The Halls of Sheol

Prompt Day #361: Describe an encounter with the gatekeeper, sentry or maintenance man of a dark place.

 

The Halls of Sheol

                “You fucked up, girl.” The man said. Kara looked up at him. Her eyes were almost swollen shut and what she could see out of them was blurred and blood stained. The man appeared to be older, maybe in his sixties, she’d never been good at estimating even when she was in her right mind.

“Help me” He was right, she had fucked up. She’d gotten in way over her head selling drugs. It was good money though, it was just that, after a while that much money became harder and harder to let go. She’d skimmed too many times and had been beaten to nearly death. But why this guy felt it was first necessary to lecture her before helping, she wasn’t sure

“Look at you.” He tisked.

“Please, get help.”

“You’re too far gone for that now. Too much blood loss.” He picked his foot up and shook it. Blood flew off, landing among the other spatters covering her clothes.

“I’m dying.”

“Yes, I’m afraid you are.” He said, still simply standing there, looking down on her.

“I need…call an ambulance, please.” She was so weak, so cold. Soon, it would be too late if he wasn’t right and it already was.

“No.” He shook his head, “I told you already, you’re toast. There’s just you and me now. I’m all you got. You want my help?”

“Please.” She held her hand up to him. He took it. Her world went black.

 

When Kara opened her eyes she was standing in a long, cool hallway. It was poorly lit with an orange glow the source of which, she could not immediately determine. As her eyes adjusted more to the low lighting, she saw the walls lined with mummified corpses. She’d seen a picture once from the Paris catacombs, underground tunnels lined with human remains and piles of bones.

“Are we in Paris?” she asked the man standing beside her. He wasn’t much taller than her. An older black gentleman dressed in a black hoodie covered by a Carhartt bomber style jacket and a pair of chinos. He reminded her of the old men who met in the park by her house to play chess and backgammon.

“No, we’re in Sheol, the hallway between the living and the dead.” The man said and began to walk. Kara followed him.

“Then what’s with these guys?” she asked. Her mind refused to hear what he’d just said. This was a dream, maybe one of those crazy near death hallucinations that the very naïve believed were proof of life after death.

“Those are shells, just molds really, not really the dead. The dead have moved on, just as you are doing now.” He did not slow down, but walked at a leisurely pace as if they were walking through the walk.

“They look like dead bodies to me. What are they like death masks or something?” she wandered over to the wall to touch one. He caught her arm and pulled her back before she made contact.

“There was a time when many believed that in the future life would be restored to them. Everyone would need a body again so they could enjoy all the sensations of life once again. So no matter what happened to their actual body, they had a perfect replica kept here.” He explained as a parent would to a child who has asked the same question a million times before. She wondered if he had been asked the question before, probably.

“Are you Death?” she asked.

“Something like that, yes. Charon, Death, The Reaper, whatever your flavor. That is what I am. I am your escort through Sheol and on to your afterlife.” He gestured to the hall. “All of this is my domain.”

“My afterlife? Like Heaven or Hell? Does God tell you where to take me?” Kara thought she should be panicking, freaking out, but she was oddly calm. Just inquisitive, nothing more.

“There are no gods down here, Darlin’, it’s just you and me.” He said. He didn’t even turn to look at her, they just kept walking. The hall seemed to go one forever.

“So where am I going? How do you know where to take me?”

“I’ve been doing this long enough, you can trust me. I read people pretty well, I know where I’m taking you.” He said.

“No. No, that’s not how it goes. You live your life, you die and God decides where you go. I want to see him, I want to talk to him, not you!” Kara pulled her arm away from him. She hadn’t even noticed that he still had hold of it.

“What did I tell you?” He said. This was the first time he showed any emotion overtly. He was pissed. “There are no gods down here. They don’t care about you anymore. They are interested in the living. Their own private reality show. That is what they want. They get off on your measly little lives. You were created as a form of entertainment only, they sit around and try to guess what their favorites will do tomorrow or if nothing much is happening, they’ll send a tsunami or other natural disaster to shake things up. Maybe create some new crazy character that will come in and blow something up, or maybe run for President of the United States. But here is what you better get used to real quick: You’re dead, Sweetheart—voted off the island. They don’t give a shit where your generic soul spends its eternity. That’s my job, ok? So don’t piss me off.” He grabbed her arm again and walked her further down the hall.

