Chapter 7 Who to Forgive
I looked down at my watch and saw that it was almost time to meet the guys at our usual place. Phil, Irwin, and I would often meet up at a bar downtown. Since we all had jobs and not as much time to hang out like we used to, we always try to find time to meet up when we can.
The sky was already dark and the streets were full of bright colorful lights from the neon signs and advertisement boards. The whole town was covered in pure white snow. The cars’ engines roared as they drove by on the streets. Music could be heard lightly from stores, cafe, and restaurants. The air was also very cold to the point where I could see my breath.
I walked down the sidewalk for awhile when I finally came upon a bar. When I pushed through the door, I could hear jazz music being played from all around the room and the place was slightly dark except for the lights from small hanging lamps over each table and counter. I looked around and spotted my two friends sitting at a table deep inside. Phil was waving at me to come over, so I walked through the tables and sat down at the empty seat left for me.
“Hey, Phil. Irwin. Been busy lately?” I asked to start a conversation.
“It’s almost the holidays. What do you expect?” Replied Phil. Phil was slightly taller than when he was still in high school. Though his jet black hair was still short and sleek like back then as well. The only difference was that he now wore square shape glasses over his black almond eyes.
“Whatever,” that was all Irwin replied. He lifted up his large foot glass beer and swallowed a few gulps of the yellow liquid. Irwin probably went through the biggest change out of all of them. He used to be the tough and active one in the group. But after what happened to Jack several years ago, he hasn’t been the same since. His sandy blond hair that used to be short and well kept was now longer and messier. He used to be great in sports and had a strong body built that girls would drool over, but now he was thinner and had this weak and drained look in his oak brown eyes.
Both Phil and I knew what was up with our friend. We have known for years. Irwin was blaming himself for Jack’s death. Jack Lanternson was the joker of our group and there was never a dull time with him. He was also Irwin’s childhood friend. They’ve been with each other since kindergarten and all the way up to high school.
Even though Jack was the one that loved to prank people, it was usually Irwin that came up with the plans. So whenever Irwin suggested trying something crazy out for fun, Jack would always go along with it, including exploring the mines and playing a ouija board. The rest of us just tag along since we were friends after all, but we never thought that the game would cost us Jack’s life.
Irwin had been feeling guilty and blaming himself since then. He always thought that if he never suggested doing something so dangerous, Jack would still be here with us. Phil and I tried to assure him that it wasn’t his fault. We all were devastated from Jack’s death, especially me. If I hadn’t freaked out and caused the dynamite to explode, the mine wouldn’t collapse and Jack would still be alive. I was in despair for a few years, but I was able to find the right help and eventually recovered from my trauma.
Phil was also depress for his oversight. He knew the plan was risky, but he didn’t try to stop us. Like the teenager he was, he wanted to try out something exciting. Out of all of us, he was able to overcome his depression first and regain his composure in a few months. He came to accept the truth of what happened that night since they can’t change the past, so he decided to move on with his life. It might sound like he was cold to easily accept Jack’s death so easily, but it was his way of honoring Jack’s death.
For Irwin, it was different. He didn’t go crazy like I did or calmed down like Phil, but he became really quiet and reserved. He stopped playing sports and hasn’t laughed or smiled for years. He almost became antisocial if it wasn’t for us trying to talk to him out of concern. After high school, he began to smoke and drink.
We both knew that what Irwin was doing wasn’t right, but we didn’t want to take away his only moments of peace. Losing Jack wasn’t just losing a close friend, but a brother as well.
“So what are you guys doing during the holidays?” I asked, hoping to lighten up the mood of the table.
“I have a date with my girlfriend on Christmas,” answered Phil. Of course, the smart guys always get the girls first. Phil has been dating for two years now, so his relationship with his girlfriend was going great.
“I’m spending time with my family on Christmas week,” I told mines. “What about you Irwin? What are you doing for Christmas?”
Irwin didn’t answer immediately. He was silent for a few seconds before he answered. “Nothing really. I’m probably gonna stay in my apartment during that time.” Then he took another gulp of the beer.
“What about your parents? When was the last time you visited them?” I demanded. Irwin and his parents hadn’t been on good terms with each other around the same time Irwin’s personality made a one eighty. It’s not like Irwin and his parents were angry at each other or anything, but Irwin didn’t have enough courage to face his parents while his parents were worried sick about him.
“I believe it was two years and eight months ago,” Phil answered.
“It’s none of your guys’ business so butt off!” Snapped Irwin, his face was turning slightly red from the alcohol.
“Irwin, it’s the holidays. Couldn’t you at least see your parents?” I pressed him.
