The Ghost In You: Chapter One

May 1, 2017

Chapter One

 

 

Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.” ~John Lennon

 

August and September 1998

 

       “Got the whole world in front of me,” Paul said to his freshly shaved reflection in the steam-covered bathroom mirror.  England bound, now how do I break it to Sis? 

       The radio announcer’s voice boomed from his bedroom clock, “Good morning early risers.  It’s 4:00 a.m. in Portland, Maine, at 64 degrees Fahrenheit.  It’s gonna be a beautiful Monday, about 80 degrees, slight breeze, low humidity.  Gotta love it folks.  Now get on out there and make the most of this day, cause’ you never know.  As the great John Lennon sang in Beautiful Boy,  ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’, “so here’s his Instant Karma for you,” as the Lennon song started playing.

       Gotta tell Maureen about my trip.  She’s gonna be pissed.  Need get out of here, burn off some stress.

 

       Before sunrise early that September morning, Paul O’Brien began his bike trek from Portland, Maine.  He pedaled across the new Casco Bay Bridge to South Portland, and then on to Fort Williams State Park in Cape Elizabeth.  Little did he know, he’d return in a few weeks to the scene of an air crash to help identify the dead passengers on that flight; which was otherwise one of the most picturesque spots in Maine.

       On this morning, late summer heat mixed with a whisper of autumn as maple leaves began to show traces of changing colors.  The weather was perfect as the cooler morning temperature was rising, not too humid or too dry—just as the radio announcer had predicted. 

       Paul arrived at the state park and coasted down the hill to the empty beach before picnicking families arrived and began their excursions such as: exploring the forts, collecting sea glass, swimming, swinging, playing Frisbee, flying kites, and climbing the jagged rocks.

       The sun just started to peak over the sea glowing orange and red, with a sharp edge of dark blue shadows on the ocean’s surface.  It rose fast and bold, adding to Paul’s adventurous outlook. 

       Paul locked his bike up and walked around, remembering how his parents used to get nervous when he and his little sister, Maureen used to climb on the rocks as kids.  He missed his mother and father, and imagined them floating in the clouds over the sea, still watching over. 

       As waves washed over the rocks, Paul observed boats gliding by seamlessly from Ram Island Light past Cushing Island.  The bay was busy with sailboats, fishing rigs, or “lobstah” boats as they used to say in his family, barges, pleasure boats, and a yacht.  Seagulls drove their beaks into the shore and flew around looking for a meal of crabs or other sea creatures awash on the beach.   

 

       He made his way up the hill toward the picnic area.  It wasn’t long before a crowd arrived, snapping photos of the lighthouse as they climbed the rugged rocks with caution around the unpredictable surf.  Both the bike ride and the smell of ocean air invigorated him. 

       “You from around heyah?”  A man said as he stroked his gray beard and cocked his head to the side in question as he looked up at Paul.  The man stood about five inches below Paul’s tall, lanky body.

       “Uh, yeah?” said Paul.  “And you?”

       “Ayuh.  Just not from these parts is all.  I’m from Bucksport.  Here for a funeral.  Thought I’d get to see some sites before headin’ back home.  You know where I can find me a good lobstah?  I don’t mean one of them fancy shmancy restaurants that have them sittin’ in the tank, waitin’ for customahs to pay top dollah for a sea ant.”

       “Yeah.  Hey, you have a pretty good accent.  I have one of them Maine accents too ya know.” 

       The man chuckled. 

       “If you back to Portland, go back to Commercial Street.  A friend of mine has a small lobster shack, Rock Lobster Company—he and his crew do all the fishing.  You can’t miss it.  Opens at noon.  Probably just got off his boat not long ago with a fresh catch—tell im’ Paul sent you.  Harry’s his name.  Tall guy, big guy—wears a knit cap most of the time.  Small place inside to sit and eat—it’s a dive—but best place around if you ask me.”

