Jack’s apartment, Deadside.
6 minutes later . . .
I drowned again. I swam again. I dove through the giant fissure in my chest, again. Somewhere back there, Ricky’s probably injected me with dead fluid. I’m getting used to this dying.
Dying is the new adventure sport.
No longer is it a thrill to parachute. No, the real fun is when the chute doesn’t open and you plow into the ground at 190 miles-an-hour. Everything after you smash into a thousand pieces, that’s the thrill ride.
Out of my body, but in my apartment. This is kind of nostalgic, too, because I remember the first time the spooks were looking at the Book of Sighs. How everything was bent and warped and grey. And how scary it all was.
But now, after having seen this dark world several times, it wasn’t so frightening. Having had the chance to explore it twice, it was nothing more than a colorless version of the world I know. Different—stretched and gnarled—but the same. The Deadside—or if you prefer, the Land of Sorrows—it’s just a cooked and dried-out version of our world.
The Earth plane dehydrated.
Reality, frozen and unplugged.
I think I’m a few minutes early, but I notice the bluish haze outside my sliding glass door. Out in the parking lot, where cars and trucks and trash were . . . now it’s just broken concrete, as if the entire thing had been hit with a giant hammer.
I see Ms. Josephine sitting next to my slowly freezing body, her blind eyes wondering what I’m looking at.
“Can you hear me?” I ask her.
“. . . yes, child . . . now find Kristen and ask your questions . . .”
Alright, I say as I walk to the bathroom thinking she may be there waiting for me. It does have a sentimental value for us. But as I turn the corner to the short hallway, I instantly see both Kristen and Rupert leaning against the back wall of the hallway.
“I’m here,” I say. “What now?”
“Come with us,” Kristen says. “We have to show you something.”
I tell them that my time is limited, but they walk past me without a reply. As we’re walking out of my apartment, leaving through the front door that is no longer attached, they take me toward the parking lot.
Without a word we continue toward the hospital, and I realize that what they want to show me, is probably not something I am anxious to actually see. I need answers, I tell them.
“You will have your answers very soon,” Rupert says in his saucy English accent.
And we continue to walk.
We pass by the entrance to the ED, and carry on around the side of the hospital, still in the parking lot. We walk and walk, the crumbled concrete at our feet. The hidden green sun falling so far away that whatever heat it used to provide is all but gone.
As we’re walking Kristen asks, “Did you dream last night?”
“Yes,” I say emphatically. “I dreamed of us. Together. In a luxurious place with color and fruit and everything.”
Without stopping to look at me, she asks, “And did that change the way you feel about this place?”
“No,” I say. “It enhanced the way I feel about you.”
“How do you feel about me?”
This is a little awkward with Rupert tagging along. It’s also not the ideal setting for a discussion about past love and passion. But I continue anyway. “Is there some place,” I asked, “that we can go and talk about this? It’s important to me.”
She stopped suddenly, “And you don’t think it’s important to me?”
Whoa . . . where did this come from? She’s being particularly short and snappy with me. Are we having our first fight? Here . . . in the Land of Sorrows? What the hell kind of girls am I dating?
Nervously, Rupert’s eyes were scanning the sky, looking for something that makes a guy like him fidgety and anxious.
Kristen is just peering at me, with a kind of fire in her vibrant eyes. “Are you in love with me?”
I shrug. “I think so,” I say. “I mean, when I was having that dream you gave me, it felt like we shared something. I wanted to hold you. To feel your touch.”
She nodded, turning, and as she began walking, I could see little mice running around in her head as she prepared her thoughts.
Rupert is still walking, rather quickly, and scanning the sky as he does so.
“If you love me,” Kristen says without looking at me, “. . . you’ll see what we have to show you. And listen to what we have to tell you. Then you can make your decision.”
This kind of hurt me. I’m confessing something, that for me is quite difficult, and she’s blowing the whole thing off. Like I just told her I thought the movie I saw last night was good.
I said to them, “this isn’t exactly the response I expected from you.”
