The Loft, Deadside.
Moments later . . .
The light is bright at first, but as my eyes acclimate I realize that it’s just as dark as ever in the Land of Sorrows.
I claw and slither my legs and feet free of my slowly cooling body. When I get to the floor and turn around I see just my body. Of course, all the furniture is skewed and altered as if it had been melted in some giant microwave and then suddenly frozen. The normal colors are gone, replaced by shades of blue and grey. I am the only thing that still has symmetry.
I stand, unsteady at first, and look at my chest and arms. They’re glowing a deep bluish-white where all of the tattooed markings and symbols are. My body is stronger, bigger in this place. I am not just Jack. I’m like me on steroids. I’m formidable. I feel like I could just start walking through walls, but because Ricky is paying so much for this place, I don’t even dare.
I look down at the gaping hole in my dormant body’s chest. Every time I see that it looks awful. That’s where the gatherers had their way, cutting and pulling at my soul for 67 minutes. And then I look beside my body where Ricky was. There’s nobody there.
Where Billtruck was, kneeling with his computer, there’s just a twisted end table that can’t possibly support the warped lamp that rests on it.
I look to where Ms. Josephine was sitting. And although she’s not there, her eyes are clear as the midday sun. They seem brighter than before. More penetrating than the last time I crossed over. She’s getting stronger, too.
I see you, Ms. Josephine, I tell her.
“ . . . I hear you, child.”
What do we do, now?
“ . . . go to the balcony and see if you can find anyone.”
I walk out of the bedroom, ducking slightly, and then head to where there used to be a large glass door that leads to the balcony. The glass, it’s all shattered and mostly gone. Where there were blinds, there are loose rags waving back and forth as the cold wind etches through the loft.
I make my way out onto the balcony and it’s all bent and scary, with the guardrail so messed-up that I’m just asking for trouble. If I slip I’m a goner, for sure. Carefully I look out over the edge, my eyes searching for any signs of life.
Above me is a starless sky, as dark and wet as black oil paint. Below me I see nobody. I look all around the loft, across the courtyard where normally there are little birds pecking for bugs. Nothing.
I walk closer to the edge, almost enough to look down and see the empty place where I sit and eat pizza at Luigi’s.
There’s no pizza.
“I can’t find anything,” I say to nobody in particular. I hope I’m speaking to Ms. Josephine.
“ . . . leave da loft,” she says. “ . . . go outside and try and make contact wit somebody. Anybody.”
Alright, I say. But the moment I turn around to head back I see a pair of eyes disappear into the loft. These eyes are light blue, and look like they’re in some nightmare. Which, really, they are.
I call out, Who’s there? I won’t hurt you.
I hear some noise as whoever it is races through the loft, heading towards the door that leads to the hallway and the elevators. Normally I’d run as I gave chase, but as irregular as everything is, I’d trip and fall on my teeth . . . or worse. I start to jog after them.
Those eyes are familiar.
I get into the loft, and cross through the doorway to the hall. There’s nobody. I could be hallucinating, but I’m not even sure that’s possible here. I jog down the hallway, speaking calmly. “Hello, is anyone here? I’m looking for somebody. For a friend. Hello?”
“ . . . what’s ’appening?” Ms. Josephine asks tensely.
I saw something. I’m trying to find them. They’re hiding.
I stop at the end of the hall, near the elevators. I know they’re not working so I race ahead to the stairwell entrance. I tiptoe my way to the edge, looking down to see if anyone tried their luck with the misshapen stairs.
I see nothing but crooked steps.
I hear nothing but biting wind.
And then I get this feeling somebody is behind me. I turn slowly, my hands up so as not to alarm them, saying, “I just want to talk. I’m trying to find my friend. She’s lost, and she’s scared.”
As I make my way around I hear somebody weeping in the hallway. They’re not crying. No, this is a dreadful, heart aching moan. And I see somebody slowly falling to the ground, hugging their knees to their chest. It is a man. It is our old neighbor, the Lawyer Ricky was going to hire.
Damn, I think to myself. I never thought to talk to him.
I approached him very slowly, me taking small steps, him sobbing and burying his head in his knees. And then he slightly raises his head, his eyes barely more than thin slits of blue.