Kara began to cry. Could this all be true? There was an afterlife but it would be as empty and useless as her life had been. It was all so terrible.

“Hey, now, don’t do that. Look, I know you did the things you did because you had to. You were trying to survive. I get it.” He eased up his grip on her. “So, just trust me, Ok. I know what I’m doing.”

They walked further and a scent drifted towards her from a side tunnel ahead. Immediately she was taken back to mornings at her grandmother’s house. Bacon and eggs cooking in the skillet filled with greasy lard. The popping of the bacon and the TV set volume competing to wake up the rest of the house. The walls fell away and she was once again the little girl padding out of the bedroom in her bare feet, squinting away the bright beam of light shining through the back picture window. The shooed away the dust motes dancing in the ray like she always had when a girl.

“Well, well, Looks like Sleeping Beauty is finally out of bed.” He grandmother said to her, the spatula bent backwards as she rested her wrist on her waist. Kara smiled. These were the best days of her life. When he mother was often off somewhere finding herself and Kara spent her days at her grandmothers.

Small Kara walked over to the aluminum and Formica topped table. The man who had escorted her here pulled the chair out for her. She hopped up onto it.

“Can I have scrambled eggs with cheese?” she asked.

“In two shakes of a lamb’s tail!” her beloved grandmother answered with her signature saying.

“I told you, you could trust me, Kara.” The man said and kissed her forehead. “I have to go now. I think you’ll be ok here.”

She watched him let himself out the kitchen screen door. He looked familiar but she could not remember who her grandpa had said he was. She guessed he was her grandpa’s friend because he looked like the kind of man grandpa would chat with at the feed store. She furrowed her brow. Why couldn’t she remember?

Her grandma set the plate of scrambled eggs down and Kara dug in, forgetting all about the man who had walked her home.

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Death in Black and White

Prompt Day #354: The Grim Reaper plays chess with a Knight in the classic Ingmar Bergman film, The Seventh Seal. Modernize with a contemporary game.

 

Death in Black and White

                The Reaper had arrived for the boy’s soul. He entered the home in silence unnoticed. The bottles of alcohol which would be the last thing the boy consumed sat lined up on the kitchen island. The boy, whose name was Hunter English, was accompanied by five others. Their names did not matter to the Reaper. He was here for only one. Just Hunter. Hunter was the youngest of the group which was a pity, but the Reaper had, of course taken younger. Life was black and white. You have it and then you don’t. His job was not to question the why of it. His job was simply to arrive, collect the soul and escort it safely to its final resting place.

The Reaper took a seat in the living room and began his watch. Hunter and his friends had their glasses filled but were not drinking. Instead they played their card game and laughed. The Reaper sat, flipping his hour glass over and over waiting for Hunter to drink himself into a coma and then choke on his own vomit. One thing about his job that The Reaper was thankful for: souls did not have a smell. The odors of and from the body stayed with the body and some were so bad, The Reaper had damaged the soul trying to rip it out too quickly in order to escape the terrible scents. Humans really were animals and in the end all the perfumes and soaps they used couldn’t mask their true essence.

He tapped his scythe on the floor impatient for the boy to get on with it. Did Hunter think he was the only soul that had to be collected tonight? Drink up already! What was so funny about this card game that they were not drinking? He’d seen many a death result from card games but those came from serious poker games and the like and usually resulted in gunshot wounds or brutal beatings. Of course there were the too-drunk college students playing cards too but anymore, they weren’t interested in cards. They were too busy with video games or fucking each other for mundane, old fashioned cards. And The Reaper had never seen them find these games so amusing that they stopped drinking. He decided to observe more closely.

                The cards were not the black, white and red he was used to, these cards were black and white only and there were no numbers or symbols but just words. The Reaper leaned over when the laughing started and observed the cards laid on the table in pairs of black and white.

