|The Hollow Hours
Author: iamonlyink PM
This day will be a secret only the rain will know. a short story that covers a few hours of one girl's evening as she discovers what it means to be alive. R&RRated: Fiction T - English - Supernatural/Horror - Words: 3,976 - Published: 05-01-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3018470
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The Hollow Hours
I just sat there. Maybe for over an hour, I couldn't tell. It was still raining and that was all I was sure of. I watched the drops magnify fragments of the city as they slithered down the window pane. The room felt larger than it was, pale with the grey monotony of a rainy afternoon. The desktop stared at me with its picture of a kitten and to its left was what I didn't even want to look at anymore – the bed. From the corner of my eye I could see the white of its sheets and it made me think of the color red even though I couldn't see it. I knew it was there.
The long silence was broken by a click of the doorknob outside the bedroom. It was followed by my roommate's voice calling out to me. It sounded like a distant echo and then all too suddenly it was loud.
"Dia? I'm home. I…I heard what happened, want to talk about it?" the footsteps grew closer and I turned to the window again. My right hand seized my left wrist for no reason.
I heard sounds from the kitchen – footsteps, the clink of what could have been a glass and, after a few moments, the refrigerator door closing.
"Hey, you awake? Dia? Diaa…" I heard her voice drag my name lazily and widened my eyes at the window, desperately trying not to look away from the trickling rain drops.
"Nisha told me you came straight home. Need to vent? I would if I were you. Dia?"
I kept watching the drops slip down the pane. She continued to call my name from the kitchen.
"Hey…" her footsteps grew louder. More drops fell against the window, then more and more. I could almost hear their soft pattering grow into a pounding in my head. It got louder and louder until the faint sound of the bedroom door creaking open silenced it.
No sound followed for what seemed to be forever, until a glass shattered behind me.
"…Dia…" She spoke my name in a desperate whisper now. Then she screamed.
Finally I turned away from the window. I knew what I would see. She clasped her hands over her mouth and dashed out of the room. Pieces of broken glass lay on the floor around a puddle of water that began flowing in a tiny stream towards the bed.
I turned to see myself on the bed for one last time.
When she reentered the room I could see her sob into her phone, her face contorted with horror. I couldn't hear her anymore. I couldn't hear her cry and I couldn't hear her speak. Finally she dropped her phone and fell to her knees by the bed, moving its lifeless occupant. That was how I left my roommate and my body.
The streets on the other hand were no different. The same number of cars, the same number of people. The stores were the same, and so were the stray dogs that roamed the allies. The rain still poured, but my clothes didn't get wet, neither did my hair. I sat down at a bus stop, wondering what I was waiting for. I saw people scurry in and out of the buses; no one seemed to notice me. I could see their mouths moving as they spoke into their cell phones, but I couldn't hear a word. I had gone deaf and I wondered if I would lose sight and then eventually cease to be. Was that how it usually worked?
The sun was a pale yellow orb melting into a pink horizon. It decorated the Sea with quivering shards of amber. As it got darker the street lights grew brighter and I noticed them get hazy as I gave up trying to find something for my eyes to focus on.
It was then that a voice startled me. I turned to look up at a young woman, mid twenties most probably. She wore a white t-shirt under a black pinstriped waistcoat and grey-blue jeans with a studded belt. Her black silky hair hung from a ponytail high up on her head and her ears were pierced six times each, adorned with small silver hoops that matched the one on her lower lip. She looked normal enough, once you ignored the fact that her skin was stone-grey.
She was looking at me.
"You even listening?" she asked, annoyed. "I asked: what's your name?"
She seemed impatient, anxious. I was still surprised that I could hear her and that she could see me. "Dia." I replied.
"Damn it!" she hissed with her jaw clenched. She looked around and then her shoulders slumped. "They were serious after all…" she muttered before sitting down next to me. She then sighed, lit a cigarette and exhaled a plume of smoke whilst contemplating the untied laces of her right shoe. She made no effort to tie them up again.
The rain kept pouring and the skies flashed blue every now and then. Thunder was distant.
"So…" She said, staring at the street "You're Dia huh?"
I nodded. "You can see me?"
"No. I decided to talk to a corner of a bus stop, that's all. Of course I can see you!" Her expression grew sour and she turned to me. I had never seen eyes as dark as hers.
"Here's what you need to know: don't ever touch my hand, don't ever look at me when you ask me a question and don't you ever, ever offer me anything. Got that Dia?"
