Waiting Room

“Mr. Hall?”

The nurse gestured toward the open door with his clipboard. I glanced at the clock. Not bad; I only had to wait forty minutes this time.

By this time the bi-weekly visits to the clinic were becoming routine. Get up early, drive to Midtown, give the receptionist my money, wait for a while, get blood drawn, pretend to listen to the doctor tell me how God will solve most of my problems, set a follow-up appointment, get in the car, drive home. I’d been doing this for a few months already, so I barely paid attention to the routine. My numbers had stabilized, so everything was under control. Except, of course, the $500 a month in medication.

A trainee nurse did the pre-exam honors. Hop on the scale — hey, I lost five more pounds! Cool. Blood pressure is fine, so those meds are still working. Temperature checked, pin-prick for the sugar test.

She looked at me, puzzled. “Did you take your diabetes medication this morning?”

“No, because I’m not diabetic. My sugar’s never been high in my life. My father is diabetic, though.”

She left the tiny office and got the primary nurse, and showed him the meter. “Were you fasting this morning?”

“No, this isn’t a fasting visit, that’s next month.”

“Wait here, I need to get the doctor.” He almost ran out of the room.

I rolled my eyes. Damned Pop Tarts. But that was hours ago. How long does cherry filling stay in the blood stream? Whatever. The doctor would clear it up.

He walked in, wearing his gravitas like a robe.

“Mr. Hall, I am calling an ambulance. Your blood sugar is almost five times normal. If we don’t get you into the hospital you will die.”

He turned away without pausing for my answer.

I thought of the inevitable bills that come with a trip to the hospital. Thousands of dollars at a minimum, tens of thousands are more likely. All to save my life; fine, but to save it for what?

“Wait.”

He glanced back over his shoulder.

“I won’t go to the hospital. I’m going home.”

His brow creased as he parsed what I was saying, clearly unaccustomed to a patient asserting their own authority.

“That isn’t an option. This is very serious. Without treatment you will die.”

I was perfectly calm. I may have smiled. “I am uninsured and unemployed. I will not saddle myself with debt. I do not accept this treatment.”

His mask was motionless, emotionless: “Go to the waiting room.”

The nurse escorted me back to the crowded common room. I found a chair in the back row.

I was a bit surprised at my own calm. According to this doctor I was very possibly going to die soon, and it didn’t bother me at all. I felt truly relaxed.

For quite some time my life has been deteriorating, a combination of illness and circumstance and society. I spend nearly every hour of every day under stress, being crushed to death by fist-sized stones. America values nothing but money: you are your bank balance, so I barely exist. Anything that might bring me relief would be welcome, even if that relief is final. That the stress might finally be over was calming.

A short time later I was brought to the doctor’s office. The doctor’s voice resonated with exasperation. “Since you refuse to go to the hospital, we will give you insulin here for four hours. If during that time your sugar returns to reasonable levels we will allow you to go home. If not, you will go to the hospital, with or without your permission.”

I wondered briefly how exactly he was going to force me to go. Was he planning to call the police?

“How much will this cost me?”

He grimaced. “Nothing. Why is that— ?” He shook his head.

“Okay, I will let you give me insulin. If it doesn’t work I will leave.”

Back to the waiting room. I sat and watched the patients come and go around me. It seemed to happen very quickly, like time-lapse photography. Occasionally the receptionist shot me an odd look as I sat in my chair, writing in my composition book.

A shot in the left shoulder.

I waited, writing instructions: contact these people; distribute my possessions like this. I worried if my handwriting would be legible enough.

Test results: no significant change. A shot in the right shoulder.

More instructions: “Here is my primary password. This will let you into the storage for my other passwords.”

Test results: levels inexplicably rising. Back to the left shoulder.

A letter to be delivered to a distant friend: “I warned you this day might come. Here are the instructions on how to retrieve and post the final entry for Hidden City…”.

Test results: levels starting to fall.

A final shot in the right shoulder brought it low enough to call off the emergency. I was hauled away to the doctor’s office again.

