CHAPTER ONE - DEAD IS DEAD, END OF STORY
Flashing lights from emergency vehicles illuminate an intersection where a compact car sits with its side caved in. The pickup that struck the vehicle broadside rests on the sidewalk nearby.
The wrecked car’s driver, an older, frail woman, lies in the street. She remains calm despite her numerous injuries, including a long facial laceration that bleeds into her greying hair.
Onlookers gather at the accident scene to watch as a stoic paramedic in his thirties, Ross, examines the elderly driver. Another paramedic, Derek, hurries over after checking on the man waiting by the truck. Ross glances up as he works, “He will live, I assume?”
Derek nods. “He’ll have a bad hangover tomorrow. That’s all.”
Ross shakes his head. “Drunk drivers never get hurt.”
“My ice cream will melt if I don’t get it home soon,” the woman says as she tries to sit up.
Derek gently restrains her as he checks her vitals. “Please, just lie still, Ma’am.”
A grim-faced man in his forties, Dodd, emerges from the crowd of onlookers. Clad in a vintage dark suit, he looks like he stepped out of an old cigarette ad. Casually leaning against the wrecked car, he watches with detachment as the old woman’s breathing stops and her eyes close.
Derek reports, “She’s going into V-fib.” He readies the defibrillator while Ross grabs the paddles and prepares to administer a shock to the injured woman.
After checking the time on his tarnished pocket watch, Dodd draws an unusual handgun from his shoulder holster.
The Scythe pistol is a futuristic-looking weapon that resembles a barcode scanner gun complete with a tiny keypad, a display screen and several blinking lights.
After pressing buttons on his Scythe pistol, Dodd points his strange weapon at the elderly woman. No one reacts. The paramedics and bystanders are completely unaware of him.
Ross announces “Clear!” just before shocking the woman’s chest with the defibrillator.
“Sorry, guys. She’s coming with me,” Dodd murmurs.
Neither paramedic notices Dodd standing over them as they attempt to save the old woman’s life. The onlookers remain oblivious to his presence.
Dodd glances at his pocket watch and fires his Scythe pistol.
A cold, white light is emitted from the gun, looking like the weak beam from a dying flashlight. The ray strikes the unconscious woman and bathes her in a soft glow.
A moment later, a bright, yellow ball of radiance rebounds out of the woman and enters the small prism on the front of Dodd’s gun.
Several lights flash on the Scythe pistol’s display screen. Dodd presses some buttons on the device and it goes dark. He then returns the weapon to his shoulder holster.
After finding that the woman’s heart hasn’t resumed beating, Ross mutters, “She’s still down.” Ross and Derek prepare to use the defibrillator again as Dodd walks away unnoticed.
Morning sun shines through the dirty windows of a dingy studio apartment. The depressing room features water-damaged furniture, rusty pipes running along the ceiling and cracked walls festooned with cheesy motivational posters.
The front door unlocks and swings open to reveal an empty hallway. After a few seconds, the door seems to close by itself. Though no one can be seen, a presence is obviously now in the room as a disembodied voice begins speaking.
“Morton, wake up.” The unseen visitor’s speech has an ageless, genderless quality to it. Almost otherworldly, its whispery tone has a sinister hint of inhuman power.
The person sleeping in the bed, Morton, awakens with a start. He’s a tall, wiry man with sunken eyes and long, shaggy hair of the darkest red. Still half-asleep, Morton draws a hunting knife and scans the room for an intruder.
“Calm down, Morton. It’s just me.” The unseen visitor says.
“You’ve finally returned.” Morton’s eyes wander the room while he talks, it’s clear he cannot see the source of the unearthly voice. “I was afraid you’d never come back.”
“You haven’t started mutilating yourself again, have you?”
Morton looks at the row of fresh slashes on his forearm. Ashamed, he crosses his arms to hide the bloody design. “A little. Do you need me to do what we talked about a few weeks ago?”
“Yes. Do you still wish to serve me?”
Morton nods eagerly. “I want to be your avenging angel.”
“You will do exactly as I command or I will end you.” The unseen speaker lets the threat hang a moment before continuing. “I assume you still want to live. That hasn’t changed, has it?”
Morton, looking genuinely afraid for his life, shakes his head. “I don’t want to die.”
“Good. I have a gift for you.” A pair of unusual glasses suddenly appears on the bed. The metallic frames of gunmetal-blue are scarred with welding scorch marks and contain thick, blood-red lenses. “This is true sight. Put them on.”
Morton cautiously dons the glasses. Once in place, they emit a brief electronic buzz, followed by a tiny click. He grimaces in pain as blood trickles from under the glasses and runs down his face. “Something’s wrong, it hurts!” He reaches up to remove the glasses.
The ghostly voice stops him. “Don’t take the glasses off yet. The burning sensation and bleeding won’t last long. You just need a little time to become accustomed to wearing them.”
Morton glances around with his new glasses on. When he looks at the empty chair by the door, he’s startled by what has become visible to him. “I can see you now.”
“I’m not the only thing you’ll be able to see with those on. Now it’s time to put you to work.”
Ross unbuttons his paramedic’s uniform as he slinks into his bedroom. He sits on the bed and cracks open a beer. He frowns as he takes a drink, deep in thought. A foot slips out from under the blankets and playfully pokes him in the ribs. Smirking, he presses the cold beer against the jabbing foot. Shocked by the chilly can, it retreats back under the covers.
The blanket parts to reveal Theda, a woman in her thirties with deep, dark eyes and a welcoming smile. “Good morning, my love,” she says between yawns. After they kiss, Theda glances at his beer and rubs his back. “Bad night?”
Ross takes a sip. “I saw one of my teachers from high school die last night.”
Theda winces. “That’s terrible. I’m so sorry.”
