There are moments in my life that I try to recall, even now, to keep myself sane. When I got married the first time when I got divorced from the man I thought would be my best friend forever when I met my soulmate and the birth of my daughter.
Clara was what I was thinking about right now. Bryan was sitting across from me in my hospital room. Bryan, from my reality, had died. Through some fantastic opportunity, I was able to share space with him once again.
Suddenly, I wanted to go home. I did not like being in this simulation anymore. I couldn’t figure out how to get out. This was nothing like before.
“The doctor says you can leave by the end of today as long as you eat something.” The nurse was saying.
I politely nodded. I needed to be alone.
“Is there someone I can call to let them know you’re alright?”
I looked at Bryan and sighed. If this version of Bryan only knew he would have been that person.
I thought of Tom, maybe I could call him. Could it work?
“If it’s okay, I’d like a moment alone.” I had to figure out if I could get out of this.
The last time I was in the simulator, there was a bracelet wrapped around my wrist. When my allotted time was up, it vibrated, sending mild electric shocks to my brain to tell it to wake up.
I hadn’t felt anything like that during this simulation. I didn’t recall Tom placing anything on my wrist as he had done the last time.
I wondered if I could dial Tom using the phone. It had to be worth a shot, right? In my worst-case scenario, Tom wouldn’t exist. I hoped he would, though.
I picked up the phone next to my bed and dialed Tom’s number. I always made it a point to remember anyone’s number that was immediate family.
I heard the phone ringing, and it rang again. I waited to hold my breath. Then I heard a voice that sounded very far away.
“How are you doing this?” It was Tom’s voice.
“Tom, I’m stuck! I can’t get out of here!”
“You have to come back now!” He was screaming.
“Please stop this!” He was saying through the static.
More Static. Then nothing.
The number went dead, leaving panic in its place. I got out of my bed this time, wondering if I killed myself by jumping out of the window if my simulated death would wake up my body.
I felt something crawling up my spine. My skin began to crawl.
I felt hands on my shoulders. It felt reassuring as I turned to see if it were Bryan. A black foggy aura was there in his place instead. I could almost see the body, and an outline was of a man. He had a suit jacket on, but I couldn’t make out any more detail than the shape. His hands were almost claw-like.
GO AHEAD DO IT! A voice said in my ears. This time it wasn’t only a whisper, but it was in my head.
I felt a crushing blow of pure sadness come over me. It was the worst depression I had ever felt.
I began to cry as the light in the room seemed to be snuffed out. I fell to the floor, and as I looked up at my tormentor, I saw his empty sockets where his eyes should have been.
Death was standing over me, daring me to end my life. It got closer to me, holding out its hand. In despair, I took his hand.
As I did, I felt my breath disappear from my body.
Screaming in pain, I felt my chest crashing down on top of me. The oxygen in the room seemed to fade as I saw its eyes glow red with pleasure.
Yes! Make the pain go away! It was vile and vulgar in the wanting. I craved my life – but I couldn’t live like this anymore.
The lights flickered in the hospital room. Bryan rushed back into the room and was now standing over me, helping me off the ground.
He held me as I cried. I cried so hard I thought I’d never stop.
“It’s okay. Don’t worry; I’m here now.” He held my face in his hands and then kissed me.
His lips were soft, gentle, and warm. I had forgotten until that moment what it felt like to be held by him.
“This is where you belong now to me.”
I forgot the pain I had felt only moments before. I began to forget everything from now on; this is where I wanted to be. Safe and cared for in Bryan’s arms.
I had decided I’d stay, and I no longer wanted to go back to my reality. There was nowhere I’d rather be.
Clara’s little honey-colored ringlets with a mind of their own and her chubby cheeks often red from something she had eaten.
My sweet little girl. I couldn’t forget her. Only as I thought this, I reasoned she was better off without me. I had been a shitty mother since Bryan had passed. I was a shell of the sweet, playful mommy I had been before my husband died.
I was better off dead. Bordering on the edge of reason, I tried to let go of Clara’s memory. My mother and Tom would take better care of her. I couldn’t even care for a dog in my current state. So here I would remain while I healed my grief and pain.
I bid Clara goodbye in my mind’s eye. I held onto Bryan, letting him wipe all the pain from my eyes. He tore out the pain and replaced it with hope.
I checked out of the hospital that afternoon, and we went home to his apartment, where we made love.
It was like riding a bike. Every move, I reciprocated in a soft swell of sweet embrace. Bryan’s mouth yearned for me and mine for his. He held me up in a delightful display of romantic bliss.
I fell asleep in his arms, and he woke me up with dessert.
“I made your banana cream pie.” He lamented
I sat up fully nude, forgetting myself as I ate it. The crust was a fluffy indulgence every bit as delicate as his homemade whipped cream. I satisfied every mouth-watering desire in one single bite. The memories that flowed out of me from each bite. They were old memories of us eating and laughing as I poked fun of his first gray hair in his reddish-brown beard. Simple silly things that never seemed important when he was alive, I now found so meaningful here.
I never wanted to go home, but this wasn’t my actual reality. I struggled to understand what had happened. Was I dreaming? Had I slipped into a coma? Part of me cared, and the other part of me did not.
Then it happened.