He explained diabetes to me as if it were something rare and exotic. My life was now more complicated, I was informed; no more eating whatever I wanted, or whatever could afford. I was handed a photocopied “Welcome to Diabetes!” checklist, a prescription for still more pills, and sent on my way.

I walked to the parking lot through the afternoon sun. I opened the car door, buckled myself in, and sat there, letting the stale heat soak into me. I’d cheated death, or so his educated eminence had informed me. Shouldn’t I be singing hosannas, swinging around lampposts, heart filled to bursting with the joy of life?

The engine turned over on the first try. I drove home to wait some more.

Telling the story

I observe; it’s my job. Being a writer means recording the details of the world, the colors and textures and scents and rhythms and flavors of life. We need to know how things are, so we can transport readers into stories.

Writers create the world with their words. We have to use caution in how we deploy them. Too much darkness and the world becomes bleak; too much brilliance and we become blinded to reality.

But the stories need to be told.

Miss Fuzzy was the porch cat, the one I never allowed into my house because I have a houseful already. When people would ask, I was always a little reluctant to even admit she was mine, because I don’t believe in letting cats roam around outside; it’s too dangerous for them. I would tell people “She’s half mine, and half her own.” I felt like a hypocrite; I was a hypocrite. But she was shrewd and scrappy and knew enough to run from trouble, and I made certain there were always plenty of places for her to hide. I hoped for the best: that I would find her a good home before her luck ran out. I wondered if the day would come when she would wander into the dusk and never return to my porch, as many have before. There’s an ache that can’t be salved when it happens; the dull throb of a pulled tooth, of an unresolved chord, an unfinished story. Nothing, I thought, is worse than not knowing.

Last Sunday afternoon I brought a cup of coffee out to the porch, and when Miss Fuzzy jumped down from the porch rail to say hello her leg gave out from beneath her. She lay on her side for a moment, kicking at the air with a puzzled expression, then staggered to her feet. I looked her over, expecting to see a cut or scrape, but there was nothing, and she hopped upon the table for water without any trouble.

After dinner Sunday night she fell again, rolling down the steps in a thoroughly graceless fashion. This time she twitched for longer before recovering; it was time for a visit to the vet. As they were closed until the morning, I arranged a crate on the porch, and coaxed her out of hiding with a second bowl of food. She didn’t struggle when I picked her up and carried her to the cage, she even purred a little.

With Miss Fuzzy safe — if not terribly happy with her accommodations — I went back inside to do some writing for Hallowe’en. Every hour or so I would go out to the porch and check on her, to see how much damage she’d wrought to the plants within her reach. The first couple of visits she was fine, if a bit surly. At about 3:00am, though, she went into full convulsions, mewling piteously as she flopped around in the cage.

I was sure she was dying, but after an eternal ten seconds she stopped, sat up, looked around quizzically, and started pawing at the bars. She looked terrible, as the convulsions had upended her water dish, the food bowl, and the litter pan. When I opened the crate’s door, she walked right out and into the waiting carrier, ready to go to the emergency vet.

How much detail is appropriate, how much is necessary to tell the tale? We wrestle with this issue all the time. Does it add anything to tell you how I raced up I-95, talking to Fuzzy through the vents in the carrier? How from time to time she’d be hit with another seizure, shaking the small plastic cage so violently it nearly fell from the seat?

It doesn’t matter. My mind records the details. A part of me stands back slightly and to one side, steno pad in hand, dispassionately recording the color notes of my life.

The vet tech was a big, burly fellow, but he was obviously intimidated by Miss Fuzzy. He told me to put her carrier on the stainless steel table, and asked some questions. I told him the story so far. Is she your cat, he asked? More or less, I replied, since she lives on my porch. Has she had her shots, he asked? Of course, I said. What about rabies, he asked? Well, yes, I paid extra for that, even though she was a stray then. How long ago, he asked? I don’t remember, about a year. Are you positive, he asked? It looks like she has rabies.

He hadn’t even looked inside the cage for more than a moment, long enough to see her in her disheveled state. How could he diagnose her so quickly? Was that possible, could she have rabies? I wracked my brain trying to remember what I knew about the disease. Doctors are supposed to know these things, I reminded myself. You aren’t an expert, you’re just a schmuck who reads a lot. Listen to the experts.