“What would you like me to say?” she asked as we rounded the side of the building, and headed to an abandoned part of the hospital that doesn’t connect to the main hospital anymore.
I remembered Ricky telling me about the old Birthing Unit (Obstetrics). He said that there is no access from the hospital because places like this were haunted. Of course, back then he was just kidding around. We didn’t know about the spooks, or Deadside, or the Gatherers. We were so blissfully ignorant.
“I guess,” I say, “I thought you still had some kinds of feelings for me. Like, maybe you felt the same way as I did? I thought that’s why you were coming to see me. Because we might still share something.”
We entered a rough hole in a wall that I know is not there in the Earth plane. And carefully, Rupert—still searching the edges of the horizon—he steps over a few broken cinder blocks and disappears into the darkness.
Kristen and I, we’re the only two creatures out here . . . as far as I can see. She softens her expression and looks at me kindly, the way she did that first night she haunted me. “I care about you, John. I have for a long time. Longer than you can imagine. But all of this isn’t about us. It’s much larger, grander than you can fathom. So if I seem cold and distant, it is because I want you to succeed. So that we can all be free.”
“Free from what?” I ask.
She reaches out for my hand and leads me into the darkness.
Obstetrics—this is where the babies come out. Well, it used to be. Now it’s an empty place, with only the plastic covered remnants left behind. Old birthing equipment that is no longer functional or useful. Rusting tables and sinks. A weathered, empty operating room with several small tables. Old tarnished turquoise tiles along the floor—most of them cracked.
Along the walls are fittings for oxygen and other things I can’t even figure out. But I can only barely see any of these things in my mind, because it is pitch dark in here.
I’m just following Kristen’s warm touch, trusting that she’s not leading me to Hell.
“We’re almost there,” Rupert whispers from in front of us.
And I feel Kristen’s small hand squeeze mine, as if she is now afraid of something. I know I should probably be worried, too. Anything that scares the dead, it should scare the ripe shit out of an Earth-planer like me.
“Don’t make a sound,” she whispers as a tiny green glow appears near us. Rupert has somehow fashioned a torch out of bits of ripped nothing. And though it didn’t seem to provide much heat, it started to glow brightly green, its flame tips dancing around.
I saw the edges of a tiled wall we were against. There was an opening, which I figured led to the operating room that Ricky had told me about. I could hear his words, “. . . all kinds of ghosts and shit. Crying babies. Stuff that’ll give you nightmares forever . . .”
Rupert put his free hand over his mouth signaling me to keep my trap shut. I nodded, and the three of us turned the corner and entered the OR.
Mary mother of spooky shit!
There are spooks everywhere. Thousands of them. They are all over the floors, stacked up on the small tables, in the sinks. All over the place. And they’re hunched down, like they’re resting. Sleeping, maybe.
If their idea was to scare me . . . mission accomplished. I’m sufficiently horrified. It’s like being in the lair of a dragon and all of the babies are sleeping.
But, apparently, I haven’t seen anything, yet. Kristen looks at me with worried eyes, and then they lift towards the ceiling.
My jaw, it is probably sitting on the cold tile floor as my eyes try to make sense of what I see. Like a wasp nest, there are Gatherers clinging to the ceiling. I’m thinking bat cave in Africa. I’m thinking hornets’ nest. I’m thinking . . . thousands of chest splitting monsters all over the god-damned place!
My chest is burning as I look at these sleeping creatures. There are probably—and this is just a rough estimate—a fucking shitload! Thousands of them. So many they could take all of us. Everybody in Dallas could be wiped out by these bastards in a matter of hours.
And if they have nests like this in every city, on every street corner. Or even if they’re just in every hospital, where people come to die? We—as in humans—we’re finished.
Paralyzed, I feel Kristen’s small hands dragging me back out of the nest. We make our way back through the Birthing Unit near the hole in the wall.
Rupert extinguishes the torch and they both look at me, probably seeing if I’m going to pull a runner on them and freak out.
Man up, or back down.
“Alright,” I say “. . . what is going on here?”