me.  

Lori and I went back through the fence. Out in the yard I looked over at my house one more time. In life, I had never looked at things with the sense I would never see them again. But time was catching up to us, and everywhere I looked I saw all the things I would miss soon. Turning to look at Lori, I realized that out of all the things I had known, I would miss her the very most, unless we were allowed to step into the ultimate end together. All I knew is I didn’t want to go anywhere without her. Perhaps that’s what falling in love is all about: realizing you cannot exist without the other.  

“Look,” Lori said, bringing me out of my reverie.  

Brian and Kelly were walking across the road toward us. It was apparent Kelly had been crying, and Brian too looked visibly upset. In fact, he looked sort of mad. 

“We got problems,” he said. 

“What’s going on?” 

“It’s Donald.” 

“What about him?” 

“I think he’s gone to bring us up.” 

“Why?” I asked, suddenly alarmed. 

“I don’t know. He came out of his house saying everyone would be fine without us, and that this wasn’t right. We weren’t supposed to be here kind of shit.” 

“He said he was going to fix it so everyone would be where they are supposed to be,” Kelly interjected. 

“Did he go to the river?” I asked. 

“Looks that way,” Brian replied. “I tried to stop him. Talk him out of it. He wouldn’t listen. Said we were disobeying the laws of nature just by being here. I think he’s lost it.” 

“Damn,” I muttered. “I guess he’s tired of waiting. He’s miserable about all this.” I took each one of them in one by one. Lori. Brian. Kelly. “We’ve all done well through this. We have something to hold on to. Despite the situation, we have discovered a certain happiness. Donald’s not happy.” 

“But we forgave him,” Kelly said. “There’s nothing for him to be feeling bad about anymore.” 

“I guess forgiveness doesn’t remove guilt. He just wants it to be over. He hasn’t found the same bliss we have.” 

“So, what do we do? If he brings our bodies up, it’s all over, right?” 

I looked at Lori , then back at him. “You don’t have anything to worry about, Brian.” 

“Why do you say that? If he goes on that bus…” 

“You aren’t on the bus,” I replied. I looked over at Kelly. “Neither are you.” 

“Then where the hell are we?” Brian asked. 

I shrugged. “I don’t know. But you weren’t on there when Lori and I went down. You both must have made it off the bus, and now your bodies are somewhere else. Maybe hung up in the river downstream somewhere, I don’t know.” 

“Well shit,” he muttered. “I guess this means we can be found at anytime.” 

“Or not at all,” Kelly said. She was still holding onto that one hope, and I couldn’t blame her. 

“What about Donald?” Lori asked. “If he finds his body…” 

“We have to go after him,” I replied.  

“What for?” Brian demanded. “If he wants to end this for himself, let him.” 

“I’m not going to abandon him again.” 

“They are going to pull up the bus anyway. They’ll find us all eventually. You aren’t stopping him, just delaying it. “ 

“Maybe so. But I can’t let him go in misery. That’s not me.” 

Lori grabbed my hand. “It’s not me either.” 

“Well hell,” Brian said. “Might as well count us in too. There goes my big Halloween plans.” 

“You’ll just have to wait a little bit to put the bag of flaming shit on Principal Whittaker’s porch.” 

He looked at me, surprised. “How did you know?” 
We found Donald at the river. He was sitting on the bank, staring out at the murky water. Further down the bank, search and recovery operations were set up, still making every effort to find the bus and any missing bodies, most likely ours. Inflatable boats and rafts were out on the now calm river, dredging its dark water with nets and poles. Closer to Bay Bridge, I could see divers, some with snorkels, others with breathing tanks. The problem with the diving aspect was Murray River wasn’t exactly known for being clear and clean. It was dirty, with plenty of silt and other debris, which made visibility with human eyes difficult. Waterproof flashlights could help, but I imagine not by much. 

“They are on the wrong side of the bridge,” Donald said, looking up at me. I had approached him alone, the others hanging back a little but still in sight. “They need to check on the other side,” he continued. “The current has pushed it from where we fell.” Then he smiled. “They could probably use a little help.” 

I sat down next to him. “Donald, what are you doing?” 

“Just watching right now.” 

“Okay. So what are you planning to do?” 

He sighed. “All this time we have been hindering recovery efforts. That was selfish. We should have left it alone. We’re not supposed to be here like this. None of us.” 

“There’s nothing wrong with hanging on to life, Donald. We just wanted to live.” 

“This isn’t living. This isn’t even being dead. This is something else. Neither alive, nor dead. We are…Hell, I don’t know. We are just wrong. We are not mean to be here.” 

“I know how you feel, Don.” 

He cast me a serious look. “No, you don’t. No one feels like I do. I can’t do this anymore.” A heavy sigh escaped his lips. “I’m so tired. I just want what’s next.” He smiled. “And I know you do, too.” 

