Chapter 2 of 21. If you haven’t read the earlier chapter, please read it first. You can find it here: The Willow, a serialized novel.
Marcus felt himself lifting out of his body.
The confusion that had overpowered his mind for years was over. He was finally back, in the present moment, and he knew what was happening. He was dying.
He could feel himself rising up – just consciousness, awareness, now free of the body it had been holding on to. He understood that he was leaving the world behind.
As he lifted up, he was unsure of what he was supposed to do. He didn’t know if he should be scared, but he wasn’t scared so much as unused to the feeling of helplessness that overcame him. He understood that he was indeed going somewhere. There was a recognition within him, that this was a process he had gone through before. He wanted to breathe, to freak out, to call for help, but without hands to even flail around, he was forced to just witness his own movement through space. With nothing to hold on to as a coping mechanism, he settled in on just feeling lost – knowing that he would be found eventually.
Elizabeth went home with her father. Her father lived in Seattle, and her mother in San Francisco. Marcus and Elizabeth had come to Seattle to visit three years ago, but never left. They had made it to her father’s apartment and were playfully arguing out on the street. He was not ready to go in. He didn’t really like her father.
“Russell is a surly old bastard, babe. Let’s just stay out here for awhile.”
“He’s old. He’s supposed to be surly.”
“My dad was never surly.”
“Your dad was a dirty old man that never stopped looking at my ass!”
“Dirty yes, but not surly.”
Elizabeth smiled. After twenty-three years of marriage, there wasn’t much they hadn’t already discussed. But the love they had for each other remained fresh. There was never any doubt that they belonged together – that they belonged to each other.
Prolonging the moment, they simply stood there, him in the street, her on the sidewalk, gazing into each other’s eyes. Elizabeth was trying to think of something funny to say, to get him to come inside, when a van came speeding around the corner, followed closely by a police car.
Elizabeth relived the moment daily. It always seemed to happen in slow motion. She could still see his face. Marcus understood what was happening from her expression. Her face showed terror, and his face showed the concern that he had for her. And now, she had let him go. The one who had been her constant support for twenty-three years, after another three years in a coma, she had finally said good-bye to. She would now have to figure out how to navigate a life alone.
“Now you guys just sit there at that table while I set up the tent.”
Brett yanked Daisy’s arm, “come on Gags.”
“I wanna go down to the water,” said Daisy.
“There’s no water here,” said Brett as he ripped open the cooler and pulled out a plastic bottle of orange juice.
“Yeah, there is,” said Daisy, “just past those bushes and down a little hill, there is a lake. The water is cold, but beautiful – pure blue.
“How did you know that Daisy,” asked Martha turning back from her pile of tent materials with a shocked look.
“I’ve been here before.”
“No,” said Martha, in slight disbelief of her daughter’s confidence. “No, you’ve never even been outside of Seattle before.”
“But, I remember this place. There’s a lake down the hill, and some mountains across the lake. And there is a shop and a restaurant that way,” Daisy said as she motioned through the forest on her left. “And, we can go hiking over there.”
“Shut it, Gags,” said Brett. “Everyone knows Mt. Rainier is right over there.”
Daisy shrugged her shoulders as Martha stared. How could she know this place? Daisy had correctly mapped out the campsite.
“When did you come here,” asked Martha, knowing that they had never spent a day apart since her birth.
“I dunno. Sometime before.”
As if swimming, Marcus tried to slow his movement by grabbing on to the space around him, not caring that he hadn’t any hands to grab with and nothing to hold on to. It was just him, whatever he was, moving through nothingness. He had no control.
In the silence, a distant noise started moving towards him. What is that? A whistle? A beat? It’s music. As if it were in some kind of traveling sound bubble, the music was getting closer.
“Express yourself, come on and do it, express yourself, come on and do it…” it was NWA. What? He hadn’t heard that song since he was a child. It got louder, “Now, gettin’ back to the PG, that’s program, and it’s easy. Dre is back. Newjacks, I mean hollow, expressin’ ain’t their subject, because they like to follow.”
Marcus was confused. Where is this coming from? What does this mean? Am I viewing my life? Am I just holding on to the memories? The music got so loud that it was deafening, indecipherable.
As the questions persisted, the thought of coffee rushed into his mind, and the music vanished. Why am I thinking about coffee? Will I never drink another cup? I need to concentrate. Where am I going? Am I going to God? Will I simply float through time? No, I am going… home?
As James riffed on an old Metallica number, Seek and Destroy, making it sound like a jazz classic with his sax, he saw an awkward boy coming up the street. You couldn’t miss the kid, because of his reddish-brown afro. You didn’t see too many afros anymore. To pull off that look, you had to be confident, but this kid walked with his head down, shoulders uneven, and his neck pushed forward like a bird. The last thing you thought of when seeing him was confidence. But there was something sweet about his face. His cheeks were a little chubby even though he was skinny as a rail. His blue jeans were rolled up just high enough to meet his white sneakers. His black t-shirt read Slayer. Is this kid a rocker? James thought.
