This is a short story inspired by the song I Am Legend by Loved Up Les.
And in memory of my Uncle, A.W.S, a legend in his time.
I was in that limbo, between sleep and waking. I could hear muffled sounds around me, but I could still feel the dream world I’d been in. There was a beeping noise and I couldn’t be sure from which reality it was coming. I suspected both. It was like being underwater, the closer I rose to the surface the louder the noise became, but as I moved back under, everything seemed far away, almost calm. A warmth enveloped me and made me want to stay where I was.
“Come on, we’ve got to go.” I heard a voice calling through the mist. Narrowing my eyes against the head lights of the vehicle facing me, I could make out a shadow waving at me. I approached him cautiously. “Come on, Jack, everyone’s waiting.”
“Jack? My name is Arthur, I think you got the wrong guy.” I turned to walk away but he grabbed my arm.
“Quit playing around, Jack, come on it’s time to go.”
There was something familiar about him, “Stanley?” He rolled his eyes, impatiently.
“Oh man, that was weeks ago, it’s me, Alan.” He stared at me, waiting for me to recognise him, “Jeez, did you get so old you don’t remember me?”
I took in my surroundings while I tried to think. I couldn’t see much, it was dark, and misty, everywhere I looked there was a fuzziness around the edge of my vision. All I could see was Alan, the headlights behind him plunging his face into darkness. He looked like my brother Stan. But that was impossible. Stan died twenty years ago.
“Oh.” I mumbled, reality dawning on me. I looked behind me, “no, I’m not ready yet.”
“Quit messing around, Jack, get in the car. Everyone’s home already, they’re waiting for you.” He was tapping his foot impatiently. It sounded unusually loud, like a drum beat in my head.
I looked at him in surprise, “everyone?”
“Well okay, Sylvie returned but then went back in about six weeks ago. So technically we’re waiting on her before we can all be together, unless she’s out as long as you’ve been.”
I had a sense that I should know what he was talking about, but I didn’t. I wasn’t this Jack character he seemed to think I was.
“How long have I been gone?”
“Eighty Three days. That’s some record. The longest yet.”
I looked down at my hands and saw the wrinkles starting to smooth slightly. I shook my head.
“No, I’m not finished.” I started walking backwards, in the distance I could hear a constant sound, just one note, steady and slow, it got louder as I picked up pace, turning to run towards it.
“Fine. Well I’ll just wait here then, okay?” Alan shouted, his voice sounding quiet in the distance, almost like it had been carried by the wind.
The noise stopped and I resurfaced with a gasp. I heard a cry and a shout for help and there was movement around me. I could still hear Alan’s foot tapping, so loudly, I could feel it in my chest. My eye lids felt heavy, I tried to open them but they felt like they were glued together. I raised my hands to touch them, helping them open as I blinked rapidly.
“You gave us quite a fright there, Arthur.” The doctor said, “where did you go?”
I shrugged imperceptibly. Grabbing his hand as he turned to leave. He looked down at me, surprised.
“Am I dying?” I asked.
He seemed to think about his answer for a while, but eventually nodded, “I’m afraid so, Art’.”
“A day, maybe two. That depends on you, really.”
“Can I go home?”
“If you’d prefer to, but we can keep you comfortable here.”
I glanced around the private room I was in. The monitors beeped every few seconds to remind everyone I was still just about clinging on to life. Everything smelled of disinfectant.
“No offence, Doc, but this place stinks and your space is limited and there’s nowhere to park, and if I’m going then I want everyone around me to see me off.”
The doctor nodded, “we’ll send a nurse home with you to make sure you’ve got medical care on site. I’ll get the discharge papers sorted.”
“Where’s your mother?” I asked my son, he was a good lad, my youngest, from my third marriage. We didn’t last long, she was far too young and I was far too healthy. She cut her losses and took the child support. I smirked to myself as I thought it.
“She’s outside, shall I send her in?”
“Later, I just wanted to know she was here.”
I turned to my daughter, my eldest, who was getting old herself, “You look just like your mother you know.” I told her, “I’m sorry you didn’t get to spend more time with her.” Her mother had been the love of my life, but she’d died young and not a day had passed when I didn’t miss her.
I had a sudden memory of Alan, what did he mean everyone was waiting for me? Was she waiting for me? My Peggy?
