Death Tours: Part 3 — Beach Day

Nick's HouseContinued from: Death Tours: Part 2 — Oracle 

Nick sat in the kitchen, looking down at his untouched breakfast. It was mid-August. The hottest day of the year. Nick’s father, Peter Bishop, sat beside him, eating his own breakfast. Nick’s mother, Karen, stood at the kitchen counter, pouring milk on cereal.

“Gonna be a hot one today,” Peter said, scooping up the last of his scrambled eggs with his toast.

“It’ll be uncomfortable up on that roof,” Karen said, bringing her cereal over to the kitchen table and sitting between her two boys, as she called them.

Peter said, “Yeah, but we should finally get it done today. It’s been a real pain in the…” he paused, glancing at Nick, and then said, “…tukas.”

This usually brought a giggle from Nick, but today, Nick sat, silent, still staring at his breakfast.

Peter regarded his son for a moment, waiting for the giggle that never came, and then he said, “I don’t know why they don’t just tear the building down and build a new town hall. Probably be cheaper than to keep fixing the old one.”

“You know this island, people aren’t good at letting things go. Besides, why ruin the charm?” Karen said.

“Ha. Charm. Right. This place is like a photograph of a time that never was,” Peter said. He ate the last of his toast and glanced at his son’s untouched food. “Not hungry, bud?” he asked the boy.

Nick shrugged.

“You feeling okay?” his father asked.

“Yeah,” Nick said with another shrug.

“Okay,” Peter said and stood to bring his dishes to the sink.

“Dad?” Nick said, still not looking up from his food.

“What’s up, bud?”

“Don’t go to work today.”

Peter stopped, still holding the dishes hovering above the sink, he cocked his head and looked back at his son. He said, “Why’s that, champ?”

“I don’t know…” Nick shrugged, “Just don’t.”

Peter, still with the dishes hovering above the sink, glanced at his wife. She paused mid-slurp of a spoonful of cereal and raised her eyebrows. Peter looked back at his son and said, “I have to go, buddy.”

“Yeah, but…” Nick began to say, but stopped.

Peter placed his dishes in the sink and returned to the kitchen table. He said, “Look, pal, some of us have to rely on working for a living. We can’t all be basketball superstars or television personalities like you plan to be.” He ruffled his son’s hair and then turned to leave.

“Dad?”

Peter turned back to the table. “What’s up, bud?”

“Nothing.”

Peter said to his son, “Go to the beach today, have fun. I’ll be home later, and maybe I’ll head down for a dip myself.”

“I’m sure you’ll be ready for one,” Karen said. “Supposed to hit 97 today.”

“See?” Peter said to his son. “Sounds like I’ll be dying for a swim.”

Nick winced. Peter glanced at his wife again. She raised her eyebrows.

Peter ruffled his son’s hair again, then he walked around the table to his wife. “All right, “ gotta get going.”

Karen stood to greet him.

“Dad, don’t go to work today.” There was an underlying panic in Nick’s voice that caused his parents’ glancing at one another to take an uneasy edge.

“Seriously, buddy, what is wrong with you today?”

“Just come to the beach instead.”

“Nicky, if I could, I would. I’d love to spend the day at the beach with you. But I can’t. I have to work.”

“Dad, don’t go.” Tears welled in Nick’s eyes. His parents looked at one another again.

An unnamable emotion crossed his parents’ faces. For a moment, they all felt that empty pocket waiting to be filled, but if people always heeded that feeling, nothing would ever get done, and so Peter broke the tension with his bright, toothy smile, and he kissed his wife. “Gotta go,” he said. He grabbed his tool belt from the counter and he left.

For most of the morning, as the temperature rose, so did Nick’s anxiety. He paced around the living room, looking out the window to the front lawn baking in the sunlight.

His mother walked past the living room doorway with a basket of laundry in her hands. She stopped, rewinding her steps to see her son.

She said, “Why aren’t you out playing? Or at the beach? Scooter not around today?” Scooter was a person, by the way, not a small bicycle.

“Why does Dad have to work today?”

“It’s his job, dear.”

Nick looked back out the window, his foot nervously tapping the floor. His mother watched him a moment, feeling that empty, ambiguous dreadful feeling again, but she chalked it up to just contagious anxiety caught from her son. She shrugged it off as being part of Nick’s growing pains, the anxiety of a coming adolescence, and she returned to her chores.

But Nick’s anxiety wasn’t caused by coming adolescence, and it felt like it was about to turn him inside out, as if his feelings were maggots wanting to burst from rancid meat, and that’s when he ran from the house, out to his yard, grabbing his bike and riding off down the road.

