Loved to Death

By Michael J.P. Whitmer

Family and friends had gathered under a large canopy tent to attend the grave-side service for Jonathan Hill's mother. The pastor conducting the service read from John 14:27.

"Let not your heart be troubled..." His words trailed off, leaving him staring toward the back of the tent. 

"Can I help you?" The pastor asked a doctor, standing just at the edge of the tent, garbed in his surgical scrubs from head to toe.

Those in attendance, including Jon and his father, who sat at the front nearest to the open casket, turned to look down the aisle at the sudden arrival. 

"I would like to say a few words," the doctor stated, making his way down the walkway toward the front of the gathering. Stopping at the casket, he positioned himself behind it, facing the family. 

"I'm so sorry... there wasn't anything more I could do..." he said, shaking his head from side to side. Reaching into the casket, the doctor slowly pulled from it a slimy, bloody, screaming new born baby girl. He held it toward Jon and his father.  

"I'm sorry!" 

Jon shot upright from the couch. His breathing deep and beads of sweat dotted his forehead. The same nightmare had been plaguing his sleep ever since the move.  

"Change is healthy. It'll help to start somewhere new, somewhere to make new memories," He remembered his father telling him.  

Help who? He wished he had asked him then.

It was hard enough for a fifteen year old to cope with the loss of his mother seven months ago, but to ask him to up and move, leaving behind everything he'd ever known?

That was too much, Jon thought.

Jon knew better, though. He knew the move was more for his father who had been looking for a way out long before his mother's death. He could still hear their late night fighting in his head. His father going on about how this wasn't the life he wanted, and his mother calling him a coward, among other things. No matter what was thrown or screamed his mom would always come into his room after the situation had settled. Sometimes her eyes were red from crying or her voice hoarse from yelling, but she assured him every time: "We'll always be a family," and would seal it with a kiss. 

There was a boom of thunder and a flash of lightning that sent Jon jumping out of thought. The storm had been raging on all night and showed no sign of letting up. From upstairs, he could make out his baby sister, Melissa, crying.

Jon looked at the clock on the wall.

Nine-seventeen; Dad should be home soon, he reminded himself, thankfully. Like most teens, he despised babysitting. 

Springing off the sofa, Jon headed to the staircase near the foyer. Reluctantly, he began to ascend the stairs, and with every step he took, his sister's crying became more and more audible over the unwavering storm outside. Reaching the second floor, the lights cut off freezing him where he was, flickering back to life a moment later. Breathing easier, Jon continued into the hall towards his sister's room. 

 Standing at Melissa's door, her shrieking became even worse. Jon reached for the knob.

What the... He wondered puzzled as to why the door wouldn't open.

Trying the knob the other way and then both ways again but with a bit more force it still didn't budge. The door was locked.

But how?

The lights cut out once more without powering back on. In the pitch black things seemed heightened, silence twice as quiet and the slightest of noises amplified. His sister's crying was no exception, going from ear throbbing to ear piercing. Jon had to get to her for her sake and his sanity's.

The window! The thought crossed his mind.

There was a trellis under the window that he could climb from the back yard.

Pushing through the dark, he cautiously made his way back down stairs, away from the maddening, dominating sounds of his sister's constant crying, where the storm's rage ruled.  Through the living room, Jon followed along the wall and into the kitchen, fumbling his way to the rear door that led to the backyard. Jon opened it to a strong blast of wind that swept the door from his grasp, slamming it against the wall. Wind and rain rushed inside in frenzy, sending Jon in a panic to get the door closed, which he finally did, leaning his weight against it. 

Maybe I'll just wait for Dad to get home,he thought, second-guessing his adolescent plan.

As if Melissa had read his mind, her screams seemed to erupt tenfold, batting back his most recent idea.

Jon huffed, shaking his head in frustration at what he was about to do. Opening the backdoor once more, bracing it to hold the weather at bay; he stood behind it like a shield, peering out into the night. The storm was relentless: wild winds tossing the rain madly at all angles. 

Frowning, he braved the storm where he was instantly drenched. Moving across the porch, Jon squinted attempting to look through the night and rain. He ran off the patio and onto the flooded grass until he stopped under Melissa's window. Leaping onto the trellis, he scaled it as quickly as possible. Pulling his top half up to look into the glass there was nothing but blackness and his reflection staring back at him. As he moved to open the window from the bottom, his own reflection faded into a pale woman's--his mother’s. Jon gasped and went falling from the ledge. With a heavy thud, he hit the wet ground head and back first. 

He moaned, sloshing in the wet grass, as he slowly crawled to his feet. With a throbbing head, Jon could barely stand. Stumbling hazily through the yard and rain turned drizzle, Jon managed to find his way into the house.


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