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By MICHEAL ARTHUR JAMES HAY
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Micheal Arthur James Hay
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Chapter OneWhat we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; What we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal. ~Albert Pike
I pray he was right ...
The room smelled of sickness; sterile, like the atmosphere offered by hospital cleaning solvents. I took a long moment in accepting what lay before me. Even then, my eyes had to first register what lay outside the confines of the bed. A quaint writing desk and chair stood against one wall, opposite that stood a small hardwood wardrobe. The walls were white, which I suppose added to the atmosphere. Floor tiles made for an easy cleanup, with little risk of stain. The ceiling was cushioned, which led me to believe that they had made the floor cold and barren only recently. The door, the window, the door to the balcony, I was avoiding it. In between lay the large double bed that held my charge, my existence, my sanity. Pale pink sheets were pulled tightly up under her chin. She seemed cold, even as a thin sheen of sweat was beading out on her forehead. Deep in a troubled sleep, she murmured softly. To whom she spoke, I did not know.
To me, it was apparent that she had few days left in this world. Steadily, her condition had declined in the last six months. I had been aware of the diagnosis for only that length of time, and I watched as she stopped eating, watched as she stopped venturing out, watched as she stooped lower and lower, forgetting the dignity with which she had previously held herself. She fought with every ounce of vitality she possessed, but it was no longer enough. Here she lay, broken. She could no longer find the physical strength to get out of bed, not that she seemed to care anymore. The doctors had no power here, only offering the comfort of a household nurse and painkillers that had all but lost their edge. It was cruel that cancer ate through her young body, and now it was so brittle it was ready to snap in half under its own weight.
Sad. Every time I start writing, it sounds more like a story of some place we forgot years ago, worlds and continents away. Perhaps it is my defence mechanism, or maybe I am a forgotten time and place. Perhaps I am just sentimental in my old age. I look at this girl and am continually struck with pure, blinding terror. I am scared. Probably for the first time in over a thousand years, I am truly terrified. To be brutally honest, in all the time I have walked this earth, I have never crossed paths with an enemy I could not bribe, intimidate, fight, kill, or at least reason with. That changes here with Sarah. Even with my resources, I am forced to admit there are battles that cannot be won. The cancer is in her lungs, an ugly black mark on a creamy pearl. They caught it too late; nothing known to humanity can save her now.
I pace and then sit, stand and then fidget, tear out what is left of my hair, and grind my already badly worn teeth. This is eating me alive, and not because I cannot do anything. If there is something I have learned in my long life, it is this: there is always a way to bargain with death. After all, I am who I am. There is always something I can do, an alternative that only I can make possible. Only if I could convince myself it would really be saving her. Immortality is not a light prospect, no matter how you think you would handle it. Instead of dying at seventeen, Sarah could forever live at seventeen. If that is the path I choose, what will I be forcing upon her? I recall long, lonely nights when the moon did not shine, but not from lack of want nor wishing. Imagine for a moment, if you can, that you will never again view the morning sun cresting its horizon. It will be rimmed with clouds that God only makes for the occasion, slowly pushing back the murk, but you will hide from it to avoid the final death. Imagine all who you know and care for growing old and dying, only to be replaced by their children. You may care for them also, but the reality is, they too will grow old and die. Could I place this on her? She is no longer conscious to ask.
Sarah moans and her brow creases more deeply. I keep trying to make this into a story ...
I can only just perceive how confused you would be in reading this. My tendency to keep a journal has made me a prisoner to the written word, it seems. I revert to it now in my hour of conflict. I ask you: how does it feel to be alive? I am so very different from you that perhaps the concept will never be bridged. I do not intend this for another's eyes, but I should clarify a few things in the simple eventuality that someone may come across it. My death has been lived in secrecy, so why do I chance to break it now? Maybe I am lonely, just a little. Maybe I need the chance to reason things out from a different perspective. Maybe madmen need an audience. So, you, for the benefit of both of us, let me explain myself. Those who have known what I really am ask why I carry a sword: 'If you can punch through a brick wall,' they always say with a degree of awe, 'Leap a full sixty feet, and can break a body beyond recognition, why bother?' Ask yourself this: would you gladly watch your closed fist break apart the flesh of another?
