Chapter Four

Barry Johnson, the man who followed William Shavver in Sherry’s coffin, hadn’t known his death was just around the corner, but that was only because he hadn’t been paying attention. A picture is worth a thousand words, or in Barry’s case, a life story.

Barry was a good hundred pounds overweight. His hair was black and matted to his forehead in thick, small clumps. It didn’t look like it had been washed in months. His face had a five-day growth of whiskers, salt and pepper in color, heavy on the salt. He probably dyed his hair to maintain its glossy black shine, Chris had assumed. His eyes were too close to his nose and too small for his round, fat face, making him look shifty and not very bright at the same time. And he smelled of alcohol.

Chris learned in Barry’s brief stay that he hadn’t been a car dealer, but rather a life insurance salesman. In the early days, having been blessed with the gift of gab in a small town on the rise, Barry’s little one-man operation had done well, keeping him well fed and well liquored. But as Berry grew bigger, so did the town, along with the competition. As technology advanced and marketing and advertising strategies evolved beyond the neighborly door-to-door methods of the past, Barry got left behind and he didn’t bother putting up a chase. In fact, about the only thing Barry chased any more was his beer with a scotch.

Just looking at Barry, one could guess the basics of his story. Chris listened as Barry blamed his misfortunes on everything under the sun--progress, computers, cut-throats, big business and big bucks.

Chris said very little in response and obediently listened while wishing he would wake up. But the dreams actually seemed to be getting longer, consuming more and more of his sleep time. He wasn’t sure; after all, he was supposedly asleep and time is hard to judge while in that state. Occasionally he had started taking No-Doz while delivering his routes at night, not always trusting his ability to stay awake in the quiet darkness on his own. Minnesota nights are generally cool to cold though, and the chill in the air as he leaned out his window shoving the papers into the tubes also helped keep him awake. But as the weeks dragged on and the dreams seemingly got longer, his tiredness became more and more an unending test of his endurance.

Barry had not returned on his fourth night. It wasn’t until that fourth night when another elderly man appeared in Sherry’s coffin that Chris realized that Barry had had no idea that his number had been called. He had been there talking about how he was going to get back at the companies that had driven him out of business one night and then gone the next. He had faded quickly, as had Sherry, since his time had been near, Chris assumed. After the third session with Barry, while in the shower recalling some of the paranoid statements Barry had made about Corporate America, Chris had decided Barry wasn’t going to be around much longer. Then, the very next night, Chris’ prediction had held true.

The new face, the new elderly man, like William Shavver, knew he was dying and was welcoming his upcoming death. Also like William, he welcomed Chris’ presence. Barry had never even questioned Chris’ presence…or the surroundings in the dream. Barry had told his stories as though he were sitting on a bar stool in his neighborhood bar talking to the only person in the room, too drunk to get up and walk away. But as the new elderly dream-guest once again questioned Chris’s role in his life, or death as the case may be, he suddenly realized that Barry had been as clueless to his upcoming demise as he had been about the real reasons he was run out of business.

But if Barry hadn’t known he was going to die, Chris wondered, how the hell did I know? Someone had to know. Sherry had known, William had known, now this new elderly man knew. Chris had assumed, since he was beginning to believe that this was something more than your average run-of-the-mill garden variety dream he was having, that the dying people had somehow opened a psychic channel or some kind of direct line linking their subconscious minds to his. But in any case, he suspected it had been them contacting him. Sherry had said she had tried to contact the doctors, but they couldn’t hear her like he could. Naturally, he assumed she had contacted him.

But if Barry hadn’t known…

It was time for a shower.

* * * * *

Under the warm, pulsating water once again, Chris felt better able to think.

Maybe the soul, one of the three major components of human life (the trio being the mind, the body and the soul, he concluded as he began to wash his hair for the second time), was the one dialing the number independently and without the knowledge of the conscious mind--a theory Sherry’s split personality between the dream world and reality would support. Her anger was maybe too strong, he tried to reason, creating a wall of rage blocking the message her body had sent to her soul and was trying to send to her mind. So it, her soul, had reached out to another soul that would listen. His.

So why hadn’t the dreamland Barry known of his predicament? Because Barry’s soul hadn’t known? His body and soul weren’t communicating?

This only brought Chris back to the same two spine-tingling questions that had put him into the shower to begin with. If Barry didn’t know he was going to die, how the hell did I? And, Who’s contacting whom?