“I didn’t recognize her until afterwards,” Ross says. “The only thing I remember about her was how much I hated her English classes. She’d always make us do speeches up on a stage in front of the other students.”
Theda rubs his neck. “She’s in a better place now.”
Ross takes a long pull on his beer, nearly finishing it. “I don’t believe in fairy tales.”
Theda sighs. “I’m not talking about angels playing harps up in the clouds, but I do believe there’s something greater that awaits us in the afterlife.”
“With my service overseas and time here as a paramedic, I’ve seen more than my share of death. Gruesome, nightmare-fuel deaths. Sad, pathetic deaths. Even two darkly humorous ones. In every case I got a clear impression of the finality of it all. There is nothing else.”
Frowning, Theda rests her head on his shoulder. “I hate when you talk like that.”
Ross takes Theda’s hand. “We all are born, live a hard life and die alone. We fade from existence and live on only as worm food. To believe otherwise is childish. Dead is dead, end of story.”
A slender man in his twenties, Toth, saunters into a restaurant. His hairstyle, skinny leather tie and pastel suit would be right at home in an early-eighties music video.
The restaurant’s staff and customers all seem to be unaware of Toth’s presence. When he snatches two doughnuts right in front of a waitress, she doesn’t notice him.
He plops down at a booth where Dodd sits, sipping coffee and reading the paper. Toth pulls out a half-full bottle of red wine from his pocket and sets it on the table.
Dodd doesn’t even look up from his newspaper. “You’re going to pay for the doughnuts, right?”
Toth shrugs. “I’m a little short this week. You know how it is.”
“No, I don’t.” Dodd moves the wine to a nearby table. “Toth, you can’t be drinking on duty. You’re already on probation. If the chief finds out you’re doing it again, he’ll have a meltdown.”
Toth flashes his high-beam grin. “What’s he going to do, kill me? Besides, it doesn’t matter what we do anymore. Haven’t you been hearing all the talk?”
Dodd sets his paper aside. “Just rumors. Same as always.”
“I don’t know.” Toth pours sugar all over his doughnuts. “If even half the stories are true, we better live it up now, while we still can.” Once the pastries are sweetened enough to cause diabetic shock, he wolfs them down.
“My teeth ache when you do that.” Dodd sips his coffee. “You got a busy shift ahead of you?”
“I got three.” Toth licks sugar from his fingers. “They all look easy. Should be a quiet day.”
Ross sits on the bed, finishing his beer. Theda enters wearing a running outfit and inquires playfully, “Want to join me for a morning run? I’ll go slow for you.”
Ross smirks. “No way. I’m dead tired. Are you going to the bike path in the park?”
“Yes, just like always.” She removes her earbuds from their case. “Why?”
Ross yawns and stretches, trying to appear nonchalant. “I just wanted to know how long it would be before you come back to bed and hog the blankets.”
Theda grins. “Enjoy them while you can. I’ll be back in an hour. Love you.”
Theda kisses Ross and leaves. After hearing the front door open and shut, he goes to the bedroom closet and retrieves a duffle bag hidden on the top shelf.
Toth saunters into a liquor store, snags a bottle from the top shelf and walks out completely unnoticed by the store’s clerk.
Toth climbs into his car and takes a long gulp of his pilfered vodka. “Who’s about to have a bad day?” He opens a file folder and peruses the paperwork inside.
Wearing his best suit and carrying the bulging duffle bag, Ross hurries along the sidewalk in a quiet residential neighborhood. He arrives at the crosswalk and hits the button. Waiting to cross the street, he glances at a bus bench nearby where Morton sits, twitchy with anticipation.
Beaming, Ross is unable to contain his nervous excitement. “Beautiful morning.”
Morton checks his watch, barely looking at Ross. “Not yet, but it soon will be.”
The lights change, Ross crosses the street and heads into a large city park.
Ross prepares a romantic picnic at a secluded spot in the park. Located on a hill, it overlooks the bike path and the road nearby. After hurriedly putting on the finishing touches, he glances down at the path and sees a distant runner approaching.
Sweating nervously, Ross pulls a small black box from his pocket and opens it to reveal a modest-sized diamond ring. He puts the ring away and anxiously waits for the runner.
After a few moments, Ross sees that the approaching jogger is an older, heavyset man with a flushed face. As the runner draws near, he stops, clutches his chest and tries to catch his breath.
Concerned, Ross mutters to himself. “Please, not now. Any other time, but just not now.”
Morton waits at the bus stop, no one else is in sight. He checks his watch. Startled by the time, he dons the strange-looking glasses. Still unused to them, he grimaces at a brief, flashing pain.
With the glasses in place, he surveys his surroundings. From his point of view, the area is now a surreal red-tinted landscape of distorted shapes and hazy imagery.
For Morton, the one thing that does stand out in sharp focus is Toth, who suddenly appears at the crosswalk nearby. Startled, Morton removes the glasses and Toth instantly disappears. To Morton’s naked eye, he is utterly alone. When Morton puts the scarlet-hued glasses back on, he’s again able to clearly spot Toth waiting to cross the street.
On the bike path, the old jogger leans against a tree, clutching his chest. Ross yells down the hill to the man, “Hey, buddy! You all right?”
The man wipes at the sweat running into his eyes. “Just a little winded, that’s all.”
Ross walks towards him. “How about I check you out really quick?” Before Ross can even get close, the jogger gives him a fearful look and resumes running down the path. Ross calls after the departing man, “Wait, don’t be scared! I’m a paramedic!”
After watching the man slowly run away, Ross glances across the street and notices Morton waiting at the crosswalk alone. Ross then peers down the path and can barely make out Theda jogging towards him in the distance. Flushed with excitement, he hurries up the hill back to his picnic area as the sound of an approaching bus rumbles down the street.