"Keep speaking, we're coming for you." I called out, racing up the crumbling staircase with precautious speed, to where I was sure I'd heard a weak voice call out.
The house responded to my call, groaning desperately, as it shuddered against the still feral lashes of wind. I was becoming increasingly aware that its old and aching bones were stubbornly relenting to its wounds.
The storm, Naya, had reached its peak the day before, with gale force winds and streaks of lighting crashing through the sun bleached sky. The small town of St. Oelwein had not fared well, sat in a once neat valley; it had acted like a funnel leaving it helplessly vulnerable and pliant to the storms malicious power.
I'd volunteered immediately, a freshly graduated doctor – Hippocratic Oath still fresh on my tongue – eager to gain experience and move towards making a name of myself, I had rushed forth with naive enthusiasm. I matured quickly, simply put. Sobered by the sudden shock, as I initially took in the all too real destruction left in Naya's wake.
"Lora we need to wait for the rescue team, it's too dangerous in here!" Jacob paced in the doorway, hugging the green med kit to his chest, as if it would protect him from the miscellaneous objects raining down on us. He was one of the town's residents, volunteering like myself, I'd only met him an hour ago.
Grimacing when the timber blocking the oak door bit into my hands as I tried to haul it away, some hardness bled into my voice "You know they won't get here in time." I growled and I cursed under my breath as my muscles strained, "Come and help me Jacob!"
"Hello? Please I'm stuck in here!" someone cried out from behind the door.
The floor beneath my feet swayed dangerously. "Jacob!" I threw him an urgent look. His fists clenched with uncertainty, before he reluctantly rushed over to me and joined my efforts in removing the debris. I found myself thankful for his ox-like build, as with the third consecutive shoulder thrust, the hinges gave and the door fell away.
We immediately went to the elderly man strewn across the floor, pinned under a wardrobe. I knelt next to him, took his wrist and noted the irregular rhythm of his pulseas Jacob maneuvered to find a good leverage point on the heavy furniture.
"We're here, its okay. Does anywhere hurt?" I tempered down the torrents of adrenaline that tried to make my voice shaky and uneven.
"My leg, it got knocked up pretty bad." He panted in panic, most likely in shock by now. I reassured, hand moving to clasp in his, as Jacob set about gently removing the entrapment to the side.
Finally free the old man slumped in exhaustion close to passing out; I spied the open fracture on his tibia and grimaced for him before quickly moving to staunch the flow of the torn artery spluttering blood from the wound.
My knees clattered together when the house shunted forward and nearly fell onto the patient; I hastened my tying of the bandage as the previously small creaks and pops crew in intensity and volume. "Time to go." Jacob gnawed his lip before scooping the man up in an unorthodox position and bee-lining for the exit with speed I once thought beyond human bounds.
The room, now absent of its long stayed owner, sighed in relief as it gave way to its own weight; I barely gasped, watching in slow motion as the hairline cracks on the ceiling grew deeper and thicker. Briefly, overcome by a dull calm, I thought how I would prefer to pass out before the house crushed me to death.
As I floated in the white expanse of what I assumed to be the afterlife or a purgatory of sorts, pondered my time alive, cliché as it was, what else was I meant to do? It felt like I'd been lazily drifting in this mysterious current for an awfully long time and in all honesty I was starting to get bored.
I concluded, after some debate, that I'd had a pretty decent life. Although, I did begrudge that maybe it had ended all too soon, and admittedly I was especially bitter that after so many years of medical school I'd only had one year of legitimately being a doctor – the gross amounts of stress and debt I'd accumulated felt rather anticlimactic now.
My one regret however, was that I did not know if Jacob had gotten out before it was too late. After all, I'd been the one to impulsively run to the building, headstrong and confident, I felt in a way it would be my fault by default if he and the old man didn't make it...
I sighed, mentally, apparently not being able to move in this maybe-afterlife dimension. Then I laughed. I couldn't be too annoyed, I'd had fun, smiled more than cried, surmised that I had probably fell in love, made honest friends and most importantly, saved more than a couple peoples' lives on the way. How could I be mad, I had done my bit. Whatever.
C'est la vie.
The voice was birthed from nothing and jarred me in its spontaneity. Each word thrummed around me, echoing against my skin and giving rise to goose flesh in their power.
Was this God? It dawned on me suddenly, with jarring finality, that I had in fact died; that this was it, maybe I was to be sent to heaven, be rebirthed or eternally float in this bland whiteness. I'd lived a good life, so had no fear of punishment, but I sure regretted that one time I wasn't all that nice to those Jehovah Witnesses now.
A deep and resounding laugh rumbled through the air in warm waves. I silently revelled in the sound.
"Do not fret, you have not met your end yet my favoured one, That is, if you should choose so." There was a pause as I basked in the warmth spreading through my being, seeping deep to my marrow, "You devoted your life to the healing of others, I have judged your commitment and see the promise of your potential."
I have to ask you for your aid."
My aid? I frowned at the praise, I was proud of my accomplishments enough to not shrink at praise but these words felt like they held more worth than a pretty compliment.
"You will be repaid in handsome, on this Gods honour. You are worthy of this task, but do you accept it? It is more than I who would be in your debt."
I felt dreary, half asleep even, and the words spoken only seemed to draw in through one ear before passing out the other. What did this task entail exactly and what payment would be given in turn?
"I will gift you anything within my power to gift, my time is running on short, favoured one. Will you aid me?"
The tone had shifted, twisting into something more vulnerable, growing weaker in intensity. It sounded desperate, almost in pain. It begged to my soul, tugged like a child on the hem of my conscience as it pleaded.
Though my mind was fogged, it was still intelligent; I was dead and therefore had nothing to lose, at least to my atheist mind, but to aid this person -god or thing- I would most likely need to be alive or I would not be present at the moment. And this gift... maybe I could ask for my life in return.
My surroundings grew cooler, backpedalling into the sterile warmth present before the voice's arrival. The change made despair well in my gut so much that I could feel my eyes sting with the urge to weep. I could feel this beings hopelessness, its withdrawal.
"I will help you..."
My lips moved on their own accord, conscious movement apparently overridden by the unbearable need to lesson this persons suffering and satisfy my primal need of self-preservation. I marvelled at the reluctant, slow way I had somehow formed the words.
I felt its fingers smooth over the curve of my shoulder, fingertips soft and warm, caressing across my collarbone in feather light touches. My body hummed pleasantly in response, suddenly feeling awake for the first time since I had entered this barren dimension.
But, alas, the sensation proved to be temporary. The embracing heat, and all essence of energy in my body, quickly fading as its touch withdrew. Just as I was approaching the verge of unconsciousness, I opened my eyes, squinting through the harsh light, I could've sworn I saw the silhouette of a man. A god.
"Thank you." he whispered once again, leaning in to place a chaste kiss on my forehead, smiling a small but contented expression.