“I learned the hard way that you can’t cheer up a grieving friend with…”

Giving the tumor a cutesy name”

And

“The Academy Award for…..goes to ……”

“Silence” and “A mime having a stroke”

And

“In the seventh circle of Hell, sinners must endure…..for all eternity”

“Some douche with an acoustic guitar”

                Currently they were adding white cards to answer the black card on the table that read: This is your captain speaking. Fasten your seatbelts and prepare for….” The possible answers offered up by the players so far were: “72 Virgins”, “Survivor’s Guilt”, The screams, the terrible screams”, and “A windmill full of corpses”. The Reaper laughed out loud. A loud, joy-filled laugh he didn’t even know he had inside him. The table of boys froze and spun around in his direction. The Reaper realized that in his pure enjoyment of the game, he had let his guard down and appeared to the group.

“Hello” he said awkwardly. The group stared at him. There was no question who or what he was. The laughter had stopped. “I’ve come for Hunter, but your game is intriguing, may I play while I wait for the alcohol to have its effect on him?”

“Uh” Hunter swallowed deeply. The back of his throat burned with the whiskey his stomach was now furiously sending back up and out in full-on survival mode. “Sure, please sit and play with us. It’s called Cards Against Humanity. Just a warning, it can get a little….off color.”

“There is nothing you can say or do that would surprise me about humanity.” The Reaper said and happily took a seat at the table.

He was wrong. The boys schooled him on depravity and sadistic humor. He loved every minute of it. The Reaper had existed for as long as humanity and never had he felt a greater kinship with them as he had that night. Never had he found so much hope for the future as he had in those boys who could find humor in the worst situations, who could learn to laugh at uncomfortable situations, and who could brush off clichés and prejudices against their beliefs with mirth. These were the humans he wanted on the Earth, these were they type of people who would see to it that humanity lived on in peace.

And worst of all, he loved Hunter. The boy was clever, warped and hilarious. He didn’t need to die. The Reaper wanted to see, if left to live, what the boy would ultimately do with his life. But then, he would be one soul short of his quota. He looked around the table, there was not a single soul here that he wanted to take from this world. Not yet.

“I’ve had more fun tonight with you five than I have ever experienced in my existence.” He said standing up and adjusting his hood. “But I have souls to collect. Hunter, you have earned my respect and the rest of your natural life tonight by accepting that I exist and finding humor with me. Do something with this gift I have given you. Now I must go find someone winning at Monopoly to take in your place.”

Blowing a Kiss

Prompt Day #338: Personify a bomb as it blasts in present tense.

 

Blowing a Kiss

                I have lived a long life up until now but as it flashes before me, it is nothing. No purpose, no reason for existence. I was and that is all.

I know the end is near and yet for once I am truly alive. I feel things; the air rushes past me, cooling and fresh. The speed of my fall is exhilarating. I am ALIVE!

Soon it will be over and again there will be nothing, but this time, I too will be nothing.

So why do I continue rush to my volatile end? Because it is the only way to truly live.

I wonder will there be pain? Will I be there at the final moment to gradually swim into the darkness or will it be sudden?

As the end approaches, my velocity seems to increase. Oh but the fall has been worth the sudden end.

I see the earth now, so close. There is heat swelling in my guts, vibrations shake my soul, knocking it loose from its frame.

In seconds it will be over, I can smell the dirt. The heat is no longer something I feel, it is what I have become. There is no light to run towards, I am the light. I will not leave unnoticed. I grab the ground and I rattle it. With a thunderous voice I cry out “I am, I was” and in a whisper, I blow a kiss goodbye.

Night’s Journey

Prompt Day #334: Drive a phantom vehicle

This story is dedicated to a special friend of mine. She’ll know who she is when she reads this. I think we’ve all felt like we are living in the in-between at least once in our lives.

Night’s Journey

                For quite some time, I’ve lived in an ambiguous emotional state between wishing I was dead and fearing death entirely. The proof is in the number of parallel scars ticking off my suicide attempts. Line after line of shallow, shaking cuts that never did anything but stain my sleeve and leave a faint trace of itself as a reminder of my inability to deal with life. It’s a terrible paradox to feel as if you are already dead but at the same time have a phobia that you will someday die. Trapped in the in-between, I lived a lonely existence.

