Negative Zero (Book 1)

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Chapter 3: Death Becomes Me

Chapter Three Death Becomes Me

It was strange how fast my mind worked in the small amount of time it was given to sort through its thoughts when forced to conclude a certainty. Everything was clear once I knew I was falling. Oh, it was going to hurt so bad, this death. I didn’t want it, but I readied myself. I closed my eyes, preparing my mind and my body for what was coming next. I had no choice. I just thought of her and the comfort I’d feel once again when I first saw her, the one I’d hoped to see again once death claimed me. However, no matter how hard I tried, I still could not cage the scream that was within me. The wind whooshing past my ears was louder than the cry I made. Unable to hear myself, I shut my eyes tight.

“Evika,” I heard a voice, a familiar voice. Why did I know that voice? I kept my eyes closed as I continued to fall. That soothing voice I’d heard before was what I focused on, and then I hit; I hit hard. I felt everything break along with the concrete. My body throbbed, and my heart beat faster than it was ever meant to beat.

Then I blacked out.

I saw nothing.

I heard nothing.

I felt nothing.

What seemed like moments later, I felt something over me, calming the senses as the pain peaked. “I’m taking the pain away.” I heard that voice, his voice, quietly whispering into my ear. Then I felt what I thought was a pair of hands, one on my chest and the other on my forehead. A wave of comfort washed through my entire body. I concluded I must be in the hospital by now. I wondered how it was even possible that I’d been rescued so quickly.

I hadn’t opened my eyes yet; I was too afraid. I was surprised at how alert my mind was. There is no way my mind should be have been working after that fall, and there was also no way I should have been in anything but a body bag. I was unsure of how I was able to come to these conclusions rationally. I decided to muster my courage to at least open my eyes.

I viewed my surroundings by peeking through a small slit between the lids of my right eye. I saw only a bright light hovering over me. A round, blinding sphere of light pierced my sight and illuminated above me. Everything else was dark. I felt the warmth it radiated. Where am I? I thought. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak, and I couldn’t grasp my environment enough to know exactly where I was. I became frustrated and stricken with panic. What is this light? Oh my God. Am I dead? Is this the light everyone talks about? I must be dead. The pain is gone, but why can’t I move? Why am I not moving?

The panic took me over, and my heart raced once again. At least, I thought it was my heart. It felt like my heart, and it beat like one. It worked hard, but it was beating. What did that mean? Why am I alone? No sooner did the thought hit my mind that I felt the dark closing in on me once again. The peace washed through me, like morphine flowing through my veins. My eyes shut tight once more, almost forced. Even though it felt impossible to open them again, I vowed that I wouldn’t even try. I just wanted to go to wherever it was I was supposed to be. Please God, take me, I thought. Then it was black and silent.

“Mouska!” I heard her scream. Why is there so much pain in her voice?

The black was still all I could see, but I went in and out of it, hearing pieces of conversation between her voice and the voices of other people. I heard sirens, clanking, the banging of doors being opened and shut, squeaking wheels, metal objects hitting each other; I heard it all.

“Where did she fall from?” one of the voices asked.

“I do not know. I heard loud music,” her voice was frantic. “Evika lives on ninth floor. I went in with extra key to tell her....to tell her she is disturbing neighbors and saw open window. I look out window and I see her ---” she broke off and started sobbing.

I wanted to jump out of my skin. I wanted to run into her arms and hold her and tell her I was fine. I didn’t even know if I was fine, but I felt like I was. I felt like if my senses were back, I would have been able to just get up and walk away.

I thought of the quote, “I think, therefore, I am.” Was this what death was like? Was that true? Would I just be some floating mind, hearing all of the living conversations around me? I felt like I was going to go insane. It was killing me that I had no control over my body and no control over my sight. I heard the sirens once again, but it was as if I were moving, and they were moving along with me. My eyes would not budge; opening them was an impossibility.

I heard her close to me, still crying, whispering a broken up prayer in Russian into my ear. My blindness frustrated me, and I became overwhelmed by the sirens once again....and the prayers....and then the radio conversation over the speaker and more clanking. The roar of an engine was startling. I realized I was not in the hospital like I thought I was. What does this mean? Where are they taking us?The panic took over again. It was too much, and I shut down into darkness.

