From the Malafarina Files, ‘Parallelism’ a short story by the master of horror Thomas M. Malafarina

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By: Thomas M. Malafarina
© 2018 Thomas M. Malafarina

“Imagination is the parallel universe of a writer. If he is not responding to you in the world, he is
probably responding to someone in the imaginary world.” – Heenashree Khandelwal

“I feel like I am diagonally parked in a parallel universe.”– Unknown

1

The ceiling fan turned slowly above his head as Emmet stood watching, patiently waiting for it to stop. He had turned off the wall switch a few moments earlier and what momentum remained in the fan was strictly the result of its previous circular motion slowly winding down. If he had been able to reach up and grab one of the five blades, it would have stopped as there was no longer any power in its drive motor. But it was too far away to reach from the bedroom floor.

Antique rustic ceiling fan at the old tin zinc metal roof grunge texture background. (vintage style)

The fan wasn’t inaccessible high up on a vaulted ceiling or anything of that nature. It was located directly over his and his wife’s queen-size bed, which made it unreachable from anywhere around the bed. Emmett had volunteered to help his wife Carla this weekend, and he had just finished dusting the entire bedroom, save for the wooden blades of their ceiling fan.

He had once considered buying one of those fancy ceiling fan dusting thingies with a big fluffy oval brush on the end of a long telescopic handle, but their fan blades were only about seven feet off the ground. The problem wasn’t so much height as location. Their bedroom wasn’t large enough to move the bed around to get up at the blades using a stepstool. So, Emmett planned on doing what he had done many times before, standing on the bed to reach the fan blades.

It wasn’t the safest thing in the world, nor was it the most dangerous. Emmett suspected Carla had used a similar technique to dust the blades when it was her turn, though she might never admit it.

And regardless of what method she happened to choose, if he were to fall and hurt himself, she would nevertheless chew him a new one. Besides, he had never had problems using this method previously. He may have had a few close calls at various times over the years, but no accidents. He wasn’t getting any younger, sixty-five at his last birthday, and his balance wasn’t quite what it used to be if he were frank with himself. As his late father used to say, “It ain’t what it used ta was.”
;
Emmett Parker was a part-time science fiction writer with several dozen novels and more than two hundred short stories to his credit. He had retired from his full-time engineer position six months earlier and supposed he could now call himself a full-time author. However, that title might be a bit grandiose since the little money he made from his publications scarcely supplemented his savings, meager pension, and social security income.

As he watched, the fan blade made its final revolution, and then it came to a complete stop. Emmett walked over to the bedroom doorway and listened to make sure Carla wasn’t on her way upstairs. Then he went back to the night table and grabbed his dust cloth along with a can of spray cleaner. Emmett sat down on the bed and pulled up his legs as if turning in for the night. He took the rag in his left hand and sprayed it generously with the cleaner. Then using his right hand, he walked himself up the wall behind the headboard and soon was standing up on the bed, ready to begin his task.

He tried to be as quiet as possible so Carla wouldn’t hear him floundering about on the mattress. He slowly approached the fan feeling like a kid in a bouncy house and appreciated why children enjoyed them so much. Emmett held onto one blade while dusting the others to maintain his balance. He felt he had mastered this technique over the years. Soon all five fan blades were clean of dust, and Emmett was ready to work his way down from the bed.

He started to back away from the fan blades. Suddenly an intense bout of vertigo overtook him. The uneven motion of the mattress likely brought on the sensation. He had experienced such a thing before, and it always passed quickly, but not this time. Before he realized it, Emmett was falling backward off the bed heading for the floor. He slammed his head against the wall and was knocked unconscious.

As he lay there on the floor, somewhere between reality and unreality, he found his mind flooded with thousands of scenarios representing what had just happened to him. Some were identical and slightly different, but many showed entirely different and often tragic results. In some scenarios, he saw himself almost fall but suddenly regain his balance and then get safely from the bed as he had done in the past. In others, he saw himself grab for the ceiling fan and pull it down with him in a shower of plaster dust. In yet others, he was lying on the ground with his arm broken in a twisted compound fracture, a bone jutting out from the skin. And in still others, he saw himself lying dead on the floor with his head cocked at an impossible angle, his neck broken. Over and over again, Emmett saw one different scenario after another played out, each ending differently and often tragically.

