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A piece of a larger puzzle.
“Do not go gentle into that good night but rage, rage against the dying of the light” –Dylan Thomas
Removing the glasses from his face, pushing his veiny fingers into the bridge of his nose, Mitch could tell how tired the doctor looked before he spoke.
“You don’t have much time.”
The lump that had been sitting in my throat fell away allowing me to breathe again from when I walked into his office, even though it felt like a lifetime “Are you crying? Are you supposed to cry?” I asked him.
“Jesus, Mitch, you’re not just a patient, how do you think I should feel about this? Fuck, I knew it was a bad idea being your doctor,” whispering under his breath as he placed his glasses back into the permeant indents left on his face from all the years they spent perched there. “But you had to insist and now here I am telling you that you’re going to die. It’s aggressive, the cancer, but, well maybe we can try some of those experimental tests or something.”
“Jun,” referring to my friend, no longer seeing him as my doctor looking him in the eye, “No. Not like that. I don’t want to suffer that way.” Memories of my dad flashed before my mind. “I need to go on my own terms. In a way, I’ve been waiting for this.” Leaning forward, “It’s my penance.”
“Penance for what? You have been a good man, a great man even!” Raising his voice beyond his normal monotone level. “You took me out of the street and helped me and my family. You paid for my education, you paid my way to become a doctor, and that’s just me, there are a lot of other people you’ve helped along the way.” His voice and hands began to shake, “So don’t tell me that somehow you owe the universe something.”
Smiling, I thought of the first day I met Jun. The second week of the opening of my first restaurant, or actually more of a fast food joint, back in Iloilo, Philippines. Out on the street looking in stood a haggled seven-year-old with bare feet, looking just like a street kid staring back at me. Catching out of my peripheral vision to the left, a Police Officer was walking towards him with his hands on his baton on the left side of his belt. I know his intention to shoo the eyesore of a kid away, don’t want to scare the upper-class locals, right? So, I trotted outside and grabbed the young boy by the shoulders waving to the cop as I escorted him into the restaurant.
The young boy sat at the counter as I laid down a burger and mango juice in front of him. He looked hungry, but he waited for me to nod to him that it was okay, eat, before he began chowing down the food. Leaning against the counter, opposite him, I asked him where his parents were.
By the end of the week, his mom was working behind the counter, and his dad was my delivery guy. The little ragged kid before me? Now one of the top neurologist in all of East Asia.
“Jun,” my smile still growing raising my hand, “okay…okay…I get it.”
“Please Tito,” Referring to me as uncle in our language, a term of endearment more than a blood relation. “Tell me how I can help,” tears welling, “you really don’t have much time.”
“I’m getting too old for this,” speaking out loud as I thought about that day, the day that really started all of this. “Or I would be if things were as they were.”
Diving for cover quickly behind one of the large granite desks to the other similar desks that had been turned on its side, I hit my knee on the corner causing a jolt of pain to race through my body. Wincing, I watched with fear a crimson fireball from the dark figure at the center of the room fly overtop of the desk, barely missing my head.
I peaked my eyes over the desk after the fireball had passed, and saw the dark figure noticing that it looked like an Aswang which was best described in this world with the myths of my own- a cross between a witch and a vampire. They are known to be shape shifters for the others have told me they’ve seen them as dogs or other animals, or even just show up like now in a human form. Just tall tales, or so I thought, reminding me of when we studied Dracula in school, the original text stating this being that can transform into bats, nats, even just a particle in the air all seemed very convenient from the writer point of view on how to explain how a monster could transport literally anywhere. I guess the rules only apply in our version of reality though.
They want us though; they want to feed off of us that are the most I know that is the truth. It seems to be the highest threat at night, and from what others have told me, those that survive long enough, and eat flesh long enough can gain more power allowing them to transform and gather different types of spells.
Squinting to get a better look, it was her.
Anything that can burn was burning. The fire was raging where the shelves were, and we had about two minutes before this room flashed over and we were all toast, literally. Scanning the room, my companions had all taken cover, but I still sent a scan out with my mind acknowledging that everyone was still alive.
Good. We can’t afford to lose anyone right now, falling back flat against the ground as another fireball fell against the desk.