I hesitated and then nodded before looking away to ask her who she was.
"Does it matter? Fact is: you can see me. That should be enough of a problem for you."
She rose to her feet and they carried her a few steps up the sidewalk. Smoke curled out of her mouth as she looked at me and cocked her head, gesturing for me to follow.
She walked quietly without looking back and I was still uncomfortable with the fact that I couldn't feel the rain. I held out my palm only to notice the drops fall right through. It was as if I wasn't there.
For a long time none of us said anything. People didn't notice us and I realized, after looking around aimlessly, that my own vision had begun to weaken. I was never near sighted in life, but now, things at a distance seemed a blur to me. It was dark all around my field of vision.
"Will I lose all my senses now? Is that it?" I asked. She stopped and looked at me with a frown.
"What do you feel?"
"I can't see very well. Like those people up ahead and what's written on that poster on the wall over there…I can't read it. The edges of whatever I see look blacked-out…" I pointed at the things and people I mentioned as I explained.
She didn't say anything, but it looked like she was thinking. I looked away, prepared to ask another question.
"Can you please tell me what's going on?"
"What's going on is that you got yourself killed." She snapped
I felt faint. It was too direct, too soon.
"And I'm the one who has to pay for it." She added
She walked on but stopped a few feet away when she noticed I wasn't following her.
She then approached me, stopped and sighed. She dropped her cigarette and stomped it out.
I looked at my own feet. They were bare but not dirty. Earth and dirt couldn't touch them anymore.
"Are you death?" I finally asked.
"In a way. I'm your death but I think you took that away from me. Didn't you?"
"I did what I had to. I'm free now."
"Then go." She said coldly. "Go on, enjoy your eternity. You've ruined mine anyway."
I closed my eyes at the word 'eternity'.
"I have nowhere to go."
"Great." She stated "neither do I, thanks to you!" I looked up at her and didn't ask the obvious question. She paced as I stood – only a little, up and down a small stretch of the pavement before returning to me, irritated.
"You know, I had plans." She said "and all I ever wanted was a comfortable un-life and a job in the reincarnations department. But oh no, they need work experience they said. Ha!" she shook her head bitterly. "Higher ups told me I had to start at the lowest rung and that one job in the Death department would make me eligible." She mumbled something. "And then you come along. My one job and it messes itself up. Nice. Very nice. Thanks Dia."
We were quiet for some time.
"What now?" I asked, staring into the night. The sun had set and I was even more confused. It was still raining and bits of paper and plastic swept the pavement carried by a wind that didn't move a single hair on my head.
She stopped and looked up at the moon.
"I don't know." She said. She didn't sound angry anymore as she shrugged and slowly shook her head.
"I don't know." She repeated. "I never asked them what to do in a situation like this. They never told me. All they said was 'free the living when their time comes" and then assigned me to you. Sounded easy enough."
We heard something buzz and she reached into her pocket and pulled out her cell phone. It was black and had a silver emblem of some sort at the back. A tiny ornamental scythe dangled from its side. Its screen glowed red onto her face as she checked it and then pushed it back into her pocket. She looked pale.
I looked away, careful not to look at her while asking a question.
"It's the office. They know." She explained. "Change of plans: I need to train you as an 'untimely'."
"What does that mean?"
"It means you're no longer the client. You're a trainee. All thanks to your… situation."
"wh-what do I have to do?" I accidently looked at her as I asked the question, but she was quick enough to look away before I could complete it.
"Careful!" she said. I apologized.
"Thing is, you played death for yourself. Now you do it for others as an untimely death."
I felt sick.
"But what about my vision? And why can't I hear other people?" I asked looking away. I couldn't even hear the rain anymore.
"They'll get back to me on that. They still have to register you as…er, how do I explain….an un-living being."
"So my death..."
"Is not official official" she said. "But since you're here, I think it's just a matter of paper work down at the office. The folks there'll handle it. You, on the other hand, can start your informal training." She brought her fist to her chest to point at herself with her thumb. "And it's my job to train you" With that she turned and began walking.
"Come on, let's get this over with. They're not going to have an opening at Reincarnation's forever you know. I need to get moving."
I flowed close behind, looked away and asked: "where are we going?"
"Where most untimelies start off – a hospital."
Mercy's Hand Hospital stood facing a clump of short stubby buildings in front of a neglected, littered beach. The sea was near ebony under the spell of the hour. We entered the hospital and I was ordered to wait near the reception while my rather irascible 'death' went on to explore. I looked around at the seated patients and the relatives of inpatients. Some looked tired, others looked upset. The wall clock said it was midnight.