2

“Emmett? Emmett Honey? Speak to me.” Emmett could hear a familiar voice calling his name as he seemed to move in and out of consciousness. As he did, he continued to see more and more scenarios played out, so many that for a moment, Emmett thought he might go insane just trying to follow them all. There were thousands of images, all streaming like high-speed videos through his mind.

He heard a voice say, “Please stand back, Ma’ am. We’ll take it from here.” Then a moment later, he was awakened to the spicy scent of ammonia in his nose.

“What? What the Hell?”  Emmett mumbled, still disoriented, “What’s going on around here?”

“It’s ok, Mr. Parker,” the voice said, “You just had a nasty fall and hit your head. You were out for a while, but you’re going to be ok now.”

When Emmett’s eyes came into focus, he saw the face of two young Emergency Medical Technicians, one male, and one female, were taking care of him. Behind them, he saw Carla standing watching with utter terror on her face. He knew sooner or later there was going to be hell to pay for this stunt, but for now, it looked like he might be able to ride the pity train for at least a bit longer.

“Carla? Sweetie? What, what’s going on?” He said in the most pathetic voice he could muster. After all, his head hurt like crazy, and EMTs treated him.

“You fell Emmett and hit your head,” Carla said sympathetically, “Don’t talk. Just do what the nice boy and girl tell you to do. The two EMTs, who were probably in their thirties, just looked at each other. To Carla, everyone under forty was either a boy or a girl.

“Mr. Parker?”  The male EMT asked, “Do you remember what happened to you? Do you know why you fell and hit your head?”

Emmett wasn’t about to admit to having stood up on the bed to clean the fan, so he simply said, “I don’t know for sure. I was standing by the side of the bed and must have turned too quickly, lost my balance, and fell.”

“From downstairs, it sounded like someone dropped a bomb on the house!”  Carla interjected, looking knowingly at her husband and not buying the story he was selling. She could see the dust cloth on the floor and the lack of dust on the ceiling fan. There were also visible indentations on the bedspread from his feet. She didn’t have to say a word for Emmett to know she knew. It was part of that unspoken language passed between partners who have been together for so many years. “Well, here’s what we’ll have to do, sir,” The female EMT interjected. “We’re going to take you to the hospital, and we’ll have them do an MRI on your head just to make sure there’s no internal bleeding or other such injuries. Plus, they might find out why you lost your equilibrium and fell.”

Emmett argued, “I don’t want to go to any damned hospital. Look at me. I’m fine. Just give me a few pain pills, and after a good night’s sleep, I’ll be as good as new.”

“Don’t you dare pretend to tell these fine people how to do their jobs, Emmett Stephen Parker!”Carla scolded, and Emmett went silent, suddenly realizing by using his full name that Carla had passed out of the pity stage and now was loaded for bear.

“Fine,” Emmett reluctantly conceded, “But I’m telling you there’s nothing wrong with me that a shot or two of whiskey and a good night’s sleep won’t fix.”

The two EMTs looked at each other again as the girl rolled her eyes at the comment.

3

As it turned out, Emmett had been quite lucky. He didn’t damage his brain, and even the threat of concussion was minimal. As a result, he was sent home after many grueling hours of tests and more tests, waiting, and more waiting at the hospital.

Carla was by his side the entire time and didn't mention his accident or question how it had happened. As he waited to be released, Emmett had a strange feeling that he had experienced something unusual while unconscious, but he couldn’t recall what it had been. Yet, the sensation wouldn’t go away.

Carla drove the car on their way home, as the doctor had recommended Emmett have bed rest and no driving for several days. She looked over and said, “How are you feeling, Emmett?”

“I’m fine, Babe,” he said, “Just a little bit off. I still have a bit of a headache, and my thoughts are foggy.”

She said, “Too bad. I was hoping you’d remember being up on the bed, dusting the fan before
falling.”

“I … I …,” he stammered.

“Relax, Emmett. I could tell what happened as soon as I heard you fall. Seeing the clean fan blades and your foot impressions on the bed just confirmed it for me.”

