The Waiting Room

Once when I was about seven or eight, my parents took us to Desota Caverns in Alabama. The tour guide took us deep into the caverns, which were famous because of the native tribes who worshiped there. It was also a site where Confederate soldiers made gun powder and ammunition. I only remember the historical stuff in retrospect because, to be quite frank, I was bored as all hell and sore at my parents for not taking us to Six Flags instead of some big hole in the ground.

At the end of the tour, the guide led us to a group of benches and told us to sit down. The lights went out and darkness wrapped around us like a blanket. A choir of ooohs and ahhs rose up from the crowd and who could blame them, right? As stubbornly as I behaved I couldn’t ignore the overwhelming sensation of being surrounded by complete and total darkness.

I never experienced darkness like that again. Not until then at least.

It was a room. But it was a room without walls, or ceilings, or floors or structure of any kind. Darkness surrounded us so that I couldn’t tell if we were in a small space of a vast plain.

Now that I think about it, total darkness isn’t the right way to describe it. In total darkness I couldn’t see anything. But here, when I looked down, I could clearly see my shoes, my blue jeans, and the faded logo of my Bon Jovi 2003 concert t-shirt.

When I looked up I could see that I wasn’t alone. There were people of every age, race, nationality and disposition sitting down, standing or pacing. Some spoke quietly amongst themselves while others cried, screamed, begged and prayed. Others just sat there staring blankly into space. Most of them were he as surprised as I was to find themselves here. Some of them sat next to me or across from me and I could just see people for as far as the eye could see. It was as if the only light that ever existed in this strange place was only meant to illuminate the people who occupied it.

For that matter, I’m not even sure what it is we were sitting on. It felt solid, whatever it was. My legs touched some kind of ground but there was no grass, or carpet or linoleum. Judging from the feel of it I may have been sitting on a ledge but it was purely speculation, because there was in fact nothing beneath me.

“Where are we?” I asked, finally.

“Good question.”

Startled, I turned to my right and saw a man sitting next to me. He was leaning back, propped up on his shoulders and his legs were crossed awkwardly. He appeared to be comfortable, even though there was nothing beneath him. Dressed in long black pants with belt buckles that served no purpose other than decoration, he wore a tight black t-shirt with a red pentagram graphic on the front. His hair was long and tangled and he wore enough piercings on his nose, ears, and lower lip that I was seriously worried for anyone who got stuck behind him in an airport.

“Er…hello,” I said. “I didn’t notice you there.”

“No worries.”

He wasn’t the kind of person I’d hang out with ordinarily and actually I was sure I wouldn’t talk to him under those circumstances either. But this seemed far from ordinary, so I figured there was no harm in just asking. “Mind if I ask how you got here?”

“Good question.” He answered, with a shrug. “I figure it was a gunshot wound, a Buick on the highway, or the heroin. There was a spot out by the highway where I went to shoot up. The cops didn’t go out there but I wasn’t the only one who used the place either.”

“Oh.” Somehow it didn’t surprise me that he did drugs but what he said before that surprised me. “Wait a minute…gunshot wound?”

“Or a knife,” the guy said casually, like he had just been asked what kind of music he liked. “Knife, gun, whatever they were carrying at the time. And then there’s always that Buick. I once saw a guy on such a bad trip that he just walked right out into the middle of a highway without thinking about it. I guess I could have done that, but it seems kind of stupid.”

Right…that seemed kind of stupid.

“Okay, no offense but what are you talking about?”

The guy finally looked me straight in the eye. I was expecting some kind of mean or sarcastic reply but instead he seemed thoughtful, like he understood my confusion.

“Let me ask you the same question.” He said.

“What…you mean, how did I get here?”

“That’s the one.”

I thought about it. Honestly I had no idea.

“I don’t know, I was just…here.”

Pentagram shook his head.

“Think back. Think back to before you were here.”

I did as he asked. A wall of fog clouded my mind and I tried to imagine just what I was doing and where I was precisely before I noticed that I was here. It was impossible. I shook my head in confusion.

“Further back then that,” Pentagram said.

What, was he reading my thoughts?

“You know you weren’t always here, right?”

“Well,yeah.”

“So think back to about a week ago. What were you doing?”

This time the fog had completely disappeared. It was Friday afternoon and school was almost out for the weekend. The teacher was finishing up her lecture on responsibility and organization while most of us were busy doodling in our notebooks, giving each other a hard time, or just generally tuning her out. I’m ashamed to say I was one of the ones tuning her out. The bell rang.

