Authors: D. B. Douglas
His voice trailed off. He was disgusted with himself. “I feel like a bloodsucker.” He finished with eyes downcast.
Jackie just leaned towards him against the fence, eyes narrowed, stare hardening until he looked up her. Her mouth had fallen open and the clippers dangled forgotten from her hand.
what this is about?”
“What did you think it was about?” He replied. “It’s about what it’s always about; death. You
He tried to sound firm and hoped he was able to conceal the guilt rippling through his brain.
“Maybe…” She reluctantly agreed. “But this seems messed up to me. These are people, not just some characters in your book…Why don’t you just skip it? You’ve fictionalized before?”
It was the danger of being so close — they often tried to resolve problems alike. He’d already pursued this line of thought and eliminated it. There were major reasons he couldn’t skip it but he wasn’t sure she’d understand any of them. He’d always prided himself on complete honesty with his wife but this was somehow different…How could he tell her that everything hung on this one scene, that his entire idea would either succeed or fail by how well this lynch pin was handled? Sure, he could wing it — but it wouldn’t be as good or seem as real to the reader—not by a long shot. And as the springboard for the whole idea, this scene had to work
. Without verisimilitude in the setup of fiction, especially in horror, the payoff didn’t work and the ultimate goal of creating FEAR failed miserably.
She was waiting, just staring. He had to tell her something but he refused to lie. He whistled for Argus to come back faster and spun the gold wedding band on his ring finger round and round, avoiding eye contact.
“I’ll figure something out.” He said and strolled off for the house before she could respond.
Frank was jittery. The conversation with Jackie had unnerved him — he didn’t like doing this anymore than she did. On the other hand, he really didn’t want to be a grade school teacher for the rest of his life. He knew what would happen if he failed in this attempt. She had meant it when she had said that he could just go back to teaching to catch up on bills but he knew how these things morphed into something else. First it would be temporary. Then they would get used to the extra money and she’d start bringing up getting a more advanced teaching degree again. The concept of “golden handcuffs” popped into his head. Once she was used to more, she would never be content with less.
He strode down the hospital hallway with his intent bolstered. He would play out the scene today — there would be no more procrastination. Afterwards, he would duck out of the hospital as quickly as he could and race home to write down what had happened in as much detail as possible. He had a good memory for dialog and was fairly sure he’d be able to transcribe the exchange exactly.
He passed the time clock and a few wandering patients. He barely noticed the orderly that said hello or Larry screaming in his room as he made his way towards Eli’s room.
He turned the corner and broke stride for just an instant when he saw Eli at the end of the hall leaning on his walker and whispering something to Lidia whose wheelchair blocked his path. She quickly scuttled out of the way and Eli glanced up and saw Frank approaching. He waited and smiled broadly.
“Hi ya, Franklin, what are you doing here today, isn’t it your day off?”
, Frank thought.
Just stay resolved and get it over with
“I was wondering, Eli, can I talk to you for a minute?” He asked. He was painfully aware that his voice sounded hurried…breathless. Eli didn’t seem to notice.
“Sure. Come into my office.” Eli replied with his characteristic Mr. Rogers-ish voice and a lazy wave of his big veiny hand.
Frank followed Eli’s slow progression towards his room; Eli lifted the walker, set it down, took a step. Lift, set, step. Lift, set, step. It was giving Frank too much time to think.
Eli made it to his bed, sat stiffly on the edge. He looked up at Frank with an expectant gaze and waited. Frank cleared his throat and finally launched in.
“Eli, do you remember that conversation we had the other day? About religion and heaven and all that?”
Eli squinted back. “Course I remember.” He said.
Frank struggled with how to broach this... The delay was becoming awkward — He needed to fill the gap. “Well something you said got me to thinkin’…” He said weakly.
Eli just smiled, as relaxed as could be. “Guess that’s a good thing, ain’t it?” He asked.
Frank was floundering and knew it.
He had to keep going…Had to…
“You said you wouldn’t know if there were a heaven until you got there. So I wanted to ask you something…”
Fuck. He was blowing it! Just ask the damn question and get out of there!
Eli waited, now grinning. He finally slapped Frank’s hand playfully.
“Well, c’mon boy, out with it. What’d you wanna ask?”
Frank swallowed, rubbed his eyes.
“This is just hypothetical…” He began and stalled again. He forced himself to continue. “This is just hypothetical but what if after you… Well, what if you could come back and tell me what it’s like after you…”
“Die?” Eli chimed in with an unexpected tone of glee. His eyes glittered like he thought this was the funniest joke he’d heard in his whole long life. “Don’t be afraid to say it, Franklin…” he continued. “I know I’m gonna die, we all do. What if I could come back and tell you what it’s like after I die — that’s what you wanted to ask me, isn’t that right?”
Frank’s throat was dry — he could only numbly nod. Eli eyeballed him.
“Now how the hell am I supposed to do that, Franklin?” he asked with a strangely harsh tone, his top lip pulled back from his teeth. Frank noticed his sharp incisors poking out — He’d never noticed that before…
Don’t get distracted!
Stay on The Important Subject and Get-it-over-with!
Frank tried to clear his throat and dropped his eyes to the floor. His voice came out husky and rough.
“By making a promise that you will. Maybe coming back has something to do with unfinished business — A commitment that must be kept — Even beyond the grave.”
He knew how laughably stupid this must sound, how ridiculous — He just had to hurry up and finish.
“You always hear about unsolved murder victims haunting the scene of the crime or —”
Eli’s loud guffaw cut through Frank like an ax. His cackle was so loud, it shook the glass on the nightstand.