Emmett asked, “So you’re not mad at me?”

“Oh yes, I most certainly am. I’m mad because I could have lost you today. Mad because you know better than to do something so stupid. But I’ll get over it now that you’re ok. It’s just that it scared me so much.” There was a catch in her voice.

“Oh, Jeeze, Carla, I’m sorry. I’ll try to be more careful.”

“No, Emmett, you won’t. And that’s the problem. It’s just the way you are. And I’ve to come to terms with the fact that you’re going to do something really stupid one of these days, and I’m going to lose you. And I don’t know what I’ll do when that happens. I don’t know if I’m strong enough to go through something like that again.” Her voice was tremored, and Emmett realized she was fighting back the tears. He knew why.

He could think of nothing to reply in his defense. He understood to what event Carla was speaking. They had both survived that unspeakable event together twenty-five years ago and moved on as best as possible. It looked like they might not make it for a while, but they had found a way. Since that time, they often spoke of Stevie but never about what had happened. It was just too painful. They both knew it was not the best way to deal with things, but it was their way. Now Emmett was sure they were both reliving the tragedy. And it was his fault for being such a klutz.

But the truth was, Emmett was careless and tended to be accident-prone. Carla was right about that. But still, he had never come so close to seriously injuring himself or perhaps dying before. Maybe it was time he accepted his age and stopped taking such risks. A psychiatrist might suggest Emmett was unconsciously punishing himself. But for what? He had known tragedy; they both had shared one of the worst. But it wasn’t his fault. Why would he punish himself? Then Emmett noticed Carla was turning onto Oak Street rather than continuing on Main Street.

“You’re taking Oak Street?” He was going to ask why but realized it was irrelevant. Either road would get them home. It would probably be better not to question her since he was already in hot water.

“Yeah,” she sighed, “I don’t know. I just thought I’d try a different route home today.”

He looked out the front window to see a car speeding into the intersection from his right, ignoring the red light.

He shouted “Carla! when she slammed on the brakes.

Tires squealed as their car slid into the intersection. Fortunately, the other car was faster, and their vehicle just missed crashing into the rear of the speeder as he passed by. When they stopped at the far side of the intersection, Carla saw the offending car zooming away, apparently oblivious to the potential disaster it nearly caused.

Carla sat trembling for a second as she cried, “Emmett, are you all right?”

But Emmett didn’t reply. He sat staring out into space, appearing to look at nothing. But what Emmet saw in his mind’s eye was a far cry from nothing. He was watching thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of scenarios simultaneously play out in his mind. Their car collided with the other car in some versions, and both he and Carla were severely injured. In others, death claimed one or both of them. In some versions, the car missed them but collided with another vehicle or into a building, bursting into flames. They hadn’t turned onto Oak Street in others, so they were nowhere near the accident. So many scenarios flashed through his mind in seconds that Emmett could scarcely comprehend them all.

“Emmett?” she shouted.

Emmett turned as if awakening from a dream and stared at Carla. His unknowing look frightened her to her very core. “Emmett, are you all right? Were you hurt?”

Still, in a daze, Emmett said in a strange, detached voice, “I was killed. We both were killed. Then we weren’t. We were safe. Then we weren’t. Thousands and thousands of times over. Again and
again.”

“Honey, what are you saying? You’re not making sense?”

As suddenly as the strange trance had passed over the man, it began to disappear. Emmett’s eyes became clear and focused. He said, “I’m ok now. Yes, I’m fine.”

“Are you sure, Emmett? You were talking strangely. Maybe we should go back to the hospital. Maybe they need to check you out better.”

Slowly Emmett replied, “No. Honestly, Honey, I’m fine. Let’s just go home now.”

4

For the remainder of the trip, Carla noticed Emmett sitting quietly in his seat, contemplating something he had chosen not to share with her for whatever reason. When they got in the front door Carla helped Emmett to the sofa and then sat next to him, placing her hand gently on his leg.

“Emmett. Tell me what happened back there. It was like you went away for a time or something. It was frightening.”

