05 Oct

Spoiler Alert: The Other Gift

“Spoiler Alert” is a serialized short story, coming in 13 parts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. “The Other Gift” is part eleven. It’s best if you know the end first, so go to part one if you haven’t read it yet.

I jumped up from my chair, tipping it backward and startling even myself with the sound of it hitting cement. The women had already cleared the table of anything useful — a glass of water to throw in his face, for instance — but I spotted his backpack resting near the door to the old man’s room, so I grabbed it and extracted his water bottle. “Here,” I told him. “Drink something.”

The grand-daughters arrived just in time to see David refuse the water, push back his chair, and throw his head between his knees. The older woman tended to David and the younger one began wheeling Abuelo away. “Come with me,” he whispered. I was reluctant to leave David, but I followed anyway. I suppose that’s exactly when the betrayal started.

As the girl pushed him toward his bedroom, I held the door open.

“I need your help,” he said. When I eyed the girl, he added, “Don’t worry. She doesn’t understand anything I’m saying.” Not that I was worried, really. I kind of wanted a witness to the conversation, someone to maybe discourage the full scale mindfuck I suspected Abuelo was capable of. Let’s just say I had the more common type of clairvoyance, the kind known in layman’s terms as “a bad feeling about this.”

But the pained expression on his face got me thinking otherwise. The look in his eyes as his great grand-daughter helped him into bed — a look revealing long years of helplessness due either to his geriatric immobility or to the torment of knowing the future — that look only confirmed that he was no threat to me.

“I need you to break me out of this prison,” he said, as the girl offered to change his socks.

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“My family keeps me in this room. I can’t get out of bed without their help. It’s time to go.”

“So what do you want me to do?”

He said nothing more. He only snatched my hand in his and held it with a strength that didn’t seem possible. In a brief but vivid instant, I saw the future. I saw a hallway lit by florescent lights reflecting off immaculate floors. A man wheeling an I.V. unit shuffled by. Nurses and doctors hurried towards important destinations. A two-way door swung open, and a stocky, short-haired nurse told me I might want to come in now. In the room, I saw a woman lying on a bed, watching the face of a male nurse, who was coaching her to breathe. When she turned toward me, her lips pursed and face glistening with beads of sweat, it looked like she was blowing me a kiss. She called my name and reached for me, a gesture that almost made my knees buckle with heartache. Hers was a face I’d never seen before, but I knew someday I’d love this woman with my entire being.

Abuelo let go.

I gasped like a man long submerged under water, coming up for air. “How?” I choked.

“One more,” he said. He grabbed my hand again.

This time, I saw the inside of a bus, packed with passengers. A man to my right held a small, tan dog on his lap; in the seat ahead of me, a little boy was playing peek-a-bo, giggling each time he peered over the seatback. Suddenly, the bus swerved left, throwing the toddler into his mother’s shoulder. We tipped over, and bodies fell on top of me. I got kicked in the face a few times as people struggled to right themselves, but then the bus jerked to a stop and everyone fell again. We all started clambering toward the windows, now the ceiling of the bus. I lifted a few children upwards, and just as I was reaching for more, I noticed my own hands. Something wasn’t right about them. They weren’t mine. An explosion shattered the glass, and the cabin filled with thick, black smoke.

Abuelo let go again.

I resurfaced, choking over the only reaction I could vocalize. “David.”

“That,” he said, “is what the face of God looks like. Now you know why you have to help us die.” It only struck me later that he’d said “us.” I was too busy digesting the visions of the future I’d just been subjected to.

It took little justification, though, for me to extract David’s gun from his backpack and hand it to the old man. I waited for the great granddaughter to leave, of course. But I didn’t hesitate once she had.

Abuelo touched my hand — gently this time, like a father — and said, “Tell David I’m sorry.” Only once I closed the door behind me and saw David out in the courtyard, did I realize that the old man had finally called David by his name.

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