I saw heads turn among the visitors as they looked with eyes full of pity at a family that embraced each other in tears. I still couldn't hear but their pain was obvious. One of the women collapsed, clutching her face, her shoulders jerked with every sob. I looked away. It was harder to watch when one couldn't hear, because it put aside all noise and left only grief in its purest form. For some reason I felt a rush of anger, but it subsided when I saw my grey companion return. She emerged thorough one of the walls and approached.
"I found some work." She looked past my shoulder, presumably at the grieving family. "No surprise there." she added. "Come."
I followed her to the fourth floor, past the waiting room and a nursing station into one of the wards.
It was the I.C.U. – meticulously cleaned white tile floors, pale blue screens, doctors and nurses in crisp white and a lot of medical equipment – pipes, drips, defibrillators, heart rate monitors etc. Every patient was surrounded by medical paraphernalia.
"Ah, the intensive care unit. Keep an eye out." It was easy enough for her to say, because it wasn't her vision that was failing her.
"What should I look for?"
"hm? Oh yeah, right. Forgot to mention: go touch anyone who looks like they're fading." She said while scanning the room.
"Obviously." She pulled out another cigarette and a lighter which bore a silver emblem: a scythe.
"You can't smoke here!" I tried to snatch away the cigarette.
"Relax!" she napped, backing away frighteningly quick. "In case you haven't noticed, we don't really exist on the same plane as these mortals. I could be breathing out tear gas if I wanted and it still wouldn't make a difference."
"But…" I tried to reason but figured she was right. "Fine."
"And I told you: don't touch me, it'll hurt. Both of us. " She said and then went on to smoke. Seconds later I saw her raise an eyebrow at something she saw behind me. "Well well…"
I turned to look at what had caught her attention. Being deaf to everyone else, I hadn't noticed the commotion - the medical staff had crowded around one of the beds. Some of the nurses looked like they were relaying orders. Desperate words seemed to be on every other set of lips. The crowd took a step back together suddenly. I assumed one of the doctors might have told them to. My grey acquaintance walked into the circle. She moved through the living with ease and hurried out.
"What are you standing around for? Get in there!" she urged.
I panicked "what? Now! Wha- what do I have to do, I forgot I-"
"Move!" she barked and I darted into the crowd.
Moving though people felt strange. It felt warm yet disturbing. In a few seconds I was near the bed, close to the doctors with their defibrillator.
On the bed, a middle-aged man jerked with every pulse of electricity being sent through him. His eyes were wide open. She appeared at my side.
"What now?" I asked her, looking into the man's unblinking eyes.
"Wait." She said. The words came out of her mouth along with cigarette smoke, effortlessly. She might have even been bored while I felt faint looking at the same thing.
After what seemed like eternity, the patient's body began to 'blink'. Right before my eyes, this man's body was fading and reappearing, fading and reappearing. A second later, I could see right through him.
"Now!" My companion hissed into my ear. I looked at him and hesitated.
"Just touch him!" her words were sharp. I reached out and touched his shoulder. Contact made my fingers burn and I drew them back, watching his body return to normal as he flat-lined.
The doctors tried a couple of more times and eventually gave up. None of them seemed to say a word. Even though I was deaf to them, I felt this particular silence.
My grey companion turned to say something to me, but I ran out. She followed.
"You did well." She said after she caught up to me in the corridor. I looked at the door to the I.C.U. as it swung open to allow a nurse in. It seemed that the staff was back to their usual routine, tending to other patients, waiting for lab results, checking their schedules.
"Did I just kill someone?" I asked, and then turned to face her as she answered me.
"Yes" she said at length. "But not him."
I didn't understand. I didn't want to understand.
"You just saved him from his body." She explained "Don't worry, It isn't this act you have to be ashamed of" She walked and as usual, I followed.
"You know, even I worked as an untimely for a while "she said as we made our way to an elevator. It opened up for a nurse and a couple of interns, we stepped in. "It took one hundred and thirty seven jobs before I became a Destined." She continued, blowing a wisp of smoke at the nurse's face, who, unsurprisingly didn't notice a thing and looked right through her.
"Destined?" I quizzed.
"A 'Destined', is a rung above an untimely. I got assigned to you, as your destined death. You weren't due for another seven decades." She looked at me, once again irritated. She clenched her jaw and looked away with disgust.
