• Author B. D. West

Tales From the Edge of Death

Tales From The Edge Of Death

Why do I do this to myself? I hate funerals. The sun is beating down on my head and I don’t even know half the people here. Hell I don’t even know my deceased Aunt that well. I’m going to remind myself later to yell at my sister later. She always does this to me; she makes me feel guilty for not coming to all the funerals in the family. Can I help it that I have a life, a real life as a journalist?  I worked hard to be where I am today. I work for a great news paper, The Looking Glass Gazette.  I have been writing for them for five years now and I worked myself up to the special feature every week. I’m proud of my accomplishments; who was she to make me feel bad. I got to get out of here. I thought to myself as I looked around the cemetery. The July heat had already made the grass a nasty looking brown. This was an old cemetery; it’s been in the family for centuries. Everyone in the Johnson family is buried here. Even my own parents are buried here. There are a few names here I don’t recognize and some of the head stones are so old you can’t even read the names. I used to come here when I was a teenager to sneak a cigarette. After mom and dad died, I just couldn’t face this place anymore. I walked away from the service over to my parent’s graves. It’s been ten years since they died in that horrible car accident. I ran my hand over their names, Edna and Bill Johnson. I felt a lump rise up in my throat as I reached into my purse to retrieve my cigarettes. I shifted my focus so I wouldn’t cry, good the funeral is over. Maybe I can get to my car without anyone noticing me. I walked with my head down at a brisk pace but too late. Here she comes Aunt Martha.

“Susan! Oh Susan how wonderful to see you! Oh and at such a horrible time. I can’t believe my sister is gone.” Aunt Martha said as she dabbed at her eye with a wrinkled tissue.

“Aunt Martha it’s nice to see you too. I hated to hear about Aunt Kate. Are you ok?”

“Oh yes she went so peaceful. The cancer took her fast but she had made peace with the good lord years ago and she said she was ready. You know the strange part about her death was when it was just she and I at the hospital. I knew she only had a few hours left and I stayed with her so she wouldn’t die alone.” Aunt Martha sniffed and wiped her nose again, this time blowing it hard making a trumpet sound. “It was three o’clock in the morning, she was sleeping so peacefully when all the sudden she woke up with this beautiful smile and she turned her sweet face to me then back to the corner of the room. She held out her arms and opened her hands wide as if she were about to hug someone. Then she spoke out to the corner of the room and said ‘yes take me home’ and just like that her arms dropped and she was gone.” Aunt Martha broke into fresh sobs and a family member that I did not recognize came over to console her. I decided to take that opportunity to hot foot it back to my car. This time I made it, I guess I’m not the only one trying to get out quick. The cars were backed up from the cemetery all the way to main high way. This will take forever; I guess I could call the office. I dread it. These days my boss Mr. Shultz has been thinking up my stories for me. I think that is his way of saying my features have been crap lately. I need to have a story in mind before I call. Let’s face it; I have been out of ideas for a while. I looked around the cemetery and it hit me. I picked up my cell phone and dialed the numbers.

“Hello Looking Glass Times how may I direct your call?”

“Hey Janet its Susan, can you put me through to Mr. Shultz?”

“Sure hold please.”

“Hello?” Mr. Shultz said in his rough voice.

“Hey Mr. Shultz it Susan.”

“Susan! Just the gal I wanted to talk to. I got a great idea for your feature this week; it’s about the school field trip…”

“Mr. Shultz I have my own idea this week.” I said as I quickly butted in.

“Oh? Well let’s hear it.” He said with surprise in his voice.

“Ok, as you know I just came back from my Aunts funeral and it made me think about the afterlife. How some people seemed to show signs that the afterlife exist. I wanted to get some stories from people about seeing their loved ones, when in the process of taking their last breath, what they say they are seeing. There are so many reports of people seeing death or angels coming for them. I think it would be an interesting piece.” I became quiet as I listen to Mr. Shultz breath over the phone.

“Well tell you what, you write me up something and I’ll have a look at it. If it’s not what I’m looking for you have to do the field trip story.”

“Yes sir!” I hung up the phone with excitement. I finally may have something he would enjoy. As traffic started to move I began to plan my story.

The next day I headed to my office and I started to look for Pam, she is the busy body of the news paper. She knows everyone in town and I knew she could hook me up with people who could share their experiences with me. I looked in the only place a food addict would be, the snack machine.

“Hey Pam!” I said to Pam’s plump rear end planted right in front of the snack machine.

Pam fished out her honey bun and slowly turned around. A small smirk formed on her dimpled cheeks making her double chin grow larger. “What is it Susan? You know I don’t owe you anymore favors. As I remember it you owe me.” She said as she opened her sweet treat and then taking a huge bite. She rolled her eyes at me and sighed. “Alright maybe one more. What is it?” She said as she chewed.