After a moment, Emmett slowly raised his head and met his wife’s eyes, and said, “I suppose in a way, I did go away. I saw things. Many, many things.”

“You saw things? What kind of things?”


;
“I saw the accident, our near accident, played out in my mind with thousands of different endings, maybe millions,”  Emmett replied. “Some of the results we’re the same as ours; most were different, more catastrophic … and some were even fatal.”

At first, Carla didn’t know what to say. Her voice caught in her throat with a gasp. She had been in the same situation as Emmett, but she hadn’t experienced such a revelation. Then again, she hadn’t just suffered severe head trauma.

“Maybe it was just because the accident was such a close call. You know, maybe coming on the heels of your fall. I’m sure you’re very susceptible to such things at this stage.”

Emmett asked, “When we almost hit that car, did anything like that happen to you?”

“No, but to be honest, I think I did pee my pants a little. I’m going right upstairs to clean up and get changed.”

“I suppose I got off lucky then,” he chuckled. “I also just recalled something else. I had a similar experience after my fall when I was regaining consciousness. I had forgotten about it until now. I saw my accident play out in many thousands of different ways. In some, I didn’t fall. In others, I did and broke bones or was unconscious. And in others, I died.”

Carla was stunned. What was Emmett talking about? Had the doctors missed something? Was his injury worse than they had diagnosed?

“Oh my God, Emmett. Maybe we should go back to the hospital,” She suggested urgently.

“No. I don’t think we need to, Honey. I’m feeling fine now. I think you we're right. I think the stress of the day may have been too much for me. You know I have an overactive imagination. Maybe the stress of the accidents just triggered something and put my brain into high gear. Let’s wait a bit. I think if I just rest for a time, everything will be fine.”

“Well, I suppose if you say so,” She relented.

However, unknown to his wife, Emmett was extremely suspicious of what had happened to him. He didn’t understand why or how it happened, but his science fiction writer’s mind understood what he was seeing. He needed time to rest and contemplate.

“I’m going to sit and watch TV for a bit and maybe nap,” Emmett said, “The doctors did clear me to sleep, right? I know sometimes they frown on that when it comes to head injuries.”

Carla assured, “Yes. They said it should be ok. I just have to keep my eye on you and check you from time to time. You’re not feeling nauseous or anything, are you?”

“No, not at all. Just a bit exhausted from everything is all,” Emmett said, getting comfortable and situated in his recliner.

“Alright then. Maybe you should just relax and rest for a bit like the doctor ordered.”

“Very well, Nurse Carla. Say, maybe we should get you one of those sexy nurse’s outfits. You know what I mean?” He wiggled his eyebrows, Groucho Marx style.

Carla did an eye roll and said, “Easy there tiger. I think you’ve had enough excitement for one day.”

5

Emmett did sleep for several hours; however, it was anything but restful sleep. Images of alternate versions of his fall haunted his restless sleep—likewise, varying interpretations of their near miss on the way home from the hospital. The problem was the dreams seemed to be much more than just dreams. They appeared to be authentic, although alternate versions of the same reality.

He awoke with a start, still sitting on his recliner. He could feel cool dampness trickling down the center of his back. He lowered the recliner’s footrest and attempted to stand, only to realize his body was not happy with what he had done to it during his fall. He had been so focused on his head injury that he hadn’t considered the effect on the rest of his body.

Every single muscle in his body seemed to be screaming with pain. His back and neck were a mass of knots and his arms and legs felt like muscle cramps were just waiting in the wings to spasm when he least expected it. Even his fingers and toes ached. Emmett had been dealing with growing arthritis in those joints for the past several years and his fall had done nothing to help relieve that discomfort.

He flopped back down onto his recliner, panting with a combination of pain, shock, and realization. Sweat streamed from every pore in his body. After a few minutes, he was ready to make another attempt when Carla entered the room.

“I thought I heard you moving around down here. How are you doing?”

Not wanting her to know the extent of his pain, Emmett gritted his teeth and managed to push out the words, “I’m fine … just a bit stiff is all.”

“I’m not at all surprised. That was quite a fall you had. I suspect it might be a long time before you try a stunt like that again. Are you sure you’re ok, Emmett? You really seem to be sweating, and you look pale.”