       “Thanks my friend.  Name’s Francis by the way.”  The man had a periwinkle colored twinkle in his eyes and Paul thought of Rip Van Winkle.  “Gotta get back up to my wife.  Bertha, she’s a-waitin’ for me in the cah,” he shook Paul’s hand and walked to the parking lot.

       “No problem.  Enjoy!”  Francis, now that’s an interesting name for that Downeastah, he thought. 

       Paul stayed a while longer, watching planes fly overhead.  I wonder where they’re going? I’ll be on one soon, going on a new path.  Taking that risk.  Getting out of my job, and out of the country.  Maybe for good.   

 

       Later that day, Paul called his younger sister, Maureen, who lived in their family home in Bangor, Maine—a weekly ritual.  He reminisced about the park with her,                “Remember how we used to climb the big rocks when we were kids?  I see now why Mom and Dad used to get so nervous.  You have to come down before summer’s over.”

       “I remember those days.  I’ll try to get down.  I want to sit on the picnic table there and eat a lobster roll like we used to.   Mom used to make the best lobstah rolls evah,” she said.  “ I never remember us buying them.  Mom used to say, “We’re from Maine.  We can pick a lobster for God’s sake!”

      “Yeah, I miss her too.”  He picked up a pre-packaged Rice Krispie bar off the counter and started to open it.  Wish I had one of Mom’s lobster rolls now.  

       “When we were kids, it looked like you could see the earth take shape out there, even though you can see the islands.”  There was a pause.  “You sound happier than I’ve heard you in a while.”

       “Oh, man it felt great to get out for a long bike ride.  I’ve been so busy lately.  One autopsy after the other—commuting to Augusta stinks.  This is the first break I’ve had in a long time.  Just feels good.”

      “You can always move back here, commute might be easier.  And the rent cheaper.”

       “Why don’t we sell that old place?  It’s paid off at least, and we have some inheritance left.  Move down here.  Get a job on air here.  There are two new alternative stations,” he said.

       “No, I need to be home.  I love it here.  I feel like Mom and Dad are here, and this is where I need to be.  I know it bothers you.”

       “What bothers me?”

       “Mom and Dad being gone.  You never want to talk about it.  Or them.”

       “I forgot to tell you, I’m going to visit Brian.  Remember him?  My buddy from college.”

       “Nice changing the subject,” she said.  Dishes clanked around through the receiver.   “I have two carbon monoxide alarms.  The house has been fixed since—."

       “I’m going to England.  Gonna visit him for a while,” he emphasized the word ‘while’.

      “Whaddya mean, a while?”  She sounded angry.

      “I don’t know yet.  Don’t get so defensive.  I might quit my job.  Brian mentioned a position over there, on the East Coast, family practitioner opening.  I could get out of this Maine gig and settle down over there.  Not so much stress.”

      “You can do that here.”

      “Yeah.  But I don’t want to.  I don’t even know if it’s gonna happen.  I’m just going to visit.  I shouldn’t have said anything.”

       “I don’t feel like arguing with you Paul.  Just go.  Do what you need to do big brother.  You might as well get out while you can.  See the world.”

       “You might want to practice what you preach.”

Maureen gave a long sigh.   “I just might do that,” she said.

 

Two weeks later . . .

 

       On sunny days, Fort Williams was the vision of a postcard, a perfect setting for one of the most photographed lighthouses in Maine.  On cloudy and foggy days, it appeared wrapped in a dreamy blanket of mist, and still a beautiful spot.  But not on this day.  On this day, the weather was the least of anyone’s concerns as Paul witnessed a landscape of horror in this very place.  It was now a view of disaster.  Medical, rescue, and media from all over, flocked to the scene of the air crash.

       Through the ghost-like haze, Paul watched sea foam wash over metal debris on shore that the Coast Guard had hauled out of the bay.   He stood in shock at the picturesque landscape, now flooded with remains of an airplane and its contents.  Choppers, rescue boats, and volunteer fishing boats swarmed around the debris and looked surreal juxtaposed against the otherwise picturesque landscape.  The usual admiration of the scenery was now absent.  Instead, people worked to collect the carnage that floated among the choppy waters.  All the faces around him were grim and tired, yet held the look of hope that there might be survivors.  The scent of jet fuel was a blanket over the sea.  Paul and everyone else there, became accustomed to the smell.  Many of them would never get over the nightmare that floated in the ocean, and Paul’s was just beginning.

