The Lost Day: Part 5 (Finale)

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.

*1979*

            The first sound after she appeared in the lecture hall was a clicking door shutting. The harsh light above slammed into the crowd in the hill seats, blinding the leaning wall chalkboard. Keres pounded ahead of her to the cold door, but waited to run until she walked over and opened the exit.

The sun was setting; she breathed in deep and soft at the white pillars in each building, save those of a brass bell tower. The shadows, jagged and random, couldn’t hide Edgar from a restless, bounding Keres.

The grass crunched under Valdís’ feet as she approached. “Edgar, what is wrong.”

“… I’m just not feeling well, ok? Does there always have to be an answer?” Edgar chomped his lip down and leaned a red-eyed head on the flaking wall.

“Yes.” Looking over at his eyes, she added, “It’s the girl, isn’t it.”

Edgar froze, slowed down his train of inhalation, and then began a soft giggle that evolved into a gasping laugh.

“Of course you’d say that,” he enunciated. “That was days ago, and it was nothing special, I just kind of made her feel a bit uncomfortable and she said she wasn’t up for a relationship now. That isn’t important to me. No, it’s about you.” His gaze captured hers. “I’ve been taking notes in my psychology class.”

Her mouth shot open before she could cover it. She closed her eyes.

“Yeah, exercise won’t help, huh? Drinking won’t increase the chances of an attack, is that right? You’re full of shit. Everyone’s full of shit, because I’m just a paper plate to them, for their f-f-f-f-f-fucking bread and butter. And you, Miss Gimmie-The-Magazine-Already, you knew what you were doing.”

Valdís raised a hand to put on Edgar’s trembling shoulders, but stopped herself in time.

“Edgar,” she said, after discarding the marble voice. “Edgar, the important thing was that you understood more about-“

“Shut up,” he snarled. His shaking hands dug out the folded piece of paper, which he brandished at her face. “I’ve got all your inconsistencies, all those lies on here. You don’t know how many layers or which ones or why, and never could keep a personal bible around. So religion is bullshit, but it’s ok for you to spew out whatever generalizations you want! I can’t even be nice to you at the bar without you lying to me. I was dumb for not taking this down earlier, but… no, I’m still dumb. I’m nothing, and it’s all my fault. Go away.”

With his knee shoving Keres out of his course, Edgar set a path past Valdís, to the silhouettes of trees. She approached him. “I-“

Edgar spun with a primal cry and shoved her with both hands.

She didn’t expect the fall. It scraped a patch of skin from her bottom, knocked her head back up. She scanned over her pale self, then to Edgar, who held his hands up with wide eyes before shrieking to the orange clouds.

“…you touched me. That should have killed you.”

“I know!” Edgar screamed. “You can’t do anything right!”

His cry echoed across the hidden rooftops. He covered his mouth, choked back, and then stumbled into a run far from Valdís. Keres followed the never-ending rope back to her, and they both watched the wrenching shape fade away.

*1979*

            She had become one being long ago. Now, she had walked to the dunes before the endless ocean, under frozen airplanes and coated sky. The rope stretched across the bar highway, hundreds of miles long, over a small stream. From her counting, she concluded that Edgar’s panic attack had kept himself awake for almost a day in frozen time.

Valdís sat and pushed her hands on her concaving chest. She attempted a jagged, dull tune as she stared at the crusty waves hanging over the beach. There was no response.

Looking down, she tugged on the rope, stood, and spoke. “Keres, we should apologize.”

*1979*

            “There is no proof of the layered world. Just because I cannot explain Keres’ presence, that doesn’t mean I can justify creating layers and layers I’ve never seen before. Even as far back as decades, I began to doubt my own experience in the forest. Forcing you to convert was- wrong of me, and intentionally allowing more panic attacks through forced rituals was damaging to your life. I apologize for that.”

There were thousands of tree saplings nestled in Edgar’s greasy hair. He stared up at her from the pit.

“I also misled you to that end, and I apologize for that as well.”

Keres began circling around, following his own wagging tail. Valdís noticed the rings under the teen’s eyes, the soft white scratches on his skin. They both sat for a long time.

Edgar stared at her inhuman flesh before looking at her eyes. “You’ve ruined my future.”

“But you can understand,” she spoke. “I can’t just be a roadblock to the worms. I needed to be significant.”

“So you made me worthless.” Edgar’s fingers balled the dirt and roots into his palm. His eyebrows also began digging. “I formed my own self to fit your world, left my own thoughts behind. I’ve skipped important advice, because who cares about this layer, right? Who will talk to the man with no personality in the real world, with nothing but paintings forgotten after one viewing? Because of you, all I know is how to waste time until my death. There is no future for me.”

“And for me as well. Please, Edgar. You’re my only connection to the world.”

