Wednesday afternoon . . .
Ricky and I are engaged in an old-fashioned, wild-west stare-down. Me on the corner of my bed—unwavering, unflinching. Him sitting in one of my wooden chairs in the living room—solid as a rock. Both of our arms are crossed, our eyes narrowed and unblinking.
What we’re at a standstill about, that we’ve been arguing for the last 35 minutes over, is whether or not I can make another crossing to Deadside tonight.
His position—and it’s backed by years of medical data and empirical evidence—is that my body can’t take repeated flirts with cold hypothermic death. My body will give-up, he says, and no amount of normal saline and hot blankets will keep me from ending up on the autopsy table.
My position—backed mostly by my desire to help Kristen, and live out what just might be my destiny—is that I am getting better at this whole thing.
This entire alive-dead-alive-again process.
I’m practically an expert.
I tell him that I’m accidentally designed for this crossing-over stuff.
To which he wisely counters that, nobody can be designed to be repeatedly hit by trucks. Like Ms. Josephine said, “. . . death is death.” His points are mostly valid, while mine are mostly emotional and heartfelt.
And to be honest, I hate admitting that I can be so swayed by my attraction to a girl that I may or may not have been in love with. A woman who is at this moment in time . . . dead. It makes me feel weak and incapable, and I know that I must conquer this or I’ll be useless to the living and the dead, both.
“What did Ms. Josephine say?” Ricky asked rhetorically. We both know she was adamant about not going so soon.
“You know what she said. But, I countered, we can do it ourselves.”
“Without her, you and I can’t communicate,” he pointed out. “There aren’t cell phones in the Land of Sorrows . . . unless there’s something I’ve missed.”
“I still have the necklace,” I said. “I can just empty it out and eat whatever the hell is in that pouch. And viola, I’m back!”
“Jack,” he said frustrated, “you don’t have any sense of time over there. What feels like a couple of minutes could be a few hours over here. And then you’re finished. What are you going to do . . . use the green ball in the sky to make a Deadside Sundial?”
“That’s not a bad idea,” I agreed.
“I’m fucking kidding, dude!”
And so here we are, arms crossed, staring each other down. I expect tumble weed to go rolling by at any moment. In my imagination old people are closing up small shops, the town grocery store, and the barbershop, while the blacksmith is shooing people away from the main street where Ricky and I are locked into our showdown.
Who will blink first?
Who’s going to budge?
“I have to do this, Ricky,” I say. “It’s bigger than just me. You’ve read the book. This is important. We’re not the only considerations here.”
And he’s thinking.
“The book must be legitimate,” I say. “Otherwise, they wouldn’t have killed Rupert for it.”
And he’s considering.
“And,” I plead, “I have to help this girl . . . Kristen. She needs me. And I need to know who she was to me, in order to find out who I was. I must discover who I am, at whatever cost. This is confusing, but it makes sense if you pick it apart. Do an autopsy on my reasoning and you’ll see that we have to do this. And I can’t do it alone.”
And he’s staring at me.
Finally, he says, “Okay . . . but this is it, for at least a week. No matter what you hear, or learn, or the enticing things they may try to lay on you, this is it until your body recovers. Your body is going to quit, and then there’s nothing I, or anyone else can do to save you. No amount of experimental drugs or defibrillators will be able to bring you back.”
“Fair enough,” I say.
“I’m not kidding, Jack.”
“I’ll narc you out with so much midazolam that you’ll forget that last three weeks of your life, and this whole thing will be finished. For good.”
The thought of hitting the reset button, again. It’s enough to make me shudder.
“This,” I say, “is the last time until you say I’m healthy enough to go. I promise.”
He looks at me, trying to judge whether I’m lying or not. And since I am a very poor liar, I think he believes me. Ricky waves a warning finger at me as he looks at his wrist watch.
“. . . alright, Jack. We’ll do this. But the minute you feel yourself shaking and cold, you eat that fucking necklace.”