By: Thomas M. Malafarina
© 2013 Thomas M. Malafarina
Darkness surrounded him. Not the pitch-black sort of darkness where nothing at all could be seen, but more of a gloomy semi-darkness. He was having trouble focusing; unsure of where he was. He could determine he was lying on his back with his head either propped up with pillows or elevated in some other fashion, perhaps by some sort of adjustable bed. He felt a dull burning pain, which seemed to radiate out from the center of his chest in all directions. As bad as his chest might feel, the disorientation and dreamlike quality of his surroundings was even more disturbing.
He could hear the beeping and humming of electronic machinery all around him, but he couldn’t recall where he was or why he was lying in this strange gloomy place accompanied only by the sounds of machines. In fact, he couldn’t quite even remember his own name. His mind was clouded feeling as though he had been given some sort of mind-altering drug.
Then he slowly began to remember, drugs. Yes, that’s exactly what it was, drugs for the pain. He had been given drugs; large doses of drugs. Morphine was one of the drugs and was being dripped into his body to help with… with the pain. It was all gradually starting to come back to him in disjointed fragments of lost memories. At last, he finally recalled who he was; then sadly where he was and why. He realized he probably would have been better off not remembering after all. His name was Salvador, Salvador Monroe, known to his friends as Sal or Sallie. He was in bed in a hospital, no not a hospital but a hospice center. And he was dying.
Through the drug-induced fog, which he recognized was barely doing anything to dampen the searing agony in his cancer-riddled lungs, Sal understood one thing clearer than anything else; his remaining time was short, very short. He sensed he was extremely weak now, too weak to even raise his head, but he could still manage to slowly move his eyes about to take in most of the room. He could see he was all alone. Where was his wife? Where was Charlotte? She promised she wouldn’t leave him; said she was stay with him till the very end. But where was she now?
Sal suddenly began to panic. He had known he was dying for months, but now he had a feeling, an unmistakable intuition that the end was close by and yet here he was… alone. He didn’t want to die alone. He wouldn’t allow himself to die alone. He was determined to hang on for as long as possible despite the pain. He wanted to wait for his beloved wife to return. Where was Charlotte? He couldn’t cross over without saying one last goodbye to his wife.
Across the room, beyond his ability to focus within the gloom; Sal saw something; the slightest of movements, almost imperceptible but enough motion to capture his attention. What was that moving over there? Was it his wife sitting quietly in the darkness? Lord, he hoped so. He tried to speak, tried to form the words, and call out her name but found he was unable to do so. His throat and lips were parched. He wanted something to drink or perhaps some ice chips to chew on; anything to quench the thirst. And God help him he needed more morphine to dull his ever-increasing pain.
Looking closer, Sal realized what he was seeing was not Charlotte. It was someone, no something else entirely. A faint glow seemed to be emitting from that darkest corner of the room. It was pulsating and appeared to be of no definite form; its shape-changing continuously. At first, Sal had no idea what to make of the strange phenomena. He was almost certain it was some sort of illusion or hallucination brought on by the drugs, yet he could see it so clearly.
Then Sal experienced an awareness, a knowing of sorts. Even though his eyes were seeing nothing more than an effervescent shapeless mass floating mid-air, his mind was experiencing a completely different picture entirely. He saw his long-dead father. Sal’s dad had passed away some thirty years earlier, following a sudden, massive heart attack when Sal was about twenty-nine. Yet now his father appeared before him, smiling at him from across the room with a peaceful and content expression the likes of which Sal had never quite seen cross the man’s face in life. He appeared as he had when he was still tall, strong, and handsome with coal-black hair only just beginning to show hints of silver. “Popa,” Sal said without speaking as his lips silently formed the words. The specter across the room neither replied nor moved; it just stood staring with that strange, peaceful smile.
Sal had always loved and respected his father in life and mourned his passing for what seemed like years. Since then, barely a day passed by without some recollection of his father popping into his mind. He often laughed at the way he noticed things about himself as he got older which mirrored memories of his late Popa. Sal felt tears welling up in the corners of his eyes and didn’t bother trying to stop them as they overflowed and trickled down his cheeks. God, how he missed his father! He had apparently forgotten just how much.
Then he saw two more glowing objects forming on both sides of the first. Soon these illusions took shape in his mind as well and Sal immediately recognized one as his mother, who had passed on fifteen years after his father, and the other was his older brother, Anthony who had been killed in the jungles of Vietnam when Sal was entering his first year of high school, way back on September 17, 1969. It was a date Sal would never forget.
The countenance of his mother was as he remembered her from back when he was a young boy. He loved his mother with all his heart and thought she was the most beautiful woman to ever walk the earth. And now she stood to one side of her husband, his father, looking more radiant than Sal’s finest memory could possibly recall. And on the opposite side of his father stood Anthony who was still wearing his trademark mischievous grin, the one that always drove the girls in his high school wild.
