Between (Part 4)

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?”

End

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Between (Part 3)

3. The Door and the Attempt 

The streets were cold at night but the air was fresh and serene.  The hours waiting for dusk to come seemed quieter and slower.  Tom’s hasty footsteps and heavy breathing did nothing to disturb the sleeping city. 

 

When Tom got out from the taxi and arrived at the door of Uncle Pete’s building, it was nearly 5am.  He hadn’t been running much, but he felt short of breath.  He pressed on the intercom.  The bell rang for a while, before Uncle Pete’s voice arose.

“Who the hell?”

“It’s Tom, I have to see you, I have to talk to you.”

“It’s 5 in the morning!”

“It’s important!”

The disgruntled Uncle Pete let Tom in.  As soon as Tom walked into the apartment, Uncle Pete could see he was in panic.  He told Tom to sit down, and started to make tea.

“So what couldn’t wait?” said Uncle Pete as he placed a cup of hot tea in front of Tom.

“It happened again.”

“What happened again?”

“It.  The dream.  The voice.  The dim place.”  Listing the details seemed somehow less uneasy knowing that Uncle Pete would understand.

“I was sleeping, then I felt the pain in my heart.  Then it happened again.  I couldn’t move.  The place, the dimness, the nothingness.  Then the voice.  I came here as soon as I could move again.  Why did it come back?  I thought it was over, I thought it was warning me about Gary, so it should be gone now…but why is it back?”

Uncle Pete had regained half of the alertness in his eyes.  He didn’t say anything.

“Then what is it supposed to be?” Tom was almost talking to himself. “If not an omen…maybe we got it all wrong, we thought it predicted death, maybe it predicts something else?  Or…”  Tom tried to stay calm, “…maybe the death it is predicting isn’t Gary?”

Uncle Pete had a strange look on his face. 

“Please go home.”

“Huh?”  Tom responded just before his startle began to show.

“Just go home.  Go to sleep.”

Tom felt a flicker of rage creeping up inside him. 

“Go home?  What do you mean?  Did you hear what I said?”

“Yes, and I think you should go home.  I don’t want anything to do with it.”

The rage Tom felt before had now grown to a dischargeable size.

“You don’t want anything to do with it?  You had this…this disease before too!  Now you’re just going to leave me with it?”

“There’s nothing I can do.  There’s nothing you can do.”  Uncle Pete’s voice also raised a little.

“You have to help me, there’s no one else who can, they all think I’m crazy!”

“Maybe you are!”  Uncle Pete had stood up and was walking towards the door.  He opened it. “Go home!”

Tom sat there, looking at the Uncle he thought would understand.  He got up, and walked out.  He tried once more at the door, “Please, help me…”  The door was shut.

  

It was dusk when Tom stepped inside the door of his home.  He sat down on the couch and closed his eyes.  He was exhausted, but there was no way he could sleep.  He could never sleep again.  As he tried to rid his mind of all thoughts, one thought either remained or appeared.  He needed to see who the owner of the voice was. 

 

He closed his eyes once more, and tried even more fiercely to free his mind.  He remembered that in every occurrence of the previous episodes, he had been in a relaxed state.  Trying to replicate that state was absurdly difficult at that moment, but his determination to clean his thoughts was strong.

 

At first nothing happened, and an hour had passed before Tom felt the pain in his heart.  It was faint at first, then with each beat it grew, until it became intolerable, by which time he had lost all ability to express the agony through any movement.  It became pitch black, then slowly lightened, like the first beam of light at dusk, while never actually reaching morning. 

 

The voice that eventually came brought more dread through its familiarity.  The whispers still sent shivers as if it were Tom’s first encounter with it.  He tried to turn his head towards the voice.  It was a futile attempt, but he didn’t intend to stop.  The battle between his neck and an invisible, relentless grip brought what might have been sweat to Tom’s head.  Every single portion of his body was in on the struggle, all of his bodily energy focused in his neck, on the one simple action.  Tom could feel the rush in his brain, and soon he could see nothing but blackness once again.