It was a longer darkness this time, but during this one, I was able to dream for a while. It wasn’t one of the dreams I could control, but I was grateful to just have something to see. I was mobile in this dream and I found myself sitting under the willow tree at our old house, the one I remember from my childhood. Everyone always used to say that the willow trees looked sad, but I always disagreed. When the wind blew, the willows would all point in the same direction so freely, then they’d sway back to their hanging position. There was a contentment in the tree compared to the other ones. The wind always blew through them and sent the leaves into a panic, but not my willow tree. I always felt safe under the willow. It was always where she could find me. I’d grab blankets and sheets and make forts under it for the entire day while I sat and colored and hummed tunes of my favorite songs.

As I was remembering those moments, I inhaled and smelled the crisp, spring air. A hint of freshly cut grass hit my olfactory sense and brought me back to a time when she had just cut the lawn with the push lawnmower. I caught a glimpse of her taking off her grassy gloves and walking over to me, smiling radiantly. Her hair shined auburn in the sun light, but the closer she got, the more she faded. I started to cry as I looked for her, trying to hold the image of her in my mind as long as I could before it was gone.

“Mommy?” I called for her in a whisper. I felt like a child calling for her and realized I was a child in this memory as I sat there. What was this sick cycle my mind was taking me on? I didn’t want to relive parts of committed memories if they were going to hurt. I’d hurt for way too long already.

I waited for more. I held my knees into my chest and slowly scoped the yard through my blurry eyes, waiting for her to appear again. Waiting, hoping, anticipating glimpses of her were all that kept me sane. My anticipation made me forget about the fall, the sounds of breaking pavement and bones, the sirens, the Russian prayers, and Ms. Makerov’s strained voice. My stupidity of the previous night. The alcohol. The dancing. The arguing. The pain. Oh God, that pain. That emptiness that, no matter how hard I tried to fill, nothing made it go away. Nothing. I’d been so hollow without her.

I was afraid to get angry again, fearing that I was being tested by God Himself. Maybe the glimpses were meant to be a test, my last trial. He was taunting me with her because He knew the memories would get to me, and could be used to enrage me, and as soon as I screwed up, wham! I’d be cast into some deep, black abyss, all alone for eternity. My own hell.

I laid my head on my knees and stared at the neighbor’s fence as I let the tears fall. The familiar dog on the other side was pacing from one end to the other. I watched the black lab’s paws under the fence, and I was reminded of the time my mother and I had gotten Beau, a Shepard-collie mix. Not even meaning to buy a dog, we’d gone to the pet store and saw him. We were just trying to kill time before heading to a movie that afternoon. We’d played with him for over an hour before leaving without him. We’d asked the store questions about him: where he came from and how long they had him. We sat in the car for twenty minutes in that parking lot, contemplating heading to the movie or buying a dog. We’d finally decided. If we went to the movie, came back after lunch, and he was still there, then it was meant to be. Three hours later, we pulled into the parking lot of the pet shop once again to see that dog patiently sitting at that front window, as if he knew we would come back for him. We took him home that day and never regretted bringing him home. He became the “man of the house.”

But Beau was not in this memory as I sat under the willow tree. There came a point when I didn’t even know which memory my mind was trying to relay to me because my mother’s image was gone. She didn’t come back. Nonetheless, I was calm. I wouldn’t call it “at peace,” but it was calm, wherever I was. I tried rationalizing my experience. I concluded I was in a death transit. Maybe it was some sort of waiting room until I got to the pearly gates. Maybe the transit to Heaven was your mind reliving its most fondest of memories until you get to the real thing.

“Hello,” a voice said right next to me.

I jumped and turned my head away from the pacing dog to see him sitting in the grass, leaning back on his hands, sporting a dark, leather jacket with his legs stretched out and crossed in front of him. It was that mysterious stranger who’d made his appearance in a dream once before. I looked at him, into his dark, emerald eyes, and didn’t say a word. The questions that ran through my mind were too fast-paced in order for me to pick one to speak coherently.

“I see you’re having difficulty with the glimpses. That’s understandable, considering the condition you are in right now,” he said. “I’d like to help.”

“C-Condition?” I finally spoke. “I don’t understand. You mean I’m causing this?”

“The failed glimpses? Yes, but like I said, it’s understandable. Not only is your body going through quite a bit of trauma at the moment, it goes without question that your mind is too.”

I looked at him incredulously and then glanced around the memory of the yard and the willow tree before meeting his eyes again. “Where am I?”

“You’re in the memory realm. It’s a safe place for you to be right now until you can go back.”

“Back?” I wasn’t following.