After Edgar shuffled deeper into the shifting, crumbling hole of earth, he tucked his body in. Keres held a rope of sprinkled leaves in his mouth, nudged against Valdís before she reached for the teen. His eyes looked to the visible bell tower.

Death stood up, looking one last time at the only boy she could have talked to, and took sudden, spaced steps away, clenching the rope to her dog. “If you want this.” Looking with hazy eyes to the not-dark-yet horizon, she sat on a ringed stump while Edgar continued to huff out the life of the realm, his breath wavering. After minutes of watching him, she lay back on the scratching wood, closing her eyes and letting the rope slip from her fingers. “It will be your path now.”

The Lost Day: Part 4

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

*1979*

            The next visit in the dorm room was dark. Edgar jumped up, fumbling with his flashlight before shining it at the shape passing by his leg. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Keres is a guide from the Higher Powers of the Core, to show me-“

“No I mean- never mind!” Edgar shifted to sit on his desk, the purple plus signs on his pajamas shining under the moon. “I guess we’ll have to talk now, because what else can I do!”

Valdís remained at the rattling door.

“I mean, no one knows what I’m going through! And I’m sick of people making fun of that cliché, but it’s true, and them making fun of it only brings me here! Nobody can tell I have panic attacks, because it’s all just peachy-keen to them, isn’t it!”

“How does that make-“

Edgar held his trembling finger out, “It’s been a rough first week, ok? I mean, I’m talking to people at lunch and someone’s talking about the sexism in 50s music and I say I like 50s music, and I think I offended him and here I am! It’s- I should be doing more things, I’m just wasting time here! I don’t even know how to not waste time anymore!”

Valdís stepped across the piercing crumbs to a stack of books on the desk, and picked the first one up.

“Fine, go ahead.” Edgar climbed back up to his bunk. On the desk, above a Monopoly box, lay a scratched-out portrait of a blood-soaked giant. “That’s all I’ll be doing my life. I know the layers fine, I just got to let them catch up to me.”

*1979*

“When I claim someone, it is not that different from our meetings,” Valdís explained, looking through the window to the bent evergreens reaching for the bright green ground. “Time freezes, and other people disappear. When I touch them, they transcend to the next layer.”

The lanky Edgar had an ear to her, yet kept focused on a hanging black hat in front of a ridged, gaudy gameboard. The small room had a vending machine and a couch; it was noon outside.

“Go move the board.”

Edgar turned, but then averted his eyes from her glowing smile.

“You can tell me what happens to it when you return,” she continued.

“I’d rather not.”

“That’s ok. Now tell me what brings you here,” she verbalized.

Edgar swiveled around a wheeled chair, and then settled himself into it. “No, that’s ok. I’ll listen to you.”

“There are some differences between you in this plane and the dead in theirs. The dead are limited to a 44-meter radius from their earthly body, while you don’t seem to have a limit. My only possessions are my dog and myself, whom I have to keep on a tight leash most of the time. I’ve also learned that food can be an effective depressant if you feel anxious, so perhaps a good stream can keep you calm.”

Keres had crawled onto the stack of boxes by a dark window, and began rubbing his belly on them. Edgar’s eyes had closed, and his bottom lip held tight as he stretched his entire body.

*1979*

“I keep thinking about last time we met, when I quit – well, in a sense – that board game when they started to team up against me. I mean, I made the right choice, since there’s no point continuing a game you’re set to lose,” Edgar breathed out quickly, caressing his wide knuckles. “But I still got tired from it, and when I woke up I was back in the room and my mind’s been on that.”

On a grassy bump surrounded by road, a parade of shorts and t-shirts blocked the pathways. A nearby sign read ‘University of California.’ Edgar looked for a moment, with tight jaw and tilted head, at Valdís.

“A common trigger for panic attacks is the fear of other panic attacks,” said Valdís with ease. “You’re actually quite fortunate, to have a place to go to when you’re feeling stressed.”

“Fortunate,” Edgar huffed. “Lucky. Right.” Behind him, a bowtie man with pamphlets held his sleeve collar to his cheek, his feet standing shocked at the walking duo.

*1979*

            This time, Valdís and Keres materialized in a sloped lecture hall, with many seats invisibly taken and an encompassing “panem et circenses” on the blackboard. She strode to the lumpy teen with a notebook in his hand, with an empty coffee cup at his side, with sweat on his forehead.

“What brings you here today?” she asked.

Edgar tensed upwards, clutched his armrests as sweat pressed against his armpits. “I never had much of a choice,” he said, adding in a little laugh.

Valdís sat like a Greek statue until he continued. “I’m not sure. The lecture was boring me, so I started getting some paper out to practice for art class. And then I get here and I don’t know why.”

