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The End of Things

By Bobby Harris

 

Image by BsWei

 

David sat in his old boxy armchair and waited to die, had been waiting for ten years now. Until recently he hadn’t felt the change—the one that always started in him at the end of his life. He felt the relief when it finally came. He lived hundreds of lives but still was unable to classify what happened when one came to an end. Always in his old age, his joints would stiffen-up and his temperature would run high. The fever was never anything serious, merely an indication that a change was coming on. David had begun to feel run down and sluggish, but at the age of eighty-three that was normal. His life was ending. It’s been a good one this time around, he thought, hasn’t it?

The chair sat in the middle of his now empty living room. It was ragged around the seams and formed to his body like a skin he’d not yet shed. Tonight, when he went, he intended to go in his chair. It had long been his island of comfort in this life. Sunlight filtered in past the heavy drapes, and he watched the specks of dust as they caught momentarily in the afternoon light and burst brightly as any star. He longed to hear April’s voice. The quiet that had settled over the house years ago—just after she died—hung thick and mixed with the stagnant musty smell of uncirculated air and old mothballs.

“Well Scratchers, let’s have us a cup of joe before we start. What do you say to that?” He rubbed the spot behind the old tomcat’s ears that always made him purr up against David’s leg. Then stood and made his slow way across the room, the floorboards creaking in counter-tune to his knees. Years of moving furniture, chasing kids and then grandkids had left the doorframe between the living room and kitchen pockmarked.

David’s affliction was not hereditary, it wasn’t an affliction at all, simply the way he had always been. Some of the memories of past lives lingered; most had withered to dust. It seemed that the greater the impact an event had on him the more easily David could recall the memory, but after about two millennia a person begins to run out of storage space in their head. For instance, he’d had a wife named Matilda—he was sure of her name—but could not recall if she was his tenth or fourteenth nor where they had lived. There had been a cottage that sat on the top of a hill, a farm with a pigpen and little other livestock. He could not recall what year it had been. He had lived so many lives now. He had families, not had families, done remarkable things, been a beggar; he had been shot, stabbed and worse. It always took him a little longer to come back after the incidents of violence. One thing was certain though- he always died alone.

Steam curled out of the pot as the coffee began to drizzle in, the smell tingled his nostrils. Aroma had always permeated the kitchen when April was alive. Bacon in the mornings, fried chicken in the evenings and a plethora of random cakes and pies. She had been the best cook he’d ever met. He had tried to get her to open a restaurant. She would have been famous the world around for her cooking. There wasn’t anything fancy about what she made, it was simply the kind of good home cooking that made you warm inside all day long. People paid good money for that type of food.

“Oh posh!” she had told him, “You’re touched in the head. There ain’t nobody alive that’d pay a dime for my cooking, except you.” She always smiled and hummed the Sinatra song “In the Wee Small Hours” when he brought it up though. She hummed the same tune whenever one of the kids brought home straight A’s or he got a good tax return.

He poured his coffee, added the cream and two teaspoons of sugar and turned to lean against the counter. The linoleum under his hand had once gleamed a bright white, not the scummy stained yellow that now offended his eyes. He remembered the day they put the countertops in; April glowed with pride over the modern look of their kitchen. It was the first thing she showed company when they came over. That was fifteen years before the first microwave had appeared at Sears and Roebuck. Five years later, they actually bought one and it still sat on the corner and ran like new. The kids had tried to buy them a new one a few years ago—before their mother died—would not take no for an answer. David and April had taken the thing back to the store and exchanged it for a new television.

They’d only been married a month when they bought the house. It was a small two-story with three bedrooms and white panel siding that sat in the middle of a newly developed subdivision. Their plan had been to have two children, a boy and a girl, David would stay on at the post office until he made postmaster. April had gotten pregnant not long after they moved in. She miscarried at three months. David never really knew what the loss meant to him, it was merely a promise broken. April had been devastated, she didn’t get out of bed for two weeks, only ate enough to keep herself alive and many times only because he forced her to. A year later they tried again.

