You might be wondering why I’m currently standing outside the accident and emergency department of a busy hospital. The answer…it’s a long story, I need a body and not just any body. It’s got to be just right, it’s got to be special.
“Sometimes living with someone isn’t enough to truly know a person, you have to die with them to really know who they are.”
My grandfather rolled a cigar in his mouth, took a long drag, puffed a stream of grey cloud out between his discolored teeth and lounged back in his chair. The rain sparkled above and splashed in big drops on the porch as I sat at his feet watching the smoke form the shape of a dog, then a dragon.
“You don’t know what your talking about old man.“
I meant no disrespect, and I knew the old timer wouldn’t take any from it. He’d seen two wars in his life time and lost far more than I could ever imagine, even though my world had just came apart at the seams.
He swatted a hand through the dragon. “Pfff. I’ve had two wives, your grandmother and my Angie before. She left me just like your Brie did today. I’d say she’ll be back but I didn’t really know her.”
“He’s dead grandpa. There ain’t no coming back from that.”
The answers seemed to appease him as the cigar rolled and then stopped.
“I first saw Angie when I was posted to Sheffield. I had just touch the leather of the cockpit when she appeared like an angel before me. She had hair the colour of cornfields and a cute birthmark on her right cheek in the shape of a sickle.”
Grandfather smiled softly before continuing.
“New coordinates had come through the wire. God sent too, the boys were dug deep, two years and not an inch. We won the mission that day with her information.” He chuckled and sucked on the cigar again.
“It became a tradition of our after that, she’d come up to the flight paths just to see me off.” He shook his head remembering.
“We married soon after in the barracks chapel. She was stunning. The army wives had all come together and used what little dowry’s they had left to make my Angie’s day.”
I looked at the phone in my hand, Michael’s arms wrapped around my shoulders under the canopy of amber leaves, our dog sat square in my lap, his smile taking up the whole picture. It was the last photo we took together, as a family. I looked up as my grandfather carried on.
“A bomb took her on my last mission. I was flying deep over German occupied territory on a scouting mission. We lost the whole damn base, Angie as well. Soon after, we won the blasted war.”
Grandpa pulled the cigar from his mouth and cupped it in his hand as his gaze looked past the void of time.
“I went to a commemoration a coupe of weeks later, heard the big wigs talking about the sacrifices that were made, but they didn’t know. Not really, they weren’t there.”
I thought about Michael. It had all been so sudden. One moment we were planning the rest of our lives together, the next the blue lights flashed at our door and an officer tried to explained how a lorry driver had fallen asleep behind the wheel and crashed into Michael’s car. It wasn’t the drivers fault, not really, he was stretched thin, working a double to provide for his family.
Ever since that night I dreaded the coming mornings, when my searching hand touched the cold part of the bed only to realised that he was gone, and my world crumbled again.
The squeak of his chair and the rattle of the rain drown out my thoughts and I turned back toward him.
“I found her again though, took me a while but I found her.” He said with a gleam in his eye.
Still disillusioned to the world around me, I sighed heavily and humoured the old man.
“What do you mean you found her?”
“His spirits not gone, just trapped. You need to go find it, bring it back.”
Just then the porch door swung open and nanna came out with two steaming cups of tea. As she placed one by my grandfather I noticed a blemish on the side of her cheek. Age had distorted it but even with the wrinkles of time disrupting the skin I could make out a purplish birthmark in the shape of a sickle.
As she leaned in and pecked the old timer on the cheek he greeted me with a wide smile and pointed a finger to her cheek.
“Not gone.” He mouthed.
I looked nervously at him, at the glass jar, then at the pillow.
“What sort of person was Michael?”
The question was a mute one, for me at least.
“He was a good person, always put others first.”
Grandfather grunted and retracted the offered pillow.
“Looks like I’ve got to do it then.” He approached me, and all at once I felt like I was a child again as this mountain of a man overshadowed me.
“Wait, how do I…”
“…Get back. Easy. When the minutes up I’ll bring you back.”
“But how do I know where to find him? Won’t I just get lost…”
The old man laid a comforting shovel-sized hand on my shoulder and squeezed.
“Michael will find you, just don’t let go of him when you come back…ready.”
I took a deep breath…my last breath, closed my eyes and nodded, then the softness of the pillow touched my face and the pressure increased.
Dying…that’s a funny thing, like being dropped in a pool of cold water that quickly evaporates and takes you with it. All at once I left the room while my grandfather suffocating me and stayed tied to it as well.
I floated, dream like, a wisp of consciousness on a errant breeze. Then, suddenly, he was there.
