Life after Death: Part 5
And we have one of those big banquet coffee urns - the good ones that perk the coffee and keep it hot for a few hours before the 'old coffee' flavor starts - so this garage sale will have hot coffee. I can get through almost anything with good food and hot coffee. Hope you have a great weekend!
5. Opening Doors
“You can opt out any time and just lie down for a nap,” Liam informed her.
“And then?” she pressed, wanting to know more.
“I don’t know. I haven’t opted out.”
“How do you know all of this?” She glared at him, squinting suspiciously.
“I’ve been here a long time. Ouch!” The puppy growly-barked when he pulled his fingers back after a particularly hard chomp, her wobbly legs scrambling to propel her after his hand in spite of her body being completely high-centered on his forearm. He chuckled and booped her nose with his thumb before relenting to letting her gnaw on whatever bits of his hand she got her mouth around. “I got here, I guess, forever ago. There was a little kid here at the same time, and my worst day and return to realty came up before hers. I couldn’t just leave her here alone, she was scared and…” he smiled at the memory of Kaylynd. “I bypassed being either dead alive by stepping over myself and got her back to herself so she could stay living.”
“You want a hero cookie or something?”
“Not at all. Turns out I like helping, so I stick around here and help.”
“And the ones who don’t want your help?” She crossed her arms and smiled coldly, placing herself in the category she’d just mentioned.
“Most visitors who come here know if they want to be dead or not. The ones who don’t are usually relieved by having company as they figure it out.”
“I like it here.”
“How nice for you.”
“If you want to come with me, you can hold onto one of the strips of what used to be my jacket,” he looked down as he spoke, popping one hip so she saw the loose ends hanging from around his waist. “I can tell by the way you’re looking around that you can’t see structures here, which is normal for most people and the way I was when I first got here, so hanging on is the easiest way for you to not fall off of anything. If you’re set on dying, then lie down and get comfortable and take a nap. But please be quick about deciding because I do want to get this wee girl back to herself before she falls asleep by accident. Animals usually only know if they’re ready to die once they see themselves dying.”
She stayed standing there, arms crossed, not moving except for how her eyes looked around. He smiled supportively when her glance landed back on him. There were a few people who hadn’t known what to do with the help he offered even though they’d accepted it, and some animals that had only slunk along after him because their trust was too broken, so Liam already knew it wasn’t his place to make any decisions for her. The decisions she needed to make weren’t his to even offer suggestions for.
She sighed, her shoulders sagging as she reached for one of the strips hanging down from his jacket, her fingers moving tentatively and her expression clearly showing that she didn’t want to.
“This isn’t a forever decision. You can make a new choice whenever you want to,” he assured her quietly.
“Can we just go?”
Liam nodded and started walking back toward the stairs. In all the catches, the stairs ran parallel to the walls for their short spans, but were only attached to the catwalk and the catch floors. He’d probably walked past the stairs in his own catch at least ten times.
“There’s a railing here on this side,” he told her, pointing with his elbow. “But it ends at the top of the stairs and there aren’t any on the catwalk. Try and stay within arm’s reach of me or else you can fall.”
“Fall into what?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted as he picked the right direction for where the puppy needed to go. He glanced up once they were in the middle of the catwalk but didn’t see his companion. When he looked in the direction he was walking, a door had appeared a few turnings away.
“You claimed to have been here for a really long time and you don’t know?”
“The visitor before you… he fell. He was the first one I’d seen that happen to. He just… kept falling and then he stopped being there. His door for his death stayed, though,” Liam tried to explain.
“Doors are how we go in and out of our moments. Do you recognize that one?” he asked. She looked around his shoulder and then stepped solidly behind him again so she was almost walking in his footsteps.
“No,” she replied.
“It must be for the pupper, then,” he smiled down and scratched at the puppy’s neck, rousing her from half-dozing so that she would keep playing for the few moments it would take to get to what had to be her door. The door looked like it was steel, and it had once been painted if the flaking, rust-streaked white was any clue, but it had been years since any maintenance had been done on it.
“Is that safe to touch?” the woman asked. Liam chuckled.
“We’re already mostly dead,” he answered, smiling over his shoulder at her as he opened the door and then stepped through.
On this side of the door, it was either very late at night or really early in the morning. Somewhere nearby but behind them, what sounded like a medium or large dog was furiously barking and slamming and scratching against something metal. Closer, under some kind of inner-city river’s bridge or overpass that the door was built into, two men around Liam’s age were drunkenly playing catch with the puppy that Liam was holding. Scattered around them were three other puppies from the same litter, but the others were already dead.
There was a loud clattering and then the scratching and slamming stopped. The man holding the puppy tossed her into the river shallows and the two of them ran screaming as the bitch charged into the area. She was a mutt, and definitely a stray, but she was big and she was mad. Maybe heartbroken was a better word, Liam corrected his thinking as she stopped and sniffed at the dead puppies. The whine that emitted from her as she checked over her lost litter made the little pup in Liam’s arm whimper in reply. The bitch spun around, ears cocked in Liam’s direction, eyes desperately searching for the invisible place where the sound had originated.
Liam glanced at the river and saw the puppy still floating nearby, hung up on some garbage. As always, the catwalk followed a direct route toward the body. The bitch whined again and the puppy in Liam’s arms answered, making the worried mom step forward tentatively and sniff the air hopefully. Liam started walking toward the river, his progress stopping when his jacket wasn’t moving. He’d expected the woman to be worried about not being able to see the catwalk through this reality because of how closely she’d been following him, but she was instead frozenly staring at the bitch and had tears coursing down her cheeks.
“We have to get to the puppy out in the river,” he told her.
The bitch immediately growled at the sound of his voice, but started whining again quickly when the puppy’s whimpering continued. The woman startled into looking at him, then stared around as if she was going to have a complete breakdown right here under the bridge. When Liam took another step, pulling her along due to the white-knuckled grip on the jacket strip in her hand, she stumbled forward after him. The bitch’s attention followed the sound of her puppy keenly, both ears pressed up in spite of the damage to her face from breaking out of wherever she’d been trapped.
They didn’t have to step far into the water before the bitch saw the fourth puppy and splashed out to rescue her. Liam waited until both mum and pup were back on dry land and then knelt beside the puppy. The bitch, smelling hard at her baby, growled harder when her muzzle passed close to Liam’s knee. The hackles of her short hair stood up in a spiky ridge down her spine as she snarled impressively, her whining turning confused as his smell mingled with the puppy’s.
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A weekly blog updating on Fridays with quick personal blurbs about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and that doles out my short stories and novellas in bite-sized parts for everyone to read for free!