The doors opened to the ground floor and she strolled out, looking both ways. I walked into the waiting room, where I had seen the grieving family earlier. They weren't there, but most of the other visitors were still present and just as exhausted as before.
"Come to the emergency ward." She ordered, startling me from behind.
When we got there, I spotted a patient being wheeled in on a stretcher. The nurse was arguing with the paramedic and I noticed all the beds were occupied. It was a busy night. I looked at the patient, regretted it and looked away.
"Adolescent male." She whispered in my ear. I couldn't have guessed; his face was ruined.
"Get to it then." She said. I reached out without looking, touched the patient and knew when it was done.
"They'll realize soon enough. She said. I looked back to see the patient briefly. He lay limp.
As we walked out I noticed a couple run towards the emergency ward. Their faces were pale. I stopped to watch them as they entered. Through the glass door I could see the nurse tell them something, and the expression on her face made me turn away.
"What happened?" my companion asked, stopping a few steps ahead of me.
"Those people…" was all I managed to say before my throat tightened with guilt.
"The parents I guess." She said before turning to walk away.
"That's all? That's all you're going to say? I just took a life! You made me kill someone!" I yelled but she didn't turn back. I marched up to her and threw myself in her way so that we were eye to eye.
"You know what? You don't deserve to be doing anything but this! This….murdering!" I screamed the last word, regretted it immediately and staggered back. Fear swept over me. I had just yelled at someone, something I didn't know anything about other than the fact that she was an agent of death.
There was no anger on her face. She stared at me and then looked away and nodded slowly.
"Right…" she said, almost in a whisper.
"you're right. This is all I'm cut out for." I saw her fingers curl to form a fist at her side. Her brow furrowed and I took another step back.
"I'm sorry I jus-"
"No. Don't be." Her words were stiff like cadavers. "I deserve this …for trying to help you!" Her tone turned bitter and the last word was cold enough for make me tremble a little.
"Of course I'll never see myself doing anything else; of course I deserve a wasted and empty eternity. And why not? you…you are a living reminder of what I was. You're my mistake, happening all over again." Her eyes narrowed as she looked at me. For a second I thought she would strike me but she only walked past, her gait steady and her eyes distant.
"I didn't mean it." I hurried to her side. "I just felt so… so sick and… so guilty. I killed two people today and I didn't know what I was saying when those words came out."
She didn't look at me, nor did she say a word.
"You said you were like me once. Were you mortal?"I asked looking at our depressing surroundings.
She nodded and made eye contact. "Once." She repeated. "Then I killed someone. The only person I ever killed." she said. " we're the same" her lips formed a bitter smirk. "Maybe that's why I can't stand the sight of you." She walked away.
"You killed yourself…" I said, but not loudly enough for her to hear. "I'm so sorry." I said once again. I didn't care that I sounded pathetic.
"Yeah." Was all she said and we walked quietly into the waiting room where her phone began to buzz. She answered, spoke mostly in monosyllables and hung up. She turned to me and smiled.
"So was that all? Am I now officially an untimely?" I asked half-heartedly. She didn't reply, but looked smug, almost amused. "I know what you were getting at. I'm prepared for an eternity of…" I looked around me. "What I deserve."
"Are you now?" she asked and I wondered about the sudden change in her mood since the phone call.
"Yes." I replied.
"Well tough luck" she grinned. "Turns out, you don't belong to my side of time anymore."
I was about to ask her what she meant until the darkness around my field of vision grew. All too suddenly, everything went black. I thought I heard her say something but wasn't sure.
When I woke up I had to shield my eyes against the teal light of a fluorescent tube. I looked around and a blur of light colors cleared and set into shapes I recognized. I was in a hospital room and the face near me belonged to my roommate. Her eyes widened as she looked into mine and I heard her squeal my name with delight. She turned to call out to a nurse, breathless with relief. To my left was a window that framed the clear night sky and the moon. The rain had stopped.
"Are you okay? How do you feel…?" My roommate asked. The nurse smiled at me and adjusted the drip.
"I guess…better?" I smiled and looked back at the moon.
"You stupid female…you had us all worried to death! You're Mum's on her way here. Took the first flight she could….hey? What's the matter?"
"Hm? Oh nothing." I replied. I felt exhausted.
"What're you thinking about?"
"Just a friend…"
"Who? Do you want to see someone, I brought my phone-"
"No, I'll see her again. But not tonight" I said. "Not tonight."