“Yeah, I”ll be fine. I think I just need another of those pain pills the doctor gave us.”

“I’ll get you one right away,” Carla said as she headed out of the room.

With his wife safely out of earshot, Emmett once again began what he knew would be the arduous task of trying to get out of the chair. After several agonizing minutes and lots of teeth-gritting and suppressed curses, Emmett found himself standing in front of his recliner, sweating, panting but still alive and able to move.

Carla met him with pills and water as he was leaving the room. “Here, Emmett. Take these; you’ll feel better.”

“I certainly hope so.”

“Maybe you should sit down again for a while; you’re white as a sheet.”

“Honestly, Honey, I think sitting down is the last thing I need. All it does is stiffens me all up. I think what I need is a long hot shower. I would love to soak in a hot bath, but you’d probably have to call a tow truck to get me out. So, a shower will have to do.”

Carla looked at him reluctantly, then said, “I suppose that will be ok as long as you feel up to it. Are you sure you’re all right?”

“Yes, I’m sure. I think this hot shower is exactly what I need.”

“Well, then I’d better let you get to it then. Leave the bathroom door ajar, and I’ll stop up and check on you periodically. Ok?”

“Of course. You’re welcome to join me if you’d like,” Emmett said, giving her his Groucho wiggling eyebrows again.

“Easy tiger. You’re not ready for that level of exhaustion yet; hopefully soon, but not yet.”

Emmett breathed a sigh of relief. The truth was that romance was the last thing he was ready
to tackle. “Well, in that case, I’d better get my butt into the shower.”

The shower was terrific as Emmett felt the hot water coursing over his aching body. If he were, to be honest, Emmett doubted if he had ever felt anything so good in life. Emmett wondered if the hot temperature was causing his heart to beat faster and pump his blood more quickly through his bloodstream. Since he had just taken a pain pill, he imagined the tiny particles of medicine racing
through his veins like kids zooming down the tubes of a water slide. Just the idea of that seemed to
make his pain subside. He assumed it might just be the placebo effect, but if so, then so be it.
Whatever the reason, he was feeling much better.

As he stood under the refreshing water, his mind relaxed, and he could think more clearly. He
recalled what he had seen. Emmett was more convinced than ever that he had somehow gained the
ability to see beyond what he thought of as the everyday world. Perhaps it had been the result of
hitting his head and becoming unconscious. Something had caused him to be able to see into these
other worlds.

He was an author of science fiction stories and was a fan of the genre as well. Although he had read dozens of stories about the concept of parallel universes, he had never given the idea any credence before; until now. And if he was right, and if he could find a way to focus this newfound sight beyond sight, he might be able to see someone Emmett never imagined he would ever see again. Even if just for a moment, it would be worth any price. If only he could see his Stevie again.

6

Steven Ellis Parker was Emmett and Carla’s only child. He had been a curious and intelligent little boy and had grown to be a wonderful young man. Carla had always hoped someday Stevie might attend one of the best colleges in the country. But unfortunately, that was never to be. In his junior year of high school, Stevie was walking home as he often did. It was the same route he had walked hundreds of times before without incident. However, neither Stevie nor his parents could know what fate would send their way on that day.

Harlan Edgewood was a local lifelong under-achiever who spent more of his time drinking than he did in any attempt to pursue a job. Harlan had mastered the art of working as little as possible and squeezing as much money from the federal government as He was able. He would deliberately take a job he knew wouldn’t last very long. Then whenever it ended, Harlan would collect unemployment compensation. He’d ride out the unemployment as far as he could, occasionally doing odd jobs under the table for cash while still collecting from Uncle Sam. When his unemployment benefits were about to run out, Harlan would miraculously find another entry-level job and try to stretch it out until he was once again eligible for unemployment money. Also, whenever he managed to feign an on-the-job back injury, he’d do whatever he could to score himself some workmen’s compensation money as well.

The fantastic thing about this was that Harlan could accomplish all of these things while being a raging alcoholic. Incredibly, he had never lost any job because of his drinking. He had been arrested a few times for driving under the influence; nonetheless continued to operate his vehicle without the benefit of a license. Being a functioning drunk and cheater of the system were the two things in life Harlan had managed to do successfully. That was until one day when his luck ran out, and everything went tragically wrong.

