In the Final Moment
The room is hued in the deep oranges and reds of the sunrise peering through the drawn blinds. A lonely folding table is positioned in one corner of the room, one chair with its back against the wall opposite of me and the other chair pushed in to the table. A wardrobe stands tall in another corner and a short dresser rests at the foot of my bed with a blackened box TV on top of it.
I stand beside my bed as I gather in the unchanging arrangement of my room. I don’t remember getting up though, or waking up. I barely make out the sound of slow sighs behind me. I turn around to see myself, still wrapped tightly in my cream bedsheets, mouth open slightly and eyes closed. Am I dreaming?
Or lucid dreaming? I studied up on the subject in my fifties during the writing of my third fantasy novel. It was said to be like an out-of-body experience. I look back at myself, This is as out of body as it gets. My body catches on a snore then, and for a while, my chest stops moving. A stab of pain shoots through my heart and a small pressure begins in my forehead. My body sucks in a long breath, coughs, and goes back to its normal breath pattern as if nothing happened.
“I think you’re wrong on this one, ‘ol pops,” my eyes follow the source of the voice to a man sitting in the chair against the wall. He’s wearing a black beret, a loose-fit button-up tan shirt with rolled cuffs, and black trousers being supported by a pair of suspenders. The man almost appears translucent in the orange lighting. He leans forward to place elbows on thighs and adds in his thick New York Bronxs accent, “This ain’t what ya studied before.”
I draw in a shaky breath, unsure of what to say.
“Don’t ya remember me, pops?”
I shake my head slowly, “I’m sorry, but no.”
“Ouch, that’s a stinger to the ticker,” he clutches his breast in mock anguish. When seeing his attempt at comedy doesn’t hit its mark, he rolls up his left pant leg, “Maybe this will jar your memory, pops.”
I look down to see a mauled calf muscle. The whole length of it is streaked in dark pink caverns and craters where the skin and muscle look to have been torn off. How did this man even walk in here?
He notes my shocked expression. “Pretty ugly, eh? You did this to me. Well, indirectly.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Remember The Great?”
My eyebrows furrow, and I think for a moment. Nothing comes to mind. What does this man want? And how did he get past the nurses and into my room? I don’t know him. He looks like he’s from an entirely different century.
And then I remember. The fishing crew I wrote about in college. I constructed an entire decade of their adventures. Set in the 18th century, they encountered the biggest fish anyone from the colonies had ever seen: a Great White. One man in particular battled face to face with the beast: the boat engineer, Charlie.
“I knew you’d remember, ‘ol pops.”
I can’t believe it. Writing Charlie’s story helped me through some tough times. Not to mention it was my first published work. How had I forgotten? Has it really been so long?
His thoughts and emotions used to fill my mind and body. His were mine and mine were his. He was a part of me. Is still part of me, a wisp of my soul.
Then, the room plummets into silence as the constant, low crackle and rumble from within my body’s chest stops, and there’s nothing. Not even a breath. Not even a breath. I turn to look at the bed. There I lie, peacefully turned onto my side, mouth still open. I try to see chest movement, but a surging pain drills in between my eyes. It’s enough to blur and dim my vision as the room grows to be a foggy violet.
“I can’t tell if he’s breathing, Charlie,” I say, the pain drilling deeper into my head.
When he speaks, his voice is in my ear and his arm is wrapping around my shoulder. “It’s because he ain’t, ‘ol pops,” Charlie says, all humor gone. He gives my shoulder a gentle pat and adds, “but you’ll be alright. We’re here.” He stretches his other arm out to indicate the entire room and in doing so seems to slowly lift a blanket off of a half a dozen other figures standing in the room. I wince as a fresh wave of pain sinks into my head.
I stammer a “Who are they?” to which Charlie states simply, “Some old friends.”
And then I see them. Every one of them. My characters’ stories flash before my eyes: the cave adventurer, the widowed woman, the lost astronaut, the shaman, the time-traveler, the warden, the boat engineer—Charlie. They are all here. Every voice that had ever whispered to my being, here, watching me with sullen eyes.
“This is it, ‘ol pops. You can’t stay in this room any longer. Through that door,” Charlie motions toward my room door, “something amazing awaits you. Something so unimaginably fantastic, I don’t even think you could put it down on paper.”
He gives me a nudge toward the door. I hesitantly take two steps and reach for the handle, a cool relief flowing into my forehead.
I ask over my shoulder, “Are you and the others coming with?”
Charlie shakes his head, “Afraid not. We’re gunna stick around and do a little breathin’ for ya, pops.”