Death is less than impressed
Frank looked up from where he was seated. The waiting room had become an area for concerned fans to congregate, point and stare at Frank. He didn’t want to ignore our fans, but right now, his mind was elsewhere. Inside, he worried about his tone. If a fan spoke to him, would he sound abrupt? He was certain they would understand, but he didn’t want to leave it to chance. About to move to a, hopefully, quieter area, Frank had been cheered to be approached by a hospital security guard offering some respite from the fans. As guilty as he felt, he knew the fans would understand why.
Frank offered a weak smile to the gathered teenagers as the guard led him away to a private room where a doctor met him. The room was small, paint flaked from the walls and a few hastily installed chairs lined the wall. It looked like it hadn’t been in used as anything for years.
“Mister Iero, I’m Doctor Harman, please take a seat. I’m sorry about the room, but we thought you’d want a little more privacy. We’re having some furniture moved in later, a table, a couple of comfier chairs.”
Frank sat down, never allowing his eyes to look away from the doctor. Scanning his face for any clues that Mikey and I were well. It was likely that Frank neither noticed nor cared about the state of the room.
“How are they?” he finally asked having gleaned nothing from the doctor’s face.
The doctor nodded as he took a seat next to him.
“Mikey, he’s fine. He dislocated his knee. The pain made him pass out pretty much straight away. We’ve re-positioned the leg and given him anti-inflammatories and pain killers. He’ll be fine in a few days.”
“Gerard?” Frank asked his voice dropping to a soft whisper.
“He’s not been so lucky. He seems to be in a coma.”
“Seems?” Frank frowned. “That sounds a bit vague.”
The doctor nodded again. “It’s an unusually deep coma, it’s almost as if he isn’t there. His automatic functions; breathing, digestion and so on, they’re working fine, but at a reduced rate. His brain patterns are strikingly reduced.”
“B… but, he’s going to be okay, isn’t he?”
The doctor stared back at Frank for a few moments before continuing.
“He’s hooked up to a lot of machines, so when you see him, don’t be alarmed.”
“You didn’t answer me.”
“No,” he paused briefly. “The truth is, I can’t. The longer he remains like this, the less chance there is. You ought to know that although he can breathe, he’s not breathing sufficiently well to keep himself alive.”
“What… what does that mean?”
“He’s on a life support machine, Mister Iero. Without it, he won’t survive.”
Frank lowered his head as he took in the shocking news; it was far worse than he imagined. As he gathered his thoughts, he heard the doctor’s pager sound.
“Mister Iero, your friends are here. I’ll have security bring them here. I’m very sorry, we’re doing everything we can.”
“Can we see Mikey?” Frank asked looking up once more.
“He’s sedated at the moment and he doesn’t know about his brother. I’ll come for you when you can see Gerard, okay?”
Frank nodded. It was a tiny, vague movement, almost imperceptible. All the while all he could think about was that he was unhurt. He had just a few cuts and couldn’t help but wonder how could this have happened? Whirling in his mind were two deceptively simple questions. How could he face Bob and Ray with this news? And how would he tell Mikey? Staring at the floor, Frank knew those questions wouldn’t wait for long.
It had been a busy morning and I was already exhausted. I flopped down on a bench feeling grateful that I wasn’t hungry. I hadn’t been hungry since the accident; I put it down to being dead.
“Hey, honey!” a voice piped up behind me. “When are we going to the hereafter? I’m getting tired of all this walking around; I want to get my feet up on a nice comfy cloud!”
“Yeah, why are we all just hanging around?”
“What are we waiting for?”
“Enough to fill a bus by the look of it!”
“Are we waiting for a bus?”
I dropped my head into my hands. There were now over a dozen of them. The damn book kept vibrating and I was whisked away to collect the souls – they all seemed to get dragged along with me – and I’d end up with another one. And I still had no idea what to do with them! I didn’t want to yell at them; after all, they were dead, that was bad enough to deal with! Trust me, I knew exactly how they were feeling, and more besides! But I really needed a moment of peace to think.
