Become a Fan
By Sharon M White
Monday, March 05, 2007
Rated "PG13" by the Author.
Death visits a mental hospital to try on a human body and to take a suicidal girl on a journey to the Other Side so she can help others upon her return.
Upon Death's entrance the hospital’s fluorescent bulbs flickered, a cold breeze whirled papers gently on the long green counter of the nurses' station and all mortals took some notice of the being that had just entered. Shivers ran up spines, gooseflesh covered arms and legs, fine hairs prickled on the backs of necks. If Death passed close enough to a conversation, sentences were left unfinished, broken in mid-thought as the Angel of Death brushed shoulders with humans. There were nervous giggles, flushed cheeks, quick glances over shoulders and peeks into darkened corners. But humans were blind things. They could feel the presence but chose not to see. Humans wondered about, feared, and fictionalized Death. Being in spirit form, Death could never understand the emotions instilled in humans. Emotions that seemed to come one at a time.
Being abstract, thoughts didn't form for Death, Death was thought. A maelstrom of energy-thoughts all swirling together and vibrating at such a level as to be easily ignored by humans. To these people Death is formless, a ceasing of vital bodily functions and not a literal being. Faith is a constant controversy for humans, a slippery wily thing that will often drift away at the slightest test and at other times cling to the person like a second skin. Faith is an abstract idea at best and a given for Death. No belief, no disbelief; only what is and what is not.
Death entered a room. A woman lay on a bed, tubes attached her body to several beeping, blinking machines. Approaching the bed, Death saw the stirring of covers as restless feet made it known that the woman sensed Death.
Heavy lids fluttered over the tired eyes that were locked on the figure at the side of the bed. A smile stretched the thin skin of her face, "Finally.” The woman wheezed and waited as a pump filled her lungs with more oxygen. “Thought for a while I'd have to do this on my own."
Death morphed and formed several shadowy forms, like a puddle of dark viscous liquid floating in the center of the room.
"Why, I see the setting sun." She gave a light chuckle and saw what she wanted to see. The heavy lids fluttered again and Death was above them. When the eyes opened they would never close of their own accord again for Death called the woman's spirit out.
Death delivered the woman's spirit to the Other Side of the Veil of Life and watched as the spirit, restored above and beyond the youthful vigor of human life, flitted from one thing to another. When other spirits joined her, Death took leave.
* * *
In the Realm of Eternal Spirits Death hovered, fading, changing and thinking. The Eternal Ones around Death were doing the same. It was a beautiful chaotic dance of Souls. Communication traveled through Spirits in the Realm via energy. When Death allowed thoughts of mortals to enter Its energy field the other Spirits instantly knew and communication swirled at the speed of thought.
Mortal days were but seconds to the Spirits who had no real need of time. They had always been and always would be, no fuss, no muss and no hurry. No need to cut up time and dissect it into chunks. Death wanted to know why mortals were so different yet so much the same as the Spirits. In the Realm of Eternals there were others with questions about mortals. Answers flickered like bolts of blue and silver lightning.
Each mortal saw something different when Death appeared but Death couldn’t see their visions or experience their emotions, for that a mortal body was needed. Human bodies were not fashioned to hold an Eternal--not normal human bodies that is. The brain is the control panel of the body and Death knew It would have to find a slightly skewed control panel linked to a sturdy healthy body. The slower processing would suspend the results of invasion by an Immortal. The body would not hold Death for long before shutting down the control centers in the brain. Death would experience human form, function and feeling.
* * *
A mental hospital sat in the middle of nowhere. Annie was used to it. It was the same everywhere they sent her. She would stay at one facility until it was deemed necessary to send her to a new facility in some other nowhere town. For three long years Annie had been so drugged that she barely knew how many different places she had been. And when was the last time her family had visited? Well, Annie could not recall that minor detail. The harder Annie concentrated on it the more effect the dope had on her. Better to float off in the white and be blissful than to fight and try to remember insignificant little things like when her family visited last. So Annie floated off into the gray, then the white, slowly faded out of the world of reality and thought of nothing. When she returned she picked up her pencil and sketch pad and drew the things she had seen in the gray and black, on either side of her journey.
* * *
"Journeys? Annie, you haven't left the facility in three months." The little round doctor with his slippery glasses that he constantly adjusted eyed Annie and pursed his lips when she didn't respond. "Annie, you know the 'journeys' are all in your mind, don't you? You know they aren't real?"
