Monday, December 21, 2015

Dial M for Christmas

“Hello Bedford Falls…Merry Christmas you wonderful old Building and Loan,” George Bailey shouted after he got to see what the world would be like without him.  I rolled my eyes and sucked back another beer.  The movies always made miracles look so easy and humans always seemed understand their own need for redemption.  But that was the movies - in my experience you could save someone’s ass any number of times and they still won’t get it.  Sure, they’d be grateful at first but then the further away they got from their miracle the more likely they were to revert back to their old ways.

So there I was in Martini’s, an actual bar on the edge of Dawsonville - a small town in Georgia feeling like my own exile would never end.   It had been decades since I had been banished and my task seemed just as impossible as it had been on day one.  Sure - I had captured hundreds of misguided souls and sent them back to where they needed to go - but there were still hundreds if not thousands that needed to be captured and no end in sight. 

“Look Jack, it’s not the end of the world — besides we don’t know if they have turned us down completely - they just needed a few days to look at our audition video -“ I heard a guy next to me talk to his friend -trying to cheer him up.  “It’s just that we have worked so hard to be para-normal investigators and now they’re thinking we need a medium to make the show work,” replied his friend who looked deeply depressed. 

Their conversation caught my attention.  Para-normal investigators usually meant ghost hunters - something that might actually be of use to me. 
“Dave, I just feel like I’m at the end of my rope.  If this doesn’t pan out - I don’t know what I’ll do.”  Jack sucked back the rest of his drink and just looked down.  “I’ve never really been good at anything else - I mean all my life I’ve wanted to do this and now we’re so close and they want to throw some new angle in - we should be able to stand on our own.” 

I looked at this guy Jack and wondered at his despair.  My cross to bare was having to a Herculean task of finding the ghosts I had accidentally let out over 60 years ago and sending them back to either heaven or hell.  Once all those spirits were back where they needed to be - I would be allowed back into heaven.  At this rate - it would be another 60 years before I could go back and frankly I was tired of humans and their willful ignorance.  Their need to show they were smarter than God and then failing miserably made me laugh and extremely pissed at the same time.  But maybe these guys might be able to speed up the process and the idea that they’d have a medium to help would make things a little easier on me and my charge Keith. 

Keith was unfortunately a victim of circumstance that fateful day when all hell literally broke loose and died basically for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I was his guardian angel and I let him down because I got distracted by a she-devil piece of ass.  So God decided that he would be my motivation to make things right so neither one of us would be allowed back into heaven until all the ghosts nor demons that had escaped were no longer able to wreak havoc on the earth plane. 

So as I regarded these two guys and wondered if an unsaid partnership could be created.  I might be able to point them in the right direction metaphysically and they could banish the spirits I needed to get rid of.  For some reason - humans can do it faster and easier than those of use on the ethereal side of the equation.  Just as pondered my next step - I heard the familiar ping of a text message hit one of their cell phones.   Dave read the text and his face looked serious. 
“What is it?” asked Jack.  “They got turned down by both John Edward and Theresa Cupato - the Long Island Medium - so they might have to shelve the project altogether.” 
“That is f*cking bullsh*t man - I’m outta here.”  Jack stormed out of Martini’s with Dave trying to get past the Christmas Eve party that had just arrived.   He got into his old Toyota pick-up truck and spun out of the parking lot.   Dave got outside just in time to see Jack peel out.
“Sh*t, did they have do to this on Christmas Eve?” Dave said under his breath. 

I could see a soul in crisis and headed after him.  My boss was pretty explicit about preventing folks from offing themselves on his son’s birthday.  Jack was pretty upset and driving really fast.  Just then Keith appeared next to me.  “What the hell are you doing?” he asked.  
“I’m trying to prevent this guy from f*cking his life up beyond repair,” I responded.  There was a big sign up front that said - “Dead End.” 
“That seems fitting, I’m at a Dead End,” said Jack as he sped up to hit the sign and end his life.  I jumped up in front of the sign.  Jack saw me just in time to swerve into the ditch.   He was bruised up and his truck was dented but other than that he was unhurt.  He got out of the passenger side of the truck and started to yell at me.  
“What the hell was that dude?  I almost killed you.”   “Better that than killing yourself over a stupid ghost hunting show - now that is f*cked up,” I responded.  Jack jumped back.  “Wait, you’re the guy at the bar- how did you get out here and how did you know about -“  I smiled and waited to see if it would dawn on him who I was.  

Keith appeared next to me.  “Nice work with the sign Em.”   He looked a little closer and his eyes got big. 

“Hey I know this guy -“ He started to move closer to Jack who could see Keith clearly as a ghost and started to back away. 
“Okay, a**hole - you might have wrecked my truck and you’ve haunted my dreams but this is where it stops,” Jack said defiantly.  I looked at Keith.  “You’ve been haunting this guy?  I thought we talked about that.” I admonished. 
“It was once when he was a little kid and acting like a total ass wipe.  I tried to set him straight - but not sure it did much good,” he replied. 
“Wait was he the little piss ant in the theatre trying to find ghosts after his mother died?” I asked as Keith winced. 
“Not one of my proudest moments.  As for the dreams - that’s on him - I haven’t been around in a long time - since his Nana - “ Jack just looked at us - his eyes trying to take it all in.  “How do you know all this - about my mother, Nana, the theatre?” 

"Jack - who do think I am?  Just in your professional experience - who on earth could I be?” I asked. 
“A medium?” he asked hopefully thinking I might be someone he could work with. 
“Sweet suffering Jesus, do you believe this guy?” asked Keith. 
“No, Jack - I’m an angel-“ Jack took a second to look at the both of us.  He shook his head and then looked up hopefully. 
“Dude, is your name Clarence?” he asked hopefully with visions of Jimmy Stewart dancing in his head. 
“No, it’s Em,” I replied.  “Uh, okay, I guess that’s okay. But if you’re an angel – did you pick up on the fact that this guy is f*cking evil?” He pointed to Keith who was starting to get pissed. 
“I am not f*cking evil you little sh*thead-“ Keith shouted back. “Let me show you how misinformed you are.”