“Yes, back to your body. Right now, it’s in no condition for you to manifest, so you are safer here. But you will be ready soon.” He smiled sincerely.

I shook my head, trying to make sense of his words. “I don’t understand. Back to my body? Am I---”

“Dead? Technically, yes. You are doing what is known as ‘crossing.’ I’m here to keep you in this twilight for a while, until you can go back.” He winced at a thought. “Believe me, you don’t want to go back right now.”

He seemed so advanced in the topic of the conversation, while I was still stuck on the whole where am I? part. I just stared at him.

He grinned. “It’s okay. We can get into all the details later. Right now, I need to distract you while you are waiting. Did you want to stay here, or did you want to plant into another memory? Just think of it, and I’ll get you there.” That five-hundred watt smile crossed his face.

Before I could even finish the thought, I was already there. I blinked, and it appeared, the living room of our old house. I saw myself sitting on the floor with my mother. We were coloring together and watching cartoons. It was an episode of Tom and Jerry. Jerry had just branded Tom under his tail with a hot iron, sending Tom through the ceiling as smoke trailed behind him. The mark of a V was left on his bare skin once the fur had finished burning.

“Mommy?” My small, four-year-old voice echoed with a question to her. “Is that what happened to me?” I lifted my arm to show the birthmark on my right wrist. As I observed the memory, I, too, looked at my own wrist and rubbed my thumb across the mark.

“No, sweetie. That’s called a birthmark. You were born with it. Your daddy has one just like it.” Smiling, she cleared a piece of hair from my face.

“I didn’t get burned by a mouse like Tom?” I asked, focusing on the cartoon once again.

My mother giggled. “No, silly. You didn’t get burned. It’s just a mark that makes you special.” She went back to picking a new crayon and then leaned into the “little me” and whispered, “I think it looks like a negative zero.”

My little eyes widened and looked up at her. “Like a number, Mommy?”

She smiled down at me. “Yup, just like a number.”

I watched the two of us color for a few more moments, still tracing the mark on my wrist with my thumb. I hadn’t noticed the tears streaming down my cheeks until I tasted the salt. I blinked a few times to clear my eyes, hardly conscious of the next memory my mind was trying to replay.

I was suddenly standing in the rec room of the house, and I saw her sitting at the piano with a little girl about the age of seven. It was she and I. I watched them sit together while my mother played one of her favorite songs. The music coming from the Yamaha was a song from Phantom of the Opera. The “little me” watched her fingers and where they were going on the piano keys. When the song was over, my mother moved to the side to let me have the middle of the bench. I started playing slowly, figuring out the chords of the beginning of the song, getting most of them right, and sounding them out in memorization.

She chuckled lightly and shook her head. “I don’t even know why I try to teach you how to read the music. You don’t even need the notes, smarty-pants.”

The “little me” just laughed and kept going, correlating all of the chords. My mother sat there and watched in awe with that radiant smile I’ll always remember.

“You have many others, you know.” His voice startled me again. I turned to see him standing in the threshold of the doorway, leaning against the frame and watching the memory with me.

“I know.” I half-smiled as I looked back at the two at the piano. “But this is one of my favorites.”

“I know it is,” he said.

I cleared some tears from my cheeks before turning to face him once again. “So, are you ever going to tell me what this walk down memory lane all about?” I asked him.

He broke into a boyish grin. “Of course. It’s your right to know now. I’m your Guardian Angel.”

I paused before speaking. “You were in my other dream, too.”

“Your other dream?” he questioned.

“Yeah, I mean, this is sort of a dream too, right?”

He shrugged with a smirk. “If you say so, and yes, I was in your dream the other night.” He raised his brow. “You know, the one when you didn’t want to know my name?”

Chagrined, I stood.

He held out his hand to me. “I’m Hayden.”

I held out my hand to shake his. “I’m...”

“Evika.” His smile widened. “Yeah, I know.” He laughed lightly as he grasped my hand firmly, shook it, and then released it. The gesture felt so strangely proper.

“Right,” I said. Duh. “Hayden,” I said his name aloud. “I like that name. It’s different.”

“Thank you...I think.”

“I do have another one. A memory, I mean,” I declared.