To Be Continued

Death Tours: Part 2 — Oracle

mystic-island-map-v2_03Continued from: Death Tours: Part 1 — Welcome to Death Watch 

The recognition of death would hit him in different ways. Sometimes it was a flash of a name, or of a time, or of a place. Sometimes it was all three. Sometimes it was just a feeling of an empty pocket in the air, about to be filled. The drop of the stomach signifying death’s sudden appearance.

Picture Nick Bishop as a child, a ten year old playing basketball on an old hoop affixed to a telephone pole in front of his childhood home on Mystic Island. Each dribble a practice in concentration as the ball kicked aside tiny stones on the blacktop, each stone threatening to kick aside the ball in kind. Picture him stopping in front of the crooked rim and, in his best Johnny Most voice, saying, “D.J. passes to Bird…” Nick pivots toward the hoop, cocking his arm, about to shoot, but he stops, the boy seeming to sense something. He looks behind him at a dog sniffing at a bush.

Sometimes Nick would get a sense of death weeks or days ahead of its appearance, but sometimes, like when that dog interrupted his basketball game, he would get the sense of death at that very moment. Don’t ask him for any scientific or philosophical explanation for any of it, because he has none. And don’t think that plenty of people—from researchers to government officials to Oprah, herself—haven’t tried to get the answer from him whether it be by money or force—or in the case of Oprah, both. The fact is, he has no idea how he is able to do it. As for me telling you, I will only tell you this talent is nothing new. The Oracle at Delphi, the witches of Macbeth, Nostradamus… Hell, there is even a cat at a nursing home in Rhode Island that can predict when the residents are going to die. The cat jumps up onto a resident’s bed, and the next morning, that resident just never wakes up. The person dies peacefully during the night. Now, you would think that when the cat walked into a room, the room’s occupant would grab the thing by the tail and throw it yowling out the door. But that never happens. The resident just lies back and falls asleep. Sometimes knowing one’s time has come is a comfort in itself. A chance to prepare, to brace for the coming end, to reflect on a life well-lived. With this knowledge you can be afforded the chance of dying with grace. The opposite is what happened to Paula Reece, who you all witnessed being mowed down in a Manhattan street on Death Watch. For her, knowing wasn’t a comfort at all. Knowing only made her completely freak out. It’s all in what a person does with the knowledge. You only die once, it’s a shame if you fuck it up. No, Nick Bishop wasn’t the first person with this knack of realizing the when or where of death. He was just the first person to put it on Prime Time.

So back to the dog. Nick watched the thing pee on a bush and trot off down the street. Nick followed the thing at a slow, steady pace, and as he did so, the dog eyed the boy suspiciously, the thing trotting into another yard for more sniffing. The dog had actually caught the scent of a young bitch in heat’s urine, and he was very eager to know in which direction she was heading. Nick looked off toward the street running perpendicular to his own street. He then looked back at the dog, the dog glancing nervously back at Nick. The dog was having a hard time keeping track of the two instincts now running in its brain: finding the bitch or keeping an eye out for potential danger. The bitch, as usual, was winning. Nick bounced the ball with one loud air-filled report, startling the dog into action. The dog darted into the street that ran perpendicular to Nick’s street. It was immediately run down by a car in a squeal of tires and yelping.

The car’s driver got out of the car. He looked at the dog dead in the road and then he looked at Nick. The driver said to Nick, “This your dog?”

Nick shook his head.

“I didn’t even see it,” The driver said. The statement is what all drivers say when hitting something.

“And it didn’t see you,” Nick said, turning and dribbling off toward the NBA finals, where Bird had the ball.

“Hey, do you know whose dog this is?” the driver called after Nick.

“Nope,” Nick called over his shoulder. His next words were in the gravelly voice of Johnny Most about to announce another Larry Bird buzzer-beater. The driver stood shocked at the kid’s coldness toward the dog’s death. But the truth was, Nick had just gotten used to death making its appearance. However, there was no getting used to what was to happen two weeks later, when death came home.

Continued in: Death Tours: Part 3 — Beach Day 

Death Tours: Part 1 — Welcome to Death Watch

032Let’s leave Mystic Island for a moment and head to New York City. Manhattan, to be exact. And let’s focus in on Paula Reese, a sharply dressed forty year old business woman striding along the crowded city sidewalk. She is returning to her office after a very important business lunch. Paula just made a big deal, and the spring in her step makes her forget about the uncomfortable high heel shoes she is wearing. Paula is walking with her head held high, her shoulders back, and purpose in her gate. Seemingly, nothing can a-break-a her stride. That is, until a buzzing commotion swarms through the sea of pedestrians around her. There seems to be some sort of fracas up ahead, and the crowd, like a school of minnows, all move forward in unison.