“Remember, your final book report is due on the Twentieth,” she said.

I could make out the blackboard and clearly see the words “Dante’s Inferno Report” written in the lower left hand corner along with the date Ms. Cavanagh had mentioned. I knew I had to crack down and really start reading that book.

The following Saturday my friends invited me out to a movie. I could remember standing outside the cinema, a redbrick building at the corner of Main Street, waiting in the long queue to buy my ticket. The smell of fresh popcorn wafted through open doors. David, Sam, Mike and Ryan were all there, talking about homework, girls and other stuff while I read the movie posters to see if anything interesting was playing in the near future.

I couldn’t remember any specific conversations. The closer I got to the end of that week the fuzzier it all got, like an old television set that was slowly losing the picture and the sound. Parts of it were clearer than others, like seeing my sister at lunch, eating dinner with the family and talking on the phone. But the closer I got to the time before I came here the thicker the fog became.

The further back I went the clearer it became. If I went all the way back to the beginning of the semester, I could see Ms. Cavanagh writing the book assignment on the board. I could even remember thinking that I had plenty of time to read it. But it didn’t explain what I was doing in this place or how I came to be here.

“I don’t know.” I said finally.

Pentagram shrugged, an awkward movement given his position and yawned.

“You’ll figure it out.”

He turned onto his side and laid down with one arm beneath his head and the other dangling loosely over his side. Given how close he was I felt a little uncomfortable and I moved over a few inches, although it was hard since there was a slightly overweight woman sitting next to me.

She seemed oblivious as she just stared off into space. Right beside her were a pair of men talking quietly. Something they said caught my attention.

“…went to church every single week. This isn’t what I expected.” The first man said. He seemed to be the older of the two, probably in his 60’s or 70’s if I had to guess. And he wore a tweed jacket with brown leather patches sewn in the elbows.

“Me either,” the shorter man replied. “I sure don’t think I did anything wrong but this don’t look like Hell either.”

The first man shook his head.“It was the middle of the week. I never got to church on time. Oh dear.”

I didn’t hear the rest of their conversation. One because I was taught that it was rude to eavesdrop and secondly because it made no sense. Across from me more people sat. It was like being at the cafeteria, or in a mall where you can hear the people closest to you talking whether you’re trying to listen to it or not.

“-ran over by a bus-”

“Headline’s gonna read, ‘store clerk shot, I ****in’ swear it. They won’t even know who I-”

“I’m goin’ to hell, I know it I know it, I know it, oh god I’m goin’ to hell.”

“Calm down. Shhh, shhh, no one’s going to hell.”

“You don’t understand, I died having sex with my boss’s brother! He’s married, I’m married. It’s a sin!”

Some of the conversations went well into the realm of Too Much Info and I didn’t follow them. But the main topic seemed to be death. The fog seemed to clear up in parts and something occurred to me that I hadn’t, or just didn’t want to consider.

“Am I…,” No.

“Getting warmer,” Pentagram muttered in a sing song voice.

“Am I…,”

“Spit it out man.”

But I couldn’t. The reality sank in and the word I couldn’t say hung around my neck like a large steel ball at the end of a short chain. I felt something like nausea as I made a greater effort than usual to form words.

“How?”

“Well, since I don’t know you personally I can only assume you weren’t there with me.”

“Unless you have something helpful to add just shut up!”

“Hey, sorry man.” Pentagram held up a his free hand in surrender. “I’m just trying to lighten the mood.”

I took a few deep breaths as I tried to get a handle on the situation. There had to be thousands of people in that little space alone and not a single person seemed interested in comforting me. No one even looked in my direction. For that matter, the ones who seemed to be having a conversation weren’t even looking at one another.

After a few moments I calmed down.

“I’m sorry,” I said, sincerely. “I didn’t mean to snap at you.”

“No worries.” Pentagram’s favorite response I noticed. But at least he was making an effort to comfort me. It made me feel bad that I was prejudiced towards him earlier. I mean, yeah, he admitted to doing drugs, but that its not like there was a dress code for being an addict.

“My name is Mitchell,” I said, offering my hand.

His grip was firm for someone who died of an overdose. Maybe it was a gunshot wound?

“Lou.” He said, simply.

“Nice to meet you.”

Lou stretched and sat up. His legs fell to the “floor” and he leaned forward.

