By Del Gibson
So here is my story.
I am alive, but I am dead. There was a time when I could feel, but that was eons ago.
Sometimes, I float away and disappear, but most of the time I live inside my head. That seems to be the problem. I don’t know, when I wake, which year I will be in. I would love to tell you when it all started, but it was so very long ago, that I can’t remember.
Oh hell, here I go again…I am standing in a doorway, I can’t see because the room is dark. I can smell an incense stick – Sandalwood burns my nostrils; it tickles. I have arrived inside my mother’s bedroom. She moves in the bed and asks me to come closer. I reach out, I am just about to touch her, feel her soft hand – but it doesn’t work like that. I can’t actually touch anyone when I am still in transit, from one place to the next. Everything turns black, there is a sparkle of colour zooming towards me.
I land hard on solid ground. It is snowing, I am looking at the sky. I don’t want to be here. No not here. Closing my eyes I scream inside my head. The man with the axe is coming closer, I can almost smell him! I hear his footsteps right in front of me. I open my eyes and I am taken away, down the tunnel…
I wake in my bed. The room is covered in sunshine. I feel someone next to me, and I know I have come home. Seth rolls over and touches me, he startles awake.
“You are back! Where have you been? You took so long this time.”
It still baffles him that I live like this. I told him about my problem when we first met. That was years ago now.
“The kids have missed you,” he says quietly.
“I know love, I seem to be flittering about more so now than ever. You know I can’t help it. I will get them ready for school, you have a sleep in. Everything will be okay, the kids understand.”
I leave the room and go to my children. Sophie is five-years-old and Charlie is a rambunctious eight-year-old. It has been hard for them having me leave them, sometimes in the middle of dinner, or tucking them in at night. I don’t drive, because it could be dangerous if I disappear whilst driving the car. It happened once, and I will never let that happen again.
“Charlie, wake up darling boy, I am home. Let’s get you ready for school.”
He wakes and smiles when he sees me. He reaches out his arms for a cuddle, I melt into them and breathe in his morning scent. A tear falls and I brush it away.
“My sweet boy, you get dressed and I will meet you downstairs for breakfast. I need to wake Sophie. I love you Charlie.”
“Mummy, I love you too. Where have you been? Will you tell me one day?”
I am shocked. He has never asked this before; I am at a loss how to answer that question.
“Mummy has been on another adventure. I told you I would be back and here I am.”
He seems content with that, for now. I leave him to get ready and I go to wake Sophie. She is sitting in bed and she smiles when I enter her pink bedroom.
“Mummy! I thought I was dreaming. I could hear you talking to Charlie. Mummy I missed you. You been gone for days this time. I hate it when you leave.”
Sophie starts crying. I run to her and scoop her into my arms, for once they feel full and real.
“Oh dear girl, I am sorry. I am here now and that is all that matters.” I kiss her little cheeks, she giggles. “Get dressed honey, I am going to get ready and I will see you downstairs for breakfast. Okay beautiful?”
“Okay mummy. Promise you will stay this time?”
“Oh sweetheart, you know mummy can’t stay. But I will see how I go.”
I venture back into our bedroom, and Seth watches me intently as I get dressed.
“Where did you go this time babe?”
“I was with mum for a bit. Then I ended up at the cabin in the snow. He was there waiting for me. He got really close this time – I was terrified.”
He pats the side of the bed for me to sit down. So I do. I can feel the distance between us, a vast void of emptiness divides us.
“I’m not sure how much more of this we can take. It is no good for our marriage and the kids are confused. Charlie told one of his friends and now they think he is weird. I had to get him from school yesterday, he is being bullied.”
Although this kills me inside, and breaks my heart – there is nothing I can do about it.
“Look, I have an idea. How about you take the day off work, and we keep the kids home for the day? We could go somewhere special, we could go to the beach, they would love that,” I say snuggling closer to him.
He stands abruptly and moves away from me.
“Really? You think that will make up for the time you spend away?”
“Seth, it is better than nothing. I would love to spend the day with you and the kids, it has been so long since we did anything together.”
Suddenly, my head feels funny, and there is a ringing in my ears. This is not good. I can feel the tug, like a string is pulling me towards the tunnel. Please, I beg, not now…
I wake and my head is swimming. It takes me a while to realise I am in the back of the old Holden we had when we first got together. Seth is driving and his brother Adrian is riding shot-gun. They are talking animatedly about the movie we just watched: Pulp Fiction. They are laughing their heads off; Seth is stealing looks at me in the rear-view mirror.
“Did you like the movie babe?”
“Yes, I love Quentin Tarantino. He is the best. Where are we going for dinner?”
I feel like something is missing. The kids! I have come back to before the kids were even a thought inside my head. This has never happened before; I am so confused. I don’t want to be here without the kids even being in existence. I need to get away. I will myself to leave, but nothing happens – I am distraught.
“Are you okay babe? You look sick.”
I don’t have time to answer him, before I am dragged away, into the void. Something strange is occurring. When I come too, I am back at home with mum and dad. My older brother Emmet is eating his breakfast, and packing his school bag. I sit here dumbfounded. What is happening? I keep ending up in the past.
“Sarah-Jane, eat your breakfast. Hurry up or you will miss the school bus.”
