It was cold, cold as a witch’s heart.  Snow was falling, and by the looks of it, it didn’t have any plans on stopping anytime soon.  The world was askew.  The colors were reversed, like some kind of madman’s painting, blues replaced by a milky-gray color that sucked the warmth from the very sun.  The earth was one big ball of varying shades of gray.  Much like an old black and white movie, its picture scratched and faded.  That was the world: faded.

Time seemed to move slowly, like a bad imitation of the movie Matrix.  Time slowing as objects showed velocity in a perverted world where relativity ceased to exist.  Shock waves followed the icy daggers as they plummeted to the gray world.  Gray upon gray, fading into nothing.  Colors of varying nothingness that inverted into colors of varying nausea.

Time had ended, and all that was left was the cancerous afterbirth of an aborted dream of God.  Black as night inside a coffin was the color of God.  God was dead; the great leveler of chaos had decided to reign.  Black inside of black until only the diseased mind of color existed.  Take black from black, and all that is left is nothingness.  A world of nothing creates a backlash, and a vacuum of nothingness ensues.

Tobias Ritcher sat up in bed, a scream fading from his lips.  Thunder rolled across the valley, and lightning across the black sky punctuated his fears.  His head jerked around the room, his blue eyes searching for any unseen horror in the blackness.  Lightning lit up the room in brief flashes, jerking shadows around the room, mixing fears into the mind of the twenty-one year old.  As his heart pounded in his chest, his mind began to register the dream.  Taking deep breaths, logic finally convinced him it was nothing but a nightmare.

Wiping the sweat from his brow, he threw back the covers from his bed.  Putting one foot on the hardwood floor, he quickly drew his foot back; the floor was ice cold.  His eyes widened in fear as he switched on the lights.  He started to scream.  His bedroom was covered in snow, and he could only see in black and white.

“Toby, is something wrong?  Open up.”

A knocking on the door caused the sleeping young man to sit up suddenly in bed, a dying scream fading on his lips.  His blue eyes opened wide, staring into the after effects of his nightmare which were superimposed over the waking world, flashes of white against the gray shades of his room.  As the pounding grew louder, the nightmare began to slowly fade until only reality was left.

He frantically looked around the room.  The sun was shining brightly through his window, and all the colors were as they should be.  Taking deep breaths, he fell back against the pillow with a loud sigh.  He had made it through another night.

Pushing his long, sweaty hair from his eyes, he finally called out in a weak voice: “I’m fine; just a bad dream.”

“Toby, open up.  Is everything all right?”

Cursing silently, he sat on the edge of the bed and grabbed a pair of shorts from the floor.  He slipped them on before walking over to the door.  When he opened the door, he smiled despite the pounding in his head.  He stared into the green eyes of his boyfriend. “What are you doing here, Steve?”

Steve frowned, the look on his face showing his concern.  And when Tobias flashed a weak grin, Steve wrung his hands in frustration.  “I’m worried about you.  I know you haven’t been feeling well, and I know you’ve woken up screaming the last five nights in a row.  Is it drugs?”

Tobias started to tremble, and he wrapped his arms around his lean frame. “Steve, I...”

“I told you when we first got together that I won’t tolerate someone who does drugs.  I can’t date an addict.  Not again.”

“I don’t do drugs,” Tobias said, coughing harshly.  “You should know me better than that.”

“I can only assume,” Steve continued, pointing a finger at Tobias.  “You haven’t been eating properly, and you’ve lost a lot of weight.”

Glancing down at his half-naked form, Tobias could see ribs sticking out and a sunken stomach—like a cadaver that breathes.

“Let me see your arms,” Steve demanded, grabbing one of Tobias’s arms roughly.

For a moment Tobias was silent as he allowed his boyfriend to study each of his arms carefully.  Then he asked:  “Happy? No track marks.”

“If I find out you’ve been using, I’ll dump you faster than your parents did when they found out you were gay,” Steve said, his frown deepening.

Tobias still hadn’t recovered from his nightmare; his thoughts were jumbled together as he tried to think back to the last time he had seen his parents.  He was having trouble focusing his thoughts; for the past several days his head hadn’t stopped pounding long enough to think clearly.

“Have they rented out my old room yet?” he asked, his forehead creasing as the pain began to slowly creep back into his consciousness.

“Where have you been?” Steve asked, shaking his head.  “They rented out your old room five days ago.  You watched the man move in.”

“Did I?” Tobias’s mind searched for the memory.  A banging sound distracted him, scattering his thoughts as he tried to grasp them.  No matter how he turned his head, he couldn’t find the origin of that awful banging sound.