Sal lay helpless in his bed, unable to determine what this vision, hallucination, or whatever-it-was might mean, yet at the same time, he was enjoying the feeling of seeing his departed family members once again. A realization suddenly hit him, and Sal instantly understood why they were here; they had come for him. Sal had heard stories through the years of family members near death who had claimed that long-lost relatives had come to guide them across to the afterlife. About twenty years ago when his father’s brother, Sal’s Uncle Mike had passed away, his aunt Gertrude had told him that in her husband’s final moments of life she heard him speaking to someone across the room who she couldn’t see. Gert and told Sal he had identified the invisible being as his brother, Sal’s father. She was certain he had come to guide Mike to the other side. She told young Sal that when his time came, he should be sure to do what his spirit guide instructed. She said, “Sallie, when they come for you that means it’s your time to go and you should not resist.”
She told him she had no idea what might happen if someone refused to go with them, but it couldn’t possibly be good. “You don’t mess with such things, Sallie.” She had said, “They come for a reason, maybe to protect you from something… something else… I don’t know. But what I do know is when the time comes you just must let go.” And several years later that was exactly what she had done when it was her time to pass on.
Sal had always thought his aunt Gert might have been a little bit “off” but now all these many years later he understood she had been right and that was why his family was here; to help him crossover to whatever awaited him in the afterlife. And in his heart Sal knew he should go with them; it was his time. They were his family and he missed them all so much. He understood that all he had to do was let go and he would be free to cross over to a better place to be with his loved ones. At that moment Sal wanted to go with them more than almost anything else he could imagine… but then he suddenly experienced a brief pang of doubt and realized he couldn’t go with them; at least not yet. He knew the choice to leave or stay was still his to make. And yet as much as he wanted to follow them, he owed it to his loving wife to stay if just for another day or even for another few more hours or minutes. He had unfinished business on this side. He wanted to tell Charlotte how much he loved her, how grateful he had been for how she had taken care of him during his prolonged illness, and most importantly, he wanted to say goodbye. Was that too much to ask? She deserved at least that much, and he wouldn’t leave the planet until he had done so.
Across the room his father, mother, and brother’s peaceful smiling expressions began to darken, replaced by looks of distress and disappointment. They somehow had sensed his intentions. They looked as though they wanted to try and persuade him but were helpless to do anything but stare at him despondently. Finally, his father appearing to be straining with all his strength slowly lifted one of his arms and extended his hand, palm up in one last pleading gesture for Sal to come with them. As tears streamed down his face, Sal sent a thought across the room, between the two worlds. That thought was of how much he loved and missed them, but he couldn’t go with them. Then the three images began to dissolve and fade away along with the glowing lights from which they had appeared.
It was only then that Sal realized that during the time the spirits had been present, all of the pain from his cancer had disappeared. Now, however, it was returning with a vengeance. His chest seared with agony as the disease which had been eating him alive from the inside out resumed a deadly feast. He also experienced something else; not something tangible or anything he could accurately explain except that it was a feeling of total loss; a sense of being left behind. He had images passing through his mind of a lone man standing in the dark at a railway station as a train pulled away. He somehow understood he had just refused what was literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Tears still coursed down his face uncontrollably, but they were no longer tears of joy over seeing his family but were now tears of mourning for the emptiness he felt inside now that they were gone. It was as if his family had just died all over again. But somehow it was worse than simply that. Previously he at least had some hope he might see them again someday but now there was a real fear that he was lost to them forever.
Through his glistening tears, Sal saw something else across the room, another glowing shapeless mass. For a moment he felt his heart begin to race with excitement at the possibility his family might have sensed his distress and returned for him. If so, he knew he would now go with them despite not having said goodbye to Charlotte. He was ready. However, he noticed this glow seemed somewhat different than the previous. It was not as bright and was yellow and crimson in color.
The image which gradually appeared in his mind when he looked into the light was not his father, his mother or his brother. The visage was that of a young woman. She was rail-thin, with long scraggly filthy and unkempt hair. She was dressed in a pair of filthy soiled white pajamas which appeared saturated with some type of gelatinous fluid and were practically see-through. There was nothing alluring about the vision however as the woman was gaunt and her minimal breasts hung down like shriveled prunes. Her sallow cheeks were enhanced by the sunken dark-ringed eyes, which seemed to bug out of her skull. Something about the woman seemed distantly familiar, but Sal couldn’t quite place her.
Her mouth hung slack-jawed and was a reddish-black hole. Her lips on the left side of the deformed opening were gone, revealing a staggered row of sporadically missing and chipped teeth. It appeared as if her face had been through some sort of explosion. As if to further solidify this impression, several wisps of black smoke seeped out of the malformed orifice making it appear like some horribly ghastly flesh-covered chimney.