I moved my hand down my right leg, and slightly relaxed it over my sword forcing myself to slow my breathing down to feel the energy around me. Trying to guide the energy, like guiding the flow of water into me, I rolled out from behind my cover and ran towards the Aswang.
A deep guttural sound bellowed from it’s gut, reciting a spell; my one opening. Concentrating on the floor in front of the Aswang, my mind disoriented from the world around me, almost feeling like a fog had fallen over the room, and then suddenly everything cleared positioning me a few feet from the fowl smelling creature.
Grasping my sword from my hip, I pulled with all my force, and swung for her neck. CLINK. The sword recoiled back causing my shoulder to ache from the force I had put behind the swing. The energy I was holding in my left hand dissipated once my focus shifted to my shoulder, rookie mistake, leaving me open. A deep burn melted into my right side as she reached out and touched me.
With a BOOM, I was thrown across the room. If it wasn’t for the walls, I would have keep flying for another 10 feet. I felt the chatter when my spine hit the wood into my teeth. I slid down to the floor, groaning while I laid there swimming in and out of consciousness. My head lulled to my right and I saw the Aswang coming towards me, but my view became blocked from what seemed to be a knight’s shield of armor that had moved to cover me. The rest of my companions had moved to surround the creature after my lead to engage her.
I steeled myself as I slowly but painfully got up cursing who ever decided that pain should be this realistic.
“That’s all you got?” I yelled at the Aswang. “Sige pa more.” I taunted her in an old expression from my youth, as I raised my sword and gathered the energy that formed a black glow around my left hand.
“Ready pa more,” my companions yelled back in unison as they stood ready to attack.
It felt like a moment before death; the flash of white light, your lifetime before your eyes, all the happiness, regret, love, and hate. My mind replayed my events that led me here, to my fight.
My son sat sobbing next to me on the couch, his hands holding up his head, tears and snot running down his nose while dripping onto his jeans. Choking out the words, he was looking for hope.
“Dad, no! Maybe there’s something we can do. Jun has to know something or someone that can help.”
My heart started to ache, and I swallowed back the flem that had risen up in my throat while I sat listening to him. Reaching out my hand and resting it on his knee, one of his tears fell onto my hand. I remember distinctly feeling how warm it felt against my cold skin, the way I watched if roll off the back of my hand, and soak onto his jeans turning one small spot a slightly darker shade of blue.
“There’s nothing they can do. But, it’s okay Sam.” I said dryly.
“We settled Mars, we’ve created advanced Artificial Intelligences that surpass the human mind, there’s no more hunger, they’ve even found the damn cure for almost all diseases where people will live twice as long even,” pulling his face up to meet mine, the tears drying on his face, and his voice clear, “but you’re telling me they can’t help you. Fuck that. That’s what I say.”
Taken back, I tried to think of something not cliché to say back to him. Anything that would ease the pain I saw settled into his eyes that I knew would stay there for the rest of his life, but I failed.
“It’s going to be okay boy, I lived a good life since you’ve entered into it,” hugging him. “Maybe you should try it sometime. Go settle down and find a nice girl and have children.”
A smile cracked on his face, and he began to wipe the remaining tears and snot with his shirt sleeve, “in your dreams old man.”
I’ll miss this, or will I? I guess it won’t matter much to me when I’m gone, a weird thing to think about. All the same, we had a good relationship filled with playful teasing and rough housing. My dad and I did the same thing.
“Ouch,” Sam cried out as I slapped him against the rips. I turned away from him as he began to shuffle around, wanting some time to himself, and wiped the swelling tears in –my eyes, careful not to let him see it.
“We have no reliable guarantee that the afterlife will be any less exasperating than this one, have we? ” –Noel Coward
“Hhaaaaaaa” I gasped for air.
Everything became very bright, the light painfully stabbing my eyes. I wheezed and coughed while I tried to catch my breath. Disoriented, I felt dizzy while my whole body painfully tingled. My right hand automatically rose to my head where the pounding inside felt like it might explode.
I was still temporarily blinded by the light, but I reached out and began to feel out my surroundings. Something pushed against the side of my face, my chest, and I felt my knee scrape as I tried to move my legs.
