R.H.D. Memorial, Deadside.
Obstetrics . . .
“All of our souls are stuck here when we pass on,” Kristen explained. “When we die, if these things select us, we are ripped from our bodies, and brought down to this awful place where we are told we must wait for judgment.”
“Who’s judgment?” I ask
“God’s,” Rupert answers quietly. “All of us, we were chosen, for reasons we can’t comprehend. It is said that those of us with ‘lukewarm’ faith, we were delivered to this place to wait until the End of Days. And here, we must wait until he delivers us.”
“How can faith be lukewarm?” I asked them. “Is there some faith level you have to maintain?”
“We don’t know for certain, John,” Rupert answered. “It’s possible there is an evil force at work behind the scenes, controlling the shadow creatures.”
“It is said,” Kristen began, “. . . in scripture and legend, that one will come who can cross between both places. And that he will deliver us from this place, to the kingdom of Heaven.”
“Well,” I wondered, “how many souls are here? How many people end up in this place, waiting for God to send his message of, whatever?”
They both looked at each other, and Kristen said, “Everyone, John. All of them.”
“What? That doesn’t make any sense. What do you mean everybody?”
“Your parents. Their parents. All the way up. Your ancestors,” Rupert said, “and their families, and their families before them. Every person you’ve ever known, or ever will know. They are all here, wandering aimlessly, just like us. Waiting for a savior. Waiting for the one who will bring us past the gates of this Land of Sorrows, and deliver us to the golden light of God’s kingdom.”
“So, this is like Purgatory, or something?”
“No,” Kristen said. “This is another world, sitting just above the Earth plane. Purgatory is some other place.”
I’m going to have to start taking notes.
“The distance between the Deadside and the Earth plane is the space of one electron,” Rupert said, getting all sciency on me. “It is literally right on top of the Earth plane. That is why people sometimes claim to see ghosts and aberrations. Phantasms and the like, they are nothing more than randomly colliding electrons. When they touch, like mixing fire and gunpowder, there is a brief flash of light. And what you see on the Earth plane is the diffused image of a Deadsider.”
“Which you think is a ghost,” Kristen added, as if I didn’t get it at this point. They must really think I’m thick-headed.
So, I asked them, “You need me to do this? To be the saint, or something like that?”
“We need you to open the gate that will free us, all of us, from this place. You,” Kristen said, “. . . and only you can do it. You are the one they speak of in the prophecies. It is your destiny. And now you must make a choice.”
“Consider,” Rupert said carefully, “. . . you will end up here. If you do nothing, then you will be trapped here with us. However, if you live up to your destined fate . . . you will be our savior. You will be the man to free humanity from the confines of this cold Hell.”
This is quite a bit to think about, I say. I’ll need some time, obviously.
“Time,” Rupert said, “is a luxury we do not have much of.”
“I have some questions,” I said. “First, how many more of those . . . nests are there? And as I’m saying this I’m pointing towards the OR—the spook and gatherer hive that will be the material for many nights of nightmares.”
“Oh,” Kristen says, “That’s nothing. Those aren’t even the worst things down here. There are things that make the shadow creatures look cute and cuddly by comparison.”
I can’t wait to see them.
“Alright,” I said, “where is everybody else? The other souls? Shouldn’t there be billions of people walking around aimlessly, getting the crap scared out of them like I am?”
Rupert shook his head, “I’m afraid we don’t know where everyone is. I’m new to all of this. I have heard rumors of mass migrations.”
Kristen didn’t have much better of an answer. “I think,” she said looking around, “that most of the souls are hiding. In jungles. Outside of the cities. Most of the shadow creatures, they dwell in the cities, near large populations of humans on the Earth plane. They behave like insects in that way. Perhaps, disease is a better description.”
“How many nests?” I asked. “How many more of these things are there? I need a number.”
“Thousands,” Kristen said. She shrugged, “More than enough for everyone on the planet. But for reasons we don’t understand, they sleep after dusk. Only for a couple of hours, though. Until the others come.”
“Others?” I look at both of them, “What are the others?”
Neither Rupert nor Kristen answer, but they look plenty frightened by the thought.
“The things in the sky?” I say. “The birds?”
“Those are not birds, John. Not at all like birds,” Rupert warned. “Stay under cover if they should come. Don’t look, just run . . . as fast as you can. Don’t stop running.”
“As if your life depended on it,” Kristen said.
Okay. Note to self—the birds are not your friend.
Very clearly, I say to them both, “Are you sure that I am the one who can do this? I mean, am I the only person who can save all of you?”