“As you wish,” he said. The environment around us whirled as we stood in place. The blurs of the images looked like they would have made me dizzy, but they didn’t affect me at all. I blinked and we were standing next to a blue Buick Skylark. It was the car I remembered from most of my childhood. It was sitting in the parking lot of Big Spot department store. It was exactly the memory I wanted. I saw myself at the age of nine in the backseat of the car, swaddled up in blankets and coughing as I read a Judy Blume book. A box of tissues at my feet and Beau by my side. I walked up close to the rear window and saw Beau turn his head and stare straight at me...or through me? I froze for a moment, hitching my breath and wondering if he did, in fact, see me. Then I watched him return to his formal position, laying his head back into the lap of my younger self. I breathed again.

“He can’t see you, you know? These are only glimpses,” the angel declared, “like a rewind of everything that already has been.”

I looked around to take in the scenery. Random cars pulling in and out of the parking lot. People dressed in their fall coats, carrying plastic bags and pushing shopping carts. The wind blew, and the leaves danced around me and the angel. It was the fall season, exactly as I remembered it.

“This is it.” I looked at Hayden. “This is the memory.” Unchanged, he looked at me. My eyes moved to the store building. “Can we?” I asked him.

“Go inside? Yes, we can go in. Remember, no one can see you.”

I started walking briskly, eager to find her inside the store. A red truck backed out hastily without giving me time to dart out of the way. It glided right through my body, and I froze. It didn’t stop. It kept moving along as if nothing were in its way.

Hayden gave me a know-it-all smirk. “Told you.”

I checked my body. I was fine. Of course, I was fine. I was only dreaming. I looked at him to see his expression change to a patronizing smile. Then I continued walking.

“We’ll have to work on this trust issue,” he poked.

“Why is that?” I shot him a look. I don’t know why he got to me with that comment. I tried determining if it was his cockiness that bothered me or if it was the fact that I was so determined to get into that store to see my mother again, and he was partly a distraction. I guess it was a bit of both.

“Because we have a long road ahead of us, you and me.” He put his hands into the leather pockets of his jacket and continued walking.

We were finally in the store. I knew exactly where to go. I herded through the crowd by the main entrance and headed to aisle seventeen where the toys and kids arts and crafts were. You would have thought that someone smacked the back of my knees to make me drop, but seeing her whip around the corner and feeling her walk right through me made me fall to them. I gasped as I inhaled her scent. It was a mix of her Suave hairspray and her freshly-laundered clothing. I hyperventilated, whipping around on my knee caps so as not to miss her next step.

“Sh-She walked right through me.” I grabbed my jacket collar and pieces of my hanging hair and held them to my nose. “I can smell her! She’s all over me!” I cried. “I even felt and heard her heartbeat,” I rambled.

I put my hands to my chest, sat back on my feet, and watched her in awe. She headed toward the Play-Doh, list in hand, along with about five other things she’d grabbed from the previous aisles during her shopping spree. She found an empty cart sitting in the aisle, claimed it as her own, and dumped all of her items into it.

I laughed as I cried my tears. I remembered being so upset and worried that she’d taken so long while I sat in the car, and now I was seeing these very moments that kept her from coming back out in a timely manner. There were many distractions.

“Oh my gosh,” my hand went to my mouth. “I remember. That’s the list I wrote her. I was so sick, and she wanted me write down some ideas, things for her to get me at the store to keep me occupied while I was home from school. She had me rest in the car with Beau while I waited for her.” I shook my head as I watched her. “That list was ridiculous, and she bought every item on it. She wasn’t supposed to.”

I’d forgotten that Hayden was behind me until he spoke. “You were sick. She wanted to make you happy,” he said to me quietly.

“She spoiled me,” I corrected him.

“You were sick,” he repeated.

I shook my head in disapproval, still watching her go through the colors of the Play-Doh, grabbing one of every color. “I didn’t have to be sick. She would have done it anyway.”

He watched her with me and thought for a moment. She stood on her toes and reached into the very back of the shelf, stretching her arm for the last tub of orange Play-Doh.

“Okay, maybe not so many colors,” he joked with a caring tone, “but, you’re right; she still would have.”

I smiled at him for humoring me.

I followed my mother’s every move. She must have taken another half-hour packing that cart finding new things to throw into it. Markers, colored pencils, construction paper, and even some stickers. Her last stop was the medicinal aisle where she stocked up on cherry flavored cough drops. I couldn’t stop my heart from beating with the excitement it felt as I watched her. I wanted so badly to be able to run into her arms and hold her again. It hurt to know that I couldn’t. I tried not letting myself get carried away, but I got as close as I could, walking through the check-out line with her. She let a short, gray-haired lady carrying a heavy bag of dog food go in front of her. I smiled widely and shook my head.