Laying back down and staying still, I focused on my breath, slowing it down. 1, 2, 3, 4 in, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 out. The room fell into focus, and my sense of temperature came to me feeling the cold ground under me, then came my depth where my back began to notice the dirt, the sticks and the small rocks dig into it.
“ARGGH,” grunting and pushing myself off the ground, up to sit on my butt.
Letting my hand raise again to my temple, I began to massage it and to my surprise my headache quickly disappeared. Actually, everything began to feel better. Being cautious, I slowly stood up and winced prematurely to brace my body for the pain that never came.
Shimmying my shoulders, and pushing my shoulders back waiting for the normal cracks and creeks of my body, I felt really good. I don’t even remember ever feeling this good. Feeling completely energized, I even jumped up in the air for good measure.
“What the hell?” I mused.
Then I noticed my hands, the hands of an old man with wrinkles, and bloated veins were gone, in its place were a set of younger hands. I checked the rest of myself, and everything was as if I was younger again. My muscles were firm, and looking down, “Yep, everything is there,” noticing my nakedness.
I attempted to cover myself, but then noticed a pair of ragged clothing neatly folded next to where I had been laying. Putting the clothes on, which were indeed VERY ragged, but clean pair of pants and a long sleeved top. Almost like something out of the Middle Ages with a rope to use as a belt.
A squeal from behind me made my attention turn to behind me where a very large cat was pouncing at me. It was too late to do anything, and I wouldn’t know what to do even if it wasn’t, the cat tacked me and gashed my left forearm. The pain was immediate and almost unbearable.
Screaming out in pain, I tried to hold the cat back with my hands as it tried to swipe at me with its massive furry claws. It reminded me of the bobcats at the zoo that I used to take Sam to when he was about four or five; he used to love the big cats.
I pushed my leg up under it, and kicked out as hard as I could throwing the bobcat back. Looking behind me, I saw a thick piece of wood, and I grabbed it while jumping to my feet. The bobcat lunged back at me as I swung, hard. The cat gashed my chest, but the wood hit the bobcat and the momentum from the swing threw it down to my feet.
The bobcat got back into position to pounce on me again, but I raised the impromptu club above my head, and brought it crashing down upon its head, smashing it in. A splatter of red came out with the contact of the club, causing the bobcat to wobble. I smashed it again, and again, and again.
“Your one-handed blunt weapon skill has grown.”
A deep echo boomed in my head, almost like a video game announcer.
“Wh, what weapon skill?” My shirt was soaked with blood, seeping through the think shirt, sticking to my body when the gashes on my forearm and chest began a slow throb. There goes feeling the best in my life.
Looking up, a small stream was only a few meters in front of me. I walked over to the stream, and sat along the riverbank. I removed my shirt, intending to wash the wound with it, I damped the shirt, and carefully wiped at the gash on my left forearm first.
As I washed the wound, I noticed the edge of the gash began to close up. I felt the become very warn, then hot, and then slightly burned. I sucked in air through my teeth from the sensation, which fell silent as I began to hold my breath and watch the skin begin to grown, the wound healing itself.
Staring at the wound until it was finished, this only took about few minutes. I ran my fingers over the visible scar left in its place. The pain vanished.
“Huh.” I said to myself. “Where the heck am I?”
Trying to focus on where I was before this, it was hazy, but I made my mind drown out the babbling of the stream.
I had just signed some paperwork. I remember talking to Luis, my attorney. Yes. I remember I was staring at the ridiculous small Buddha statue on his desk when I signed all the paperwork to transfer all of my assets upon death to my son. Ensuring he was the executor of estate, and ensuring that my children would be fine without me.
No one else was interested in running the company, I thought. Even Sam, but I forced it on him, that’s his responsibility now. And I know he would take care of everyone else.
“He’s so like me,” whispering with my eyes closed. There was more though. I was lying in bed. I remember feeling weak and tired. I felt like my throat was about to burst open from the dryness, like I had swallowed a desert. My friends were there, some with their backs turned, a few sniffling, and my children were there.