Keith touched both our hands and I saw Jack as he was in middle school in the  1980's

- still cocky but more like a child than a man.  He still had his steely determination but as a more nerdy, gangly teenage body.  He looked pissed that none of the ghosts were responding to him so he could prove to his friends that he was a ghostbuster. 
“Hey, ghosts, I’m not afraid and I demand that you show yourself or make some noise!”  But there was nothing.  Teen Jack got angrier.  “Do you f*cking hear me?  I demand you show yourself!”  Just then, Keith appeared ready to scare the sh*t out of this little a**hole.  
“Young man, if you are going to come in here trying to wake the dead, you are going to do it with some manners.  You do not come in here cussing like a sailor and screaming like a banshee –because we the undead will teach you the manners your mother has taught you and that you have obviously forgotten.  Now, get your skinny white ass out of my sight until you can come back resembling some kind of gentleman.”  What teen Jack did not see was that there was a demon crouched behind some theatre seats - a gargoyle type of devil that could drag Jack to hell.  Keith let go of our hands and we were back at the side of the road - the ghostly illusion was over.

"What?  Wait?  There was a demon there?”  Jack asked incredulous. 

“Yeah, I’m not a total dick," Keith replied. "I was trying to save you from being damned.  Em and I cornered that demon and sent it hell that night.  We saved you.  If your mother thought for one moment that I would allow any harm to come to you –“ Jack’s eyes started to soften. 
“You mentioned my mother like you knew her.  Have you seen my mother - I mean since she died? She was already gone when that happened -” Jack asked hopefully. 

Keith then backed off quickly which was uncharacteristic of him.  I wondered what was up.  Despite what you might think - being an angel does not make me all knowing.  There was something going on that Keith was not telling me.  

Jack started to look down and sighed heavily.  “Yeah my Mom, she’d still be alive today if it wasn’t for me.  She came back in that snow storm to get me from my father and died in a car crash on the way.  1983 was the last Christmas I spent with her - I was 14 years old.  My father was tough to live with once he came back from Vietnam.  She stayed in a bad marriage and sacrificed everything for me and I can never repay her or talk to her and I’ve tried to contact her – I have.  Maybe if I hadn’t been born she would still be here - maybe married to Ben Jensen where she could be happy rather than tied down to a miserable drunk like my dad because of me.” 

“Hey, that’s bullsh*t - you don’t know that -“I responded and then some divine intervention took place – Frank Capra style.  “Okay, let’s take a stroll down memory lane – I’ll let you see your past as it really was and then I’ll grant your wish and you can see what things would be like if you had never been born.”   Keith just rolled his eyes and quipped, “Why don’t you just offer him a Red Rider BB gun so he can shoot his eye out or just leave him Home Alone?  Those movies I like!”  I got his drift but sometimes films can move people faster than scripture.

I touched Jack’s hand and he got to see the day he was born.  We went into a small hospital room.  His mother looked radiant if exhausted holding her newborn son.  His dad beamed with pride and Nana was in the room - just bursting with joy.  Jack had never seen any of them so happy.  His mother was kissing the top of his head and his father asked to hold him.  He took his son in his arms as the most amazing being he had ever seen.  His hair was long and tied back in a pony tail and he had a beard.   It was 1969 and at that point Ted Bronson was a bit of a hippie.  Jack had no idea his father ever looked like that.  Baby Jack grabbed his father’s finger and Tom laughed in a way that Jack had never seen.  He gently danced around the room with his infant son - rocking, swaying and grinning from ear to ear.  He then broke out in a loud and awesome rendition of the Beatles Birthday to the delight of his wife, mother, medical staff and the new baby.  After about 10 minutes - Nana asked to hold him and she rocked him slowly and sang a more traditional Rock-a-bye Baby.  His father kissed his mother as she nursed her son.  Jack looked at me and took it all in.  His birth was a glorious moment in all their lives. 

A year later Jack saw his father go off to war in 1970 - this time with a buzz cut, his beard gone but still the same man who showered his infant son with love and kisses before he got on the plane that would take him to his mission in a strange land - far from his wife and child.   Jack’s mother Angela kissed her husband passionately and tried not to make a scene.  But in her heart of hearts she petrified that this would be the last time she would see her husband alive.  Nana was there too - hugging her son and telling him how proud his father would be of him.  Jack was astounded by how his presence as an infant kept the adults in line, able to handle the most difficult of circumstances.  As Nana and his mother watched the plane goes off - they hugged each other.   Angela whispered into her little son’s ear - “Jack not matter what happens - you are the best parts of your father and me.  We’ll love you always.”  Jack smiled as a tear ran down his check.  Keith looked down - touched by that moment and the feeling like it was too personal for all of us to watch. 

The scene shifted to Nana and Angela at the park with Jack as two years old - running around and laughing.  Angela and Nana seemed to be close - having a picnic and trying to keep each other’s spirits up.  They took turns pushing Jack on a swing.   Each time the swing curved towards the clouds - the toddler squealed with delight. 

Later, Angela, toddler Jack and Nana were back at the airport waiting for Tom to get home on leave after tour of duty.  It was Thanksgiving but they would also get to celebrate Christmas together.  Now that Jack was a little older his father coming back and it was tough for a little guy- it would be six months after this extension of duty before he would see him again.  Tom arrived, saw his family and smiled but his eyes were different - they looked older than his 25 years.  Angela handed Jack to Nana and ran to hug her husband.   He hugged her back but more out of desperation than love.   He smiled at Jack and Nana but Tom was clearly a different person than the one who had left the year before.   Nana tried to hand Jack to his father but this man was now a stranger and the child started to cry.  Angela took him into her arms - “Just give him time - we’ve been talking about you - telling stories.  He knows who you are. Maybe it’s like Santa Claus - kids are excited to see him and then when they do - they are overwhelmed - he’ll come around - I promise.”  Tom looked more defeated and they walked silently to the car - around families that were ecstatic during their reunions. 

