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Sixteen Sunsets

By Mark Gardner All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Action

Blurb

Kristof led a simple life with a simple problem: Terminal cancer. The problem is, his life isn’t simple anymore. He’s just discovered he has superpowers, and only has sixteen sunsets left to live. So what will he do with his remaining time? Will he say goodbye to loved ones? Will he live out his wildest dreams? Or will he be a hero? Of course with that last option, there’s a catch... Every story and every hero needs a villain.

Kristof

Kristof remembered the scents of the hospital, the bleach on the floor, the rotting flowers beside his bed. He could almost hear the wheelchairs rattle by as he walked to an appointment that would change his life.

Kristof stood in front of a door. Part of him wished he could be anywhere but about to enter this office. He drew a steady breath, and shifted from one leg to the other, his weight feeling twice what it was. He scowled at the sign protruding from the wall. Oncology. The word and the sign were etched in plastic, and the entire thing seemed so clinical. Sighing, Kristof opened the door to the office with a heavy heart.

“Kristof, hello.” The bespectacled man behind the desk looked up. His face was pale and the dark shades circling his eyes added years to his face. “Have a seat,” he said and gestured to a comfortable chair. The man smiled a warm smile. Kristof was sure many years of delivering bad news had crafted a smile to disarm.

Kristof shook his head, his dry throat thumping with each heartbeat. “No thanks, Doc. I’ll take it standing up. Hit me with what ya got.”

The oncologist adjusted the name plaque on his desk. Glare from the open window obscured the writing while he fidgeted with it.

Kristof let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “Doctor Flax, I already know I have cancer and not much time to live. Just say it. How long do I have?”

Doctor Flax cleared his throat, stood and walked around the desk. “Two or three...” he whispered.

“Years?” Kristof interrupted with an optimistic tremble in his voice. “Medicine can improve rapidly in two years.”

“Kristof.” The doctor clasped his shoulders. “Not years. Weeks.” His brow furrowed as he continued. “I mean, there’s no way to be sure, it could be longer. Maybe even a few months. Some patients make tremendous rallies near the end.” His practiced smile seemed to falter before returning. “But my best guess is that it won’t be long now.”

Kristof sunk into the chair he had rejected only moments before. “Weeks...” he started to say before clamping his hand over his mouth. Bile rose, hitting his mouth with the urge to purge. He suppressed the feeling.

“I can go over the x-rays if you’d like,” Flax pointed to Kristof’s x-rays occupying a light box on a far wall.

“Two weeks,” Kristof mumbled again. Flax opened his mouth, but a wave of Kristof’s hand silenced the doctor. “Be honest,” he said. “How long exactly. How many days?”

The doctor gave him a weary smile. “I’m afraid there’s no way I can know that.”

“Your best guess, then,” Kristof said.

Something in his eyes stirred the mannequin expression from Flax’s face. “I don’t know, Kristof. Fifteen? Sixteen at most?”

The two men shared poignant silence for a few minutes.

Kristof’s head pounded, and he stood up too rapidly making the office tilt and swing. He grabbed with both hands Flax’s hand that had pointed only moments before and shook it with vigor. “Sixteen days,” he muttered, feeling the words roll on his tongue tasting like cancer themselves; sixteen days and here were minutes of them slipping by the second, making him live a mayfly’s life. Kristof felt like he needed to walk, to be gone from this place. “I’d better get going,” he declared, as if saying so was the first step towards retreat.

“Kristof, do you need me to call your wife?”

“Naw, Doc.” Kristof smiled, “I’ll be all right.” Kristof waved his hand, projecting a façade of indifference. “I’ll talk to Krystal myself.”

Kristof walked to the office door and paused before he grasped the doorknob. He turned to the doctor. “Thanks for your concern.” Then he smiled again, “I’m gonna be all right Doctor Flax.”