“Why should I? They probably wouldn’t want to see me anyways since I failed them so god damn bad and I even killed someone!” Irwin snapped angrily. His face was getting redder by the minute.
“Irwin, calm down. You’re getting drunk,” warned Phil, grasping Irwin’s shoulder.
“You didn’t kill anyone, Irwin. No one did. It was an accident and nobody is blaming anyone,” I tried to explain to him.
“Of course it was my fault! If I didn’t suggest something so stupid like playing that damn ouji board in some abandon mine in the first place, then Jack wouldn’t have died!” He stood up from his chair, glaring me.
“Irwin! Michael!” Phil cried out with a serious tone. “Calm down! You guys are making a scene.”
Irwin glared at me while I stared back at him, we didn’t say anything for a while until Irwin broke the silent.
“I’m leaving,” he said. Then he put down some money on the table and walked out the door.
I tried to call out to him, but he only ignored me, so I watched his downcast back as he walked away, feeling worried about him. There wasn’t much I could do to help my friend at all. I can only pray that one day, Irwin would be able to forgive himself.
~Jack O’Lantern’s POV~
As Irwin walked down the streets, I was following behind him with my wisps hovering around me. I was in the bar where Irwin and the others were in earlier and heard their conversation. When I found out that Irwin hadn’t been doing so good after my death, I became worried. He didn’t look like what he used to and I didn’t mean by him growing up kinda look. He used to be beaming with confidence and energy, but now he’s just... pitiful.
I’ve been keeping an eye on Mikey for a few days, because I was hoping to see Irwin and Phil as well. My patience paid off and Mikey finally met up with the guys tonight.
Frost had also been coming to check up on me everyday. He would come and ask me to go hang out and play with the kids. I found out that the kids can see and hear him, which I should’ve figured out on the first time I saw him. It didn’t bother me that the kids can’t see me since I was fine having just my sister.
When Irwin arrived at his apartment, my wisps and I stayed outside, watching him through the window. I could see him walking to his couch and taking out a cigarette. Then he took out a lighter from his pocket and began flicking that tiny little container.
I can’t believe he’s smoking! I can handle him drinking, but becoming a drunkard was one thing I don’t approve of. Now he’s smoking! I hated the smell of cigarettes and smoke, so seeing him smoking really pissed me off. Did he want lung cancer or something?!
When he lit up his lighter and was about to burn the tip of the cigarette, I blew out the flames with a snap of my fingers. Irwin looked annoyed and tried to lit the lighter up again, but I made sure he couldn’t.
No way bro. No friend of mine was going to get lung cancer!
He kept flicking and flicking the lighter in frustration while the wisps were giggling like crazy. They found his hopeless attempts pretty hilarious. When he couldn’t get his lighter to light properly, he threw the lighter at the wall in anger. The wisps gasped in surprise and hid behind my head.
“Stupid piece of crap!” He shouted angrily.
He crumpled up his cigarette and threw it on the floor as well before storming into the kitchen. I could see what he was doing from the window, but I could hear the sound of a fridge opening and the clanking of glasses. Then he came back into the room with a bottle of beer in hand.
Oh, this is just great! So if he’s not going to get lung cancer, he’ll destroy his liver instead! Where did the Irwin I know went? This guy was nothing but an idiotic helpless and pitiful excuse for a man! If he’s going to be an idiot then why am I stopping him?
“Stupid Irwin! Let’s go, guys! We’re leaving!” I snapped. I was so mad at Irwin that I flew off in anger. My wisps followed behind me without any noise at all. Probably worried. I didn’t care where I was going. I just wanted to let the wind blow out my steam.
“Lantern? Lantern!” I heard someone calling me. I knew right away who it was since only he would call me that weird nickname.
My wisps and I stopped flying and hovered in the air looking for the snow white hair guy. Frost came flying up to me with his magical hook staff that can freeze almost anything.
“Hey, Frost,” I replied. My wisps also greeted him in chatters.
“Where’re you off in a hurry?” He asked, curious.
“Just getting some fresh air,” I answered with a rough tone.
Frost could tell that I wasn’t in a good mood from my tone of voice and the worried look on my wisps’s face, so he asked worriedly. “Are you okay? Did something happened?”
“It’s a pretty long story to explain,” I told him.
“I have all night to spare some time,” he smiled.
Since Frost wanted to listen to my problems, I guess it wouldn’t hurt so I agreed. We went to find a place to sit and talk, which was on a roof of a building complex. I told him about how my friends and I went into the mine several years ago and caused it to collapse, which was how I died. Even though, I can’t remember everything that happened in the mine due to my trauma, so I had moments where I just skipped. But at least, I still remembered the ouija board and the dynamites.