I can’t examine her, he said, it’s too big a risk. I’ll take her in back for the doctor to see while you fill out the paperwork. He gingerly picked up the carrier and held it at arm’s length as he carried it through the door into the lab. She was peaceful, though, laying on the floor of the carrier watching through the bars.

A while later the doctor came in, a nice young woman. There’s every indication it’s rabies, she said. You understand, of course, that I can’t put my staff at risk by examining her. The only option is euthanasia. There’s really no choice.

I stepped back and to the side, and took note of the other white coated young woman visible across the hall, peering into a microscope. Two employees stood in the hallway outside, one telling a story about going hunting with his grandfather, and being around big dogs. There was a bit of dirt and a few grayish-brown hairs on the otherwise spotless steel table. A middle-aged man was standing at the table, leaning on it heavily, shoulders slumped, red-eyed.

I’m sorry, the doctor said, I’m very sorry. The man, who was aging a year a minute, was muttering something about this all feeling wrong, and how this couldn’t be right, but it was difficult to make out his words because of the crying. The doctor patted his shoulder — absurdly, as though she were reassuring a skittish Irish setter —and left the room.

She returned with a clipboard holding a single photocopied sheet: Authorization for Euthanasia. There were words about releasing the clinic from liability, but it was hard to read, and legalese, anyway. Are you certain, I asked? It’s the only thing we can do, she replied. I can’t put my staff at risk. Surely you understand that. It felt wrong, but she was the expert.

I scrawled my name using the cheap blue plastic ballpoint pen, condemning Miss Fuzzy to death. I wasn’t allowed back into the lab; I never saw her again.

For four days my life was defined by absences: an empty spot under the palms; a vacancy on the porch rail; no one watching from the sidewalk as I drove up. The other cats did their best to comfort me, particularly Gordon, Miss Fuzzy’s son. Well, generally “comfort me” meant they knocked things over, nipped at my ankles as I fitfully slept, and reminded me that they are not dead. Meanwhile, I did my best to get some closure, and to understand that this was a terrible thing, but necessary. Rabies is dangerous, after all, and I couldn’t expect other people to risk infection.

Until Thursday afternoon, when a pleasant and efficient woman from the Broward Country Health Department called, assuring me that I had nothing to worry about: that feral cat I brought in didn’t have rabies.

Miss Fuzzy was killed without cause.

I showered. I nicked myself shaving. I brushed my teeth. I dressed. I drove to the office of my usual vet, who had previously treated her. I watched myself do these things, disappointed in how poorly I played the game.

When I told the office staff what had happened on Sunday night, they were angry. There was no reason, I was told, why professionals should have been so scared. There are simple and safe ways to sedate an animal without putting themselves at risk, they said. Blood could have been drawn and tests performed to rule out the most likely cause of the seizures: poisoning. If it was poison, it might have been treatable. Rabies isn’t treatable, but the only test for rabies is postmortem, and is too horrible for me to describe.

They called the clinic for me to try and get clarification. I sat in a hard plastic chair in the waiting room, numbly listening to one side of the conversation. People brought big dogs in and tiny puppies out. A smiling woman in a low-cut dress spoke kindly to me, a pug wrapping it’s leash around her ankles, but I don’t know what she said. Caged songbirds appeared.

There was more talk. The cat was feral, not a pet, the clinic said. How did he get her in a carrier, then? the vet asked. The cat was aggressive, the clinic said. She only weighed five pounds, how aggressive could she get? my vet asked. The clinic insisted they did the right thing; my vet insisted they did not. Still, nothing was concluded, but nothing could be done, anyway. Nothing would return her to me. I will never know what was really wrong with her.

Far worse than not knowing the end of the story is knowing the end, and never knowing the reason.

Standing slightly behind, and slightly to the side, I watch a tired, red-eyed man type. His back aches as he hunches over the keyboard. There is a bottle of pills beside the computer, and several empty glasses.

