It was after midnight and the road was wet from the evening’s rainfall. I was driving home from a friend’s party; one I didn’t want to attend but went for appearance’s sake. My best friend was there and so was my ex. I had to show them up. I had to prove that I was over him, that breaking up with him was the best decision I had ever made. Even though he was the one who did the breaking.
I was one of the first people who left. I used the work excuse. It was easy and honest most of the time. My thoughts kept creeping into memories of the night. How he looked. Marvellous, of course, with his button-down shirt and khaki pants. The way he constantly looked at me. Our eyes did meet, but I wasn’t going to back down. He made the decision. Fuck him. I wasn’t sure what happened next. I must have blinked or something. He came out of nowhere, right in front of my car. I screamed and slammed on the brakes. My tires squealed and I swerved to avoid the man in the road and ended up in the ditch. As the car hit the embankment, I cracked my head off the steering wheel. Stars flickered in my vision and they were brilliant.
Time passed, it must have, because when I focused on my circumstances, the blood was tacky against my fingers. My cheeks stung from the shattered glass, but that was it. Undoing the seat belt and shoving the door open, I fell out of my car. My feet landed in the water-laden ditch. “Here, let me help you.” His voice was that of an angel. My saviour wore white and had a glowing halo. At least, I thought there was a halo. “Sir, sir! Look at me,” He pulled me out and stood me on the road. His hand was gentle on my chin. I’m sure his eyes burned gold. “There you are. Can you see me? Hear what I’m saying?” “What?” I mumbled. My legs were weak and I wanted to sit down in the worst way. My face stung and I prodded my cheeks, wincing as I poked a sharp object. “I have a sliver.”
“You’ve been in a car accident. I am so sorry. I didn’t expect anyone to be driving so late at night.” he led me to a spot under a light. Which was weird. There usually wasn’t any light on this stretch. Most of the houses were too far set back from the road. “I need a favour. I know it’s late and you’re hurt, but I must ask. Can you help me get home?”
“Charlie, pay attention. I need your help.” He repeated himself and I sort of understood. He needed me for something.
“I think,” I mumbled, though that was a challenge, “maybe you should help me?”
“I can and I absolutely will, for sure. But please, you must agree.” The angel with the butter-soft voice held my head in his hands and forced me to gaze into his ethereal beauty.
“But…I guess?” Nothing more would be amazing than lying down on a flat road. I didn’t care that it was wet. It wasn’t moving like the world was. “You agree?” He was so forceful and intent on me agreeing to him. It was, well I wasn’t sure but I didn’t like it.
“Yes, I agree!” The loudness of my voice resonated in my head which made the throbbing worse. I leaned around the angel in man form and threw up. It was awfully red. Did I eat something red at the party? I don’t remember.
He gently wiped my mouth with the sleeve of his robe before kissing me lightly. The touch was sparkly and snapped me back to the present. “Can you bring me home?” he whispered as he pulled away. His eyes were brighter than the evening sun and as much as I longed to agree with him, I glanced at my totalled car. “I don’t think I can. My car…” I had to deny his request. I couldn’t do it.
“Oh, Charlie, I don’t need you to drive me home. I’m just around the corner. I just need you to bring me there. I can’t do it alone.” That made sense. I could do that. Walking was easy. How did he know my name?
The thought buzzed around my head before floating away with the other thoughts as the angel stood with his hand out waiting for me to take it. “What’s your name?” I asked as I touched my forehead. It was so painful. My fingers felt sticky. Right, I was in an accident. I hit my head. “Alex,” He took my elbow and helped me find my way. “Tell me why you were driving out so late. It seems odd to me.”
“Oh, well. I was at a party and my…ex was there. I had to stay and show that he didn’t hurt me.” Tommy with his carefree smile and his flamboyant motion. Everything was a dance number for him. I loved him for it. I missed him fiercely. But I wasn’t enough. I was too staid, too boring. He left me for another person weeks ago. “I went to prove I was a partier. I could hang out all hours and be the life of the party.” “You didn’t like it, did you?” Alex understood why I was miserable. He understood the concept of social batteries. “No. Not really. It sucked. I got to watch him make nice with our friends while… while… God, why is this so hard? Why couldn’t he do the same for me?” I stopped in the middle of the road and stared out toward the water. Was the water always there?
“Come on, Charlie. This way,” Alex steered me back to the road. I’d driven down here so many times. How could I have hit something? I know how to slow down when the road’s slick. So many accidents happen to other people. Not me. “Did you see anything in the middle of the road? I’m trying to remember what I hit but my mind is blank. Did I hit a dog? Fuck.” I stopped and spun around. I couldn’t leave a dog out here. The poor thing was abandoned like that.
