Lights

The following is one of my short stories.  What do you think?

The waves crashed relentlessly over Teddy Knox as he lay in the water semi-conscious.  He sputtered and spat the water from his mouth, but his nose and throat burned, and he gasped for breath.  His body and limbs were motionless, frozen, and immobile.  He tried to turn his head from the onslaught of the waves, but his neck muscles refused to cooperate.  He felt like his mind had been disconnected from his body or that he occupied a foreign body over which he had no control.  Fear rose in his stomach and crashed into his mind in a wild-eyed panic.  His eyes he could control.  He winced as the next wave crashed upon him.

The wave struck him on his right shoulder and pushed him under violently.  He felt like a giant hand had grabbed him from under the surface and pulled him down by his shoulders.  He flipped head over heels and sunk like an anchor on one of those big cruise ships that he and his wife used to ride into the warm Caribbean waters.  He opened his eyes as he sunk slowly in the deep water.  He realized that he couldn’t breathe, but the panic had been washed away by that last wave.  An eerie calm consumed him, an indescribable peace.

Teddy floated upright as if he was standing in the water about to walk through it like he would on solid ground, but the current gently turned him around.  He didn’t resist.  He just watched as the view around him slowly changed from the opaque darkness to a brighter yet muddled shade.  He had almost rotated a full circle in the water when the current stalled and held him into place.  He looked ahead and could see a faint light in the murky water.  He instantly desired it, wanted to swim to it.

He struggled to tell his body to move.  His desire flowed from his mind to his limbs, but no movement occurred at first.  His fingers twitched.  His arms pushed slightly against the water that weighed on him.  His toes and legs likewise had a twinge of movement until a burst of motion exploded from him and propelled him toward the light.  He didn’t want this to be the end.  He desired to live.  He swam desperately to the light as fast as he could, but he was surprised by the sudden swift movement of his body.  He hadn’t felt this young and agile in ages.  He didn’t question the source of his energy.  He just swam to the light as he could.

Teddy bolted upright in the bed heaving and gasping for breath.  The tubes and lines connected to him strained against him as he bucked up and rattled the bed, his body bent as if his arms and legs were tied down.  An alarm wailed.  In an instant, nurses and doctors burst into the room and quickly began assessing the situation.  The cacophony of noises surged and receded like the many waves that had assailed Teddy’s body.  A nurse injected a drug into his IV and Teddy slowly ceased his fight against the machines, still asleep and seemingly unaware that he had caused such a ruckus.

The tension in the hospital room gradually eased.  Doctors chatted and discussed his condition writing in the chart that hung from his bed.  One doctor gave orders and the nurses scattered in response.  They had to be ready for the inevitable.  It would surely come.  Eventually, only a single nurse remained as Teddy returned to his usual calm, sedate state.  As she walked out of the room and left him alone in the glare of the dim light above his bed, he lay there as if nothing had happened, as if he had not had another dream or had not teetered on the edge of life once again.  It was only a matter of time.

“Teddy,” a disembodied voice called in the darkness.  “Can you hear me?”  He couldn’t see her face, but he knew his wife was calling him.  He’d recognize Doris’ voice anywhere.  He’d known her for most of his life and had been married to her for almost six decades.  He wanted to respond, but sleep over-powered him, and when he was conscious, his groggy state left him slow and unable to form words as quickly as he used to.

“He’s been in and out.  Let’s see if he wakes up while you’re here,” Doris said to someone else who was obviously in the room.  “I’m so glad you could make it.  I don’t know how much longer he will be with us.”

“I know.  That’s why we came,” another voice said morosely.  Teddy struggled to place it until he realized the voice belonged to his youngest grandson.

“When are you due?” Doris asked.

“Next month on the fifth,” a woman responded.  Teddy didn’t recognize her voice.

“Teddy’s mother was born on May 5th.  It would be wonderful if one of his great grandchildren shared his mother’s birthday.  He loved that woman more than he loves me.”

“Granny, I doubt that.  Papa loves you very much,” his grandson replied.

“Maybe so, but you weren’t around when old Maribel was alive.  She had a hold on your grandfather than I just never understood.  I never saw him cry until his mother died.”

Teddy awoke to a completely dark room.  Even the dim light over his bed had been switched off, which he found strange.  The nurses always kept some light on, and at the very least, the glare from the displays on the machines near his bed would provide some light, however faint.