“Maybe you’re right; I haven’t been eating lately, you know, with work and all,” Tobias offered with a grin, trying to disguise the confusion that gripped him.

“Toby, I can’t have you like this,” Steve said.  “If it’s not drugs, maybe we should take you to a doctor.”

“What?” Tobias asked, squinting as the pain in his head suddenly intensified to such an unbearable level he couldn’t hear Steve any more.  The only sound he could hear was the throbbing of his own blood as it rushed through his temples.  Putting his hands to the side of his face, he opened his eyes, and tried to focus on the man he loved more than life itself.

Before he could reply, Steve’s face suddenly went deathly pale, as if all the blood had drained from his body.  It contorted into a hideous mask of pain, and blood gushed forth from his mouth in torrents of red.  His eyes stared back at Tobias, lifeless and accusing.  A deep slash of red formed across his throat, and as the blood flowed, it gave testament to his demise.  The figure standing before Tobias, Steve but not Steve, opened his mouth, and out came a wailing sound that seemed to beg for answers - answers Tobias couldn’t give.

“Toby, are you all right?” Steve asked, concerned by the look of horror he saw in Tobias’s eyes.  Grabbing his frail boyfriend, Steve pressed his hand against the sweaty forehead.  His eyes widened.  “You’re burning up.”

Tobias felt as if he had just swum fifty laps in a pool.  He took a deep breath when the pain suddenly faded and his boyfriend returned to his normal handsome self.  Gone was the blood and accusing eyes.  Shaking off the weird vision, Tobias said, “Maybe you’re right; I should go to the doctor.  Or at least call in sick today.”

“You’d better go to the doctor,” Steve said, his face filled with concern.  “You might be catching that flu that’s going around.  The doctor can give you antibiotics and something to help you sleep better.  You’ll be good as new in no time.”

“Thank you.  I won’t bother you with my screaming anymore,” Tobias promised, turning back towards his room.  Shutting the door behind him, Tobias walked over and collapsed on his bed, immediately sinking into a deep sleep.  He dreamed, but after the chilling nightmare, the normal weird dreams didn’t faze him.

For the second time that day, someone banging on the door disturbed his sleeping.  Mumbling for the person to go away, Tobias rolled over and hid his head under the pillow.

“Tobias, are you all right?  Open up.”

The banging intensified to a point that he jumped up and threw open the door, and demanded in a furious tone, “What do you want?”

“Are you Tobias Richter?” a stranger asked.  He was dressed in a blue uniform, a police badge over his left breast.

Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Tobias stared at the patrolman, a blank expression on his face.  Realizing he was standing there in nothing but a pair of shorts, he said, “Yes, I’m Tobias Richter.  Can you wait while I put on some clothes?”

“Sure,” the patrolman said, as he watched the frail young man struggle to pull on a pair of jeans.  He asked, “Do you know Steve Winters?”

Whirling around, Tobias demanded, “Is he okay?”

“Do you know him?” the patrolman asked again.

“Yes, he’s my boyfriend.” A feeling of dread came over him like a death shroud.  Grabbing a shirt from the edge of the bed, he slipped it on.  “What’s this about?”

Ignoring the question, the patrolman pulled out a notebook from his pocket. “When was the last time you saw him?”

“Earlier today,” Tobias said hesitantly, reaching for his cigarettes.

“You saw Mr. Winters today?” the patrolman asked, surprise showing clearly on his face.

“Yeah.”

“Around what time did you see him?” The patrolman watched Tobias search for a lighter in his pants pockets.

“What time is it now?”

Looking at his watch, the patrolman said, “It’s three-seventeen.”  He pulled a lighter from his pocket and offered it to Tobias.  “Here.”

“Thanks,” Tobias mumbled, lighting the cigarette.  “He woke me up earlier this morning, maybe around noon or so.  We talked for a few minutes, and then I went back to bed.”

“So you say you saw him around noon,” the patrolman repeated, clarifying Tobias’s statement.

“What’s this about?” Tobias asked again, that feeling of dread sinking deeper into his mind.  “Is he in trouble?”

"So you claim you’ve been here sleeping all day, right?” the patrolman asked.  When Tobias nodded, the patrolman continued, “Did anything disturb you, any strange noises, anything?”

Shaking his head, Tobias said, “No, I felt sick this morning, and I haven’t been sleeping well lately. I went back to bed and must’ve crashed.”

Even as he finished his sentence, that banging noise started up again from somewhere.  Looking around the hallway, he tried to find the source of that annoying noise.  Remembering the horrifying vision he saw earlier, Tobias begged, “What’s this about? Please tell me.”

“There was a murder in the building today,” the patrolman explained in an even voice.