Kristof stepped through the door and made his way to the parking garage. A slight drizzle had started while he was at the oncologist’s office. He found his car parked close to the exit ramp. It was one of those hybrid cars. Krystal had wanted one. Think of the environment, she had said. He tried to tell her that the batteries would cause as much environmental degradation as any carbon dioxide a regular internal combustion vehicle would. In the end, it was the fuel efficiency argument that won his approval. A sharp beep startled him as he realized he had pressed the disarm button on his car key. With his hand on the door handle, he stared at his reflection in the tinted glass of his car door. The rain had intensified, and he was aware of raindrops bending and distorting his visage. The distortions of the reflection of his face filled him with a certain apprehension.

What am I gonna put Krystal through? he thought, his anxiety turning to dread. He rubbed his temples where he imagined the tumor would be. The distorted reflection off his car bent and broke with each new drop of rain.

Kristof rearmed the hybrid’s alarm and shoved his keys into his pocket. He walked through the garage’s pedestrian entrance. It felt as if he were in a daze, but somehow each step further from the hospital seemed to have brought him clarity. He stared up at the sky and as if on cue, the heavens opened up losing a deluge to match his mood.

* * *

Kristof’s footfalls splashed and echoed as he walked the streets. Awnings formed walls of rain, but he was oblivious as he walked. He didn’t have a destination in mind; he just walked for the sake of walking. The cold, wet air allowed him time to process all that he had learned. He also worried about his wife’s future. Four hours had passed since he abandoned his car. He didn’t recognize the neighborhood he had found himself in, but he did recognize the orange-red disk cleaved by the horizon.

Fifteen more sunsets, he thought. Tears formed, but they were indistinguishable from the torrent of precipitation. He stared at the sinking disk, and aloud, he said, “I’ll see you tomorrow, my friend.”

“If you live that long.”

Kristof spun at the sound of the voice. He sized up the knife-wielding thug with his empty hand extended. Kristof chuckled, “You’re robbing me?”

“I sure as fuck ain’t inviting you to the prom. Gimmie your wallet.”

Kristof rolled his eyes, but complied with the thug, and reached for his wallet.

“You eyeballin’ me bitch?” shouted the thug.

“No, man.” He held out the wallet. “Here’s my wallet. Take what you want.”

The thug snatched the wallet from Kristof’s hand, opened it and stuffed the wad of bills in his pocket before pulling out credit cards, receipts and other paper Kristof had accumulated over the years. When the thug pulled out a photograph of Krystal, he smiled. “Who’s the pretty lady?”

“You got your money, how about you let me keep that.” Kristof reached out to grab the photo of his wife.

The thug stepped back. “Hold on now, son.” He pulled out Kristof’s driver’s license. “Maybe I should pay your lady a visit.”

Kristof dropped his hand, and the thug cackled with glee.

“I bet she’d like a visit from a real man.” He stared at Kristof. “Or at least, one with a car.”

The thug laughed at his joke. “Maybe me an’ my homies show her a good time.”

The thug pocketed the photo and Kristof’s driver’s license and tossed the empty wallet in the gutter. Kristof saw it start to float and heard the thug laugh again. The thug turned his back to watch the wallet float away, his merriment louder than the rain.

Kristof launched himself at the thug’s back. He tackled him, and they both fell in a heap on the wet sidewalk. Kristof was the first to recover and stood over the sprawled thug. Kicking the thug and flipping him onto his back, he placed his foot on the thug’s neck.

“I’ll take my photo and license now.”

The thug stared up at Kristof but didn’t look him in the eye. “What’re you looking at?” demanded Kristof.

The thug was silent, and Kristof followed his eye line to his abdomen. He was aware of pain emanating from the same location. He reached up and felt the blade protruding from his belly. His hand was covered in blood, and his jeans had changed from blue to a dark purple. Collapsing into the gutter, Kristof watched, hopelessly, as his lifeblood mixed with the rainwater and flowed down the street.

So much for those sunsets, thought Kristof as he bled to death in the gutter.

* * *

“Two units O-negative. Push another milligram of atropine.”

Kristof tried to speak, but something kept him from vocalizing.

“Resuming chest compressions.”

His consciousness faded, and Kristof died again.

* * *

“Ten blade please.”

Kristof heard the steady thrum of machinery. A beep preceded each breath he was forced to take.

“Damn it. Tie off that bleeder.”

Kristof died on the operating table unaware of the surgical staff scrambling to revive him.

* * *

Beeeeeeeeeeeep.