       Drifting around the wreckage were thousands of articles such as: fragments of suitcases, clothing, postcards, wallets, toys, and most disturbing, body parts.  As rescue workers collected material items, each piece told stories about the passengers who had gone down on the flight.  Paul noticed a backpack that was nearly in shreds and tried to picture the face of the person who once owned it.  He imagined a young person, going off to college.  A wave of nausea floated through him.  These tangible things were more intact than the bodies. 

       Paul learned to keep an emotional distance from bodies he performed autopsies on.  He learned this as a student, of course, while working on cadavers.  Everyone figured he had no trouble with this, since he already mastered the art of keeping an emotional distance from most people.   No one knew that Paul was obsessed with dead bodies.  He practiced his own necromancy of sorts, not attempting to literally raise them from the dead, but not necessarily discarding them as gone from the face of the earth.  This is the reason he wanted to go into forensics.  He was always interested in medicine and becoming a doctor.  In forensics, he didn’t have to deal with the living and give them answers to their ailments, or make them better by performing surgery on them.  Instead, he wanted to give them dignity as he sent them off to wherever they go.  And he didn’t believe in God.  After the death of his parents, the afterlife was something more mysterious.  Before, he didn’t believe in it.  Now, it was something he always wondered about. 

       Paul felt a connection to the bodies that once inhabited a life force.  The disappearance of this force left him to wonder about the person’s history.  And this incident of mass disaster pushed him to a new place of introspection.   Because of the impact of the crash, he would never get to see a complete body; however, he would help their families and friends get closure as best he could.  As he gazed off to sea, he sometimes imagined seeing the spirits of bodies floating over the ocean.  The ghosts lingered in his mind. 

       His forensic team’s makeshift morgue was an old abandoned warehouse that used to house shipping containers.  It was an enormous olive-colored building located in South Portland along the docks.  Inside, the flat voice of a local radio reporter came on with an update recapping the incident.  “The Irish Sea Airways Flight 102 that went down two days ago, September 4, 1998, near Casco Bay Maine, made an emergency landing en route from Boston from to Shannon, Ireland.  Investigators are still determining the cause and reason for the emergency landing in Portland.  The aircraft disintegrated on impact, killing all 213 passengers and crewmembers.  Some human remains have been recovered,” the announcer said.  “Passengers aboard the plane included several State of Maine officials, and . . .”.  Paul clicked off the radio before she could say more.  He already knew the story, and he lived immersed in it for the next year.  The team knew it would be a long haul.  They didn’t need to hear the story repeated over and over again. 

       Two rescue workers wearing thick rubber gloves walked into the warehouse carrying a body bag over to Paul’s cubicle.  Temporary cubicles housed portable X-ray machines and other equipment necessary to conduct autopsies and make the warehouse a fully functioning morgue. 

       “Hey there,” one of the men said.  Sea salt had dried within the weathered creases on his face, and intensified the look of fear.  Paul recognized this man from the Coast Guard in Portland.  The other introduced himself as a local fisherman.  They too, looked exhausted, but ran in high gear on adrenaline, and did what needed to get done.  Paul knew this all too well.  It came to the point where he stopped going home in-between his shift, and just camped out in his jeep.

       Flight 102 had been traveling at such a high velocity that the impact of its crash into the water was the same as smashing onto concrete.  The aircraft’s fuselage ripped open and shattered into thousands of pieces, like an eggshell into the rocky coast.  Even recovered pieces of the cockpit measured no more than a few square yards.  So many parts came into the warehouse, that the pathologists couldn’t even piece one entire body together.