She sighed. “What were you thinking before you arrived?”

“It wasn’t important.”

“Really.” She forced her way into the neighboring empty seat.

“Well, these sessions are tiring. Nothing against you, of course.”

“Just go on.” She held her spotless forehead with both hands.

“But it’s just how I feel afterwards, like I’ve hacked away at a dragon made of chewed gum or something. It takes up all my energy.” Edgar stole glances from the side, and then paused. “It’s killing my free time – my time to draw. And I know the Freshman 15 is building up, so I should begin exercising, but I don’t have the energy…”

“There’s no need,” she chimed in. “On the next layer, you’re given a new body. Much like how we discovered our magazines would not move in the real world if we moved it here, little of what’s done in this plane matters. The important mission is to see the layers, find a way to return.”

Edgar shivered, his empty breath slowing. “Do you know what the next layer is like?” A grin broke through his lips for a moment.

“It is enlightenment. Aware of the past life, the civilization there sees the futility of old religions and crusades, lives the path right in front of them.”

“I mean, what did you see there?”

By the time she responded, “I’ve never left this layer,” Edgar was calm, and everything vanished.

*1979*

            Valdís appeared on top of a bar, above hundreds of caps and open sweaters. There were spilled glasses of brown liquid at everyone’s feet, which Keres immediately began to lick. She focused on the thousands of bumper sticker under only neon, each one a cliché. Edgar was sliding past the hovering clothes towards her, his jacket bouncing around.

“Someone took my wallet!”

“What?”

“My wallet! I’ve checked my pockets like a hundred times!” He rubbed his eyelids in dizzy circles.

“Check them again.”

Edgar pulled out a ring of keys and folded sheet of paper, then brought out the white cloth inside his jeans.

“Coat?”

He patted his pocket sides of the white jacket, and then sighed. From his right, he brought out the stuffed leather.

“Well that was dumb,” he muttered, sliding down on the stool. “Goddamn panic attacks.”

Valdís killed three oil tycoons and a babbling vagabond before Edgar stopped drumming his fingers and looked up. “Ok, I’m not calming down, then. Wasn’t having much fun anyway.” He jolted his stool in, “How have you been?”

Valdís, looking down at Edgar’s greasy and unkempt hair, flinched a little. “How am I doing?”

“Yeah, kill anyone good today? Get Ko-meanie, what’s his name, the guy in Iran? Any old geezers that thought you were a funny-looking orderly or something?”

Valdís’ laugh was low and sudden, and Edgar slammed sweaty hands onto the bar when it happened.

“Yes! Took me long enough!” he cheered. “But seriously, how are you?”

“Well, thank you,” she smiled, before lowering herself to the other side of the bar.

“Did I mention that I’m going out with someone?”

“Really?” Valdís exclaimed. “I wish you luck, then.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

They sat in silence for a while, until Valdís added, “So where is she?”

“Oh, somewhere… there, with the cute glasses.” He motioned this with a casual hand.

“You could be pointing to someone you just noticed.”

“Oh, of course you’d say that. You’ve probably met a bunch of smart people, but needed me for books apparently.”

“I haven’t picked one up from you in a while.” Valdís leaned towards him, beamed.

“Well, I’ve done something good, then.” Edgar laughed a little, then cut it off as he twitched his cheeks. “Hang on. Hang – God dammit!”

“What is- “ She cleared her throat, “How are you feeling?”

“I have time stopping powers! Kind of! I know it’s another realm and all, but I still think I could’ve been an action hero somehow! I could’ve made Wolverine look like a poodle!” He clutched the splinter-littered bar. “I really wasted my gifts, didn’t I?”

“I don’t see why you’d want to be an action hero, let alone how you would do it.”

“Oh but there must be something.

“Look, you know that that’s not important. Pull yourself together.”

His eyebrows tightened as he slowly let loose his fingers. “All right, all right,” he sighed, “I guess I’d have to pick the right animal theme too, lest I upset the 20th layer.”

“22nd layer.”

“Right.” Edgar put his thumb in his pocket, glaring at the smudged, fake-wood floor. “22nd layer.”

To be concluded in Part 5.

The Lost Day: Part 3

Part 1 can be found here, Part 2 can be found here.

*1977*

            “So you really are Death, huh?” asked Edgar with a smirk, his shining shoes tapping down the purple-tiled school floor.

Both of them looked ahead at the battered doorway. Gum stuck to folded papers littering the path. “Most likely. I was called that many times, but it wasn’t until I discovered some text naming me Thanatos that I understood. I prefer Valdís, however.”

“Valdís. Ok. So, how many times have I ‘died’, then?” Edgar chuckled as he wiped away some drying sweat from his acne and stared into the fluorescent line on the ceiling.

