I stumble back, away from the sinister man. Away from his wide, crooked smile and the crinkles around his beady eyes. Away from the most unbelievable statement I had ever heard in my life. What was this man saying, I think to myself, as flashes of the night began imprinting themselves upon my memory. The endless road, the dreary surroundings. The car crash.
The visuals of my smashed up car suddenly jerk me out of the stupor that I had fallen into. I rush out of the motel, with Mort’s chuckle resounding behind me, towards the accident site. It feels weird to run across the soggy grass and not feel a thing. I feel as if I’m floating above the ground. No burning lungs, no heavy legs. I shake my head against these distracting thoughts and concentrate on jogging towards the site. An uneasiness envelopes me when I realise that I have reached the site sooner than I had expected to. Yes, the car is there alright. The windscreen smashed through, the doors no longer resembling their former self, the upholstery torn apart, and smoke billowing from underneath the crushed hood.
This is exactly the scene that I remembered. But then, why didn’t I remember dying? That should be a pretty vivid memory, right, I muttered to myself as I gingerly touched my forearms and thighs just to reassure myself that I wasn’t losing my mind. I am slightly cold but still solidly real. I feel my sinews stretch and my blood flow steadily under my prodding fingers. Relieved, and a little irritated at the thought of a balding weirdo making a fool out of me, I walk towards the motel. My step is lighter and I now embrace the floating feeling.
Pausing at the unhinged door of the run down building, I call out loudly. “Mort, where in God’s name are you? Laughing in some corner, right? Well, ha ha ha. Guess what, I know you lied. And I’m here to prove that to you by punching your guts. Mort, get out here.” I step inside through the door upon hearing a slight rustle near the reception desk, expecting to see Mort nearby. But he is nowhere to be found. Another noise, this time from the top of the stairwell, catches my attention and I gingerly begin the ascent.
As I reach the first floor landing, I see Mort grinning from ear to ear. As I approach him, a sense of foreboding makes the hair on my back rise up. Bracing myself for another barrage of nonsense, I set my face in stone and glare at him with as much meanness as I can muster. “So, what are you grinning about? I caught your damn lie. Me. Dead?” I start to chuckle softly in his face when I notice that he has been holding his hand out to me. Recognising this as an opportunity to prove to him that I was just as solid as ever, I clutch his outstretched hand.
To my utter shock and horror, my hand passes straight through his. As if it wasn’t even there. I swipe it back and forth, but to no avail. Sweat beads my forehead and tiny rivulets begin to flow down the side of my neck. “Whaaa….” No coherent words leave my mouth as I look at Mort with undisguised terror.
“So, ya was sayin’?”, Mort’s grin widens and his eyes begin to sparkle as he notices the unease that I am going through. “Ya better believe me boy. You’re as dead as ma Granma Irene.” With that he begins to cackle loudly, forcing me to cover my ears against the high-pitched noise.
Next thing I know, a cold, hard object is thrust into my hand as my fingers voluntarily coil around it. “What’s this?”
“Ya goin’ to stay the night, eh? Ain’t gonna do that standin’ around an’ glarin’ at me.”
He points to the door behind him and shuffles his way down the staircase, leaving me even more confused than I was about ten minutes back. I hesitantly step towards the ancient, rotting door. There is no indication that this is a motel room. It may very well have been a storage space, or an attic. There were no numerals, or insignia, and the hinges were rusted beyond repair. I look down at the key clenched in my fist, and notice the faded, curly lettering on the head of the key. The silver markings, and the grooves are remarkably clean and there is a luminous quality about them. I wonder if the key belongs to the rusting lock that in a state of disrepair is barely clinging onto the door.
I turn the key into the lock, feeling agitated, and more than a little nervous. As the door creaks open with a low, painful sound, I push it even further, curiosity now overshadowing the nerves. A cold draft sweeps over my body as I step further inside, and the scene before me is unbelievable to say the least.
It is decorated exactly as my own bedroom is back home, and I stare at it, wide-eyed and disoriented. A jumble of thoughts flit around my mind as I touch the bed, the side lamp, and the Persian rug at the foot of the bed. It all feels the same, looks the same, smells the same. I become even more disgruntled, even more irritated. Is this a trick? Is this one of those TV shows where they fool ordinary folk? My head begins to spin but the familiarity of the space brings me some much needed comfort and equilibrium.
As soon as I settle into my bed, rather the motel’s bed, the light from the side lamp begins to blaze blindingly white. I try to switch it off because I am completely drained from the drive and the insane events since. But my attempts are of no use, which is what I should have expected in the first place. Nothing here happens the way it normally should, I think to myself as I try once more to shut the dam thing off. Just then, the lights of the entire room begin to flicker and shine brightly, giving me the scares as I recall what horror movie I saw this scene in. My mind is wiped clear of any thoughts when a huge spotlight, right in the middle of the bed, is trained on me. I gaze up towards the source of the light, but can see no mechanical or physical proof of the same. I shield my eyes against the glare and continue to search for the source, or for the cackle of Mort’s laughter.
