It was a muffled voice, as if heard through a thin wooden wall, but it definitely sounded like Dad.
“Yes, what are you doing? Why are you running?”
‘What do you mean?”
“You can’t stop it. Just let yourself go, stop hurting everyone around you.”
“You mean die? Like you?”
“Yes, it’s the only way.”
Jacob opened his eyes, but he only saw a void around him. Where was the voice coming from? He heard the screams of his frightened sister rip through the void. The screams sailed around him, an invisible banshee wailing for vengeance.
“You did this, son.”
Jacob shook his head. “No.” His voice was a stammer and weak in volume. He bent his head and covered his face with his hands. He kneeled in the empty void around. “No!” He shouted through the whimpering.
Jacob shot a glance above him. He felt his face flush with fear and hate. Tears streamed down his face. “This is ridiculous! It was another car, not some damn family curse!”
Jacob heard the voice to his left. It was softer, but authoritative. His granddad.
The old man melded out of the void like walking out of a wall of black water. He was wearing his old WWII flight jacket.
“The curse is real, boy. It was passed down from father to son in every generation, since me. The things I saw, the things I did; this is the punishment for surviving.”
“Why do I have to pay for what you’ve done?”
His granddad shrugged, shadows hung over his face. He looked sinister. Jacob thought his granddad could have been a vampire or some other supernatural creature from a bad movie. He stared at Jacob, his arms straight by his side. He was rigid as if he was still crammed in a coffin. “Stop clinging to what is not deserved of us.”
A bright light flashed from above, the darkness melted, Jacob’s Granddad melted away.
Pain shot through Jacob’s abdomen and up his chest. His neck muscles stretched and tore. His head reeled with dizziness and nausea. He was going to vomit from the pain.
“Whoa, whoa, Jacob, relax, come down.” Jacob heard an unrecognizable female voice.
“Shit, get him a bucket.” An unknown male voice.
Jacob screamed in pain. He felt a gentle, firm hand on the back of his neck. It held his head down as he vomited into a bucket. He could see the bucket and his bile now. His vision was returning. He heaved and gagged for several minutes before he had a chance to look around.
He was in a bed, a hospital bed. The fluorescent light above him is what melted the shadows away. A doctor about ten years younger than his father was nearby, but keeping a professional distance, while a nurse, younger than Jacob, held his neck.
He nodded to her and breathed slowly, she gently released her grip.
Jacob was still in pain. He body movements were restricted, especially his upper body and head.
The doctor walked to the other side of the bed and gently pressed his shoulder, the nurse did the same on the other side.
“I need you to lie down, Jacob. You’ve taken some serious injuries from the crash. Certainly survivable, but serious.”
Jacob didn’t resist as they pushed him back down. He shot fevered glances between the two of them. He could barely move his head.
“What about my sister?”
“She’s stable, but the SUV that hit your car pushed the door against her. The airbags deployed, but she was trapped in the car. She has a few broken bones from when the car tumbled off the road. You were the lucky one.”
The nurse narrowed her eyes at the doctor.
The doctor looked at his watch and sighed. “You are both lucky to be alive.”
You deserve this. It was Jacob’s Granddad whispering in his head.
“You took a severe thrashing from the tumble of the car. Your neck and upper back were wedged between the crumbled roof of the car and the steering column.” The doctor placed his gloved hand on Jacob’s forehead. It was then, Jacob felt the weight of bandages wrapped around his head and the pull of a medical sling against his neck and chest. “Your head suffered several lacerations, but the ambulance got to you before any serious blood loss.”
Lucky again, I guess, thought Jacob.
The nurse glanced at him and smiled. “Do you feel up to seeing your mother?”
Jacob nodded weakly.
The doctor stepped back and clutched his clipboard with both hands, his barrier between himself and his patient. “Well, then we will send her right in.”
The doctor left first while the nurse held the door and murmured outside. Jacob watched his mother, pale and disheveled, step into the room. The nurse whispered in his mother’s ear before she also left, closing the door softly behind her.
Jacob’s mother took cautious steps toward him and slid into a chair next to him. She let three long exasperated sighs, before Jacob had enough of the silence.
“Hey, Mom,” he said with a groan. His chest made it tough to talk.
His mom shook her head and stared at the hospital floor, not Jacob. I can’t handle all of this in less than a month. Jim’s father, your father, your sister, and you. What’s a mother to do?”
Jacob reached for her hand with his, but he was confined in movement. His mother saw the gesture and took his hand. It forced her to look at Jacob. Tears fell from her eyes.
“How’s Dad? How’s Sarah?” Jacob asked.
His mother smiled. She tapped their embraced hands with her free hand. “That’s my son. Always thinking about someone else. They are okay. The surgeons think Dad will heal, they are just undecided on what type of reconstructive surgery they will do to fix his cheek and jaw. Sarah will be okay, several broken bones, but no internal bleeding.” His mother’s eyes narrowed. “Are you trying to prove this family is cursed?”
“Mom, please, not now.” Jacob stared at the ceiling panels around the lights in the ceiling. Why did everything have to be so damn white? “Are we?”
“You’re right. I shouldn’t have said anything. It was wrong of me. I’m sorry.” Jacob’s mother released her hold and stood up. She strolled to the window and gently pushed the curtains open with a hand. Jacob could see some light from the street and the passage of headlights across her face. “Curses. I’m just so stressed out. I don’t think I can handle all of this.”
“Mom, you’re avoiding the question.”
“Please, son. This day in age to believe in such things. We stopped going to church when you were ten. Superstition is no longer for us.”
Jacob’s mother flung the curtain closed and stepped away. She turned from Jacob. Looking at the far wall, she said, “Your granddad, always carried a deep guilt from his time in the war. Some people called it survivor’s guilt. When he came back from the war, he never really adjusted to life without war. He raised a family, he raised your father, but he never understood why.”
“Why he raised a family?”
Jacob’s mother nodded. “Everything was terrible. The Cuban Missile Crisis, Korea, Vietnam, the whole damn Cold War. Your dad caught his father more than once yelling at the sky for the missiles to come.”
“This, this is not the granddad I knew.”
Jacob’s mother turned and moved beside him again. She sat down. “No, he was a good man, just lost. He believed we were all cursed, surviving on the corpses of brothers, sons, and families of all those who fell before. That note you found was probably an old note your granddad wrote to himself in one of his spells.”
But it was in my handwriting and dad had one as well, thought Jacob. He remained quiet. Nothing more needed to be said about this madness.
Jacob yawned he needed to sleep. “I should get some sleep, Mom.”
His mother patted his shoulder. “Of course, honey. I’ll leave you to it.”
She headed toward the door and opened it. “Remember, Jacob, your granddad was a sad man, a good man, but very haunted. I think it affected your father.”
She turned and gave her son a weak smile. “I’ll need you up and about to deal with all of Dad’s whining when he comes home.”
Jacob smiled in return. “You got it.”
His mother rushed out of the room. Probably to find a place to cry, thought Jacob. He sighed and looked back up at the ceiling.
“I should turn off the light.”
He heard the door creak open. There were sounds of many feet moving through hospital. An emergency of some sort.
And . . .
Marching? Did he hear marching?
What he saw was not his mother.
© 2017 C.J. Staryk. All Rights Reserved.
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