“Hell is oneself; Hell is alone, the other figures in it merely projections. There is nothing to escape from and nothing to escape to. One is always alone.”
* * *
3:02 AM. December 24th 2009. New York City.
My head was cold and sore from lying on the cement. I was in a state of total shock; my limbs seared into the ground.
“Think we’re gonna make it?” he barely whispered. His chest moved up and down in uneven breaths. His face seemed to become one with the concrete. The stale trail from tears left blurred icy stains on his face.
“No.” I squeaked back, hoping he couldn’t hear me.
He let out a few wheezy coughs before he asked, “We’re gonna die aren’t we?”
It was hard to hear him with the wind howling and his teeth chattering. I tried not to whimper as I thought about my answer. The pain from the cold had spread to my entire body and was making me weak. I didn’t want to be ‘Captain Obvious’ by telling him that we weren’t making it off the pavement alive so I stayed quiet.
The snow and bitter winds were turning our porcelain skin a pale blue. I looked at him for some kind of idea as to what I looked like by now. We were both a grayish blue in color and the cerulean from our eyes had begun to fade. The blood from his mouth and abdomen left a trail in the snow. It went from dark purple to a deep red. His face didn’t say pain or anger anymore; it just said “help”.
“I can’t… I can-“ He started. He managed to clutch on to my hand as we lay in the sub zero temperatures. “I can’t feel my legs.” He finally slurred.
The loss of feeling in my limbs had already hit me but I didn’t say anything. I grabbed his hand as tight as I could and kept the left one on my stomach. I could feel the thick red fluid spill itself all over my torso, leaving a temporary reminder of our presence in the snow. My hypothermia was getting worse; he had reminded me of how sore my body actually was. A thousand tiny needles were poking themselves into me over and over, pushing me into mercy. If only I could surrender. My shivering had stopped; my body had given up hope entirely and the pain became almost natural.
“What are you thinking?” Jason finally asked.
To tell the truth I wasn’t thinking anything. I was too depressed and scared to do anything but lie there. I wasn’t thinking about how we were dying, about our mother, I wasn’t thinking about where we would go in our afterlife; I wasn’t thinking at all. I was just, still.
“I’m thinking of mom” I replied.
He moved his head up just once, indicating a nod, and then let it slide back down.
My vision was becoming impaired. I was paralyzed. Incapable of movement in my arms, couldn’t see anything, had no voice. I could hear only certain things, the cruel winds, the eerie silence, Jason’s breathing; wispy and shallow. His freezing cold hand lay limply on top of mine.
Eventually, after a long while, I could no longer hear his breathing.
“Jason.” I tried to call out. My voice was cracking. “Stay awake.” I looked for any sign of movement. I imagined somewhere deep in my mind magically getting up and shaking him awake. I imagined myself being able to save us from this Hell and put us somewhere safe.
I called out to him again. He sluggishly opened one eye and shut it again. I wanted to tell him that everything would be okay, that we would make it, but the words stayed locked in my throat. They urgently tried to tear their way out, to comfort him, but my quivering lips remained silent. All I could do was call his name but no matter how many times I called out to him he didn’t respond. His body was no longer moving.
“Jason?” I called again. I could hardly hear myself with this new, weaker, raspier voice of mine. I was on my eighth try for a reaction. I saw his stiff face just for a moment. His eyes were wide and the deep cerulean blue was overthrown but a pale periwinkle. His mouth was slightly open and his grip around my hand had loosened. His breathing had stopped entirely. I looked at him for a lengthy minute. I waited for him to open his eyes, to say something to me. I stubbornly watched him, urgently waiting for some kind of feedback. The dizzying pain inside me had grown stronger. The whispering winds had replaced my brother’s breathing. I still waited for him. His handsome face was covered in a light trace of snow. He looked so peaceful. He looked so…free. It didn’t really matter what I said or did at this point I knew I was all alone. My brother was the only real reason I hadn’t given up before, but with him gone I lost all hope entirely. I closed my eyes. I couldn’t bear to look at his unresponsive face anymore. I was hoping my throbbing sleep would turn into a quiet death.
