When Death Offers Hope

I awoke to a stranger standing at the foot of my bed but far more unsettling was the fact that he was dead. I was certain of this because I could see the chest of drawers behind him through his ephemeral body.

“Do not be alarmed,” the man said in soft tone that registered just above a whisper but was perfectly clear in the surrounding silence of the bedroom which had never known this level of quiet before. “I realize my sudden appearance in your home has come as a surprise to you due to the fact that you and I have never met and that I am a ghost.”

Of the million questions buzzing in my hypnagogic brain, the one that bubbled to the surface was, “What do you want from us?” and my voice cracked in a manner that made me sound considerably less brave than planned.

I tried to will my wife awake, hoping that she might collect the children and get them safely out of the house while I somehow distracted this spirit. I even slid my hand beneath the duvet, slowly as not to draw attention, in order to nudge or pinch her awake to no avail.

“Please know that I have no intention of haunting you or bringing any harm to you or your loved ones,” the ghost said.

“Then why are you here?” I replied loud enough to wake my wife but not the children because I couldn’t risk them coming into the bedroom to see what all the commotion was about.

The transparent man smiled, “You may speak as loudly as you please. I have spread a calming essence over your wife and children so that they might rest soundly as you and I converse.”

While I must confess I knew nothing of ghostly lore or a sleep-inducing essence, I sensed the apparition what speaking truthfully. I asked, “What could we possibly have to say to one another?”

“As I explain my situation, I ask that you refrain from pitying me and my circumstances for life is not a gift we keep but one we borrow and must one day return. Death is inevitable as you will one day learn.”

“Pity you? I don’t even know you!”

“Of course, where are my manners? The things one forgets once the embers of life have been snuffed. My name is Hamid Tahan and I am–pardon me, I was an Emirati merchant in Dubai.

“In the latter part of my short existence I had been diagnosed with prostate and esophageal cancer. Sadly, it was discovered in its very late stage due to my laxity in caring for my health. My illness defied all forms of medicine and treatments and according to my physicians I had only a few months to live.

” I am ashamed to admit that I had not lived a particularly good life. I never really cared for anyone, not even myself. All that mattered was my business. Though I was very rich, I was never generous and I tended to be hostile to those around me.

“But when it was far too late, I regretted it all. I discovered that there was more to life than the mere acquisition of money and I knew in my soul that if universe in its infinite wisdom bestowed upon my a second chance I would live my life a different, far better manner.

“As my mortal time drew to a close, I willed most of my properties and assets to my immediate and extended family members, as well as a few loyal friends and schools in the United Arab Emirates. I gave alms to charity organizations across the globe, as I wanted this to be one of the last good deeds I did on earth.

“And I almost accomplished the task in its entirety but my health had deteriorated more rapidly than was originally estimated and I lost my battle with cancer before I could close out my final account. This is my reason for contacting you.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“I have studied you from the great beyond. I see that you are a good man, a kind and generous man even though you are struggling to keep your lovely wife and beautiful children comfortable in the face of the impending bankruptcy of your company. I can help you with this.”

“Help me? How?”

“I could reveal the location of my final, secret account to you, provide you with the codes and information to transfer the funds into your account. Trust me when I say it is more than enough money to pay off all your debt, provide for your children’s futures and allow your family to live comfortably for many years to come. The only thing I ask in exchange for this life-changing abundance…”

“Ah, the catch,” I sighed. “There is always a catch.”

“…is your life,” Hamid Tahan continued.

“My what?”

“I have come to an arrangement with The Powers That Be that I can be reborn if I performed a random act of kindness on a complete and utter stranger and of all the several billion candidates on the planet, I chose you.

“The only drawback for you is that this gift requires a sacrifice. Now you must ask yourself if you love your family enough to die for them? I have seen what lies in store for you and your family and I could not in all conscience live with myself, perdon my turn of phrase, if I did not try to help prevent it.

“You might be thinking to yourself that this is some sort of hoax or a scam but if you reflect on it a minute your will feel the certainty of my offer because it has been classified as a Universal Truth. These truths cannot be forged. They are constructed of unconditional honesty.”

I most certainly believed it to be some form of treachery but true to his word, I felt an overwhelming assurance that he his claim was sincere. I opened and closed my mouth trying to form words but none were forthcoming.

“You need not give your answer at this moment,” he said. “But I would advise you to decide before the week has concluded. The money will be of little use to your family beyond that point.”

“Wait! What’s going to happen to my family? If you know, you have to tell me!” I wanted to leap from the bed and take hold of the ghost and shake the answers from him, which was an irrational thought but it didn’t matter because I was unable to move from my spot.

“I apologize that I am forbidden to reveal any more to you. Please think deeply on my offer and despite your decision, know that you and your family are in my prayers. May the universe be with you, sir,” the phantasmal being who was once Hamid Tahan said as he evaporated into the dark shadows of the room.