Annie stared at Dr. Sanford Lewis. She didn't like him. Something about his roundness, beady eyes, stretched night-crawler lips and huge pig-snout nose annoyed Annie. The golden rule about never judging a book by its cover is a good law to live by and Annie always strove to never judge but in the case of Dr. Lewis she felt the pages within would only be a reflection of the cover without. She conversed with Dr. Lewis enough to keep from being drugged again. But by now, three years into her madness Annie had become dependent on some of the tranquilizers and stabilizers. But she didn't like to be dosed, she saw too many strange things in the black after floating and the gray that marked the beginning of a journey.
"You're the first shrink to care about my little journeys. Why?" Annie held his gaze.
"I find it interesting that you draw what you've seen and believe to be real. In reality these things are not substantial, they are only aspects of your own personality. I can tell from the drawings that you have accepted most of these aspects and regard some of the darker shades of yourself with awe, respect and love. That worries me." He busied himself with Annie's sketchbook. "Maybe that's why you're suicidal; all that darkness." He gave a little wave of his hand as if shooing a fly away.
"Why would it worry you? I thought we were supposed to love ourselves to get better, or was that just group bullshit instead of group therapy? If I learn to love everything about myself maybe I wouldn't be suicidal." Annie was glad to see the agitation flicker on Sanford's face.
"You are supposed to love yourself and all your different aspects but I think in people like you, Annie, suicidal people, where the darker side is exalted, it is a dangerous game indeed. The healthy glowing part of yourself is what I want to see exalted and I haven't seen it in any of your sketches. Where is the light Annie?"
"Between the gray and the black Dr. Lewis."
Annie turned sideways in her vinyl cushioned seat to look out a barred window. She saw the thin wire running from the side of the window and knew it was an alarm, if the window was disturbed the alarm would sound. She wondered how long she would have to endure all the doctors before one of them dubbed her normal.
"Between, huh? Never heard that before. Where are the gray and the black?"
"Well, logic would tell you they would be on either side of the white." Annie waited for the repercussion.
Dr. Lewis spent a pause rubbing his eyes. Annie looked out above the trees and saw the evening star coming over the horizon.
"At least you still have a sense of humor. That’s a good sign, gives us something to work with and build on. I think you're going to be fine, Annie."
"You said I still have a sense of humor, as if this is just a big joke. Well, I don't think any of it's a joke. Least of all my journeys, and the things I see on them." Annie turned direct.
Dr. Lewis only smiled. "All right, Annie. I see no need for anger, so we'll just call this session to an end." Dr. Lewis closed Annie's folder and looked up at her. "What do you say?" He sat back all plump and comfortable in his leather chair, a smirk playing on his fat cheeks.
"Fine with me." Annie walked out of the room letting the door swing shut on its overhead pneumatic hinge.
* * *
Annie lay on her bed and listened as the nurses brought the afternoon meds down the hall. The squeak of the rubber-wheeled cart and the soft humph-thump of nurse's shoes mixed with the quick swish-swish of their outfits made Annie's stomach roil and her jaws clench. Soon the nurses would swish-swish and humph-thump into Annie's room and smile as they gave her pills to swallow. Then everything would fade around the edges until there was no color and Annie would journey until time for the dinner trays.
After the dinner trays were collected the hallway was quiet again for short while before the nurses came again with pills and quick steps to end the day. But not today there was someone new on the wing and Annie was curious about the new janitor who was causing all the nurses to fuss. If he could upset the nurses Annie was sure she wanted to meet him. A new person who wasn't a patient, doctor or a nurse, just a person.
Muffled rattles and thumps then stage-whispered reprimands from a nurse. Outside Annie's door a man said, "I sorry missus. Quieter, shhhh. I will."
Suddenly Annie felt uneasy. Something about the way he formed words made her skin crawl. Keys jangled like sleigh bells as one found the lock. Annie could have saved time and trouble by telling him the door wasn't locked but she didn't. She stood under the barred window and watched with wide eyes as the door opened to reveal a man's back clothed in a gray uniform and hat.
"Shhhh. Anybody in here? I gotta clean now. Gotta be quiet, too. Missus said so." One big hand rubbed at the back of the large neck and head.
Annie did the only thing she could think of, she cleared her throat.
A nurse stepped into view. "Tanker! What did I tell you about the women's rooms? God Almighty! Get out of here Tanker! I'll call you when we're ready." The nurse pushed in past the janitor, and nudged him until he was in the hallway. The door swung shut on his hushed apologies.
"Who was that?" Annie asked the nurse.
"That, dear girl, was Tanker, the new janitor until Janet can come back."
"Oh, Tanker’s harmless. Don't you worry about him, he's just a little off is all. He's like a kid." The nurse smiled a nervous smile and said, "Are you ready for your floor to be cleaned? I'll take you down to watch some TV in the common room."