Richard had told me that everything I needed to know was in the book; I was coming around to the idea that he had lied to me. Whenever I looked at the book, it was completely blank, except occasionally a name would appear when I needed to collect a soul.
“Hey! Sonny! What’s happening?” a gruff voice sounded behind me.
I mean, seriously, these were really annoying people and I was beginning to suspect they had all been murdered by their equally frustrated friends.
“Nothing!” I finally yelled. “I don’t know what to do with you… any of you! You’ll get to…” I paused, I didn’t want to suggest anywhere in particular, and then get inter-dimensionally sued in the next life for promising the wrong location! “You’ll all get to where you’re going. Just not yet!”
“He doesn’t know!”
“Are we stuck here?”
“Look, can’t you just shut up for a minute and let me…”
“Can I be of any assistance?”
I was interrupted by a question from behind me. The slow, deliberate voice was polite and strangely soothing yet at the same time it was deeply menacing. Everyone around me silenced instantly and totally. It was as blissful as it was intimidating.
Turning slowly, I saw two men behind me. They couldn’t have been more different if they tried. The taller of the two men towered over me. I couldn’t honestly describe him as broad, but I’d go as far as to say athletic. He had obviously taken care of himself and seemed both strong and lithe – later, I’d find out that I was right. The crisp cotton shirt, smartly pressed jet-black suit, perfect skin and neat long hair was in complete contrast to his companion. Dressed in scuffed black and grey bike leathers, the second man was lean to the point of malnourishment. Clean, but messy hair hung in disarray about his face. His pinched features were twisted into a grin that fell short of evil, but suggest a lot more than simple mischief.
“You can see me! Did Richard send you?”
The thin man snickered as if I’d said something ridiculous, but he received a nudge in the ribs for his reaction.
“In a manner of speaking,” the tall man replied in a non-committal fashion.
“Hey, honey!” Sharon, the first soul I collected, stepped forward, or to be exact, she elbowed her way to the front. “Who’s your friend? He’s a cutie!”
The man with the ponytail almost preened himself on hearing the words. He seemed to love the attention; it was clearly something he was used to receiving and he lapped it up with relish. But, I couldn’t help but notice that the way he reacted made it apparent that his ego really needed to hear it. My experience told me that living for praise and attention often goes one of two ways if, for any reason, the praise is withdrawn. This man didn’t strike me as Type A. Roughly speaking, Type A would become painfully shy, retiring, self-hating. No, this man would be angry, vindictive, and spiteful; most definitely a Type B. I had the strongest feeling that, sooner or later, every one of those nasty little traits would all be aimed in my direction.
“Hey! I asked you a question!” the woman shouted, a little too close for my liking.
“As did I,” the tall man said coldly.
“Rude, isn’t he?” the scruffy man added with a sneer.
“I’m not rude!” I snapped. “I’m just…”
I wanted to say overwhelmed, but I couldn’t be that honest. Why? I’m a guy. I’m a dick. I’m a stupid fucker! I couldn’t say the one word that would have got me out of this mess! But of course, with the benefit of that much hindsight, I’d have been on the lookout for drunken drivers! No, instead, I said…
“I’m just doing this job because the guy who’s supposed to be doing it has better things to do!”
Are you cringing? Yeah, me too! Of course, I meant Richard. But if I’d known I was talking to Death, I’d have been a little choosier with my words.
“Really?” the man asked stifling a laugh before turning to his companion. “You dragged me out of Sergei’s bar for this?”
Now, if I’d been actually paying attention by this point, I would have noticed that the dozen or so souls that had traipsed along behind me all day had suddenly disappeared; waved on onto the life beyond by a motion so slight and imperceptible that I hadn’t even noticed. So, here I am, kinda dead, talking with two of the Underworld’s most dangerous beings and I’m utterly oblivious to the fact.