He’s writing a story about a cat he loved, a cat who died. He’s typing faster now, rushing to reach the end of the tale, hoping that in the telling he can wrench some meaning from his anguish, to craft some closure to ease his pain.

This story has ended, this tale has been told, but it will never resolve.

Cinema

I caught one of a group of kidnappers in the act, and when he tried to get a gun out of his pocket I stabbed him in the throat with a plastic fast-food knife. I was holding his body on the floor of a doughnut shop and asked the big-haired woman behind the counter to call 911 before the rest of the gang showed up. Shortly after that my perspective shifted outside of my body, and the epilogue played out. The guy I stabbed appeared in front of a black screen, a few years older, saying how after all this time he still didn’t know why I attacked him. The “screen” went black, and white text scrolled by explaining how I had been shot to death by Miami cops, who still were not sure of my connection to the kidnappers.

[May, 2002]

Rainwater

I’m walking down a city street late at night. It may be New York, but if it is, it’s the cinematic archetype of New York’s dark side. The street isn’t empty, but sparsely populated. It’s been raining, and the stone and brick walls glisten, reflecting the street lights. I’m on my way home from somewhere, some entertainment, and I’m feeling pretty good, almost lighthearted. I have a phone call to make when I get home, to someone important to me, and the anticipation of that call makes me happy.

As I pass an alleyway, I hear a sound from the darkness, a near-cry, high-pitched. I’ve passed the entrance, but I pause and listen. The street is quiet, so I hear some wet cardboard boxes fall over, and a thump. I turn around and enter the alley, asking if anyone’s there.

In a blur, someone grabs my shirt front and yanks me into the darkness. I stumble, nearly falling, but am quickly slammed backwards against the wall. The streetlight illuminates my half of the alley, but all I see of my attacker is a maroon windbreaker, and the hand retreating into the darkness ten feet from me. Strangely, I am aware of the rips in my shirt where the bricks have torn it, and the stinging scrapes on my back.

I’m not frightened, though. I am breathing heavily, staring into the shadows, seeing nothing, when I am punched hard in the chest. I’m confused for a moment, and then I realize I’ve been shot, and I can’t breathe. Four more times I feel the impact, but all I hear is the rainwater dripping off a fire escape, and the distant sounds of traffic.

My legs start to fold, and I slide slowly down the wall, painfully grating my skin all the way. When I’m sitting, unnaturally contorted, I look at the silver light of the lamp, haloed by mist. I’m not in pain, but I know I am dying, and all I can think of is this: I have no paper to write on, no voice to speak, no audience. I’ll die without any last words.

[June, 2003]

Indigo fire

I was at the airport waiting for my lover to come through the gate when I burst into flames. Pale indigo fire enveloped me, but I was not consumed. This was my soul pouring out of me, my corporeal form no longer able to contain it.

The black woman with whom I had been chatting screamed and stumbled backing away from me. Before I could act tongues of flame leapt from my outstretched arms onto her, burning her horribly. As she fell the fire spread to others standing near her, starting a hideous chain reaction. Soon the concourse was filled with shrieking people fleeing from me, blue-white sparks filling the air. I was running clumsily toward the street exits when I saw the security guards raising their rifles.

The world disintegrated around me as I stopped in front of the thick glass doors. There was no longer any reason to run; there was nothing I could do. I turned as the machine guns fired, and watched as bullets ripped through my chest, geysers of fiery energy spouting forth from each wound, then flickering out.

[August, 2002]

Obituary

[For a class assignment we were instructed to write our own obituary, and encouraged to lie. Wow, thinking about death and making things up — two of my favorite activities!]

Obituaries: December 22, 2023

Marc Kevin Hall was best known for his work as a self-proclaimed “pioneer in trans-real research and exploration,” a discredited field of inquiry into the “nature of reality and its relationship to the Jungian collective unconscious mind,” as defined in the Journal of Pseudo-Scientific Studies. He claimed to have found a way to channel the creative force inherent in the human ego, allowing a disembodied persona to travel to alternate realities.