Frost was a good listener, because he didn’t interrupt me throughout the story. The wisps, on the other hand, were playing among themselves, not interested at all. They could at least show some interest about me since I did created them.
When I told him what I found out about how my friends were doing after that incident and how I was worried about Irwin, he rubbed his chin as he was having a deep thought.
“So the guy is blaming himself for causing your death, right?” He asked to make sure.
“Yeah. I wish I could talk to him somehow. I want him to stop blaming himself for something he didn’t cause. It was a stupid accident and no one could predict it happening,” I explained. “I wish I can give him a message or something. Too bad there isn’t a phone line for the dead.”
“But the guy can dream!” Said Frost, excitedly.
“Dream? Of course, the guy can dream. Anybody can dream. I don’t know why you would... wait a minute... are you saying I can talk to him in his dream?” I asked when I started to realize what Frost meant by ‘dream.’
“Of course! And who has the ability to control people’s dreams?” He asked even though he already knew the answer.
“Sandy!” I cried in realization. Why didn’t I think of that? How many stories have I heard about dead people sending their messages to the living through dreams? It was so obvious! Not to mention, we know the Guardian of Dreams. The guy who creates dreams himself!
This time, the wisps stopped what they were doing and stared at us, wondering what was going on. This was why you guys should be listening!
“Come on then! Let’s go find the Sandman,” urged Frost.
The wisps cheered excitedly upon hearing that we’ll be visiting Sandy.
“But how do we find him? He’s not even in the country,” I reminded him.
The wisps looked disappointed and made an Awwwww sound.
“What else? Find the trail of glowing sand! How hard could it be?”
It took us sixteen hours to find the floating stream of sand in five continents. It definitely wasn’t easy. We were completely exhausted when we finally found a trail of sand in the sky. My wisps already went into the lantern after the first two hours. The little guys couldn’t endure that long trip of flying.
When we finally found Sandy, creating dreams in Europe, the guardian of dreams looked surprise to see us.
“Hey, Sandy,” I greeted him with a very tired voice. I was breathing pretty hard so I sat down on an open space on his small sandy island.
“Hiya, Sandy,” Frost also greeted him. He also looked as tired as me and used his staff to lean on.
Sandy smiled and bowed as his way of greeting us.
Then the wisps, that’s been resting in the lantern all this time, came rushing out and swarmed around Sandy while greeting him excitedly. They really missed the little man a lot.
Sandy waved at the wisps and smiled warmly at them. Then he made a question mark sand figure over his head as if asking ‘What’s up?’
“Guys, calm down,” I told the wisps, which they went silent immediately. “Sandy, I kinda need your help with something. Is it alright if I ask for a favor?” I asked Sandy, hopefully.
Sandy smiled and gave me a thumps up as if he was saying ‘Of course!’ He agreed without even listening to what I had to ask him to do. Why are you so nice, Sandy?
“Really? Thank you so much! You’re the best, Sandy!” I thanked him, overjoyed. The wisps also joined in by bouncing around and cheering loudly.
“So you free right now?” Frost asked Sandy. “We’ll explain Lantern’s situation on the way to Blacksburg.”
Then there was a question mark and an old fashion lantern sand figure over Sandy’s head.
“That’s what I call him,” explained Frost, pointing towards me.
“And I call him ‘Frost’,” I added. “So we don’t get each other mixed up. It was kinda weird calling each other Jack.”
So Sandy nodded that he understood.
“So... should we head back tomorrow? I’m seriously exhausted,” said Frost, sitting beside me.
“I vote tomorrow. I’m too dead tired,” I agreed and lay down on the sand. Then I noticed the look on Sandy’s face. “Why are you smiling like that, Sandy?”
All of a sudden, Sandy twirled his hands together and gathered a bunch of sand in his palms. Frost, the wisps, and I looked around as the sand began to swirl around us. In the matter of seconds, Sandy conjured up a small ship with a tall sail from his sand.
“Woah,” I exclaimed in awe at the ship. It was amazing! The ship looked like those old pirate ships I see in my history books and it looked like it was made of gold due to the golden sand. The ship was pretty big and the sail was probably more than twenty feet tall.
Oooooooooo The wisps stared at the ship up and down.
“I didn’t know Sandy can make a ship?” I exclaimed.
“Neither did I,” Frost said beside me.
Sandy was at the steering wheel at the back of the ship. He conjured up a captain’s hat and placed it on his head. Now that everything was ready, Sandy grasped the steering wheel and whirled it around. And we were off, sailing through the starry night sky.