"I'd rather stay in here and draw. I don't like TV. It makes me nervous" Annie climbed onto the bed and sat cross-legged near the wall.
"You should go out and let him clean. If he gets upset he'll never get finished."
"He can prop the door open and you can stay if you like. I won't bother him."
"Whatever. But if this bothers either of you, tomorrow you will have to go out while he cleans."
Annie nodded and sat on the bed again as the nurse propped the door open on its rubber-footed kickstand.
Tanker, the janitor, backed into the room again. "Shhh. It's Tanker, janitor. Is anybody here?" He continued to back in.
"Yes. Annie. Just doing some artwork. I promise I'll stay out of your way."
Tanker didn't turn to look at Annie but instead kept his head bent as he mopped. He worked his way from the back corner diagonally toward the door. He paused after every other swipe of the industrial mop to slosh it in the water and wring it nearly dry again. Two swipes, pause, slosh, wring.
Tanker kept his back to Annie and moved the rolling mop bucket with his right foot. As he neared the bed Annie worked up enough nerve to speak to him, he was obviously shy.
"So, Tanker…right?" Annie looked at the broad back and stocky body.
"Uh-huh. Tanker. The janitor." Still he didn't turn, only slowed down.
"Kinda shy aren't you?"
"Uh, guess so, how 'bout you?"
Annie laughed out loud causing the nurse to step to the doorway and glare her disapproval.
"I wouldn't exactly say I'm shy, Tanker. I thought it might be nice to just to have a normal conversation." Annie laid the sketch pad on the bed beside her but didn't get up.
"A conv--con--ver…Sorry, I can’t say big words. My head won't hold 'em." Tanker stopped to slosh and wring again.
"I'm sorry, Tanker. I just think it would be real nice if we could talk about something besides this place. I'm so tired of it here."
"Why don't you go home, then? That's what I do."
"The doctors say I'm not well enough to go home yet."
"Oh, that's real bad. Sorry you can't leave. Maybe you’ll be better soon, missus."
"If only that were the case, Tanker. Thank you for cleaning my floor, I think that's the cleanest I've ever seen it." Annie wanted to talk more but didn't know how to continue.
Swipe, swipe. "You welcome, missus. I like to clean floors. They’re pretty when they’re shiny and all wet." Slosh, wring, stop. Tanker turned to look at Annie. "You know why they call me Tanker?" A small smile crossed his broad features quick as lightning it was there and gone.
"Want to know?" He looked back at the floor.
"Sure." Annie felt a surge of sympathy for him.
Tanker laughed. "They say I slow like a tank and I look like a tank. Ain't that funny?" He laughed softly and continued his work.
"Yeah, that is funny." In her head she added, 'I guess.'
Actually she thought it was mean and wondered who had given him the nickname printed on his uniform. The staff? The patients? The people outside the facility? No matter who assigned the name, she didn't like them.
Tanker backed to the door where he stopped, propped the mop in the bucket and emptied the trash can. He sprayed cleaner inside the can, wiped it clean and set it in the hallway to finish mopping. When he pushed the mop and bucket into the hallway he put the trash can back exactly where it had been before.
"Bye, missus. See you tomorrow."
Before Annie could respond the nurse said, "Oh, I doubt that Tanker." The door floated closed and Annie was left to sit and look at the floor drying in streaks.
"I'll be damned the floor is pretty when it's wet and shiny like that. Why didn't I ever notice that? All I thought of was the nasty mop water."
Annie didn't move until the floor was dry. She couldn't mess up the work Tanker took such great pride in. She hoped she would see him again.
* * *
Tanker continued down the hallway with the nurse close on his heels to finish his rounds. He was allowed to go to the janitor's storeroom un-escorted to empty the bucket and take the trash to the dumpster. Tanker would then push the empty cart to the storeroom and clean and stock it for the next day.
That's when it happened, all alone with only the cinder-block walls and shelves of cleaners to witness, the Angel of Death took over Tanker's sturdy body and partially ruined brain.
Tanker felt a chill, turned to look, and saw only a slight movement in the shadows closest to him. And then it was over. The Angel of Death had control. A painless takeover had taken place and no one at the hospital was any the wiser.
* * *
Death's first feeling was one of being imprisoned, confined. Wrapped and constricted in every way, Death fought the urge to jump out of the body and return to the Realm of Eternals.
Tanker had been in the middle of cleaning the empty cart and for the first time Death felt the pull and tug of time as humans do every day of their lives. Only a little time left before one of the other humans came to see what was taking so long to clean up and get gone. Death took that time to learn how to move the body in an almost natural way, how to make the vocal chords work, how to process the sensory information, as muted as it was, and find the files in the brain that would give information on how to respond to it all.
