Prompt: Forbidden Places I Word count: 1800 words I Genre: Fantasy
I lie back on the vinyl chaise lounge on the white sand beach with the blinding hot sun above me. The waves are crashing angrily against the rocks of the jetty a little further around the bend. I’ve got a straw hat covering my face but it still feels like its burning through the small holes in it.
The air is still. The sky is so bright, that I can’t see the sun. No one else is on the beach.
The hotel is far away and I’m not sure what time my friend will pick me up.
An older lady wearing a bright orange and yellow wrap and a floppy pink hat shuffles over with a rusty, bent lawn chair. Her tangled long white hair is pinned randomly with various plastic clips. Her face is ridden with deep grooves and is ruddy from too much sun on a very pale face. She’s carrying several old plastic shopping bags, torn magazines, a tote bag, and a huge canvas pocketbook with faded LOVE and Peace-signs, which quite incongruously, has a key chain dangling at the side of a large plastic skull with illuminated red eyes.
“Do you mind if I sit here?” She asks in a raspy voice that sounds like a fork scraping across metal.
My heart sinks. Clearly, she is a chatter and I am not in the mood. I’ve got a lot of pesky questions to sort out in my own mind.
“Are you busy?” She asks with a sarcastic smile.
I curse my instinctually polite reply, “No, no. Of course, please sit down.” I turn away from her and feign a yawn so she’ll know my conversational portal is closed. My mind has begun racing and I feel as if the rest of me can barely catch up. I close my eyes and focus my thoughts down the long dark hall that they are pulling me towards.
The devastating diagnosis.
The doctor’s carefully parsed explanation.
The hushed tones of the staff.
The funeral had already begun but I was still here. My family’s anguished expressions which they veiled poorly have cut me to the quick. Was it better to distract me and stay upbeat? Or should they start their honest goodbyes? None of us knew what the answer was. It was like resigning yourself to the annoying visitor who was probably going to move in against your wishes.
The pain had become so intense sometimes that I didn’t think I would make it through to the other side. But here I am. Alone in the glaring light.
My flowered neighbor’s voice cuts through the air, reprimanding me. “So, what are you thinking about?”
“Just trying to nap.”
“No, really, I want to know.”
I turn back to dismiss her. She’s taken off her hat, combed out her hair and is smearing sun block on her wrinkled, loose skin hanging from her arms. Her face has a fiery glow and her eyes are blazing.
“I’m not the enemy, you know.” Her voice is determined. “There are those who welcome me with open arms. Some people honor me as a deliverance.”
I open my mouth in protest. She beckons me with a crooked finger. I fight the urge to get up.
“I’m here if you want to go with me now.” She smiles. She reaches into her black and white striped, dingy, frayed tote bag and pulls out her cell phone.
“I don’t understand. Why would I go anywhere with you?” I’m drawn to her face. I can’t look away.
“When you’re ready, you’ll know.” She has the same hushed tone I’ve been hearing for the past few months. “You know who I am.”
I take a deep breath and stare at her. My mind is instantly cleared and I feel calm. My breathing goes in and out with the waves. “Why have you come out here? What do you want?” I ask her angrily. I don’t need to be polite anymore.
“I want you to be my friend.” She smiles sadly.
“You’re Death. That doesn’t make sense.” I shake my head and close my eyes.
The spell ends.
I feel a loud pounding in my ears and my heart is thumping wildly. I place my hand gently over my chest. “I think that today is not the day. You can leave. I’ll be fine out here. I’m just waiting for the operation to end. Then I’ll go back to my body. I’ve been hanging out here, deciding what I feel like doing.” I announce. I’m a little shaky but I stand my ground.
The old lady sits back and runs her stubby, shrunken toes through the sand. She starts playing with the cell phone screen. “It’s not really up to you. But if we get along, you’ll be happier.”
“Not now. I have so much left to do, to feel, to see, to say.“ I thought that I would have been pleading but actually my voice is commanding. “Tell me about yourself. Why are you dressed that way?”
The old lady is smiling to herself as she studies the screen on her phone. “You know, I get calls sometimes. And I’ve got some great video games on it. Do you want to play one?”
I refuse to answer.
