A Shadow In a Shady Country

1. Sleep Tight, My Son…

Losing my eyesight the day after Christmas was not how I planned it. The new darkness brought me to the hospital, where they prepared my parents for my final journey. They estimated about twenty-four hours, but nearly fifty hours later I still cling to the last strands of life. Nevertheless, they are fading so fast I doubt I even make it into the new year, let alone my birthday.

I’m Dane Redhill and I probably die a few days before I turn seventeen. At Christmas I still wanted to reach that day, but at this very moment I’m so tired I no longer know.

The sound of a cat-in-distress tears through the silence. When I focus, I hear three pairs of echoes enter the room. It’s odd how fast you learn to differentiate sounds, even when they gave you drugs to diminish the pain. The cat-in-distress comes from the door to the hallway. When the bathroom door screeches, it sounds like a badly tuned violin and even the window has its own whine. At times it feels as if the entire hospital comes alive with hisses and sighs, I never noticed before. As if an entire world sat hidden behind a veil that unknots at the same speed as my life.

“Hi Dane,” Dad says.

He speaks soft and delicate, as if he fears I shatter. Ever since the light left my eyes, he starts every conversation with my name to make sure I know he talks to me.

“He sleeps,” Mom says.

Idon’t,but she can’t tell the difference anymore.A year ago, I complained about a mild headache that lasted for days. Today a brain tumor holds me hostagefor a ransom too high to pay.

“Can’t the doctor wake him?”Josh, my younger brother, asks.

“I’m afraid he can’t, son,” Mom says.

Joshsuppressesa sob. He’s twelve; an age when life should be about fun. Something I took from him.

“Your teacher called this morning, Dane. He wanted to know how you were,” Dad says.

His voice falters. I try to imagine the pain that radiates through in his facial expressions; as if it melted on certain spots and remained frozen in others.

“I had no idea what to tell him.”

The words trailoff and end with a sigh.

“Your doctor just asked us to come. And bring Josh.”

Dad screeches when he says the last sentence. Or maybe it’s garbled static from the background that almost makes sense, but not just yet. As if someone said Hauntedmoments before it morphed into the cat-in-distress and added a whiff of fresh cut pine treeto announce my doctor.

“Morning.”

He has a pleasant voice; as if a melody is about to erupt and he plans to sing rather than speak.He greets my parents and little brother and chitchats with them for a while before he scrapes his voice. With a deep sigh.

“I’m sad to say the last brain scan confirms my worst fears,” he says.

He never sugarcoated his messages, but he knows what to say and his words come out at just the right speed. He found an impeccable balance between empathy and professionality, as if he studied it a million times in front of a mirror.Only a slight quiver betrays his real feelings.

“I’m afraid there is little left for us to do,”His voice falters like smoke in the clean morning air.“… Except… maybe try to make him as comfortable as possible.”

He just told my parents this is the moment I die. I wish it filled me with the same sadness I imagine burns in their expressions, but instead I feel peace. It dissolves the lump in my throat until it changes into concrete in my stomach because Mom cries. Maybe Josh does, too, but it’s Dad’s silence that shatters the concrete and turns it into a tsunami of pain that sweeps me off my feet. Like a surfer clinging to life, but aware thiscan end in but one way, I ride its horrid madness until I can no more.Exhausted, the voices around me echo in broken stereo. When they speak, their words remain stuck in an endless repeat until it becomes a garbled and meaningless blarethat dissolves when a kind of crazy takes root.It starts as a gentle numb feeling in my left arm before it sweeps through my bloodstream and spreads to the rest of my body. As it expands, it sluggishly lifts my battered mind out of a mad ocean of searing fizzes until I drift high enough above the infuriating storm only to feel a distant, pulsating drumbeat; the last vestiges of my illness.

“The room is protected, sir.”

I shift between dreams and reality, between what is and what can be, while I hear unknown voices saying words that make no sense.

“I love you,” Dad mutters.

I try to focus on his voice while the static barfs out words I can’t place until I can’t tell who says what anymore. In the end I concentrate on the one reply Dad received when I was six or seven.

“I don’t love you, Dad. I love you so very, very, very much.”

He always smiled when I said that.

“His breathing stalls!”

“He’son his way, gentlemen,” someone else says almost at the same time.

I feel like a knight in a rusted hauberk who fights a deadly dragon with a broken sword while I wade through a numbing stream of ice-cold water.Tired and cold I suck in the little oxygen that remains around me as it depleteswith every new step.

A series of loud peeps burn through my brain like a hot needle. I gasp and maybe someone shouts, followed by a comforting hum wrapped in the scent of fresh cut pine tree. My doctor.

“Dane.”

Through the numb veil there is the distant touch of what must be Dad’s hand. It’smy last buoy to my world and I hold on to it until even that disperses as a puddle of muddy water that evaporates on a hot summer day. As if  I ran too long and too hard and I can run no more.

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