Nothing is going to fix this, is it?
I fell out of bed nearly hitting my head on the nightstand after the first bang. After the second one I was on my feet and running for the living room, scooping up my cat as I went. I watched the light show of the third one from my living room window. Giant streaks of blinding white light, almost like lightening but with less distinct shapes.
There was no fourth bang or burst of indistinct light lines, everything just went completely silent and still. No debris rained down from the sky, no building crumbled to the ground. All the houses stayed standing and quiet. Where were my neighbors? Why was no one rushing out to find out what the hell had happened?
The whole thing looked like it had taken place only a few blocks from my usually calm suburban neighborhood. Someone else had to have heard the sound and felt the shaking. I could not be the only one.
My cat dug his claws into my arm, a clear sign he wasn’t in the mood to be held any longer. I reluctantly released him, still unsure if there was any real danger. I watched him climb to the back of the love seat, curl up and go to sleep. Apparently he couldn’t care less about random explosions with no visible results.
I went back to my room, put on a pair of shoes and grabbed my phone. Keys in hand, I left the house. Once I was outside I become even more concerned and confused. The air was not filled with a smoky haze and nothing smelled burnt or off at all. It was just another gentle spring morning. Flowers were just beginning to open, dew was drying up off the tips of the slender grass blades. The sun felt warm and calming on my face. I almost went back inside chalking the whole thing up to a hallucination or a very vivd dream. Almost.
No matter what it looked like and felt like out here, something major had happened. Something had crashed or blown up not far from me. My curiosity and sense of duty to my city cried out for me to go to the source and figure out what had happened.
I walked down the drive dialing my girlfriend’s phone as I went. She picked up on the second ring.
“Hello?” she asked.
“Hey babe. Question for you. Did you feel a huge bang, did the ground shake or did you see a weird burst of light like ten minutes ago?” I asked her.
She sat silent for a moment. A distinct clicking could be heard. She was doing something on the computer. I wondered if she had actually heard me or not.
“Like an explosion?” she finally asked.
“Yes,”I said. I wished she would give me her full attention for this conversation.
“No, we haven’t heard or felt anything. Where was it?” still distant, still only half listening to me.
“It looked like it was two blocks from my house,” I tried to keep my tone even but worry and panic weren’t easy to hide.
“Well, that would be a bit far from here. Maybe too far,” she answered. I heard her getting up and becoming a bit more muffled. She was moving away from her desk, still working. Not concerned in the least bit.
“You would have seen this. It lit up the whole sky, shot higher up than I could see. Rocked the whole house’s foundation,” I desperately tried to explain.
“Hmm,” was all she said. This time I knew she had only heard half of the words I had said.
“You aren’t listening,” I said, exasperated.
“Sorry, I’m working. We can talk when I get off. I guess just watch the news until then” she suggested. I could picture her giving me a half smile and a shrug.
“Fine,” I ended the call. I wasn’t in the mood to hear how I might be imagining things. She obviously didn’t care about what I was saying and couldn’t care less about things blowing up near me. I would just have to find the spot, snap a picture and send it with an annoyed look and a “I told you so.”
I was just about to round the top corner of the street when I saw him coming up behind me. He was walking quickly, arms crossed like he was cold and continuously looking over the houses to where the explosion had occurred.
“You going to look at it to?” I asked. The man stopped, clearly having not noticed me in the slightest.
He was early thirties, a mop of messy brown hair covering the top of his eyes. Eyes that had deep bruises under them. He was in a pair of sweat pants and old faded band shirt, one I had never heard of before. He clearly had been awoken by the disturbance as I had. I wondered for a moment what I looked like, probably just as bad.
“Uh, yeah,” he said. He refused to meet my eyes. I waited for him to come closer to me, to go with me to the site. He didn’t move.
I didn’t know what else to say so I just walked onward. I looked back every few steps to confirm he was still behind me. He was following, still stealing glances over the rooftops to the area. His eyes kept twitching, I couldn’t tell if it was from tiredness or fear.
We continued up the side street not speaking. I wanted to ask his name, chat about being rudely woken up, ask him what he saw or what he thought was going on. But the man never came within conversation distance, remaining exactly one house behind me the whole time.
At the top of the block where I was sure the explosion had come from, I stopped thinking about the stranger behind me. The street was perfectly normal, nothing out of place. No cars strewn across the road, no people running and screaming, no black smoke cloud or completely missing house. The wind barely stirred the leaves of the trees. It would have all been picturesque except the wandering strangers. They were coming from the every part of the street, the opposite end, across from me and from random backyards.