The woman turned her head slowly to the left as if to display something; something on her right-side which Sal sensed she wanted him to see and which he instinctively knew he would not want to see. Sadly, he was correct. The entire right side of her skull was gone. In its place was an enormous gaping hole oozing a mixture of blood, fragments of flesh, and a gooey gray substance, which Sal believed must have once been brain matter. Swarms of some sort of buzzing insects, perhaps flies, flew about the opening while more wisps of smoke leaked from the dripping gash.
At first, Sal was still uncertain who the woman might be or why she had appeared to him, but then the shock of recognition hit him like a club to the side of his skull. “Meghan?” he thought questioningly. The specter across the room nodded slightly in acknowledgment of his realization. “Oh, my sweet God in Heaven! Sal thought, “Oh no. Please no! Not this! Don’t let it be her. Not Meghan!”
There had been very few things in Sal’s life for which he could honestly say he was sorry about and for which he felt guilty or ashamed. But what had happened to Meghan and his part in the horrible incident was something that had haunted him his entire life. And now the memories flooded back as if they were happening all over again.
Some thirty years earlier Sal had been dating a beautiful young woman named Meghan Reilly. She was a widow with two young pre-school children. Her husband had tragically died when struck by a drunk driver. During Sal’s time with Meghan, her two little ones had become very attached to him. Since they could barely remember their late father Sal had become something of a surrogate dad to them.
The affair had been going strong for close to a year there was an apparent unspoken understanding, at least on Meghan’s part that their relationship would eventually result in marriage. But then something began to change for Sal. He noticed many instances over the previous six months where Meghan had acted in a very strange unpredictable way, leading him to believe that she might be bipolar or maybe there was just something a bit unstable about the woman. The last thing he wanted at his young age was to spend the rest of his life with a woman whose emotions had become so unpredictable. He also couldn’t see himself committing to taking on her two children as his own. Thinking about the potential problems was becoming overwhelming for him.
As a result, he started to become distant, unwilling to face the inevitable and perhaps hoping she would grow tired of him and break off the relationship. But she didn’t. He then realized at some point in time he was going to have to be the one to end things. Sal, however, was not good at confrontation and so he subtly tried to further cut the emotional ties with Meghan, spending less time with her going out at night alone to local bars. But it seemed the more he tried to pull away from her, the more Meghan attempted to draw him closer. Eventually, he had no other option; decided he had to break up with her. One night while sitting at home alone contemplating his dilemma and after a few glasses of liquid courage he called Meghan and ended their relationship over the phone; an act Sal later would come to see as avoidance, bordering on cowardice.
Meghan was devastated and heartbroken. For her, the emotional pain became unbearable. Only having been widowed for a few years, the wound was still too fresh and Sal’s leaving her was like she had lost her husband all over again. Then one night after drinking herself into a stupor she called Sal cursing him for what he had done to her and her children. She was screaming and sobbing using profanities he had never heard her use before. He could hear her kids crying in the background over the phone.
She said she couldn’t stand living with the pain he had caused and that she was going to first kill her children, then herself. Then he would surely be sorry for what he had done, and her suffering would be over. Sal was certain her threats were nothing more than her way of trying to get him to come over to her place to discuss the situation face to face. But he had no intention of doing that. He had made up his mind and as far as he was concerned, they were finished. However, Sal still did his best to try to reason with her but found it very difficult because of her drunken state, her deteriorated mental condition and the incessant noise of her children crying in the background. Megan screamed at the top of her lungs for the kids to be quiet, but the wailing continued and even louder than before. That was until Sal heard two quick shots and the crying ceased.
Sal felt his stomach clench at the realization of what Meghan had just done. He was in shock and couldn’t believe what he had just heard. He hoped to God he was mistaken, and Meghan had maybe just shot into the air. Then perhaps the children had fled from the room. But deep in his heart he knew this was all just wishful thinking. Meghan came back on the line screaming even more hysterically than ever, “This is all your fault Sal. You did this. YOU DID THIS! You killed my babies and now you are going to kill me too. But I swear I’ll be back for you Sal. You can bet your worthless life I will.” Then Sal heard the final gunshot. He stood in shock for a moment before absently placing the receiver back on its cradle.
A few minutes later, after composing himself, Sal contacted the local police, telling them the whole story including the part about his breakup with Meghan. He gave them her address and said he had not left his home and would wait there to speak to them if necessary. The deaths were eventually a ruled murder-suicide committed by a despondent woman who had experienced a psychotic break. But Sal knew he was the catalyst that drove her over the edge.
A few months later when things quieted down, Sal chose to move away and start a new life far from his unpleasant past in a part of the country where no one knew him. And although time passed and most local people had all but forgotten about the incident, Sal was never able to completely come to terms with the role he played in Meghan’s death. It had haunted him for the rest of his life.