I dare not move, not wanting this moment to end. Dad is alive and sitting next to me; he died several years ago from a heart attack, and I haven’t seen Emmet in years – he lives overseas with his wife and children. Mum is still alive, but the times I end up in this house, she is usually in bed, existing in a deep dark depression. I take this opportunity, because I don’t know if I will ever have another chance.
“Dad I love you.”
“Oh, munchkin. I love you to the moon and back.”
He kisses my cheek.
“Mum, I love you too. I just want you both to know you are wonderful parents. And I am sorry of I have caused you any problems.”
“Sweetheart, don’t be silly. We love you too. Now go and get ready for school.”
I leave them sitting there, and I make my way to my old bedroom. It is exactly as I had left it, all those years ago. It is messy but clean. My posters are on the walls, and the bookshelf packed with all of my favourite books. Even my stuffed animals I had forgotten I had, sit there waiting for a cuddle.
The air in the room changes, it is charged with a new energy I have never felt before. Suddenly, I feel myself drifting towards the tunnel, but I don’t want to go, not yet. But I can’t stop the circle of life that takes me away from my family.
The snow wakes me, I must have fallen asleep; that is new. I am back at the cabin, and this horrifies me to no end. I am shaking, because of the cold and because of the man I know is coming. I hear his boots crunching along the snowy ground.
“You are back!” he yells.
He has never uttered a word before and once again I am confused. He comes closer and closer with his axe. Is he going to kill me?
“Who are you?” I ask.
“You don’t know who I am?” he asks, clearly startled.
“No I don’t” I reply.
“Oh dear, this isn’t a good sign. You need to come with me, before you disappear again. There are things I need to explain to you.”
He helps me to my feet. I am bewildered by this sudden turn of events. Who is this man? How does he know who I am? I follow him to the cabin. It is nice and warm inside with a fire going. He makes me a hot drink and we sit at his little table.
“I am your grandad. I thought you would have recognised me?”
“Grandad? But you have been dead for years? I never even met you.”
“I know that dear child. You always disappear before I have the chance to talk to you. How have your adventures been?”
Lost somewhere in my thoughts, I try to dredge up the photographs in my mind of my grandparents. Then I remember…
“Hold up, dad said you were dead. Is that not true?”
A pregnant pause follows.
“Yes, well, there are things you really need to know. I know that it is happening to you too, which is why I have tried to catch up with you whenever you come here.”
So, this is why I have this problem. I inherited it?
“Are you saying you have the same thing? Will it ever stop? Do you still travel? I have so many questions!”
“The thing is, you will end up somewhere and you will be stuck there forever. But there are signs when this will happen. It started with me flitting around from place to place in quick succession,” he takes a deep breath. “It felt like I was being ripped apart. Then one day I came back here and I never left.”
Suddenly I am scared and worry creeps through me. I wonder where I will end up if this ever ends? I pick up my hot chocolate and it tastes delicious. My head begins to tingle.
“You are leaving now aren’t you? Do you feel it? The charge in the air is usually an indication…”
I come too, standing next to mums bed. The room smells like she hasn’t opened a window in years. It feels damp in this tiny room and she is sitting up smoking in bed – a terrible habit that never abated. She looks old and withering away.
“There you are, I have been waiting,” she snarls at me.
Why is she acting like this? I haven’t spoken to her in years. Usually I just transition through, like a train passing through the station. Her smoke surrounds me like a serpent. In the vapour I smell sickness and strawberries.
“Are you staying this time? I would love to talk to you.”
“Hello mum. I think I have come to say goodbye.”
She laughs and it shakes the bed.
“No, child. You don’t understand. This is the end of your travels. This is where you end up.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” I scream in her face.
“Why do you think I stay here child?”
I do not understand. I am stunned into silence. I look around the room in deep thought, and finally the truth punches me in the gut. It wasn’t dad who I inherited this from, it was mum all along. Then I remember…
It was dad who took me to gymnastics, swimming lessons and parent teachers meetings. He always told me mum was having a nap. Then a memory implodes inside my head…I crept into the room to see her. But she wasn’t there. Nor was she in the en-suite. Her walk-in closet; also empty. I asked dad where mum was, he lied right to my face and said she was having a nap.
I stayed; I had no other choice. After a few months, mum died in her sleep. I watched as she withered away. No one came to the house. We lay in bed, me staring at the ceiling wondering what my life would have been…Then one day I woke and I was back inside the cabin. Grandad was screaming in my face.
“Hurry child, we don’t have much time. There is only one way you can stop bouncing around. You have to kill me. Hurry, this is your last chance or you will be stuck here forever. If you want to go home to your husband and kids, do as I say, do it now!"
Without a second thought, I grab the pistol from his hand. I turn it around and shoot my grandad clear in the middle of his forehead. The room begins to spin, my head feels broken. The tunnel is smaller this time, and at the very end I have my bedroom in my sights. The hole in the air is closing, I have to run. But I am exhausted, shattered beyond anything I have felt before. The colours slowly dim as I race through and lunge for the opening…
Seth is shaking me awake.
“You are back! You came back!”
His tears soak into my dirty shirt. He smells like coconuts. Am I really here? I made it. There is a knock at the door, and the kids burst in. They pile on top of the bed and snuggle in giggling. They seem a whole head taller, and this saddens me. Something is different, I feel it in my bones. Something has settled, and there is no string attached to me anymore. I made it home, and here I have been ever since. Everything is right in the world.
Copyright (c) Gibson, Del 2021