In spite of these rather grandiose assertions, Mr. Hall had little formal education, having spent a year studying music composition at Murray State University in Kentucky before dropping out to pursue his philosophical ambitions. Originally publishing his work on-line in the early days of the Internet, he soon established a cult following in the New Age movement. His passion for his research, together with what the New York Times called “a mesmerizing presentation worthy of Svengali, himself,” enabled him to spend the 1980s and 1990s earning a modest living as a speaker at psychic conventions and self-actualization seminars.

Little is known of his activities until December, 2012, when Mr. Hall claimed to have crossed over into an “advanced egospace.” According to his self-published report, this travel “inadvertently caused major revisions to the nature of our reality, changing physical laws as well as historical causality.” His paper went on to detail many of these so-called changes, claiming them as proof of his success.

These alleged “reality nexi” were without exception well-documented facts and bits of history, backed by considerable evidence. His friends and colleagues speculated that he had suffered an emotional breakdown, and encouraged him to return to private life.

In early 2017 Mr. Hall announced the formation of a personal foundation, and began to use his extraordinary wealth to provide financial support to a few large scale “fringe science” efforts; the tabletop cold fusion generator powering much of the world today is a direct result of one such effort. Notably, he refused any repayment or compensation, remarking to a Fortune reporter that “there’s plenty more when that came from.” This led WIRED magazine to canonize him as “Patron Saint of Crackpots,” a title of which he seemed quite proud, as he began to use it on his business cards.

A highly publicized two-year Federal investigation into the source of his funding proved an embarrassment to the Palin administration when it failed to uncover any irregularities. When asked for his opinion on the result he issued a press release stating, “I’m surprised she took it so badly. I mean, everyone makes mistakes, and not all of us get a chance to go back and fix them. There wasn’t any need for her to resign.”

Through his increasingly infrequent publications, Mr. Hall maintained his insistence that he had traveled to other realities. While these assertions were continually ignored by the scientific community, they were enthusiastically embraced by his fans, who regarded him as “a legendary lunatic.” Accounts of the time indicate that he was good-natured about the teasing, pointing out that “the Internet has already shown the flexibility of reality by the way it adjusts itself to the changing moods of its inhabitants.” “I changed the world more than Jesus,” he famously wrote, “and no one will ever know.”

On Saturday Mr. Hall died of natural causes at his home near Lake Vostok, Antarctica. He is believed to have been 63, although several different birth certificates have now surfaced, putting his exact age in doubt. He is survived by a previously unknown daughter, Miri; his robotic assistants, Calley and Ari; and eight talking cats who have thus far refused interviews.

At his request his closed casket will be placed on an ice floe and allowed to drift out to sea.

Value

I can see a toy mouse across the room, barely visible under one of the heavy bookcases lining my small apartment. I must have missed it when I was packing up the cat things, after the last of my old friends climbed to the moon a few months back. Still, I can’t quite muster the energy to get out of my chair, walk over, and pick it up. I’m not even certain I could bend over that far any longer.

To my right I can see the door to my bedroom. It’s been weeks since I slept there. I have a blanket by my chair, and the chair reclines, and I can turn off the reading light without getting up. Still, I have to drag myself to my slipper-clad feet from time to time, to attend to my body’s declining needs. This is one of those times, so I fumble for the cane beside me. It was my grandfather’s walking stick in his day, one he made himself from a gnarled and twisted bit of wood from the farm, sanded and oiled and polished to a deep shine. Undoubtedly it would make more sense to get an aluminum walker, but that would feel too much like giving up. Besides, it isn’t as though I ever have far to walk. I never go out.

After washing my hands in the pink porcelain sink I glance at the mirror. I don’t look so terribly different from my youth, or so I tell myself, but we seldom notice the gradual erosion of our features. While my beard and moustache have faded from brown to gray to white, and my skin hangs a little more loosely on my skull, my eyes are still the same blue behind my glasses. I dry my hands, push my glasses up on my nose, and go to make some tea.