“Thanks Pam you’re the greatest! Ok so I have this story about the afterlife and I need some people to talk to that have witnessed their loved ones death. Maybe the deceased said something as they were dying like they were seeing angels or death. Know anyone like that?”

“Hmm let me think.” Pam said as she finished her honey bun. She did this on purpose for dramatic effect. “Yeah I guess I know a few, in my family for that matter. Let me write down their numbers and addresses so you can go out there. I’ll set them up ok? And this time Susan you better give me credit in the end for the help. You know I like to see my name in the paper.”

“Sounds good to me!”

Pam wrote down the information. “Now at least give me today to call everybody and set it up. You can head out tomorrow ok. I’ll e-mail who and where to go and at what time.”

I got up the next morning and I checked my e-mail. Bless her heart, Pam came through. There were only three people listed, oh well I can make it work. So who’s first? Janelle. Lives on Burbank Street, lost her husband to colon cancer. Ok, I’ll try her first. I printed out the e-mail and got dressed and headed out the door with my tape recorder. I don’t know if anyone uses these things anymore but I found I really could be more accurate in my quotes if I just played it back later. I found out that I miss important details when I take only notes.

I pulled into Janelle’s drive way. She lived in a beautiful white cottage with blue shutters on the windows and flowers planted all over the yard. She even had a white picket fence to complete the picturesque scene. The white curtain in the window moved to the side as I walked up the tiny stone path to Janelle’s door and before I could knock she opened the door.

“I hope I didn’t startle you. My little girl is still asleep.” Janelle said with a sweet smile.”You must be Susan, please come in.”

I stepped into her home and compared to her home, my apartment looked like a pigsty and I was a clean person. Her home was immaculate with its polished wood floors and white sofa and crystal vases. It was hard to believe a little girl lived here too. I sat down on the edge of the sofa and took out my tape recorder and pushed the record button.

“Thank you for allowing me to come into your home and for sharing with me such a personal story.”

“Well when Pam called I was surprised, she didn’t believe me when I told her the story of Tom’s death. Do you believe in life after death Susan?” she said with hope etched on her face as she sat down next to me.

“Well, that’s what I am trying to find out. I’m doing research for a feature I am writing for the Looking Glass Times. After my Aunts funeral, I wanted dig a bit deeper.”

“I’m sorry to hear of your loss.” Janelle looked over to a silver framed picture. “Tom was a wonderful man. He was a fireman for seven years before he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He fought so hard, but the cancer was just too strong. The morning he died I was holding his hand and we were talking about the day we got married and the day Destiny was born. We prayed together for the last time…” Janelle’s eyes welled up with tears. “ Then all of a sudden he looked up to the ceiling and he asked me ‘ can you hear that?’ and I asked him ‘hear what?’ and he said ‘the wings fluttering’ and I looked at him and he had such a sweet smile on his face. He then asked me ‘can you hear the music?’ and I knew he was hearing heaven. Before I could respond he fell into a coma and within the hour, he died. I was heartbroken but I felt peace. I thought maybe, just maybe that was angel’s wings and heavenly music calling him home.” Janelle smiled so peaceful and she was so graceful even after talking about such a painful event. She invited me to church and asked me to keep in touch.

The next stop was a nursing home on Veterans Boulevard.  This time it was a nurse, apparently it was Pam’s cousin. I walked in the freezing cold nursing home wishing I had brought a coat but it was the middle of July; who remembers a coat?  The nursing home smelled like bleach, and arthritis cream. The nurses all dressed in their scrubs with various designs on the shirts. Some had pleasant smiles others had the look of stressed concentration. I walked over to the nurses’ station and asked for Nurse Angela. An old lady with a volunteer tag pinned to her sweater stood up and led me to an office. It was just barely big enough for a desk much less a chair for me to sit on. Angela looked up from her laptop monitor and held out her hand.

“Susan, nice to meet you. Pam has told me all about you. Please have a seat. Donna could you shut the door please?” And with that Nurse Donna was gone and it was just me and Nurse Angela. She was an older lady. Time had been hard on her but she had a sweet smile. “So, you want to hear my stories? I don’t usually tell what I see here, but I’m getting old and I decided to just leave their names out if you don’t mind.”

“Of course not thank you for taking the time to talk with me.” I said as I took out my tape recorder and pushed the record button. “Please go ahead.”

