Chapter 59 - The light at the end of the tunnel
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CHAPTER 59 - THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
I would have sworn my heart skipped a beat, but nothing moved. I fought to open my eyes, but I couldn't. Neither could I move. I was lying on a bed, I guess. Paralyzed maybe? Or just chained to it? That wouldn't be a first.
Last thing I remember is seeing Heather wounded on the shoulder and dashing to her help ... catching a lot of bullets in the process. I barely remember her frantically trying to keep me awake. Then it's all blank, apart from some on and off lights that seeped through as my eyes opened and closed several times. I would have sworn I saw a familiar face among those lights, but can't exactly tell who that was. My uncle maybe? That'd mean I'm dead.
Wait, am I? I couldn't move, didn't even feel if I was breathing or not, and yet I could feel something warm touching my hand. I couldn't move that said hand, but I felt as if something was touching it, and right after that I could hear the faint sound of a sob. Someone was crying. Beside me? Who? And where was I? Why was this person crying? I'm not dead, am I? Well, I felt all but alive anyway.
Yet I could hear faint sounds around me. Couldn't see anything and they felt far, but I still could hear them. And those sobs, they increased, getting more frantic and desperate. I couldn't feel my hand, yet I could feel something warm squeezing it. Odd, right? As if somebody was squeezing my hand and yet I couldn't feel it but I knew they were. So who was this someone? Heather maybe? Nah, she wouldn't cry. Then ... oh.
No. Not her. No. She can't know where I am. Well, neither I know where am I, but ... if I was lying on a bed, barely alive, better said, halfway between life and death, the last person that should see me like this is ...
"Eric, please! I need you. We all need you! Please!" If I'd felt my heart beating, I'd have said it'd dropped. That voice. For how faintly I could hear it, I could recognize it all too easily. She was pleading me. To do what?
Oh. Right. Lying on a bed. Faint sounds around me. Unable to move and to feel my own body. Only one explanation possible. Coma. I was in a comatose state. That figures. I guess it's normal. Lots of bullets did pierce my skin after all.
I forced myself to move, to at least respond to her touch, but I couldn't. It felt as if I was paralyzed, unable to move one single muscle. It felt like my whole body was a statue and there was no way back.
Yet I could still feel her touch, and while it didn't cause me any physical reactions, psychologically I felt my heart racing, even if it wasn't. It's hard to explain.
I perked up my ears (figuratively, because I couldn't move one single muscle, remember?) to listen to that sweet familiar voice, though it was starting to be always farer and farer, to the point that it was almost a whisper and I couldn't tell what she was saying, no matter how hard I tried to listen carefully.
Yet all of a sudden I heard a blood-freezing shriek, but it wasn't human, it was like a siren, and out of the blue I felt like being hurled out of bed, which is weird per se, considering I couldn't even feel my body.
Wait. Now I could. I couldn't see anything, as if my eyes were shut and yet I knew they were wide open, I could hear noises in the distance, some hustle and bustle of different busy people, among those, louder sobs. What was all of this exactly? I think I've read somewhere about out-of-body experiences, but this didn't quite feel like it, though I wouldn't know how does it feel, considering I've never felt it.
Not being able to see, I focused on the noises: people tinkering with something, sobs not too far, words being whispered, other words being yelled ... it was a complete mess there. Wherever that was. Though I perked up my ears to try to hear my Natalie. The sobs were too distant, but I knew it was her.
It's been four years already, but it's hard to forget a voice when it crowds your dreams every single night. Besides, I didn't need to recognize it, something deep in my gutter told me it was my princess crying, quite desperately even. But why was she? Well, duh, I was on a coma apparently, yes, but why did she sound so desperate?
I could move now, so I wasn't dead. Right? Unless her voice was just a trick of my own mind. Maybe it was whoever and because I need to see and hear my princess so badly after four years, my own mind pulls such pranks on me and makes me believe she's right here beside me.
Yet I couldn't delete that thought. She was there. In that room. Beside my bed. But why wasn't I? Even more, where the hell was I? Because I couldn't see anything and since now I could feel myself standing, definitely I wasn't on bed anymore and was even able to move.
Slowly, I tried groping my way through darkness, but I couldn't touch anything. As if that place was completely empty. I remember Natalie made me watch Harry Potter and when in the last movie he dies, he finds himself in a completely white place that's supposed to mean something ... what was it ... ah, the train station, that ... uh ... King's Cross?
Yeah, but I don't think I'd end up in King's Cross. Be it even only because that's in London, UK, and I was ... well, now I have no idea, but last time I can remember I was in Denver, Colorado, Heather and I were to arrest a dangerous suspect that had proved himself to be quite a great fugitive, having been able to escape not just police, but also Marshalls and FBI and even bounty hunters.