  

The next time Tom caught a glimpse of light, he also saw curtains and trees on the opposite side of the window.  It was a warm day, and the light shining through was gentle but refreshing.  It took a few moments before Tom realized that he was in a room, and a few more to realize it was not his own.  He was sitting on the floor, facing the foot of a bed.  A quick glance around and it was easy to see where he was.  The room was simple and decorations were scarce, yet there was a large, framed photograph hung above the bed.  In the photo was a couple, smiling on the most romantic day of their lives.  The woman looked humble in her simple but elegant dress, one hand carrying a bouquet, the other holding loosely the hand of her man.  The man was young and confident, with a piercing and alert look in his eyes.

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Between (Part 2)

2. The Funeral Home, the Uncle and the Dream 

By the time Tom arrived at the Funeral home, most people had left.  His mother was sitting on a bench in the hallway, her arms around his grandmother, both of them sobbing.  Tom sat next to them and they both held onto him like helpless kittens.  He could see Gary’s father, his Uncle Barry, talking to someone who looked like a staff in the home.  His Aunt Silvia, Gary’s mother, was sitting on a chair next to his uncle, her eyes swollen.  Gary died in a motorcycle accident.  He was 19.

 “Hard to believe, isn’t it?”

Tom looked up, his mother still attached to his torso.  It was his Uncle Pete.

“How’d it happen?”

“No helmet.”  Tom had always admired his uncle’s way with words.  His mother started bawling.  As a reaction, so did his grandmother.  Tom decided it would be better if they went home, so he called a taxi and sent them back. 

 

As the taxi disappeared from view, Tom and Uncle Pete were left standing on the side of the road.

“Take good care of your mother, Tom.”

“Yes, I know.”

“You never know what will happen.  Look at Gary, he didn’t have much going for him, but he had a lot in front of him.  Your Aunt Anne, she didn’t see it coming either.  A year now, I still can’t get over it.  Don’t think I ever will.”

Tom just remembered what had happened to Aunt Anne a year ago. 

“We all miss her.”

“She was special.  If only I had known beforehand, I could have saved her.  If I had taken her to the hospital just ten minutes earlier…if there had been a sign.”

Tom felt a sudden rush, as if a cold mouse had bolted from the bottom of his spine to his head.

“Uncle Pete, I have something I need to tell you.”  That was a lie.  Any opportunity to tell anybody about what had been on his mind for the past few weeks was long desired, and whether it was Uncle Pete or anyone else didn’t matter much.  As Tom shared the details of his encounters, Uncle Pete listened and watched with his distinctly intent eyes.  Describing the voice Tom had been hearing still required an immense amount of effort to overcome the fear.

 When Tom finished, there was at first no reaction from Uncle Pete, which Tom was deciding if he had actually listened or not.

“Do you think I’m crazy?”

“No.”  Tom was relieved to know he hadn’t been ignored.

“So it’s been happening to me for the past few weeks.  It just comes randomly, I have no control over it.  But I know it means something, I just don’t know what.  What you said before, about a sign…it got me thinking.  Maybe Gary…”  Uncle Pete looked unhealthily pale.  “Are you ok, Uncle Pete?”

“Around Anne’s death…I would hear a voice.  It would say something in my ear in a language I didn’t understand.  I couldn’t move…couldn’t talk.  I was just there, staring.”

“But that’s just like what happened to me!”

Uncle Pete looked at Tom, the alertness in his eyes almost completely disappearing.

“When did it stop for you?”

“I don’t remember…some time after her death?  I don’t know…”

“And it never came back?”

Uncle Pete looked at Tom again, this time with eyes Tom had never seen on a man before.  It was the look of depressing revelation.

“I could have saved her” his voice was shaking now, “I could have saved her…it was trying to tell me…but I didn’t do anything, Tom.  I didn’t do anything…”

  

It was a feuding mixture of emotions that circled Tom on his way home that night.  He was dampened by his Uncle Pete’s sad realization, but on the other hand could not help but feel a heavy weight lifted.  He had figured out the motivation for the episodes of the past few weeks, and although it was in no way a result worth rejoicing, with Gary’s passing the disturbing seizures should be history too. 