“No wonder you took so long,” I whispered to her.

I followed her back out to the car. She parked the cart next to the side of the Buick, running to the back door where I was sitting. I’d been crying, my face blotchy and red. The book was on the floor, and Beau was on all fours barking out the rear window, as if yelling at my mother to hurry.

“Oh my!” She swung the back door open. “Evika, honey, what’s wrong?”

“Mom, I didn’t know where you were. You took so long. I was afraid something happened to you in the store,” I cried harder.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, honey. I thought you would have taken a nice, long nap while you waited for me.”

“I was waiting forever! What if someone took you away, and I was still sitting out here?” I sobbed in hysterics.

My mother scooted into the seat holding out her arms. “I’m safe, sweetie, and I’m right here. Nothing is gonna happen to me.” The nine-year-old version of me proceeded to move in and embrace my mother, shaking. She gave a quick scratch behind the dog’s ear. “I thought Beau-Beau would make you feel safe.”

“I wasn’t worried about me,” I sniffed.

She leaned down and kissed my forehead. “I’ll never leave you again. I promise.”

After a few moments, my mother put the bags in the trunk, and they drove away, leaving me and my angel standing in the empty space of the parking lot.

He folded his arms and cocked his head. “Wow, you were pretty upset with her.”

I looked at him with narrowed eyes. “I was nine,” I said sharply. “You would be upset too if she was all you had left.”

He gave me a solemn look. “I didn’t say you didn’t have a right to be upset, Evika.”

I turned away from him to find the tail end of the Buick driving out into the busy road, and I sighed. “As much as I like seeing her again, it really hurts to relive this stuff, especially since I can’t interact with her.”

“Okay.” Hayden shrugged. “What did you want to do?”

I thought for a moment. “Can we just go back to that tree for a while? I thought maybe I could---”

The environment whirled once again as we stood in place. We were under the same willow tree I’d asked for, but this time the piano was sitting there with a pen and notebook placed neatly on the bench. I stood there, speechless.

“Is this what you wanted?” Hayden asked with a grin.

“How did you do that?” I asked, staring at the piano. “How did you know?”

“I told you I was here to help. These are all parts of your memories. The piano. The tree. Even that notebook there.” He pointed to the bench.

I cautiously made my way to the bench, picking up the pen and notebook. It was one of the journals my mother bought for me. I flipped through the pages. It was empty, one I hadn’t used yet. I turned to the inside cover and found her perfect, cursive writing:

With love, to my Evika, on her sixteenth birthday. This is to be filled with wonderful thoughts, as all your journals are. Love always, Mom.

“I can leave you here if you would like so as not to disturb you while you write,” he said. “I’m assuming you’re planning on playing...and jotting down some lyrics?”

I turned to him. “I was.” He nodded and then turned to walk away. “But,” I emphasized the word to get him to turn back around, “you don’t have to leave if you don’t want to. I don’t mind,” and I didn’t.

He smiled widely. “I knew I was growing on you.” He chuckled and lay on his back under the shade of the willow, his arms behind his head.

I shook my head and sat on the bench, grazing the ivory keys lightly with my fingers. I played one chord and that was all it took. The music continued freely and uninterrupted as if I’d been practicing the same song for years. It came to me so simply, so raw. All of the lyrics were in my head and poured out onto the unused journal:

Goodbye, Sanity

chorus:

Gone somewhat crazy

Kind of jaded, in a way

Lost somewhere between heaven and higher

While my head plays games all day

Another perfect ending

To another faulty vision

Goodbye, Sanity

I’ve got a new religion

All I could ever do is cry

I know how crazy I must seem

The last thing I had left

Was to hold onto broken dreams

Maybe I could glue them back together

To see if I could ever hope again

I’d probably grow wings faster

Than ever getting those back in hand

chorus

So, what does sanity really sound like?

Did I ever really know?

I probably did at one time

But I am far from it now

It’s kind of sad

How fast something becomes your god

It makes you forget your worries

And helps you forget your flaws

chorus

The world stopped turning long ago

At least, it did for me

I guess we all go blind for a while

Before we really get to see

I hummed the words to the music and got it down perfectly as I played. I lost track of the time. The sun didn’t move from the sky. Maybe there was no night here, but I didn’t care enough to ask. I finally stopped playing and turned around to see him still lying on the grass, propped up on his elbow, and watching me. I blushed.