Laughing despite everything, Tobias said, “Yeah, right.  It was Steve, and his throat was slashed.”  His laugh was almost hysterical now, the absurdity of the situation breaking his fragile hold on sanity.  The pounding in his head had started up again, and he felt light-headed and slightly nauseated.

The patrolman glared at Tobias and folded his arms across his chest. “And just what do you know about that?”

Tobias stared at the patrolman.  His face was drained of color and terror gripped his soul.  He stammered, “I’m…”

But he never finished his sentence.  He collapsed onto the floor and started trembling uncontrollably, mumbling over and over that he couldn’t have known.  The pain in his head was violently racking his body, causing convulsions, and a blinding white light flashed in front of his eyes as he lost consciousness.

“Open up.  Can you hear me?  Are you all right?”  A deep voice shouted through a closed door somewhere.  “Answer me.”

Tobias slowly regained consciousness, the world changing from nightmares of colorless landscapes to the familiar surroundings of his room.  A blanket was draped over his body, and he could hear someone talking from the open doorway.  Though he was drenched in sweat, he couldn’t stop shivering.  Wrapping the blanket tighter around his lean form, he managed to call out in a weak voice, “Is anyone there?”

The patrolman quickly entered the room, and stood at the foot of the bed.  He looked down at the weakened young man, and said, “Take it easy, son.”

“What happened?” Tobias asked, confusion on his face.  He tried to sit up in the rumpled bed, but it hurt to move.

The patrolman’s face, all planes and angles before, now was changed into one of compassion, with gentle eyes.  The patrolman smiled. “You passed out.  Don’t you remember?”

Realization slowly seeped into Tobias’s clouded mind. “Is he all right?  Is he really gone?”

“Calm down, son. You have a very high fever.  The paramedics are on the way.”

Breaking into tears, Tobias stammered, “I saw it.  This morning.  I saw him dead.  It was horrible.”

“Did you watch it happen?”  The patrolman peered intently at the weeping young man.

Locking eyes, Tobias gripped the patrolman’s arm and said, “I was talking to him in the hall.  I thought it was just some fever dream.  I saw his face. I don’t understand it. I saw that his throat was slashed, and his head was bleeding, as though someone had bashed it in.  His eyes… They were so dead, so accusing.  I could’ve saved him.”

The patrolman shook his head. “You’re sick, son.  You’re burning up with fever; it was nothing but a hallucination.”

“No!” Tobias shouted.  “It was a vision.  I was supposed to save him, to help him, to stop him from dying, and all I did was go to sleep.  I loved him.”

The patrolman tried to calm Tobias down.  “It wasn’t your fault; sometimes bad things happen to good people.  You can’t blame yourself.”

“I could’ve saved him,” Tobias declared, anger flashing in his eyes.

“No, it was his time to go,” the patrolman said in a quiet voice. “How were you to know?”

Tobias stared at the patrolman, and tears begun to fall down his cheeks.  His eyes were glazed and bloodshot, and he was trembling all over.  His face contorted from the pain racking his body.  Tobias raised his arm to his head and started screaming, as somewhere in the background he heard someone banging on a door.

The patrolman placed his hand on Tobias’s chest.  He could tell the young man had a high temperature and that whatever was causing it might kill him before the paramedics arrived.  Inside Tobias’s eyes, he saw a young man fighting, desperately holding onto the threads of his mortality. 

“Hang on, kid,” the patrolman urged, hoping to give the young man some kind of hope.  “Don’t think about him.  The paramedics are on the way.”

“I saw the horror in his eyes.  He knew what was going to happen.  He watched as his own throat was slashed.  He felt the knife as it cut his skin.  I could see it in his eyes.  He knew.” Tobias sobbed, almost incoherent as he fell into the patrolman’s arms.

The patrolman had seen more than his share of things in all the years he had been working the job.  But there were times that neither training nor experience could ever prepare one for.  Each time was as difficult and painful as the time before.  He thanked the Almighty that he had never gotten callous over the years and that death still affected him deeply.  He did what he could to soothe the crying young man.  He fully believed the words he spoke:  “It’s going to be all right.”

“Do you think he went to heaven?” Tobias sobbed.

The patrolman answered immediately, “Yes, I do.  All good people go to heaven.  Just remember that, Tobias.  No more pain, no more suffering.”

Tobias could only partly focus on the words of the patrolman.  His conscious was racked with pain, making it hard to concentrate on anything but breathing.  Plus, whoever was pounding on that door seemed to be getting desperate, desperate and louder.

“No more pain,” Tobias groaned. It was a concept he couldn’t understand.  “Do you really believe that?”