“You haven’t. You have had 387 panic attacks, however.”

Valdís opened The Complete Greek Mythology Encyclopedia she held in front of her, and squinted at the large profile of Elvis drawn over the edifices of text. “How am I supposed to read this now?” she snarled.

Edgar held out his hand, head still forward. “I’m sorry. I should’ve been more considerate.”

“It’s all right.” She slid it into his hand while facing him. Ahead, the dog had been wrestling the drinking fountain’s handle. “It’s nice to have it around. It’s a good habit of yours.”

They turned right to the dust-colored stairs of crowded backpacks, Edgar talking their way down. “So this guy I’ve looked up, Duchamp,” he began, pronouncing the name ‘Da-champ,’ “Really like what I’ve discovered about him, like his paintings. It’s cool that he upset some people, cause it really is that fun. Did you know, without you I could’ve become one of those religious snobs I now tease. I should draw more to mess with them. Although maybe I shouldn’t, I’ve been talking about you a lot, and – well, I’m making a name for myself in that way. I’m worth noting now. So thank you.”

Valdís smiled at Edgar’s shrug, and opened the next door to a shining green cafeteria.

“So when did it begin?”

“Hmm?” No one had walked out of the square stairwell yet.

“Everyone’s asking me where I came up with this ‘idea’ and I don’t know what to say.” The teen threw his head back up, rebalanced himself on the frozen bathroom door. “I mean, I can draw from here better than explain.”

“It’s all right.” Valdís tugged on the rope, which began to curl back into her skin as Keres bounded down the landing. The dog snuggled against her feet. “It is difficult to describe, yet whom but I can? I believe in Roman Gaul… no, before that. In my foolishness, I spent centuries attempting to breach your world, to not send any more souls to death. Anything to relieve the millenniums of tedium. Keres is no company, and with his appetite, he eventually breaks free from me to devour the deceased. I cannot wish that on anyone. The forests of Gaul – if they were even those – once gave me the chance to experiment, for Keres’ prey was faster than he. I let him go so I could ponder.

“I had run out of ways to try and escape my duty. Those who did not fear and hate me gave me no useful advice. When the last medicine man’s ritual proved useless, I became aware that life may be without purpose. That thought suffocated all of its kind.

“I’ve forgotten why this attempted escape to your world brought me to dig a rock deep into my skin. But the stone shattered on me, and opened up all its colors inside. I broke other rocks to compare: only this one had thin rings after another, each of different material, each one breathing.

“The prey returned, and he was no man. Red and giant, with quills mounting on his back, howling in a tongue that even I do not know. One titan hand grasped my head, perhaps signaling the death of the being. That was the first time when I was not attending deaths that I could be conscious. There I saw it: all of the new history, the slipping ooze whirlpool of all existences.

“The Higher Powers had realized their mistake in letting me work aimlessly: now, they bestowed their secrets, so that those free from life could believe and become.” As she ended her tale, she held a hand to where a human would have a left breast. Edgar still pressed his back against the wall after setting his encyclopedia down, the bright sunlight from windows away now crawling into the wide-green foyer ahead. “One day, in a future even you may not see, I will thank them.”

*1978*

            Shooting out a huff, Edgar planted his face on his folded arms, instigating his little desk to lean. “Goddammit, this is the twelfth time you’ve asked ‘how does that make you feel’. And that makes me feel just peachy.” He looked up as Keres brushed up against his leg, “I’m only joking.”

“Then I shall try something new later.” Valdís held up the psychology encyclopedia in front of the teacher with a ruffled shirt and dead hair.

“Yeah, yeah, that’s fine.”

She sat down and parted the book down the middle, and almost made it down the page before Edgar interrupted.

“Hey, how many people are you killing right now?” At her glare, he shirked away, still on his stiff seat. “If you don’t mind me asking.”

Valdís closed her eyes, her fish lips puffing out in small rhythms. The sunlight slipped off of the arched shirts of the schoolboys.

“There’s a man in a study with no feet and parchment skin, who’s waiting for my touch while I comb through his book collection. I may have landed on a soldier in a dry battlefield. There, a young woman with no hair I see. Each time I try to explain the layers, she snaps back with ‘I don’t need your preaching, weirdo, I’ve been living a great life, and I’d be just fine chillin’ with worms!’” Valdís’ voice echoed with the imitation. “And before I can get to explaining the 23rd layer to her, she is shouting about The Man and is rambling nonsense about ‘the good spirit in everyone living forever!’ and she and Keres won’t be quiet and I’ve touched her.” With her eyes opened, her voice deepened. “There is now only the good man.”

The teen returned to his Western Civilization book once she finished, his big right ear still leaning towards her.

“The fifth layer requires a new ritual for you, one that matters: once a year, beginning at adulthood, you must slap a preacher.”