Eventually they had two boys and a girl—David Junior, Josie, and Anthony—they were the loves of April’s life. He had never seen someone so taken with her own children. Everything they did was magic in her eyes. When each first learned to write their name, she acted as if they were the first people ever to discover written language. The mangled stick figure drawings they brought home from kindergarten she treated with the same reverence.

David never told April about his other lives. She knew his parents had adopted him from an orphanage just outside Cincinnati, she even asked him a time or two if he wondered about his birth parents. He did, but how do you tell someone, “I’m not really sure that I have them, or that I have ever been truly born. You know, the way that you or the kids were born.” He considered telling her the truth a time or two, especially when they were younger and had spent numerous sweaty summer nights wrapped around each other in his first apartment but eventually decided the risk of losing her wasn’t worth that much honesty. She had the important parts of his life.

His mom and dad had come to America in 1929 and became citizens about five years later.  David had been in the orphanage a couple of years at that point, but he didn’t remember much about the place apart from the way the windows next to his bed frosted in the winter. All he really knew about that time in his current life was what the nurses had passed on to his parents. There had been a fire in an old apartment building in Newport, Kentucky where he had been discovered. Black ash and soot dirtied his skin- otherwise not a mark on his tiny body. Some people thought it was a miracle. He’d even had a write-up in the local newspaper—the clipping that the nurses had kept for him was still stuck inside the old copy of Tom Sawyer his dad had given him. It didn’t take long for people to forget about the “Miracle Fire Baby,” and he became just another fixture in the old orphanage waiting for a family that may or may not ever show.

David finished his coffee, rinsed out the cup and sat it top-down in the sink. He creaked his way upstairs to their bedroom, past the doorframes leading to where his children’s rooms had once been. Each had their heights and ages marked their own doorframe and the grandkids were there too.  Josie had been so excited when she was ten years old and two inches taller than her older brother. She teased him about it for months until he hit his growth spurt. She never heard the end of it after that. He called her “Shorty” from that point on through high school. He even still did it now as grownups, but it was much more affectionate now. David smirked at the memory. He couldn’t wait to meet his children in his next life.

This time, he was not going to end up an urchin on the street waiting for someone to happen upon him. There was an envelope with a letter in it laying on his dresser, which explained everything for his children. He wanted them to pick him up, take him in, adopt him and let him be a part of his own family again. He didn’t know why this hadn’t occurred to him before. Of course, back in earlier lives, people would’ve cried witchcraft or some other nonsense like that. In the modern world, people were more accepting of what they couldn’t explain…mostly.

He pulled his best tweed jacket out of the closet and the lime green tie with the single tiny gold crown embroidered on it. This one had always been his favorite. Anthony had given it to him for Easter one year to wear. Anthony had never been close with him the way the other two were and rarely ever gave him a gift. David fingered the letter, examining Anthony’s name scrawled across the front of it. It held information for all his children, but it was addressed to the son he’d always felt he was lost to. Anthony and his wife weren’t able to have children- he had asked his son why but was never given a reason. Maybe he wouldn’t even want to be a father. Maybe he wouldn’t be able to accept the truth his father spilt in the letter.

#

He was determined to be comfortable this time when it happened, and he wasn’t going to leave himself waiting for discovery in some old burned-out apartment building, half starved but no way to die. So, he would lug the damned heavy thing down to the police station with him. He dragged the chair through the living room, out the front door, set it in the front yard and turned to look back at the house. Everything was in order. He pulled the letter out of his coat pocket, examined it once last time and then, stuffed it back in its place next to his skin and lungs. His time was getting close now so he had to get going.