Sam was next to me, holding my hand. I remember smiling at him, and he smiled back. He had begun crying, but not like before when I had told him about the cancer, they were slow steady tears that fell in big drops off of his chin. I remember how clear his eyes were though, how bright they seemed.
I felt my body draining, pulling me deeper into the bed, like weights were being piled onto my chest. My eyelids fell, and tears were welling behind them.
“Love you,” fell from my mouth for the last time.
Darkness fell around me while I heard faint gasps and moans, almost like they were miles away by now, and the air felt like it was draining from my lungs as they were unable to fill up one more time. I choked and could move.
Thrashing, I tried to reach out to my children. I could hear them crying, they needed me, I can’t leave them like this. I just need to give them one more hug, the hugs that I grew tired of as a new parent after they asked for the 10th one on a two minute time frame, I needed to crack one more dad joke, I needed to see one more smile upon their faces.
But, I could barely hear them; they were distant, fading down until I reached nothing.
I heard nothing, I felt nothing, I could see nothing. The complete sound of silence overwhelmed me for the few seconds where I felt insanity creep upon me, knocking at my brain, daring to let it in. Until, I coughed, gasped for air as it rushed back into my lungs, and back to the blinding light of the present.
“So, this is the afterlife? Where is all the angels, the pearly gates, and people walking around in white robes? Or my dad? Aren’t we supposed to see the ones we love, not giant bobcats that want to murder me?”
Looking to the sky, “damn, is this hell?”
Sitting there, dipping my feet into the icy water, I allowed my mind to race from one thought to another trying to reason my way out of this. My theory, a wild one, came out as something that I can use to explain what’s going on, my truth.
I remember initially thinking about life and death as a child, asking my dad what he thought it was, how we all played into a specific timeline. He thought of it as a book, a predetermined story that was written by a greater being. I stayed up very late as a ten year old pondering over it, and althoght I never really signed onto it in life, I had always thought that life and existence was a virtual simulation of some kind. A grand simulation and our universe was a complex computer that drove it. I was really into sci-fy back then. This simulation though, we could pass through it to the next life. Although, I don’t know what the point of having to remember the past life, unless that one was the first simulation; heck, I don’t know the point of any of this.
Things I did know though, let’s focus on those. This existence seems similar to the one before. The feeling of pain, the feeling of self, and the belief that I am alive is still there, but different. Wounds heal very fast, and there is a video game like narrator in my head telling me I gain skills. Well, that sums it up, I’m crazy. Once I find a nut house here, I’ll just go right ahead and sign myself up.
Frustrated with trying to reason my way out of this, I got up and decided to head west. Well, I think west if the sun is the same as on Earth, and if this is morning, then west should be where I’m going. I pulled the damp blood stained shirt back over my head, and picked up the thick piece of wood as I began walking.
A piece of a larger work in progress.
“I was a queen, and you took away my crown; a wife, and you killed my husband; a mother, and you deprived me of my children. My blood alone remains: take it, but do not make me suffer long.” Marie Antoinette.
The mirror reflected back her beauty, and she knew how beautiful she was even in her early 80’s. She could imagine the girl sitting in this same vanity with long caramel hair and skin to match that resembled coffee with a little bit of creamer mixed in. Although her hair had slowly faded over the years from the delicious caramel, to first peppered in gray, to white, her skin remained vibrant; which she could thank to her top-notch team of surgeons.
Mia sat brushing out her soft girls, like she did every night before bed as her mom had taught her, and her mother before that. Soft music played in the background, and Mia felt at peace.
Earlier that evening, Mia had sat with her husband in their study discussing their end of life plans. Her husband was a professor at MIT and brought home a packet of information for the both of them to consider.
After their children left the house, Mia and her husband mingled around the clubs, minded each other, and kept up the status of their home. Mia was an active member of the local Women’s Club, and chaired the meetings every week, smiling down upon the young members and their tight skirts, and then creating movements to release them from their duties behind closed doors.
The packets fell to the coffee table with a thud, and her husband Jack looked at her with content eyes; “It’s called Elysium.”
“Mia, darling, it’s a paradise for when we, well, pass. The corporation Magma Technology founded for an old professor of MIT, Mitch Wheelhouse, and his name is plastered all over the damn technology school. His son always comes to our annual cocktail party, you remember him right? Aiden I believe.”