Jack looked at  me.  “Don’t tell me - I never really get close to him on that visit did I?  “No, but then he didn’t really have it in him to engage you.  He spent that leave sitting on the couch and looking at the TV.  He was drinking heavily - regretting his six month extension and the things he’d seen.  But did you know he was a hero?  He saved 10 men including his sergeant who later became Mayor Jenkins. Your dad was given a purple heart for bravery.  He sacrificed his youth and optimism in that war –many men did and they were never the same.  I’m not making excuses for him because I know he made you feel like sh*t as a kid but maybe understanding that he saw people blown to bits – friends alive one minute and gone in an instant – it takes   a toll on you.  And then when the soldiers came back – unlike the WWII vets – they were social pariahs no one wanted to be reminded that these guys were in an unwinnable war.  They didn’t get the help they needed – called Baby killers – spit on.  Nana and Angela tried to get him help but he was too proud to accept it.  For him the music and the poetry stopped."

“Jesus Christ - I never thought of it like that – my poor Dad.” 

“But your Mom was right – you do have the best parts of both of them in you – there were times you were brave for others,” Keith said.  He touched our hands took us to a middle school hallway between classes.  A couple of boys were teasing another boy and pushing him around. 
“Hey that’s Dave – the day I met him,” Jack responded.  “C’mon – you gonna cry – why you crying you little faggot?” taunted Bruce Dane.  “Hey – why don’t you just leave him alone Bruce,” said a teenage Jack.  Bruce turned around and towered over Jack.
“Well speaking of faggots – why don’t you get the hell out of here Jack or do you want to ask him out on a date?” 
“Knock it off Bruce- his MeMa died today – he’s had enough.” 
“MeMa – what is he – a baby?  I’ll decide when he’s had enough,” Bruce said. 
At this point, a circle of kids had gathered around.  “Bruce – I’m not going to ask you again – leave him alone,” Jack said with a steely determination in his eye. 
“Or what – what can you possibly do about it faggot?”  Bruce raised his fist ready to strike.  Teen Jack just looked down and started to turn away.  Bruce chuckled and said “Figures – some people just don’t –“ He was stopped mid-sentence when Jack whirled back around and cold cocked him in the face. 

Bruce went back but kept his footing and tried to punch back – he missed and Jack landed another punch in the stomach.  At this point, Bruce was bleeding him from his nose and doubled over.  Just then Mr. Albury, the Vice Principle broke up the fight – “Okay – Bruce you need to let these two alon-“,  he stopped suddenly when he saw it was Bruce who was bruised and hurting and not the other way around.  “Okay kids – get to your classes!“ the VP barked but the crowd was murmuring “Cool- Bruce finally got his a** kicked!” 

“You two my office and Bruce – you to the clinic – NOW!!”  Dave leaned into Jack, “Thanks for having my back – my name is Dave by the way.” 
“I know – I’m Jack and I’m sorry about your grandmother – it sucks. I lost mine six months ago.  My mom a year before that,”  Teen Jack was trying to keep a brave front but these deaths were starting to suck the life out of him.   Dave looked at him – “I’m so sorry about your losses.”  He paused and added – “I’ve never had anyone stand up for me like that – thanks!” 

As Jack and Dave sat in Mr. Albury’s office, they could hear Bruce whimpering in the clinic every time the nurse tried to stop his nose from bleeding.  “I want these two expelled for attack on my child – Albury!”  shouted Bruce’s dad who was a first class tool.  
“Serves him right – all the bloody noses he’s given,” retorted Mr. A. “Besides – I have witnesses that say that it all started with Bruce teasing Dave here and accusing him of being a homosexual.  The poor kid found out this morning that his grandmother died and started to cry at his locker-“ 
“This is stupid” teen Jack blurted out.  “Bruce is a liar, a cheat and a bully – I gave him what he had coming.” 
"Fine words coming from the son of the town drunk!” Mr. Dane shot back. “Enough from the both of you!” declared Mr. A. 
“Jack you should not have punched him.  You are not getting expelled but you both get three days of detention starting tomorrow.” 
“That’s not fair – Dave didn’t do anything – he’d be beaten up if I hadn’t stepped in,” Jack said defending his action.  Mr. Dane at least got some satisfaction that they were being punished and went to see his son who had Q-Tips coming out of his nose. 
“Get your ass in the car – you look ridiculous –“ said Mr. Dane as he pulled the tips out of Bruce’s nose as they walked down the hallway.
“Now boys, your detention will be in the Media center – helping to catalogue video and how to work the equipment,” he winked at Dave and Jack who smiled back. 

“That afternoon was the beginning of your friendship with Dave- a guy who brought you into his family and gave you a place to belong after all the upheaval in your life,” said Keith.  “So far it looks like a pretty good life – you have your work, a best friend whose is more than a brother.  Sure your childhood was tough and you had losses but you had people who loved you even if they didn’t stay in your life forever,” I explained as I tried to put it all in perspective. 

“Yeah, but at this point in my life – would anyone miss me?  I have no wife, no kids, no job that really means anything other than some camera work from time to time.  Nothing would change whether I was here or not – I just don’t matter.”

“Dude, you matter – everyone does – we just lose sight of it from time to time.  We let bullsh*t bring us down – but if you could just see all that you’ve done – the people you’ve helped,” I replied honestly because he was just too down on himself to get it. 

I touched his hand and we saw his mother in 1972 walking out of their house with a suitcase crying. 
“What’s wrong with my Mom?” asked Jack. 
Your father died a few days ago from a drug overdose – heroin"  I replied sadly
“Wait – what?!  But my father is still alive!” 
“No,” I continued, “You see without you – he didn’t feel the responsibility have to support his family.  He and your mother fought constantly.  He developed a bad drug habit and it finally killed him leaving your mother heartbroken.” 

