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.
“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.