4. Making... Friends?
He sat down to mourn Davis and worry about Heltie. He didn’t need to, he knew that, but he wanted to. Davis’s hospital room walls had been full of pictures addressed ‘To Grandpa’, and there was evidence of adult kids spending time there in the form of paper coffee cups and take-out containers filling the counter by the door or left neatly stacked on the side of the table because the garbage was full. Heltie had been exhausted, but supported. She would continue being supported, Liam didn’t have to convinced himself because it was something he knew. On a whim, he clasped his hands together and smiled as he fit the feel of her hand inside the feel of Davis’s.
The shunk sounded and turned off the grey. Liam sat in the dark with his hands clasped and counted down from three hundred and fourteen.
“Hello?” a woman’s voice yelled from a long distance away as Liam passed twenty.
“Cover your eyes!” Liam yelled back, separating each word so the yell would be clear.
“What?” she called.
He repeated the instruction at his top volume and then used the crook of his elbow to cover his eyes just in time for the shunk to turn on the bright. She yelled a few choice words in a combination creative enough that Liam chuckled. Once her words dropped below him being able to hear her, he heard the painful cries of the young animal that he’d forgotten about while trying to help Davis.
“This will end soon!” Liam called to the woman.
The shunk bringing back the grey sounded and Liam stood up to get walking. His overhead companion was a moving spec, a second spec with them, when he glanced up. He never saw the dark and bright cycle up there, but theirs rarely aligned with his.
“Hello? Who’s there?” the woman’s voice yelled. “Why do I have to keep consciously thinking about breathing?” she demanded, the question broken in two due to inhaling. Liam laughed, said a final goodbye to the place where Davis and Heltie had been, and started jogging towards both new visitors.
The puppy was in one of the small, shallow catches that Liam hadn’t seen used before. He lay on his stomach and reached down to scoop up the fuzzy potato with one hand. The crying the puppy was doing intensified – as expected – but once he sat up, some gentle rubs and a cuddle helped…? Liam flipped the puppy and checked and, cool, she was a she. He snugged her into his arms against his chest and held her close. She sniffed, nipped, and tickled at his fingers, her eyes barely open so her age still ridiculously young. It was impossible for Liam to guess what type of dog she was – he didn’t know much about dogs – but she looked mostly white and had a brown spot covering her right side that was roughly shaped like China. She was actually a pretty little pup. Liam let her chomp on his fingers a bit as he stood up and continued walking toward the new spec in the distance.
He’d been expecting a door for the puppy, but the shape waved madly and yelled for him to see her and start explaining what the hell was going on. He didn’t bother yelling back while he couldn’t see the woman’s facial features, mostly because he’d gotten the puppy calmed down and he didn’t want to scare her if he didn’t have to.
The woman was angry with his non-responses, but the anger looked more confusion- and fear-fueled than actually being mad-angry once Liam could see her face. She was dressed nicely and already standing up, although she didn’t look keen on moving, and her stare up at where Liam was casually walking let him know that – just like himself when he’d woken up here – she couldn’t see anything visible in the grey.
“What. The hell. Is going on.” She demanded when he was two turnings away.
“What’s the last thing you remember?” Liam asked.
“Overdosing,” she stated.
“Does it matter?” She crossed her arms defensively.
“I got hit by a truck,” Liam informed her.
“What is this place?”
“Honestly? I really don’t know. I just think of it as ‘the grey’ and that suits well enough.”
“So who are you?”
“My name’s Liam,” he introduced himself.
“What are you walking on?”
“The same stuff you’re standing on.”
“Touché,” she rolled her eyes.
“I don’t know too much about this place. It seems to be some kind of in-between for second chances.”
“So you’re, like what, a mortality greeter who delivers puppies to the recently deceased?” she asked, staring at the puppy in his arms as if he’d asked her to change its diaper. Liam laughed at her and shook his head, stopping above the catch she was in.
“Nope. I’m just someone else who’s in the process of dying,” he shrugged. “The same as this wee girl.” He smiled at the puppy and rubbed her neck and ears gently. She growled at him in a tiny, whiny way that made him want to let her chew on all of his fingers forever. “Mostly, I don’t want to be dead and I don’t have much reason for being alive, so I just stay here and help people with whatever they need to do.”
“Meaning what? There are tests or trials to get into whatever happens when you’re dead?”
“I don’t know about that, but there’s a test to get back to your physical self, right now in the moments you’re dying in.”
She closed her eyes and threw her head back with a sigh, her jaw working as she ground her teeth together. When her head dropped forward, it was so that she could scrub her hands into her eyes in a tired show of frustration.
“Of course there’s a test,” she muttered, scoffing out a laugh. “So, what now? I have to prove worthy of being dead by facing off with seeing myself dying?” she asked Liam.
“No, not like that,” he answered. He walked over to the stairs into the catch she was in and walked down. Even after all the times he’d done this since being able to see the catwalk and catches, he still felt like a bit of an idiot for completely missing the stairs and leaping onto the catwalk when he’d first woken up in the grey. The woman’s eyes followed his progress, her brows scrunching together as he got closer to her. “What’s your name?” he asked.
“None of your business,” she answered. His reply was interrupted before it could start by the puppy yawning.
“Okay,” he shrugged, shifting the puppy around so that she was jarred into staying awake. “I need to get this wee girl back to herself before she falls asleep here. That’s how you die out of this place,” he explained quickly. “Basically, here in the grey, you get to do the worst moment of your worst day again – but watching rather than participating – and that seems to be how you get back to yourself while you’re dying right now in your physical reality. If you choose to, you can go back to your life and try to survive through whatever is killing you.”
“What are my other options?” she asked.
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