Fading

Blake sat back in his lawn chair, watching his daughter play with her friends by the pool. Bringing the frosty glass to his lips, he took a long sip of the iced tea. A smile on his face watching the children play with reckless abandon, throwing each other into the pool on the summer’s day, made him remember why he and his wife had worked tirelessly to have the best.

Around them also stood their friends and family, having all come over that day to celebrate the eleventh birthday of their daughter. The table next to the pool was beginning to pile so high with presents that it was starting to bow in the middle. From across the way he caught sight of his best friend, Richard, along with his wife and twin daughters.

They wound their way around the courtyard before finally meeting up with him in the grass.

“Hey buddy, how you holding up?” Richard asked, taking in his hand for a strong shake.

“Not too bad, considering it just seemed like yesterday Willow was turning three,” he said with a chuckle, shaking his head in bemusement.

“Now you know how I felt when the girls turned eleven a few months ago. It’s like a tornado picked us up and plopped us down years later.”

From around her husband, Jackie made her way towards Blake and gave him a big hug and kiss on the cheek.

“Great party you set up for her,” she said, before turning around to walk their present over to the table with Blake’s wife, Gwen.

“You’re looking pretty good for an old bastard,” Richard said, grabbing himself a cold beer from the cooler behind the chairs.

“Hey, I’m looking damn good considering all the stress work’s put on me lately,” he said, taking another sip of his tea.

The two men’s banter swept back and forth until their wives came back to join them on the lawn. The four were met with revolving groups of friends and family, conversation ranging from school politics to hiking trails they would try out that summer.

Two hours had gone by, everyone eating their fill of burgers, brats, chips and dip, veggie trays, and an assortment of other snacks brought over. Inside the house, Blake and Gwen were preparing the cake with eleven evenly spaced candles when they heard a scream from outside.

Rushing to see what was the matter, Richard was yelling over to Blake to call 911. At first he didn’t understand why, then he saw the lifeless body of his daughter on the lawn. Throwing the phone at his panicking wife, he knelt down to his daughter’s blue lips, searching for breath.

“What the hell happened?” he was frantically screaming.

“She was face down in the pool, man, I don’t know what the hell happened,” Richard said, hands shaking.

Blake began CPR on his precious daughter, not knowing if he would be able to push life back into her little heart. He knew he had to try though, it wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of how. Passing under his pumping hands, five minutes clicked by on his left wrist. Others around him silent, watching on in horror at what had become of the birthday party.

His arms began to grow rubbery and weak, bending his ear down to his daughter’s darkening blue lips for a breath that would never come back. Then his vision brought him to his own hands. He…could see through his hands to the polka dot dress his daughter was wearing.

What the hell, he thought.

Lifting his hands, he could see others around him through his flesh. They were now looking back at him in horror, their eyes drawn away from the dead girl.

Blake shot up in bed, his body having become drenched in his slumber. He was instantly scanning his hands to ensure they were still intact. Looking next to him, Gwen still continuing her sleep, unaware of her husband’s nightmare.

Walking into the en suite and turning on the faucet, he brought ice cold water over his hands. Hands that kept the water on them, nothing passing through. Filling them, then splashing the water multiple times over his face. Pulling the towel from the rack to dry off his face, looking straight into his own eyes in the mirror, his heart was still racing from the nightmare he had just endured.

Back in the bedroom, his wife was turning onto her side, still snoring away. Leaving her to most likely more hours of sleep, he made his way out into the hallway and down the stairs. The clock in the kitchen read 5am. Normally he would be up by now for work anyways, but it was a Saturday. Figuring he wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep, he began heating hot water for a French press of dark roast coffee.

Outside, the sky was beginning to just barely lighten. The dew on the grass was shining off the walkway lights they kept around the yard and pool. Behind him, the water was almost at the boiling point. Taking down the press from the cupboard and scooping in the required amount of ground coffee, adding the now boiling water and setting the timer for four minutes, he moved back to the window. The colors in the sky now brightening before him.

Four minutes up, he pushed down the plunger, then after pouring himself a mug large enough to fit most of the press, he sat outside to watch the horizon. A mild morning, he was able to sit and enjoy it in just pants and a T-shirt with his coffee. The steam rose from his mug and met his nostrils, the smell invigorating his senses almost more than the liquid itself.

Closing his eyes and leaning back in the chair, the other smells of the morning reaching him, a smash emanated from back towards the house. Jolting to stand, dropping his coffee on the freshly mown lawn, he ran back into the house.

At the base of the stairs lay his wife. She must have been coming down to see where he had gone. Her neck bent at an improbable angle. Blake’s screams roaming into every nook and cranny of the downstairs area.

“Honey? Honey!” His calls did nothing to rouse her, she was already gone.

“Mommy?” their daughter was calling from atop the staircase, leaning over the railing to see what was the matter.

“Go back to your room!”

“Dad, what’s wrong with mom?”

“I said go to your room!”

His daughter ran to her room, the door slamming behind her, cries could be faintly heard.

In his arms lay his wife; face up, motionless, broken neck and blood curling from her lips back towards her neck. Tears mingling with her blood coming from his own face. He knew he had to call someone, the paramedics, police, anyone to come help. Placing her body gently on the ground, he went into the kitchen to pick up the landline.

As he was reaching for the phone, he saw his hand wasn’t right. It had become translucent, he could see the phone and kitchen behind it.