It was not a quick process for Death because everything was so muted, slow, and sluggish as it came to the Spirit through the filter of the physical body and brain.
The freshest memory in the brain was of a girl in a room, on a bed, drawing and talking to him. Death left the small room and followed the memory to the girl's room. Death knew this was the suicide ward, where the Eternal wanted to be to find out why a human would want to create such a Dark Place in the afterlife and why their view of death was so warped.
Death stood at Annie's closed door, Tanker's head drooped toward the floor. The Spirit divined information from the girl, which was much more difficult through the body It now used. Death raised Tanker's hand and knocked on Annie's door, waited, hand still in the air, eyes rolling here and yon never ceasing their movement. Death tried to pick up all the information lost to It in the mortal body and had little success.
The door opened a crack and Annie peered out. "Tanker, what is it? Why are you here, you could get us both into a lot of trouble." The door opened all the way and the girl ushered Death in. Tanker's body lurched forward, jittered and jerked as he walked in past Annie, his hand still raised. Annie closed the door and turned to him. He was in the middle of the room looking straight into her eyes. It had a startling effect and suddenly Annie wished she hadn't let Tanker into her room. She was quite removed from the nurses' desk if she happened to need help.
"Tanker, are you all right, are you sick, you're shaking." Annie didn't let go of the doorknob. "And why is your hand in the air?"
"I knock door for you." Tanker's eyes remained locked on Annie's, expression never changing but the body somehow shifted, bulged and jittered as if electricity passed through it in a steady current causing the skin to contort and roll in an unnatural way.
In the midst of all the chaotic movement Tanker's face remained eerily still. Annie became more frightened by the second.
Becoming more frightened by the second, Annie slowly applied pressure to the doorknob, hoping it wouldn’t squeak as she tried to avert Tanker's attention away from her hand.
Death said not a word, the vocal chords were hard to control, harder than the movements of the body which were obvious and making the girl want to escape. Death watched Annie through Tanker's eyes and jitter-walked sideways toward the bed, never blinking, and picked up Annie's sketchbook. It used Tanker's shaky arms and hands to hold it in front of the eyes, finally looked down and flipped through the pages.
Annie turned the knob and jerked the door, meaning to run to the nurses' station but the door didn't budge. Quickly she checked the lock--not engaged. She put both hands on the knob, jerked with both hands and used all her body strength and weight against the jammed door. Nothing. Tanker said nothing until he held out the sketchbook to Annie.
"No harm, only looked. Take it." The voice was definitely not that of the slightly retarded janitor. The buzzing, gurgling quality to the voice was like nothing Annie had ever heard.
True fear gripped her for the first time in a hold that was unbreakable. Her hand rose of its own volition and took hold of the book.
An electric jolt ran through the arm and into her body, she knew that was Tanker's body but she knew it wasn't Tanker in control of that body. Somehow the things she'd seen on her journeys had come through into what Dr. Lewis liked to call Reality and jumped into poor Tanker.
"Not zactly, Anneee. I come to show you what the Other Side like, what you make of it. Everybody make their own Other Side. Don't make It like these or It will be." The hand, still outstretched from handing her the sketchbook, now opened in what could have been a spasm and Annie heard in her mind, 'Come and I'll show you.'
"No way. I want you to leave now. I don't know who you are but if you don't leave, I'll scream."
Annie knew that was a weak threat, she didn't have the ability to speak above a husky whisper let alone scream loud enough for the nurses to hear. And what threat would they be to this thing standing in her room in Tanker's body?
"I will bring you back again soon." Shambling steps took the body toward Annie who couldn't move to avoid the cold grasp of Death.
As her body went numb from the top of her head to the soles of her feet, Annie thought she was 'passing over' for sure. Even though she'd attempted to send herself to the grave several times she wasn't so sure she wanted to go this way. Too late. Her eyes fluttered shut. The two bodies crumpled to the floor.
Her eyes opened again in almost Total darkness greeted her and total freedom of movement as her feet touched nothing solid and she flew forward with great speed. Figures she had drawn many times over the years, dark figures blurred as she passed by. A large dark figure in a tattered black robe, skeletal fingers and hidden face, her version of the dark, mysterious Death, had hold of her hand and propelled her through the hellish scenes. Suddenly landscapes changed and everything was brightly colored, lush and beautiful.
"Look down, Annie. See what these people made for themselves over here. You saw what you were creating. Some people fight as hard as they can because they're scared of what's over here. Nothing to fear. All's good here. If you choose it to be."