“Well as a nurse you see many things and I am here at all hours. The first death I witnessed was a woman about the age of forty. I’ll call her Carrie, she was a big girl and she suffered from uterine cancer. Well one night I could hear her screaming from down the hall. I went running to her room and she was screaming ‘help me help me, my feet are on fire!’ I tried to console her but she just kept screaming. So I thought maybe I could fan her feet to cool her down. Well I pulled back the covers from her feet and blood was all over the bed. She was bleeding out. I looked up and she died right in front of my eyes. When I spoke of it to others, some said she was entering into hell. I don’t know about that but that is what I saw. Then there was a man, I’ll call him Walter. Walter was a tough country boy all the way up until he became sick. He had been exposed to some chemicals in the Vietnam War.  For weeks he would go in and out of comas and when he would wake up he would talk to someone in the chair next to his bed. So one night I came right out and asked him who he was talking to and he told me he was talking to his mother. His mother had been dead for twenty years. His wife said he said ‘I’m coming momma’ just before he died. The list goes on and on.”

“So you believe there is life after death?”

“Yes I do sweetie.” She said with that sweet smile.

After a short round of questions I left her office feeling so confused. It made me question everything I thought I knew about death. I started to walk down the hallway from Nurse Angela’s office and I noticed a door open to a patient’s room. I looked in and saw a little old lady laying on a hospital bed with tubes and wires hooked to machines that beeped to a steady rhythm. I don’t know why but I went in and sat next to her bed. I just stared at her frail little face and I thought of my mother. She had died before I could even say good bye. There were no machines, no last minute decisions to be made to save her life. She was just gone in an instant. All of a sudden the little old lady opened her eyes and she stared hard at the wall and then she turned to look at me.

“He’s here.” She said as she turned back to look at the wall.

Fear welled up into my body as I knew something was there just waiting for me to look. I mustered up all my courage and looked. My hands gripped the arms of my chair, I felt as if I would throw up. A tall hooded figure stood transparent by the wall. It was almost as if it was a part of the wall. It stood with its hood pointed in my direction. I couldn’t see a face and something told me I didn’t want to see it. Then it spoke.

“It is not your time. Fear not.” It spoke with a stern male voice.

I swallowed hard and found my voice. “Who are you?”

“You know who I am Susan.”

“Why are you haunting me?”

“I am not here to haunt you, I am here to collect this soul and take her home.”

“But… why are you showing yourself to me?”

“I overheard your conversation with the soul called Angela. I became curious as to why you were asking questions about me.”

“About you?  I don’t understand?”

“You know who I am Susan and you know what I do; you ask questions of the souls I collected. Why?”

I don’t know why but tears began to run down my face and the truth began to spill forth. “My… my parents. Why did you take them? I still needed them and you took them! Why?” I sobbed.

“I do not collect souls because I desire it to be so but because it is their time.  I owe you no other explanation other than that.”

“You owe me! You took away my joy when you took them from me! Why can’t you at least tell me what their last words were?”

“Their last words were of you. They said they loved you.”

I sniffed and wiped away my tears. I had to ask one more time. “Who are you?”

He unfolded his arm and a pale white hand came out from under the robe. “I am death! How dare you to keep asking!” He said as he pointed at me. Before I knew what was happening he grabbed his robe and tore it open. A light brighter than the sun shown all through the room, in the distance I could hear the little old ladies machine start to beep fast and then end with a long beep. I covered my eyes and head but the light wouldn’t go out. I dared to peek at the lighted figure illuminating the room. As I squinted my eyes I could barely make out the figure of a beautiful man with skin so transparent I could almost see his skeleton. His arms were reaching out to the little old lady, he looked over at me and the light became brighter. I hid my eyes once more until I realized the light had faded. I heard feet running into the room as I opened my eyes and let them adjust to the room’s normal lighting. I looked up and noticed Nurse Angela staring at me with wide eyes.

“Susan? Is that you?” She said cautiously.

“What do you mean is it me? We were just talking like five minutes ago!” I said as I blinked her face back into focus.

“But… But… your hair. It’s snow white!” She said with astonishment. She fished a compact mirror out of her pocket and held it up to my face. I couldn’t believe the face staring back at me was me. The hair style was right but the color was as white as paper. The face wore a shocked expression, the way I felt and it moved and twitched as I did. But this face was the color of wood ash, like a gaunt zombie. I had no idea what just happened to me but clearly there was something out there other than just the death of the human body. The soul went somewhere after you die, I knew that now. I reached a shaking hand to my cell phone and dialed the phone number to my bosses’ office.

“Janet… get me Mr. Shultz.” I guess she heard the stress in my voice because she transferred me over to his office quickly.

“Susan! What you got for me?”

“Sir, I can’t do the story. I’m sorry.”

“What happened? I thought it was a good one!” He said full of false concern.

“I can’t explain. I just can’t do it.”   I said with a shaking voice.

“Well… I guess it’s the field trip story for you!”

I hung up without saying good bye and I walked out of the nursing home to my car. I saw death today, how do you explain that to someone? And would they believe me? Would you believe me?

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Author B. D. West all rights reserved