“So, any idea how you got here?” He asked me.

“I really don’t know.”

I tried to think back over every day, every month, every year of my life. It was just me and my little sister, our parents both had well paying jobs and we had a decent up bringing. Again, not that I knew Lou’s background, but as far as I was concerned I hadn’t done anything illegal or self destructive. I didn’t work out much, except for gym and the occasional family bike ride down by the park and although I ate as much fast food as anyone I barely had an ounce of flab on me. There was nothing unusual about my lifestyle and for the most part I was a decent kid.

Lou shrugged.

“Oh well. You’ll find out soon enough I guess.”

“How?”

Lou didn’t say anything for a few minutes. He just stared out at the crowd of people, never once moving his head. His hair blocked his eyes so I couldn’t tell if he was looking at anyone in particular or just staring off into space like the woman next to me.

“This isn’t Heaven,” he said. “But it isn’t Hell either. This is some in-between world.”

“You mean like Purgatory?”

Lou shook his head.

"No. Assuming Purgatory is real, you had a reason to be there. You didn’t just take a turn and wind up there. You were bad, but not bad enough to get sent straight to Hell. You worked off your sins in Purgatory. No, this isn’t Purgatory.

“Listen. Listen to them talk. Not a single person knows why they’re here.”

“Well it’s got to be pretty shocking,” I suggested. “I mean…I’m taking it okay, but then I’m talking to you.”

Lou was silent again. Thoughtful. He craned his head slightly in my direction and I got a look at his brown eyes. There was a piercing in his eye lid that I hadn’t noticed and I wondered if his death wasn’t from an infection in one of the million or so holes in his body.

"You know what I think it is?"he asked, finally.

I wasn’t so sure I wanted to know. But then Lou was probably as nervous as I was and happy for the chance to talk to someone. He did make an attempt to comfort me after all, so on some level I felt like I owed him that much.

“I don’t know, what?”

“I think all of us…most of us died a ‘miscellaneous’ death. You know, like, not even they know what category we fall under.”

“Alright. Who is ‘they’?”

“Whoever is in charge. One thing’s for sure, it ain’t us.”

I was about to ask who he thought was in charge, just to fill the silence. But then it occurred to me what he was getting at and I suddenly had to fight back the urge to laugh.

“So…this is like a waiting room?” I said. “We’re in the waiting room of the afterlife and we’re waiting for a name to be called? Well, great show me the window and I’ll let them know I’m here.”

I started giggling like an idiot. I couldn’t stop it as it went from a light chuckle to a full blown guffaw. It was like something was possessing me. That something being the sheer insanity of it all. I drew more than a few stares, mostly because I was the only person within miles actually laughing at all. Even the fat lady next to me took notice, though I couldn’t tell if she was annoyed or entertained.

Finally a man got up and stood before me. I recognized him as the man who had gone to Church every week. At full height he was a good six feet tall, with a crown of graying hair and a nose shaped like a beak as he stared me down with a glare that would make Tom Green shut up and take notice.

“We are here to be judged young man,” he said, sternly. “If I were you I’d spend some time asking forgiveness for your sins.”

I blushed as the man received a number of whispered compliments that fell short of a standing ovation.

“Er, sorry sir.”

The man looked from me to Lou and snorted.

“No need to guess where you two will end up.” He muttered before walking off.

I turned to Lou, embarrassed and a little shocked by my behavior.

“Sorry,” I said. “I don’t know what came over me.”

Lou shrugged.

“Typical response to anxiety.”

“It’s just…I’m dead.”

“Bingo.”

“Why are you so calm?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Probably because it didn’t really surprise me to begin with.”

That made sense to me, sadly. Sadly for him, of course, but also for the fact that I was accepting this all so quickly. There were many people here who clearly weren’t ready for death. Not that I was exactly the first in line to shake hands with the guy with the robes and the big scythe, but I wasn’t nearly as hysterical as the poor married woman who had slept with her boss’s brother, or the store clerk who was shot during a robbery.

What does that say about me? I wondered.

A blanket of silence fell over the crowd, overpowering the softness of my thoughts like a bus crash. Nervous chatter followed as people looked up, then quickly focused on the spaces at their feet. Some began frantically muttering to themselves and whispering in what I could only guess was prayer.

Confused and a little unsettled by the change in the atmosphere, I followed the fixated gazes of those not frantically crossing themselves to a man in the distance.