Harlan had been driving down Elm Street one afternoon with a blood alcohol level far beyond what was considered legal. Driving in this condition was not new for Harlan, as this was pretty much how he went through life, whether behind the wheel or not. However, his reaction time had been significantly affected that day, much more than other times.

Young Stevie Parker was deep in thought, perhaps concerned about the upcoming SAT exams or thinking about a girl at school he was hoping to date. Maybe he was contemplating a dozen other topics that occupy a teenage boy’s mind. Whatever the reason, Stevie had stepped off the curb, and onto the street, at the exact moment Harlan Edgewood weaved drunkenly to the right and the rest, as they say, was tragic history.

Stevie had been struck so hard by Harlan’s car that he was knocked out of his shoes and thrown fifteen feet through the air before slamming into the trunk of an ancient oak, killing him instantly. Harlan slammed on his brakes, got out of his car, and staggered over to where Stevie lay.

The man sat down and began weeping uncontrollably, knowing whatever luck had carried him through life so far was gone for good. There was no way he could talk his way out of this terrible situation. When the police arrived, they found Harlan still crying next to the body. Harlan was later booked and charged with vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence, and a whole list of lesser offenses.

Harlan never made it to trial, having fallen into a significant depression over what he had done. Going a week without his much-needed alcohol did nothing to help alleviate his mood. It probably made things worse. One night Harlan managed to fashion a noose from his bed sheet and wrapped one end tightly around the bars in his cell door. He secured the noose end around his neck and forced himself down into a sitting position until the makeshift noose tightened sufficiently to do its job and take his life. Although Emmett and Carla were not in the least bit saddened by Harlan’s demise, they knew it would never bring their Stevie back.

7

Emmett finished his shower and got dressed in pajamas. After all, he had no intention of going anywhere else that evening as he was both mentally and physically exhausted. He called downstairs and told Carla he would lie down for a while in bed and maybe watch some television.

“Ok, Sweetie,” she replied, “I’m going to finish up some things down here, then I’ll be up as well. It’s been a long day.”

Emmett thought, “Incredibly long.”

As he lay in bed with the television not yet turned on, there was a “what if” scenario going through Emmett Parker’s mind. He thought again about what he had seen in his “visions.” He supposed that was the right word for them, visions. He somehow had been granted the opportunity to look into thousands of what he thought of as alternate realities; parallel universes. In his mind, the concept was no longer some theoretical idea or an invention from science fiction. It did exist. Twice in one day, he was allowed to see into parallel universes and witness firsthand how things that happened in this world played out in other dimensions.

But what did that mean? Did it mean that every time something terrible happened to him in this universe, Emmett might see it played out in ways more devastating in other versions of the world?

Would he someday learn to control this unique gift, assuming it could be considered a gift? Would he eventually be able to see into other universes at will and learn what had happened to Stevie in those other places? Or, since Stevie’s death had occurred more than twenty-five years earlier, would it be too far in the past for him to see? This idea made Emmett question the direction of his thinking. He recalled when he had witnessed his visions; Emmett had seen many scenarios where he had died. The day Stevie died, Emmett had never been called to the scene, even though it was only a few blocks from his home. As a result, his last memory of Stevie that day was of his being alive and well.

Emmett wondered if this sight would allow him to look back into the past to the day Stevie died. Then he questioned if he could even consider the possibility of watching his only child die over and over, perhaps thousands of times, only for the slim hope that he might see him survive in some of the other universes? If somehow it were possible for him to see his son alive and living out his life, would it be worth the price of seeing him not survive in others? Did he have what it took to do such a thing? Emmett doubted he did.

Then an image suddenly shot through Emmett’s mind. It was a flashback to when he had fallen from the bed earlier that day. In one of the thousands of scenarios he had witnessed, he had seen himself lying dead on the floor with a broken neck, but instead of his wife, Carla standing over him, there was a man of about forty or so kneeling next to him crying. He hadn’t realized it at the time, but now that he thought about it, that man looked very familiar.