Some time had passed with me in this swooning reality with my lost lover, Bryan. I wasn’t sure how to leave, nor did I even want to. I made my decision to stay for as long as I was allowed. I figured that I might as well enjoy it because Tom wouldn’t let me stay here forever, would he? I assumed my brother would wake me in due time. Especially after that phone call. Was that even real? I gathered it must not be. I went about my days in this reality with no expectations. I was taking life as it came. I knew this could end.
I didn’t expect it to in the way that it did.
We were walking down the street, hand in hand. There was a car that suddenly swerved trying to avoid us; instead, it struck Bryan. I looked at him in complete disbelief as he was lying there on the cobblestone street. Blood was coming from his mouth. Bryan was dead again.
I ran to him seemingly in slow motion, unable to comprehend what had happened. How could this be? Bryan dying was only supposed to be in my reality in real-time, not in my simulation.
I screamed, crying as my body shook. The enormous pain I felt from him dying for the second time. My heart was broken.
That is when I saw the cloud of dark smoke appearing from nowhere. Again the mysterious figure appeared this time from the hollows of the cobblestone street.
“You have a choice! Make it!”
It held out its black claw-like hand. In my desperation, I took it.
“I will make the pain stop, my child.”
Within seconds I was waking up in the lab. I pulled off the goggles to the simulator. I sat up in a panic when Billy came through the door to the lab.
“What are you doing here?” He yelled.
“Tom said, I could.”
“No one is allowed to be in here! You have to go now.” Billy said, coming over and grabbing the goggles from my hand that still clutched them tightly.
“I’m sorry! Do you know where Tom is?” I asked.
“No, lady, get out of here before I call the cops!”
Billy was acting like I was someone he had never met. He must not have remembered me. It had been a few months since I met him. I ran out into the cold, snowy night.
I somehow found my car as the snow had stopped pouring. I turned on my car as Christmas tunes were blaring on the radio. I shut off the radio and picked up my cell phone. I wanted to call Tom, but I had no reception.
I made the two hour trip in quiet. I was thinking about how I was glad to be back in reality now. Even without Bryan, I was happy to have had one last moment with him, no matter how much the end was just as unexpectedly tragic. I figured it was my subconscious way of saying goodbye and accepting the fact that Bryan was dead.
I pulled into my driveway and noticed that the lights were all on. I heard cartoons blasting in the den. I walked through the door, wondering if I had accidentally left everything on in my hurry to leave.
“Mommy!” It was from Clara.
“Clara, what are you doing home?”
“Hey, babe!” Yelled a voice from the kitchen.
Bryan came in, drying his hands. Bryan, as in the man I knew. Not the younger version, the one that lacked any signs of gray hair. The husband I had buried was standing in front of me now. He was wearing his apron smiling, and I saw remnants of cookie dough and flour on his green apron. He had been baking with Clara.
“Sorry, I’m a bit messy.” He said, kissing my cheek. His beer belly and large arms held me for a moment. It was strange.
He looked at me for a long moment as if he realized he had been gone. Only he didn’t say anything. Bryan smiled at me and then returned to the kitchen.
“How was your little adventure?” He asked as he finally turned off the water.
“I’m sorry?” I asked
“You went on a little drive. Good thing it stopped snowing!”
“Yeah, it was cold.” I managed to say emotionless.
“We made cookies, as you can probably tell. Sorry, I cleaned up the mess, but I’m not sure you won’t find pieces of sugar cookie on the sofa.” He let out a hearty laugh.
I managed to smile, taking a deep breath, and sitting down. I needed to gather my thoughts.
I needed to talk to Tom.
“I need to call Tom,” I said to Bryan, standing up and pulling out my cell phone from my jacket.
“Who?” Bryan asked me.
“Tom, my brother.”
“Oh, honey. I was hoping you would have been able to get past this. I know you miss your brother, it’s been rough. He’s been gone nearly four months now. We can go to the cemetery tomorrow if you want.” Bryan
Did Tom die? Oh my god, I must still be stuck in the simulator. Tears of frustration fell from my face.
Bryan held me closer the way he had so many times. Clara was sitting on the floor, watching cartoons.
“I’ll take Clara to get ready for bed to let you have a moment alone. I know how hard it is, especially at Christmas.” He took Clara and walked away.
Tom is dead; this situation I found myself in was not real. Then I felt it behind me. The cloud of smoke blocked out the twinkling lights from the Christmas tree. That evil dark demon seemed to appear from nowhere.
“You made your choice!” It hissed
“I made no choice!”
“You took my hand sealing your fate, but your desire to bring your husband back from the dead was greater. A sacrifice had to be made.”
“No! Bring Tom back!”
“I cannot. Not without another sacrifice. Perhaps your beautiful daughter?”
“No, stay away from her!”
“Then it is settled!”
The smoke faded from view.
I heard Clara’s laughter, and my husband making funny voices at her. I looked at the television looking past it, not at it. I looked at the mantle and saw there was a photo of Tom and his obituary.
I looked at the obituary, and the date and cause of his death were the same as Bryan’s had been when he died. ‘LOST BATTLE WITH PANCREATIC CANCER…AUGUST 12,2019.’
What had I done? How could I have known?
My phone rang.
UNKNOWN NUMBER I answered it anyhow.
“GRACE!! Please help me! You have to help me!”
“Tom, How?” I asked in a panic.
There was more static as the phone disconnected from Tom. I had no idea how to help him. I wanted so badly to try.
But Bryan was here and so was Clara…