Average height, with dirty blond hair neatly combed, he wore a blue button down shirt underneath a black blazer. His hands thrust into the pockets of beige khakis, he reminded me of teacher at my school, with his cool, confident step and a ****-eating grin that said, “You’re on my time and I’m going to make you feel every second of it.”

I’ve met tons of people like this and it never bothered me. You get used to it, because after all what choice do you have? ****s are everywhere…in the world of the living. Here in this world of the miscellaneously departed, where even the avid church goers trembled in fear, he stood out like a sore thumb.

“Bad News,” Lou muttered.

Good, I thought. I’m not the only one.

Bad News stopped every few seconds and took a glance at the people surrounding him. He casually pointed to someone and moved on.

“No!” A dark haired woman screamed. “What I do? Please, no, no!”

Out of nowhere two men grabbed the woman from her seat and dragged her fighting and screaming into nothingness. Another man dropped to his knees, begging for forgiveness. Bad News chuckled and shook his head, waving as the man was dragged away by two more…whatever they were.

My heart…no, I had no heartbeat.

Damn that’s weird, I thought, as if that were the pressing issue. There was no heart beating in my chest yet a very real feeling of terror and uneasiness was still coming over me.

“Are you ready to run?” Lou asked.

“No one can outrun their punishment, sinners!” Tweed Jacket muttered, loudly enough for us to hear but softly so as not to draw their attention. At least he had the sense to be afraid, though it made me wonder just what sins this guy had committed between trips to confession that made him so nervous.

Keeping my head low, I turned my head halfway so I could see Lou but still keep my eye on the men who were making their way towards us.

“Run where?” I asked.

“Anywheeeeere buuuut heeeeere,” Lou sung in a falsetto voice, as if the KD Lang song would cement my decision.

Although there were no shadows in this room, I could feel a presence looming over me. Slowly I turned my head to see Bad News, standing in front of a desperately repentant but suddenly silent tweed jacket wearing church goer.

Up close I could see that his face was a shade paler than most, but not so pale as to draw attention in the world of the living. His blue eyes had a sparkle to them that when matched that vicious grin, confirmed my feelings that this guy loved his job and that somehow, I was just a bonus.

Or it could have been Lou.

Please Dear, God let him be grinning at Lou…

Bad News chuckled, as if in response to my thoughts. He looked from myself to Lou, twirling his finger around as if he were singing Eenie, Meanie, Minnie, Moe to himself, deliberately letting the tension mount. I gripped the invisible ledge and got ready.

“Ah what the hell,” he said. “Lets just take them both.”

Like a shot from a gun, I bolted.

Lou may have followed suit, but I didn’t stop to find out. All I heard was what sounded like a vicious tackle and a yelp as if someone had the wind knocked out of them. I kept running through rows and rows of people, turning only when I saw one of Bad News’ minions closing in.

“Keep going!” Someone shouted in encouragement while entire throngs cheered and clapped.

“Run!”

“You can’t run forever, sinner!”

Someone tried to trip me up. A few other people tried to restrain me, probably in an effort to score brownie points for themselves. It was no different, I realized with a twinge of guilt, from how I felt towards Lou. Like throwing him under the bus would improve my situation.

Please, I prayed, hoping someone would hear me. Don’t let that one mistake ruin me. I don’t even know why those men are after me, but please don’t let it be for this.

Someone must have been listening because I felt a surge like a bolt of lightening. A swell of adrenaline allowed me to fight the people who tried to stop me and I kept running. Terror and determination motivated me as I outran the people I had come to think of as the dogs of Hell.

As the voices of others began to fade I realized I was alone in a vast tract of nothingness. I couldn’t tell how far I had run or whether I was making progress now, because without people to occupy space it was no longer a waiting room. Just a void.

I slowed down to catch my breath, only to learn that I had no breath. This day was just full of wonderful surprises-Insert all intended sarcasm.

The surprises weren’t over, I realized as a group of the men that had been chasing me gathered near me. There was no way past them, not that I wasn’t desperately searching for one. And I had seen them grab people in the “waiting room”, so what was taking so long for them to just grab me?

“They can’t do a thing without my command.”

I turned around and watched as the minions stepped aside, allowing Bad News to enter the circle. I took a step back as he approached, slowly, tauntingly.

“Sorry, Mitchell,” he said, feigning sincerity. “It does warm my heart to see a good escape attempt every now and again. I almost wanted to spare you just for the effort, but it’s very rare that I get someone like you down here and it’s just too good to pass up.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked. “What did I do?”