Nicholas would have walked right past James, but he noticed what James was playing. Metallica!
James and Nicholas’ eyes met and a wide smile spread over both their faces. James shook his shoulders from side to side trying to make the boy laugh. Nicholas had big brown eyes and light brown skin. His lips were red, and after a few seconds he let three words escape them, “that’s my jam.”
Nicholas started bobbing his head to the beat and from his back pocket, pulled out his drumsticks.
“What?” James exclaimed, exaggerating the length of his neck and turning his head to give a sideways glance.
“Keep it going, keep playing,” said Nicholas.
James fell back into his groove and Nicholas moved to the public mailbox next to him. Bouncing his head Nicholas started to beat box. James wanted to laugh, but held it together. When Nicholas was fully in the flow he let his sticks touch the mailbox, and magic ensued. With Nicholas’ hip-hop beat over James’ jazz styling, Seek and Destroy was suddenly a pop classic.
James was amazed at how this awkward kid had transformed into a showman, beating the mailbox like it was an entire drum set. Suddenly James’ corner was the place to be as all of the passers-by stopped what they were doing and pulled out their cell phones to immortalize the event.
“Searching! Seek and destroy!” yelled out Nicholas during the chorus. “Searching! Seek and destroy!”
The crowd clapped and laughed. They couldn’t get enough.
After the song was over, the crowd threw their money into James’ open saxophone case.
“That’s your money kid,” he said to Nicholas.
“Nah, I play for the love of the game,” Nicholas laughed.
“What’s your name?”
“Nicholas, but you can call me Nick if you want.”
“No, no, you are definitely an old-soul Mr. Nicholas. I don’t want to shorten the brilliance. I’m James, by the way.”
James reached out and shook Nicholas’ hand, in the old-fashioned, traditional way.
Back to being the awkward kid, Nicholas giggled and looked around wondering, what’s next?
The thought of Elizabeth passed through Marcus’ awareness, but he couldn’t hold on to it. Thoughts were coming and going like waves on the beach, overpowering him and floating away. He would reach for them, he would try to melt into them, but he had no control, they were just images or impressions flowing in and out of his awareness. Marcus felt he had to hold on to something, or he would just disappear into nothingness.
The form of Elizabeth kept coming back to him with different events from his past, so he just kept repeating her name. She was quickly becoming an idea, like a dream he had, fading away, but he was not ready to let that happen. Even if nothing else were real, she had to be. His love for her was the only thing that he was not willing to let go of.
Elizabeth. He tried to call out, but voiceless, he was left with just an impression of her on his consciousness. Elizabeth, I need you. He tried to remember how it felt to have her name on his tongue. He tried to imagine the caress of her hand against his skin. He tried to see her sitting across from him at the breakfast table as they ate in silence. He tried to remember the sound of his name coming out of her mouth. It was as if he was trying to bring a dream into real life. He was trying to add a physical dimension to the nothingness he was fading into.
Sam’s gate was slow as he walked the streets. There was nowhere for him to be, but the act of walking pacified him. He had to get out of the house. When he let the sun hit him, and he smelled the fresh air, it made him feel like he was part of the community again. Even if he didn’t actually talk to anybody, it was enough if he shared a smile, or a head nod. He always tried to engage people, but usually they couldn’t see past his badge. This was Sunday however, and his badge was tucked away in his pocket – he was just another guy, a civilian.
He always walked the same route. There was a coffee shop on Second Avenue that he would go to, so hitting Jackson Street, he turned down towards the International District. In his day they called it Chinatown, and many still called it that, but Seattle was changing, growing, and the name had to be adjusted to meet the times. There was now a trolley system that reached Capital Hill, and underground bus routes and monorails that got you all over the city in minutes. All of Seattle had actually become an International District, but this was the heart of it all. Wedged right between the sports stadiums, the market place, and the business center, this was where the history was.
Although he’d walked the route for years, when he hit 5th Avenue, a wave of emotion flowed through him. He didn’t understand it, but he felt a tug turning him to his left. I’m sure there’s coffee this way as well, he thought.
As he walked down 5th Avenue, he heard the familiar sound of hip-hop blaring and children laughing. He knew there was a recreational center up ahead. He had been called there a couple of times to break up fights. There was even a drive by shooting there once. No criminals were shot, but a couple of kids were killed.
As he reached the center, he looked over at the gated park to watch the children playing. There was one girl sitting noticeably alone, her face turned towards the corner of a wall that her bench was snuggled into. When he saw the girl, Sam’s heart dropped. He knew her. He didn’t know how he knew her, but she meant something to him. It was as if he was seeing his own kid sitting there dejected. He couldn’t help but find out what the problem was.
He could see that the girl’s arms were scuffed up a bit, like she’d fallen on the concrete recently. Her t-shirt and jeans were a bit oversized. Sam figured they were probably hand-me-downs. Her stringy brown hair fell just below her shoulders and it appeared as if she was trying to hide behind it.