Keith watched this play out and didn’t say anything.  As Angela was closing the door to her house – Ben Dane, Bruce’s dad drove up. He was a younger version of himself, not balding and had a convertible.  He got out and slowly walked up to the front stoop. 
“Hey Angela – so sorry about Ted – I just don’t know what to say.”  Angela just stared blankly – her life seemed to be in ruins. 
“You can stay with me and Jennie until you get on your feet.” 
“Are you sure she doesn’t mind?  I know I won’t be good company and you all with little Bruce-" Angela protested but Ben took her bag and they got in the car and drove off. 

The scene shifted to ten years later, Ben had left his wife Jennie and had married Angela who was tasked with bringing up Bruce.  They saw her cleaning up the kitchen when 12 year old Bruce arrived home from school.  “Hey Bruce – I made you some cookies – how was your day?” Angela asked innocently enough trying to make conversation but you could feel the tension in the room. 
“Jesus Christ Angela, stop trying to play the happy homemaker okay?!  You’re not my mother!”  Bruce stormed up to his room and took a few cookies.  With his mouth full he yelled down the stairs,
“Jesus woman – next time use more vanilla!” 
“What an ungrateful little a**hole!” Jack responded giving anything to be there to talk to his mother who was now crying at the sink.  His mom had a beautiful house, nice clothes and there were pictures of European vacations but the smiles were forced.  She started the chicken casserole when Ben called and said he would be working late at the office which Angela knew was really his way of having an affair with one of the women at work.  She put down the phone and began a full out sob. She didn’t have the vigor or sense of fun that Jack had known - even with his Dad’s drinking she always would make it a point of making jokes or saving some money so that they could go to the movies. 

I touched Jack’s hand and there was the familiar rush of middle school kids running to make it to their next class.  He saw Dave standing at his locker trying not to be noticed and getting his science book. Bruce kicked him as he walked “Hey faggot – I told you to stay away from here– you can’t follow directions can you sh*thead?!”  Dave just looked down and didn’t say anything. 
“What was that you loser?  Are you threatening me?”  Dave mumbled, “No-“ but it didn’t matter – Bruce started to beat the crap out of him.  The kids getting to their class pretended like they couldn’t see it and Mr. Albury just turned a blind eye. 
“Why isn’t anyone helping him?” Jack asked helplessly. 
“There was no one to stop to Bruce or stand-up for Dave so he’d routinely get the crapped kicked out of him until he decided to become one of Bruce’s minyans,” said Keith sadly. 
“Wait, what?  said Jack.  “Dave was the only boy in a family with sisters and never really developed a bond like he had with you.  Bruce was the closest he had to a friend and over the years it warped him.  This is what he’s like now –" and with that I touched Jack’s hand and saw Dave in an alleyway pushing  another man up against a wall. 
"Look – my boss doesn’t take to being lied to so you need to get the money together by tomorrow or you have a choice -either we break your knee caps or we break your hands – and Merry Christmas.”  Dave shoved the man harder against the wall and he began to whimper.  Jack instinctively jumped into the alley and tried to help free the man. 
“Hey Dave – let up on the guy.  Why are you like this - what the hell happened to you?”  Dave replied – “This doesn’t concern you - just move along – and you won’t get hurt.”
“Please help me – my wife is pregnant and our toddler is sick – “ the man begged. 
“You should have thought of that before you borrowed the money –,” Dave looked at Jack – “I don’t know who you are or how you know my name but you need to get the hell out of here – before I kick your ass as well.“
“Make me –“ Jack replied like they were in middle school.  When Dave turned to Jack – the man saw his chance and ran away. 
“Sh*t – that will cost you”  Dave started to come at Jack who could not believe his friend would try to hurt him but then this was not his friend – it was a mutation from another time.  Jack ducked and landed a right hook on Dave’s jaw and knocked him out cold. 
Jack started to run through the streets of his town but they were cold and dark – seedy – not the family homes with big lawns that Jack was used to seeing. There was no Art in the Park – there was no park, nice condos – only apartments that looked more like slums. 

“Where the hell am I?” Jack asked as he looked for a familiar landmark. 
“Hell would be appropriate Jack.  You see Mayor Jenkins is a visionary and his vision is what shaped this town but without it the town turned into the world that the Danes wanted it to be.  They took over and this is the result,” I explained. 
“But wait, my dad saved the Mayor in Vietnam and 10 other men! “ Jack insisted. 
“All those other men died including Mayor Jenkins because your Dad was not there to save them.  I know that he’s not perfect but that one act of bravery saved lives.  Those men had families and did things both great and small. But without them, their families struggled – their achievements died before they even got a chance to show what they could do.“  Jack started to back away from me.  I sensed that he needed to see one more thing to really grasp how important his life really is. 

“Would you like to see what your mother would be like today in this reality if she had lived?”  
“Yes,” Jack said with uncertainty.  

I touched his hand and we landed in a nursing home.  Jack knew which room to go into – he recognized his mother’s face – which was now lined and her skin looked sallow.  Her eyes were sunken with deep circles that looked like she had spent many times alone and crying.  Jack ran to her bed and put his arms around her.
“Mom – I’m so sorry about this – about everything!”  Angela looked up and said,  “Bruce is that you?  Did you and your father decide to let me out of here – I promise to stop crying – I’ll be better – I won’t embarrass you.”  Jack hugged her tighter.

“No it’s me – your real son – Jack. Remember Ted – you had me with him – he tried to love us – he just didn’t always know how.  I love you Mom and I miss you every day – please say you know me.” Jack and Angela were both crying but as much as he looked her into her eyes – she just didn’t know who he was.   A nurse entered and saw him holding the old woman.
“Hey you, get away from the Mayor Dane’s wife!”  She called for security on the intercom and Jack found himself being chased down a hall way with two very overweight security guards barely able to keep up.  He ran out of a backdoor only to have a police car start to follow him and demand that he stop. His heart beating faster than ever, he ran as fast as he could to the place where his car had skidded into the ditch.  “Em, please – let me get my life back – please I can’t take another minute of this – please God – let me live again.” 

