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Addicted to Death, a short story
The needle shook in Kevin’s hand. Just a skin pop , he told himself. No big deal. But the plunge was too intoxicating, too much of a lure. His eyes rolled back and his hand fell away, the needle protruding from his arm.
He flew into a dark place at great velocity, speeding past roiling shadows on either side. That first sense of exhilaration was replaced by a complete lack of physical sensation. Where’s my rush? He felt cheated. Then he looked down and saw his body sprawled on the dirty floor, his so-called friends standing around him. Joe reached down to shake his shoulder, but he didn’t feel it. He was far above the scene, viewing it through the wrong end of a telescope. There was no anxiety in him for his well-being. In fact, he found the sight of his collapsed form uninteresting. Far more compelling was the urge to race into the pulsating darkness. He turned away from the image below and looked upward.
Immediately, he was bathed in feelings of contentment, pulled toward an opening in the distance from which a soothing light emanated. Happiness flooded him as he tried to hurry toward the bright gate in the distance. But something held him back; something grasped his ankle and tugged. Struggling did no good. He was stuck. Abruptly, he fell backward into a dream of his aged mother, her eyes filled with tears.
Then, Kevin sat on his mother’s lap; he was a boy again. She smoothed his hair out of his eyes and sang a lullaby. The dream shifted and he was a teen in his car on the boulevard at night, waving to this friend and that as he cruised the main drag. Neon lights smeared past him, and the breeze flowed into the open window. Then he knew nothing for what seemed like many long dark hours.
“He’s coming around,” the voice said near his shoulder. A painful stab of light in his eyes made him roll his head away. “Hey, buddy. Wake up now. Come on. What did you take?”
Kevin’s mouth felt lax, his tongue like rubber as he tried to speak. “I want to go back,” he mumbled. A wave of nausea gripped him and he fought it down. He lost consciousness. Time passed in a confusion of images and dreams.
Slowly his eyes opened and focused. He was in a bed, a hospital. Surrounding him were people; a doctor or intern, nurses. A cop. Another time, he might have panicked. Now, he simply didn’t care. I must be in trouble, he thought. Yet, he was detached from the idea. He closed his eyes again.
When he next woke, his friend, Joe, stood beside his bed with a frown on his face. “Hey,” he drawled. “You got some bad shit, dude. You’re lucky the ambulance got there when it did.”
“I want to die,” Kevin said, turning his head away.
“You almost did.”
“No, you don’t understand.” Kevin tried to sit up. His arms were weak and he fell back onto the pillow. He felt sick, frail. “I want to go back.”
“Back where? The party?” Joe sniggered, and then became serious. “Party’s over, dude. Steve didn’t make it.”
“Steve? Steve who?”
“You know, the dude with the stuff. He did it first, remember? He died.” Joe’s mouth trembled.
“Good for him.” Kevin stared vacantly over Joe’s shoulder at the window, its pale light sliced to ribbons by the blinds.
“That’s cold, dude.”
“Leave me alone.” Kevin rolled over, turning his back to Joe. A long moment passed before Kevin heard his friend’s footsteps signal his exit. The door closed quietly behind him.
* * * *
A cold rain was falling when Kevin was released from the hospital two days later. No one showed up to drive him home, which was fine by him. There were no cards or flowers to carry out. Low-life losers , he thought of his friends and acquaintances. If they had a dollar to spend, it would go to their next high. It would never occur to them to buy flowers for a sick buddy. Kevin didn’t care anyway. It was just a thought that popped up, nothing more.
Cars and trucks rushed by as he stood on the sidewalk in front of the hospital. He watched the traffic for a minute, ignoring the drizzle coating his hair and face. Whoosh! Cars sped by, flinging water into the gutter and splattering his legs. It would be so easy.
A delivery truck, its driver hell-bent on meeting a schedule, quickly approached in the closest lane. Waiting until the last possible second, Kevin stepped deliberately in front of the vehicle. There was pain, a great deal of it, as he heard the screech of tires locking against pavement. The sound seemed to come from somewhere in the distance. Again, Kevin was sucked into the inviting blackness. Again, he looked back and saw himself. His crumpled form lay in a pool of blood on the wet street, traffic stopped all around him. I’m broken , he thought dispassionately. He looked away; seeking that lighted gate he had seen before.
Radiant and beckoning, the opening waited up ahead, like an old dear friend. He urged his mind toward it and felt himself moving forward at great speed, but it seemed he only drew a little closer than before. Hanging in the void ahead of him, spectacular rays streamed outward into the darkness. Kevin tried to attach a meaning to the image, a name. Was it love? It felt like love. And acceptance. He yearned toward it. But as he did so, he felt arms around his waist pulling him down, down, down. Away from the sweet light…
* * * *
This time when Kevin woke he felt tremendous physical agony. Hovering over him was a round pink-cheeked face above a white collar, rimmed by thinning light brown hair. A priest!
“Well, if it ain’t John the Baptist,” Kevin slurred. “You’re barking up the wrong tree here, Padre. I’m not religious.”
“Actually, I’m non-denominational.” The clergyman had a high voice for a man, and Kevin suppressed an urge to smirk. He thought of Father Mulcahy on the old television show, MASH . The clergyman’s voice was kind, and Kevin felt an unwelcome surge of tears behind his eyes.