       The crash drove the local fishing industry to a stop.  Casco Bay was a mess.  Lobster traps ruined, the water polluted, and volunteers came in droves.  It seemed that everyone in the area was helping in some way. 

       Paul stopped sifting through a tray of surgical tools, picked up a pair of scissors and forceps, and then took a deep breath.  “How’s it going out there?”  He asked the rescue workers.

       “Bad,” said a fisherman who was volunteering to help.  “Feel like we’re on some other planet.” 

       The man from the Coast Guard nodded, “Gotta be careful of the wreckage.  Pieces of plane everywhere.  Hard to tell some of the pieces from rocks.  ‘Specially in the fog.  If we hit one, it would go straight through the boat.”

       Paul gestured for them to put the body bag on a nearby metal table.  “Thanks.  And good luck out there.” 

       With sagging shoulders and bowed heads, the men looked heavily weighed down as they went back out to search for more.

       Inside the bag, the body parts were puffy, grayish-blue, and fleshy.  Paul thought he saw a leg, but it was hard to tell.  Even with a piece of bone in it, he couldn’t be sure.  Most of the parts that had already been recovered had been de-gloved, where the impact of the crash literally sucked the bone out of the limbs.  Paul shuddered and had a surreal feeling as he wondered if the crash really happened.  It felt like a bad dream sometimes, and he figured he was just overtired. 

      After a few hours, he stepped out for air.  He felt a great urge to run and never stop.  He stretched his arms up skyward, twisted his back around, and bent his tired knees to work out the kinks.  He’d been at the warehouse for over twenty-four hours straight, and knew he needed rest.   One of his colleagues had told him to go home for a while, or at least curl up somewhere for a few hours.  He was too wired, and thought maybe the air would do him good.  Paul leaned against the hood of his jeep as he searched the sky for certain constellations, then looked over at the refrigerator and freezer trucks that housed remains, and knew he had to get back to work.

       He heard something sniffing around the corner of his front tire.  “Ah, you again,” he said to the scruffy mutt as he bent down to pat it.  The dog had been hanging around the site for days, like he wanted to volunteer.  He had no collar and apparently no home. 

       Instead of going back to work, Paul took the dog for a ride down the road to where no one was around.  The dog slept comfortably in the back seat.  Paul tilted the driver’s seat back and stared up at the stars until daylight returned. 

       Clearly, there were no survivors.  It took Paul and his team a long time to complete all of the identifications.  They’d remind each other to eat.  Tents were set up outside with food for them and the slew of rescue workers, and volunteers.  Local businesses donated food and time to help. 

       Paul always said, “No thanks, I’m full.”  Which was always a partial lie, he just didn’t take the time.  His favorite food, or snack was Rice Krispie squares, and he’d kept a stash in his jeep that he’d eat and pound cans of Coke, and then work for hours. 

He was going on almost two days with no sleep.  As he left the warehouse late Saturday night, he heard a chopper nearby, it was making ready for a landing to deliver more body parts.  Paul’s first instinct was to get back inside immediately.  He rubbed his unshaven face, lowered his head, and drove home.  The stray dog ran behind him, its tail wagging.  He and his co-workers had pretty much adopted the dog.  Paul even called him Henry.  He didn’t stop for the dog this time.  

       Finally, a few weeks later, Paul managed to catch a night of deep sleep after he finished a bottle of red wine.  The next morning, he read the Sunday paper and laid low for the day.  He hadn’t socialized outside of the crash site in almost a month.  That didn’t matter to him because he didn’t really have a social life to begin with.  He knew Maureen worried about him.  Since their parents passed away, they only had each other really.   Oh, there were cousins scattered around the states, but no immediate family to speak of.  All gone.

       He tried not to upset her on the phone when she asked about the crash site and his work.   The only way he could say it was that the parts were like half eaten flesh or meat from the grocery store.  “And the smell.  I can’t even describe it,” he told Maureen.  “Even after a shower, it stays on you.  Like it’s in your skin.”

       “Must be so tough on you.  I’m really proud of you, though.  Are you eating anything?  You taking care of you?”