“We’re neighbors,” I say, trying to smile.
“We used to be,” he says.
And I realize that to try and explain all of this to my dead neighbor would be in poor taste, and probably just send him over the edge of my balcony.
“I live in that loft, now,” he says between cries. “You need to find your own place. But watch out for the winged creatures.” Then his head lowers again.
I sit near him, pulling my knees up to my chest. I don’t really think he wants my comforting words right now, so we just sit. Him and me. He’s dead. I’m kind of dead. We both share the same loft, just on different sides of life.
And all I say is, “I’m looking for my friend. Her name is Jesse Taylor, and she’s alone and scared. If there is any way you could help me find her, I would be grateful.”
He looks at me for a second, as if he has a glimmer of recognition. But he doesn’t answer.
And I don’t ask again.
“You can have the loft,” I say to him. “It’s too expensive for me, anyway.”
And it’s right about that time that I start to get the chills. I hear Ms. Josephine’s faded voice, “ . . . to come back now, Jack . . . ’s time . . . come back . . . ”
“I can’t come back, yet,” I tell the darkness, hoping that Ms. Josephine hears me. “I haven’t found Jesse.”
The original plan was that Ms. Josephine would have given her some place to meet during those terrifying moments before she died in the hospital. I would crossover, meet Jesse, and explain her new life . . . or death, or however she looks at it. But she’s not here and I’m not getting much out of our old neighbor. In a way, he’s kind of a squatter in our loft, but I guess that’s being petty.
A cold shiver moves down my spine, touching each and every vertebrae. I haven’t started shaking, but it’s only a matter of time. My visits to this place are limited to 67 minutes. After that, I’ll be dead dead, and this will be my permanent residence.
“You . . . you’re glowing,” the lawyer says as he squints at my tattoos. “How come I’m not glowing?”
I shrug as I sit next to him, both of us leaning against the uneven wall, “I’m cursed.”
“And I’m not?” he spits as he opens his hands out into the darkness. “This is my forever? This is my eternity . . . my reward for being a good litigator?”
“It’s not forever,” I tell him, not knowing his name. I really should have learned something other than that he was one of Dallas’s most eligible bachelors. Something real.
I extend my hand, “I’m Jack . . . and I’m damned. Pleased to meet you.”
“I’m Edward, but my friends call me Edward,” he says, kind of laughing sadly to himself.
Edward, I say, I’m looking for a very special girl. She’s got light blue eyes and she’s new, and I need to find her. I have to make sure she’s safe until I figure some things out.
“I haven’t seen anyone around here for weeks, or months . . . I’m not even sure how time works here. First couple of days I wandered around, trying to find those monsters that chopped me up. I have some choice things I’d like to say to them.”
It’s not their fault, I tell him. They’re just doing what they’re told. Following orders.
I hear Ms. Josephine’s voice again, “ . . . eed to come back . . . ow. Please . . . ome back . . . your body is cold.”
I glance briefly at my necklace, not relishing the idea of having to swallow a bag full of the most poisonous, hungry insects. Stingers, and teeth, and pinchers, and red dots, and little brown fiddles, and hourglasses.
“I’ve got to go, Edward. But I’ll be back.” I stand up slowly, a little slower than I had expected. My body is starting to get weaker as my temperature drops. I turn to him, “Can you find her, Edward? Her name is Jesse Taylor, and she’s probably scared to death about all this.”
“I’ll look around,” he says barely above a whisper. “I’ve got free time.”
I walk towards our loft, stopping at the threshold, “Edward?”
“Don’t hate God for this.”
He laughs, “Why not? He apparently hates me.”
And as much as I’d like to convince him otherwise, I’m not so sure I disagree.
“Jesse Taylor,” I say, “ . . . find her and bring her here.”
And then I head inside the threshold of our loft apartment, take a right, and make my way back to my bedroom. There’s my slowly cooling human body. A heavy, dormant flesh suit. I crawl up and across the bed, and then climb back into my earth body’s open chest wound.
That’s never comfortable, by the way.
Next thing I know, I’m gasping for air while Ricky checks my heart rate. “It always comes back stong,” he says to himself. “Just breathe, dude, nice and easy . . . ”