I continued to replay the night’s events in my head. Our lives didn’t need to be taken so early from us. I started to think of the famous quote, “God is always with you.” Bullshit. Where was He now in our time of crisis? He sat there and let it happen. He doesn’t need to care, He’s God. I guess He doesn’t love His creation as much as everyone said He did. I used all the energy I had left in me to look towards the sky. “How could you let this happen? How could you do this to us?” I sobbed. I looked at Jason once more before whispering “I hate you.”
Faintly, I heard someone’s voice break the aching state I was caught in.
“There’s a person here!” someone shouted. I could hear feet parading towards me, but I kept my eyes closed. Hopefully I would die before they reached me. “Jesus, there’s two of ‘em!” he screamed again. I became agitated with his booming voice.
He raced over to me and put his hand in the nape of my neck. “Just leave us alone.” I thought in silence. I was so close to being with my brother again, just go away.
My pulse sold me out. “She’s alive!” he screeched back. I opened my eyes and tried to see the man who was ruining my chances of going to a better place. His face remained a secret, an irritating Good Samaritan.
I didn’t have time to process that I was being hoisted onto a gurney. My hand was ripped from my brother’s. I missed his touch almost instantly. I didn’t want them coming here, it was unfair that I couldn’t fight back, couldn’t say anything. I was being strapped down to an uncomfortable bed on wheels and having a plastic mask shoved in my face.
“She’s barely breathing.” He called.
“No shit.” I thought back. “Where were you two idiots when I was warm enough to talk? Where were you before Jason died?”
I turned slightly and saw the man he was talking to. He had a buzz cut and a dark blue coat on that had the word “Paramedic” stamped on the back of it. I couldn’t help but wonder who had called these two; if no one had, then how did they know we were here?
Everything in my head seemed to be spinning wildly; I was so confused as to what was happening. He walked over slowly to my brother, as if reading my mind when I was telling them he was already dead. He sank to his knees in apparent agony and grabbed my brother’s arm for his pulse. He put my brother’s arm back down gingerly on the floor. He found the blade on the ground next to him. It was covered in our blood. He turned to his side and told the small radio on his shoulder to bring another ambulance. The one they must have come in came screaming down the alleyway and I was hoisted into a claustrophobic van. The stab wounds were beginning to pound once more due to all this movement. “Stay with me!” he shouted. It was as if I couldn’t hear him. I could no longer hear his voice or the sirens, just the sound of my own heart beats. My mind was racing with thoughts on what they were going to do with my twin. “Was he just going to go straight to the morgue? Was my mom already at the hospital? I didn’t want her to see him dead and me clinging on to my last breaths.
The silence in his chest was piercingly loud to me. Warm liquid poured down my face as we sped our way to the hospital.
* * *
We were being rushed through swinging doors and into an emergency room.
People were trying not to get hit by the speeding gurney in the hallways. “Just hang on!” he tried to yell. His voice was becoming a deafened noise in the back of my mind. I didn’t notice it before. I could see him rushing past everyone, but I couldn’t see his face. I saw the nurse holding my hand, trying to keep the bleeding to a minimal and another trying to pump medication into my IV cord. Everything seemed to be going in slow motion when we charged our way to the ER. I caught a glimpse of my mother before I saw her chasing me down the hallway. “Abby!” she bellowed.
“Oh shit.” I thought. She shoved her way past the nurse and a man on crutches to be by my side. She grabbed my hand and sobbed at its ice cold feel.
“Ma’am I’m gonna have to ask you to step back.” One of the nurses said. She reached over and tried to console my mom, while trying to steer the gurney.
“Get her outta here.” I heard my savior mumble. He had an angry look on his face, like I was his to revive. I became frightened.