Frank felt like he’d been slapped. He could feel the blood coloring his cheeks as Eli almost cried with laughter, doubled over and wheezing on the bed. He wanted to run away, hide in shame but Eli recovered quickly, his glittering eyes turned on him again, mouth twisted into a lopsided grin.
“What a buncha rubbish!” He spat vehemently. “You believe that crap, Franklin? You surprise me, an educated man like yourself…”
Frank couldn’t feel more idiotic. His face pulsed with blood and he knew he must look like a tomato. Still — the attack pushed him to defend himself…
“Who’s to say, Eli?” He heard himself reply, his voice rising. “Who’s to say what happens after death and why…?”
His scene was ruined, his idea was ruined, he was ruined — after all this preparation…He couldn’t very well put this reaction in his book — it wasn’t what he had thought would happen at all… It was done. He needed to just get out of there.
He mumbled something like “I’m glad you find it so amusing…” without even thinking and bolted for the door. He was almost free, almost away when Eli called after him.
“Franklin, hold on — Wait a second… If it’ll make you feel better…?” Eli’s voice was gentle now, conciliatory…
But it was too late. Frank just wanted to keep on walking and leave this mess behind him. Literally. He spoke over his shoulder, still moving.
“No, no, that’s okay… Maybe it is idiotic…”
He was out the doorway when the clatter of Eli’s walker hitting the ground behind him made him stop.
“Franklin, I’m sorry…” Eli called after him. His voice was truly penitent. “Come back. Please… If it’s important to ya, go ahead — Ask me again.”
Frank turned back. Eli was trying to reach down and pick up the walker so he could chase after Frank but he couldn’t quite reach it. He looked dangerously unstable.
Frank instinctively rushed back to him, put the walker back in position and guided his hands to the rails.
Eli stood up and stared at Frank — His expression clearly both worried and sincere.
Frank didn’t want to ask Eli anything now — The moment had passed and he already felt it was a major misfire he didn’t need to repeat. On the other hand, he didn’t want to leave it this way either.
Maybe he could play if off as a joke?
He reconciled himself to the idea, smiled sheepishly and was about to put it into play when Fernando appeared in the doorway.
“Hey, Frank, Rachel’s been lookin’ for you, man.“
Fernando bobbed his head in greeting to Eli. “Hey Eli. How’s it goin’? What’s the hot topic today?”
Immersed in their private moment, Frank and Eli just smiled at him and said nothing. Fernando looked from one to the other, not understanding.
“I interruptin’ something?” He asked.
Still neither responded, frozen in position like statues. Fernando finally scowled, gave them both a dirty look, and walked away, shaking his head.
“Fuckin’ weird guys, man…” He grumbled.
They waited until he was out of earshot before resuming movement.
Frank hoped the earlier embarrassment was long past but Eli wouldn’t let it go. He held Frank’s gaze, eyes glittering again.
“C’mon, boy. Ask away.”
Frank’s tongue felt thick and swollen in his mouth. He didn’t want to ask anything. The oddness hung awkwardly in the air between them until Eli took his place back on the edge of the bed and pulled a shoebox across to his lap.
Where had that come from?
. When had Eli set that out?
Eli opened the box and Frank could see it was full of old newspaper clippings, yellowed with age.
Was he still waiting for Frank to ask him or had he forgotten?
Eli rummaged through the clippings and finally found one of interest. He reached to the side table for his crossword puzzle pen and scribbled something on the paper and put it in his pants pocket. Then he looked up at Frank with a peculiar smirk.
His tone had changed. Now it was almost a dare... A
Then Eli rose and turned away again. He clacked the walker over to the small corner closet and began to set out his best dark suit and tie and laid them next to his hat on the bed. Frank once again wondered…
Had he been forgotten? Were these signs of some kind of dementia?
Eli smoothed out the few wrinkles in the material and carefully aligned the creases. He again turned his eyes on Frank and now his face showed unmasked
What was this?!? Why was Eli behaving this way?
The red returned to Frank’s cheeks and he spat out the words in one rapid staccato stream, desperate to have this whole scene over and done with.
“Do you, Eli Simms, promise to return after death to visit me to prove that something else does exist, if at all possible?”
Eli grinned like a jack o’lantern.
“Can I bring my dog?” he asked smoothly.
The shame was painful to Frank. His cheeks pulsed.
Please let this be the end of it!
“…Shhh… Sure… Why not?” He stammered.
Eli closed his eyes and tipped his head back as though in a moment of silent triumph. When he spoke, it was with authority, the words somehow sounding chiseled in stone; permanent and unyielding.
“Then Yes. By all that lays between heaven and hell —
It was done — over.
“Thanks...” Frank barely got out and raced out of the room, not feeling any sense of relief until he crossed the threshold and was safely out in the hall.
“Anytime, Franklin...” Eli called after him in his characteristically Mr. Rogerish lilt.
Frank moved fast, head down — still trying to figure out what had happened back there and how to salvage it for the book.
Eli had acted strange, really strange — but
maybe he could use the entire scene as it had happened? — That raw quality of nastiness that seemed to peak through Eli’s behavior like clouds parting and revealing something before unseen was certainly unnerving — He still felt that uneasiness at this bizarre revelation — He could use that — though it would mean his main character would have to be significantly different than he had planned…
“Frank — in here, I need to talk to you.” Rachel called out.
He hadn’t even realized where he was until he looked up and found himself before Rachel’s door. She stood in the middle of her room supported by her cane, staring at him plaintively. She wore no make-up and her face was a washed out white except for the deep dark crags of age splintering in every direction. Her hair was uncombed and she wore a wrinkled nightgown — a far cry from the image she usually liked to convey. She signaled silently for him to come in with a sharp movement of her arm.