“Charlie, you didn’t hit a dog. Come on, we’re almost there. Stay with me, okay?” Alex touched my arm with his cool hands and I stared at them. They glowed. Like a million candle power. Did Alex douse his hands in glowstick stuff? What a terrible night to play with…God my head hurt.
“Do you like your ex? Would you want to be with them again?” Alex asked.
“I dunno. I mean, he’s a good guy but maybe we weren’t a good match. Maybe I needed someone who was a bit more low-key, who liked to stay home sometimes. Alex, are you sure the corner–I swear we’ve been walking for hours.” I twisted around, trying to gauge the distance but a thick fog rolled in, blocking my view of my car. “Low key is always nice. And we’re good. It’s fine. Just place one foot in front of the other.” Alex paused and patted my forehead and cheek. His white handkerchief had been stained red. When did I start bleeding again? “My partner is waiting for me. He always waits. He’s a worrier, like you.” “It’s a sign that you care,” I stoutly said before coughing. I keeled over and tried to force air into my lungs, but I couldn’t. There was a tickle that wouldn’t go away. Trying to gather air was impossible. Alex crowded me, his hand was on my back and the other was on my chest, pressing down. As time passed, the fit ended leaving me weak. The journey to the corner seemed impossible now. I sat on the wet ground and shook my head. “Charlie, I know you hurt and you’re tired but we’re almost there. Soon, you can rest.” Alex tugged on my arm, bringing me to my feet. “Don’t you want to prove to your ex you don’t give up? Show him who’s the boss?”
Alex was right. I wasn’t a quitter. I wasn’t the one who let go when things became difficult. Though standing was a challenge and my breath was shallow. “When we get to your place, I have to sit.”
“You can, you can. My partner has the bed made for you. You’re doing so well, Charlie.” Alex praised me and I was so confused. “I thought I was helping you with something.” I tried to run the conversation back in my head but it kept drifting away, leaving images of blood and pain. “I need to call 9-1-1.”
“Shh, remember you’re helping me find my way home. That’s what I needed you for. Getting home. It’s so dark, Charlie and I’m so scared.” Alex’s voice wavered at the end there and I nodded. It was pretty foggy and this road was dangerous with the fog. Alex might have been bright with his bioluminescence but some drivers never saw what was in the middle of the road until it was too late.
“Alex, did I hit you? Is this a dream?” I wrenched myself away and stumbled backward to my car. I had to see it. I had to make sure that…
“Charlie,” his voice was discordant. It wasn’t melodious like before. Alex beckoned me with his skeletal fingers and the longer I stared the more changed he became. “We’re almost there. I need help over here.” I wrestled with my conscience. Alex asked for help and I ignored him. He wasn’t an angel anymore. He was different, he was scary. Appearances were deceptive and I wasn’t exactly thinking clearly. “Please, Alex. Let me do this. Let me see that I didn’t hurt anyone.” “Charlie. Now. You can’t save yourself. That person isn’t there. But I am. I need you. Don’t you want to prove to your ex that you can help someone?” Alex wheedled. I clenched my fists.
I saw the mangled wreckage of my car and how the road glistened under the patchy fog. How did I walk away from that? I moved to step closer to my car and Alex was in front of me. His angelic beauty forever gone as it dissolved into a skeletal hellscape. The bleached white bone was stark against the night sky. His clothes were rags and rage and some unnamed emotion burned in his eye sockets. “No, Charlie. You can’t go back there. You have to stay with me,” His bony hand crushed my wrist as he stopped me from moving. “You promised you’d help me.” “What’s going on?” I winced at the sharp pain in my chest and the sudden pulsing sensation. I rubbed at the ache and gasped as my hand came away bloody. “Alex?”
He pressed his teeth together and gave me a hard look before speaking. “You’re dying, Charlie. I promised I’d get you home so you can complete your journey.”
The fire in his eyes lessened as we stood. I glanced down the road longingly. There was no way I was dying. I was here, talking with Alex. “You can’t go back.”
He’s declining. We’re running out of time. Where’s the doctor? I don’t know. I called him an hour ago. He should be here by now. What about the next of kin? No, not even them. The poor guy’s all alone. No one answered the phone. Well, keep working on him.
“What’s going on? What was that?” I strained my ears to listen to the voices fading in and out. They sounded serious and it scared me.
“Come with me, Charlie. Ignore them. They’re prolonging the inevitable.” Alex draped an arm around my shoulder and faced me toward a house at the end of a point.
My energy lagged as we stumbled along. Every thought was a jumble of other people’s voices and worries about what happened to me. No one was with me. I was going to die alone. “You’re not going to die alone, Charlie. I will make sure that doesn’t happen.” Alex’s demeanour had shifted to a dark grimness. “I watched you, you know. You did so much for everyone else. You were the epitome of a helpful soul. You deserved a good death.” I allowed Alex to lead me to his home. In my head, the nurse repeatedly tried phoning my next of kin and no one answered. I was dying and I’d lost too much blood. Another man, dressed in black leather, stood on the front step of a small cottage. A helmet was tucked under his arm and his hand was held out for Alex to take. “Welcome Charlie. It’s time for you to rest.”