My mother could merely bawl harder. She buried her face into my hand, avoiding the fact that she couldn’t see where she was going. Her legs just moved with the crowd, all her attention on me.
We had reached the emergency room when my rescuer shooed my mother away from the room. “Let me see my baby!” I heard her scream. Oh God. This was the last thing she needed to see. The unbalanced order of some peoples unfortunate lives when the children die before the parents. I could only imagine how they would break it to her. “Oh hello Ms. Morgan, seasons greetings. Tomorrow Santa is bringing you your precious twins in a metal filing cabinet for the dead. Have a nice day.”
The doctors that were yelling at each other were now yelling at her. I didn’t get to hear her for much longer before she was pulled from the room.
I was unhitched and lifted onto another bed. A blinding light shone in my eyes. People were hooking me up to different machinery, placing a long, glistening blanket on me to bring my core body temperature up. I didn’t see the need; they might as well have let me depart this life in peace. Don’t save me if you can’t save my brother. I saw them reeling in the paddles. They all were in such a panic and for what? It wasn’t like they were going to save me. I wasn’t going to let them.
The room around me was no longer spinning. Everything in it just seemed to be disappearing. I wasn’t scared of dying, just the thought of never seeing Jason's face again. The light on my face was dimming and I could feel my eyelids pulling shut. I hadn’t the energy to focus on their antics. I wanted to go to sleep.
“We’re losing her!” someone yelled. I could hear my monitor beeping irregularly.
More disgruntled shouting. They brought the paddles over to me, but it was too late. I wasn’t with them anymore; I was on the quest for my brother. The last thing I heard before my eyes shut completely was my mother’s shrilling cry and the sound of my own flat line.
* * *
My eyes opened slowly and I woke up in the same bed. I looked around confused and frantic. I stared at everyone for a moment. They looked back at me and walked away gloomily. I looked around worried; this was not what I expected. I heard my savior say through tears, “Time of death, three fifty three A.M.” he turned away and slammed the paddles down. I gradually lifted myself up and shifted back to the bed. I exhaled in astonish. It held my body. I frowned confusingly and bent down beside myself. I held a gaze with my pale, unattractive face. Was I supposed to be here?
I attempted to seek out a reflection of myself. I wandered around the room and ran up to one of the cabinets full of medication. In this reflection I was beautiful again. Hair was free of snow, skin was my usual pale, lips were plump and pink and my eyes were still a vivid cerulean blue. I was definitely caught in limbo, an out of body experience. I could see everyone and everything, but they were all completely unmindful to me. I felt more scared here then dying on the street. I assumed my only reason for being here was because I already had unfinished business. I needed to see my brother, to find out where they took him.
I ran out of the room only to encounter a weeping woman on the floor. She was curled up into a ball and was crying loudly into her arms. I knelt down beside her, my eyes fresh with tears. “Oh mom.” I thought. A tear glided down my face when I wrapped my hand around her arm. I felt her quivering. I decided to sit with her for a few moments. She had, clutched in her hand, a picture of all four of us, Jason, me, her, and my father at our cabin up North. She looked up from her fetal stance and gocked at the picture. She ran a trembling finger across Jason’s smiling face. My face crumpled at the memory. I may have been dead but I could feel my mother’s pain. I could only imagine what she is going through. I had to look for him regardless. I kissed my mother on the forehead in agony and continued on my journey.
I passed many people in the hallways, some in wheelchairs, others on the brink of death. This place was crowded and I bumped into several people who never even felt a nudge. I didn’t even know where to look for Jason. The morgue? Did they stick him in a room? I needed hints. I walked my way over to the receptionist’s desk, still in awe with this whole experience. I looked through her files, wondering if she could see me. One of the doctors walked over and handed her a file, telling them the time of death was approximately 3:53 AM. She set it down beside her and took a sip of coffee. I snatched it from her and rifled through the pages. Was Jason somewhere in here?