 A set of headlights caught Jack and nearly blinded him.  A male figure started to run toward him – it was Dave. 
“Get the hell out of here Dave before I cold-cock you again – I don’t give a sh*t who you work for - “  
“What the hell are you talking about Jack? I came to see if you were okay.  What happened to your truck?”  Jack looked at Dave – this was the face of the man he had grown up with – this was his best friend.  Jack started to yell, “Dave it’s really you – I’m back – I’m back where I belong!” He grabbed Dave and started to hug him. “Jesus – Jack how much did you have to drink? Hey, why don’t we call AAA and get your car towed okay?”

"As they waited for Jack’s vehicle to be towed - Dave took a phone call.  Jack noticed me standing by his truck and motioned for me to come over. 
“I’m glad you decided to remain in this world – a world that obviously needs you – but don’t let it go to your head.” 
Jack laughed, “I’ll try not to,” and then he got quiet – “But my Mom – she was so sad.“ I took a breath and chose my words carefully because sometimes it’s tricky to even try to explain God’s will.  
“Jack without you – your parents would not have known true happiness – even if those moments were fleeting.  Even when bad things happen - those happy times are still there and can never be taken away.  You’ve seen your mother living into her sixties – but was she ever really happy?  Would you prefer you mother to be a vibrant woman who got to experience true love and then die at 34 trying to get back to the person she loved the most or to never have experienced that at all and live an empty existence?  Her life in the other world may have been longer – but it was not happier.  Please take some comfort in that and let yourself off the hook for her death.  You’ve blamed yourself for far too long.” 

Jack nodded and felt a huge weight taken off his shoulders.  I continued,  “And for the record – don’t give up five minutes before the miracle happens.” 
“Wow, that’s profound – is that in the bible?” asked Jack. 
“No, I think it’s Oprah.” I smiled and faded out. 

Dave got off the phone and walked up with a sh*t eating grin on his face. 
“Hey buddy – guess what – that was The Supernatural Channel – they think they might have located another medium that might be worth contacting – Sophia Gardeen.  So for right now the project is greenlighted!” 
“Holy crap – really?! – That’s great news!” Jack said realizing that he might finally have a shot at finding the success he’s always craved.  As he and Dave entered Martini’s they noticed Ted Bronson waiting for a place to sit at the bar.  Jack could now understand his father in a way he never had before and all the resentment he had towards him started to dissipate.  He walked over to his father who he had not talked to in months and said – “Hey Dad, Merry Christmas.  Uh, Dave and I were going to the Silver Skillet for something to eat- can I buy you a late dinner?”  Ted looked at his son cautiously – it had been years since they had dinner together.  He came very close to refusing and spending another lonely Christmas at the bar but decided to take his son up on his offer. 

“Sure son, I’d love to.” 
They sat down in a well-worn booth and ordered some coffee.  Dave excused himself and said that he was meeting his girlfriend for midnight Mass and offered to drive them home. 
“No thanks, Dave – I think we can take Uber home – have a good one dude!”  Dave left the diner feeling especially optimistic about his friend.  “Did I ever tell you about the time your mother was pregnant with you and we sat in this very booth listening to Stevie Wonder on the radio and singing along – very off key I might add?” 
“No, dad, I’d love to hear about it,” Jack replied.  Mayor Jenkins happened to spot the pair at the booth just as he was leaving with his family. 
“Their bill is on me,” he said quietly to the waiter as he left. 

In the back corner, I sipped on coffee as both me and Keith watched father and son share some stories and connect in a way they had done only a few times in their lives. 
“You did good tonight Em – but if I recall correctly – aren’t there bells and you're supposed to get your wings?” asked Keith. 
“That’s in Jimmy Stewart’s universe – not in ours.  Still we kept a guy from throwing away his life and that’s worth something.” 
Just then Jack and his dad broke out in a chorus of “Joy to the World,” in which the entire café joined in.  Jack looked over at me and smiled. 
“I hope your boss is watching – as birthday presents go – this one is pretty good,” said Keith. 
“You’re right Keith – this is pretty good- Merry Christmas.” 
“Merry Christmas, Em.”  And with that we faded out into the night as the combined voices in the café finished with “And heaven and angels sing, and heaven and angels sing, and heaven and heaven and angels sing!”