“Yes, I remember.”
“Well, he’s the one who even named it. You know his obsession with the Greek gods; well Elysium was the place that these gods were retained, a paradise to which immortals were sent. We can be sent here. There is endless sun, and I know how much you love sitting out in the sun with you mystery novels, and there will be so many others we can talk to, ones of our stature. We no longer would have to invite Bob and Mary to our parties; god knows how much we despise them. Sweetie, are you listening?”
Mia sat with her hands in her lap, staring down at the wrinkles that had formed there over the years. She had learned that she may have been able to hide her age fairly well in most places of her body, except her hands and neck, those two she just couldn’t stop. Looking up at her husband, she nodded to him, “Yes dear, okay.”
Lying in bed, Mia and Jack had decided long ago that separate bedrooms were the best option for all involved, Mia for the first time in a long time felt alone. The night was cold even under her heavy white duvet, and every time she closed her eyes, she remembered the summer that her and Jack met. Where they would spend the nights curled up in the front seat of his car staring out over the city, the stars above them. Never past 10 pm though, but she felt as if she could actually feel the warmth of his arm around her, pulling her against his chest. But such was a young women’s dream, as she pulled the cover closer to her, almost up to her eyes, nuzzling into sleep.
Dressed in her favorite pink suit, Jack and Mia sat across from their rat faced lawyer who was regarded as one of their dearest friends. Jack and the lawyer had shook hands when they walked in, but Mia would never forget that Jack fucked his wife back in ’20. Taking a deep breath, she smiled and crossed her ankles and listened to the two men discuss the details of their death, and transition to Elysium.
“Now Jack,” the lawyer spoke from his massive round stomach which hung over his pants, a deep guttural voice. “The transition is fairly easy from what I understand; we all know you were the far smarter man than me though reading all this technical outlines.”
Both men smiled and laughed at the mediocre joke.
“But this all checks out legally. Have you discussed with the children?”
Stealing a quick worried glance at Mia before answering, Mia noticed how old and tired Jack really looked, turning to answer she saw the vitality return to his face, “No, they are coming over tonight for dinner, Mia is making a pot roast which is our Grace’s favorite.” Jack turned back towards Mia and placed a hand on her knee smiling, a fake smile, but it worried Mia less to see Jack like this rather than the tired man she would catch a glimpse of from time to time while walking past his study. His hands in his hair, leaning back in his overstuffed leather chair with a drink balancing on his chest.
“Great, just sign here.”
Their children promptly arrived as told at 5:00 pm at their home dressed for dinner. First to arrive was Grace and her husband Frank. Grace was their first born, and Mia loved every minute she spent with her while she was growing up. With the help of their Nanny, Grace turned out to be a stunning young lady. Her legs seemed to go on for miles, and Mia noticed the way men looked at her while she was growing up. Sadly, Mia was disappointed in the man she chose as her husband. Frank was new money, and had an ego the size of Texas, where most of his money came from. She saw the way Frank looked at Grace, the way his hand gripped a little too tight around her waist, or the way he would pull her into another room at a cocktail party slurring his words, and speaking into her ear a little too loudly that others could hear.
“What a beautiful green dress honey. Why you must take me shopping with you next time you go.”
“Yes, of course mother.”
“Frank, how ya doin?” The two men shook hands intensely.
“Great, Jack,” Frank pounded the back of Jack’s back creating an audible smack. “Man, let me tell you about these stocks..” With Franks firm grip on Jack’s back he led him out of the room to discuss his latest get rich quick scheme.
“Let me grab your coat sweetie.”
“Thanks, Mom. Is Danny coming?”
“Yes, him and Silvia.”
Walking into the sitting room, Grace poured herself a glass of red wine from the liquor cabinet and sat on the leather couch staring into the empty fireplace.
“I wish he would dump her, mother. Those short skirts just are so tacky. And those acrylic nails, she has to realize she’s not in the city anymore?”