“You really are a Jack-of-all-trades, aren’t you?” he asked, sounding slightly taken aback.

I looked at him, questioningly. “What do you mean?”

“I mean this stuff just seems to come to you as if you already had it. Artwork, words, your voice, the music...everything.” He chuckled. “It’s like you got smacked by the talent wand too many times.”

“Please.” I blushed again. “Just my outlet, I guess.”

Hayden walked over to the bench and sat next to me. “It’s who you are. It’s all still part of you. Everything you’ve ever done, seen, heard, it’s all in here with you. This place gives your mind the ability to replay everything it remembers, but it is also a place in which new thoughts can be created - like a canvas, and they will go back with you when you return.” His smile started to fade. “Which reminds me. I think it’s about that time now.”

“Time for what, exactly?”

He raised his eyebrows. “Time to send you back.”

I looked at him incredulously. “You mean it’s time for me to wake up?”

He laughed. “If you’re still stuck on the whole dream thing, I’ll play along,” he chortled. “So, yes, it’s time to wake up.”

I blinked, and he disappeared.

Everything was gone. The yard, the willow tree, the piano, and even my journal. I stood in an endless, white nothingness in silence, waiting.

The angel appeared once again in front of me with his boyish grin. “I’ll see you soon, Evika.”

Then, in an instant, it was black. I turned my head, my eyes...nothing was there. I reached out in front of me. Nothing. I made sure to keep my eyes open, waiting for something to see. Soon, I felt the pull of gravity shift behind me. I saw something white high above me as I lay flat on my back on something soft, comfortable, warm. I focused on the white object above. It consisted of flat squares with small holes.

A ceiling.

I gasped as if I hadn’t breathed in so long, jerking my body and thrashing my head around to see more of my surroundings. Then I was suddenly calmed by the echoes of a familiar voice, a voice that sounded very near.

“Mouska? Mouska!” The lovely Russian accent made my heart swell.

I blinked. My eyes felt heavy. I tried moving my stiff neck in the direction of her voice, to enable myself to see her face. She was clapping and dancing in a circle and chanting some Russian song before she darted to my side. Her hands went to my cheeks.

“Nurse! She wakes! Evika wakes!” Ms. Makerov yelled out to the hallway. “Oh, Mouska, it’s been so long for you to sleep,” she said with tears filling her deep, brown eyes. “I so happy to see you wake!”

I finally found my voice and tried to smile. I was sore all over. “Ms. Makerov, I’m so happy to see you. I’m at the hospital? How long have I been out?”

She tensed up. Her eyes told me she wasn’t sure if she should tell me or not. “It’s been long time, Mouska. Four months you sleep.”

My eyes widened. “Four months?!” How was that possible? The heart monitor sped up, beeping loudly. I was becoming observant of the rest of the items in the room.

“Yes, I so sorry. I stay here whole time, waiting for you to wake.” Her voice quieted. “Evika, I pray each time I see sun rise and set. Each day, I pray for you.” Her eyes squeezed her tears away.

I lifted my hand to her warm, wrinkly cheek. I was sore with every movement I made. “I’m here now, Ms. M.”

A nurse came dashing into the room. I changed my focus to a young girl around my age. She gasped. “Well, I’ll be...” she muttered in her slight Southern accent as she flitted over to the bedside and moved some of the machinery out of the way. “Miss Stormer, how are you feeling?” she asked.

“I don’t think I know yet,” I joked, but it was an honest answer.

She laughed lightly. “Well, it is certainly nice to finally meet you...awake. I’ve been one of your nurses since you got here. My name is Ember.”

I smiled. “Hi, Ember.”

“I know this is a pain,” she said sweetly, “but we are going to have to get your vitals so I can call the doctor to head in.”

“I’ll cooperate. I’d love to know that I have a heartbeat and the flow of blood after just finding out I’ve been out for four months.” Saying that fact out loud made me bulk. I thought about my job. I wondered if they thought I’d just skipped town or if someone had informed them. I decided I’d worry about it all later. I was still coping with the fact that I had been in the hospital for so long. I then thought about what got me here: the fall, that terrible, certain death, that nine-story plummet. Why was I still even alive?

Four months ago. May ninth. I calculated the new month in my head. September. I glanced over at the date on the wall by the dry erase board where all of the daily nurse info was for my room. September 11. Great. I practically died on my birthday, blacked out, and woke up four months and two days later on the anniversary of one of the most tragic events in U.S. history. I sighed.

