Time Of Our Death
By Paul D Aronson
In all the ghost stories I’d read in books or seen at the movies, the spirit was always vengeful. He was here to enact revenge or retribution on those that had caused him to die. But I couldn’t be like that. Donald may have thought I abandoned him, and in a sense I did, but in my mind he had remained my friend. He may have wanted to scare or kill Brian to stop the torment, but he didn’t mean any harm to the rest of us. It reminded me of a bumper sticker I’d seen just days before the bus went off the bridge. In bold white and black it stated plainly: Shit Happens.
I told myself Donald had been feeling the guilt and remorse for awhile. That accounted for his recent odd behavior, and then the confrontation with what could very well be a bona fide serial killer brought it all crashing home to him. He could not hold the secret any longer. And it made me wonder how much longer we would hold on to this semblance of life now. If his act was the unfinished business that kept us here, certainly the confession would go a long way to righting that wrong. And yet, just as it was when we killed Kev, we were still here.
The investigation against the flower lady’s killer was still going on in the house behind us, but it was no longer a distraction. They had their things to figure out, and we had ours. We may have been occupying similar spaces, but life went on in both directions. For me, I couldn’t just sit here waiting for the life on our end to just give up. In the place between the world we knew, and the one we would eventually pass into, we stood alone in a void only we could fill. We had been doing just that for days, checking on our families, making sure everyone was going to be alright. I had found Lori and she had found me. It’s a shame that it happened like this, after we were dead, but at least it happened. Brian and Kelly seemed to have a solid relationship through it all as well. The only one who truly suffered in death was Donald.
I wished I could have done something more for him. I wished I’d been there for him when he needed me, instead of leaving him with a feeling he’d been left all alone. Once upon a time, I had been like his brother, and in the last few days I had been feeling that way again. A big brother to depend upon, to lean on. Despite what he had told us, I had to let him know I was not going to abandon him ever again.
He remained on the porch steps, having never moved from where Brian attacked him. Brian had since allowed Kelly to lead him away from the others, and they were laying across the hood of one of the police cars, she cradling him in her arms as he cried out his frustration, anger, and remorse. She ran her fingers through his hair, holding him to her breast, and I no longer saw the bully taking out his angry, pent up emotions on others. Now he was just a lost, lonely child seeking comfort like the rest of us.
I sat down next to Donald. For a moment I didn’t say a thing, just let the moment wash over me, struggling with what to say. Lori wandered a little ways away too, giving us some space.
“I’m really sorry, Chris.”
I looked at my friend, whose eyes could not meet mine. “It’s….”
“No, it’s not. It’s not okay, and never will be again. Because of me.”
“Just be quiet for once and let me talk.” He looked me in the eye. “I never meant any of this to happen. I didn’t even mean for Brian to die. I just wanted to scare him. I wanted him to know what it was like to be afraid. To not know whether he was going to live or die from one day to the next. I wanted to make him afraid to even walk on a school bus again. Because that’s how it was for me every day.”
“I’m sorry I left you to that. I didn’t know.”
“No one did. No one could know how I felt. No one asked.”
I hung my head. “I wish I had.”
He nodded. “Yeah, me too.”
“So, what are we to do now?” I asked. “What do you want us to do?”
“What do you mean?”
“How can we make this easier for you? I know it must have been eating away at you. If it’s forgiveness you need, you got it buddy.”
“How can you forgive me, Chris? I killed you.” He looked at Lori just a few feet away. She was sitting cross legged in the grass. “I killed her.” He cast his eyes towards Brian and Kelly on top of the police car. She was kissing his face, holding his head lovingly in her hands. “I killed them. How could I have done that to them?”
“You just wanted it to stop, Donald. Hey, I wanted it to stop, too.”
“But you changed. I couldn’t.” He tried to stop the tear but it came anyway. “I couldn’t change who I was. I couldn’t escape like you. Why did you leave, Chris? Was it really because you didn’t want to be picked on anymore?”
“Yes it was. Why else would I?”
Again he couldn’t my eyes. “No reason. I just…wanted to know.”
I felt like there was something he still wasn’t saying. Something he was too afraid to confess, but yet I didn’t want to push him. He had been through so much already. So I put my arm around his shoulder to let him know it was alright.