“Michael.” I whispered.
He smiled at me with coppery lips.
My heart swelled as I sprang towards him, but something stopped me. A barrier separated me from my love. Michael chewed at the corner of her lip as he looked up through his dark curly locks. I placed a palm on the barrier and felt the warmth of his hand touch mine.
“Michael I can’t get…”
“…It’s not time David, but I’ll be waiting.” He looked worriedly over my shoulder.
I felt the pull of the real world and followed his gaze to my grandfather as he started the compressions.
“But…you can come back…”I pleaded.
Michael smiled again, and I sensed a hint of sadness and something else…fear.
Michael dissolved like a drop of dye in a tornado of water and I snapped back into my body. The tears racked me and I wept uncontrollably as my grandfather pulled me into a deep hug.
I stalked around the room, frustration and anger clouded my judgement.
“Next time. God, I couldn’t get to him old man. How the fuck can I bring Michael back if I can’t get to him?”
Grandfather scowled at me. “Just sit down and listen.”
I landed heavily in the chair and crossed my arms like a scalded school kid of thirty-five years of age as he sighed and repeated himself.
“Next time…we go a little longer, that should give you time to break through. It’s gonna be tough, you’ve really got to want him back…”
“…But I do grandfather, I do.” Tears swarmed to my eyes like angry bees and his face softened.
“I know kid. I know. Next time you’ll get him, but before we do it again we’ve got to get him a body.”
The tears stopped and I swung round to the old man like he was a stranger talking for the first time. I wiped at the tears with a sleeve.
“What d’ya mean get a body. I thought he’d…”
“…You think my Angie looked like your grandmother,” he raised an eyebrow and continued. “I was send back to the front, a small resistance was held up in a stronghold and we had orders to take it down. Problem was they were heavily armed and prepared. I took a bullet the moment I set foot on that soil. That’s when I found my Angie.”
He picked at the pillow and flicked the offending particle to the floor.
“They’d killed so many people the afterlife was so loud.” He shook his head to dislodge the memory.
“That’s when she found me in the midst of all the chaos, nearly lost her too. They guys were resustating me and I felt the my spirit slipping. So I grabbed her and held on with all I had. When I woke up the guys sat me over to one side and carried on the charge. I knew I had died and I knew it wasn’t a dream. When I opened my hand she sparkled between my fingers. It occurred to me that her body was gone and she needed a new one, so I found the first dead female and threw her in.”
I understood what he was telling me, my Michael was gone, the physical one at least, but I could bring back his soul to a newly vacant body.
I became obsessed, I visited hospitals and morgues until my face was no longer welcome. So, I went further afield until they recognised the crazy man too. I brought a radio scanner and listened for hours, until one afternoon I heard what I had been praying for. A car accident with a Jewish family.
I raced to my grandfather’s house and told him what I had found.
“Quickly, we have no time.” I threw the pillow at him and landed erratically on the chair nearly toppling it.
“Now hold on…”
“…We don’t have time, I’ve found it, I’ve found a body.”
“I’ve been thinking son, this isn’t healthy for you, I think we need to…”
“No!” My shout caught him off guard. “You said it would work, you said I needed a body, well, now I’ve found one. So…do it.” My chest heaved with the strain. I was so close.
My grandfather fiddled with the pillow as his chin sunk to his chest. With a huge sigh he walked over and placed the pillow over my face as I expelled every last bit of oxygen from my lungs.
I dropped into the cold water and opened my eyes eagerly. But only darkness surrounded me. I felt heat diffuse the air and soon it became unbearable. I wandered in the darkness calling out Michael’s name but nothing returned. Not even a echo just the steady crack of something under my feet.
Suddenly the floor split and the heat became apparent from the molten fires below. As the red glow splashed on my face so did a light from above. I jumped over the fissuring ground and slipped on something covering the floor. Then I ran. Suddenly the light spilled down and Michael stood before me bathed in the glow from above.
“Michael.” I shouted as I ran. He drifted along with me as I slowed and stopped.
“Don’t stop David, please, don’t stop.” I heard the panic in his voice as a snarl from behind made me turn. A beast of unimaginable proportions emerged from the fires below. Bubbles of molten fires dripped from its dragon-like head and hissed to the floor.
“Michael…help me. What the fuck is it?”
He raced along at my side as I jumped the cracks. The creature roared and spewed fire from its maws. The glow washed my surrounding with iridescent light and I could see the piles of bones that littered the floor.
“I’ve found a way baby, I’ve found a way for you to come home. Just take my hand.” I breathed heavily and extended a hand toward him but the barrier blocked me again. Somehow in that moment of panic I knew he could reach through it, if only he tried.