“You’ll find out soon enough. Take him.”

The minions advanced.

“STOP!”

A new voice shattered the silence of the room like a firecracker in a church. A feint white light surrounded me, causing the minions to wince and cover their eyes. A figure emerged from the light and stepped between myself and Bad News.

He wore a light, navy blue sweat jacket over a white t-shirt and blue jeans. His hair was a short and wavy chestnut brown and his green eyes were warm and friendly as he placed a protective hand on my shoulder.

“Timothy,” Bad News snorted. “Did you get lost?”

“He’s coming with me, William.” Timothy said, calmly.

“Oh, like hell he is. No pun intended,” William replied with that chuckle I was starting to hate. The minions laughed along like a pack of suck ups, until William glanced their way. “What are you waiting for? I said take him.”

“Stay back.” Timothy held up his hand in warning.

The minions held their grown, looking from William to Timothy, apparently unsure of who they were more afraid of. I was no good at math but I was pretty sure they outnumbered us ten to one. Instincts told me to run, but fear told me to stay as close to this guy as possible.

“Timothy, don’t do this,” William said. “You know it can only get messy.”

“You have plenty of legitimate claims in the Between. Why do you need this one?”

I’m glad someone else was asking that question.

“Do I really need a reason to piss you off?” William asked, with a shrug. “Come on, look at him. Listen to his thoughts. Every other second it’s ‘why me?’, ‘what did I do to deserve this?’ ‘OMG IDK WTF?’ and all of the rationalizing in between. People like him are like a trip to the candy store for me. It happens more often than it should but I take my time savoring the moment when it does.”

“What did I do?” I asked. “I really don’t know, please! Just tell me.”

William jerked his chin to Timothy.

“Did I also mention that it pisses him off?”

Great, I thought. Where in the Bible does it say that two guys having a pecker contest will determine your fate in the afterlife?

“I know you don’t want me to repeat myself.” William said, firing a warning glance at his minions.

The ones who were more afraid of their master advanced. William raised his hand and in an instant the ones that stood their ground disintegrated into a hot vapor.

Trembling, I grabbed Timothy’s arm.

“Can they hurt you?”

“Yes,” He said as calmly as if I had just asked him if he wanted to go see a movie. “But don’t worry. I won’t let him take you.”

Well, that reassured me loads - or it would had I not just seen what William was capable of.

Before I could say anything else, something moved beneath Timothy’s jacket. The cloth was neither torn, nor was their any sign of disturbance as a tufts of feathers began to sprout from beneath his shoulder blades and stretched out into a three foot wingspan.

The feathers brushed against my skin and I couldn’t think of a word in any language I had studied that could describe their softness. In an instant a comfortable warmth spread through out my body, relaxing and soothing me like a warm pair of clothes fresh out of the drier on an icy afternoon. I stepped back and faced the minions and William with a renewed sense of confidence that I didn’t feel from the moment I found myself in the waiting room, or what Timothy called the “Between”.

Timothy wrapped his wings around his body like a coat and held out his hand once more as the minions tried to rush him.

“STAND BACK!” His wings unfolded like a whip, sending a violent shock wave in all directions. The closest minions were slammed with an invisible force and thrown for miles in either direction before disappearing into the void.

The minions who remained stopped in their tracks, exchanged glances and ran to the relative safety of their master. I had a renewed respect for Timothy if they thought William was the lesser of two evils, so to speak.

The look of smug arrogance on William’s face was replaced by annoyance and anger. I expected him to destroy the minions who had failed him, but instead he just shrugged.

“Go back to the Between.” He said, with a voice that dripped acid. “I’ll get the boy myself. Timothy isn’t the only one who can pull out the big guns.”

Timothy held his position as I wondered just what William had that would top those wings. But then, I thought, even Wolverine’s claws weren’t always the strongest thing in the X-men comics and that creeping sense of fear came back.

William’s eyes went from blue to shade of black, deeper than the darkness of the waiting room or any other shade of black that I was aware of. A tail grew from the base of his spine, falling to the ground and curling around his feet until it ended in a sharp black spear-like bone. His forehead split and cracked, spouting blood everywhere as two long, curved horns grew from the wound, raking upwards. Unlike the wings, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to know what they felt like. William held up his hands as his fingers extended and became sharp, round skewers that would make Freddy Kruger feel inadequate. Tremors of pleasure seemed to ripple through William’s body like a wet dream and when his trademark grin returned it revealed a mouth full of shark-like teeth that just weren’t complete without a flickering, forked tongue.