He grabbed the back of the chair again and started dragging it behind him. He would have to walk, because he hadn’t driven since he lost his license a few years back. Already it was snowing and rapidly collecting on the sidewalk. He really wasn’t worried about the cold for himself. Soon he’d be hot enough to melt it. A couple of years ago he went to court over some traffic accidents he’d caused- that’s when they’d taken his driver’s license away. He admitted to himself that he was having trouble with his eyes and maybe it had been for the best. At the time though he had been mad as hell and cussed that judge up one side and down the other. It hadn’t helped his case. So now, he walked everywhere, took the bus or bummed a ride off a neighbor. The kids weren’t anywhere around close enough to help him out too much and that was okay. They had their lives to live. Their little ones were mostly in college now, so he wouldn’t see much of them even if they had been around. Still he would’ve liked to talk to all of them one more time, but who had time to sit and chat with an old man? God, I don’t want to lose them.

He stopped in the middle of the road, slumped down in his chair and cried. He never got used to this part, no matter how many times it happened. He would leave them, they would wonder where he went for a while and then eventually give up looking. They would want to know about the new child in their life, what David’s connection to it was, but he would become a liquid part of their memories that flowed eventually in and out of their thoughts. He was impermanent but constant. Always and forever.

Jesus, here I am feeling sorry for myself. It’s time to get up and get this shit over and done. What, am I going to sob the rest of my life away and ruin all the planning I’ve done?

He started down the sidewalk again. The legs of the chair scraping against the concrete in a long unending sh-crackle, occasionally hitting the odd loose rock or chipped-out hole. It was a small town, but he still lived a couple blocks away from the police station. He passed through the streets and past the houses. Some of them he had been in, most he hadn’t, and there were the ones that were all too familiar, the ones where friends had lived, where he’d been to Christmas parties, Super-Bowl parties, Fourth of July parties, cookouts, christenings and college basketball playoff parties. So many strangers looked out now from those houses watching him drag the chair down the street.

He was really starting to get hot now- could see the red glow starting emanating his skin. He was almost there and then he could rest.

“Hey Mister. You okay?” a voice came up from behind him. He ignored it. “You okay Mister?”

“I’m alright.”

“You don’t look all right. You know you’re glowing right?” the voice came up around him and turned into a young man. He was wearing one of those black motorcycle jackets and a white t-shirt.

“I know.” David didn’t stop his forward motion. “It always happens like this.”

The young man stared at him, keeping pace and obviously confused.

David closed his eyes and tried to keep annoyance from his voice, “Look, I ain’t got much time so…”

“You takin’ that chair somewhere?” The boy cut him off. David let his shoulders slump and his head fall. “What I mean is where are you taking it? You need some help with it?”

“Okay.” David pulled up short and stopped. “I’m only going a little ways down the block.”  He was starting to wear down, breath hard, really feel the heat now. He could see his red glow bouncing back to him from the boy’s face, whose brow creased, eyes widened and head swiveled up and down the street searching for an answer.

“Look, you don’t have to worry.” David recognized the sincerity of the boy’s expression and tried to come up with a good way to comfort him. He laughed that he should be the one offering consolation in this situation. “This is just my condition. Like my diabetes or something.”

“Mister, I ain’t never heard of diabetes doing that to somebody.”

“Let’s say this is a rare form.” He chuckled again. “Look, if you want to help, grab this chair and carry it down to the police station. Okay?”

“Wouldn’t the hospital be better? It’s close.” The young man grabbed the chair and lifted it up using his knees and not his back. David figured he probably worked at Wal-Mart or maybe the new Lowe’s they had built on the bypass. It was a good job for a young man, but he hoped he didn’t waste his youth away on it.

“No. Not the hospital.” He’d had enough of hospitals to do him all his lifetimes. They’d done no good for April. The doctors had tried everything with her- in the end they basically threw up their hands and walked away to let her die. Only thing he could do was sit and watch her fade away in the washed-out lights of her hospital room. Sometimes she was awake but mostly she slept. Never was she fully lucid. He read to her from her favorite books—she was a huge Louis L ’Amour fan— and watched episodes of Wheel of Fortune. Anything at all to make it seem as if they were having a normal night at home. They spent every night like this for a year. Once he tried to cure her on his own, and would be ashamed to admit he’d ever done it. He knew nothing about his condition, whether it was even a condition to begin with. One night, as they sat there, he considered that maybe there was something curative in his blood. Something that could bring her back to him.