And as I watched the gentle rise and fall of my sleeping wife’s chest I was left to ponder, if I valued my own life over the financial security of my family.”

©2020 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Some Assembly Required

In the midst of a tantrum burst of emotions, Robson stomped into his room and slammed the door shut so hard the picture on the wall to the right came free of its hook and crashed to the floor. It was one of his favorites, a print of a painting depicting a young boy and girl building a snowman with the caption “Snowmen fall from heaven…unassembled” across the bottom. The glass and the frame were cracked and now it was ruined just like everything else in his life! He kicked over his wastebasket, the plastic one with Captain America and all the other Marvel’s Avengers on it and discarded candy wrappers and other bits of broken junk he no longer had a use for skittered across the floor which only made him angrier.

He threw his head back and screamed, “Why can’t you give me what I want? Why can’t I eat what I want to eat and watch what I want to watch on tv? I’m sick of this stupid house and I hate you both! I can’t wait until I get older and leave here forever!”

And the rage kept spilling out until he had expelled all the air from his lungs and the rant became a coughing fit, but he didn’t care. He pulled in a deep breath of new air and let out a frustrated and sustained, guttural bellow so loud it vibrated his eyeballs.

When the red mist of fury lifted from his vision and he was left with nothing more than the fatigue of ages pressing down upon him, he heard a soft rap on his door. He had no desire to respond, so he didn’t but the door handle turned slowly and his father pushed his head inside.

“Got it all out of your system?” his father asked with no trace of anything being out of the ordinary.

Robson didn’t answer, he couldn’t answer, the fatigue wouldn’t allow it. But as his father entered the room and surveyed the damage, the young boy stood firm, and let his breath out through his nostrils in a defiant hiss.

His father picked up the cracked picture frame and examined it as he walked past Robson to sit on the bed. He patted the full-size mattress, indicating for his son to have a seat but the boy didn’t move. “Come on, it’s not going to kill you to sit next to me. I just need you to listen to what I have to say and then I’ll leave you alone to continue being mad at us.”

Reluctantly, Robson dragged his feet as if the gravity in the room had suddenly increased and plopped onto the bed as far away from his father as he could manage.

“A shame about this picture,” his father said. “Your mother and I bought this for you because it was the first thing you actually asked for. You pleaded with us and made your case so succinctly that we had no choice. At the time, we didn’t have the funds to spare but sometimes the happiness of the people you love is worth more than money.

“The reason I’m bringing this up is to talk to you about sacrifices. You’re too young to fully understand this but everybody in the world has to make them, no matter how young or old they are. And you may think the things we ask or tell you to do is unfair but that’s only because you don’t see the bigger picture and there’s no real reason you should at your age. Our job as your parents is to take care of the big important stuff so that you can live the easiest life we can manage to give you. But it’s also our duty to prepare you for what’s to come and we planned to wait until you were a little older but since you’re so eager to grow up, let me tell you what life holds in store for you.

“As you get older, you’re going to learn that even the people who were never supposed to let you down probably will and someone who has the same opinion about you…you will let them down, as well. That includes the three of us, champ. We’re eventually going to let each other down.

“You’re going to fall in love one day and your heart will get broken and it will probably happen more than once and it will get harder to love with each passing break. And most likely you’ll break a few hearts yourself even if you remember how it felt when yours was broken and try to avoid doing it to someone else, it’s going to happen.

“Despite your best intentions, you’ll fight with your best friends, blame a new love for things an old one did, complain because time is passing too fast, wish you had your childhood to do over again to get things right, and you’ll eventually lose someone you love which includes me and your mother.”

Robson sat motionless, staring at the cracked glass and broken frame, unable to meet his father’s gaze because he felt the sting of tears in his own eyes. “What do I do?” he said in a small voice.

“What do you mean?”

“To stop all the bad things from happening. What do I do?”

“Well, you can start by not taking the good things and times for granted but do take too many pictures, laugh too much, and love like you’ve never been hurt…because every sixty seconds you spend upset is a minute of happiness you’ll never get back. But before any of that, you should go apologize to your mother, she was really upset by some of the things you said.”

Robson hopped off the bed, turned his back to his father and wiped the tears from his eyes with his shirt sleeve. He walked to the door with a purpose but stopped at the door jamb and said over his shoulder, “I don’t really hate you, you know.”

“I know, kiddo,” his father smiled. “Now, go give your mother a great big hug and kiss and shag your butt back in here so we can straighten this room up.”

The little boy took off like a shot out of the room yelling, “Mommy! Mommy! I’m sorry!”

His father stood up, righted the wastebasket and carefully tilted the broken glass into the little plastic bucket. He caught sight of the caption on the picture and thought, Snowmen aren’t the only things that require assembly, sometimes family bonds do too.

©2020 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys