This one started out as a bit of an experiment. I wanted to leave the gender of the protagonist to the reader. The resulting story was a bit of an emotional roller coaster for me. I hope you enjoy. As always all comments and thoughts welcome x
“Sorry for your loss Sam”.
John Templeton smiled sympathetically as he sat by my side, wiping his sweaty hands on the crumpled Armani suit trousers which were caked to his legs. His natural body stench was enough to make my dog wretch but I was glad of the company. The room was crowded, yet for the past two hours no one had given me so much as a second glance, perhaps they knew something John was unaware of. Personally I think he was there for the free buffet.
It took five minutes of uncomfortable silence, with John slowly shaking his head whilst desperately trying to find the right words, before he finally offered his own comforting sermon “First your best friend, now your dad, and in as many days. Are you ok?”
I thought this would be a good opportunity to take one of the metal skewers from the lamb kebabs on the table and drive it into his forehead whilst shouting “Of course I’m not ok you drooling moron!”
I simply stared at him. My internal message must have been clear because he rose from his seat, picked up a plastic plate and began stocking up on quiche and tuna sandwiches before retreating out the front door. If nothing else at least I had lightened the load on my greedy neighbours’ food bill.
Mother was in the opposite corner, my daughter Margaret sleeping on her knee. I wanted so much to comfort her, to let her know everything was going to be alright. She looked broken, lost almost as she sat running her hands through Margaret’s hair observing the crowd of casual onlookers as if they were not real.
I closed my eyes to shut out the images that surrounded me, the only escape my claustrophobic mind could conjure. Through my inner darkness I took a couple of deep breaths. The sound of my heart beat seemed to drown out the pointless chatter from my guests.
It took a moment to register but the room seemed too quiet for comfort. I held my breath and listened.
The chatter had completely stopped, the rustling and clinking of glasses too. Even the Andersons annoying daughter from down the road, who had been talking to her would-be boyfriend on the phone about what she should wear when she meets him tonight, completely silenced. The sound of my heartbeat completely filled the room.
Slowly I opened my eyes.
It was as if someone had taken a Polaroid and replaced my living guests with it. Everyone and everything completely frozen. One ladies coffee cup had slipped from her hand and was making its way to the floor, the contents escaping and coating the tail end of my sleeping dog; except it wasn’t it just stayed there, in mid air motionless.
Through the silence I heard a sound, mother in her chair still stroking my sleeping daughters’ hair. She looked at me, trying to hold back the tears. Suddenly my little girl sat up and opened her eyes wide. Her head tilted to one side as she looked at me brushing the sleep from her left eye.
They didn’t seem to find it at all strange that they were the only moving parts in an otherwise motionless environment. Both their gazes were fixed firmly on me.
A bright light stole my attention as the front door swung open. In walked a silver haired lady. Her dress, a blinding white that made me want to cover my eyes. As she turned to face me, any anxiety that was inside my body began to slowly diminish. She slowly approached, moving through my still guests as though they were mere phantoms. Mother started to cry. The lady stopped, distracted for a moment. I saw in her eyes, a purity entangled somehow with my mother’s pain. She feigned a smile whilst uttering the words “no change”.
I blinked and the lady disappeared. Mother was once again stroking the hair of my sleeping daughter. The guests were milling round as before. The dog was up and yelping un-amused by the order of coffee his rear end had not requested and Marie Anderson had decided on the pink turtle neck sweater her aunt had bought her the Christmas before.
Save the occasional glance in my direction the guests continued to pay me no mind at all, instead offered their condolences to Margaret and my mother before leaving.
“I’m going to take Margaret for the night” Mother said as she buttoned my daughters’ red duffle coat. “You need to rest”. Margaret kissed me on the cheek before leaving.
I was alone. I had been alone for two days, the only difference being now the house was empty.
I couldn’t be bothered to tidy the place. I sat there for what seemed like hours, trying to make sense of what up until now I had dismissed as mere coincidence.
Two nights ago I dreamt my best friend was killed crossing a stretch of motorway. I didn’t bother to warn him. It was just a nightmare surely? A nightmare, hours later the evening news would report as fact.
Then there was my father.
Dad always told me “Never give up on your dreams Sam”. You gotta love the irony here.
Sleeping last night I had a vision, my fathers clapped out old banger complete with flat tyre being jacked up by the side of the road. Honks from opinionated drivers as they sped past only served to piss him off. “I’m not here by choice” he thought as he fought to free the flat from the wheel arch.