The nurses had taken enough of April’s blood over the past months, and he had assisted enough that he knew all the basic triage procedures. He had never actually done it but he knew the steps and where all the tools were stored. The idea had implanted itself in his head and he intended to try it. Once the main hallway lights on the floor were out, he snuck down to the nurse station. On duty that night was a girl in her late twenties named Whitney, he was sure she had graduated with Anthony. She was down at the other end of the hall making her rounds, checking in on the other patients. He slunk around the counter to the station where they kept all the supplies, picked out some syringes, blood vials and a rubber tourniquet. He stuffed them all in his coat pocket. As he turned to walk back out he grabbed one of the tiny cans of root beer they always kept stocked for the patients. He came around the corner the same time Whitney was coming out of a room down the hall.

“David, do you need something?” he could see her head bobbing back and forth in curious concern at the other end of the hall. He held up the can of soda and smiled at her. She waved and smiled back. Calmly as possible, he walked back to April’s room and shut the door. For the next hour he sat and waited for the nurse to come in and do her check-in with his wife. Once she left, he pulled out the instruments and lay them on the hospital bed table. He pulled his chair over next to the bed, took his coat off and rolled up his sleeve then stopped. He stared at her, laying there peacefully for the moment. Was this something he was really going to try?

“April, I don’t know…,” his voice cracked as he spoke and eventually gave out as he started to weep. He let the surge of emotion pass and composed himself. “I don’t know if this will help you or not but either way it goes I don’t think I can live with myself.” He dragged his hands down over his face, wiping away the remnants of his tears. “God, I hope this doesn’t hurt too much.” David laced the rubber tourniquet around his arm and found a vein, which was easy on his stringy arms, picked up the syringe and stuck it carefully into his arm. Then came the blood vial. It slid easily into the tube and popped into place. His blood rushed in to fill it. That was it. One was all he would do. He could always do it again if he needed to. The vial popped loose easily then, he removed the needle and let go the rubber band. He realized that he’d been holding his breath and inhaled deeply as he picked up the other syringe and pushed the needle through the rubber end of the blood vial. His hands were shaking. It did not have anything to do with blood loss, he hadn’t taken very much. He pulled back on the stopper and filled the tube with his blood and cleared the syringe of air just as he had seen done numerous times by the nurses over the months. Placed the needle into her I.V. valve, pushed and waited.

For a moment, he clutched his breath in his chest waiting. Nothing happened and he felt his heart sink. He had hoped that she would immediately bolt up fully lucid and awake but nothing. Her arm twitched. Then twitched again. Her closed eyes scrunched harder shut and he heard her teeth grind. Convulsions grabbed ahold of her, shaking her all over the bed; the metal pieces holding the frame together rattled with the violence of her jerking. He grabbed her shoulders trying to hold her down. He rolled her on her side, holding her tight as he could to keep her from hurting herself. He knew this was wrong, but he didn’t know what else to do. Just hold on until it was over. The convulsions rocked her frail body for five minutes, becoming less intense near the end. Then suddenly they stopped and she fell limp back to the mattress. Never once did she open her eyes. David stayed there with her all night, holding her and sobbing. He let his guilt blame him for what he had done and badger him with questions about why he had thought it was a good idea. Eventually, he slept. In the morning, the nurses came in and told him he could not sleep in the bed with his wife.

April had lasted another six months after that. Never again did he try anything that stupid. They performed an autopsy after her passing and discovered a large tumor hidden in her stomach. David knew that if the doctors couldn’t figure out what had been wrong with April then, they sure as hell wouldn’t know what to do with him now. Soon all those memories would be dust and ash anyway. No sense trying to prolong it.