 That night, Tom slept sounder than he had slept for a long while.  He had almost no time to give a reaction or thought when his heart pounded each beat in pain and everything around him turned dim.

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Between (Part 1)

1. The Subway, the Shrink and the Phone Call

 One of the problems with people living in the city, among many, is no one ever looks in any direction other than ahead.  They may maneuver their heads slightly to take the occasional glance at the next person or respond to sudden movements within their visual radius, but this is usually out of either curiosity or anticipation of being able to make judgments about others.  That is why it attracted no attention in the busy subway when Tom suddenly felt the pain in his heart and, like every other time, stopped.

 No-one on the platform took any notice of the man standing there, watching two trains pass by and not moving a muscle.  “Watching” may not be the appropriate description, because looking closely, his eyes were aimless, as if they were staring at something only he could see.  Even the most ignorant of city-dwellers would have noticed this statue of a man if he had frozen for another train, but by the time the doors on the third train slid opened, Tom blinked, looked around for a little, then hurried into the half-empty carriage. 

It was not the first time this episode occurred.  For the past few weeks Tom had had random attacks of this experience, which promised a sharp pain in his heart followed by a period of suspension of all movements.  It so happens that Tom had been alone for most of the times it came, but in the few cases where he had been in public, most observers simply shrugged him off as a strange individual in the midst of daydreaming or some substance-abuser fresh off another session.  Unknown to them and anyone other than himself, Tom was in fact, during those periods of immobility, unwillingly preoccupied with a scene entirely in his head.

 The first thing he noticed was the dimness.  There was no light, but he knew it was not dark.  Next thing he found was the fact that he was neither sitting nor standing.  He could feel his body, to the extent that he was sure it existed, but could not do so much as flinch.  Then came the voice.  It seemed to touch his ear, with the kind of seclusion and exclusive intimacy only felt when using expensive headphones.  He knew it was speaking to him, and although the words were lost in muffled whispers, he could tell it was something he was required to hear.  When the voice left, so too did this state of trance, and Tom was suddenly thrown back into the real world.

 He had consulted a doctor and had a body check done, and the report would be sent to him sometime in those few days.  His intuition and common sense, however, told him it was not a physical complication.  That being said, he also felt it was not a mental problem.  He suspected it was something much deeper than what the common mind-body predicaments had to offer.  Nevertheless, he went to a psychologist.

 “Are you able to move at all in this state?”

“No.”

“In real life or in the dream?”

“It’s not a dream.”

“Just for discussion’s sake.”

“Neither.  I can move in neither.”

“Do you know the person whispering in your ear?”

“No.  I can’t turn to see her and I don’t recognize the voice.”

“Does what she say even remotely resemble something you’d understand?”

“As much as French does.”

Tom moved slightly in his recliner, causing a quiet noise of leather friction.

“Am I going crazy?”

His voice was sarcastic, but his eyes were a combination of uneasiness and hopeful denial.

“Everything would be simpler if we all were.”  The psychologist gave a cough to void his unappreciated joke.

“Sometimes, your consciousness fails to realize something you know, or for some reason it refuses to acknowledge a truth.  There can be more than a few reasons for that, but in any case it does not eradicate the fact that you know it to be true.  The mind is a dynamic thing and not easy to suppress, even by the owner, and the more you try to censor it, the more it reveals to you.”

“So what are you saying, I’m trying to tell myself something?”

“There could be something you’ve been refusing to face.  Some rooted fear, resentment or regret that you know exists but choose to evade.  That’s why I made the connection with dreams earlier, they are essentially the same.”

“Except you don’t start dreaming in the middle of a crossroad on your way to work.”

“Yes, that’s reserved for when you actually get there.”  He made a mental note to himself to never tell jokes again. 

  

As Tom left the psychologist’s building, he couldn’t help but feel that he could have better spent those 30 minutes and the ridiculous sum of money.  The idea that his experiences were a fabrication in his mind did not have him convinced.  Something told him it was an entity much bigger than himself, trying to tell him something.  Perhaps this line of thinking was part of the psychologist’s theory that Tom was steering himself from some truth, but he knew it wasn’t.