“We have been friends forever, Don. We grew up together. And I’ve never been afraid of things I see within you. I’m not going to start now.” He looked at me, and I met his eyes that were wet with tears. “It’s okay to be you. To have the feelings you do. I’m sorry I don’t feel the same, but you have always been my best friend. And you always will be. Okay?”
He sniffled a little. “Okay.” He laid his head over on my shoulder and looked at Lori. “She’s so pretty.”
“Yeah, she is.”
“For a girl, I mean,” he added.
I chuckled a little. “Yeah. For a girl.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement, and turned my head in that direction. Brian was coming towards us, with Kelly at his side, holding his hand. He sat down on the other side of Donald, and Kelly wandered off to join Lori, leaving us guys alone. I took my arm off Don’s shoulder, and placed my hands in my lap. I started to get up.
“Stay,” Brian said, so I sat back down. “Look, I want to say to you both that…I am sorry. To say I never meant to hurt anyone would be a lie. I was hurting. I wanted others to hurt like me. And I took it out on you guys. Especially you, Donald. I saw something of myself in you. A scared little kid, too afraid to defend himself. I guess I didn’t want to be the only one.” He looked across Donald to me. “You’re right, Chris. You do know me. I saw it in your eyes. You knew. And it made me more ashamed. I can’t take back any of the things I did, any more than my other father can. If I could turn time back I would.”
“Maybe when we end up wherever we are supposed to go, you’ll be able to do that,” I said. “Maybe we’ll get another chance to do things differently.”
He smiled sadly. “That would be nice. But in case it’s not like that, I just want you guys to know that I am truly sorry. In the next life, if there is one, I’ll try harder.” He didn’t bother to wipe away his tears of remorse. “Please forgive me.”
“I forgive you, Brian,” I replied. I didn’t need to say anything else. He knew we were connected in some way, that we had been through similar things, and yet had chosen different courses of action. It didn’t make one person better than the other. If anything, it made us equals, and my forgiveness came quite easily.
For Donald, it may not have been as easy, but it was necessary for everyone at this point. “I forgive you,” he said to Brian. “And I’m sorry I caused all this. You don’t have to forgive me back, but I am sorry that because of me you are no longer …alive.”
Brian smiled. “I’ve been more alive the past few days than I ever have been before. I forgive you too, Donald.” He held out his hand. “Friends?”
Donald looked at it, and he couldn’t help it. A new round of tears cascaded down his face. I think it’s all he ever wanted to hear. He took Brian’s hand loosely in his own. “Friends,” he sobbed.
“Look, I hate to be the one to say this male bonding thing is weird, but you are making us cry over here, too.”
“Sorry, Lori, “ I replied with a sheepish smile. “Girls go to the powder room, guys just…break down.”
“Well, I think maybe it’s time to consider what day it is.”
I looked at Brian and Donald, and was at a loss.
“Halloween, doofus. You know, the one day a year the dead can roam the earth?”
Brian jumped up. “Well, hell yeah. Let’s roam!” He ran over to Kelly and scooped her up in his arms. “Ready to go steal some little kids candy?”
“You can steal my candy, “ she cooed, tossing her blonde hair out of her eyes.
“That’s what I’m talking about! Whoo! Par-tay time!” He spun her around and around, while she screamed in delight.
I looked at Donald and stood up. “You coming, buddy?”
He smiled, but there was still a trace of that lost look in his eye. “Chris, when you and Lori went down to the bus, what did you see?”
“What do you mean?”
“Was I down there?”
I hesitated a little, but felt the truth was best. “Yes, you were.”
He nodded and forced another smile to the surface. “Cool.”
note: In writing this novel, I made a writing soundtrack to keep me in the mood and themes of the story. This is something I do with every piece of fiction I write, but this has been my favorite soundtrack yet because most of the songs I picked are from 1987, the year my story takes place, and many of them were either just released or had only been out a few months. There were a few that were from a year or two previous, but I tried to keep it all in perspective. One thing I chose to do was pick songs that would represent different characters, either through their lyrics or because I felt the music just fit them. The song below, True Faith, by New Order, is my theme song for the character of Donald. Hope you enjoy…