The high-pitched whine echoed in Kristof’s ears.

“Doctor! The patient is flatlining.”

“Settle down. Just watch, but don’t get too close.”

The whine grew in pitch and intensity until it was the only existence Kristof knew.

* * *

“I’m going to remove your breathing tube. On the count of three, I need you to breathe out hard.”

Kristof blinked his eyes and followed the doctor’s orders.

“Don’t try to talk. You’re in a medical facility.”

Kristof nodded.

“You’re a puzzle to us.”

Kristof tried to rub his parched throat but realized he was bound.

“We thought you were dead several times since we found you.”

Kristof whispered something unintelligible.

The doctor leaned in and positioned his ear close to Kristof’s lips.

“Sixteen sunsets.”

The doctor straightened up. “I don’t understand.”

Kristof sat up and freed his arms, tearing the rails off the hospital bed. He undid the straps and stood beside the now mangled bed.

He grabbed the doctor by the lab coat. “I have fifteen days left to live. I’ll not spend it here.”

He pushed the doctor to the floor and leaped straight up through the ceiling and six floors above.

He stood atop the building surveying the twilight. In the distance, he saw the first rays of the sun rising like the Phoenix from the jagged horizon.

Kristof ignored the commotion below and watched the sun rise. “Greetings my friend.” He regarded the glowing disk; “We’ve got fifteen more days together.”

* * *

“Krystal! Something amazing has happened!”

Krystal dropped her phone and turned to the front door.

“Where have you been?” she screamed. “I’ve been on the phone for hours. Why did you leave your car at the hospital?”

Kristof held up his hands. “I’m sorry. I had some stuff to think about.”

Krystal pushed Kristof toward the front door. “I know, I talked to doctor Flax.” Tears streaked day-old makeup. Smudges of mascara formed comical over exaggerated crow’s feet at her temples. “I thought you might have done something to yourself.” She paused to take stock of herself. “Are you wearing a hospital gown?”

Kristof flopped unceremoniously on a bench in the foyer and pulled Krystal down to sit beside him. “I’m sorry, babe, but you have to listen.”

“I have to listen?” Her voice rose an octave. “I have to listen? Ever hear of a damn cell phone?”

“Listen!” Kristof exploded. He paused to regain his composure and looked out a window next to the front door.

Krystal sat mute, waiting for Kristof to continue.

“How long has that green car been out there?”

“What?”

“The car in the street. How long has it been out there?”

“I don’t know! Don’t change the subject!”

Kristof shushed her and peered out the window.

“Did you just shush me?”

“Look, something crazy happened to me. I gotta check this car out. We might not be safe.”

* * *

Kristof exited the house through the back door and hopped over the eight-foot cinder block wall separating the back from the front yards. He didn’t marvel at the newness of being able to do it. His mind focused on the task at hand. He slinked to a bush a few feet behind the suspicious car. A pile of cigarette butts had pooled by the driver door.

Kristof recognized the reflection of the driver in the side mirror. It was the thug from the night before. Kristof didn’t recognize the other three creeps in the vehicle, but he remembered the threats from the thug.

Kristof considered his options, and before he came to a conclusion, Krystal opened the front door. The thug and his buddies started to open the car doors, and Kristof knew he had to act.

He sprinted out of the bush, grabbed the rear bumper of the car and heaved with all his strength. The car flipped into the air and landed on all four wheels forty feet away. Kristof jumped toward the car and slammed both fists on the trunk crushing it and sending metal fragments flying. He walked to the driver door and tore it from the car body. He reached through the car window to grab the thug but stopped when he heard a noise emanating from the house.

Dropping the thug to the pavement, he ran back to the house. “Krystal? Are you all right?”

Krystal sat on the porch clutching her arm. A deflated soccer ball lay only a few feet away. Kristof didn’t see any blood, but the large bruise forming on Krystal’s arm drove him to action.

He gathered her up in his arms, walked to the street and leaped into the air. Landing a few hundred feet away, he leaped again. Each new jump yielded further distance, and each landing damaged the pavement a little more. Each landing forced a cry of pain from Krystal.

“I’m sorry, babe. I’m trying to be gentle.”

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