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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