*1979*

            “So the 23rd layer’s Knowledge,” Edgar asked, his long fingers tapping at the spirals of cabinet wood in his new dormitory.

Keres had climbed on top of the second bunk bed in the drab, crammed room. His master sat on a plastic grey chair, feet carefully above the brown carpet’s sparkling crumbs.

“The 23rd layer is Animalis. All humans have an innate connection to the other worlds. 23 can be seen in connection with animals everywhere. Where do you think Keres comes from?”

The learning teen held in a giggle, then spoke soft. “’Valdís, I think I left my keys at home.’” He then put on a deeper voice with controlled enunciation, “’Well, it must be in the 22nd layer, the Layer of Forgettable Dunces.’”

“The 22nd layer is the Layer of Questions.”

Edgar threw his hands up and grinned at the embassy of worlds. “No layers for jokes, I take it.”

“None.” She closed her eyes as Keres hopped down to Edgar’s side. Once the lash-less eyes opened, she stated, “When we started, I was also attending to seven other deceased. Now I am down to four. Time to talk about what brings you here.”

“So Keres is a natural-born killer, huh?”

She glanced at the furry creature, whose head was in the teen’s sweatpants lap. The endless rope had coiled around the desk, under the bunk bed, and all the way to her pocket. “Yes, he can be aggressive towards the dead. There are many aspects different between my usual work and here. But you need to talk now.”

The number of dead she was attending to elsewhere halved again by the time Edgar opened his lips. “I can’t think of any triggers. Well… I guess it was in a conversation with him.” He gestured to the tank top and jeans floating next to Valdís, “He’s my roommate, he’s pretty cool. I mentioned something about I was being stressed by all my problems and he said, ‘You’re a rich white kid, what problems do you have?” So we laughed and I know he was joking because he’s nice, but I’m still on it. Thinking of clever comebacks.” He took some deep breaths. “But it’s the same problem with drawing, where I don’t think I have anything interesting to draw because I haven’t- I can’t tell them too much about this world. Not anymore. I couldn’t take it.”

Valdís nodded slowly at this. “I understand it’s difficult. If you must, you can use your art to explain it to them.”

He patted Keres a couple of times. “My best stuff comes from here, and even that can’t compare anymore.”

To be continued in Part 4.

The Lost Day: Part 2

Part 1 can be found here.

*1970*

            The colors of the soccer field were shot. Sideways rain had petrified above the hobo gloves and soccer jerseys littering the field. The smooched ball was far away from a juvenile Edgar. Edgar squeezed his lips and crossed his arms. Valdís traversed past the woman with the glistening sleeves, across the dead grass, to the empty-handed boy. Keres stayed put.

“Where is our new book?” she asked.

Edgar plopped his small body onto the veering white-paint line. “I’m not telling you. Stop making me feel this way first.”

“I’m not making you feel anything,” she uttered. “You’re fortunate in comparison. How many math tests have you passed with me? Would you rather cry in front of your friends?”

“I don’t care!” raised Edgar, hyperventilating. “I don’t need school! I’m going to draw for the rest of my life. Every time I want to draw, I get the scary rumbling inside, and you come and take my Scitific Weekly!”

“It’s Scientific Weekly. But what I’ve been trying to tell you-“ She extended her hand out to kneel on the ground. “What I’ve been trying to tell you is that that doesn’t matter. When you die, I get to bring you to another world. Think of it like-“

“No! When I die, I go to Heaven and get to meet Jesus!” he spat out.

“You don’t. You should know this by now.”

“Yes I do!”

“Have you not figured this out!” She snatched his turquoise jersey as she stood. “Do you still believe your liar of a mother, still think I’m part of an imagination that can die! One touch of my skin brings death. I killed your Jesus. He approached death calmly for someone on a cross, but there have been far braver men with far worse deaths. I know them all. I am Death, and I am The Truth.”

She threw him to the wet ground, and he curled up to a heaving mass. As Keres approached, Death pulled in the rope tight, bringing up the dog on its back legs. Edgar emitted retching sounds, spat on the ground in between each groan. Now sweat began to mix with the rain on him.

Neither of them had a watch, but Death could count down the dwindling number of places she was at. A limp teen in a room full of razors and an old man covering his ears dissolved, with their worlds, under her touch; time started to stop even for her.

“Edgar, I-“

Edgar rolled away from her, shivering his clutched body.

“Edgar, you have panic attack disorder. I assumed so since I did your first test, but I read more about it to confirm. Your stress summons me and stops your world; only calming down will let you return.”

She knelt down beside him, filling her mouth with the marble voice she learned from the psychologist.

“I can help you with this. But you’ll have to listen to me seriously, so you can travel between the layers after your death and bring news to me. Are we clear on this?”