“Look out!” I shouted, as William lunged.

Timothy gently pushed me away and stepped to the side, narrowly avoiding William’s outstretched claws. He wrapped his arm around William’s arm with one hand and put his other arm around William’s waist, lifting the demon off of the ground and slamming him back down head first. William’s tail swung wildly and Timothy leaped into the air, letting the tail strike air instead of his angelic flesh.

William struggled to get back to his feet and positioned himself in a low squat. Timothy made a a splashing movement with his hands. An invisible force slammed into William from below like an uppercut, flipping him over and knocking him flat.

I could only watch in fear and amazement as William slashed and swiped while Timothy, with all the precision of a trained martial artist, ducked, caught and returned each blow. William was dangerous, but Timothy was the better fighter.

Then William left himself open and Timothy fell for it. I cried out as William’s tail came up, slashing Timothy along the torso and spilling blood. Timothy fell back, shocked as he saw the blood on his clothes.

William pumped his fist into the air.

“YES!” He shouted. “Ah, yes, this is what I live for!”

Timothy rolled over and tried to climb to his feet. Blood began to form a pool around him and I wondered, as I stood there paralyzed with fear, if angels could bleed to death.

You didn’t even know angels existed until a while ago, I reminded myself.

William took a step back, looking at his work with pride. I was filled with anger as I thought of the times I had been bullied by kids bigger and smugger than him. I thought of the teachers who looked on nonchalantly and acted as if I had been asking for it the whole time and it brought me back to those people in the waiting room. The ones who tried to stop me and deliver me to the minions, as if they had the right to decide what my soul was worth.

Then I looked to Timothy, who was struggling to get back to his feet and wincing with each move as he clutched his open and bloodied wounds with one hand. His ragged breathing was like a rake across my conscience as I thought of Lou, who encouraged me to run in the first place and was now being tortured in whatever horrible place William had come from.

“****,” I said, though I wasn’t sure if I was talking to William or myself.

Without thinking twice I pulled my shirt off and went to Timothy’s side.

“Get back,” Timothy said, trying to push me off. “It’s too dangerous.”

“No.” I pressed the shirt to his wounds, trying to staunch the blood. It didn’t smell coppery and it wasn’t as thick as human blood, but rather smooth and cool like a running stream. “You got injured because of me. And I’m sorry.”

An unearthly growl accompanied William’s chuckle. I looked up and saw him holding a fist in the air.

“Timothy’s not the only one who can do magic tricks,” he said, slamming his fist down hard, hitting air.

I looked up and saw a fireball falling fast. Timothy tried to cover us both with his wings, but it appeared to hurt him just lift them up. Even if he could stop the fireball from burning me, I was afraid he would bleed to death from the strain.

“Sorry, man,” I said.

Timothy gave me a pained grin.

“You have nothing to apologize for. You always redeem yourself.”

I didn’t hear him as the light from the fireball consumed us. Without a moment’s hesitation I put my arms on his shoulders and pushed, surprised by my strength as I knocked him clear out of the way. The fireball consumed me instantly.

“AHHHHHHHHH!”

Again, there were no words. No way to describe what was happening as pain rippled through my body. There was no flesh or organs, no real nerve endings to transmit messages to my brain. This wasn’t physical pain. My eyes, which once saw nothingness now saw the bright orange flames that relentlessly burned every atom of my existence.

“That’s what you are destined for!” William taunted me. “No hope of reprieve, no rest or solace. Just endless, agonizing pain that only gets worse as time wears on. You will never get used to it nor will you find it comforting. Each second it will be as new and as shocking to your soul as it is now.”

I wanted to cry, but all I could do was scream. I tried to comfort myself with pleasant thoughts of the lake, of friends, of popcorn and movies but William was right. There was no transferring the pain and every time I "breathed"it only hurt more. His voice…that awful, despicable demon’s voice that took pleasure in what was happening to me made this even worse and I felt a terrible choking sorrow for the ones who were dragged into nothingness.

“PLEASE, STOP!” I screamed out, which only made William laugh harder.

A gust of cool wind came over me and as quickly as it had started, the fire was out. A sensation of relief as strong and as sudden as the pain flooded my being and I fell to my knees, breathing deeply and suddenly like I had been saved from drowning.