“Ms. M. here’s been by your side every, single day. She’s not missed a one.” Ember smiled at Ms. Makerov, who was holding my hands.

I smiled at the Russian woman I loved so much. “I believe it.”

Ms. Makerov patted my head. “You rest, Mouska. I make few phone calls and be back.” Then she shuffled out of the room and down the hall.

Ember unwrapped the velcro from my arm. “Blood pressure looks good so far. Do you need anything for the pain?”

“Oh,” I squirmed a bit in the bed, checking the status of my body. I was very sore all over. “As long as it isn’t too strong, I’m up for something to take the edge off as long as it won’t knock me out.”

She chuckled. “Believe me, what we give you for the pain won’t be nearly as powerful as the drinks you had the night you came in.”

Remembering, I looked up at her. “Yes,” I said seriously. “I can remember most of it.”

“Do you?” Concerned, she studied at me. I nodded. Her head lowered as she spoke. “When they brought you in that night, almost everything wrong with you would have taken a miracle to fix. Your blood-alcohol level was outrageous. Aside from casting almost every bone, they had to pump your stomach and get you clean before any of the surgeries.” She looked away and narrowed her eyes, as if remembering another thought. “Dr. Crusoe said it would have been impossible for you to survive that fall and impossible to heal as quickly as you have. He said that impact should have been the end of you. The paramedics caught the moment that your heart stopped, but then it started back up on its own and just kept going....barely, but it kept going.” She looked at me again, intently. “In the first few weeks, this hospital was swarming with news reporters trying to get a glimpse of you and your story. You are the miracle story around here, Miss Stormer.”

I looked at her in amazement that she would be so open to telling me these things, but it looked as though she had been waiting so long to be able to. Waiting for me to wake up to tell me that my survival was like magic. “Where was I for four months...mentally?”

She looked at me questioningly. “Well, only you could tell us that. All we had on this end was a comatose version of Evika Stormer.” She smiled sweetly at me again. Her cute, Southern drawl averted my attention. I was interested in a distraction at the moment.

“Ember, are you from around here?” I asked her.

“Oh, no,” she waved her hand at me and chuckled. “My home state is Alabama, but my husband got transferred here to the area recently. The accent stuck.”

“You’re married?” I asked, shocked. She looked so young.

She giggled at my expression. “I know. Barely twenty-two and married. Quite a Southern cliche, huh? And not only that...” she rubbed her flat belly, smiling, “there’s a little one on the way, too.” She was beaming.

“Wow!” I breathed a laugh, even more stunned. “Congratulations. I can’t even tell.” The laughing made me aware of the sore parts of my body.

“Aw, thanks, sweetheart. I found out just two weeks ago. Kyle and I are so excited.”

“I couldn’t imagine having kids at this age,” I said.

She nodded. “Let me tell you, it was a shocker. But there is just something that clicks when you realize you are going to be a mommy. Everything just falls into place.” She beamed again, jotting down the vitals. “Everything happens for a reason.”

I mirrored her warm smile. “That’s something I’ve heard many times.”

“It’s a good motto to live by if you don’t have one already. I mean, look at you. A nine-story fall to the ground four months ago, and here you are, sitting in this hospital bed and talking to me. I’d sure say there is a reason for it. She patted me on the forearm. “Oh goodness, I better stop yapping and go get the doctor and your pain meds in here before they all come in and start their poking and prodding. It’s just so refreshing to see you awake and well and talking like you are. It really is a miracle, Miss Stormer. It truly is.”

She left the room, and I nestled my head into the fluffy pillow I felt behind me, taking everything in. The sterile smell of the room, the daisies in the pink vase by the window sill. I hadn’t noticed them before. I tried evaluating my disposition, questioning if I were still myself. I’d just spent four months dreaming away my life after dying-not dying. Dreaming of the memories consisting of the one person I wanted here with me the most. Dreaming of an imaginary, handsome guy who claimed to be my guardian angel and leading me through pieces of my life. Was that the way my mind rationalized the trauma? Was it giving me an ability to deal with the pain?

But why? Why did I survive that fall? Why not death? What was it that was so important for me to hang around on this God forsaken planet for a little longer just to drag myself through my daily life over and over again? My reason would show up sooner or later. I knew it. I felt it, just like that calm before the storm I knew too well. There was always a warning, and I was heeding it. My storm was coming...soon.

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