Nodding, Mia took a seat across from Grace. She didn’t like taking sides among her children, but she knew Grace was right. Silvia barely knew which fork to grab from at dinner. Their first family dinner party, she was giggling and asking Danny all night. Plus, Mia was not a fan of the current short skirt fashion. Her own mother would have never even let a skirt like that in the house, let alone what would happen if Mia had dared to wear it.
Seated around the dinner table in front of the kitchen’s made roast that Mia supervised, Mia and Jack’s children began uproar of disapproval of their parent’s digital paradise.
“No way, you’re not doing this. Is this even legit? Come on, Dad you work in this type of stuff, how could you want to never leave it?” Danny had drunk all of his wine, and threw his half eaten plate.
“Danny is right. Mom, do you even know what this is?”
Mia had been studying the pink and yellow floral stitching along the edge of the white table cloth, running her hands along a missed stitch. Hearing her Grace though, she looked up and her eyes gleamed from tears welling in them.
“Gracie, my love, I trust your father, isn’t that enough?”
Magma Technology was founded by Aiden Wheelhouse in 2035 in memory of his father, Mitch Wheelhouse.
Mitch Wheelhouse was a leader in technology research and application at MIT, with a focus on advanced technology human interaction. Mitch passed unexpectedly at the age of 56 in 2018 leaving behind a mountain of primitive research that was just waiting for the opportunity to improve and change lives. Aiden took that opportunity.
Jack and Mia sat in opposite hospital beds in the same room, their children and significant others surrounding them as the doctors were preparing them to be uploaded.
Grace sat next to her mother, holding her hand, and massaging her fingers through hers. Danny stood at the door frame, his arm around Silvia who was popping her gum in her mouth. No one cried as Jack and Mia slipped into Elysium.
Upon my stoop lie a woven basket. I was returning from my walk with Skipper, my annoying, but cute, Shih Tzu pure bread that my half twat of a boyfriend left behind when he decided that “I don’t love you anymore,” was a good enough excuse for “I’m screwing Lisa behind your back,” when I saw the caramel colored wicker basket infused with a pink ribbon planted before my door.
Skipper began to bark at a voltage that my ears now tune out, unleashing a hellish cry from the basket as I approached. Slowly walking up the steps, I swopped down and picked up Skipper as he nuzzled in closer to my side.
Hovering over the basket, all that I knew about life, not much in my twenty-three years, disseminated. Looking back at me was a small creacher with bleached textured skin, similar to an alligator without the tail, with large protruding eyes. Eyes that seemed to swirl with the knowledge beyond our world, encompassing more than our world, or all the worlds combined. In that moment, the two of us were frozen together in a space where it knew me, and both beyond me. My head began to swell with stories of light, love, murder, sadness, and reaching the limit of possibilities, Skipper yelped in my ear snapping me back to reality. Dazed, I snatched up the basket and hurried inside to see what more could be trapped in those eyes.
The freedom of a slide excited the girl. The way the wind pushed her hair from her shoulders, and the temporary feeling of lightness surrounded her. These were the days where the sun turned her skin to caramel, and the clouds looked like white marshmallow puffs in the sky.
The girl lived in a country cottage with her father and sister, her friends being the trees who came to life when she entered the woods. The girl was enveloped in a happy bliss.
In school, the girl found it hard to focus. Instead, her mind was more fascinated with the stories she read from her heroes in print. The Gunslinger became her guide, Frodo her adventurer, and Alice her best friend.
Gathered for a pep-rally, the girl sat on the hard gym floor but rather was creeping upon Dracula when her friend called the boy’s name. He looked up, and a head full of golden curly hair toppled over his eyes. Dracula began to saunter away, as the girl became fixated with the boy.
Outside, the girl looked at her feet, and exchanged her name with his. They quickly began sharing notes with the stories they were never able to tell others; they began to shape their own world.
Falling down the slide, he caught her and kissed her. These were the days where the sun poisoned the leaves, and they fell to the ground choking out their life.
Moving on in school, the boy and girl became inseparable. Everything he did, she did, and everything they did was electric. The girls’ stories became intertwined with his, and they enjoyed experimenting with the complex feelings of a love at first sight.
She hadn’t known anything like this, someone to occupy her, fulfill her, listen to her, drive her mad. Slowly, he became a part of her, and she pushed down the freedom she once felt on the slide, the stories she once built in her mind.