It was quite a hunt, the guy was really hard to catch, but in the end we made it, and yet right when we'd cuffed him, there was a faint explosion and I felt deaf and partially blind, so clearly a flash grenade, then out of the blue Heather and I were surrounded ... one of the people I pissed in these years was a drug lord that didn't quite like me, so he waited for the right moment to have his revenge. Well, he got it. Kind of.
Ugh. I'm not dead, am I? Now I can move. Though I can't feel my body, I mean, I could, but now I can't. Jeez, this is so fucked up.
I spun around more than once, trying to understand where the hell was I, those sobs still in the distance, just like all that hustle and bustle. Unable to tell anything, I took a few steps, and when I finally felt like I was nearing those noises, I stopped, but what startled me were my eyes now being able to see, well, I saw just white all around, but still.
I spun around once more, trying to take in my surroundings, but nothing, it was all white. Though not for long, because just as I'd adjusted to all that white, while sobs and noises got fainter and fainter, to the point that even my trained ears could barely perceive them, all that white was filled by different scenes. Wherever I turned, there were different scenes, better said, screens, screens that showed different scenes. Like mini-movies.
They were all around me, I guess not in a peculiar order, so I looked at the first one that caught my eye: there was this blond little boy sitting on the stairs of a porch, clearly bored, hand on his chin, huffing, but all of a sudden someone came out of the house and descended the few steps, ruffling the boy's hair in the process, to which he huffed even more, clearly annoyed; there was a man standing in front of him, a not too tall but neither short well-built man in his thirties, tanned, well dressed, clearly rich, he sported a smug and satisfied grin he wasn't directing at the kid, but at someone behind him ... ah. Behind the kid, there was a woman at the door, grinning as well, a blonde woman I know all too well ...
I moved past that scene. It was the first time I ever saw Robert. That time it was the fourth in a week that my so called mother threw me out of the house just as he entered it, I was seven, usually I'd take a walk around the block or go over to Claudia's, one of my closest friends back in Washington, but that time Claudia was out of town and I'd spent enough time outside, I thought I could go back, but as soon as I reached the porch I heard those disgusting but familiar noises of a man and a woman moaning ...
I didn't know what that was back then, but I knew it meant that I ought to remain out, so I did, and a few minutes later a grinning Robert came out. I think I'd removed that memory, that would explain why didn't I really remember him when we moved to his house.
Further on, there was another scene, this time it was far more ... crude. All around me there were those sort of scenes, with a blond boy being tortured, abused, brought close to death but never enough ... let me guess, my bad memories these ones were. I was re-living my shitty life apparently.
I walked ahead, poker-faced as I spotted, without really watching, all those scenes, though I was able to hear the boy whimpering in pain, yet it caused me nothing. Adult me knows the people responsible got what they deserved. Not even re-seeing that memory where I'm being drowned for fun and my so called mother laughs while sitting on her husband's lap caused me any reaction. Though I couldn't feel my body, so I guess that neither could I feel my emotions ... maybe.
No, I could feel my emotions. Because I smiled, unable to retain myself, as I watched a whole different scene: a blond little boy at his locker, annoyed, books in his arms, suddenly widening his eyes as he spots something, better said, someone in the distance ... someone that was in a hurry because she was late for class, someone that while being really late, took the time to sweetly smile back when the little boy warily gave her his best attempt at a lovely smile. Someone that dashed across the hall right after as the late bell rang, failing to realize that she'd just gripped the heart of that blond little boy. Ah, the very first time I saw my princess. How could I forget it?
I walked past that scene only when I saw the blond little boy shaking his head to regain control and hurrying to class as well. I was so full of hopes back then, annoyed because I didn't want to leave my friends, yes, but now grateful because I'd had the chance to see such angel ...
The next scene I saw was always positive, but not entirely: first day of freshman year, a blond kid was crossing the hall in deep thought, he didn't see the two girls coming his way and he halted his steps only when he heard someone yelping.
There hadn't been a contact with the two girls that crossed his way, but the brown-haired one looked not scared, but certainly wary while the redheaded one only grinned as she introduced herself, hair stretched towards the blond boy, who ignored her completely as he perused the brown-haired one, kind of unsettling her with his intense gaze, so much that she looked like she wanted to flee immediately, so he moved aside and let them pass, but watching them, better said, watching the brown-haired one leave in a hurry.
I remember that time ... I wasn't the dreaded devil yet, but I was kind of known already, not by everybody, but mostly yes. I remember wondering if that brown-haired girl that got my heart racing so fast, also taking me off of my thoughts about the new things that were ahead of me, could ever see me differently from others. I remember wondering if I could ever get to talk to her at all.