Too much for his tired and frazzled mind to do battle with, even in the shower. Chris turned off the water and tried to forget about the questions currently running circles around his logic. Nothing seemed to make sense. He felt numb in the brain. He felt like he was on a ride that had gone out of control and there was no getting off.

The next three hosts--or guests, he was no longer sure who played which role in this dream--were all people having led full lives and willing to shed their tired old bodies to allow their spirits the freedom to live anew. Chris was just beginning to disregard the all-important questions of who knows what and who’s dialing up who when a young boy appeared in the foreboding catafalque.

An elderly woman, another recipient of the modern day plague, a cancer, had faded to the point that Chris had not expected her back. Before the coffin had opened, he had finally summoned the courage to speak to the Priest. He asked a single question, to which the Priest did not answer.

Tired of coming to this site day after day after day, tired of not having the answers to the hundreds of questions mounting in his brain, tired of being so damn tired, Chris looked up at the Priest and asked, "Why am I here?"

For just a moment, Chris thought his voice had gone unheard by the tall figure in black. Then slowly, the Priest’s head rose, his face still hidden within the depths of his hood. Chris could almost feel the Priest’s eyes needling his body. It made him feel invaded and somehow vulnerable and wished he hadn’t spoken to him at all. The Priest really, really scared him for reasons he couldn’t quite grasp. It was one of the many things he tried not to think about when awake. But just when he thought the Priest might speak, the coffin’s lid began to creak slowly open and both had returned their attention to center stage.

That was when he saw the boy, Benjamin.

Benjamin opened his eyes as if awakening from a nap as the coffin revealed its newest tenant.

"Who are you?" the boy asked as his gaze settled on Chris.

"My name is Chris. And who might you be?"

"Benjamin Christopher Worthington," the boy replied with a smile.

"Well, Mr. Benjamin Christopher Worthington, that name is longer than you are!" Chris said, trying to match the handsome young lad’s blue ribbon smile.

"Yeah," Benjamin giggled, "my Dad says I’ll grow into it."

Chris’ smile, fake as it had been to begin with, vanished completely with Benjamin’s last words. Either his dad had a very cruel and sick sense of humor telling a dying boy that he would grow into anything, or Benjamin’s dad didn’t know his son was going to die soon. Nor, it seemed, did Benjamin himself know. How soon this untimely death was supposed to arrive was hard to tell. Benjamin was not in any noticeably advanced stages of fading. But the questions swarmed back with a force banging hard against his brain. Who was contacting who here? And if Benjamin doesn’t know that he is dying very soon, how could he himself possibly know?

Chris thought the Priest could probably answer both those questions, but he didn’t dare ask…not because of the old adage that ignorance is bliss, but because of the other one, how curiosity had killed the cat.

Trying once again to push the Priest out of his mind, Chris asked Benjamin, "Do you know where we are?"

"You’re in my dream," Benjamin exclaimed with innocent glee.

Benjamin looked to be no more than seven years old. He had short dirty blond hair with bangs cut neatly across his forehead. His cheeks and nose were dotted with freckles and his blue eyes were still animated as he smiled, though the sparkle one would expect to accompany them on such a youthful face wasn’t present. He was wearing Power Ranger pajamas and held the action figure of the ranger in red close to his heart. Chris couldn’t imagine why this healthy looking young boy was going to be dying soon. And he certainly didn’t want to turn Benjamin’s dream into a nightmare by asking him about it if he didn’t already know.

But the questions would not rest in his mind.

Telling himself he would not have asked the question if he thought Benjamin knew the real answer, Chris asked, "So, Benjamin, what do you want to be when you grow up?"

"A police officer of the law," Benjamin replied without hesitation. "I am going to serve and protect my neighbors and friends just like my daddy does," he added with obvious pride in his father’s work.

He really doesn’t know, Chris thought. So how on earth could I possibly know?

Chris listened to Benjamin tell a heroic short tale of good defeating evil, his red Power Ranger being the hero for the good side in this particular chapter, until Benjamin appeared to be getting tired.

"I’m going to go back to sleep now," he said with a big yawn.

"Okay," Chris answered, feeling very tired himself. "Thanks for inviting me into your dream, and for the story."

"I didn’t invite you," Benjamin said as his eyes started to drift closed. "You just came. But that’s okay. You’re a nice man."