The gold hair boy cut his hair, and the curls fell to the floor. He left her with a hug at the airport, and traded in his converse for combat boots.
The girl and boy wrote short letters, trying to explain long feelings. They didn’t know how to tell their stories through missed calls, and text messages, rather than face to face in dark rooms under the covers. These were the frost-bitten days, where they suffered from cold noses, and relied on bundles of clothes for a fake warmth.
The boy moved to the state with eternal darkness, and the girl began to sing Bill Withers’ songs to the boy. “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone,” but the boy was already gone.
The girl sat in the green hammock, staring at her phone after their story had ended. She cried for what seemed like days, drowning the last few years.
She faced the days of blooming new life.
Slamming the glass back on the oak bar, Mike realized he was alone. The ghosts of his friends 10 years ago echoed in his ears laughing, and cheering on the next shot of Jim Beam.
“Have another, Mike?” Nick yelled from the other end of the bar, strolling up to the opposite side of him. His fathers rule that he carried along with him was to always keep the barrier between him and the patrons, especially the Monday night regulars.
“Hey, where’s everyone at tonight.”
“I don’t know man, maybe the weather scarred them off.”
“Yea, maybe.” Mike fingered the edge of the thick glass, tilting it on it’s side fixating his gaze on the marble cut bottom. Resting it back on its bottom, he tapped the top of the bar, and Nick filled it again half way with the copper liquid.
Rain splattered against the window, and Mike brought the glass to his mouth, feeling the warmth of the liquid hit his lips. Closing his eyes, he could swear it was the feeling of Janet’s soft mouth against his own. Smelling in her vanilla perfume that always lingered on his clothes too long, but drinking in the liquid to push her back down.
He knew that tonight, he wouldn’t be able to push her down far enough. The rain kept bubbling her to the surface like the worms fighting their way out onto the cement after a storm. Longing to take a breath of fresh air rather than being pushed down into the mud. She was the light.
“Hey, let’s go meet up with John and them at the bar tonight.”
“Can’t we just stay in, it looks like the rain is going to really be coming down tonight.”
“Come on, don’t be so boring! Only for an hour.”
“Alright, just let me go change into jeans. Even if were going to that nasty bar, I’m not going to go out in my stained sweats.” Janet gave Mike a coy smile while heading into their bedroom to change.
Now I feel the wind blow outside my door,
Means I’m, I’m leaving my woman at home.
The music began to fill the empty seats in the bar, giving it more life than Mike sitting with his memories, and Nick wiping down the newly cleaned glasses out of the washer.
“Gotta love Skynard, right man?”
Mike nodded, and tapped the bar again where Nick did his duty and filled his glass once more.
He could see Janet from the far end of the bar chatting to the man who she called her friend. The Beam lit the fire in his temple causing his whole face to burn, spreading down his arms, and resting in his knuckles.
She moved in slow motion back towards him, swinging her hips with her black hair flowing down and bouncing with each step. The life inside her radiated out, stoking his fire that she could radiate without him.
The sound of thunder boomed into the bar, seeming to fill the small space to capacity. More alive than it’s been in months.
“Alright, Mike, I’m gonna close up shop. $20 bucks even.”
Placing $25 on the counter, Mike sauntered towards the door grabbing his coat and pulling it over his shoulders while heading out into the storm.
Nick shook his head at his regular, and returned back to his thoughts of seeing Cara in that new black slip she sent him a picture of an hour ago.
The wind had began to howl covering both Mike and Janet’s screams towards one another. Patrons in the town knew when to leave well enough alone, and occasionally glanced their way but headed either in and out of the bar like normal.
The fire began to burn from his stomach, smoking with ever rain drop that hit her smooth skin, wetting her hair. Her spirit began to suffocate out from his smoke clouding around her, stealing her oxygen. Grabbing her arm, he pulled her into their car to head back home.
Gripping the steering wheel, his knuckles continued to burn with the white hot flame. The roads were beginning to puddle, and Janet wept into her hands with the occasional hiccup. Mike glanced her way when the tires lost their hold, and the image of her bent to the right of the cab with damp hair falling over her face became permanently etched into his mind before it all went blank.