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Great White Room

I shifted uncomfortably in the black leather office chair in the overly bright white room.  I’d never been called to my bosses’ office before and I knew it was not a good sign.   I looked around at the imposing desk – a large maple wood antique that looked like it had been around since the beginning of time.  There were pictures of the boss and his son – a fisherman who many looked up to and every now and then even tried to emulate.  
The boss man had two different personalities – he could be kind or vengeful.  It depended on the day but lately many felt that he had gotten softer over the years - not in a bad way but in a more relatable way.  I hoped that he was feeling charitable but screw ups like mine did not go down easy in an organization like this.  It would mean my job or worse.   The clock clicked slowly and still the boss did not appear.  The florescent light was beating down on me and the waiting was the worst part.  It seemed that with each second that passed so did the last sands of my redemption.
“God dammit, when is he going to get here?” I uttered under my breath.  “I’m here,” said a deep baritone.   I startled in my chair and looked across to the desk to see an older man – dressed in a cream colored suit – his green eyes looked stern and gentle at the same time.  His beard looked perfectly groomed and his hands were well manicured.  They started to strum as G looked at me intently.   I wanted to break the silence – wanted to apologize like hell for my mistake but some things are not easily rectified and certainly not with a simple “I’m sorry.”  The boss was the authority on forgiveness and second chances. I sat there hoping he could see my willingness to make it right.   I made eye contact briefly and then looked to the floor in deference to my mentor. 
The silence continued until the door opened and Pete entered.  Pete was G’s right hand man and he trusted him implicitly.   He was older – no as old as G but this guy had seen a lot and helped develop the organization.  His stock of gray hair seemed to be thinning and his eyes looked weary.  He always had a lot of paper in his hand and was frequently harried.  When he entered – I tried to apologize.   Pete shot a sharp glance at me - “Don’t say a word – don’t say a fucking word –“ he shouted as he put the papers on G’s desk.  “The numbers are worse than we though and I have no fucking idea how we’re going to minimize the damage.”   G sighed and looked at me.  My heart started to beat faster as I looked down not able to meet anyone’s gaze.   
“How did this happen?” G asked calmly.   I looked up and started to shake – I realized it was not a dream-- that this mistake was serious enough to make it to the top of G’s To-Do list. 
“I got distracted,” I mumbled – it was the truth but it was so insufficient.  “You got distracted?  You got distracted?  What the fuck does that mean?”  Pete got in my face – a little bit of spit started to froth in the corner of his mouth and he reminded me of a rabid dog.  It started to make me laugh but then I caught myself and bit my lip.  I thought about the distraction – the woman – her face, her lips, her smooth soft body and her laugh - the pure perfection that is the female form.   We don’t have women around here so when I saw a real one who was interested in me -  it threw me off my game and shit happened that I couldn’t undo but maybe G in his infinite wisdom could.
“I’ve got this Pete – you can go –" said G with a certain amount of resignation.  “Okay, just remember what he did – what it means to all of us before you pass judgement,” Pete said as he left and slammed the door. 
“Hey, G –I’m so sorry – I can’t tell you how big the knot is in my chest – I feel like shit - I just want to make this right,” I begged.   G’s eyes narrowed but realized that I was sincere.  “Okay, Em – I get that you feel bad – hell we all do.  Mistakes can happen but you took your eyes off the prize and he-" G stopped and looked at me waiting for me to finish his sentence.  “He died-" I said quietly.   I’ve never known the sensation of tears but right now they were close and started to sting from the salty water about to erupt from my eyes.  “But you – you can change this – you can make it right and I swear to you that I’ll never be distracted again,” I pleaded.  G considered my offer.  He said nothing and turned to the screen at end of the room and hit the play button. 
The picture was pitch dark.  Then a small light broke through, then more lights which seemed to move around randomly against a rough cavernous wall.  The lights were crude and sat on top of hard hats.   The faces of the men under the hats were smeared with coal dust – they were coming out of the depths of their jobs back to the real world – the world where they would no longer be invisible.   
My guy – Keith squinted as he came into the light but he was happy to see Gloria was waiting for him.   He kissed her passionately and she reciprocated in-kind.  Her face was pale and classically beautiful even though his kisses smudged it with coal dust.  She didn’t care – Keith was the one person who loved her just for her.  There were no conditions – no power brokering between fathers to see who would use their children’s marriages to consolidate and elevate their status into the pissing circle that was Macon’s high society in the 1950s.  
Working in the mine gave Keith a very muscular physique which made him stand out from the other men that moved in Gloria’s social circle.  Her girlfriends envied her even if they made fun of his profession behind her back.  He didn’t even hate the job which was rare in the mining industry.  It paid well and was only slightly dangerous.   But Keith knew what he was doing – he knew his way around a mine – he was a foreman and his guys trusted him.  
He climbed into Gloria’s convertible and turned on the radio to Let the Good Times Roll.  It was the perfect ending to a less than perfect day but it instantly became better because this man was with the woman he loved.  It should have been that simple - but life was never that simple. 
That night Keith and Gloria went to the local soda shop and ordered the usual - two cheese burgers, onion rings and strawberry malts.  Back then people didn’t worry about cholesterol – they didn’t have to – they moved around and didn’t sit behind a computer all day so they could afford a splurge now and then.   
Just as their waitress had delivered their dinner – Bucky Brooks walked up and started in.  “Gloria – for God’s sake when are you going to get this walk on the wild side out of your system – you can’t be serious?”  Bucky’s family was the closest thing Macon had to the blue bloods and had been members of the Chamber of Commerce since before the Civil War.  His family owned the mine but other than showing off the rocks that his father’s employees had risked their life to get- he was rarely there and only had a passing interest in the family business.  He’d always had a thing for Gloria who rejected him every chance she got.  Now she marveled at his arrogance in somehow thinking that because his family was well established it would prevent Keith from cold cocking him into next week.   
Keith ignored him and started to eat his cheese burger.  This piss ant was no threat and to even dignify him with an answer would give him too much legitimacy.  “Bucky – just leave – you’re not welcome here,” Gloria said as she sat closer to Keith in their favorite booth.   Bucky started to get into Keith’s face but noticed that some of the diners were starting to surround him – ready to pounce if the need be.  Keith raised his hand as a way to tell them to back off.   “Now why don’t you go back to Daddy and Mummy at the club and leave us alone,” Keith said not looking directly at him.  Bucky realized that he was outnumbered and started out of the diner.  He got into his red Roadster and sped away as the other diners looked on.   Gloria squeezed Keith’s hand.  “I’d give anything to just get out of this town – to go up north - there are plenty of mining jobs – I know we could be happy –" she implored.  Keith smiled he was not sure what he had done to deserve such a beautiful and smart woman but he felt blessed every day they were together.   He gave her a kiss and said, “I’m working in it.”
G pointed to the screen and saw me in the corner of the diner.  I was dressed in a pullover with a pair of jeans watching my charge.   I lit a Marlboro and took a drag.  This was a habit which I knew was bad but it instantly raised my cool factor and helped me blend in.  I was keeping an eye on Keith and Gloria – making sure they stayed out of harm’s way which was my job.  A waitress came over and poured me another cup of coffee and offered a piece of cherry pie.  Her face was pretty – angular in a Rita Hayworth sort of way with wavy raven hair and full red lips.  She leaned over ever so slightly so that I could see her breasts struggling to stay inside her tight waitressing uniform.   

