I never thought death could be so…peaceful.
While it's true that everyone dies, so few people actually believe it will happen to them.
I always believed that, when you die, it would sting, kind of like razor burn or a paper cut. I always thought that as you pass, your life source gets sucked out of you like a vacuum and you get whisked away into a dark oblivion.
Boy was I wrong.
The people in my town never really dwelled upon the idea of death. When a friend or relative died, there was always a brief mourning period, but a few short days later…nothing. It's as if no one really notices after a while that you're gone. It was the norm that no one ever questioned…
My name was Jonathan, Jonathan Campbell. I was seventeen years old when I died and now I will stay that age forever. I was a small town boy. I loved baseball and Swedish Fish and a girl named Annabelle. I was an average looking boy with pale skin, dull brown eyes, and chocolate colored hair that my mom always cut too short for my liking. I was one of those kids that always had friends around, but no one I could truly talk to, which at times, made me feel lonely.
My father died when I was eleven years old. The accident was caused by late night driving and an estranged doe. From that night on I was never the same. Every night for the next year I cried myself to sleep, my dreams being my only sanctuary. After his passing, my mother was devastated. But after three days, BAM! She was fine. I went through all the stages of grief: denial, pain, guilt, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. It was if my mother completely bypassed all of these feelings; not only her, but my grandmother, my aunts, my uncles… everyone.
About a year prior to my death, next to the river that runs around the edge of my old hometown, it began. I walked along the abandoned dirt road that lay parallel to the rushing water. The other side of the river was lined with a stretch of forest. I walked absent-mindedly down the path when I spotted him; a boy in red shorts and a blue and white striped shirt. He played with a painted wooden boat next to the water. I took my place on an old log lying aimlessly next to the road with a perfect view of the kid. For about a half hour I sat watching him before I eventually zoned out. He had to be at least six years old with not a care in the world. My thoughts ran amuck: What if someone he loved died?Would he ever be the same? Or would he get over it? Who am I kidding, he's just achild.
My thought process was soon interrupted by a squawk of a crow. I glanced up and saw the boy was gone. In his place, a small red shoe tumbled to-and-fro in the surf. I was suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of alarm. I jumped up to look around. No sign of him. My eyes were automatically drawn to movement on the other side of the river. There, on the opposite bank, stood an apparition… a dark silhouette of a man. Although he had no face, I knew he was watching me. A cold sweat ran down the back of my neck.
We continued staring at each other and silence filled the air. I could hear nothing, the natural sounds of rushing water and the chirping of insects all but stopped.
Not fifteen seconds later, another shadow appeared crawling out of the river. I blinked several times registering it as the shape of a small child. The small apparition stood up, skipped playfully towards the darkened man and deliberately grasped what seemed to be its hand.
I just stood there, paralyzed from a mixture of fear and fascination. The crow squawked again causing me to jump and break my concentrated gaze. When I looked back, they were gone.
What the…? Was all I could think.
I sprinted home, my heart heavy.
The next morning, I walked downstairs into my kitchen where my mom was whispering into the phone.
"We'll keep an eye out. Yes. Okay, thanks Barb." She hung up the phone and turned to me.
"That little boy up the street never came home yesterday…that poor family…." She shook her head and turned to continue chopping vegetables. I didn't respond. I didn't know what to do or say, so I kept it to myself.
Two days later his body was found three miles down the river. According to the police, he accidently drowned.
I knew better, there was nothing simple about it. Every night until the day I died I dreamt of the child's face. Was there something I could have done? Did they cause this?
As usual, the town's grief lasted a short period of time. Things went on as they always did. Or so I thought.
I soon noticed a pattern that began to occur: people started going missing and then turned up dead. And no one cared, except me.
I looked through newspapers, studied the archives, trying to find some sort of connection. I soon became obsessed with the research. I spent all of my free time digging deeper into each death. All deaths ruled as accidents or left as cold cases. I was overwhelmed, there had to be something. Walls closed around me. I felt alone, helpless.
Why does no one care? Why doesn't anyone stop this? Why? Why? WHY?
The doctors claim that my cause of death was due to an aneurysm that ruptured in my temporal lobe. They claim that there was nothing anyone could have done to prevent it.
But I knew better.
And as I took the dark man's hand, all I could do was laugh.