When I looked up I saw Timothy, bathed in light and fully healed. His clothes, which were bloodied and torn looked like they had just come off the rack at The Gap and there wasn’t a drop of blood on the ground. His wings beat rapidly bathing me in a blanket of invisible matter that soothed and healed me.

My shirt was back on my body, on touched by angelic blood and as clean and as new as the day I bought it at the Pepsi Arena.

William was just ecstatic.

“Dammit Timothy!” He cursed. “He’s mine, fair and square. You saw how he died!”

This time Timothy was the one with the **** eating grin. It looked good on him.

“It doesn’t matter any more,” he said, returning William’s shrug tit-for-tat. “He sacrificed himself to save me. And your master can’t overrule a sacrifice.”

“Thank Heaven,” I said. With a glance to William, I added, “Pardon the pun.”

William returned to his human form and kicked at the ground.

“Fuck you, Timothy. Seriously.” Then he turned and stormed back to the waiting room, presumably to claim more souls.

Timothy helped me to my feet.

“Thank you.”

I shrugged.

“I’d like to say anytime, but I really hope that doesn’t happen again.”

Timothy nodded. “I don’t blame you.”

“But…” I hesitated. After all this was I sure I wanted to know? I decided it was better to find out then to…well, I wasn’t going to live with it exactly but I did want it out of the way. “What was he talking about? How did I die and why did he try to claim me?”

Timothy sighed and shook his head. Then with the controlled calm of a patient telling his patient about a life threatening disease he said, “Hallucinations. There was a tumor in the part of your brain that controls your ability to tell reality from fantasy and…”

His words opened up a floodgate in my mind. Like the mists in a swamp, the fog that blocked my last moments of life lifted and the memories played before my like a clip show from an early 80’s sitcom.

I was in bed, trying to sleep. The dark blue curtains kept the afternoon sunlight from spilling into my room, like my doctor recommended. Soft lighting came from the empty fish tank on my dresser and I could see the movie posters and shelves lined with CD’s, movies, and books.

Something was moving around in the kitchen.

The monsters again. I told the doctor about them, but he wouldn’t listen. They came into the house when no one else was home and killed my fish. It’s why the tank was empty. The doctor wanted me to stay at the hospital. He said he could offer protection from the monsters, but my mother wanted me to stay home for a weekend and see if this would clear up. My mother loved me but she didn’t understand.

It was the monsters exhaling gas into the air. It kept mom, dad and my sister from seeing their footprints on the floor and their claw marks in the wall.

Something dropped in the kitchen. I shot out of bed, covered in sweat and listening intently as my heart pounded. No one was supposed to be here. There was movement…I could hear the footsteps through the floor and I knew. It was them.

I got up, slowly. I didn’t want them to know I was here. If mom and dad couldn’t see them then it was up to me. I had to get rid of them before they hurt anyone else. I opened the door, carefully so the door wouldn’t creak and crept down the stairs.

With each step I could hear the monster moving about in the kitchen. It was alone. His last stupid mistake, I thought.

I came around the banister and slowly pushed open the kitchen door, startling the monster as the door brushed her from behind.

“Mitchell!” it crowed.

“Get of here!” I shouted, punching her in the gut. She fell back into the breakfast counter and hit the floor.

“Mom, dad! Help!”

The monster was trying to lure my parents in here by pretending to be my sister. These freaks would do anything to get at me. I saw the knife on the kitchen counter.

“Was this what you were going to use on me?” I said, grabbing the knife.

“Mitchell, please! It’s me!”

I threw the knife. She ran out of the way and it hit the floor. I stepped down to grab it and found her cowering in the corner.

“Last chance. Get the FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE!” I raised the knife and charged. She pulled a frying pan from the counter and slammed it across my skull.

The pain from the moment sent a shock through my soul and brought me back to the void.

“I tried to kill my sister?” I said, reeling.

“You couldn’t help it,” Timothy explained. “It was a technicality that William tried to exploit. But if you hadn’t chosen to run and fight he could have taken you.”

“Sara…” I said. “She actually killed me. Will he try…?”

Timothy smiled.

“She’s as strong as you. I’ll be here to grab her.”

A was relieved at that. But a million more thoughts raced through my mind. Sensing my exhaustion Timothy placed a hand on my shoulder.

“Come on.” He said as light bathed us. “It’s time to rest.”