And it hit me then. I ached for it. I was exhausted and I hurt. Alex wasn’t trying to be mean or railroad me. He and his friend were helping me. They surrounded me with warmth and light as they guided me to the small cottage on the water. A skiff bobbed in the water and it called to me.
Alex steered me away from the dock and brought me inside their cozy home. A small fire gave off warmth from their stone fireplace and something delicious had a wonderful smell in the kitchen. My mouth watered.
“I made a cabbage casserole for dinner. Would you like to have some?” The man in black asked. He was handsome with pale skin and blue flames for eyes. His skin was tight against his skeleton but at least there was still something covering his bones, unlike Alex. Though he and Alex suited each other. They were definitely a pair and I wish I could have had that, especially now.
“Thank you. It’s one of my favourites. It’s a comfort meal, you know?” I sat down at a table
Alex had slipped into the kitchen while I hadn’t been looking before reappearing with a bottle of Chianti and a basket of buns. Another favourite of mine. “This is so nice. Thank you, Alex.” The pain in my chest spiked suddenly, stopping my breath. Blood dribbled out of my mouth. “Fuck. I’ve made a mess.”
I grabbed a snowy white napkin and pressed it against my mouth. “Charon, he’s running out of time,” Alex exclaimed. Charon came out with plates filled with casserole. It smelled like home. I was ready for home.
“Eat up, Charlie. Enjoy every bite.” Charon ordered as he sat down. He leaned over and kissed Alex on the mouth lightly. The easy affection made me smile and ache for my own lover. The food was delicious and I ate every bite of it. As I leaned back, I sipped my wine and thought about what my last wish would be. I longed to say goodbye to my Charon, my Alex. It was time. Charon stood and Alex followed suit. They held their hands out for me to take. Charon ruffled my hair while Alex squeezed me tight.
“Come on. Time to go.” Charon set his heavy hand on my shoulder and led me to the skiff moored outside. The fog was heavy but I could see lights in the distance. White ones are far away while red and blue ones are so near. Charon turned my head so I faced the white light. It wasn’t what I wanted. This thought sprung to mind when the shimmering light glimmered at me. As much as the idea of peace and relaxation appealed to me, I still had things to say. I had to tell Tommy how I felt. That he hurt me. “No. I–I don’t want this.” “Charlie, you don’t get a choice. It’s your time. You’ve had your last repast. That’s it. You must come with me.” Charon nudged me down the dock, even as my feet dragged.
It became clear that I didn’t have a choice. I had to take the skiff and go into the white light. I didn’t have the opportunity to say what I needed to say. Charon had his mission and fuck anyone who decided otherwise, like me. “Honestly, this isn’t what I want. You can’t make me.” I tried to pull my arm away, but Charon’s fingers turned to claws, digging into the soft flesh of my arm.
“You’re dead, Charlie. There’s nothing left in that car. You can’t.” Charon continued to drag me to the skiff. Everything I did failed. He threw me in and jumped in after me.
The blue and red faded and my heart filled up with so much loss. My life was wasted.
“That’s how it seems, Charlie. But it’s not true. You are a pure soul, a friend, a hero. You did not waste anything.” Charon assured me before focusing on his rowing. The bright light grew blinding the closer we got. “Goodbye, Charlie.”
Air rushed into my lungs and I screamed. Two hands held me down and stern words were uttered. Everything was chaotic and loud, bright and astringent.
“Someone, help me.”
“Get the doctor.”
“Charles, relax, it’s okay. Just relax.” I knew that voice. It was… it was as familiar as my own but I couldn’t place it.
I squeezed my eyes closed. Maybe I should be with Charon and Alex. Maybe this wasn’t the right place. Maybe I was in hell.
Then a strong hand gripped mine. A familiar scent wafted over me. Mint blended with coffee or chocolate. Lips brushed my forehead. And something in me relaxed. I sank into the hard bedding and held on to the raft of comfort.
“Heart rate is steady. The patient is awake, mostly.”
I opened my eyes slowly. The room had dimmed and the chaos had lessened. I lifted my chin and tears welled when I saw Tommy there. “You’re here.”
“You can’t get rid of me, Chuck.” He whispered. The nickname used to annoy me. But today? Not so much. “Dammit, Charlie. You almost died.”
“I thought you hated me. You moved out.” I mumbled. I remembered the fight. I remembered the cold shoulder. Doubt swamped me.
“I could never hate you. You’re my Charlie. My best friend, my love. Don’t leave me again.”
“Okay,” I whispered. Talking was too much. Tommy was there. It made me happy. I closed my eyes and dreamed of a happier life.