4. The Death and the Question
Tom was wondering how he had gotten into Uncle Pete’s room, when there was a woman’s scream. He looked to the door, a middle-aged woman was stumbling in, clearly in shock. It was his Aunt Anne.
She had her eyes stuck on the bed, hands over her mouth. Tom had been too shocked to see Aunt Anne to notice what was on the bed. He took a glance and felt all the nerves in his body rushing to places he never knew existed. On the bed lay a man, middle-aged. His eyes were shut, but Tom could almost see the gleam coming through them, and the spirit that they conveyed.
The impact from seeing an alive and walking Aunt Anne had barely sunk in that having a dead Uncle Pete lying in front of him was almost the last blow in his battle with sanity. Almost, because he still had the prospect of it all being a bad dream. It took at least a few minutes before Tom was convinced that it was all too real, and by this time Aunt Anne had been crying over Uncle Pete’s still body for many minutes.
“Aunt Anne!” The grief-stricken woman made no response. “Aunt Anne, it’s Tom!”
It wasn’t that she was so absorbed in her grief that she didn’t care about anything around her, it was the fact that she didn’t seem to realize there was a third person in the room at all, let alone one who was screaming madly, that really sank Tom’s heart. His cries of Aunt Anne’s name rang in his own head, as he got up and approached her. He extended his hand to touch her, but didn’t reach within five inches of her when he felt a force halting his actions in mid-air. Much like his frozen neck earlier, his arm had also lost all ability to move forward. Trying with his other arm also resulted in the same effect, as if there was an invisible barrier between him and his Aunt.
In an act of panic, Tom turned and ran out of the door, through the house and into the streets. He was looking for someone to help him, but the streets were deserted. It was ten minutes later when he found a taxi parked on the side of the road. He jumped in, told the driver his home address, and was more than relieved when he got a reply from the driver.
The streets were filled again; it was as if people materialized from nowhere and decided this was a good time to appear again. Tom’s mind was racing and blank at the same time. He pondered for a moment that what he had just witnessed hadn’t been real, that his Aunt Anne was certainly the dead one and his Uncle Pete was not. The memory was so vivid, however, that it took ample effort to convince himself, and in the end he could not gather enough of it to succeed. After a few failed attempts at calling his mother and some friends, he decided that all of this had very much to do with the dream that had been haunting him, and most of all, the voice.
Once again, he sat down on the sofa of his living room, his eyes shut. Clearing his mind was notoriously difficult, when images of Anne and Pete and numerous unanswered questions constantly found their way in through the gaps of his consciousness. Worst of all, he could feel his heart beating abnormally fast, making his concentrating and staying calm nearly impossible. After an hour, he opened his eyes. The helplessness of the situation was fuelled by his vulnerability and the feeling of loneliness. Things shattered as Tom threw them across the room and screamed. There was a letter on the floor, broken apart from the bundle of newsletters and bills. Tom didn’t recognize it, but a vague idea of it being important started to emerge. With a forceful grab, he picked the letter up and looked at it.
It immediately came to him that it was a letter sent to him by the clinic, from where he had a body check a few days ago. They had mentioned that they would be sending him the report soon, and when it came he had left it on the table with the stack of mail. Tom’s thirst for answers was so great now, that anything with a hint of a clue was worth giving his life for. He ripped the envelope open and took out the report.
It must have been at least ten minutes that Tom stood there, motionless, staring at the letter in his hands. Racing through his head were unrelated events from the past weeks. The psychologist’s words, conversations with Uncle Pete and his sudden change of temper, Aunt Anne, and the still body of Uncle Pete, and this letter. The realization of what had happened was not as devastating as the piecing together of everything. With each piece of the puzzle in place came a fresh blow to his grasp of reality and everything he understood. With each new bit of information, he gained memory of a lost fact: that Uncle Pete had in fact died a year ago, and Tom had attended his funeral, that Aunt Anne had been living by herself for the past year. When it finally dawned on him that both Tom’s mother and grandmother had passed on for years, he was not so much shocked as he was relieved. There was something liberating about being able to leave this place, even if the other choice was facing death. It was like he had known all along, but decided to avoid facing it. As the psychologist’s words revealed themselves in his head, he felt a pain his heart, and within seconds he found himself in darkness.
The dim lights appeared, and Tom waited. When it finally came, it caused no startle in him, as he turned his head towards the voice speaking into his ear. The words were clear and undaunted, sounding like there was no need to explain. There wasn’t.
“Do you accept?”