~ Irwin’s POV~
Damn it! Ran out of beer again!
I slammed the fridge’s door shut in anger. Almost broke the thing right off too. Wished I really did. Stupid fridge!
Since there’s no beer left in the god damn fridge, then I’ll smoke instead. I need to calm my mind or I might break something again like that annoying alarm clock last week. I ended up having to buy a new one so I could get to my job on time.
Then I heard the phone ringing on the counter. It rang for a few good long seconds until it switched to the voice message recorder. A man’s voice, which was the voice recording machine, could be heard from the kitchen as I walked into the living room
[Please leave a message after the beep.]
[Irwin, this is your mother. I know you haven’t been replying to any of our messages, but at least listen to this one. I want to know if you’re coming over for the holidays. It’s been a really long time since you visited us. I’m worried for you, sweaty. Your father as well. We really want you to come over, so please think about it.]
I walked to my couch, ignoring the message, and fell onto the smelly and stiff cushion exhaustedly. My hand shook as I pulled out my cigarette box and grabbed a cigarette. I also got out my new lighter since my old one didn’t work properly. With a flick, a small flame appeared. Thank god, it worked!
[I know you’re still upset about that incident, but it was an accident. We don’t blame you, sweetheart. No one does. Your father and I really want you to come over. We really miss you. Please think about it. Love you, sweaty.]
As I breathed in the smoke from the tiny burning tube, my mind finally started to feel lighter. I looked at the window as snow was falling again tonight. It was another tough day today. I had a fight with my coworker again and got badly scolded by my boss. The big guy threatened me that if my attitude didn’t change, I’ll lose my job. That nosy good for nothing piece of crap!
So what if I snapped at people a lot. I can’t help it when I get angry. Sure, I can’t really control my emotions that well, but why did they have to make a huge deal about it? Why did the world feel like crap? Why did Jack have to die? Why did I have to come up with that stupid and idiotic game?!
I sat on the couch and smoked for awhile until I mashed the now short cigarette in the ashtray. I continued to sit there to who knows how long, recalling the good old past that I once had.
I remembered how I met Jack the first time in kindergarten. That guy was a prankster since he was a kid. He appeared before me like a monkey. Basically, he hung down from a tree branch, upside down, and cried “BOO!” He scared the pants off of me. Then somehow, we started to play together a lot at school. Even after class, we still stuck together.
Then there was our first Halloween together. Jack dressed up as a scarecrow with a pumpkin as a head and he would go around scaring the other kids. I would follow behind in a Dracula costume, fake blood and everything. Just remembering those times made me chuckle. It’s a good thing I can still laugh even when I’m in this state. The old memories were the only thing that made me happy, but at the same time, the most miserable.
I didn’t know when I drifted off to sleep, but I started to dream that I was a kid again and even Jack was there.
We were in front of a huge colorful tent, no doubt a circus tent, and Jack ran towards it excitedly. This Jack looked younger and shorter like the time when he was in third grade. I didn’t know how nor did I care, but I also knew I was back to being nine years old, too.
“Come on, Irwin! The shows about to start!” The child version of Jack called to me.
“Wait up!” I quickly followed him.
Jack already disappeared into the tent and I ran after him. But when I entered through the entrance, it was pitch dark inside. I couldn’t see anything.
“Jack?” I called out, walking into the darkness. “Jack!”
There was no reply.
I started to feel nervous from the strange emptiness in the darkness, but I continued to walk into it. While I called Jack again and again, there was only silence.
All of a sudden, the darkness started to change into a tunnel. The walls were turning into earth and rocks. For some reason, I felt like this place was very familiar. Then I saw light at the end of the tunnel and I ran towards it. I kept running and running until I came into a large open space. I immediately realized that this was the old abandoned mine in the forest. Strangely, it felt like my body got taller, so I looked at myself and found out that my body grew and my clothes changed to my sports jacket. The same one I wore back in high school.
Then I noticed the rays from the moonlight coming through the opening in the ceiling, shinning upon a board in the center of the room. I didn’t know why, but my body started to walk up towards the board on its own. When I got closer, I gasped in shock. It was a ouija board. The very same one that my friends and I played with.
“No...” I stared at the board in horror. The nightmare was coming back. The horrible reminder of the past that I wished never happened was right before me.
There was a loud explosion and the whole place shook. Exactly like in the past, the place was falling down. Rocks, earth, and plank woods were raining down on me. My legs were frozen and I couldn’t move. My brain screamed for my legs to run, but they didn’t budge.