After a pause, she looks up at me with her determined stare, but I’m ready. I put on my shades, which keeps her from fixing me on her face. “You control my appearance. It’s rare that I get to wear this dress. You’ve got a good sense of humor.” She puts down her phone and stretches her arms over her head. “What’s holding you back? Come hang out with me!”
“I love my family. My husband is one of the kindest men I’ve ever met. My kids are so beautiful. I have so much left to do. The trips I haven’t taken. The fancy desserts I never made. The coupons I’ve clipped and never used because-“
The old lady leans forward toward the ocean and puts her hand up over her eyes to shade them from the intense light that has now got a hot summer haze. A blackbird flies overhead and starts cawing.
She turns back toward me. “Even coupons have expiration dates.” Her shoulders bounce up and down as she laughs silently at her own joke.
“I want more holiday celebrations. More conversations with my daughter. The chance to see my kids come into their own. Do you think I’m being greedy?” I feel a tightening in my chest but I fight to keep the desperation out of my voice.
The old lady opens her mouth and lets out a big yawn. “That’s not for me to say.”
“Why do you do this to people? I’m in the middle years of my life. Does this bring you pleasure?” I am not angry, just curious.
“It’s my job. It’s part of the cycle. It sucks to have a job that makes everyone hate you. Even more than taxes.” She chuckles in delight. She takes out two bottles and then offers me one.
I think back to the Greek myth of Persephone eating the pomegranate seeds in hell which limited her time on earth. I recoil.
“Calm down,” She admonishes. “Sometimes a bottle of water is just that. Get over yourself. Wait, I guess that’s my job.” She laughs again.
“You’re not funny. Mostly, you’re cruel.”
“Keep telling yourself that, sister. We both know you’re wrong. I enjoy getting to know the people that I…transport.” She unwraps a foil-covered sandwich that she’s pulled out from her bag.
“You’ve got to tell me. What kind of sandwich would YOU eat?” I peer closely and lean forward.
“Black Forest Ham. On a Hero.” She cackles and slaps her thigh. “Want some?” She tears off a piece.
This must have a terrible consequence. I smile politely. “Yeah, I’ll pass. As in Pass over.” I look over at her but she has no reaction.
“OUCH!” She yells and looks up. The sky has darkened suddenly and we see electrical sparks in the air around us. “I hate those shocks. Last week, I got singed right here!” She shows me a burn mark on her left buttock. “Still smarts.” She rubs her scar.
The air fills with murmuring sounds of disconnected voices all around us. The waves recede and don’t return. I stand up and accidentally knock over the old lady’s lawn chair. As she lies in a heap on the ground, her demeanor changes. She’s snarling like a wild animal and I get a glimpse of pointy teeth.
“Help me up!” she demands.
I stand up and automatically start to reach out. Then I wonder whether this could be a trick and stop myself.
“Will you help me or not?” She screeches as I turn my back to her and walk toward where the waves were.
“Come Back! You’re going the wrong way. No cheating!”
I turn and look back at her. She looks so pathetic. She’s dragging her left side along the sand while trying to steady the cracked rusty chair. She is not going to regain her balance.
The waves are gone and the ocean floor is clear. The voices get louder as I walk away from the old lady. Is that my daughter’s strained voice I hear? Do I hear the beeping of monitors, my husband crooning my favorite lullaby, my grandson’s sweet voice with every step I move away?
I look over my shoulder and once again, I see her lying in a heap. She’s not trying to get up anymore. Her shoulders are slumped over. But as I stare at her, I get a nagging sense that she hasn’t given up. No, she’s waiting. Why?
I slowly turn around and the sounds of my parents fill the air. My parents both died many years ago. Why do I hear them now?
I take a deep breath and run towards the old lady. I groan as I pull up her rickety, cracked lawn chair because it’s heavier than it looks. Then I lean down and carefully help her back into her seat. She smiles at me.
“You decided to be my friend. It’s going to be easier for you now.” She gives me a beaming smile and I feel a wonderful light flow through my chest and into my head. I feel calm and at peace.
All around me is white. White sheets, white walls and white towels.
I look over to my right. Through the bed rail, I see my daughter who is standing by the side of my bed. Holding my hand and smiling as I open my eyes.
“We love you, mom. I’m so glad you’re still here with us.”
I pat her hand softly.
“There’s no place I’d rather be.”
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