1. Back in the Grey
Liam stepped out of the door and looked down at the scene, watching the hurried actions of the emergency responders, and shook his head. It felt like years had passed but every time his door came up, it had only been seconds. He’d really believed the last time he’d been through that it was the last time he was going to have to. And now, here he was again, getting ready to step over his own body and walk away.
He sighed in frustration. At this point, whoever or whatever was in control of the grey should have noticed that he wasn’t leaving because he didn’t want to. Every time the choice came up, he chose to stay.
The first time had been for Kaylynd. She’d been a little girl – all of ten and half years old – who’d nearly died from drowning. Then his door had come back when he was with that friend who’d called himself Track or Trek or something like that… Trock. He’d called himself Trock, and he’d been twenty-six and into his third year of dying of cancer. They’d hung out in his hospital room for hours, just talking, as Trock's heart kept weakly beating and the machines around the bed pushed poisonous medicine and breath into his body. He’d wanted to know more about what happened after the grey, but Liam didn’t know any of that. They’d ended up skirting around the bed together and Trock had hung out in the grey for a couple of visitors (which is what Liam called everyone who came into the grey now). The emotional kicking of those few worst days had been rough and, when the hospital door came back around, Trock had decided on trying something new. He’d lain down and fell asleep on the floor beside the bed his body was wasting away on.
The third time had been when Liam was helping that kid in the wheelchair, who couldn’t speak due to whatever injury or disease he had, but there was a world of life in the kid’s eyes when Liam would ask him questions. There was a wealth of laughter in there, too, once Liam figured out the jokes that the kid thought were funny. Liam had had to cross over himself four times to get the kid and the wheelchair over to the other side so that they could get around Liam’s death scene and get on with getting the kid back to his parents. The kid even smiled, barely a twitch, and did a ‘blink once for yes’ when they got back to his room. His mom was crying hard as she cleared out the bit of food the kid had choked on, begging the dispatch operator over speakerphone for the ambulance to get to her house quicker because her son wasn’t breathing. Liam wheeled the kid up to himself and whooped a loud laugh as the scene faded, hearing as the kid’s mom started yelling wordlessly with Christmas morning levels of excitement.
After that, the door only showed up when he was alone, and for too many times to bother keeping track. The pull to get into himself didn’t come with a black-hole level of gravity anymore. The last time through, he’d done a tidy, hands-free vault over one of the responders working hard to save his life and then flipped a double-bird back at the scene after landing. He’d blown a kiss at the truck that had crunched his torso into mulch as he jogged to the open car door that would take him back to the grey.
There had been a lot of visitors since that last time, nearly a lifetime ago, and he still didn’t want to go back to living. In the grey, things were simple. There was the relief of no physical needs, as in no eating or breathing, no bathroom breaks, no sleep, no lasting pain, and none of the mental drain for worrying about how to afford all the necessities for staying alive. Emotions were what he got to keep, and for the first time in his life he had a really good handle on those. Time was different here, too. Like, really different. Liam was ninety-nine point nine percent certain that he’d been here in the grey for many, many years since the last time he’d been through the door leading to the street he was dying in the gutter of, but these emergency responders were maybe a minute into trying to save his life. He looked over the shoulder of the lady he’d seen a few times ago who was taking video on her phone; three seconds had passed since the last time he’d been here. He’d been standing here for probably all three. So that confirmed his suspicion that time only moved in this reality when he was in this reality. That made the decision to get out of here quick, before he took a forced nap into a slow fade, really easy to make. He didn’t bother getting fancy, just jumped over his body and ran for the door leading back to the grey.
After being so close to being alive again, the reminders of the living, breathing, messy creature he had been took a few minutes to shake off. The catwalk and visitor catches he had gotten used to seeing in sharp focus had dulled a little. He took a deep breath and calmed away the bustling pressure that living caused; his world here in the grey emerged clearly as he exhaled.
The grey had changed a lot since Liam had first woken up in one of the catches here… he paused and smiled at the thinking that it was the grey that had undergone the changes. A flicker of movement way above him caught his eye as he was looking around. There was another catwalk somewhere up there, complete with its own set of catches, but it was next to impossible to see due to the distance between where he was standing and – yup! – where whoever did the same job as him up there was exaggeratedly waving at him. Liam untied the torn remains of his jacket from around his waist and spun it over his head as a reply. The person up there changed their motion in answer. They were too far away to yell to, and there were no echoes in the grey, but Liam smiled up at them before he stopped waving his jacket and tied it back around his waist. They couldn’t see his face and he couldn’t see theirs, but they went through these lifetimes together and that stranger was the closest thing to a soul mate Liam had ever imagined.
He looked down after the motion above stopped to check if maybe now there were the tracings of a distant catwalk in the endless grey below and only saw more nothing. The grey expanding along all sides in the horizontal was also still empty. He knew that there were bound to be other catwalks because the one above him existed, which lead to an interesting pondering about the existence of the catwalks as a physical thing in time and space. Was such a thing was possible?
The loud shunk sounded and the grey abruptly turned off. Liam sat down, glad that he’d seen his overhead companion during this past cycle, and started counting down from three hundred and fourteen. He hid his eyes in the crook of his elbow as he counted past ten into single digits and made a gesture like flicking on a light switch as he hit zero, perfectly in time with the shunk that brought on the bright. Somewhere on his level, he could hear the pained whines of a very young animal (likely a dog, but his assumptions had been wrong before). He counted up to one hundred and fifty-nine, making a button-push motion as the shunk sounded for returning to the familiar grey.
The animal’s whining continued. Liam stood up and looked around to help determine the direction he needed to be going for getting closer to the cries. Forward this time. He’d taken three steps when the shunk came again and plunged everything into perfect blackness. He counted down from three hundred and fourteen and then up to one hundred and fifty nine.
A blog with quick updates about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and where I can vent my short stories weekly for everyone to read for free!