Two weeks ago things changed. I don’t sleep well so it isn’t unusual for me to be wandering about my house in the wee hours of the morning. That night it was almost one in the morning when the full moon and the foggy air of early spring drew me outside to sit on the porch. Through the mist on the front yard, I could see what appeared to be a carriage. The kind that should be attached to a couple horses. I saw no signs of life. I approached it slowly. There was a driver seated on the elevated platform. His hands in fingerless gloves held the reins that floated out in front of him as if attached to some unseen equine specters. His suit was shabby and moth eaten; a worn, grey riding shawl draped over his slumped and tired looking shoulders. His face was shadowed by the rumpled top hat he wore on his drooping head. He did not look at me, but seemed to be waiting for something.

I walked past him to the carriage itself. Its black frame supported glass walls and was shorter than would be comfortable for seated adults. Curtains bearing frayed tassels hung motionless from inside the glass case and I was perplexed to find no obvious entry point. The moon’s light lit the empty interior. There were no passengers this night, at least not yet. Perhaps he was waiting for me to get in, but I couldn’t see how exactly. There weren’t any benches or seats inside either, just a long, flat platform.

The driver still sat, head down like a sleeping bird. Without moving any other part of his body, he lifted his right hand and curled his fingers in a “come” gesture. Perhaps it was the dream-like quality of the whole scene that made me climb up beside him without hesitation, but as soon as I was situated, he shook the reins and the phantom escorts pulled us away from my home.

Familiar scenery rolled by faster and faster until it was nothing but a blur. The night wrapped around us and I saw nothing but the glow of the lantern outlining my silent companion. The carriage came to an abrupt stop and we found ourselves standing at the bedside of an old man. His hitched, irregular breathing clawed at the smothering silence. The old man opened his eyes. There was no question whether or not he saw us. He looked right at my host and lifted his hands, like a toddler asking to be held. The driver took off his hat. In the dim light of the old man’s room, I saw the wispy white hair seeming to float around rather than erupt from the thin skin covering a cadaveric skull. He leaned down, pursing his dry parchment like lips onto the old man’s forehead. The kiss was gentle, like a parent’s and long like a lover’s. The old man’s eyes closed with it and his haggard breathing ceased.

“Who are you?” I whispered to him. He held up a hand as if to say stop. I shut my mouth, asking no further questions.

That night, we visited two more rooms and I witnessed two more kisses before the driver and his invisible pull team took me home. For two days after that I slept like the dead. I hadn’t slept that well in years. I awoke sometime in the night of the third day. I saw the carriage waiting for me out front and again I accompanied my quiet companion on his evening rounds. Four more nights we would meet like this, visiting the old, the sick, the hurting and I would watch him kiss their pain away.

Each time I rode with him, I noticed that my driver appeared thinner, less solid. Even the color of his clothes dimmed and faded over the week we spent together. On the seventh visit, I was surprised to find him sitting on my side of the bench. The reins lay in wait on the side where I’d come to expect him to sit. I stopped, unsure what this meant. He gestured to me again, so I rounded the front of the carriage, giving wide birth to the invisible creatures that pulled us each night. I took the driver’s seat and held the reins. Suddenly, there appeared before me two black mares. Boney ribs and hips pushed out from their skin that seemed to be draped over them like the riding shawl my ancient driver wore. The stomped their feet impatiently so I gave a shake of the harness and we were off.

The remainder of the night held no further changes in responsibilities. I stood with patient reverence as the deadly kisses were bestowed.

When we arrived back at my home after an unusually busy night, my consort got down from his mount as well. I assumed he was going to walk around to take his rightful seat but instead he stood facing me. For the first time, he lifted his head from its usual deeply flexed positon. Although I should not have been surprised, I gasped. His face was gaunt and grey, only a thin translucent skin covered his skull. His lips pulled back from an almost infinite number of teeth so much that I found myself wondering how he brought them together for the kisses he gave so readily. What was most unsettling, however, were his eyes or lack thereof. Where one would normally expect to see eyes, my nighttime accomplice, had deep black sockets that seemed to go back into his skull forever. A void lit only by faint, dying embers of a once brilliant fire, I could not look away from it. My heart thumped a fearful beat for the thing which I had come to look upon as a mentor of sorts. To watch his own light fading twisted my heart painfully.