“No. No no no!”

Jolting awake at his desk, Blake found himself being shook by Richard.

“Dude, what the hell is going on with you? When was the last time you fell asleep at your desk?”

Heart racing, Blake sat back in his chair, breathing a heavy sigh of relief.

“Pinch me,” he said to his best friend.

“What?”

“Pinch me, man. I need to make sure I’m freaking awake.”

Reaching towards his friend, Richard took a hefty pinch into Blake’s neck, pulling out and snapping it back.

“Dammit, you didn’t have to take so much.”

“Don’t get on my case for how I pinch people. What was that all about?”

“I just had two insane nightmares within themselves. First Steph drown in the pool, then Gwen broke her neck falling down the stairs of the house.”

“Jesus man, that’s fucked up.”

“Tell me about it, I’m the one who’s had to deal with it in my head.”

Blake stood, then the two went to the break room to find coffee and donuts.

Sitting at the break room table, Blake elaborated more of his dreams to Richard as they each ate two donuts and drank two cups of coffee. Blake was glad that Richard had decided to join his company a few months back. He didn’t know what he would have done without someone to talk to right away after having to deal with such horrendous nightmares.

The two made their way back to their respective desks at the software firm and got back into their work. The next four hours went by very slowly, but nonetheless time passing before them. The end of the workday in sight, they put together their belongings and left the office, taking the elevator down to the first floor.

Outside, they said their goodbyes for the day, and Blake brought out his keys to open the car door. Richard had parked across the street, his usual spot as he had a tendency to show up a little bit later than everyone else in the morning. Fumbling to find the door key, Blake’s hands let go of the keys and they flew to the ground, clattering on the concrete. As he bent down to pick them up, a screech of tires brought his attention shooting up to the left. A sickening thud and a smash rose around the business park.

Running to the road, the sight brought the donuts rising back up in Blake’s throat. An SUV was smashed into a light pole just down the street. Stuck in the windshield was his best friend of twenty years. Blake ran down the street, throwing open the driver’s door and tossing the older woman from the seat. Jumping into the vehicle, Blake tried to make conversation with Richard.

“Buddy, hey buddy. Can you hear me?”

Blood bubbles dribbling from Richard’s mouth, he let out a groan, trying to move his lips.

“It’s okay man, just hold on. You hear me? Hold on! Someone call 911!”

From outside the vehicle, multiple bystanders let him know the paramedics had been called.

Richard’s eyes began to close.

“Don’t you dare, you stay with me!” Blake was screaming now, shaking the arms of his friend that were dangling into the vehicle.

As he sat coaxing his friend to live, he bore witness to the last breaths he would take. Before him, Richard’s head lost all ability to stay up, pushing itself further into the vehicle.

“No!”

Slamming his hands into the dash, gripping the steering wheel and pushing himself back in the leather seat, he took notice of his hands. He could see the steering wheel through his iron grip.

“Shit! C’mon, no!”

Blake’s eyes slowly brought in the light from the living room. Looking around the space, nobody else was around.

What the hell is happening to me, he thought.

Walking into the almost empty kitchen, he set about pouring himself a glass of water and taking a seat at the table. Looking back out into the living room, he saw it was also nearly bare. Then he remembered it all like a fifty foot wave crashing down on him.

After the news he received, he had completely lost it. Lost it to a point where Gwen left with Steph to her mother’s home upstate. Walking back into the living room, he found his phone and unlocked it. Searching in his contacts for Richard, he knew he had to talk to someone about what was going on with him. His phone no longer contained the number he was searching for. Then he remembered he also drove away his best friend. Nobody was left, he’d driven them all away with his psychotic breakdown after the diagnosis.

The house was mostly barren, except for his menial belongings that were left over from his family leaving. Walking up the stairs, he went room to room, another confirmation that he was all alone. In the bedroom, he found his hiking clothes. It was 5pm in the afternoon, still plenty of sunshine left on the late June day.

Putting together a small pack for himself, he went out to his Toyota Corolla and drove the hour to his favorite hiking spot. After parking in the front of the mostly empty lot at the late time of day, he brought out his hiking boots from the trunk. Sitting on a bench in front of the car, he tied his shoes, then picking his pack up off the back seat, he locked the car and went to the trailhead.

He didn’t need to even look at the map, he knew his way around the trails like the back of his hand. Choosing his path, he spent the next hour and a half hiking up to the peak. The busy woods of owls and hawks were calling out, hunting for their dinner and teaching their young. One thing he’d lost the ability to do, teaching his daughter anything more.

The three mile hike wound through open fields, old growth forest, finally opening up at the top to an amazing three-sixty view of the surrounding area. In one direction were lakes, in another cities, and yet in another more mountains.

Walking to his favorite lookout point, behind an outcropping of rocks, he took a seat. Blake doubted that many knew of it, so he always assumed it was his little spot to come to. To get away, think, read, whatever he needed every once in a while to deal with the stresses of life.

Sitting on the large rocks, he spent the next thirty minutes looking out across the landscape as the afternoon was turning to evening before his eyes, taking it all in and enjoying what he had come up here for. From his shoulders, he set the backpack down in front of him, pulling out the couple of items he had brought with him.

All to himself in the falling sunset, Blake held an envelope of his latest test results and picture of his family in one hand, and a nine millimeter in the other. Letting out a heavy sigh, he set his eyes on his hands. This time they did not fade.