The last page read: Jason Morgan, twenty year old male, reached severe hypothermia. Time of death 3:45 A.M. Held in room 246.” Bingo.
I was stuck somewhere on the third floor. I set the folder back down and raced my way to the nearest exit. It didn’t occur to me to stay in one place until he found me. I burst through the doors that had a large 3 on it and bolted downstairs. I was running in the same thing I had been dying in, the designer boots my mother insisted buying for me, were not helping my speed.
I ran to the first room I saw. 234. I traced my way along the numbers sitting atop the doorframes. 35, 36, 38, a gap; the washrooms. I walked swiftly across the hall. 243. My body flooded with adrenaline and anxiousness. 44, 45, 46… I stopped cold before actually entering. I didn’t know if he would be in there, I didn’t even know what he would look like, if I could bare to see it again. I walked in slowly, and saw a figure lying under a white sheet. My gut tightened. My knees shook with every step that brought me closer to him. I pulled it off his face to reveal a pale blue stiff. I touched his frosty skin, unaware of how cold we had become. It was the equivalent to touching ice, or putting your hand in freezing water.
I whimpered his name before I curled up on the bed next to him. My arms wrapped around his torso. His icy flesh made me feel even worse. How could I have let this happen to him?
I closed my eyes, waiting for him to find me. I couldn’t help but think the worst. My body filled with hot and cold responses to the questions I was asking myself. I sat there in pain listening to the clock tick.
I heard someone call my name but I knew in an instant it wasn’t Jason. The voice was deeper, more comforting. It didn’t sound like a kind, friendly brother, it sounded like a father.
“Abigail Morgan.” I heard him call again. My eyes shot open in disbelief. It couldn’t have been him. I didn’t want to move out of fear and another separation from my brother. I wound my arms tighter around his frigid body and waited for the voice to disappear.
He took a step towards us and I felt it inside my chest. I felt like a small child, staring in one spot until the monster went away. I dug my face deeper into Jason's frozen neck. Why wasn’t this man leaving?
“Abigail” he said, softer this time. He placed a warm hand on my shoulder. I twitched at his touch. My fingers grabbed onto to Jason's coat.
“Abby, look at me.” the voice ordered gently.
I refused to move. I knew who it was, but I did not believe it was really him, that it was really my dad.
“Okay hun that’s fine, I’ll just wait here until you’re ready.” I heard him sigh and sit down in a chair close to the bed. He waited.
Twenty eight minutes had passed before I decided to check if he was gone or not. I loosened my fingers from Jason's coat and turned around little by little. My feet touched the floor but I kept my head down. I saw his feet still planted, unmoving on the ground.
My head slowly rose to see my father’s face. He looked exactly the way I remembered him. Green eyes, welcoming face, the light scruff on his chin, the overwhelming sense of comfort in his simple presence. His hair was still cut short and remained unkempt, but it suited his face. His eyes weren’t welling and he didn’t look like he felt anything. He just stood there, staring at me with a small smile on his face.
“Abby.” He smiled. His voice was still soothing and rugged. I welled at the all too familiar sound.
“Hi daddy.” I stammered. I looked down to the floor again and tried to fight off my emotions.
He inched closer to me in comfort. I grabbed a fist full of his shirt and buried my face into it. I sobbed so loud I was almost positive someone would hear me. I heard him trying to hush me into calmness. I merely sobbed harder. I didn’t think about Jason in this moment, just me and my dad, the way things should have been. Us together on Christmas. He wrapped his hands around my face and drew me away from his chest. I tried to keep my composure in his docile hold. He kissed my forehead and pulled me back into hug. I started to become more still.
I pulled away from him. I clutched on to his hands and asked for the reasoning behind his company.
He simply cocked his head to the side slightly, signifying he couldn’t ruin the surprise. “We should go.” he smiled with his eyes.
I blindly wanted to follow him but I couldn’t leave Jason. I turned around to take another look at him but he stopped me. I gazed at him confused.