My full name is James Spencer MacArthur; it was the name I was born with, anyway. I remember my last breath as I took it on October 15, 1981. That was the day I died. Today is June 23, 2998 ... and I am living still. I remember with clarity the day when reality ducked out and someone's twisted story took root. It was the 14th of October when it all started ... It was unusually warm that year. The leaves had not yet started to change colour and none could be found on the ground. It was the kind of weather that was ruined when you came to realize that, sooner rather than later, winter will come with a vengeance for having been kept waiting. I was in school then, so very, very long ago. I was attending my final year of the twelfth grade, or at least that was my plan. Somehow a year's worth of failed classes had accumulated throughout my high school career (I attribute it to not giving a shit), so I found myself forced to return for two more agonizingly long semesters. Eighteen was my age, headstrong and dumb, hopped up on hormones and the cheapest liquor I could steal. Life was simpler then.
As you get older, some memories are as clear as glass, and others turn to fog when you try to grab at them. I remember being in a foul mood that day, distinctly foul. As usual, the cause preceding the negative result was my parents. The one day in the whole year I celebrated my birthday, and it was seemingly the only day they readily forgot. They resented their burden, I hated my critics. Why should I have been shocked? They managed to do it every year, so my childhood was spent crying myself to sleep much of the time. I suppose I should have really been surprised that they could remember anything at all. Dad, Mr. MacArthur, was always stoned, while Mrs. MacArthur would have had difficulty recognizing the world not witnessed through the bottom of a champagne glass. I sincerely hope that, before they died, they realized I was missing.
Containing all that unrest in a tight little coffin within myself, making sure nothing leaked out, made me oblivious to trouble that day. I, of course, blindly walked into it.
Aw Shit, I still hate him a thousand years later. There was no way for me to escape then, just like there never were the times before. I was stranded in a sea of bodies with nowhere to run.
"Fuck Off!" I said to Greg for more than the first time in my life.
"You don't get it, do you MacArthur? I—why hello Mr. Heartwick, pleasant day is it not?"
My first lucky break of the day. It was one of those rare times that Mr. Heartwick, the Ever-Elusive-Principal, set foot outside the safety of his little office. The neatly aligned bookshelves he kept in there conveniently doubled to block out any sound from invading his private world. Most of the time, I believe he forgot his job was to help students and not deny their existence. Anyway, that rare guest appearance gave me just enough time to slip away before my face was turned into hamburger (which no doubt the cafeteria would be pleased to serve, instead of their usual ground up rat and gym socks).
Gregory King had been on my ass since the fifth grade, maybe even longer. I ducked into my Ancient History class before 'Kinger', as he made people call him, figured out where I had squirrelled off to. I went so far as to let out a tiny sigh of relief. It caught in my throat when somebody put their foot behind mine and pulled me backwards and over. Actually, I think it may have come out as a startled yip, but I cannot recall exactly. Before I had an interview with the floor, I was caught in a pair of arms I knew oh so well.
"That's what I like about you, my pet. Despite your words, you're really just a pushover." It was Petra.
Before I could compose myself to even manage a dignified response, she kissed me. Suddenly, I forgot what I had been about to say. Women—the ones you love, anyway—have a tendency to do that. It is their magic (I believe); they dissolve the world so that it becomes just the two of you, last in the universe, residing in a blank and blissful void.
Petra laughed and stood me back on my feet. I tried to smile as my heart slowed down to at least 97.6 beats per minute. "Did you finish your essay?" She asked.
Shit, I had forgotten.
"I ... uh ... well ... no." Was all I managed to offer. I had promised her I would try harder at this 'school thing'. The grand idea was that we would graduate at the same time, and then start our lives together. It was not going so well on my side of things.
"Good, I wrote yours too," and she handed it to me. "Consider it a birthday present."
God I loved her.
"What would I do without you," I said, rather than asked, but she had an answer for me.
"Shrivel up and die without anyone caring." Probably true. "Since I did this for you, even though it's your birthday—" she stopped as I cut her off.
"Outside off all of them,
We found a quiet place,
We danced without a problem,
We danced with a divine grace.
Later in the darkness,
We quietly slipped away,
Out of the light's brightness,
We found another day.