Edgar, still facing away, shook his head.

“I hope you enjoy my realm, then.”

*1972*

Valdís gave Edgar his first ritual at a Jr. High dance, where haphazard handprints on preteen dresses created dark pockets in the gym. “As soon as you are able, gather the names of all the elderly in your town. You will recite them every morning.”

“What?” Edgar’s wet pits enveloped the scratched armrests while he sank in his chair, next a table of bowled juice and tasteless pretzels. “That sucks!”

“It will seem repetitive,” she explained as Keres created loops with his rope on the reflective, open floor. The two talked in their own cove by the bleachers, away from the frozen dance. “But it is essential that you continue this until you’re ready.”

Edgar pulled up the loops on his streamlined pants, tapped his throat in two beats. “I’m sorry I said ‘sucks.’ I guess you’ve been nice to me.”

“How does that make you-“

“Hey, why couldn’t the lifeguard save the hippie?”

After Valdís responded with only an arched, faint eyebrow, he mumbled, “My dad says I should use humor if I think I may be nervous. Sorry if I’m not so good at jokes.”

“…go on.”

“Well,” Edgar spoke to his murky shoes, kicking at the encyclopedia of music under his seat, “It’s because he was too- far out, man.”

“Right. So your father doesn’t believe that you have panic attacks, then.”

Edgar’s seat wobbled as he slunk nearly through it, his wide eyes checking the dark corners of the room. A cross hung above the gated clock. “It sucks. Not him, just this.” With his polo shirt stretched by his uncoiling arms, he yawned and glanced up at the hard rubber skin of the teacher of layers.

*1973*

“I forgot to tell them how long I’d be gone today,” Edgar whined as Keres sniffed the levitated cloth over the gurney. Arrested in that pushed hallway were countless white coats against a yellow-striped, portrait-laden wall. Valdís look out to the fuzzy black outside the high window. At another death, she waited as the little-bearded man with a concaving head writhed to crawl without legs from under an upturned car.

“Do your parents know why you’re here?”

“I… told them I hope to be a doctor someday,” said Edgar, clutching a scratched-up, coverless book to his thigh. “They’re not ready for the truth yet. Did you say why I’m supposed to read here again?”

“No.”

*1974*

Edgar walked on a plastered rooftop towards Valdís. A balled newspaper, hanging in the moonlit air, gave Edgar a support to grab and a time to breathe. In front of the hazed, ridged buildings of the horizon, Valdís kept the balls of her feet on the roof’s edge. A high whine emitted from below.

“Curious,” Valdís mentioned, descending to her knees and pinging the rope until Edgar’s hyperventilations distracted her. “You have followed the rituals for several visits now,” she began. “Tell me what you think of them.”

Edgar’s left foot swiveled on the gloomed gravel. “They’re all right. Can we work on stopping my panic attacks now? I’m a long way from home.”

“Don’t be polite.” She turned the phrase into a request midway, conjuring in her mind the psychologist with the marble voice. “Tell me how the rituals make you feel.”

After shaking the next moments away, enveloping the newspaper with both of his hands, Edgar muttered, “It’s- it feels pointless. I’d be able to have more fun without it.”

“Exactly.” Valdís’ first step to Edgar wobbled too, before her bare feet tiptoed closer to him. “Reading in an emergency room, memorizing the elderly, spitting off of rooftops: all rituals made in vain. Just like your drawings, just as your life was, as was mine. Now, like myself, you can begin to open up to the layered world, and perhaps become the first to travel between layers.”

Edgar bit his bottom lip listening, and smiled past his shivering when he spoke. “I can have a geezer list bonfire, if I ever find the darn things.”

*1976*

In the driver’s seat, Edgar clenched the wheel and hollered. It was no scream of rage at the now stopped trucks or a cry to the highway darkness, but a yell of release. Valdís squirmed in her sudden seat, with Keres pacing in the back on top of dollar store wrappers.

“You need to calm down,” Valdís stated.

“Lost!” Edgar’s eyes had grown to cabbages, and he continued shrieking as he rocked himself between the wheel and the fuzzy seat. “Should be home! Streets changed! Wrong exit!”

As he screamed, Valdís tilted her head down to the pedals. “People rarely die while the car’s still moving. What would happen if you started driving?”

Now Edgar’s yell did hit the tone of rage, and he yanked up the lock to open his door. He tumbled out to the road of potholes and grit below. His mentor exited on the other side before approaching him.

“Edgar, you’ve gone through worse in this car. We still need to talk.”

But the teen had curled up, convulsing his body and puffing his cheeks, orange-stained fists scrapping against the ground. He whimpered as she watched, standing both here and in an eroded beachfront where she sent a child with covered ears to the next layer.