“I must be hurt pretty bad if they called a preacher to my bedside.” Kevin tried to move but found only his mouth cooperated.
“You’re in fairly bad shape,” the chaplain agreed. “You were only just released from this hospital and now here you are, back again. You know it’s one of two things, I think. Either you have the worst luck in the world, or you’ve got a death wish. Witnesses say it appeared you put yourself in front of the truck on purpose. Want to talk about it, son?”
“You think I’m suicidal?”
“It crossed my mind. And the minds of your doctors. That’s why they called me.”
“Well, you’re wrong. All of you.” Kevin closed his eyes, stared at the comforting blackness behind his eyelids for a moment before opening them again. “I didn’t do it because life is bad, which it definitely is. It sucks, of course. I did it because death is so much better . I want to go there…I want to be in it.”
“What do you mean?” the clergyman blinked and then looked at Kevin expectantly.
“I saw it, Padre. The other side. Just a glimpse. I felt it.”
“What was it like, son? What did you feel?” The clergyman’s voice held no disbelief, just curiosity. Kevin’s throat clenched and a sob worked its way up from his gut.
“Forgiven .” He choked on the word and struggled against the tears that threatened. “I felt forgiven. I want that feeling again.”
“Forgiven? Ah, I see.” He stroked his chin. “Some people achieve that feeling through prayer.”
“I told you, I’m not religious.”
“I know, but humor me,” the preacher said. “Let’s assume for the moment that you were made by God. Wouldn’t He then be the One to decide when to call you home?”
“Spare me.” Kevin rolled his eyes. They felt like they were filled with gravel.
“Alright, son. But think about one thing for me please. Call it God or call it Fate or whatever you want to call it. It appears you were given a second chance at life. Would you waste it?”
“I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” Kevin said, every word an effort to produce.
A nurse entered the room. She took his vitals, adjusted his covers, and produced a hypodermic.
“Father, I need to give this patient his pain meds. You can stay until he falls asleep, if you like.” She found his IV and inserted the needle. Kevin drifted into blessed sleep once more where he dreamt of the glowing gate and sought unsuccessfully to reach it.
“Your friends have been by to check on you,” the nurse said when he next woke. Her words hurt him.
“I don’t have any friends,” Kevin said. “Just people I party with. They’re losers, every one of them.”
“I’ll tell them you don’t want to see anyone right now,” she said as she turned to leave. A figure rose from the chair in the corner.
“Padre.” Kevin laughed hoarsely and without mirth. “You don’t give up, do you?”
“No, son. I rarely do.” His smile was tolerant, loving even. “So your friends are beneath you now, are they?”
“No. They’re not beneath me. Hell, I’m exactly like them, a low-life. No better, no worse. I just don’t want to see them. In fact, I don’t want to see anybody. I just want to die.” His composure crumbled and he wept. The chaplain placed a comforting hand on his shoulder as he dried Kevin’s eyes for him with a tissue from the box on the nightstand.
“We all die, son,” he said. “Soon enough. Most of us aren’t in a hurry to do it.”
“I am. I want to reach that gate. I want to walk through.”
“What if, next time, you arrive at a different gate? A dark one? One not so inviting?” His cheeks grew pinker as he looked down at Kevin and dabbed at his teary eyes. Kevin tried to grab his hand but his arm wouldn’t work. He whipped his head back and forth in frustration.
“It’s a chance I’m willing to take,” he said with faux bravado, but the pastor’s words gave him pause. How many times could he take the leap before he ended up on the wrong track? What if the tunnel went both ways? He refused to think about it.
* * * *
Months of rehabilitation and therapy, in which he only marginally participated, left Kevin able to walk, but with a pronounced limp. His left arm hung uselessly at his side, and his head was covered with scars where hair would never again grow. Thin and shaky, he stood once again outside the hospital. This time he waited for a taxi to drive him to his new temporary home, The Gentle Arms Transitional Living Center, a place secured for him by the Padre. There, it was assumed, he would put his life back together, kill his hunger for illegal substances, and receive training in life skills. Kevin had no intention of addressing any of these issues. In fact, as soon as he could get around a little better, he would at the first available opportunity be checking out for good. Not just of the Home, but of life. He only needed the chance to make it happen.
Less than a month later, his chance presented itself. Snow had been falling for two days. Clyburn Harris, driver for The Home, sat in the kitchen drinking coffee with the cook, waiting for the car to defrost. As they laughed and chatted, Kevin sneaked out the side door, hobbling over the ice with his cane to the idling vehicle. He slid behind the wheel and pulled the car into the garage and hit the remote to close the door behind him. Leaning back against the seat, he sighed. Before long, he grew sleepy. This time I’ll make it.
Velvety blackness descended upon him and he found himself traveling that now-familiar corridor. He glanced down at his lifeless body, head lolling against the car seat, and experienced his usual detachment. He felt himself pulled along. But this time, he was zooming backward. He could see the lighted gate before him, but it was receding before his eyes. Panicked, he tried to propel himself toward the welcoming light, but it grew smaller and smaller, until it was pinpoint-sized. Then it was gone.
In his mind, he screamed and the echo followed him down into darkness.