In silence they journeyed further. Annie traveled through all the places of the afterlife she had ever read or heard about.
"I am not to be feared, none of us are. We are Eternal Spirits, neither good nor evil. When I took that man's body it was only to experience what you mortals feel every day and take for granted: the tug of time, love, trust, regret, happiness and even fear. You can feel these things one at a time, turn them over and experience them fully where I, and others like me, must feel everything at once, all mingled together. I see now that we do share the same feelings and some emotions but experience them in vastly different ways. Tanker had many bad experiences and still built a beautiful place over here. A place where he could roam at will and be free of the brain that confined him in life. Now he's happy and free."
"I don't understand. The things I drew were only the things I saw when I journeyed."
"No they were things you'd been programmed to see if you didn't live a certain way, go by man’s rules and dogma which would send you to an eternally bad place with evil beings all around as penance for your rebellion. Some of man‘s laws are right and should be followed and your heart will let you know if you do something against the Creator‘s will. It‘s not His plan for you to be bound in chains and remain miserable while you are on earth nor is it His wish that you should suffer in the afterlife."
"You mean it can be however I want it to be over Here?"
"There are rules but for the most part, yes. You can go back if you desire. Start a new life, be born again onto the mortal plane. That also is your choice alone but there is a Council here to help you with that decision."
"Why are we on Earth to start with? What is the purpose? It all seems useless compared to this."
"No, not useless. Over here there is no negativity and therefore one loses perspective on the perfect-ness of this place. That can lead to lack of discipline and even spirits can become spoiled, wanting more and more. Mortality was the Creator’s way of not interfering with any spirit’s free will and still teaching discipline and gratitude so this place will never be sullied by revolt again. Each soul's purpose is to be absorbed back into the Great Spirit, the Creator."
Death morphed into a man with olive skin and dark curling hair.
"Why did you bring me here?" Annie was in the Other World but couldn't grasp the full scope of it because she wasn't truly dead, her body lay in a comatose state awaiting the return of its soul and the connection kept most of the mortal filters intact.
"I don't want to die yet knowing what I've created."
Death didn't reply immediately, only took her further over wildly different and beautiful landscapes hued in colors that could never be conveyed by human words.
"You didn't create a place here, instead it is between this place and your earthly home. In between the two you have created a state of limbo. It is time for your return."
"Show me more." Annie pleaded.
"Time and physics are not the same here and more time has lapsed on your mortal plane."
They moved forward and Annie felt the tug of her physical body grow stronger.
When Annie's eyes opened she was on the floor of her room, the floor Tanker had cleaned so meticulously. The first thing she noticed was the feeling of heaviness and that all the colors were muted.
Tanker's body tried to get up but only rolled toward her and fixed her with dark, swimmy, hypnotic eyes. Tanker's mouth opened and Annie heard Death say, "It is not your time to die. Listen to your heart and conscience. You are not as filtered as the other humans and you can make a difference. Go now, out of this place and fulfill your Destiny. Remember what you saw this day and help yourself and others find answers."
Tanker's eyes fluttered, body jittered and then only stillness. Gray smoke seemed to swirl from his depths and fill his eyes until they looked like dark crystal balls filled with smoke.
Annie filled her lungs and screamed the longest loudest scream of her young life.
* * *
Within two months Dr. Lewis dubbed Annie normal and cured of her suicidal tendencies. With walking papers in hand she smiled as the attendant escorted her to a taxi. That taxi would take her to begin a new life, a life that would fulfill her Destiny and help others do the same.
She kept her sketchbooks and looked through them often but never again wondered about the validity of the things she'd seen on her journeys. Especially on her last journey.
Whether or not it was real to anyone else remained to be seen; it was real to Annie and that was what mattered.
Now she knew she would go out into the world armed with special knowledge. Eternal knowledge and ageless wisdom.
* * *
The bad visions came at odd intervals throughout Annie's life but they caused no grief for she had designed her own home on the Other Side.
On her eightieth birthday she retired to her bed hoping that she would open her eyes to that feeling of complete freedom she'd felt so long ago when her family had deserted her and both worlds were dark places.
Destiny fulfilled, Life lived, people helped. Annie was ready to go to her Land of Eternal Summer.
Maybe she would come back and maybe not.
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|Reviewed by Nickolaus Pacione
|One demented write, I have to make a suggestion with this one. Indent the paragraphs on this one so it makes it a little more readable. I like this one just the same, it does have a real nutkicker of an ending. You should try to send this story to Naked Snake Press for The Blue Lady.
Nickolaus Pacione -- HOUSE OF SPIDERS 3