 Tom was two streets away from his home when his phone rang.  It was his mother. 

“Where are you?”

“On my way home.  Something wrong?”

“Your cousin Gary just died.”

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New

A new year is the best excuse for one to revisit old memories.  Layers of dust and age only stress the amount of effort taken to conceal what is underneath, what wishes to be lost.  A lot can be done to lose something, but much more is lost when you do it.

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The ring

When Ryan left the room, it was well past Lily’s bed-time, and by the time he arrived home, cleaned his blood-stained hands, took off his rain-soaked jacket,  rubbed his fatique-ridden eyes, took a good hard look at his surprisingly collected face and went upstairs, Lily had long been dreaming cosily, toy giraffe in hand.

Shutting the door to her room, Ryan went into his and laid on the now king-sized bed.  Out of habit, he stayed on the right side.  After lying there for a few hours unable to sleep, he got up, walked past Lily’s room, out the door, in the car, and drove off, back to the building, and back into the room.  He grabbed the ring off the floor, and without so much as a glance at the lifeless woman on the floor, he turned and left.

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My Interview Last Week

A young man stumbles into a room, his hair in a mess and his shirt untucked. In the room behind a large desk sits another man. A tag on the desk reads M. Lam, Director.

“I’m so sorry, traffic was busy and there was this weird thing…I ran to get here, I know there’s no excuse, I’m so sorry…”

“Catch your breath there, it’s alright, take a seat! Catch your breath!”

“I’m so sorry…”

“So you ready to start?”

“Yes. Yes I am.”

“Alrighty. Could you tell me a bit about yourself.”

“Sure. I graduated from City U majoring in Graphic Design, with first-class honors. I started off working freelance, getting…”

“Sorry to interrupt, have you ever done anything for Shermaine?”

“Shermaine?”

“Yes, Shermaine Lee.”

“No….no I haven’t.”

“Ah, good, good. I can’t stand that woman. Her voice just gets on my nerves. She just has that kind of voice, you know?”

“Oh…yeah, I know what you’re talking about, haha…”

“Yeah, you know? Sorry, please continue.”

“…well then I was recruited by a large advertising agency and work became more stable, I couldn’t do the freelance thing forever, it’s not exactly a highway to heaven. So then I was in charge of…”

“Do you believe in dinosaurs?”

“……Do I believe in dinosaurs?”

“Yeah, dinosaurs. You know, rawwrrr.”

“Err…I guess I do. Actually I didn’t think it was a matter of belief.”

“Why not?”

“I just thought it was scientifically proven.”

“Yes it is, but you can still not believe it. Right?”

“Errr…..yeah…”

“So, do you think they could breathe fire?”

“Huh?”

“Breathe fire. You know, foooooooo”

“Um…..I’m aware what fire-breathing looks like, but…maybe you got them mixed up with dragons?”

“I don’t understand what you mean.”

“Um, I think dragons are the fire-breathing creatures, not dinosaurs.”

“….Are you sure?”

“Yes….unless final fantasy is lying, hahaha….er…”

“Hmmm….then what did dinosaurs do?”

“They just….kind of walked around, I guess.”

“Just walked around?”

“Yeah…”

“That’s a bit boring isn’t it.”

“I guess it is.”

“Hmmm”

“…….”

“…….”

“…….”

“You mean like this?” (Gets up and flaps his arms like a bird)

“…….” (Eyes darting around) “Um….I don’t think dinosaurs flew.”

“Yes they did, I’ve seen pictures of them flying around.”

“There were flying creatures back in those times, but technically they weren’t dinosaurs.”

“What were they then?”

“I dunno, I’m not a palaentologist.” (Getting angry)

“Got an attitude there.”

“I’m sorry.”

“We don’t want none of that here.”

“I’m very sorry.”

“What we need here is a team player, not an individualist with an attitude.”

“I’m sorry I just got carried away. I’m so sorry.”

(Laughs) “It’s alright, I was just kidding.”

“Oh hahahaha”

“I’m not that mean.”

“Hahaha, right…ok…”

“……”

“So these flying dinosaurs, did they breathe fire?”

“……Yes.”

“Wow.”

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