He took off his well-worn shawl and wrapped it around my shoulders. He stood meager and shivering in the cool night air covered now in only a gauzy robe. I couldn’t recall when he’d changed out of his suit and hat and into this death shroud, but it was all gone except, as I said, for the shawl which now warmed my own frigid bones. I felt a tear rolling down my cheek and he lifted a skeletal hand to brush it away. He leaned in to me then, and kissed my forehead too, just as he had the others. Did he linger just a bit longer with me? It seemed as though he had, but then death is an eternity, so perhaps it was just a misconception.

The following night, when I awoke, the horses were waiting with their carriage to escort me on my nightly routine. The driver’s bench sat empty. The previous attendant was nowhere to be seen. I climbed up into the driver’s seat and took the reins. I pulled the shawl tighter around me and gave the go command. There are many miles ahead of me and many kisses to give before I sleep again.

Ways in Which I Will Not Die

Prompt Day #331: Write from the viewpoint of a character on his or her deathbed, penning a final memoir called, “Ways in Which I Will Not Die.”

This prompt was begging for the silly poem treatment. As soon as I started, I realized that it’s a homage to Shel Silverstein. So if you hear him in the rhythm or style of this poem, you aren’t wrong. Also, the alternate title of this poem is “Diary of a Dramatic Teenager”…You’ll see.

 

Ways in Which I Will Not Die

 

Death stands in the shadows of the room

A grim reminder of my doom

I do not beg and ask him why

But think of ways I will NOT die

Not buried alive or swallowed whole

Or Drawn and quartered from my soul

I’ll never fall from way up high

Or stung by a jellyfish passing by

A Komodo dragon or spider bite

Will not bring about eternal night

I’ll never know just what it’s like

To fall onto a punji spike

To die from infected paper cuts

Or trampled by some elephants

Improperly cooked puffer fish

Is not my idea of a sweet death wish

Sinking breathless in deep quicksand

Blood loss from a chopped off hand

A hat prepared with mercury

Massacred at Wounded Knee

None of these holds my last breath

No, I’ll just lie here bored to death.

 

 

An Insect in Amber

Prompt Day #310: Depict parents who are nervously suspecting that their young child might actually be “forever young” – not physically aging at all.

 

An Insect in Amber

 

“I’ve been thinking about taking Cricket to Dr. Taylor.” Renee said quietly to her husband. She didn’t want her daughter to hear. She looked over at her little girl, her little miracle, sitting so still on the couch. The girl barely spoke anymore. Didn’t interact appropriately but even more worrisome was that for the last five years, Cricket hadn’t developed further. Renee had assumed the scars were not allowing her skin to stretch and grow properly, but now, it was becoming obvious that there was more to it. At twelve years old, Cricket should be showing signs of puberty, but she hadn’t changed a bit since the fire.

“The same doctor who told us she was going to die? Who said we needed to let her go?” Mark asked. He had noticed (of course he had) that she didn’t seem to be growing. “Besides, it’s the scars. We need to be better about her skin care, that’s all. More moisturizer.”

“Mark, she is twelve. It’s not like I can keep doing it for her. She is old enough to not have her mother rubbing her naked body down every day, you know?”

“Look, what good is it going to do her emotionally by taking her to the doctor and presenting her as a freak in a different way? Don’t you think she realizes how different she is?” Mark just wanted to protect her for as long as he could. He’d done so much in the last five years to protect her from the awful things children say and do to each other (not to mention the stares of ignorant adults). After they brought Cricket home from the hospital, Renee quit her job to stay with her. When they did take their daughter out into the world which was infrequent, they covered her up.

“But she already knows something isn’t right!” Renee whined. “She barely talks to us, she never comes out of her room, she just…”

“She is just a normal adolescent. That’s what they do. They brood.” Mark interrupted.

“Mark, I’m taking her.”

“How about a compromise?” He sighed. “Why don’t you make an appointment just for the two of you to sit down and talk? Don’t take Cricket. If Dr. Taylor thinks we have cause for concern, fine, then you make an appointment.”

Renee considered it. What harm would it do? It might save Cricket the embarrassment of the overly concerned mother if Dr. Taylor felt it wasn’t anything to worry about. And if he did, she could ask all the important questions then, again saving Cricket the discomfort of once again being the freak in the room. She agreed.