He twitched his arm and moved his head slightly side to side.  He didn’t feel the weight of the tubes or IV on him.  He felt down his right arm with his left hand.  Nothing.  He stroked his face.  Nothing.  He felt surprising energized and alert, so he swung his legs over to the side of his bed and touched his toes onto the floor.

He wasn’t in the hospital anymore.  An unfamiliar carpet tickled his toes as he pressed his feet to the floor.  He stood up in the inky blackness that surrounded him.  He had no idea where he was, but he took a tentative step away from the bed toward something, anything.  He crept slowly forward with his arms in front of him until he came to a wall.  He felt the smooth surface of the wall rubbing it slightly with his fingers as if he were petting his old dog, Bronco.  The texture felt fine and reassuring to his touch.  Every nerve in his fingers fired precisely.  He could see nothing at all, not even his own hands, but his sense of touch was intense.  He imagined what the wall before him looked like in the light of day.

Teddy felt along the wall and moved to his right slowly hoping to find a light switch or a door that would relieve him of the darkness.  He couldn’t find a switch, but his leg scraped against something.  He reached down and found a door knob and instinctively opened it.

The room behind the door was equally dark save for a burning strip of light straight in front of him.  It took a moment for him to realize what he was looking at, but then, it struck him.  The light peeked under another door across the room he had entered.  He couldn’t see anything in the new room other than the glare of the light under the door.  The light illuminated very little in the room itself as if its entire energy was absorbed by the darkness of the room.

Teddy took a tentative step toward the light with his arms outstretched to sense what was in front of him.  Another step gave him more confidence and he closed the gap between him and the light rather quickly.  He felt for a door knob, but there was not one.  Perplexed, he felt along the edges of the door until he found a finger-sized groove, a divot in the side of the door.  Instinctively, he dug his fingers into the divot and pulled.  The door opened and the brightest light he had ever seen instantly blinded him.

The shrill beep of the machine beside Teddy’s bed startled Doris awake.  She had been dozing in the chair near his bed when the machine burst to life.  Before she could pinpoint the machine that had gone off, a nurse hurried into the room and scanned the multiple displays that crowned the bed.  The nurse impressed Doris with her expert calm and ready assessment of the situation.  She adjusted some fluid on the IV connected to Teddy’s arm and the drip increased just a little.  She flicked several buttons on the machine and it fell silent again.  In her mind, Doris still heard the machine’s loud beep, an audio artifact or ghost that lingered for a few seconds longer than it did in reality.

“Is he okay?” Doris asked.  Her forehead wrinkled in concern.

“As good as can be expected, Ms. Knox,” the nurse replied.

“How much longer?”

“No one knows for sure.  We just have to make him comfortable and let nature take its course.”

Doris slumped back in her chair sullen and defeated.  After all this time, she had accepted what was coming, but it still wasn’t easy.  She couldn’t remember life without Teddy, but she knew that any day now he would no longer be in her life.  The inevitable pressed its incredible weight on her as she struggled to make it day to day.

The nurse continued fiddling with the machines but kept an eye on Doris.  She could feel the grief emanating from her.  “I’m very sorry,” she said turning to face Doris.  She looked at Doris’ sad face momentarily and then looked away as if staring too long was considered impolite.

Doris mustered a weak smile.  “Thank you.  I appreciate all you’re doing.”

“It’s my job.”  The nurse reached for Doris’ hand and gave it a light squeeze.  She let go of her hand and smiled at Doris but said nothing more before she turned her attention to Teddy again.  She checked the IV one more time and then left the room.  Doris leaned back into her chair staring at her husband.  She had to concentrate on his chest to confirm that he was still breathing.

Teddy stood on the edge of a dark pool.  He only knew it was a pool because he could taste the chlorine in the air and he could faintly see the ripple of the water in the dim light around him.  He had no idea where he was, but the air was warm and humid.  He stood tall and strong and felt a rush of energy that he had not felt in many years.  He realized he was naked, but it didn’t embarrass or shame him.  He felt alive and invigorated, but he was still confused.

He rubbed his right arm with his left hand, and although he couldn’t see very well in the dim light, he could tell his skin was taught and smooth like it had been when he was a young man.  This surprised him and he rubbed his chest and then his legs finding the same even skin and taught muscles that had marked his youth.  Gone was the sagging and pockmarked skin of his elder years.  At once he realized he was dreaming.  He knew there were no miracles for a man his age, only memories of times long past.

