Then he turned and disappeared into the tangle of people walking down the sidewalk in front of my insurance office building. I lost sight of him as soon as he entered the fold of the mass of people, and I felt that Dee was one of those guys that could avoid being seen if that was what he wished. Maybe it was more of the magic that he had that we simply didn’t talk about, the assumption being that, of course, an Angel of Death would have powers to help him in his charge. I don’t know.
I didn’t know what to think about anything any more after what I’d witnessed today. You’d think all the bizarreness of the day would have made something as simple as choosing dinner a less Herculean task, but after my drive home, thirty-five minutes later, I found myself standing in front of my refrigerator and not sure if I’d ever feel comfortable eating again. When I looked at the lunch meat turkey in my crisper, I saw the silver chord of the Pastor’s dangling over the open mouth of Dee. When I looked at the leftover rice I’d made the other night in its Tupperware container, I saw the tongue of Dee reaching forward to take the morsel of the man’s life in his mouth. Even as I looked to the half-empty container of orange juice, I couldn’t put the image of Dee’s teeth crunching around the metal, and the bolus of the thing he’d eaten move weightily down his throat. I didn’t even have to remember the maggots piled in the drawer this morning to lose my appetite.
It was hard to believe that this had all happened only since this morning. It was hard to believe that even as I fought nausea, I was still hungry, and in need of some kind of sustenance. I rifled through the crisper and found a singular slice of processed cheese, wrapped in its own plastic sheath of protection against the elements. I brought it to the kitchen counter, removed a slice of bread from the loaf that had been resting there, and stuck the cheese inside. I opened wide, ignoring the way my teeth and tongue and strings of saliva must look to the cheese slice and bread. Fuck it. Cheese as about as non-harmful to living things as I was going to get tonight. I ripped into the cheese sandwich with my hunger (and my incisors) and soon it was gone. Poof. Magic. Now you see the cheese sandwich, and now you don’t. Maybe that’s all Dee’s tricks were…rationally explained simple conversion of matter from one form to another.
Yeah. I would try to go with that. Even when I knew that if the Pastor we had visited today was converted from living matter to non-living matter with a simple snap of his golden necklace, well then I still had no idea where the hell the man’s vitality; his bright eyes as he poured over the church taxes, his wheeze of breath as he fought to keep his life, all the things that made him a living man…I had no idea where they had gone other than Dee’s bowels. Would the Pastor be shat out later onto some other plane of existence as Dee had referenced or was he just gone? A culmination of things that had worked so hard to become a being, to do all the things that beings love doing (including eating and shitting), and the struggle to continue to be a being in such adverse conditions…was it all over when the grim reaper showed up and ate you up like a long linguine noodle?
With one major need satisfied, my stomach feeling slightly less mutinous at the addition of actual nutrition besides that of coffee and sugared bread, another need was pushing itself upon me. My eyes felt heavy, and my limbs felt a dull ache as though I was coming down with a cold of some kind. I half stumbled to the bedroom, flinging myself upon the bed. I wondered if I would need sleep at all after a couple hundred of years. Routine was nice though, and sleep provided this break…or rather it always had in the past. Now, perhaps it would be filled with more horrors that the daylight hours simply couldn’t contain on their own. I wondered if it was worth reaching for the pill to keep the nightmares away from me, especially since Dee said the pills weren’t the ones keeping the night terrors away. I wondered if it was worth getting back up to brush my teeth. Tooth decay hardly seemed to matter in comparison with the rest of it all.
Whatever. I was too tired to fight any of it. So I would get eight hours of “planning time” to see what was in store for me the next day. I’d see a bunch of people die in a bunch of different ways. I’d done all this for as long as time had practically been ticking. I could handle whatever I saw, right? How bad could nightmares be anyway?
The answer is: very bad. The things I saw when I closed my eyes and drifted into an unconscious state were bad enough, but then there was the feeling of being invaded that these things I saw pressed into my brain. I had always felt very in control of my thoughts, but these images were swirling and hurling themselves at me with such violence that I felt a helpless sense of violation. The main difference between normal nightmares and these night terrors I was forced to endure was that there was no waking myself up from the realness of the images when they became too overwhelming for my brain. I was forced to sit and watch the show that was playing in my head like Alex from A Clockwork Orange with the pliers on his eyelids and the screen streaming the horrorshow.
First, there was color to the dreams, which there had never been before. And at the beginning of the night, that’s all there was, just a swirl of color, circling itself in a pinwheel of a swirling rainbow. It only it had stayed that way. But no, the colors began to diverge and splay themselves into pictures, drifting in a purposeful way to make up a bit of the color of the sky or the blush of the cheek of a young girl or the handkerchief in a businessman’s breast pocket. Just as the colors stopped swimming, the pictures themselves began to merry go round themselves around and around me.
I could not feel nauseated, or terrified, only curious, because I knew that the pictures were going to show me something, and I knew it was important to pay attention. I felt fortunate that there wasn’t much blood as the pictures clicked to life and began to move about within the spin of the merry go round atmosphere.
I floated outside the glass of it all. A young girl, Asian and with a very long swath of midnight hair washing down her back like a faucet stream, watched me with curious eyes as the car she rode in came closer and closer to the end of an 18 wheeler, stalled in the center lane of the freeway. The businessman fiddled with the yellow handkerchief in his pocket as he jiggled his keys in the door of his apartment, and my eyes followed along with his as the door was opened, he entered and then felt the seer of heat and pain that accompanied the bullet released from a smoking barrel. The gunman jumped lightly over his fallen body and into the hallway of the apartment complex, and then into the darkness of the world where the colors were not. The sky turned from a blue to grey as an old woman watched the clouds move, closed her eyes lightly, and forgot how to breathe.
It was terrible. It hurt to watch these moments, and the many, many more that followed it during the seemingly endless eight-hour planning period. I didn’t know if this was the work we’d be doing for a day, a month, a year. It seemed like too much death to bear at any rate. If Dee ate all these people’s chords, surely he would lose that slim figure he sported. Maybe the souls didn’t have many calories. What a thing to ponder, I thought to myself as I watched another life expire in simple home repair gone terribly awry.
I didn’t numb myself to the watching of all this death in those hours, but I came to make a certain peace with it. It felt awful the whole time. But also I felt like the people could see me as they took their last look upon the living, and they accepted what was happening as the only thing that could happen, no other present available than the present that presented itself. The last thing I saw that night was the clear, large lime colored eyes of baby, blinking against the strong lights of the hospital, its lungs all poised and ready to scream, but the air somehow not there and lost for too long.
With a little choked sob of my own, I opened my eyes, wiping my wet cheeks, and rolling over miserably. I felt well rested, and I hated everything, and I knew I had no other choice but to get up and meet the boss for coffee. And to think, I had thought my job at the insurance agency was as bad as it could ever get for job satisfaction.