       He sensed her awkward tone, and didn’t have the words to explain it all.   He didn’t have the words to make it better.  “No one could understand this unless they’re in it.  Don’t really have time to eat.  People from all over keep bringing food.  Coke donates free soda.  I drink tons of that.  Sometimes I eat.  It’s so busy here, I just forget.  You get used to it.  Although, I’m cooking Hamburger Helper right now.”  He stirred the ground meat and chopped onion with a wooden spoon while they sizzled in the skillet as he finished speaking to his sister.  “We’re having trouble identifying the bodies.”

       “I know,” Maureen said.  “I hear it on the news all the time.  Even find myself repeating some of it on the radio myself.  Promise you’ll take a break when it’s done.  Come visit.  I’ll try and come next weekend if I can get someone to fill my shift at the station.” 

       “No need to come.  You can if you want.  I don’t know if it’s a good idea though.  I won’t be around, and really nothing you can do here.”

       “You’re still going to England, right?”

       “I don’t think so.  I need to be here.  Can’t even think about it right now.”

 

       When they were younger, Paul was always joking around.  He was pretty much the family jester and class clown as he made up skits, or imitated local television commercials.  He used to crack his family and friends up.  In his field of work, humor was a benefit and a blessing.  Since the crash, his funny side disintegrated.

 

       “When it’s done, we’ll have to head up to a party like we used to.  We’ll have a reunion with old friends.”

       Once when Paul was on break from medical school, Maureen took him to a gathering with friends.  After Paul and Maureen hung their coats, they mingled for a while, and Paul started warming up.  He noticed an orange knit hunting-like cap lying on one of the books on a nearby shelf, pulled it over his head, and grabbed a small gargoyle statue from the bookshelf.  He invented a skit about a figurine salesperson.  In a Maine accent, he said, “Yeshireee, I got me heyah thish genuwine figurine for sale.”  People stopped what they were doing, and stared at him.  Although he sported a blue oxford shirt and tan trousers, with the orange cap on his head and gestures imitating someone doing a bad local television commercial, he fit the part.  Paul seized the opportunity to go on, “Come on ovah to my wayahhose an’ git yerrself some of the fines’ genuwine figarines at the best prices evah!  We even got some of them theyah lawn ornahments!”  His sales pitch went on long after people wiped their eyes and held their stomachs.  “If you come now, I’ll throw in one of them Budweiser beeyah can wind chimes we make right heyah special from one of them suitcases of beeyah from the conah stow-ah.  I tell ya, them wind chimes bang together makin’ a fine racket to chase away them pesky crows from your yahd.”  And for the rest of the night, Paul was the entertainment.

       The best part of that night for Paul, was when he hung out with an old friend from school, Patrick, whose beard was as long as his hair, which he wore in a ponytail.  His silver-framed glasses gave him the look of a young wizard.  The two were U2 fanatics, and talked for hours about concerts and music.

 

       “Yeah.  Like old times.  Might be a while, though.  Gonna go eat now Sis.”

       “Talk to ya next weekend,” she said.  “Don’t forget to take care of you—okay?”

        After he hung thee phone up, Paul tried to eat the food, but couldn’t even touch it to his lips.  He could hardly keep the events of the day out of his mind and wanted to go back.  He didn’t want to miss anything as he helped find the answers for the surviving families and friends.

       He knew that this was his fate.  This is the Paul he was now, and probably would be forever—except for the aging part.  The one who worked all the time, and lived a hermit life when he wasn’t.   He’d go out every now and then for a beer with someone from work.  Most of all, he liked his solitude, or thought he did.  Even when he and his long-time girlfriend, Sheila, broke up when he was still in school, it didn’t seem to faze him.  He liked to flirt, but didn’t want anything, and decided to stay single forever.  It was just easier that way.  He didn’t want to make time for complicated relationship stuff. 