Less than a minute away on the same stretch of road, unaware there was any hazard ahead I was fiddling with the volume on the car radio, trying to drown out the repetitive sound from my daughters Buzz Light Year action figure.
Dad had resorted to kicking the stubborn tyre, anything to loosen it. He knelt again taking each side of the wheel and pulling with all his might. The tyre came loose and dad fell back with it across his chest.
He never got up. The oncoming vehicles’ impact killed him instantly.
As if that wasn’t bad enough I was driving the car. I’d got up in the early hours to clear my mind, unable to sleep for fear the nightmare vision would return.
I sat on the roadside cradling my fathers lifeless body in my arms wishing with every fibre in my soul that I could trade places with him, that he would at least wake long enough for me to say how much I loved him. That he would just wake.
The tears that fell from my face and rolled down his cheeks were not enough to bring him back but did send a clear message. I may be a psychic but I’m no healer in fact I think I’m cursed.
In Eastern philosophy it is said that the five people closest to you directly represent your own personality and state of mind. The philosopher in question failed to mention that as each one is taken, it would leave a gaping hole where they once belonged or that as they left, your heart would be ripped to shreds and you would do anything to escape the pain you were going through.
The emotional hurt from the previous two nights had already started to have a physical impact, spreading through my body like a ravenous cancer, seemingly stopping at every organ en route to hang an out of order sign.
I just wanted to sleep.
I rose and slowly walked the desolate wasteland that was my living room, a place that in the past had played host to some of the finest moments of my life. Without my family here it was more like a shell, empty and meaningless.
I glanced over to my bedroom door. There was a strange glow escaping from the gaps in the frame, a glow that seemed to grow in intensity the more I looked at it. Suddenly the silver haired lady in white appeared, walking through the closed door as though it were not there. She simply stopped and stared into my eyes before returning to the bedroom.
Who was she? A ghost? An angel? I had to find out. The light that protruded through the cracks in the door frame dimmed with every step as I moved closer to the bedroom. When I eventually opened the door the room was in darkness, the lady was gone. Yet the bed had never looked so inviting. Yearning for rest I laid down and rested my eyes.
Barely moments later a vision of my daughter crying, shouting my name shocked me from my sleep. I couldn’t loose her. I didn’t want to dream of her demise. I wouldn’t. Tired and exhausted but with my heart pounding so hard my ears ached; I rose from the bed and made myself a black coffee spending the remainder of the night sitting at the kitchen table, trembling.
The sun beaming through the blinds the next morning was enough to give me a migraine, to make me want to close my eyes at least. One of the curtains was jammed, typical. When you’ve had no rest sunlight can be a killer. I considered moving into a darkened room and wait there for the solar flex to go annoy someone else but the thought of accidentally falling asleep was too much to bear.
I needed my daughter with me, and to know that both her and my mother was safe, so decided after a quick phone call to let her know I was coming to pick her up. Mom was asleep when I got there. Margaret answered the door duffle coat in hand.
“Grandma was worried about you” Margaret paused before continuing “I missed you last night” Smiling I picked her up and held her close, My Baby girls arms wrapped around me in a tight embrace. “I’m always with you” I said as we walked to the car. Once the door was opened she jumped into her child seat and I strapped her in.
The journey back home was longer than expected. A traffic jam on the A1 brought us to a complete standstill. Margaret picked up her Buzz Light-year action figure from the seat and flicked the switch at the back of his head repeatedly on and off. I closed my eyes and pinched my fingers between them, a futile effort to ward off an oncoming headache.
Suddenly a bright light through my closed lids stunned me into opening them. I couldn’t risk falling asleep especially not on a busy road. Looking ahead I expected to see a long line of cars sitting patiently waiting so they could continue on their way, instead the road was completely clear not a car in sight. Cautiously I put the car in gear and began driving.
I was travelling at a constant sixty miles per hour on the A1, pretty clear road. Margaret, in her child seat behind me. She was playing with her Buzz Light-year which with the switch on repeatedly announced “To Infinity and Beyond” every time it was placed at a horizontal angle.