“Come on baby please.” I pleaded with my whole being, begged him with every fibre of my soul. Slowly Michael extended his hand. First the fingertips shown through the barrier, then his hand, then his arm. I grasped his hand and pulled him across as something else tug me from above.
The creature roared again and snapped at my heels as I ascended from his domain. My mortal body told me my time was running out. I looked down at the love of my life and saw the fear in his eyes.
“David, I don’t think I can…”
“…It’s ok, it ok, I’ve got you now…it’s going to be alright.”
We dispersed in a vapour and I plunged through the cool water and back to my body. Grandfather sat back and wiped the sweat from his brow breathing heavily.
“I thought I’d lost you. You wasn’t responding.”
I sat up groggily, my chest sore from his meaty fists pumping my heart and a metallic taste coated my tongue.
“I got him grandfather, I got Michael.” I opened my fist slowly to show a small sphere sparkling between my fingers.
He nodded and sat back. “Not gone, just trapped. I told you didn’t I.”
I wiped at the tears and then remembered the radio transmission.
I ran into the waiting room and skidded to a halt. I knew my way around from past visits and quickly went to the operating rooms. Luckily I wasn’t stopped and eventually found what I had been looking for. All I needed was the one of the man to die and then I could bring Michael back.
After donning the scrubs I entered the busy operating surgery and hung against the back wall as the professionals work their course, but ultimately it wasn’t time.
With nothing but that time to keep me company, I went back to the waiting room until something developed. The doors opened up and a man came rushing through, he was a mess of terror and anxiety as he crashed into the desk.
“My wife, my sons…please…my family…”
“…Calm down sir. What’s your wife’s name?”
I watched as the two exchanged words and then the man broke down. An older lady came through the door and pulled him into a rough hug. They were led to a private room by another nurse and I followed. It was an hour later when a doctor came to talk to the husband and I listened intently as snatches of words drifted from the door.
“…complication with the your son…”
“…I’m afraid she didn’t make it…”
“…Loss of blood…”
The man’s head fell into his hands and a great racking sob shook his body.
I reached into my scrubs pocket and pulled out the jar and held it to my eyes. The bright sphere swirled and splashed over my face as I carried Michael towards his new body.
The operating room was still active as I entered, the beeps of the monitors and the slow pump of the air machine was like a disjointed choir. I hung back as before and waited. I couldn’t help but remember the pain in the man’s eyes, pain that echoed mine not a month before. His family stripped to the bone as the glue that held their family together laid dead on the metal table covered by a green cloth. Beside his wife’s body lay his son, he was a tall as my Michael, and jewish, it had to be a Jewish body or I think Michael wouldn’t forgive me.
I felt the weight of the glass jar against my leg, and against my soul. I dropped my chin to my chest and breathed deeply.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered.
I explained what had happen to my grandfather as he rocked in his chair on the porch. The sky was clear tonight, all the stars in attendance to my plight. A cloud of smoke wafted past and I saw within the shape of the beast below, red eyes gleamed before it slowly twirled and vanished.
“I can’t do it grandfather.” I hung my head, looking at the glass in my hands.
My grandfather chewed on the butt of the cigar and puffed another dense cloud of smoke.
“It’s probably for the best, if you do it, you’ll go the other way…don’t look at me like that, I’m not doing it.”
It had been the same answer when I first asked and I wasn’t going to take no again.
“I need this old man, I’m not strong enough.”
I held the jar out toward him, he looked at it for a brief moment before exhaling heavily and snatching the jar.
I looked deep into his eyes, then closed mine and nodded. The chair creaked gently and I felt the tread of the wooden floorboard underneath me. Grandfather took hold of my head and…..
I shouldn’t have told David how I got my Angie back. I didn’t know that he would take this option, but it isn’t my place to stand in the way of love.
As my grandson laid cooling at my feet I reached for the jar and twisted the top. The sphere sped out and dived for David. Slowly Michael appeared before me, he looked over his body, his hands and then up to my smiling face. He smiled back and then saw David at his feet. Michael reached down into David’s body and pulled him free.
David looked around as in a daze and finally settled on his love. The mixed look of ecstasy and disbelief attacked his face in equal measures, but elation finally won out.
I stood dumbfounded as Michael and David embraced. David reached up gently and smoothed the hair on Michael’s head before leaning in for a kiss.
The tears rolled down my cheeks as they slowly disappeared and I looked on into the night.
“Sometimes living with someone isn’t enough to truly know how much you love them, you have to die for them to really understand.”