       “I wasn’t looking for anyone, Paul.  It just happened,” Sheila had said.  She had blonde velvet smooth hair that hung over her shoulders.  “You were never serious about us.  You didn’t even want to move in together.  There was no point to us.”

       She was right.  Their relationship wasn’t going anywhere and he wasn’t about to ask her to marry him.  They’d been like best friends for years while they dated.  It didn’t take her long to meet someone else and move on.

 

       Maureen understood her brother well.  She was the only outsider he talked to about the crash.  He knew she’d try to get it, even if she wasn’t involved.  Each week, he continued to tell her about the identification process at the site.  And she continued asking questions.

       “How are the families and friends holding up?  Do you see them a lot?”  She asked.

       “I think that’s the hardest part.  It was tough when they were just finding out about it.  Having to go through this extensive process takes its toll.  We just started something new, using DNA samples to help identify the bodies.  We can have the families and friends bring in toothbrushes, hair brushes, and other articles that belonged to the victims.”

       “What do you do with all of that?  I get it, DNA, but how?”

       “We use things like hair from combs, brushes, clothes, anything they can bring in from their families.  We use these to try and make a match.  It’s amazing.”

       “That’s so cool you can do that now.  I can see why it must suck seeing them go through this.”

       “Yeah.  They’ve been phenomenal in the process though.  I’ve met some amazing people.  It’s like you get to know some of the crash victims through the ones left behind.  I feel like I’m living in some other time bubble and in another world.”

       “You are.  In so many ways, you are,” she said.  “You getting any rest?  I know I bug you every week.  Still.  I worry.”

       “Here and there.  Oh, did I tell you about that mutt that hangs around here?”  His voice sounded happy.

       “Yep, the one who seems to know what’s going on?  Sniffing around the rocks as if he wants to help?”

       “That’s the one.  Well, Henry’s my dog now.”

       “That’s great.  How are you gonna take care of him when you’re working all the time?  Seriously.  After this is over, you can’t keep him cooped up inside.”

       “Things will settle down.  I’ll figure it out.  I thought you’d be glad to hear I have a sidekick.  Someone to take care of me.”

       “Of course I’m happy for you.  I can’t wait to meet my new nephew.”

       “I got him all his shots, and he’s quite healthy.  He hangs out here with everyone for now.  I think he’ll be good for me.  Get me out more.”

       “True.”

 

       Despair surged through Paul.  He wondered what had happened to the beauty and fun he once saw in the world.   The dog would be good for him, but still wouldn’t change his bitter feelings toward what this life was all about. 

       Winter moved in faster than he’d hoped.  In his home office, bookshelves in disarray, papers strewn over his desk, Paul leaned back in his swivel chair and flipped through The Complete Paintings of Botticelli that he’d checked out of the library.  Ever since his trip to Italy a few years back, he wanted to go back and see the art again.  The art books brought him back to good memories he had there.  He reached for the wine glass on the corner of his desk.  Red wine rocked from side to side and dripped on papers and onto the rug.  Eventually, the glass made it to his lips as he drank it all down. 

       He focused on the famous painting, the birth of Venus, and mused over the perfect unity of its entirety.  Paul examined Venus’ neck of unnatural length, the unusual steep fall of her shoulders, and the way her left arm attached to her body as if it were deformed.  To him, Venus gave the presentation of pure beauty and grace.  An article he’d been working on for a medical journal about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and its effects on medical workers lay beside him.  He put the art book down, and glanced at the article knowing he had to make the edits soon to meet the deadline, then put it back down.  Paul had the idea that writing an article about this was his best therapy; instead, it remained unfinished for now. 

       He looked back at Venus, and wondered what kind of stress lingered among the mutilations of the wars back in Roman times.  The history of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder would be fascinating, he thought.

       He’d been checking out art books from the library for weeks on end.  They served as enjoyment and a distraction for him.  Before going to bed at night, he’d try to seek mystical moments from the images, while listening to music.  At the same time, he’d work hard to push images of the crash site out of his head.  Each night he hoped for no more nightmares. 