“I’ve tried preparing myself for that,” I admitted. “But, I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready.” 

He stood up. “Sometimes Chris, you just have to take that leap.” He looked at the others behind us. “You just have to jump.” 

With that, he bounded down the bank and jumped in the river. 

“Donald! No!” 

I jumped in after him. I heard Lori yell my name, but I felt that none of the others were following. They didn’t want to find the bodies the way Donald did. I followed him down the river as he made his way for the stone pillars of Bay Bridge. Normally, he never would have made it, but as a ghost he was much more graceful and fluid, cutting through the water like Rowdy Gaines at the ’84 Olympics. I called out for him to stop, to wait up, but he acted as if he didn’t hear. Maybe he was just that determined; nothing would hold him back now. Before, he may have been riding the fence, unsure on whether to take action against our unnatural existence, but now he had climbed over it and was heading straight into knowing the truth. I’m sure he had his questions. Was there another life after this? Reincarnation? Heaven? Stages of Nirvana? He didn’t know, as neither did the rest of us, but for him, no matter what was next, it was better than the misery and guilt he felt in the here and now. 

We passed under the bridge. I couldn’t quite cover the ground needed to catch up to him, so I lagged behind, still calling his name to no avail. I passed by a couple of floating divers, and watched Donald go under the water ahead of me. Instinct had me a take a breath but it wasn’t needed. I went under after him. 

Plunging down into the depths, he headed for the bus. The natural current, along with the torrential rains and release of water from the dam, had indeed moved it, pushing it to roll along the river bed. The bus was now upside down, and even from a distance, I could see his body tangled up among the sabotaged wires and cables. Perhaps he saw it too, but hadn’t yet realized it was his own body. 

“Donald, stop!” I screamed. 

He turned back to me and smiled. “You’re going to be alright, Chris. Take care of Lori.” 

“No,” I begged. “Please, don’t do this.” 

He turned and looked at the bus with a certain kind of longing. It was the look of a boy who had been away a long time, but was now looking at his home on the horizon. He surged forward to the underside of the bus. I would have pleaded further, but there was no use. Perhaps, this was the way it was supposed to happen, with him staring in the face of himself. 

He grabbed the body and began to untangle it from the cables that kept it down in this watery grave. He didn’t look into the face right away. But once it was freed, he took in the sight of himself for the last time. 

I stopped, hovering close to him. He looked at me and smiled warmly. His ghostly face seemed to glow from the excitement. A tear formed in the corner of his eye.  

“It’s me,” he said. “Look Chris. It’s me.” 

“Yes, it’s you, buddy.” 

“I just want to go home,” he cried. He clutched the lifeless husk to him.

I felt the crackle, the sizzling within the water, before I actually saw it. And then the static came. Like before wth Reg, his ghostly form seemed to shimmer and shift, crackling like he was a television channel halfway stuck between the dial. 

One night, not long before all this happened, I had fallen asleep in front of the TV. When I woke up hours later, the usual multi color test pattern that signaled the days end of programming wasn’t even on screen. Instead, it had gone to white noise, a static pattern that almost reminded me of the cover of the composition books we used in school – black and white marbleized without a discernible picture of what it was supposed to be.  

This was what was happening to Donald. A crackling static grew around him, as if he were fading out and coming back in, like a low radio signal you kept trying to find on the band. You moved the dial back and forth, and just went you thought you had it, it was reduced to white noise again.  

“Donald, no,” I whispered. “Don’t go. Stay here with us.” 

He shook his head, but the look on his face wasn’t sad. It was one of peace, as if all the misery was washing off of him in the water.  

“Chris, it’s so beautiful,” he said, eyes focusing in on something in the distance I could not see. He let go of the lifeless, physical body he held, and pushed it gently away from him. It didn’t return to the bus, but instead started to rise in the water, heading for the river’s surface, like a buoy to mark where the bus was. I watched it for a moment, silently lamenting how it was all coming to an end. Now the divers would know exactly where to search. I looked back to Donald, now fading more out than in. “I’m glad we got to be friends again,” he said. 

“I am too, “ I sobbed.  

He held out his hand to me, one friend reaching for another, and I took it. It no longer felt physical. As ghosts, we had always been able to touch as if we had physical bodies simply because of our emotional ties, but now that was gone. He was no longer a ghost, but energy. I had the sensation of electricity coursing through my hand, a steady vibration and hum that seemed to be the voice underlying all human things. I was experiencing Donald in his truest form. The energy essence that made up all of us. I knew it was unending, indestructible. Yes, it changed form from this life to another realm of being, but the energy always existed, and never died. In this, I felt Donald, and indeed all of us lived forever. 

He smiled, but I could no longer see it. I could feel it course through me the way static runs through your hair when you touch a doorknob after shuffling your feet across carpet. Then he was gone, nothing remaining but a shimmer of who he once was, until that too faded in the murky depths.