I walked past it while that blond boy was still giving himself a couple of moments of relief to just creepily watch that brown-haired girl walk away. The next scene made me grin widely. It was the most perfect night we've ever had: my birthday. Since it felt really creepy to watch myself making love to Natalie for the first time, I walked ahead, though the next scenes were mostly the same ... just us experiencing this new level of our relationship.
I remember she was really wary at first, I did my best to make her at ease, I was always going slow and gentle (both figuratively and literally), I was always asking how she felt, just to be sure she wasn't hurting, because the first couple of times were still of adjustment, I mean, she'd just lost her virginity, she needed time to physically adjust to the thing. Though after a week of intense lovemaking she started picking up on a faster trail and she was a little less wary ... proof is what she did to me in the shower that one time before going to school.
I walked past all those ... let's say passionate scenes I have no idea why I was reminiscing, only to find me breaking into Mrs. Bane's property to pick one of her yellow roses. That was our third date, Natalie told me she loved yellow roses and we were there ... I thought why not? Too bad the woman busted me.
Though she only brought her hands to her hips in reproach, I immediately threw my hands in the air and apologized, explaining that it was for my girlfriend, pointing to a giggling but worried Natalie outside the property, the woman perused her for a moment then smiled, complimenting me for having picked such a cute and accomplished girl (I guess she knew my girlfriend's reputation), and grabbed a handful of daisies, as gift for my Natalie, saying those were as delicate and purely innocent and simple just as my Tallie was, so they were a perfect crown for her. I agreed. As a princess, she did need a crown, didn't she?
Other scenes I saw were of us laughing or battling on her sofa or just being tender ... after those horrible scenes of my past, reliving the most tender moments of my relationship with Natalie was refreshing. Spinning around, I came to the conclusion that for how huge that room was, it was filled with scenes from my past, good and bad ones.
Re-seeing the moment when I watched my princess walking back to the cabin with her friends while I had Nathan blocked, his own knife pointed at his throat, washed away the contentment and gave room to regrets, reality kicking in as it reminded me of how much I've hurt her in these years, which I could have avoided if I'd been just less selfish.
As I walked, I could see a blinding light approaching, just as those scenes started running out, I guess because the rest of my life was a blur of training to become stone cold killer and almost deathly missions sometimes I was barely able to come back from, plus all the maybe ashamedly not so displeasing moment I took my first life. Robert's one, to be precise.
Though it wasn't direct. I only helped the wolves in their hunt for food, leaving it there exposed for them to party. I didn't quite watch ... not everything anyway.
So the thing is, as I walked, I felt more heat, coming from that blinding light, I guess. I walked into the subway tunnel from where the light came, not too sure if this was real and I'd be hit by a train or something, but whatever. Considering I couldn't even feel my body, worrying about that was pretty useless.
The heat enhanced as I walked into the tunnel, that light being the only thing that illuminated the place, at this point the blinding light and those screens being much behind me.
I think I knew where was I going. A subway tunnel was the last thing I saw. I mean, Heather and I had been able to hide in an abandoned train station before our enemies caught up with us, so yeah, technically, that was where I died. Well, it would be if I was dead, but I am not ... right?
I made it halfway through the tunnel before I stopped. As if a projector had been switched on, another scene started playing, but this was one really blurred, to the point that I could barely tell what was happening in it. There were different people and possibly a bed ... a bed?
"They're all so busy, aren't they?" A familiar voice commented. Turning to my side, I spotted an as much familiar face: tousled brown hair, hipster glasses on his nose, a second-hand black suit with white dress-shirt and black tie, even the same stubble of the last time I saw him ...
"Am I really dead?" I asked as a matter of greeting, confused. Because, if I see him, that means I really am dead. But, uncle Sam laughed wholeheartedly, as if I'd just told the most hilarious joke, and shook his head, hands in his pockets.
"No. Well, not yet." He replied, then hinted at the screen in front of us, whose images were starting to be less blurred. "But, judging by that, you will be soon."
I blinked my eyes, confused, and focused on the screen. Oh. That figures. It was a hospital room, at least four people fumbling around a bed where someone lay, with all tube around and everything ... those four people were wearing colored hospital uniforms and were shouting things I didn't get because they were too hazed and ... there were sobs and cries too loud coming from the other side of the room.
There, a very familiar brown-haired girl stood, hiding her face in the chest of a tall, dark blond man in his mid-thirties, crying desperately. Next to her, a familiar dark-haired boy, well, man, in a green hospital uniform, leaning against the wall, his head shot back barely hiding the tears in his eyes, till another man, a blond one in his forties, came close to him and hugged him, which was the go for them both to burst out crying, but much less loudly than the girl, more posed, as a man would cry. Though they were hugging each other tightly, clearly trying to seek strength from that.
