47 - Chicago
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO The lights sounded almost like popcorn, going one after another. First the smaller lights–a strand of Christmas lights here, a smaller lamb there–and then the main overhead light blew out, I squeezed my eyes shut and raised my hands to cover my face. My hope was that I could protect my fact and eyes from the worse of it.
Pop, pop. Poppoppop. The last of the lights in the room finally, plunging three of us into darkness.
I stood there in the sudden silence, not wanting to lower my hands, just in case. How did I know that they madness was over after all. There might have been more lights. Perhaps something else was about to short out. Without knowing what was going on in the first place, how was I to know what would be happening next.
“Well, isn’t this interesting.” The voice in the doorway was just on the far side of anything that I’d ever heard before, somehow cold and with a cadence not quite as you’d expect. “The fortune teller, the priest, and the fool, all here in one room.”
I opened my eyes, assuming that if whoever–or whatever–that was could stand her without worrying about more of the lights blowing up in their face then I could as well.
The only light that remained was the neon sign in the doorway, sending a now almost baleful seeming pink glow back into the room. Silhouetted in the glow was a shadow that at first I didn’t recognize. It was only when the form stepped forward, their face catching in the reflected light, that I thought I recognized them.
The boy who had come to confess his own suicide.
“Do you recognize me Father? Or are you still not sure?”
The form was almost surely Alex. I hadn’t had much time when he’d come to St. Michael’s, but the manner of his disappearance had been enough that I thought I’d remember that silhouette as long as I lived. Plus, he had a similar look to his brother. Definitely kin.
But that voice, that voice was definitely different. The boy that had come to me–had it really only been a matter of hours ago?–had sounded perfectly normal, albeit a bit sad. Or perhaps that was just my memory of his voice, knowing what his last words in the confessional would be. But still, his voice had been entirely normal. This voice… not so much.
“And you, dear Mrs. Claire, what ever would I do without you?” The figure stepped forward and seemed to skip across half the room in that single step. I blinked, sure that it was just a trick of the light–or perhaps the lack thereof. But no, he was a dozen feet from where he’d first been standing, right by Mrs. Claire’s chair now.
I couldn’t completely make her out in the darkness, but she appeared to be once again slumped in the chair. Her yelling had subsided with the lights and I have to admit that I’d lost track of her right about the same time. Now, she was just sitting there.
“Without you, none of this would have been possible.” If anything, the voice sounded more twisted now. There was a sense of appreciation there, the idea that this voice really was thankful that she had done… whatever it was that the voice thought she had done. But there was a darker undercurrent, an angry edge to the voice that sent chills running up and down my spine.
“And you, dear brother.” Another impossible step and the shadowy figure had completely the triangle between the three of us, coming to rest face to face with John Smith. “Did you miss me?”
“You’re not my brother,” John Smith said calmly and pulled the trigger on his gun.
There was a brilliant flash of light and a thunderclap of sound. I had time only to wonder how in the world the gun had gotten back into his hands. ago.”
48 - Baghdad
SEVERAL YEARS AGO “That’s… not possible.” I felt the words slip involuntarily out of my mouth. Private Jackson was dead. He’d died in my arms little more than two weeks past. I’d seen his body prepared to be shipped home. Yet, here he was, appearing altogether alive and none the worse for wear.
We all stood there staring, myself and the other three men in the room at the apparently-not-so-late Private Jackson, the aforementioned Private back in at once. Not a single person moved for a second, two.
And then the overhead lights exploded, each giving its all in one final spasm of brightness before popping with a dull electrical buzz, one after another; each raining glass down on our heads, one after another, finally plunging the room into darkness.
It wasn’t complete darkness. There was still enough light coming in around the curtains and through the crack under the door so that I could at least see vague shapes standing almost perfectly still throughout the room.
Another shape on the table next to mine.
It took me a moment to realize how particularly strange that darkness was. There was nothing particularly sinister about the darkness itself, no weight or thickness that darkness will tend to take on. But still, there was something off about it.
When I realized what it was a moment later, my heart skipped a beat.
A moment before, the impossible form of Private Jackson had been standing silhouetted in the door way, the harsh glare of the Iraqi sun spilling in through the doorway. Right as the last light had blown out, I remembered seeing him, still standing there.
But one skipped heartbeat later and the door was shut. Private Jackson was gone.
“Hello?” I heard someone calling out. It might have been me. “Is everyone all right?”
Another voice answered, from across the room. Who’d been standing over that way? One of the assistants? “I’m fine. What happened?”
I heard movement over by the doorway. A voice came back–the other assistant?–“I’m fine too. Let’s get some light back in here.” His voice was wavering. Ever so slightly, but it was there.
“Do it.” The medic’s voice. Outwardly calm and in command. His officer’s training seemed to be doing him some good.
There was the sound of several more careful footsteps and the younger man that had spoken first reached the door. He threw it open, letting in the harsh glare once again.
It was the second assistant. And the first was over right where I’d heard him across the room. The medic stood near me, midway between my table and Amira’s. Amira lay on her table, either still unconscious or asleep. She’d missed the entire situation.
There were small piles of glass right under each light fixture, each a near perfect circle other than a few pieces having bounced off a bit further.
But nowhere was there a sign of Private Jackson.
“Where did Jackson go?” I asked, half to myself.
Instead though, the medic’s head snapped around, a look both of surprise and a touch of worry on his face. “Jackson?” He covered the few steps to my table, looking closely at me. “Jackson is dead padre. He died two weeks ago.”