Paula turns to a young man with shaggy brown hair and a corduroy sports jacket. She asks him, “What is it? What’s going on?”

The guy with the shaggy hair shrugs and continues lock-step with the crowd. Car horns begin to beep in the distance, and the crowd begins to slow, the people forming a large semicircle on the sidewalk, people murmuring to one another with excitement.

Paula uses her new confidence from her meeting, and she moves through the crowd to the front edge, as if she belongs there. After all, that’s what her boss John Thompsontold her to do: When in doubt, just act like you belong there. Paula looks up at the surrounding high-rise buildings, spotting countless people peering from their offices, their faces pressed to the glass windows.

Paula now stands beside a young man with sunglasses, a backward hat, and earbuds cranking a deep, muffled base rift.“What is this?” Paula asks the young man.

“Huh?”the man says, yanking the buds from his ears, his base rift now a clear thumping.

“What’s going on?” Paula says.

The young man nods his head, gesturing into the distance.

Paula spots the camera crew across the street. The spotlights. The sound booms. Then she spots a man in an impeccably tailored suit. The most recognizable face on television. He seems larger in life, but only because of his recognition factor. He is no larger than any other man. If anything, he is below average height, and his shoulders are beginning to sag a little, his temples graying prematurely. His blue eyes, however, are still quick and sharp.

The beeping car horns intensify as cars crawl by, drivers rubbernecking at the crowd.

Paula turns and says, almost giddily, to the young man with the earbuds, “Uh-oh, who’s the unlucky person?”

The young man shrugs and returns the earbuds to his ears.

Across the street, The man in the suit says something to a man wearing a headset. The man with the headset scrambles about, talking quickly into the headset’s mouthpiece. The cameras turn toward the crowd, and a panicked murmur breaks out amongst them, each person looking at the people around him or her, some craning their necks as if looking for someone in particular.

Paula says, “Who’s the…?”

Then a buzz begins running through the crowd, people turning their heads in one direction. Their heads turning toward Paula. And then the crowd, as one, steps away from her like a ripple from a stone cast into a pond.

Paula has a sudden realization, and she begins to plead with the crowd, “What are…?No, wait… It’s not me.”

But the people continue to move away from her. Looks of sympathy and thrilled anticipation upon their faces.

“It’s not me. Please. It’s not me.”Paula says. She darts toward another woman who is dressed in a business suit. The woman flinches as if faced with a leper. Paula saying to the woman, “Please. It’s not me.”

The woman in the business suit says, “But he’s never wrong.”

Paula reels around at the crowd, begging them all for assurance. But none can offer it to her. She begins to back away from the crowd as they back away from her, Paula almost tripping off the sidewalk as she turns toward the cameras and calls toward the man in the suit, “It’s not me. You got it wrong. You got it all wrong.”

The man in the suit lowers his eyes, saying something to the man in the headset again.

Paula begins ranting and striding in circles, raving at the passing cars. “It’s not me.”

At this moment, a man named Toby Strunk is driving his car by the ruckus, craning his neck to watch the camera crews. He doesn’t notice Paula ranting. And as Paula reels around, screaming and pleading, she trips and falls in front of Toby’s car. The crowd cringes, gasping, some looking away as Toby’s tires drive over Paula, crushing her body.

Toby stops the car with a squeal of brakes.

The crowd goes silent.

Toby gasps, looking around. He then notices the man in an impeccably tailored suit walking slowly from across the street toward his car. Toby says, “Oh no.”

Toby leaps from his car and darts to the front of his vehicle to check on the woman he now realizes he’s just hit, but the man in the suit is standing before him, stopping him from reaching the woman. Toby cranes his neck to look past the man at Paula’s broken body, Toby saying, “I didn’t even see her.”

The man tells Toby, “I know. It’s not your fault.”

Toby looks around at the crowd, everyone silent. The silence inconceivable for mid-day Manhattan. All eyes are on Toby and the broken body beneath his car’s tires.

Then the silence is broken as everyone cheers.

The man in the suit turns and looks at the crowd. Generally, he’d throw his arms up with showman exuberance here, but now, he looks at the crowd as if seeing a crowd like this for the first time. The man looks at Toby. Toby is still staring down at Paula— her eyes open, blood trickling from her open mouth—with a lost expression on his face. The camera crew is suddenly blocking his view as they get a good close-up of the woman for the television audience.

The man looks across the street at the man in the headset, his producer Brent Parker. Brent gives him a thumbs-up as the crowd of onlookers begin to disperse and continue on with their lives.

The camera turns from the woman and onto the man in the suit. The man in the suit says into the camera,“I’m Nick Bishop. And welcome to Death Watch.”

Continued in: Death Tours: Part 2 — Oracle