“Yes,” the patrolman answered simply.  “Heaven is a wonderful place.  I hear the angels are the most beautiful creatures, and they sing forever.  It’s a paradise with no more war, no more sadness, and no more killing.  Wouldn’t you like that?”

“Do they have TV?” Tobias asked, his breath becoming more haggard.  “What about food?”

“Oh, heaven has wonderful food, any type you like,” the patrolman said, holding Tobias tightly in his arms.  A layer of sweat had begun to form on his body from the heat radiating off Tobias.  He could feel the fever burning through the young man.  Yet through all the hardship, Tobias still hung on with a determination that astonished the hardened patrolman.  Wiping the sweat from his eyes, the patrolman asked, “What’s your favorite food?”

Stammering through his chills, Tobias answered weakly, “I love hot wings - and beer.”

Laughing a deep laugh, the patrolman said, “I have it on very good authority that heaven has the best hot wings in the universe.  Do you like them really hot?”

“Hotter the better,” Tobias said, smiling briefly before the pain returned more intensely than before.  Wincing, he whispered in a small voice, “Does God really hate fags?”

Tears begun falling down the patrolman’s cheek, as he finally understood why Tobias was hanging on so determinedly.  He said with great confidence, “No, God does not hate homosexuals.”

“Really?” Tobias asked, opening his eyes to stare at the patrolman.

“How can a being that is nothing but love ever hate someone for finding and falling in love?” the patrolman said, holding the young man tighter.  “Just as God did not choose to love the human race when he first held his creation to his bosom.  God smiles down on anyone that finds true love.”

“What’s God like?”

“God is a wonderful being, kind and gentle, with much love to offer the whole world.”

Looking down at Tobias with great sorrow, the patrolman realized how much he hated this job at these times.  The pain of seeing this young man struggle to live was becoming unbearable.  He began to wish for the end.  He had to strengthen his grip as Tobias began to thrash around weakly - to stop him from injuring himself.

Tobias whispered, “I don’t want to die alone.  Don’t let me die alone.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” the patrolman promised.  “Did you know that no one dies alone?”

“What?” Tobias asked, his word slurred.

“Yeah, that’s right.” The patrolman’s eyes filled with tears.  “That’s how much God loves us.  When someone is about to die, God sends an angel to their side to comfort and escort them home.”

Tobias stared at the patrolman, disbelief on his face.  He said, “I don’t see an angel.”

The patrolman smiled, and said, “Then you’re not looking hard enough.”

Tobias’s eyes widened in wonder as the patrolman’s face began to change.  The stony face was gone, replaced by a face that held boundless love and compassion.  Tobias looked into that face and saw the wonders of heaven staring back at him.  He could feel the love of God flowing through his creation, caressing him with love and comfort.

Tobias watched as angel’s wings unfurled from its heavenly body and wrapped tightly around him in a gentle embrace.  All the pain and suffering he had endured melted away like the coming of spring.  He smiled, and lifted a trembling hand to the angel’s face.

The angel looked down at Tobias, and smiled. “Come, Tobias; it’s time to come home.”

Tobias laughed and wrapped his arms around the angel’s neck and left his earthly body behind.  In a brilliant flash of light, the angel shot to the heavens carrying Tobias safely in his arms.  As they entered heaven, Tobias heard a chorus of angels join together in a song of joy and rejoicing for another soul that had finally come home.

 

*        *        *

 

“He’s gone,” the paramedic said, shaking his head as he fell back on his knees.

Looking over at his partner, the paramedic asked, “What time is it?”

“12:02”

“What a shame.  He can’t be more than twenty-one.” The partner looked over the body of the young man lying on the bed.

“It’s tragic, but look at his face.  His boyfriend said he heard screaming coming from the room, but his face is so serene.  It doesn’t look as if he was in any pain at all.  He even has a smile on his face.”

“I know,” the partner agreed.  “It’s almost eerie.”

The paramedic covered the body with a sheet and busied himself packing up his instruments.  He knew there was nothing they could have done.  The young man was dead before they had even arrived.  He looked at the patrolman who had arrived on the scene first, and asked, “What’s his name?”

Looking at his notebook, the patrolman said, “Tobias Richter.  His boyfriend, Steven Winters, came over and heard him screaming.  After banging on the door for several minutes without getting an answer, he called 911.”  Shaking his head, the patrolman continued, “By the time I arrived on scene, the screams had stopped.  Can you tell me what happened to him?”

The paramedic shrugged and said, “I would guess he had an aneurysm.  He probably died moments later.”

His partner mused, “I wonder what went through his head the last moments of his life.”

“Whatever it was, it left a smile on his face,” the patrolman said, putting away his notebook.  He added, “I just hope I see whatever he saw when I die.

 


 

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