“Oh my God,” Emmett whispered, “Is it possible? Was that? Could that have Stevie?”

In whatever version of reality Emmett had seen, his son, his Stevie, had been there as an adult. Somehow Stevie had survived in that world. Perhaps Stevie had decided not to walk home that day, or maybe that drunk, Harlan Edgewood had chosen to drive a different way. Possibly Edgewood didn’t even exist in that particular world. It was also possible that Edgewood had died years earlier.

The more Emmett thought about it, the more possibilities he could imagine. The number of scenarios
was as vast as the number of parallel universes. The point was, in at least one universe, probably
more, his son lived.

Emmett closed his eyes, concentrating, trying to remember more about that world and about seeing Stevie. Maybe if he tried hard enough, he could recall what Stevie had said to him. Had Stevie spoken? Or was this nothing more than the wild imaginings of an old man combined with the grief he still carried?

“Oh, Stevie,” Emmett said as tears streamed down his cheeks. “I give anything just to know you were well.”

Emmett heard a voice somewhere off in the distance calling to him. “Dad? Are you ok? Please, Dad, answer me.”

It was the deep, baritone voice of a middle-aged man. Somehow Emmett knew that voice. It was like a voice he hadn’t heard in more than twenty-five years, only more profound and mature sounding. Emmett realized that was Stevie’s voice, and he was nearby. But how could that possibly be?

8
Emmett slowly opened his eyes, confused. Above him was the face he recognized immediately despite the man’s advanced age. Emmett said, “Stevie? Is that you, Stevie?”

“Yes, of course, it’s me, Dad. Are you alright?”

“I … I … don’t know. I think so” Emmett realized he was no longer on his bed but on the bedroom floor once again. “Stevie? I … I don’t understand. How can you be here?”

“I live here, Dad, with you. Don’t you remember? I was downstairs and heard a bang. I came up and saw you lying unconscious on the floor. I called 911. The paramedics should be here soon. “We’ll have to have you checked out.”

“But you can’t be here, Stevie? I can’t be here with you. It doesn’t make any sense.”

“It’s ok, Dad. You’re probably just a little confused. You bumped your head hard by the sound of it.”

“Stevie. Would you please do me a favor? Go and get your mother. She needs to know what happened to me.”

Stevie was silent, not sure what to say next. Then the front doorbell rang.

“You stay here, Dad. I have to let the paramedics in downstairs. I’ll be right back.”

“Don’t leave me, Stevie. I can’t bear to lose you again.”

“Dad, don’t worry. You won’t lose me. You’ve never lost me. I’ve been here. I’ll always be
here.”

A few moments later, Stevie returned with two young Emergency Medical Technicians, one male, and one female. Although Emmett didn’t know either of them, he felt as though he had seen them before. He recalled Carla’s voice calling them a boy and a girl. To Carla, everyone under forty was either a boy or a girl. This was getting more confusing by the minute.

“Mr. Parker," the male EMT asked, “Do you remember what happened to you? Do you know why you fell and hit your head?”

A feeling of extreme déjà vu flooded Emmett's mind. Hadn’t he just experienced this same situation with the same EMTs earlier that day?

The female EMT asked Stevie, “Has he seemed disoriented since his fall?”

“Well,” Stevie said reluctantly,”He’s been a bit confused. He’s been asking for my mother.”

The EMTs waited for further explanation.

“My mother died back when I was about sixteen. I was walking home from school, and Mom walked to meet me. She was hit and killed by a drunk driver.”

Emmett heard a voice screaming, “Noooo!” He realized it was his own voice.

9

Carla walked into the bedroom, ready for a good night’s sleep after the trying day they had both experienced that day. She noticed the television was off and Emmett was sound asleep. She went
into the bathroom to complete her nightly ritual.

When she came out of the bathroom, she noticed Emmett hadn’t shifted position, and he seemed to be lying exceptionally still. She decided to shake him awake to make sure all was right. Emmett never awoke.

Days later, at the funeral, she took what consolation she could from the many well-wishers who all seemed to repeat the exact cliché phrase, “He’s in a better place now. He’s finally with Stevie again.”

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