When I felt a shadow was cast over me, I looked up and saw a large boulder falling towards me.
“AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!” I screamed. I quickly closed my eyes and ducked while covering my head with my arms for protection.
Then I felt a gust of warm wind blowing around me. I opened my eyes and I saw fire swirling around me like a tornado. I stared at the flame flowing around me in shock. Where did this fire come from?
The fire wasn’t hot at all even though it was so close to me. The wind was gentle and warm. The light didn’t burn my eyes, but it felt gentle and beautiful. While I stared at the fire flowing around me, I started to feel like someone was watching me. So I turned around and what I saw made my mouth gap open.
“Jack?” I said unconsciously. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
Standing before me was Jack. He looked just like the last time I saw him. The last time I ever talked to him. The very same appearance before he died. Since this was my dream, I guess it was possible for Jack to appear. Even though this was a dream, why did it feel like he was really standing there before me?
“Jack?” I called. I could hear my voice shaking and my eyes burning as tears started to flow down my cheeks. “I’m sorry... I’m so sorry, Jack.” I lost it and cried out all the misery that I held for so many years. The pain, the guilt, and the sadness I held inside of me came flowing out non stop. “I’m sorry! I never should’ve suggested going to that mine! I never should’ve played with that damn cursed board! It was all my fault! I’m sorry, Jack! I’m SO sorry! It was my fault you died!”
My legs suddenly went weak and I fell onto my knees as I released all my emotions. My tears kept flowing down more and more without any sign of stopping.
“I’m so sorry... Can you ever forgive me?” I stared pitifully at Jack, hoping for forgiveness from the boy I took his life away.
Jack stared at me with an annoyed look on his face. “Why should I forgive you...”
I felt like something was stabbing my chest. I stared down at the ground, too ashamed to look at the ghost of my childhood friend.
“...when I wasn’t even mad at you in the first place?”
I looked up in surprise when I heard what he said. He looked at me with a warm smile with his hands on his waist. Then he walked up to me and kneeled in front of me so our eyes were on the same level.
“There’s nothing for me to forgive,” he spoke. Then he pointed at me. “But it’s you who needs to forgive yourself.”
I looked at him in amazement and confusion.
Jack patted my shoulder before I could say anything else. “Come on, Irwin. Don’t blame yourself over something you didn’t do. It wasn’t like you knew it was going to happen. Get back on your feet and move on! Go back to being that cool kid that I remember back in high school, alright?” He said with an encouraging grin. “No more smoking either. Drinking I’m fine, but have a damn limit! I don’t want to catch my friend dying from lung cancer or liver failure, got it?”
For some reason, I didn’t feel annoyed from getting scolded from Jack. Actually, I was really glad. Even though this Jack was made from my dream, it felt like I was really talking to the real Jack again. It was so like Jack to get worried. He always hated smokers and drunkers.
Then I noticed that Jack’s body began to fade away. The flames around us also started to disappear.
“Jack? Wait! Don’t go!” I cried out while trying to grab him, but my hands only went through his body. No matter how much I tried to keep him from disappearing, he just kept fading away before my eyes.
“It’s alright, Irwin,” he said to me in an assuring tone. “Just be happy and live your life...”
“Or I’ll seriously be pissed at you.”
I can no longer see him now. He was completely gone. Even though I couldn’t see him, I could still make out amusement in his tone when he scolded me again.
And then everything around me disappeared.
Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!
I woke up from the sound of my alarm clock going off in my bedroom. My whole body ached from sleeping on the couch again.
“Ugh...” I groaned and stretched my arms. When I got up to go shut that noisy alarm clock, I felt something falling off my body and I looked down, confused. It was a blanket. When did I grab a blanket last night?
I shook my head to clear my mind. Then I started to recall my dream last night. I remembered it clearly. For some reason, I felt something heavy inside of me was lifted. The gloominess and the guilt was gone. Never have I felt so... relieved. In my dream, Jack may not have told me what I wanted to hear, but he told what I needed to hear.
And he told me off real good.
I stared at the blanket on the ground and then at the frost covered window with snow lying on the window sill. The sun light was shinning through the glass window, telling me that it was already morning. I could hear cars and trucks running on the street below. People were talking and laughing loudly. Bells and singing could also be heard in the distance.
Suddenly, I remembered something. It was almost Christmas. Then I realized what I should be doing. I walked into the kitchen and grabbed the phone on the counter. I dialed a number that I haven’t dialed for so long. While I listened to the phone ringing on the other side, I heard a click and then followed by a voice that I knew well.
“Mom, it’s me. Irwin...”