Ten minutes into the journey and I’d heard all I cared to from Mr Light-year. “Sweetheart, do you think you could turn Buzz off so we can listen to the music on the radio?” No Response apart from the continued galactic announcement from Buzz. “Baby Girl, Buzz is giving me a bit of a headache just flick the switch on the back of his head ok?”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Buzz drop to the floor and on he went, “To Infinity And Beyond” I swear the cocky little toy actually winked at me; now out of reach of my daughter and even closer to my ear I had to pick it up before the announcement transformed to an internal one “Lack of Sanity and Beyond”.
It was a fleeting thought. One quick glance at the road before I turn around to retrieve it, two seconds max.
As I turned to pick up the toy the radio volume increased “We now change the scheduled programming to cater for all you grieving parents out there” Buzz sat up on the seat and started to shake his head whilst Billie Joel started singing say goodbye to my baby over the airwaves.
Buzz turned his head once more then stopped moving; his lifeless gaze now directed at my daughter. Her eyes met his and paused momentarily. The silence seemed to blanket a moment of pure understanding and clarity between them both, a moment I desperately wanted to share but could not.
Margaret lifted her head and smiled; a single red teardrop made its way slowly down her cheek and fell to her lap. As she lifted her hands in my direction, scarlet tears began to free flow. I felt a shudder and a cold spot on the back of my neck, shards of glass were floating past my head in slow motion effortlessly cutting my face as they attempted to pass me and find their way to my baby girl.
My eyes began to throb as if hot needles were being pushed outward from the inside. I clamped them shut too afraid to reopen them and unable to move, very aware that I was the human shield protecting my daughter from whatever danger that had sought her out.
The radio volume increased “Say Goodbye To My Baby” repeated over and over accompanied by an orchestra of smashing glass, crumpled metal and a piercing soprano that was my daughter as she cried out in pain, my eyes were still closed. I pushed my hands to my ears and prayed for this nightmare to end, and it did.
When I re opened my eyes I was facing front, all in the car was as it should be, but outside everything was happening at super speed. Traffic, people and trees became nothing but momentary blurs. I looked at the speedometer which moved rapidly from sixty miles per hour to one hundred and five then back again to sixty fixed in a constant time loop.
There was a voice, a warm comforting sound that eased my pounding heart “I realise you’re concerned.” The voice continued “I’m here to help as much as I can”. In the distance, but moving ever closer the silver haired lady approached. Her high definition image contrasted with the surrounding environment.
I wasn’t even alarmed when she glided through the bonnet of my car like a heavenly apparition to look me in the eyes from above. Her stare now both hypnotic and frightening. The pain in my head and body returned and amplified.
I turned to check my daughter was ok, but when I looked she wasn’t there. Her red duffle coat was laid out on the empty child seat as a blanket for the Buzz Light-year action figure. Slowly the car seat began to fade from focus, and my entire environment was becoming a hazy image like a repressed memory till it disappeared altogether.
I heard my father speaking behind me. “You can do it Sam, stay with us”. “Dad? But that’s impossible” I thought. My daughters pleading voice joined his “I love you. Please don’t die; I’ll be good always I promise”. She cried like I’d never heard before. Facing front again I looked at the lady in white who returned my smile. The name on her badge read Nurse Rebecca Walker.
The mist that had been shrouding my perception was finally lifted and my memories once again clear. There had only ever been one accident with myself as the only victim. A wave of relief passed through me as I saw my family and best friend standing in the hospital room with me. I felt gratitude for the nurse who had been there through my fleeting moments of consciousness and sorrow for the loved ones I would leave behind.
“There’s nothing more we can do” Rebecca said as she stepped back to allow my family to approach. Behind me the bedroom door I’d seen earlier opened once more. The light from the room was inviting and warm.
The bleep from my heart monitor was slowing gradually. “Take care of my daughter” I managed to say. “I love you all so much” My family’s tears made me want to stay but I knew I couldn’t. I approached the light and lay down on the bed. The heart monitors unrelenting beep turned to a constant drone as I slowly closed my eyes.
Great story, very well paced. You start with writing that brings a smile and end up with waterworks. I didn’t see it coming. Very well done. If you want a suggestion I’d replace the word ‘protruded’ in (the light that protruded from the cracks in the door frame) with something like ‘flowed through’. Just a suggestion.
Thanks for the advice. I think you’re right it sounds less clinical that way. I’m pleased you enjoyed it.
This is a wonderful story, thank you for sharing. I would be happy to take a pen to it if you would like more feedback!
Hi Sage, I’m pleased you enjoyed it and yes all comments and thoughts are very welcome.