Ms. Josephine’s Shop.
3:14 pm . . .
I started to come to, and I was still shivering. “What happened?” I ask, trying to get my bearings. The room looks unsteady and wobbling, but that’s most likely me.
Ricky sat down beside me. I was under about 15 blankets, lying on my back in a soft bed that was sucking me downward. Ms. Josephine was at the foot of the bed, cooking something.
“Okay,” Ricky started to explain, “. . . while you were over in the Land of Sorrows, your body temperature was taking a nosedive.”
“I felt cold,” I tell him. “And hungry . . . hungry for McDonald’s. But more cold than hungry.”
“Well you should have. Your temperature dropped at a rate of about a full degree Fahrenheit every ten minutes. After an hour you were already in hypothermia. I’ve never seen anything like it. I had to hit you with the stuff and then zap you. Just once though, you came back nicely.”
Like there’s a way to die and come back to life, nicely.
“But now,” I said, “I guess we learned something valuable.”
“Yeah,” Ricky laughed, “. . . you can only stay over there for an hour. Every second after that is pushing it. Really, half of that’s pushing it. And also . . .”
And also, what?
“Well, in order for me to get your core temperature, I had to use another type of thermometer. It goes into your . . . ah . . .” and then he makes a circle with the thumb and fingers on his left hand, and used his right index finger to give me a visual about how he stuck something in my . . . well, you know.
“Dying,” I say under numb lips, “is not what it’s cracked up to be.”
“Do you feel good enough to talk about what happened on the other side?” Ricky asks delicately as if I might crumble into a thousand pieces at any moment.
I shrug, sitting up. Ms. Josephine then stacked several pillows behind my back. “What do you want to know?” I say.
“Once you crossed over,” Ms. Josephine said, “. . . tell me what you seen.”
I cleared my dry throat. I felt like I just got back from climbing Mt. Everest. “First thing I encountered,” I told them, “was the inside of Ms. Josephine’s Shop.”
“Just like this?” Ricky asked.
“Yup. Darker, but the same. So,” I recounted, “I headed out and everything was empty. Uninhabited and twisted and grey. Oh, and cold. Very cold.”
“You was dere, alright,” Ms. Josephine agreed. “Dat’s what dey tell me . . . when I commune. Dey say ‘ow strange it looks, like dis place, but wit’out da life. Wit’out da colors and da warmth. And everythin’s bent funny, like if you was lookin’ through some kind of lens.”
“The sun is green. The wind cuts down from above and blows right through you. You can feel your body losing heat with every gust.”
“Yeah, well,” Ricky added, “that’s your body starting to turn into an ice cube. You know what . . . it’s like your body was converting into a cadaver. I think, when you’re over there, your body here, it quits. It decides that you don’t belong here. Maybe a body without a soul is like a building without anyone to keep the lights on. No soul, no purpose.”
And then I told them about the birds. I tried to explain to them the irksome way in which they flew around, off in the distance, as if they were insects. Giant, black birds, but with the flight patterns of a swarm of hornets. I get the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it.
Ricky had an idea about using a heating blanket in the future to keep my body temperature loss more manageable, but Ms. Josephine didn’t seem convinced.
“Death is death,” she said. “. . . if da body don’t want to stay livin’ wit’out the soul, den it don’t make a difference whether you are in da refrigerator, or sittin’ on da beach in Jamaica. Death is death.”
No soul no purpose.
Death is death.
When did my family become so insightful?
“Well,” I say, “we need to figure something out. And quick.”
“Why?” Ricky said. “We can approach this like scientists. Experiment after experiment. One step at a time.”
Yeah, that sounds wonderful, just so long as the next experiment begins at sunset.
Both of them looked at me like I had eaten the family pet. Like I had been caught fondling a reptile. They peered at me in the way we would all peer at the president if he suddenly pulled off his face to reveal an alien head—although that would certainly explain a lot.
“Tonight?” Ms. Josephine spat.
I nodded. “Tonight, indeed. This guy who met me in Deadside—Thomas—he said that I needed to meet at the AMC Theater today, at sunset. Said I was St. John the Divine.”
Ignoring the fact that I am now a saint, Ricky clarified, “The AMC Theater where we saw the Bourne Legacy?”
“That’s the one. But did you hear that they say I’m a saint?”
“They watch movies?”
“No, no. They use it for, like a church or something. Saint . . . anyone?”
Ms. Josephine crossed her arms, her expression somewhere between uncertainty and skepticism. “Dis all sounds very odd to me.”
All of this, I say, it’s all so confusing that I’m not sure what’s hard to swallow. I told them about Thomas, and how the only color on him was in his eyes. How his skin was grey like those big-eyed aliens that are always abducting idiots in Iowa. And how he said that my time was limited.
Like he knew I was slowly dying.
“So you need to stay close to your body,” Ricky surmised. “What if they grab you and run off somewhere that’s too far for you to get back?”
We both turned to Ms. Josephine.
She didn’t look too certain. “Dis is a problem I ‘ave been considerin’ for da last couple of ‘ours. Some of dis is new to me too, boys. I’m learnin’ a bit myself.”
“Watch your mouth, child,” she chastised.
Sorry. But seriously, Ricky had a good point. Suppose a bunch of envious little monsters throw me in the back of a carriage—or whatever it is they drive—and haul me more than thirty three minutes away from my slowly freezing body? This would be a problem, no?
She bit her bottom lip as she considered the scenario. “I’ll need to give dis some tinkin’.” Then she glanced across the room, at the Book of Sighs “And da book don’t say nothin’ about dis problem?”
Oh, well, I mean, no.
What I don’t say, and avoid even considering is that I may not have finished the entire book. I mean, I’ve basically covered it all, but there may have been a couple pages in the back that I didn’t get to. But, I’ve definitely covered all of the broad strokes. For sure.
“And deir ain’t no mention of any of dis in dere?”
“The problem,” I explain, “is that it’s all so convoluted. Since I never really studied the Bible, I’m not sure what the important changes are. It’s all just religious mumbo-jumbo to me. I definitely wasn’t a preacher in my past life.”
Something flashed in my head. “Hey,” I say to Ms. Josephine, “there was something else that I felt when I was there—here—walking around. I had this feeling I was being watched. Like people were hiding, staring at me from the darkness. I was alone, but I didn’t feel alone.”
“Dey’s da watchers, most likely,” she said.
I’m going to have to start writing all of these things down. Spooks, Gatherers, screamers, believers, icky birds, and now watchers. They should have a guide book for all of this.
“Watchers are da other psychics, like me, but dey can actually see you. Me, I can only listen and talk. I’m blind over dere. But some of dem, monks in China and India, mostly, dey can actually see.”
“Are they good or bad?” Ricky asked.
“Ain’t no concept of good or bad,” she answered quietly. “You boys need to understand dat dese is just ’uman concepts. Evil and good, dat’s just labels. Tings we say to put people into sides. And den we choose one, call it good, and da other is evil. Just concepts.”
Well, I say, we need to figure this out, and quick. Because in—I looked at my watch that I am not wearing—Ricky, what time is sunset?
“Seven-thirty-something,” he shrugged.
“Right, well, by seven-thirty-something I need to be diving out of my chest. I don’t want to screw this up. They say I’m a savior. That I’m St. John the Divine. Saints, I say, they’re never late for appointments.”
“You two rest a bit,” Ms. Josephine said. “I got to do my own research. Look at da book,” she said as she put her hand on my forehead. “I ‘ave a feelin’ you might see somethin’ you missed before.”
That was her nice way of calling me a stinking liar. She has good bedside manner.