Kristen stepped closer to me, her breath warm on my face. Looking up at me with those hypnotic eyes of hers, she says, “You are the one that the prophecy spoke of thousands of years ago. Nobody else can save us, but you. It is your destiny, John. You are the only being who can free all of us from this horrible damnation.”
“I don’t want to be selfish,” I say, “. . . but this is killing me. Each and every trip I take, I’m losing ground to the reaper. I don’t know how many more of these trips I can make.”
Kristen, she places her small hands on my chest. Little warm hands, begging me through her warmth. “John, if you do this, you can get back all of your memories. Your old life, you can get it back. Every tiny bit of it. You will have everything that was taken from you.”
“How,” I asked, “is that possible?”
“Because,” she said softly, as quiet as a whisper, “. . . this will be your gift for saving all of us. The light of the open door will free your memories from their hidden place.”
I was starting to feel cold, again. The shivers, the ache, it was coming back, again. Ricky’s heat blanket might have bought me a little time, but I’m pushing it, now. I just need more time. A few minutes, that’s all.
“. . . we’re gettin’ close, Jack . . .” Ms. Josephine said carefully. “. . . Be careful, somethin’ is comin’ . . .”
I have no idea what somethin’ is, but I don’t want to meet it.
I tell them that I need a week to think about this, before I can return.
“We don’t have much time left, John. A week may be too late.” Rupert says. “After that, we may have lost our window.”
“I can’t come back so soon. I’ll die and all of this will be useless,” I explain.
They look at each other, considering. They nod.
“Alright,” Kristen says. “One week from tonight, at dusk. At your apartment.”
And then I heard something in the background. A high-pitched scream that seemed to echo all around us. It wasn’t too loud, but you could tell it was approaching.
Both Rupert and Kristen seemed instantly alarmed, their eyes darting around.
“They’re coming!” Rupert said, his lip almost quivering.
“Aren’t we safe in here?”
“Are you kidding,” he shot back, “. . . we’re at one of their nests.”
And then Kristen grabbed my hand and pulled me outside, through the broken wall, and we began running. I’m talking Chariots of Fire running. The tigers escaped the zoo running.
Rupert is right on our heels and thrusting his long arms and legs. This feels like some dream. But it wasn’t. We were running, and from the way it seemed Kristen was nearly dragging me, this was one of those races where the loser gets eaten.
The screams got closer, the echoes louder and shriller. The wind started to pick up, blowing intermittently back and forth, as if there was no discernible direction to it. As if the wind just flipped a coin every few seconds to see which direction it would blow.
There were large holes in the concrete and gaping wounds in the side of the hospital that were howling, almost crying. The sounds they made, these broken buildings and structures, it was like the whole entire city was crying out for mercy. Begging to be killed.
And the thought enters my mind that if we don’t make it to my apartment, I may have to eat my necklace. I’m not sure how long that might take, but it will be better than whatever these things are about to do to us.
The sky above us, it was that shark-tank blue. And the monsters that had inherited this sky were hungry.
The screaming increased in volume and thickness. As we ran, I could feel the monsters ripping through the air behind us, above us, around us. My apartment was only 30 or 40 meters away.
From the right I saw somebody running in front of us. Some lonely soul that had been caught without a place to hide. Rupert yelled to him that the screamers were coming, but his words were lost in the dense wind between us.
As we ran, I noticed this lonely soul-stop, looking around frantically for somewhere to go. He was in the middle of the parking lot, spinning around without cover.
The thunder of wind and claws and teeth and hunger swelled behind us as we raced into my apartment. And as we dove to the floor of my apartment, I hear the man scream . . . just for a moment, and then his cries were muffled and choked until there was nothing left. It was like he never existed.
Just a meal in the netherworld.
A snack for the monsters that own the sky.
On the floor of my apartment, Kristen beside me, I tried to catch my breath long enough to ask one last question. My hand on her cheek, her eyes holding mine, I asked, “Do you love me?”
Without words, I saw the tears start to form around the lower folds of her eyes. I saw her throat try to swallow. Her breath, it was short and difficult.
“Do . . . you . . . love . . . me?” I begged her. I had to know. Yes or no, I needed an answer. From her lips.
She leaned her head in, tears rolling down her cheeks, and with the softest touch she kissed me.
Even though I was freezing to death, my human body dying as we lay there on that cold dead floor in the Land of Sorrows, I had the only answer I needed.
“I’ll see you in a week,” I whispered. And without looking back, I turned to climb back into my body. I felt her clinging to my hand, not wanting to let go.
As I got onto my bed I felt her little hands grabbing at my waist, trying to hold my legs. Her small warm hands, they grasped onto my feet as I disappeared into me.
And then . . . we were gone.