Without Jeremy, Ch 23: Ashes

It was the last day of Christmas break, and I was sitting in my room thinking. I didn’t have much to be moody about, not with the dramatic turn in the Lizzie situation, but I was dreading school restarting. I hadn’t seen Andrew in almost two weeks. I didn’t know where we were or what we were going to do when we got back to school and were supposed to start working together again. What would we even work on? Was it all over? I tried not to care and just focus on the good things, but I couldn’t get Andrew out of my head.

I shifted on my bed and opened my window. It was cold outside, but I thought the fresh air and the noise of the highway would help me think. There was a knock on the door.

“C’min.”

It was Andrew. He was wet and looked cold, and he was breathing heavy.

“Can I come in?”

“Yeah.” I sat up in my bed. “Yeah, just, uh, yeah, take your coat off.”

“I’m sorry I came over unannounced, but I had to show you something.”

“Yeah, no, it’s cool. Uh, how was your Christmas?”

Andrew flung his coat over my chair and dug into his messenger bag.

“Never mind that, read this.”

He handed me a standard school composition notebook. I opened it up and saw an assortment of doodles that I recognized as Jeremy’s. I turned a couple of pages and marveled at his drawing: a walrus cowboy, a man flying an airplane shaped like a mermaid, some sort of galactic patrolman stepping out of a futuristic car.

Andrew grabbed the book from me. “No, no, look here, start here.”

He handed me back the book, and I saw it read “HOSPITAL JOURNAL” on the top.

“Where did you get this?”

“What do you mean? I got it at Jeremy’s house.”

“Andrew, we shouldn’t be reading this.”

Andrew stood up and waved his hands like he had touched something hot.

“Yes, no, you have to read this; someone else has to read this.”

“Does Mrs. K know you have this?”

“Casey, she. . .she said I could have some more of Jeremy’s drawings, and I found this. I was going to show it to her, but I read it and I can’t. I can’t show it to anyone, not till I figure it out. Read it.”

The notebook was sitting on my lap, my thumb stuck in the spot where the Hospital Journal started. I took a short breath and opened it.

HOSPITAL JOURNAL

Day 1

Lucky enough to get a solo room, which is positive. Everyone’s been really nice so far. The nurses are all nice, even the guy nurse. I probably shouldn’t write this down in case mom reads this, but when the little blonde one was adjusting my lines I saw down her shirt. So there’s good things all around.

The only one I really don’t like is Dr. Rosen. Sure, he seems nice, but there’s something not quite right about him. Too closely matches the description of someone I recently read about—Dr. Sterling Von Heimlich! That’s right, the mad Nazi scientist who genetically modified sleeper agents during WWII. Just like a dastardly Nazi mastermind to hide behind a Jewish last name! No one suspects, but I can see through his flimsy disguise and his fake New Jersey accent.

I’m beginning to wonder why I’m really here. Is this all a routine procedure, or is there perhaps something in my DNA that makes me a prime candidate for Dr. Heimlich’s strange experiments? When they took my blood this afternoon and he looked at it, a strange smile crossed his face. He thought no one saw it, but I did! Too diabolical by far! And then, when his nurse/assistant Helga gave me that sedative, why did it feel so strange? Have they already begun the experiment? Am I already being changed into some mutant form of subhuman?

“So, I get it; this is cool. You want to use this as a story. I like it; it would be a nice way to—”

“No, no, just keep reading.”

Day 2

Lots of blood in my stool this morning. They aren’t really sure why. No one’s said anything to me yet, but I think they’re going to do surgery on me today.

“Andrew, whoa. I mean, should we really be reading this?”

“Just read it.”

. . .but I think they’re going to do surgery on me today. I’m worried about being cut open, but it will be okay if they can get the pain to stop. I woke up last night and screamed but I forgot I was in the hospital. The night nurse came but she wasn’t very nice. She was just saying SHHHH and she gave me more morphine and I went to sleep. The pain wasn’t as bad this morning but I can feel that it’s going to come back.

“Seriously, man, I don’t think we should be reading this.”

“Oh, Jesus, just give me the book.”

Andrew ripped the notebook out of my hands and flipped a couple of pages.

“Read this. Read it.”

I took the notebook back from Andrew.

Day 5

I died today.

“What?”

I flipped the page; there were no more entries after this one.

“What,” I said again.

“Day 5. That’s the day he died. Day 5. Read the whole thing.”

Day 5

I died today. Sucks. It’s not as bad as you’d think though. No puffy clouds and angels or anything, it’s more like a Ramada. There’s a pool. Should have brought a suit. It’s a little like Casey said, it’s not like heaven, but I can still feel things from the old world. They’re far away, but they’re still there. I can see why some people stick around and try to hold on to it all, but I’m going to go. Still wish I’d brought a suit, but I’m sure someone will lend me one. Bye.

I looked up at Andrew. He uncrossed his arms quickly and started waving his hands again, then smacked them against his temples.

“Casey.”

I didn’t answer; I just reread the Day 5 entry again.

“Casey.”

I flipped back and scanned days 3 and 4. They were more straight medical stuff, like Day 2. Talk about blood and fevers and drugs.

“Casey.”

“Okay, look, this is not what it means. I mean, he wrote about Dr. Heimlich. So then he was feeling better, and he wrote that; he was just fooling around.”

“Casey.”

“Andrew, stop, he didn’t write this from. . .the afterworld or whatever. He just. . .wrote it. And he didn’t know. It’s just a thing.”

“What did you say?”

“I said it’s just a thing.”

“No, I mean what he wrote, about what you said. Do you remember saying anything like that?”

“Sort of. I remember thinking once that what if when you die your brain or your soul or whatever just keeps going. Like you get trapped in your body and you can still hear and feel, so you feel it when they embalm you and stuff, and then you’re just stuck in a coffin forever, thinking. But I don’t even remember saying that to Jeremy. But I can’t think what else it might be.”

“Do you think it’s true?”

“What? No! I dunno. I say a lot of stupid shit, dude; I don’t mean any of it.”

Andrew snorted, and half of the tension left the room. I closed the book and made to hand it back to him, but I opened it again and reread Day 5.

“It had to be just him goofing around. Day 6 probably would have been Dr. Heimlich following him to the afterworld. Ya know, if. . .”

“Yeah. If.”

I closed the book and handed it back to Andrew this time. He came over and sat next to me on my bed. We both sat there looking at the floor for a while.

“I had an idea. A reporter.”

I was emotionally drained from the notebook; I wasn’t really excited to hear any new ideas about reporters or scientists or whatever. But when I looked up, Andrew was smiling.

“For Death Man. I’ll tell you about it in Mrs. Di Scala’s tomorrow.”

I smiled and shook my head. Andrew threw on his coat and waved goodbye.

I sat on the edge of my bed for a long time, just listening. Mom and Dad were home, but it didn’t sound like their TV was on. My window was cracked open just a bit, just enough so I could hear the highway in the distance. I sat there for a long time. I didn’t believe in what Jeremy had written in his notebook; it just wasn’t possible. But if there was a chance that it was real, I was just going to sit here, sit here and let him know I was here for him.

 


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Dan Pullen lives in Connecticut with his wife and three children. He writes stories about simple people and their complex lives.