“Edgar- tell me a joke.”

When he didn’t respond, she crouched over him. “Well, I met someone you may enjoy. I found a buzzed-hair man in a crater after the last visit, right in a wide vase of water. He was sucked out of his plane, he told me.” After an itching pause, she continued in the man’s soft, rhythmic accent. “Well, the plane was a-going’ down and I had no way out so I figure ‘what the hell’ and found a pool and did the most beautiful cannonball.”

Edgar gave a hoarse laugh between heaving breaths, separated his arms from his rocking legs as Valdís stepped back. “You should do that- everyone. Give them last laugh.”

“I give them the secret of the layers, the answer of the afterlife. They must take me seriously.”

“Why do I have to go here?” Edgar asked after a silence in the white headlights. “I can’t tell anyone else how I feel, and all these rituals eat up my time.”

“You-“

“And I’m not good at those. Or maps. Or anything, just drawing, because they really like what I draw from here. And they still ask what I really plan to do with my life.”

Keres had wrestled down the window crank with his paws, and now plunged out of the car to approach the teen. Edgar received the dog’s ears with open eyes.

“Thank you,” he said to the short woman.

“It’s Keres’ doing. But you’re welcome. You can be rather polite for someone in your position.”

The teen shrugged, muttered, “Yeah, they say that.”

“No, I will be too.” Valdís smiled, stood above him. “You’re learning about what’s below us. If you study well, a return voyage is within the realm of possibility. If Homer brought back the lightning of Olympus itself, he would not outlast your fame on this second layer. An artist of a new world order: this is my gift. You are worth it.”

Edgar caught his yawn, apologized, stretched. “And that loser thought he made a big crater.” He stood up, yawned again, and shuffled his way back to his maroon car.

To be continued in Part 3.

The Lost Day: Part 1

*1979*

In the middle of a circle road, alone, stood Valdís, also known as Death. She was a short woman with puffed lips and skin like plastic. She stepped past the starved trees of the college campus and balanced herself as she approached blocky buildings. A long rope trailed from a pocket of her skin. She held this rope. There was no wind, no smell, no taste in the air.

A black dog snuck past a stationary door, trotting towards her. She gave it a quick, small smile, then gazed at the orange clouds shaped like daggers above. On the bench to her right floated a pink polo shirt, broken sunglasses, blue cap, brown khakis, and an open backpack, all worn in place without a body to keep them there. The thatchy rope from her hip pocket coiled up as the dog returned and looked at her with small eyes.

“Thank you, Keres,” Valdís declared. The grass prickled her bare feet as she walked along the dog’s path, towards the dog’s findings. In passing the building, she let her hands glide across the glass window, gazing at the pageant of hung shirts and pants inside. There was only one human on this plane, nowhere in sight now.

They walked into the forest. Even without Keres scampering ahead, Valdís could hear heavy, disjointed breathing below the black soil. After receiving a pat, the dog sat by a wrinkled tree, its head still high. Valdís rubbed her temples. She opened her eyes, slouched her back, then knelt to remove the clump of roots by her feet.

Inside the ditch under the tree, curled up fetal, was a lumpy teen with tear-stained cheeks and eyes of perfect circles. He loosened the clench on his arms and looked up at Valdís’ lack of chin.

She balanced her hand on the dark pit’s edge. “Edgar, I should apologize.”

*1960*

Her dog did not bark and grimace when they appeared in the fake kitchen. Aside from the checkered table, cornered bookshelves, and floating papers, the cramped white room was bare. An invisible body with a skirt held out her glistening shirtsleeves towards the table. On top of it was a wailing baby, purple and writhing. It shifted away from the glistening arms, arms held above a glass platform below the table’s edge. There were many recently deceased persons Valdís now dealt with on different planes- a soldier with no eyes, a woman suffocating under a landslide of brown earth. Only at this noise did she wince and sigh. She nodded at the child, and moved towards the bookshelf before stopping and tugging at the leash. Her dog’s drooping tongue and brightened eyes jolted her.

“Don’t tell me you’re getting tired of killing too,” she demanded, flicking the rope tied around his neck. “Go at him. I know it’s what you want.”

He sat down, his nose turned as if the child was as appetizing as concrete. In her millenniums of life, her companion had never lost his hunger until now. She looked at the baby, then the dog, before walking over to the leaflets held by a floating labcoat.

Page 2

question still remains: is an infant’s ability to perceive lethal falls learned, or natural?

To begin, your child will be placed on a table with a ‘visual cliff.’ The eastern edge will have a heavy glass board that will protect the child while not betraying the experiment’s nature. You, the mother, will attempt to encourage him to crawl to you, even thought the prospect may seem deadly from the infant’s perspective. Our supervisors will give you more detailed instructions during the trial.