Many thoughts we shared,
Together out of sight,
Of eyes that would have stared,
And thought all this not right.
And when we both grew weary,
Of all the lives we had,
We fell asleep on the dreary,
Floor-tiles made of plaid.
But as we drifted off to sleep
We happened to lock eyes,
And in those eyes so light and deep,
I saw never-ending skies."
Had I known that long kiss was to be our last, I never would have stopped it.
Chapter TwoOther than Petra, and that one run-in with Greg, most of my day passed rather uneventfully, for once. I could make no sense of the Spanish language, history was still a bunch of dead men, gym smelled terrible, and I would never look the same way at a table saw. Home-time came about just as I was done applying ice. Having missed his chance earlier to give me the most savage beating of my life, Greg was scanning the halls. His favorite prey was the kind that squirmed, which meant me. We saw each other at the same time and locked eyes for a fraction of a second. He pretended—poorly I might add—to ignore me as he pushed his way through the crowd, bee-lining it right for my soon-to-be-festering corpse. Wishing to prolong my death, I changed directions and skittered away from Kingzilla.
Turning a corner, I spotted a custodian's closet that was open slightly. Diving in, I pulled shut the heavy door behind me as soft and as quickly as possible, hoping I had not been witnessed. High school is very much like a jungle in some respects. There is a food chain; I was at the bottom. A few links further up, there were some who should have been eaten, but to appease the greater beast, they picked his teeth clean. Or, they pointed him towards an easier meal. I waited for perhaps five minutes before I decided to peek out. If the coast was clear, I would dart for my bus. Even then, I would just barely catch it. My only discovery was that the door had locked itself. By then, of course, the halls had cleared, so no one was there to hear my frantic shouts and poundings, not even Greg.
I once saw a man on television wiggle his way out of seventeen pairs of handcuffs and leg shackles. He did this while dangling upside down from a helicopter, which was hovering over a lake. To make circumstances worse, the rope that was keeping him from a headlong plunge was soaked in kerosene and had been set on fire. Talk about pressure. Not to worry, a medical team was standing by if, for some reason, something went wrong. He had escaped with about five seconds to spare, conveniently timed to cause the most dramatic effect, and I had always admired him for this because I thought myself never capable of such a feat. That stood true, as I never escaped from that closet on my own. I tried one body check. When I rebounded from that, I knocked over a mop bucket, which in turn tipped over a stepladder. I could have had some respect left for myself if the ladder had not taken out the single light bulb on the hanging chain. I decided, after that, to sit quietly in the pool of mop water that I was already seated in until something else happened.
Sometime later, it was after dark by then, I was startled awake when the night janitor came in. He was a small Asian man, and he stared at me for a second with an expression I have never been able to identify. It was quite possible that he was unable to comprehend what a lone boy was doing sleeping in a school closet. It strikes me as a little odd too. Perhaps he was wondering why I did not have a half naked girl in my arms, as that particular closet had been famous for. Not knowing precisely how to handle the situation, and with no rational solution looming on the horizon, I bowed formally and slipped by him. I think I left him even more perplexed than at first. I never knew for certain because I had no urge to look back, owing to the fact that I wanted to leave the scene of the crime. Sitting in the dark, in the water, I had feared my bladder would burst. In my desperation I made use of an empty bottle. It was then recapped and placed back on the shelf (which to this day I swear I had nothing to do with). When all you drink for a whole day is orange juice, vodka, and half a dozen sodas, it kind of burns when leaving the tip of ... never mind. The recapping had to happen for the sake of my nostrils.
Normally I made use of the bus, since I had not yet saved enough from my job at the hardware store to purchase a car. Having long missed the Yellow Puke Shuttle, I had no other option but to walk. My parents would say it was my own damned fault, so I could expect no help from them. Petra had no means herself, except through her parents, and that was enough said. I had no money for a taxi, so hitchhiking and walking were my fallbacks. It really could have been worse; home was only in the next town over, twelve kilometers in total from the school to my doorstep. I was young, and I had done it before, just never in the dark.
Excerpted from THE GUARDIAN by MICHEAL ARTHUR JAMES HAY Copyright © 2011 by Micheal Arthur James Hay. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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