In the cramped kitchenette I put on a kettle, and then take a packet of peanut butter crackers out of the cupboard. Most of the shelves are taken up with amber plastic pill bottles, and with stacks of books. On the top shelf is an old teapot, cracked and patched, but no longer safe to use. I imagine I should throw it away, but I can’t bring myself to do it. As with most of the possessions I brought with me to this final apartment, its value is more sentimental than practical. The same could be said of me.

The shrill whistle interrupts my reverie, and I pour the boiling water into a cheap white teapot. My liver-spotted hand shakes, and for a moment I worry that I’ll drop the kettle again, but I keep control. Lifting the steaming cup to my face, I breathe in the spicy aroma, then turn and shuffle to the kitchen table, sitting carefully.

In the middle of the formica topped table, next to the paper napkins and the plastic radio, is an old paperback, a book club copy of A Wrinkle in Time. As I sip my tea I flip through it, reading more than the story, reading my history, as well. When my cup is empty I pull myself up, slipping the blue book into the pocket of my loose denim jacket, and returning to the living room and the comfort of my chair. I pull the quilt over my lap, and resume my reading. Soon I fall into a dreamless sleep.

I wake with a blinding pain behind my left eye, and scrabble in the dark for the light cord. When it snaps on, the bookshelves and paintings and mirrors and photos and other curiosities are all haloed by dim rainbows. I close one eye, then the other, but the sensation does not fade. With a sinking heart I open the book on my lap, and realize that I can no longer make sense of the words. My head falls back against the chair cushion, and I sigh deeply, and finally.

Slipping from my body proves to be effortless, and something of a relief. I look down at my withered husk, mouth agape, sightless blue eyes staring blankly at the ceiling, and shake my noncorporeal head. Looking toward the window, I glide across intending to go outside, but I am stopped at the wall. I am still bound to something here — everything, actually. My spirit is tied to these books, the curios and oddments lining the walls of my tiny apartment. I can feel the invisible cords holding me here, among my possessions, the belongings that gave my life meaning these last years.

For a while I wander through the four rooms, but grow increasingly frustrated with my inability to touch anything. I can’t even turn the page of the open book on my lap, so I’m forced to read the same two pages over and over.

Some time later my cell phone rings, the loud, jazzy tune that undoubtedly annoyed my neighbors. It rings for a while, then goes silent, except for the beep of the voicemail notification. The phone was in my jacket pocket, so I can’t even see who called.

I drift ainmlessly from room to room, watching night turn into day, and then into night again. After a while, the phone rings again, then stops.

Soon I hear a knock, then the sound of a key in the lock, the turning of the handle, and a young, petite blond woman enters. I know her; she is the granddaughter of someone I love. She flips on the overhead light, looks to my chair, and sees what used to be me. She sighs a bit, as though she’d been expecting this for some time. She crosses the room to me, and hesitates for only a moment before closing my eyes. She then sits on the room’s only other chair and makes a few calls, speaking quietly.

Time accelerates. The police and EMTs and my landlord and the funeral home staff all come and go, the last of them wheeling away my body. The blond girl and a friend of hers glance around my apartment, turn off the light, and shut the door behind them. I try to follow, but cannot.

I am no longer aware of the passing of days. Finally, the young woman returns with friends, some of whom I recognize, many I do not. They begin to sort through the bookcases and cabinets, the drawers and closets, boxing some of my belongings, throwing away the items they deem worthless. As each box or trashbag is carried outside, I feel myself becoming thinner, less substantial, and the world slowly becomes translucent before me.

Finally my shabby rooms are bare, save for the people standing in them. They speak among themselves, but I have grown too tenuous to hear them. The young woman reaches into her purse and pulls out an old, old, blue paperback, taken from my hands. She shows it to the others, and speaks, and smiles, holding it to her chest, with something in her eyes that can only be love.

And at last the world lets go of me, and I let go of it.

An Occurrence at Springmore Elementary

When I was in fourth grade, a fellow student named Scott Ule played a prank on me, standing behind me in the lunch line and unintentionally knocking my feet out from under me. This would have been harmless pre-adolescent hijinks, except that on the way to the floor, the back on my head was intercepted by the edge of a dark green steel trash can.