       On this night, as he sat at his desk, Paul reflected on the word autopsy.  The word comes from the two Greek words that mean to look with one’s own eyes.  When he performed autopsies, it was as if he were looking for his own self within them.  What was the meaning in this mystery of our short-term lives on earth?  There are two ways one is born; natural childbirth or caesarean section, yet there are countless ways to die.  Then a horrific scene from the crash flashed in his mind; a barrage of body parts and a reminder of the wretched stench. 

       How many people experience this?  Does everyone have PTSD at one time in his or her life?  He knew he was not alone with the intrusive memories and bad dreams.  Paul could only imagine what war veterans go through, or others who had experienced severe physical and mental trauma.  He’d performed autopsies on people of all ages.  Some killed themselves, died of:  poisoning, drug overdoses, peacefully in their sleep, heart attacks, murders, and more.  Some of the “clients” were famous people, burn victims, and accident victims, and ways to die seemed infinite.  The deaths of children were the worst to handle.  How do you numb yourself to life’s cruelties and go on with the beauty of life at the same time?  He often wondered. Somehow he managed this in his work.  He saw this when he studied the paintings, and could somehow make sense of it all for himself, for now.

       Paul never really dealt with the death of his parents.  As the winter progressed, he relived disturbing events unintentionally.  He spent the rest of the winter waking in panic from nightmares, headaches, and withdrew even more.  Although these painful images haunted him, he felt numb.  He contributed to this with alcohol. 

       “Come on pal, let’s go out.”  He said to the dog.  Paul stumbled into the living room, slipped into his boots, threw on his coat and a hat, and stepped out into the cold, crisp air.

       Besides going to work every day, the only other times Paul went anywhere was to let Henry out, or hang at the library.  His neighbor, Cora Goodman even asked him on a few occasions if he was sick, or anything.  He’d just say he had a lot of work to catch up on. 

       He watched the dog sniff around the frozen mud where the paved driveway met the edge of the dirty snow along the lawn.  He noticed how Henry had put on a few pounds that winter, and felt a little guilty for not getting more exercise overall.

       In an instant, the memory of fog banks popped into his mind, along with sounds of grieving families, helicopters, and boats, the smell of jet fuel and dead bodies.  He felt his frustration grow, forced the thoughts out of his mind, and focused back on Henry.         “Time to go in.”

       Back inside, an empty bottle of Merlot sat on his coffee table.  Paul uncorked a fresh one in the kitchen, while Henry curled up on his favorite corner of the couch and sighed.  Paul drank down one glass, and poured another, then went into the bedroom, closed the door and sat on his bed.  Stuck in a moment of curiosity and emptiness, a sudden urge overcame him.  It wasn’t really that sudden though.  A recent case had peaked his curiosity.  He took a long leather belt out of his closet, made a noose with it, and attached it to his door.  As he put the belt around his neck, wanting to experience the strange pleasure, a sudden panic overtook him.  What if this fails?  He loosened the belt just as he was about to try it.  He slumped to the floor and sat there for a long time. 

       After a while, he went to the kitchen sink, splashed water on his face, and then drank two large glasses of it.  Henry hobbled over to him, like he used to back at the crash site, and nudged his nose on Paul’s leg.  He then spent the rest of the night on the couch with Henry at his feet.  For the first time in weeks, Paul slept for five solid hours.

       The next morning, he took Henry for a long walk.  The winter sun gave a peach-pink glow as it rose behind the skeleton trees.  The branches seemed to reach upward, as if to grasp at the sky for warmth. 

       By the end of the week, he’d finished his article on PTSD.  His co-workers commented on how “interesting it was”, that they “learned something”, or that they “could relate to it”.  He knew the experience was something that haunted each one of them deep down, and no grief counselor or article would fix it.  Overall, people needed to hear that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is more common than they thought, and to wake up to it. 

       If he only knew this was all preparation for what was about to come, when his path would cross with Lillith Messinger’s.

       You never know whom you’ll meet or how your life will change. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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