And now, all these years later Meghan was back just as she had promised him, standing in spirit, ruined, and broken across the room from his deathbed while he lay helplessly suffering in his final agony. The hideous specter didn’t speak but smiled knowingly at Sal with what remained of her shattered mouth. Sal wanted to scream for help or to cry out to anyone who might come and make this foul hell-spawned creature leave him to die in peace, but he could not.
A moment later, as if in answer to an unspoken prayer he heard the door to his room open and his wife Charlotte slowly entered. He could see the illumination from the hall corridor backlighting her and making Charlotte look almost angelic. As the door closed and the light receded Charlotte made her way across the room to Sal’s bedside where she grabbed a tissue from the nightstand and gently dabbed the tears from his glistening cheeks. Sal could still see the Meghan creature lurking in the shadows as if waiting patiently in anticipation of something; perhaps waiting for him.
As Charlotte patted Sal’s cheek, one of her fingers gently brushed against his skin. The moment her flesh met his, Sal’s mind became flooded with a montage of unbelievable images. He saw numerous scenes simultaneously played out like segments from movies, each of which featured Charlotte in a variety of beds with many of his closest friends naked, sweating, and grunting like rutting beasts. How could this possibly be? How could his beloved Charlotte have done such a thing to him? And why would she have done so while he laid dying in his hospital bed with unspeakable pain and beeping machines serving as his only companions?
Sal’s eyes grew large with shock and his mouth flew open as he was astounded by what he had just witnessed. He wanted to believe none of what he saw was true, but he knew with certainty the images were far more than simple illusions or hallucinations brought on by the drugs. They were a montage of the truth of what his deceitful wife had been doing behind his back, while she was pretending to care for him. He glanced across the room and saw the hideous specter of Meghan staring back at him, grinning madly with what remained of her mangled face. She knew what he had just seen and now she was basking the pleasure of the pain it was causing him.
“Sal?” He heard a voice say from his right. “It’s time Sal.” His wife Charlotte said. “It ok. You can let go now.” She reached over and placed her hand on his in a consolatory gesture. Once again, the moment their flesh met his mind was flooded with images of Charlotte and those men and he understood why she wanted him to let go. What a ridiculous fool he had been. Sal had loved that woman with all his heart, but she apparently hadn’t loved him for some time. Charlotte had been much younger than Sal when they had married. Then his cancer had caused him to become a burden to her. She had found comfort in the beds of other men. And now she was ready for him to die and get it over with so she could get on with her new life. The horrible and degrading sex scenes were the final images Sal had in his mind as a living human being when his body gave out its final gasp allowing his spirit to move on. But where would it move on to? He family was gone and all that remained was that hideous specter of Meghan.
A moment later Sal was standing across the room looking back at his death bed. Charlotte was standing by his bedside pretending to be in mourning while taking furtive glances down at her watch as if determining how long she might have to stand next to his body playing the dutiful wife before she could call for help and eventually leave. When the nurses who were monitoring Sal’s machinery from their central station came into the room Charlotte quickly turned on the waterworks crying as if she had just lost the love of her life.
Sal felt an icy chill settle upon his shoulder as he slowly turned and looked into the mutilated face of his one-time lover Meghan. She opened her mouth sensuously and a disgusting odor of rotting meat came leaching out like the stench of garbage fermenting in a can for weeks. Sal saw her gray slime-covered tongue flitting about the cavernous orifice and noticed several worm-like creatures squirming in and out of open weeping soars on her glistening face. The hideous thing which had once been his beautiful lover reached up and entwined her bony fingers into the hair on the back of his head drawing him closer. He tried with all of his might to resist her pull but her strength was much greater than his and she pulled his lips down to meet hers.
He could smell the foul reek of her as he struggled hopelessly to keep his lips away from hers. But no matter how much he fought his mouth soon became pressed tightly against the crumbling maggot-infested flesh of her gaping maw. His stomach revolted as he felt her cold slimy tongue sliding first across his lips and then diving deep into his mouth where it flitted from side to side as if it had a mind of its own.
The Meghan thing next grabbed his hand and forced it onto one of her withered breasts as she slowly pulled her snake-like tongue out of his mouth. Sal spat some sort of foul-tasting crawling things behind her as Meghan laid her right cheek against his. From his position, Sal could clearly see what remained of her demolished brain which appeared to be undulating impossibly as dozens of white maggot-like worms skated across its slimy covered surface in a hideous ballet of revulsion. Some of the larvae would occasionally stop to bore deep into the spongy meat and creep below the outer surface of the decaying brain tissue.
The Meghan specter whispered something into Sal’s ear, “I came back for you as I promised so many years ago my love, and now we will finally be joined together in our own special lover’s embrace in Hell for all of eternity.”
Sal heard a loud maniacal ear-splitting scream reverberating throughout the room and realized with horror it was coming from himself.