I felt a sharp shock, and then everything went blurry for a timeless moment. I realized I wasn’t breathing: “Wow, so this is what it’s like to be dead!” Faces crowded over me, puzzling me, and then horrific pain flooded my mind as my body drew breath.

I don’t remember going to the hospital, other than a dim moment in which the phrase “mild concussion” was used. In fact, I was a bit surprised that I was allowed to stay home from school the next morning, though. I sat at the kitchen table with my mother, attempting to draw with colored pencils. She tried to show me the right way to fill the color in large areas, keeping my strokes headed in the same direction, and smooth. I told her “But that isn’t the way things look to me, Mama.” She gave me some Hawaiian Punch and told me to keep practicing.

That afternoon my father took me back to school, right after lunch. The other kids were amazed to see me, and I was a momentary celebrity. My most appreciative fan, however, was Scott Ule, who told me he had heard I was dead. The story had it that I had died of a broken skull, or alternately, that I wasn’t dead, but I was a vegetable. Either way, the grapevine had it that Scott would soon be picked up by the police for his crime.

He was very happy to see me.

My parents were clear that I should forgive Scott for this, because “he’s from a bad home.” I’m not sure really what the situation was, only that he didn’t have a mother, and his dad worked for the railroads. “No one is setting a good example for him,” they said. So I decided I would be his friend.

A week later he told me I was a dork, and to leave him alone.

Later that year our class went on a field trip. In the late 1960s, few southern Illinois homes had a swimming pool, so we went to the YMCA, to go swimming. Needless to say, I had no idea how to swim. I didn’t even have a bathing suit.

That day I was late leaving the locker room. Without my glasses I couldn’t find my way around very well, and was really intimidated by the size of the pool. Scott saw me and decided to take pity on me. I was looking for the shallow end, and he helpfully told me it was all shallow, and to just jump right in over by the diving boards.

While I was trying to surface he helped me again, jumping in and standing on my back until I was reminded what it was like to be dead. It was eerie, feeling his feet on my back, and not feeling anything else at all. Everything was very blue, and very quiet.

And then I was throwing up my breakfast at the side of the pool, while other kids stood around me and squealed in delight and disgust. In the distance I heard teachers shouting at me for being stupid and jumping in the pool like that, and thanking Scott for diving in and trying to save me. They sent me into the locker room to get dressed, and told me to wait on the bus for everyone else to finish.

Sometimes late I night I close my eyes and I can see the faces of the kids in my class, all staring down at me with curiosity or contempt. Sometimes I look at the strangeness that has followed me though my life, and wonder if I ever got up again.

Two nights

The night before last I noticed four guys in exterminator uniforms carrying large shopping bags through my store. I casually followed them down the hallway to the bathroom, and noticed that their bags were filled with guns. I feigned interest in the guns, as if I was a collector or something, and they warmed up to me. They started telling me all the details, firing rates, calibers, all that jazz, and ended up with giving me a large, sleek black handgun of some kind to look over. We started walking through the store then, them with their bags full of guns and me with my gun at my side. I managed to make eye contact with Diana in a crowd, and she guessed something was up and called security. I detoured off and speak with the chief detective, who told me that they had noticed me on the cameras and had been following us, waiting for us to get away from the customers so they could make their move. When we left the detective’s office the exterminators were approached by security, but one of the guys wheeled around, saw me and fired. I saw the flash of the gun, and as time slowed to a crawl I realized I was about to be shot in the face. And I was, and I died, and I woke up shortly after than.

Last night I was killed by an intruder in my home. He looked eerily like an Asian version of BOB from Twin Peaks, and was hiding in my home office. I knew someone was in there, and even saw his moonlit silhouette on the floor, but was compelled to enter anyway. He used a thin chrome-bladed knife on me; it wasn’t pretty. At the end I remember wondering why the home alarm hadn’t gone off, but my last thought before I died was the hope that HobGoblin would have enough sense to stay hidden until after the guy left the house. Once I was dead and beyond thought, the prowler spent a while going through my books, reading them, looking for something. I never found out what it was.

[June, 2002]