 

“Mrs. Marsh, how are you? It’s good to see you again. How’s Mark?” Dr. Taylor asked.

“Mark is fine. It’s Cricket I wanted to talk to you about.” She said. She saw Dr. Taylor’s back straighten, his lips tightened down on each other forming a thin, pale line. He probably assumed she was going to bring up how he had believed Cricket wouldn’t survive. How he had even at one time encouraged them to pull the plug.

“Poor little Cricket. How long has it been now, four, five years?” He was trying very hard to sound conversational but Renee could see he was uncomfortable.

“Yes. Five years. Five years since our lives changed dramatically. But that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Change.”

“It takes time.” He said. Renee furrowed her brow in confusion.

“What does?” she asked, unsure if they were discussing the same topic any more.

“Change, moving on with life, getting over such a tragedy.” Dr. Taylor answered.

“But it’s been five years and she isn’t changing. Not at all. She is twelve now. She looks exactly the same as she did the day of the fire.” Renee explained, trying to get the conversation back on track. Dr. Taylor had a deep crease in his forehead that Renee watched grow ever deeper as she spoke. His lips thinned again and he leaned over, resting his elbows on his knees.

“Renee, Cricket is never going to grow up. She is never going to change. She is gone. Dead. We can continue to celebrate birthdays, if it helps with your grief process. But she is never going to be more than seven years old. We’ve been through this. Do you think you need to go back on your anxiety medications?”

“You know,” Renee said standing up “I forgave you for saying she was going to die, I forgave you for telling me to pull the plug on my own daughter but this continued nonsense has got to stop. She is most certainly still alive. I see her every day. And Mark does too.”

“Mark needs help too. I wish he would agree to talk to me, but he never comes. Have you noticed that? He never comes to these appointments. Just you. We go through this at least once a year, Renee. You have to let her go.” He pulled a paper off his clipboard. “Here, I made you another copy of the death certificate. Take this home and sit down with Mark and try to remember what really happened. Cricket is dead. You are still seeing her because you have preserved her memory so well in your mind, she’s like a little bug trapped in amber. Let her go, let her go wherever her spirit needs to so you can all move on.”

Renee grabbed the paper and walked out. She sobbed all the way home. It couldn’t be true. Dr. Taylor was just angry because he’d been wrong. She would go home and show Mark this preposterous document and he would know what to think. And then, she would find Cricket and hold her and kiss her and tell her how very much her mom and dad love her.

“Mark? Mark?” She called out. The house was silent. She checked the rooms downstairs…nothing. She walked up the steps to their bedroom. He wasn’t there. She saw that Cricket’s door was opened slightly. Odd, Cricket liked it shut all the way. She knocked lightly on it.

“Crick? Are you in here honey?” She asked. She could hear the sounds of crying coming from within. She pushed the door open and there was Mark sitting on the Dora the Explorer bedspread.

“Mark? Are you alright? Where’s Cricket?” Renee asked. Her heart suddenly pounding in her chest. She felt the room tilt and it made her dizzy. She tried to focus on a single object for balance. The stuffed animals, the tea set, the brand new box of Play-Doh sitting on the shelf. All the items she and Mark had bought and carefully replaced after the fire. All the things set for their little girl to come home to as if nothing ever happened. Things that hadn’t been touched since the day they’d put them there.

“Oh my God” she said and sat down beside her husband and mourned the loss of their daughter.

 

A Conversation with Death

Prompt Day #286: Begin a story in the chapel of a hospital

 

A Conversation with Death

                Wendy walked into the hospital chapel. There was no one in it at three thirty in the afternoon. It was quiet and dark, the only light was a multicolored beam shining through the single stained glass window. She sat on a chair and bowed her head. She would pray of course, but right now, she just need to slow the racing thoughts in her head. Put them into some sense of order, sort fact from conjecture, the known from the unknown and only then could she pray.