Thank you for your selfless cooperation and generosity. Your time here will add to the world’s understanding of human development. Please sign a time slot below with the name of your child.

January 5th, 1960

1:00 – Jonny Jack Nil

1:15 – Edgar Beckenbaur

She looked up at the clock: 1:19. Her dog had his paws up on the table and began licking Edgar’s softening face. She turned to the human, eyebrows pushed. Once the child let out a loose laugh, everything vanished.

*1961*

At their second meeting, the baby had stained moss goo on his bib. He swat without rhythm at a hard spoon floating by the high chair, screeching at the kitchen’s steel counters and armada of cupboards. Valdís only glanced at the cabinet’s crusted cookbooks before frowning at her black follower’s wagging tail.

She tiptoed over the checkered floor, but stood straight and tall when Edgar’s shrieks fell silent. His circular, watery eyes flared up as she leaned in. “Only the dead can enter this realm. I do not know how you could die twice, much less return. Perhaps the Higher Powers have something for you. For now, you will hear this phrase at each encounter, if we continue to meet: wherever you go, bring a scientific magazine with you.”

*1964*

            It took years until the implanting worked, and the child began to appear with a ratty and torn Scientific Weekly. The new challenge involved getting Edgar to pick up the most current issue. Valdís eventually moved on to memorizing the same one he clutched onto, reading around the dog-shaped doodles. But this had to wait if she covered her ears to the piercing child’s cries, for she could only stare at the golden chandeliers while her constant guest rubbed his own tears out.

She visited him each preschool morning, at the bottom of winding and endless steps in a flat, polished hallway. Outside the door, she could see a massive lawn and three cars. Whether he came buried in jackets or with a backpack tightly fastened, he wore the same brown polo and dark pants, and usually arrived crying, choking, or cold, sometimes retching. She would sit on a leather recliner, fingers relaxed, as Edgar’s wide eyes ran about. When the toddler finally went to scratch and pet the black dog, her fingers could pull the magazine from his.

“You are my Bobo and I like you,” Edgar said once the dog put on a dumb grin.

“His name’s Keres,” she snarled. “Are you ready to hear about the layered world yet?”

“Bobo, Bobo, Bobo, Bobo,” he sang.

*1967*

            Edgar’s shrieks seemed sharp enough to tear down the row of letters encircling his spacious classroom. Valdís barely had time to jump away as a runny-nosed, little-legged Edgar ran up to her, leading the charge with a pencil and a sheet of paper. The wailing child pushed Keres back.

“What is it now?” she snapped.

The boy smacked the paper and pencil on the desk of a hovering backwards cap and astronaut shirt, spun away, then shrieked, “You do this!” As he fell to the fake wood floor sobbing, Valdís leaned in and peered over the simple numbers scattered about the sheet.

“You really can’t do this,” she asked him.

The boy snatched his Scientific Weekly from under a desk, crumpled its center with one hand, and then threw it in front of her. He screamed so high that Keres whined. “Go away! You’re stupid! Everyone’s stupid!”

He jolted out of the room, tears and snot pooling on his chin. The plastic skin woman picked up the magazine, folded open the cover, then wedged herself in a backroom plastic chair.

She read each article three times before Keres bumped his nose against her glimmering pocket of endless rope. The child still hadn’t returned. The sun’s beams were painted through the buggy windows. She was no longer watching the silent reporter observe for a last time, or escalating her voice above the priest’s on Earth. Now, she was only here, and her skin retreated inward.

There was a knock on the door before it opened a little. “I’m very sorry. You’re not stupid,” muttered a quick and wobbling voice before it slammed the door shut.

She bolted up, nearly tripping over Keres to reach the wide door and open it. “Edgar, I can help you on the test.”

The boy stopped his rhythmic swatting at the glossy lockers. His breathing hummed down the carpeted, low hallway as he moved towards the small lady.

“But you have to answer some questions first.” She moved to one knee. “Edgar, look up at me when we’re talking.”

Edgar shook his head, fidgeted his hands on the pins of an overstuffed bulletin board. On the sticky walls of the school were rows of tattered motivational posters, each with a saying Valdís had heard several times before.

“What were you doing when you came here?”

“I was taking a test.”

“Were you getting upset?”

The child scrunched his shoulders away from her. She cleared her throat; one of the last claims for the layered world before she arrived here was a tiny psychologist with smooth cream hair and a sculpted face, with a voice like a marble fountain even after his death.

“That’s quite all right.” Her voice was the marble stream compared to the psychologist’s voice. “You can answer when you want. But next time, don’t carry a magazine with you. Look for these words: p-s-y-c-h-o-l-o-g-y, e-n-c-y-c-l-o-p-e-d-i-a.

To be continued in Part 2!