An instant wave of desire started to rush over me – something I had never really experienced before.  Not that I didn't like females, but I had always been so focused on my job that a woman like her rarely landed on my radar.   But this one seemed to have honed in on me and was making her intentions obvious.   “Can I get you more sugar, Sugar?” she asked in a silky southern drawl that had me flushed and flustered.  “Um, sure – thanks.” I mumbled not sure how to react.  Generally, I tried to make sure that I could go about unnoticed.   She leaned in and whispered in my ear – “You can have a taste of my pie anytime you want sugar – just give me a call.”  She slipped a piece of paper into my hand and stroked my palm as she walked away.  I opened it and found a phone number with the name “Lily” next to it.  I felt my pants getting tighter and had to catch my breath.   I looked over at Keith and Gloria who were paying their check and getting up to leave.  “Shit!” I said realizing I could not leave in my current condition without attracting some real attention.  “Okay, think of golf, baseball, world hunger – yeah, world hunger –that’s a good one-“ I said as the blood started to return to my brain and away from my groin.  I put down a 10 spot which paid for my food and a generous tip as I rushed out and saw them speed away.  I got in my car and followed them – keeping a few car lengths behind to keep from being spotted.  They got back to his place safely and settled in for the night.  All seemed well so I went to the apartment I was renting just down the street.
I opened the door and threw my keys on the counter – opened a beer and turned on the radio.  The Philco Radio Time with Bing Crosby was on and I let that play in the background while still trying to get Lily out of my mind.  Her face, her hands and her body -- I felt like I was going to go out of my mind until I saw her again.  My heart beat faster and I started to pace.  I'd never felt this cagey before. I picked up the phone four or five times before I finally had the balls to call her.   Each ring told me what a bad idea this was but I didn’t seem to care – for some reason I could not control myself.   I was obsessed and felt like I had to get it out of my system if I was going to function at all.  Besides, what could it hurt?  I never worked outside the rules even though I know my co-workers did – plenty of times. 
“Hello-“she answered in her slow southern drawl.  “Sugar – it that you?  I was hoping you’d call.”  “Yes- yes – it’s me – “I answered slowly.  “Look darling, I live pretty close to the diner if you would like to see me – I’ll make some coffee,” she said.   “I live at 4466 Elm – I’m glad you’ll be coming…over.”  I hung up - jumped in my car and practically flew over there.  
She answered the door wearing a corset and fish net stockings and was licking a spoon with whipped cream.  “I hope you enjoy my pie,” she said in whisper.  Without thinking – I grabbed her and started kissing her with reckless abandon.  She grabbed my belt and started to unfasten my pants.  It was all happening so fast it seemed unreal and yet there we were – practical strangers pulling off our clothes and naked before we knew it.  Her soft white skin felt like warm silk next to mine.  My head was swimming as we touched and I could not control myself.   It was like I had been thirsty all my life and now it I knew what it was like to drink the miraculous water of this mirage.
I carried her into the bedroom and our lovemaking caused her to moan with ecstasy – it was a sound I had never heard before but loved the music of.  Every ounce of me was consumed by this woman.  She bit softly at my ear and then let her nails scratch my back to the point that it drew blood but I didn’t care.  We had sex six times that night.  Truth be told I had never had sex before – never really felt like needed it until I met her.  I guess I was good at it because she kept on asking for more and I was happy to oblige.   The final time we had sex, we collapsed exhausted and sweaty onto her bed.  We held each other as the ceiling fan circled above in a lazy attempt to cool us down.  I fell asleep in her arms and remembered her getting up to get some water as my eyes closed once more thinking this perfect night was probably just a dream.
I awoke the next morning to the sound of warning bells – it was 10:00 am in the morning.   I jumped up disoriented – not sure where I was.   I was still in at Lily’s house which was just a mile from the mine and there were alarms blaring.  “Shit – its morning – Keith – shit!!” I yelled realizing that I had let my charge go unguarded.   I looked around for Lily hoping to say a quick good-bye and hoped that I would see her again - but she was gone.   I pulled my clothes on and jumped in my car and rushed to the scene.  “Please don’t let anything bad happen to Keith or any of his men – please!” I prayed.   When I got there – there were police cars and ambulances.  “What happened?” I asked a cop as he ran by.  “An explosion – some type of cave-in – there are miners trapped down there,” he replied not slowing down.  
I looked around at the men who had gotten out – they were standing there looking shell shocked – their faces caked with soot, sweat and blood.  I didn’t see Keith with them.  “Hey, where is Keith?” I asked in a panic.  “He’s still down there –still trying to get some guys out.  We were all trapped – that brave son of a bitch moved a boulder so we could escape – he went back for his last two men,” said a man who looked like he had been to hell and back.   “Shit, if I hadn’t been screwing around this wouldn’t have happened,” I thought to myself.  I slipped past the cop who was guarding the entrance and started down the mine myself.  I grabbed one of the hats with a light that had been left behind by a panicked miner. 
I berated myself as I walked toward the explosion.  I should have been there when he got up – I should have been with him period.   Why did I let my guard down?   Goddammit – a piece of ass was not worth the feeling of doom that was hitting the pit of my stomach.  My light caught a man pulling another man up from the edge of the mine.   It was Bucky Brooks – that little piss-ant was actually redeeming himself.   “This mine is about to cave in – getting the fuck out of here!”  he yelled as the second man climbed out.  The rescued miner put the other man over his shoulder and ran towards the shift of light which was his ticket to safety.  
Keith started to come up the edge and put his hand out for Bucky to grab.  “Hey Keith-sorry man –but right now – I’m a hero.  I’ve helped save those last two guys but the mine looks like the shaft is about to give way-" he said looking around but not looking as scared as a man who might also be caught in a cave-in might be.  “You see I’ve been around these caves all my life – with my Grandpa.  You don’t remember him but when he died –I stopped coming out here but never forgot all the lessons he taught me about explosives, cave-ins, how you might be able to make things look like an accident –“  I hurried to the end of the shaft to get to Keith.  “I know you’ve felt very lucky to have Gloria by your side but it looks like your luck has just run out my friend-" he said as he let go of the safety line.  My hand tried to catch it before it slipped away but I was too late.  The last thing I saw was Keith’s terrified face fall back into the dark abyss.  I tried to jump in and save him – his unbelieving screams were echoing in the cave and stinging in my ears.   He hit bottom with a thud while I was just a second away from breaking his fall. 
Then at once I saw Lily.  “What are you doing here?” I asked and ran over to Keith – hoping he was still alive.  “Can you help him – please?!” Lily smiled and opened what looked like a dark steel gate. From there – countless spirits and demons jumped out flying past me making some unholy screeching as they went by.  I tried to catch them and put them back but there were too many.  I saw Keith’s soul pull out of his lifeless body and for the first time he was able to see me face-to-face.  “Keith- I’m so sorry – this was not supposed to happen – you’re a good man –" I started and saw him look sad and shocked.  I had forgotten myself and he paid the ultimate price.   At least he would be going to heaven – that was my only consolation.  “But Gloria – she’s –we were getting married -"  he stopped speaking because the shock was too great.
A white light started to surround him.  Ghosts and demons were pouring out of the gate.  I shoved Lily aside and closed the door and the parade of entities came to an instant halt.  But the ones that had just gotten free were gone in an instant.   

Lily stood by the dark door trying to open it again but I made sure it wouldn’t budge.   “You did this – you tricked me- you bitch" I said and all the lusty passion I had felt before turned to rage.  “You’re right sugar – by the way the name is Lilith - don’t let the door hit you on the way out –" she said as she faded out.   The white doorway to heaven she was referring to closed once it sensed my anger.  Thanks to me not only was Keith dead but his chance for everlasting peace had just closed to protect heaven from the ungodly mess I had made of everything.   Above ground we could hear the sounds of more rescuers and the voice of Bucky saying he had tried to save Keith, but the rope gave way and he fell back.  There was a scream from Gloria followed by sobs.   I looked at Keith and started to step back – I closed my eyes and when they opened I was back in G’s office.
“G – you have to believe me – I didn’t intend for any of this to happen – I want to make it right for Keith – for everyone –“ I begged trying to hold back my tears.   G took a long hard look at me before he started talking.  “No one ever intends for these things to happen.  But they do out of arrogance or carelessness and then the prayers start to roll in.  It’s amazing how devout someone can become when they are in dire straits – if only that devotion had been there before they got themselves into trouble.”   
“I understand you being angry at me – I get that – I let you down – but Keith – he was a good man,” I said hoping my pleas might change things.
“He was a good man – a very good man –" said G wistfully.  “Em – do you have any idea who that woman was – the woman you had sex with?”  His eyes looked deep into my soul and I could tell he didn’t like what he saw.  “Her real name is Lilith, have you heard that name before?”
“She was supposedly Adam’s first wife –” I replied and wondered why we were getting into a religious/philosophical discussion especially one that was outside of most biblical texts.   “As you know, the balance between us and them can be very tenuous – one small slip up and can move the scale in their favor and it can never ever be in their favor.  Lilith was sent to deliberately distract you so she could open one of the gates of hell to let those spirits out into the world.  It’s snagged the fabric of time.  Each of those spirits, ghosts and demons need to be sent back to the time and place that they came from,” G leaned in closer to me to make sure that I get the point- “Until that day arrives, you can never come back here and neither can Keith.” I was taken aback because Keith’s sentence seemed harsh - even vengeful.  “I understand me but why Keith?” I asked knowing that I was treading a very fine line between deference and blasphemy but dammit I was going to advocate for my charge.
“I’m not punishing Keith – I’m motivating you.   As long as you feel responsible for his afterlife – you are going to be motivated to make things right.  If I just fixed it with the snap of my fingers – you would never learn just how resourceful you are.   Sadly people stop praying because I don’t fix things easily for them as they would like and they lose faith.  They pray for answers and sometimes the answer is no.  The truth is they need to have faith in themselves to overcome their adversity – that’s what I’m asking you to do – fix your mistake and learn from it.” I knew he was right – he was God for God’s sake. 
“You will not be alone in your quest – that are those that actively seek out ghosts and spirits – ghost hunters.  Then there are those that are gifted with the ability to see and talk to them and work to send them back where they belong – these people are called mediums,” G-replied.  “They can help you along the way.”  

“This seems impossible,” I said feeling dejected.   “No an impossible task would be Hercules and the Augean stables," chuckled G.  "That story always cracks me up."  I glanced at G with a surprised look on my face.  "What?" he responded, "I can't read other people's stuff?  It's a good story."  

I felt lost and like I was being cast out into the dark.  "Look, you can do this.  I know you can and when you do - you will have earned both you and Keith a very high place here.   Now I'm not going to kid you - it might take years - maybe decades to get all the spirits that escaped back.  But you mustn't give up hope - I believe in you."

Somehow knowing that God had faith in me helped take some of the pain away, but I was still at a loss of how to fix things.   G showed me how to go forward and back in time so I could see who were the best group of people to work with but I was forbidden to interfere with the natural course of their lives - I could just offer guidance or protection from the entities we needed to send back but they needed to figure out how to do it themselves.  Human banishment of entities was a very powerful way of keeping them from inhibiting the earth plane so they would never come back.   I was able to see how Keith would do as a ghost - sometimes he was sweet and sometimes angry about the life he had lost.   For some reason he liked scaring a little boy who had swagger and would taunt ghosts but he was relatively harmless - that boy would eventually grow up to become a paranormal investigator.  

G put his arm around me.  "Think of yourself as the prodigal son - you sinned, you're about to learn what it's like to be on your own but at the end of the day when you've completed this task - you will be rejoiced and welcomed back to the kingdom of the Almighty.  Pretty cool - right?"  I turned and hugged him with all my might.  "I'm really am very sorry," I said as a tear ran down my cheek.  "I know you are - and I love you any way - I always will."  
And with that I took my place on earth - grounded until all the entities that Lilith had let out were back where they belonged.  I turned to Keith who was topside - "Hey we have a special mission from God that only you and I can accomplish - are you with me?"  Keith nodded sadly and shook my hand.  We started down a lonely road and a journey with a final destination that we knew was heaven but finding our way back was going to be hell.  

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