“Who’s here?” I asked them both.
“Everyone, Dad. We told everyone and they all came.”
“I want you to go downstairs, get some music on and crack open those bottles of wine I’ve been saving for a special occasion. The fizzy ones.”
“I wouldn’t call this a special occasion, Dad.” My son said, a tremor in his voice as he spoke.
“It is, lad. It’s my farewell party, and I get to be at it. I should’ve died hours ago, so let me celebrate and raise a glass with all my friends, my children, their mothers, my lovers and everyone that I know. Besides, it’s the last chance I’ll ever have to drink that damn wine!”
I fell asleep watching I Am Legend. I had a strange dream about a group of friends all living with different identities and pretending to be different people. I thought they were actors, but they were different. They had stories of the lives they’d lived. Somehow they all remembered each others stories as if they’d all been there. And there was a woman, Sylvie. She reminded me of my Peggy. I was sat next to her and she smiled at me, so radiantly and whispered, ‘come on Jack, come home‘.
I woke up with a start, there was a vicar stood on one side of my bed and a nurse on the other. I looked at the nurse and grinned.
“Thought you’d got shut of me did you?”
“Not at all, this is your cousin Simon, he wanted to pay his respects.”
I looked at my cousin with interest, “save your prayers, I’d believe in the Loch Ness monster before I’d believe in any God.”
He smiled at me, “that is your choice and I respect that. But I will still pray for you.”
“Is my nephew here?” I asked. Richard was a newly elected MP. My sister, rest her soul, would’be been so proud of him, the smarmy little so and so. Politicians, they’re all the same.
“I’m afraid he’s at the house, but he will try to get here.”
I shrugged again, “Hmph! Get me my lawyer, I’ve a good mind to leave Richard my parking fines. He can pay them out of his expenses.”
The nurse took hold of my wrist and looked at her watch as she counted the beats of blood pulsing through my veins. She smiled down at me and I saw a familiar sparkle in her eye.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Dorothy.” She smiled.
“Do you know anyone called Sylvie?”
She frowned as she thought about it.
“I don’t think so. Why, who’s Sylvie?”
“I’m not sure, really.” I shrugged.
Dorothy laughed, a pleasant tinkling laugh that sounded familiar to me. As I looked at her the edges of my vision began to blur as that mist rolled in. I heard a car beeping and as I closed my eyes for the final time I knew exactly who I was and where I was going. Goodbye Arthur, I’ve enjoyed being you.
“Are you ready to go this time?” Alan asked, impatiently. I grinned at my best friend, looking down at my hands as the wrinkles smoothed out. I straightened up and felt the years falling away from me.
“I am. She found me.”
“Sylvie? Who is she this time?”
“She’s a nurse, Dorothy, hope she brings the uniform back with her, she looked hot in it!”
“Please, that’s my sister you’re talking about.” Alan frowned.
“So, she went in twice?”
“Yeah, she was fuming when she got hit by that bus. You two finding each other so early was also a record you know, I was surprised you lasted another fifty days.”
“Hey, it was a good life, I had fun. I wouldn’t be sorry to meet some of those guys again.”
“Oh my god, what happened to you in there? You never want to mix with others.”
“I know, but I spent eighty three earth years being Arthur, he had a lot of friends, a great family. You all left so early.”
“Hey I managed sixty days, double what Sylvie managed. Although she’s been gone another forty since then.”
Well I’m going to need a break before I go in again. Tell head office I’m going down to sit by the pool until we’re all together and then we’ll see.
Alan pulled up outside a gatehouse.
“Are you ready?”
I nodded as I followed him through the gate and into a lift. I filed all the memories of my time as Arthur into the back of my mind and stepped out of the lift. There was a small crowd of people all waiting to greet me.
“Welcome home, Jack. Good to see you, mate.”
“Top of the leaderboard again, Jack, eighty three, what was that like?”
I shook hands with everyone and accepted the praise and accolades.
It was a strange life we lived up here in the Soul Cavern. We’d lived many life-times but what made my team strong was our own challenge to find each other on Earth before we returned home.
Arthur had always wondered about Peggy’s last words to him, they had never made any sense. But they weren’t meant for him. They were meant for me: ‘Wait for me, Jack. I’ll come back‘. And that’s what I did.