#

The heat from his body melted a path through the snow collecting on the sidewalk ahead of them. The boy watched him out of the corner of his eye, and David could see sweat pouring down his face. David had never really thought about anyone watching this. He had always been alone when it happened. There was never an audience. The world was different now. More people dotted the face of the Earth than ever before. Not even one of them believes in legends and myths anymore, he thought. Well, that really depends on the interpretation of a myth or legend then doesn’t it?

Jesus may have been a real person, but David had always figured he had been kind of like himself, only more famous for it. That whole ascending into the heavens thing—he was sure that’d been a mix-up or had been lost in translation somewhere along the way. If you consider all that together with the death and resurrection I have a convincing argument, David thought.

“What’s your name, kid?” David asked, still watching the sweat pour down the boys cheeks.

“Jason,” he answered through big huffs of air.

“Hmmm.” David looked off down the street toward the police station. “I knew a Jason once. He was a good man. Helped me out when times were rough.” There was not a particular Jason he could recall, but that wasn’t the point. He hoped making conversation would comfort the kid a little. Wide-eyed and sweating bullets aside, he was holding up pretty good given the situation. David figured most kids his age would’ve bolted the other direction.

“I want you to do me a favor, Jason.” his tone grew more serious now. “Will you?”

The boy nodded, puzzlement washing over his brows.

“I have a letter that needs delivered.” David pulled it out of his inside jacket pocket.

“Okay,” Jason said. They had reached the police station and were standing out front in the street. David looked behind them. He had not noticed they’d picked up a train of followers. They were all staring and silent, some with their mouths agape. No one the least bit concerned with the snow or cold. The heat radiating from David’s body had melted a large ring around them, leaving only the wet pavement beneath.

“Just… set the chair over there.” he pointed Jason to a general spot in front of the station. “Now, back away.” He handed the envelope to the boy.

“The name on there, that’s my son. Give this envelope to him, or give it to the officers inside to do so. Please, make sure he gets it. Okay?”

“Okay,” the boy said. David’s body glowed a bright yellow now that filled the night street with light. The boy was sweating so bad that his hair was drenched and sticking to his forehead.

“Now, seriously back up. It’s going to get way too hot.” David turned, walked over to the chair and sat down. As soon as he touched the seat, he felt all the tension release from his muscles. He sank back into the cushions and closed his eyes. He would hate to see this old chair go.

The snow continued to fall from the black winter sky overhead but around him it never reached the ground. The old street lights up and down Main Street flickered then, began to glow with a solid white light that pulsed and grew brighter by the second. The crowd stood watching, not daring to move an inch closer as Jason held his arms out motioning them back as he backed toward them.

David’s body went bright white and flames fwooshed up around him. He did not scream. How could he? This was the best part. He felt warmth like no other living person would ever know. The fabric of the chair crackled in his ears. It would go by so quickly. He counted. Four, three, two and…blackness. It was the emptiness of anesthesia, of death. Inside there was no David, no past lives, no future ones to live, no consciousness, no dreams. A perfect blank nothingness that beat on toward eternity.

Light flashed around him, cold air beat suddenly against his body. He heard a long wail of a baby’s cry shrieking out towards the stars overhead. Then he felt it was his scream pushed out from his lungs. He forced his eyes open and the world was new again.

 

About the author: Bobby Harris is a writer of Fantasy and Science fiction living deep in the forgotten old recesses of the Appalachian Mountains. He received his MFA in Fiction from Spalding University’s School of Creative and Professional Writing in 2017. He can be found on twitter @goblinmusic, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bobbyharrisII/ , or at his website https://bobbyharriswrites.wordpress.com/.

 

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My name is Jack L. Bryson and I'm the editor of Teleport. I studied literature at University of Montana. I live in Mountain View Ca, and my email is coffeeant1@gmail.com

4 Comments

    • Kathy, thank you so much! I’m really glad you enjoyed it. I really tried to keep the story moving forward without giving too much away at once.

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