Sam knew that he had to talk to this girl, but he hesitated. He hated that he hesitated. It was because the girl was white and he was black. He didn’t know her history and how she would respond to a black stranger approaching her. Usually he had his badge out, and in these situations, he wouldn’t have given it a second thought. But without a visible badge, he sometimes saw it in their eyes. When a tall, well-built black man came walking down the path, people would suddenly have a reason to cross the street. Depending on her personal issue, she might not want to talk to a cop either. But it didn’t matter. He could feel that this girl needed him and he had to do what he could.
As he approached her, the girl looked up and straight at him. He was still a good ten feet away, but their eyes were locked. They both froze, and her mouth hung open in shock.
Shallow, heavy breaths woke Dave from his delirium. Get it together, he told himself. That was his way of coming off a high. He knew that he had to pull himself together quickly.
He turned to check the time. It was dark in the room, and the light of the clock spread out illegible in his condition. Get it. Get it. Get it together, now. His shallow breaths were suffocating him. Dave tried to stand up, but his feet were not to be found. He had slid off the couch in a stupor, and was crooked in between the base of the couch and the floor. He saw them – his feet were spread out in front of him.
Sarah! Dave cleared his throat, trying to gain the strength to speak. “Sarah,” he called out. Get it. Get it!
Dave picked himself up off the floor and staggered over to the clock. He put his head right against it, squinting to focus the digital blur. Three pm. He’d been out for two hours. Why is it so dark? Dave fumbled his way to the other side of his apartment and opened the curtain. The sunlight blinded him as it filled the room.
Sarah, I’m sorry, he thought as he looked for his jacket.
He knew that Sarah closed the curtains because she was scared that someone would look inside and see him in a compromising situation. He embarrassed her, but he knew that she loved him dearly. He was her father, and she had no choice in the matter. But he was even more embarrassed of himself than she was. This was the last time, Sarah, he thought, as he always did.
Robert looked at Beth, and Beth at Robert. This was what they did. Beth had a connection with Marcus, and although she never talked to him, it was clear that she liked him. Somehow, they worked together. Her body language with Marcus was very engaged. There was no such connection between Beth and Robert.
For years all they did was look at each other. Robert didn’t know why he felt it, because her face never showed any emotion, but he believed her to have an intense disdain for him. Robert was not the type to be bothered with people that didn’t like him, so they both just did their time together. If she didn’t want to talk to him, then they would just look at each other.
“I can play this game,” he had told her once. “I have a whole world of places in my head I can go to while I watch you ignoring me. So bring it on.” That hadn’t even gotten an eyebrow rise from her. Now, after three years, he was pretty settled with their routine. They had long since decided she wasn’t at risk of hurting herself, and no longer in need of the jacket. But she existed in a world all her own, and her parents were sure that this was the only place she could live without causing pain to everyone around her.
Robert eased back into his chair, as he got ready to go to his imaginary world, when out of nowhere, Beth lifted her chin and pulled her lips down at the corners, as if to imply a shared knowledge of something happening.
“Did you just communicate with me?” Robert asked, shocked.
Really, Robert? Get it together, Beth thought as she tilted her head to the side and gave an unimpressed grimace.
“Oh my God, you’re communicating with me!” Robert sat up in his chair. Something might actually happen today.
Marcus died, Beth thought towards Robert. Marcus died. Beth raised her hands as if offering an imaginary bowl of food and then let them fall away.
“They let Marcus go last night,” Robert said in sudden recognition.
Beth nodded sadly.
“You know?” Robert asked.
Beth continued to nod.
“How do you know?”
In the distance he saw her. Elizabeth? She was standing in the darkness holding the hand of a little blonde girl. Elizabeth? Marcus’ consciousness floated towards them, but as he got closer, Elizabeth disappeared and the blonde girl was alone, smiling at him in space.
He stared at her for a moment, waiting for her to also disappear, but she just continued to smile. She was the only solid thing in his awareness. Her eyes were a brilliant blue, so captivating that he wanted to turn away, but they were everywhere. The only thing that he could see was her – her and those blue eyes drinking his soul away.
“It is time,” she said.
She said it and Marcus new that it indeed was time. He was filled with a confidence that there was only one true thing in this world, and it was the words coming from this girl. A calm overcame him. He felt almost drunk in her presence, almost giddy. It seemed as if all of the anxiety he had moments earlier, had turned into bubbles of happiness rolling over his awareness. If he could cry, he would cry tears of joy, saturated as he was in a momentary feeling of ecstasy.
“Look at my hand and tell me the three numbers you see?” she said. Her voice was soft, and encouraging, yet forceful. He knew that her words were the only words that mattered. There was no struggle in him. The feeling of helplessness had also left, as he knew that she would take care of him.
The girl held her hand out towards Marcus and he looked it. Out of her soft, pink palm arose the numbers “33 17 24.”
As soon as the numbers appeared in his consciousness, his being took off, speeding back towards the earth. Though he was moving fast, in the blur, he could hear the girl’s voice say, “Be not afraid, for your eyes will see the King in His beauty.”
I’ll see you next Friday for chapter 3.
Featured image via http://www.drwallpaper.com