He shook his head trying to wake himself, but then he stopped abruptly.  Why did he want this dream to end?  Why did he want to lose how he felt right now?  He relaxed and decided to enjoy the dream as much as he could.  It could be his last and why not remember how he had once been a young man, a very capable swimmer with a svelte body capable of covering long distances in the water quickly.  It was what he loved to do and he wanted to enjoy it even if it was all in his head.

He dipped his foot into the pool.  The water felt warm and comforting, warmer than he usually liked it, but something pulled him into the water and he dove off the edge head first.  Teddy sliced the water with his arms and bowed up until he was parallel with the bottom of the pool.  He couldn’t actually see the bottom, but his instincts told him he had leveled out.  The water, like space above it, was dimly lit, but Teddy didn’t care.  He felt great as the warm water enveloped him.  It caressed every inch of his body making him feel decades younger.  He didn’t want to let the feeling go, so he swam forward in slow arching strokes forcing the water to massage him as he moved.

Teddy rose to the surface and rolled over making lazy back strokes to keep moving.  He closed his eyes and breathed in the air around him.  Aside from the chlorine, the air was pleasant and chilled slightly against his wet skin.  He kept rotating his arms and kicking his feet slowly to stay afloat.  He soaked it all in and remained in a relaxed repose for quite a while before he decided to dive under again.

He sucked in a huge breath, flipped over, and dove harder into the deep water.  He wanted to touch the bottom like the game he used to play as a young man where he’d dive into the pool fast and furious to touch the bottom and bob up again.  Sometimes, he’d retrieve something from the bottom, but other times he simply tapped it with his fingers to get a sense of accomplishment.

He pulled himself deeper with his arms, but the bottom seemed elusive in the deep pool.  At first, he maintained his determination, a macho bravado that he’d displayed regularly in his youth, but after many strokes, he became concerned and stopped, suspended in the dim pool.  He squinted into the water below him, but he could not see the end of the pool.  He looked around holding onto his last breath.  He kicked and started to ascend back to the surface when he saw a faint light off to his right.  He stared at it trying to make sense of it, but he needed to breathe.  He shot upward in a burst of movement and broke the surface of the water gasping mightily for air.

Teddy rubbed his face and shook the water from his hair as he regained his breath.  His body slowly calmed down as he thought about what he had seen.  He looked to his right again, but he couldn’t see the light from the surface.  In fact, the pool was just as dim as before as if there were no lights to be seen, but he was sure he had seen a light.  He paddled upright to stay afloat, perplexed yet determined.  He had to reach the light.  Its allure pulled at him in a way he couldn’t explain.  He took several deep breaths before he sucked in as much air as possible and dove beneath the surface again.

At first, when he broke the surface, he didn’t see any light, but as he traveled deeper, he could see it faintly before him.  He swam harder consciously measuring how much breath he had left versus the distance that separated him from the light.  As he got closer, the light shone brighter almost like it was pulling him toward it.  He felt a strange gravitational pull from the light.  He kicked harder and cut his arms through the water like he did when he swam the 400 competitively.

As he got closer the whole pool brightened.  The dim water receded like he had traveled a great distance.  The warmth of the water increased and he felt sleepy and dazed.  He stopped swimming, but his body still moved toward the light.  The gravity of the light pulled him along.  He started to resist, but the warmth and pleasure of the pool subdued him.  He relaxed and gave into the lure of the light.

A darkness suddenly settled on Teddy once again, but he still felt comfortable and invigorated.  His mind stuttered as he struggled to understand where he was.  He could feel himself sliding backwards slowly as if he was being pulled in his gurney down a dark hallway.  He fell in and out of consciousness, but he remained aware of his slow, backward movement.  He was instantly too tired to make sense of it.  The swim to the light had drained him.

The darkness suddenly ended and he thrust from the water like a dolphin.  The stark contrast shocked him and he yelled.  Suddenly, he was back in the water again and he stopped screaming.  The warmer water comforted him, and he relaxed.  He couldn’t see anything as his vision was blurry, but he could feel the warmth of a blanket around him and could hear the mutter of indistinct voices.  He felt another body next to his and the sing-song voice of the woman mesmerized him.  He thought of Doris, but this woman spoke a strange language that he didn’t understand, yet the rhythm sounded familiar to him.  He longed to see this woman, to draw the lines of her face, but his eyes failed him.  He could only listen and imagine who she was.  He fell asleep against her, comforted by her magical voice.  A light shined bright in his heart as he drifted off to sleep and forgot everything about the life he had left behind.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s