But suddenly, the spotlight switches its focus from me, to the opposite wall, and I can see myself, rather, a younger version of myself sitting at the edge of a large field. This is one my memories, I think to myself, aghast and now genuinely worried. What is going on here? What….My thoughts are cut short rudely as the Head Coach of the Football Team walks towards me and says to me, in a gravelly voice, “I’m sorry David. But you didn’t make the cut.”
The scene shifts to the boy of sixteen years, which is me, as he wipes his dirty hand across his face, trying unsuccessfully to hide his tears. I remember the day when I was completely shattered. The very core of my being having been smashed right across the football field. And all because I had been too careless. Careless with my diet, with the time I had spent off the field. It was my life’s dream to make the school team, but I hadn’t noticed that I had been screwing it up until it had actually happened. All the after school parties, and the skipped practice sessions now came back to haunt me.
As I feel myself being sucked into the vortex of unhappy memories, the spotlight now shines upon an ailing woman, in her early seventies. She is sitting in a rocking chair in the centre of a well-furnished room, with a TV and a stereo system on the wall in front of her, knitting something out of a yarn of black wool. Her eyes seem sad and her fingers unsure. She seems to have all the luxuries she could possibly want, yet for the first time, I notice the agony and the loneliness etched across her time-worn face.
It’s my mother. The same one who had raised me as a single parent. The same one who had endured so much pain to give me all the comforts that a child could not even want. The same one who was now living in an old age home because her son couldn’t imagine being tied down to an invalid mother and cramping his style.
I feel agony pierce through my heart at the thought of my mother’s loneliness, something that I had very callously ignored before. The fact that I had put her up in a luxurious old age home was just not enough to ease my guilt. I feel gut wrenching pain, and I double over as if I were being physically tormented with it.
Just then, the spotlight shifts to another scene. In a graveyard. There are hundreds of black-clad mourners, standing in the pouring rain, looking down towards a beautiful brown casket. I look at the blurry faces, trying to recognise some faces. But they all seem strangers to me. I don’t know any of them. Just then I notice a woman sitting beside the casket, weeping noisily, as a couple of other old women try and comfort her, saying that Maureen is in a much better place now. “Who’s funeral is this?”, I think to myself, my brow furrowing with the mental ordeal.
I look closely at the weeping woman’s face, and suddenly recognise her as my mother’s personal nurse at the old age home. I step back from the wall as I gape at the visuals. I am aghast and horrified, and more than a little shaken as I realise that it is my mother’s funeral. “When did she die? What happened to her? Why wasn’t I informed?” Thoughts whizz through my head, as a mutinous medley threatens to shake my mental balance. I stagger away from the wall, holding onto the sides of my head, trying to erase the images whirling in front of my eyes. I scream for the images to stop, for them to get away from me as they seem to cloy closer to me.
“Mort, stop this. Mort….”, I shout for Mort to ease my agony. My bleeding heart and agonised brain are shouting for reprieve as I feel everything spinning around me. Everything is a blur of shapes and images, a vortex of fuzzy colours and sounds. Suddenly disoriented and queasy, begin to feel myself lose consciousness. And the next thing I know, my eyes are closing under the weight of my lids. Try as I might, I am unable to keep them open. The last word that escapes my slacking mouth is “Mom” and the last visual is of my mother’s closed casket.
Seconds pass. Or maybe minutes. Or maybe hours. It may have been days, or months, or years. I have no recollection of how much time has elapsed. I don’t know where I am, or how I got here. My eyes seem burdened with lead, unable to flutter or open against some foreign pressure. My limbs are heavy, my back seems spineless. I feel as if I am flitting in and out of my body. It is a very uneasy and weird experience.
It is sunny. Not blazingly shiny, but sunny in the most romantic sort of way. The rays are lovingly flitting through the gauzy curtains. There is a flask of water which is obstructing my view of the bay windows, and I become a little irritated that I am unable to have a clearer view. There seems to be a garden beyond the window. The greenery is appealing and comforting. I am lying in a strange bed, with iron railings at the sides, and a clean smelling comforter at my feet. I am comfortable, that much I am sure of.
I again wake up. This time everything is clearer, more vivid. The greenery outside the window is a little muted, the greens peppered with browns and oranges. The scene is looking as lovely as I last remembered it. Perhaps more so. The comforter is the same blue as last time, but the iron railings are not to visible.
I expect myself to fall into the deep slumber that has held me within its grasp for the longest time, but am suddenly interrupted by a voice. A voice that seems quite familiar. A voice that sounds weak, yet strong. My brain is muddled up again as I try to recognise it. Silent sobs resound as if they were wails. I feel soft fingers kneading my arms, and then moving lovingly across my forehead. The touch and the voice both register in my head at the same time and a single word falls off my dry, chapped lips.