Pulling the keys from his pocket, Mike felt the rain hit his head, causing his hair to stick to the sides of his face. He decided to walk, and placed the keys back into his jeans pocket.
Rounding the corner, he approached the bridge that separated the town from the country. The familiar sight drew him in, touching the cool metal with his fingertips. Gripping the railing, he pushed his body to the side of it, and gazed over the edge. He saw the eternity of stars mirrored below him.
Submerging himself over the side, his fire extinguished.
She could feel their heavy eyes on the rolls of white flesh protruding from her favorite pink shirt, silently screaming their disdain for her ‘poor life decisions.’ Her family surrounded her, but she could barely lift her head once they were out in public. Her once lighthearted personality that consumed others seemed to be absorbed by the corn syrup and saturated fats she pushed into her mouth.
Seated around the table at their favorite Chinese restaurant, she could feel the shield of technology against a loving conversation. Childhood memories faintly played in the back of her mind of her parents and two brothers sitting around a rickety light oak table sharing stories of their days. A time when weight never entered her mind.
John, her husband, sat to her left playing the newest social media game while casually sipping on his soda. Her eyes fell upon the bubbles crawling up the side while she pushed her hand over to his thigh under the table where she began to absently rub her thumb over his skin. His eyes lifted with a look of confusion, while he subconsciously pulled away from her.
She had never found dating to be easy, always having more of an interest in characters on a page rather than the men. John made it easy, though.
Their courtship started in a cafeteria line in college. Both of them larger than the majority of their classmates, naturally bonding over the comfort of food. Every week for a semester, they silently retreated to the farthest booth in the cafeteria together exchanging stories, and small talk over fried onion rings, grilled cheese sandwiches, and melted butter. Blooming slowly into not love, but a deep complacency to dull the throb of loneliness.
The waiter came and left their table, and the liveliness of her children still brought a smile to her face. Two plump, or growing according to her mother, boys sat across from her. Their chubby cheeks were rosy pink, just like they were on their birth day. She cried when she first held them. Their faces melted into her chest, and she finally felt that her fat had served it’s purpose as nothing else than a pillow for her children.
Childbirth was a complication for her, and her doctor constantly brought it up that if she wanted to feel that same warmth with her grandchildren, she should change her lifestyle. Yet, when the waiter came and set the plate of food in front of her the steam lifted from the plate and the smell overtook her to a point of ecstasy she couldn’t find from her marriage. Her mouth began to water, and she absently shook her head ‘yes’ when the waiter asked if everything looked okay.
The sun had begun to set on what had been a sticky Summer day. Katie sat on the front porch steps in a new pair of pink jean shorts that her mother had bought her the day before as a congratulations to her journey to womanhood. She had officially started her period, and had just turned 13 years old the week prior.
The porch was her favorite part of her parents home. It overlooked the country road with a long path before it. The red beams stretched to either side holding up the roof which her mother had painted a blue sky with puffy white clouds. Her and her brothers used to sleep on the porch in the summers before they grew older and the girls in short cheerleader outfits become more of a priority than playing with their kid sister.
Wrapped into a new book, she didn’t realize her cousin Mark had walked up the path until he plopped down beside her.
He was 15, tall, but round in the center, and had fingers that looked like little sausages.
“Hey Katie, whatcha reading?”
Adverse to talking to anyone at the moment, she shows him the front of her book glancing at his face from the side of her glasses. She wondered if he knew she was no longer a little girl from the week before.
“Ah, yea, I haven’t read that one. You seem to like reading a lot don’t ya?” His hand rested on the top of her thigh as he chatted with her.
“Who wants ice cream sandwiches?” Her mother pushed open the screen door one in each hand, and the slam of it made Mark pull his hand back into his own lap.
She had felt a pit in her stomach remembering the previous week when Mark hadn’t pulled away his hand. The ice cream began to melt down her hand when her mother touched her shoulder lightly whispering if everything was alright.
Nodding her head yes, she shoved the ice cream into her mouth to feel the relief that the cool sweet brought to her mind. A high she would be chasing the rest of her life.