Both men were clearly trying to be strong, but the girl ... the girl was a heartbreaking sight. She wouldn't stop crying and sobbing frantically, so much that it was clear that she could barely breathe. I saw the man that was holding her move his mouth to say something, but I couldn't hear him. He placed a kiss on her hair, hugging her tighter and I felt jealous. Who was that?
"Just her cousin." My uncle responded, as if he'd heard my mental question. I turned to him, confused, and he gave me one of his reassuring smiles as he explained that things like inner thoughts and all the inner world we all of us keep hidden were pretty unveiled where we were. There were no secrets where we were.
Yeah, but where was this where? I asked. Uncle Sam smiled faintly as he hinted at the screen, and without responding to my question, just pointed out: "There's not much time left. They're about to declare your death."
My eyes widened and I turned to that scene. People in hospital uniforms were still fumbling around that person lying on bed but a machine beside him signed a weaker and weaker beat, which caused the girl on the other side of the room to cry even more frantically and desperately and the other two men to grip each other tighter, as if they didn't want to witness the moment, yet they couldn't get out of that room.
The three people I care for most were all in that room, crying. Crying as they witnessed doctors and nurses trying to reanimate what looked like a lifeless corpse on that bed. Dad and Kyle seemed not to be able to even look at that bed. Natalie ... well, she was the most desperate. Her face was hidden in that man's chest as he tried to console her and I could hear him propose she got out, but she refused to move.
"I am ... I am dying?" It came out like a question but it was more an affirmation, to which my uncle confirmed, pursing his lips.
"Unless you decide quickly, yes."
I blinked my eyes, even more puzzled. "Decide? I can ... I can decide?"
He gave me a warm smile as he nodded: "Of course. This is no definitive station. You're in between. You can decide. Do you want to stay here and walk towards that light or go back?"
That was a really odd question. Of course I'd want to go back. Only looking at those three people I cherish being so brokenhearted gave me a reason to go back. Only seeing my father and brother trying to recollect their strength was enough. More than enough was seeing my princess so desperate for me.
Uncle Sam grinned as he probably read my mind, since apparently it was impossible to hide them here. "Then move." He suggested me, and just as he did, I heard a noise from behind me and when I looked back, there was huge wooden door where before there was only a wall.
The door opened and all the noises from that room that was on screen became louder, even louder was the beeping of a machine as it quickened its pace. I turned to the screen again and while it wasn't in slow motion, it felt like seconds became ages because that machine took long to silence, but when its beeping became only one and ongoing, the four people around the bed quit moving and dropped their tools, just as a loud, desperate and heartbreaking cry was let out and the girl on the other side of the room crawled to her knees, the blond man with her trying to hold her up, but without succeeding.
"You better hurry, son." Uncle Sam reminded me and I gazed at him, confused, opening my mouth to say something, but nothing came out and he cracked a small smile, reading my mind once more: "It's your choice, Eric. I can't give you hints." He hinted at the screen. "Just know that if you decide to stay, you're leaving more than those three people."
I frowned, puzzled, but he hinted at the screen once more, though not at the scene itself, at what was happening outside that room. In the distance, on a far bench, there was a familiar brown-haired woman in her forties wearing a grave expression as she cuddled someone ... a dark blond little boy sitting on her lap, his face leaning on her chest, seemingly asleep.
He looked familiar. Really familiar. Just like the one I saw in all those screens before getting to this tunnel. But that couldn't be me. I mean, in those other screens, of course it was me, but on that bench, in Penelope's arms, it obviously wasn't me. Then who ...
My eyes widened even more in shock, which was about the only reaction I had that I could feel because my body didn't even respond to my unconscious commands anymore and I felt weaker and weaker actually, but found the strength to ask: "That's ... he's not ..." Well, ok, I didn't quite ask, just stammered.
Uncle Sam gave me a small smile as he moved away, walking backwards towards that beaming light at the end of the tunnel, his voice as calm as usual but also sort of ... ethereal as he spoke: "His name is Noah."
Just that. Didn't add anything. In a few moments he was out of sight.
I glanced back at the screen: there were still four people in hospital uniforms around that bed, but the beeping of the machine was now dying down. Those people were discouraged, but worse were the sobs and cries of those three other people at the other side of the room. Especially one. The most inconsolable one that cried even louder when one of the hospital people spoke.
Behind me, I felt cold, and turning around I noticed that the wooden door that was once wide open now was closing, there was just a crack open, enough for a human being to pass, but not for long. It was closing, and it would be once for all.
The beeping of the machine was deafening even while dying down and the cold coming from that door hit me hard, but worse were the cries of those people, that girl in particular. I had to decide quickly, before the door closed. But I already had. Obvious.
Walking backwards, I beheld the four hospital people moving out of the room while the others remained, hopelessly crying. I didn't even need to watch where I was going, I knew I'd fit the door without looking.
"Wait for me, princess. I'm coming back to you. And our child."