What she knew: Jeff was a healthy forty-three year old man. He ran marathons and played on an amateur ice hockey team. Fact: Jeff left for work at seven as usual. Did he kiss her goodbye? He usually did but this morning she was running late and wasn’t downstairs when he left. It was only conjecture then to assume he had before heading downstairs. Had she told him she loved him? Again, nothing more than an assumption that she did as she always had. Fact number two: Jeff never made it to work. She received a call from his office exactly thirty minutes before the call from the police. She began to cry. Fact number three: Jeff crossed the median, Jeff hit the van head on. Unknown: What happened to him to make him do that? She was sobbing. The doctor had mentioned something about a large pool of blood in his head. Conjecture: That Jeff had a large aneurysm burst in his head which made him cross the median and hit the van. That is just the doctor’s theory she assured herself. They would take him to surgery and see that it was the accident that caused the bleed and that could be fixed.

This wasn’t helping, no matter how she tried to lay out the sequence neatly, her mind kept jumping to the final outcome: Jeff in the OR with a brain bleed that may or may not be able to be controlled. And even if they could stop it, no one knew if he would ever come out of this intact. She fell to her knees.

“God, please let the doctors find the source of the bleeding. Please guide their hands and help them heal him.”

“Do you believe in God?” A deep but quiet voice asked interrupting her prayer. She looked up and saw an older black man sitting two rows behind her. He had a brown hooded sweatshirt with the hood up. It was a heavy duty one, lined for outdoor work. His legs stretched out in front of him and his hands were buried in his hoodie pockets. Wendy crinkled her brow.

“Of course I do. Why else would I be here?” She asked.

“Some people get desperate in these situations.” He said

“Well, not me. I’ve been a Christian all my life. A good one.” Why was she even explaining this to him? “Now, if you don’t mind.” She bowed her head and continued in silence.

“Do you believe in God’s will?” He asked, as if she hadn’t just dismissed him.

“Yes. Of course I do!” she said angrily, then reeled it in. “Yes. I do. But I also believe God can do miracles, he grants second chances all the time.” She fought back tears. She didn’t want him to see her like this. This man who had no business in this chapel.

“Does he? How do you know?”

“Because I have faith. Sir, I’m sorry, but really, my husband was in a terrible accident this morning and he is in surgery right now. I came here for peace, to ask for healing. Please, leave me be.”

“Why do you pray for healing? Why do you not pray for peace for your husband?” He asked. His voice bore no emotion, its emptiness drew her curiosity, and she found herself considering his questions carefully.

“Well, because I love him and I don’t want to lose him yet. He is so young, he has his whole life ahead of him yet. I know he isn’t ready to die.” She said, pleased with her answer.

“And if God grants your request to let Jeff live but he must live a life now without purpose, one that was meant to end today…will he be at peace? Will he live a full life or will he be a shell, a lost soul trapped on Earth?” He asked

“No, no, it isn’t like that. It wouldn’t be like that. He has a family, he will have grandchildren someday. He wants to live.” She couldn’t fathom what he was implying.

“You only know what he wanted up until today. You want him to live for your own benefit, but perhaps he is lying on that table awaiting release, awaiting peace because it is his time.” She could only shake her head at this. No. She wouldn’t listen to him anymore. Was she wrong for asking God to let her keep Jeff for longer? She paused. The man had called him Jeff, but she was fairly certain she’d never used Jeff’s name in their conversation.

“Who are you? What are you doing here? You came to the chapel too, you must be here for the same reason I am, aren’t you praying for someone?” She asked

“I am here for the same reason you are. Jeffrey Allan O’Connor. I happened to hear your pleas and it intrigued me. I’ve always tried to understand the idea of asking your God to change his will for you, as if your plan is more important than His.”

“How do you know my husband?” Wendy demanded. She had a terrible idea that she already knew his answer but that, she told herself was just conjecture.

“His name was on a work order I received this morning.” He stood up. He was much taller than she’d originally surmised. His jacket was now a black hooded cape. He held up a scroll. There was Jeff’s name and below it, his birth date. There was a dash and then today’s date.

The small contraption she’d been given in the surgical waiting room began to buzz and flash. The surgeon was paging her back to speak to him. She looked down and then back up at the man but he was gone. She left the chapel and headed towards the surgery suite taking her time. She knew what the surgeon was about to tell her and she wanted to put off the news as long as she could.