"And you’re a nice boy, Benjamin Christopher Worthington. I am very happy to meet you. Sweet dreams now." And then as an after thought, Chris added, "Be careful, Benjamin."

What felt like just an instant later, Chris was in the shower standing under the pounding water trying to rekindle some energy from the wet heat and to wash away the memories from the night. This was the shower in which he decided to go see the district manager of his paper route job and see if he could add a Monday through Friday route or two or three to his docket. That eventually evolved into six weekday routes and three weekend routes, sufficiently replacing Howard Johnson’s income that Chris quit thinking about looking for a new full-time day job.

* * * * *

Over the next two weeks, Chris and his body made the necessary adjustments to convert from life under the sun to life under the moon. He usually went to sleep as the sun was waking up, not waking up himself until noon or a little after, if his dream allowed him to sleep that long. His morning showers had become increasingly long, just as his dream had seemed to become. Sometimes he stood under the running water motionless, eyes closed, for forty-five minutes, or until the hot water started to cool despite having been cranked as far to the left as it would go. His little five-by-five foot, undecorated, windowless, white tiled cubical with no where to sit, smaller than the closet in his bedroom, had become his own personal sanctuary.

He generally ate twice a day, once after waking up and showering in the early afternoon, and once around midnight before getting ready to deliver his papers. More and more, with each passing day, and with each passing new face in his dream, the rest of his waking hours were being spent in front of his computer. Mostly he located and read obituaries from small and large newspapers around the country. He wasn’t looking for anything in particular, he was just looking. So many deaths every single day. He felt a bittersweet luck that he only had to deal with a few per month.

Reading the obituaries also helped him deal with the apparent impending doom for all the people of his dream. Every day there are more people dying younger, more horribly, more suddenly. Tragedy is a daily event happening all around us at all times. Usually, probably for the sake of our own sanity as a society, we ignore as much of it as possible. We hide it in small print at the back of the daily newspapers. People generally don’t appreciate being reminded of their life’s true fragility, of their actual vulnerability. We read about the spectacular and unusual deaths, the ones that have touched the masses with their lives, and the ones closer to the heart, the ones we know. But for every one of those that appear in the headlines and front pages, for every death that we hear about on the news or from friends and family, there are hundreds more tucked away and out of sight.

Out of sight, out of mind.

We’re all going to die, that’s a given. We all know it. We each deal with that fact in our own way. But when and how is what scares us. So we keep ourselves busy building relationships, planting roots, pretending that it won’t happen to us, at least not until we are ready. But if we open our eyes we’ll see that it is happening all around us all the time, and to people that weren’t ready.

Benjamin appeared to be one that was not ready. The thought that something was going to happen to take this boy’s life before he had the chance to live it was eating away at Chris. If Benjamin were healthy, as he indeed appeared to be, then, Chris reasoned, his death was going to be an accident. But isn’t that the antithesis of the word ‘accident’? Unless the accident was part of a pre-scripted fate, in which case it could not technically be called an accident, in which case, then technically speaking, there was no such thing as an ‘accident’. But that would mean fate existed, which was something Chris just couldn’t accept.

His head was spinning.

How can I know if an accident is going to happen if fate does not exist? he thought. And if fate does not exist (as he so avidly believed) and Benjamin is going to die from an accident, then doesn’t that mean he might also live? That the accident could be avoided?

His mind now raced a mile a minute. The concept and related theories that he so enjoyed debating with friends in the past, about the possibilities of the existence of fate, now compared to a pee-wee league baseball coach suddenly getting a chance to coach in the majors. The basics were no longer enough. The ideals and old theories had to be tossed out the window. He was in over his head, in the big leagues without the skill, up shit creek without a paddle. Chris was beginning to think his mind was possibly not even equipped to handle the answers to the questions it was now beginning to raise, the most important one of which had now become, Can I save Benjamin?

* * * * *

Chapter Five


Front Desk

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As Fate Would Have It

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-One
Chapter Twenty-Two
Chapter Twenty-Three
Chapter Tweny-Four
Chapter Twenty-Five
Chapter Twenty-Six
Chapter Twenty-Seven
Chapter Twenty-Eight
Chapter Twenty-Nine
Chapter Thirty
Chapter Thirty-One
Chapter Thirty-Two
Chapter Thirty-Three
Chapter Thirty-Four
Chapter Thirty-Five
Chapter Thirty-Six
Chapter Thirty-Seven