Some of the looked like the zombie man behind me. Shuffling along, hunched over, nervously looking around, waiting for something to jump out at them. Others looked like me, wide eyed and shocked. Some just stood, staring at the normal looking street. Some wandered to the middle of the block, trying to see if nothing had really happened or if it was something much smaller, only seen from right on top of the spot. No one was talking to anyone else.
I headed down the street, heading for the exact middle of the street. I wanted to get closer to the people, find someone who might actually talk to me. I didn’t bother to look behind me, I was sure the man was still there.
“Excuse me!” I called to a sixty something woman, moving a short distance ahead of me. Her grey hair was thinning but she stood straight and strong. She didn’t turn around to face or speak to me.
“Excuse me?” I said, a bit louder. Still she ignored me.
“Hey!” I barked. What the hell was going on?
I ran forward intending to tap her shoulder, forcing her to notice me in some way, even if it was with annoyance. My hand went right through her. I nearly passed out. I pedaled back up the sidewalk, running right into the tired stranger behind me.
“She saw, understood and is gone,” he said. So simple, so sure.
“Huh?” I barely heard him. My mind was still reeling from what I had just experienced. My hand had gone through her! What the hell was going on!?
“This happens every day. Each day starts with some leaving,” he said. He had stopped walking, arms no longer hugging himself.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” I snapped. My head felt like it was going to shoot off and float in space.
“The dead,” he said.
I felt my legs give out and I fell to the ground with a hard thud. It didn’t hurt.
He sat down beside me, legs crossed, eyes watching me. He just sat there watching me, as my brain ran over every possible meaning of what he had just said. My mouth was hanging open, my heart was racing and my hands were severely shaking. He could not be saying what I thought he was saying.
“No,” I snapped. My brain was on again. “I held Jax, I talked to Maggie. I can’t be dead,” I said. The dead didn’t talk to the living or hold pets.
“You weren’t completely gone yet. Just fading. You are close now,” he said. “Though the cat will always be able to see you. Animals are odd like that.”
I looked up and felt another shock to my system. He wasn’t a bedraggled homeless man anymore. He was in a pair of white cargo shorts and a white crisp T-shirt. His hair was a brilliant blond and all traces of bruises and exhaustion was completely gone. His face was flawless not a wrinkle, pimple or scar. If I wasn’t in panic mode, I would have thought him handsome.
“How?” I asked. I had been sleeping, how could I have died?
“Stroke,” he shrugged.
“Seriously? I’m 25,” I said.
“It happens,” he answered.
“Ugh,” I groaned, dropping my head into my hands. “But I don’t want to be dead.” I moaned.
“Yeah I hear that a lot. It’s actually why we started using the explosion thing. Gets you up and out and close to the gates. Makes pushing you on a bit easier,” the man explained. He looked so relaxed, no cares whatsoever. Guess angels got that perk.
“What if I refuse to move?” I asked, looking up at him, hard. “What if I refuse to move on? Stay here forever? What are you going to do then?” There had to be a loophole.
“Forever is a very long time,” my guide said simply.
“I didn’t even get to say goodbye,” I felt the tears now. A heavy cloud of sadness settled over me.
“Not many do,” he said.
“You suck at making me feel better,” I snapped. The tears fell down my cheeks. I wanted to brush them away, stay strong and fight but it was proving too difficult. How do you fight death? “Not my job,” he confessed shrugging again. I seriously wanted to dislocate his shoulders. “I just need to get you to the gate.”
“Nothing is going to fix this is it? No amount of crying, screaming or being stubborn is going to make me any less dead,” he didn’t need to nod. I knew it was all useless. My life was over. Never would I hold Maggie again. Never joke with my parents, or hug my mother. Jax would find a new home and live happily on without me. The world would turn, trees would grow, and new life would begin. I would see none of it.
A gentle hand gripped my upper arm. A familiar sweet face looked down at me. I couldn’t place it exactly but I knew those eyes and that touch. It was comforting, soothing. My complete desolate sorrow quickly evaporated.
“We can go through together,” the stranger intertwined their fingers with mine. A surge of heat and joy washed through me. I felt a smile turn up my lips and my heart became as light as air.
I got to my feet, and walked side by side with this kind person. We came to the middle of the street where a giant white starburst hovered over the street. The stranger gave me a reassuring smile and we walked forward.
I was dead, there was no changing that. There was something more though, a new journey for me to start out on and I was ready.
I was dead and that was okay.