“What are you doing?” I asked. “What about Jason?”
“He won’t be coming.” He said with a weary sigh.
He didn’t reply.
“Where is Jason?” I asked, getting angrier.
His face dropped, he didn’t want to respond. “Right in front of you.” He stated through pained eyes.
I didn’t want to become upset with him, but I needed to know where my brother was. If he isn’t coming with us, then where the hell was he going?
“Abby.” His face was becoming sterner.
I backed up towards Jason's bed. My eyes stayed locked on my father’s but I no longer wanted to follow him.
“Where the fuck is he going?” I stammered in disbelief at my own anger towards a man I had missed so much. I instantly regretted swearing at him.
“Just calm down Abby.” He said. He was keeping his composure. He wasn’t becoming angry or miserable. He just seemed like he didn’t want to be the one to tell me where Jason was going.
“Why aren’t you answering me?” I sputtered. I was getting lightheaded. My legs and arms seemed to be getting feeble and I had to grab on to the edge of the bed for balance. My mind was competing for the better option, staying with my dad or my brother.
“Abby his afterlife will be much different than yours.” He told me.
“Why? Where is his afterlife?”
His face, bit by bit, became more and more heartbroken.
“No, no … no.” I said over and over. That couldn’t be it; there was no logic behind it. He was a committed Catholic. A Christian in Hell was such a foolish concept.
“There is no way of getting to him sweetheart.”
“Why not? Is he already down there?” My breath was having a hard time leaving my body.
“He has been down there since before you woke up.” I finally saw my father begin to well.
I couldn’t even imagine what would happen to him down there. The horrible stories everyone always told us when we were kids and what we read about it as adults. I didn’t want to know what Lucifer was capable of and how defenseless my brother would be against him. How he would be torn apart over and over for doing nothing. The endless torture, the screaming and the never ending hurt. Oh God, what were they doing to him? I've been here for about thirty five minutes, a time span that must feel like thirty five years in Hell. How bad must it be down there that minutes get converted into greater amounts of time? I didn’t want to know.
“Abby that life isn’t for either of you, but I had no control over where you two were destined to go.”
“Oh and Jason was ‘destined’ to go to Hell? You expect me to go with you, to see the man that put him down there?!” I didn’t want to go, there was no way my father was dragging me to see this so-called God.
“This was not His choice.” He said decisively. He was protecting Him, someone who took away his only son. It made me sick.
“So what exactly is He good for then huh? Not only did he kill us when we were only twenty but then he takes Jason away from me and now I find out he’s in Hell?!“ I asked, skeptical now of everything I had been following since my birth. Life after death, God, Heaven, Hell, it all seemed like total shit.
He didn’t answer me again. He just started to walk towards me slowly but determined. I ignored him and turned to face Jason. I rested my hand on his horribly cold forehead and bowed my head. I still had no proper emotion towards what my father had shared with me.
I felt firm hands wrap around my torso and pull me away.
“We need to leave now darling.” He was pulling me away and I started to get more fragile. Every step he took away from Jason broke me apart in some way. I tried harder to fight off his arms but his seize remained iron. I kicked my legs and begged for my brother, screaming his name to his lifeless face.
My father continued to drag me until I started to sob so hard I lost all my will to fight with him. I collapsed onto the floor and tried to bury my brittle face into my hands. He scooped me up into his arms and carried me out the same door I came through. A door that led to nothing but the second stage of this endless nightmare I was caught in.
The door seemed to have an inhuman glow to it. I couldn’t see what was on the other side the white was so blinding. This must be the door to the better place I was looking for all this time. But I didn’t see it as a better place anymore. I didn’t think of the angels, the peace… I thought of one person only. This place was no longer glorious.
I know what I am destined to do. This limbo Hell may be over, but this war is just beginning. I am fated to find my brother no matter what it takes. It is my purpose.