A temporary death. Would you call it temporary if your heart stops to beat for but a moment, waiting for a doctor to guide you back to the land of the living? It’s a thought that runs through a person’s head. Perhaps more strongly during their twenties, at a time when many wonder of their purpose on the planet. After all, normalcy is a fate accepted, not loved.
The cogs moved in the wake of crumbling dreams, as a body leapt off the ground, revitalized by a surge of electricity. He shook, uncontrollably at first, and then upon sudden but foggy remembrance of a fear that had remained within the deepest recesses of his memories. Devoid of all his other senses and in the dead of the night, his ears heard nothing — nothing but the hastened beating of his own heart.
Gale viewed the stars, his back pinned to the moist grass of the park he had come to adore. It was his spot of safety, his sanctum sanctorum. In an attempt to sit up right, he moved his limbs in vain, frowning upon repeated failure and cracking his lips in the process — dry in his mouth, itchy in his throat.
Gale was far from comfortable — feelings muddled and thoughts disoriented — but felt overwhelmed with an unexplainable warmth. It resembled an odd sense of freedom, the kind that had eluded him for much of his twenty-one years alive.
“Alive,” thought Gale, almost in the form of a question.
His breathing steadied as the seconds passed, his chest relaxing. He struggled to remember the night; his body frozen still. It seemed all that remained was the whistling of a cold and lonely wind. But his ears did perk in the moments that followed. He heard a weight stepping into the soil, deep enough for it urge a response from his sense of sound.
As they strayed into a path of stone, the footsteps revealed their nature — the kind long forgotten, from a time that hailed the monarch. The noise cleared to unveil more as the sounds drew ever closer — the brushing of metal sheets, the breathing of a man against the rustling of leaves, and whispers; whispers of prayer far beyond Gale’s comprehension.
A silhouette slid into display, leant and looked down at Gale’s paralyzed body. As the latter’s eyes adjusted to the light, he found the man smiling at him. It helped highlight his sharp foreign features and brown hair not unlike Gale’s; but perhaps a shade lighter.
Equipped with vambraces and greaves of exceptional make, Gale gasped at the armoured man, and justifiably so. It wasn’t an everyday affair.
His eyes settled on the image of an erupting sun, detailed and graphically magnificent, proudly etched in the centre of the man’s armoured chest. The strange figure knelt, helping Gale to sit upright and observe his apparent saviour more closely.
“Well met, Gale,” the warrior said. “Not often do we find someone this well-adjusted to their death.”
“Who are you?” asked Gale, his words barely a whisper.
“My name is Aaron,” said the man. “I suppose you could call me a friend. Would that be too soon?”
While he found the man’s words unsettling, Gale Storm felt nothing but kindness beneath them. It helped him to smile, gave him temporary relief from the oddness that he had yet to understand fully. He touched a part of the armour — the pauldron — that covered the shoulder area, feeling the cold metal upon his fingertips. His paralysis, he noticed, was dissipating.
“This is nothing short of magical, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” said Gale. “Who are you?”
“It’s often the case with the people I visit,” said Aaron. “But rest assured that we’ll take good care of you, should this work.”
Gale mustered all the strength he could, holding Aaron by the arm. He drew him closer, regaining the colour in his cheeks as he did, asking once more, “Who are you?”
“A Commissioner of what?”
“I fear it shall come to you soon enough.”
He clenched his abdomen, releasing Aaron, and fell back into a state of weakness. Pain reverberated where his grip tightened, moving up to his throat. Flashes of memory suppressed surfaced between spells of dizziness, until blackness returned to remind him of the nature of his death.
Gasping for breath, Gale vomited. A mixture of fear and guilt prompted another painful retching. His eyes welled, spilling tears soon after. Down on all fours, he crawled a little further away from Aaron.
“It’ll go away, Gale,” said Aaron. “Don’t let this be the end of you.”
“You can’t say that,” said Gale, between sobs. “I know what this is going to do to my parents. It will consume them.”
“Ambitions. Dreams. Love. Connections. When you died, you left all those things behind,” Aaron said, towering over Gale, his eyes ferocious. “Your death here does not imply an end, but the beginning at a chance for greatness at a higher place.”
As much as the words intended to inspire, it was Gale’s body that helped recuperate his mind. His emotions simply abandoned him, enough to let him stand upright on his own and without thought of weakness. In that moment of clarity, he thought through the night’s events with calm reason, opening path to a peaceful state of mind.
He exhaled and saw Aaron’s surprise, wondering at it. Gale examined the rest of his body, finding himself attired in different clothes than what he had worn to the party. He stretched the tunic to even out the creases, black in colour and atop brown pants and boots.
His braces — the same colour as his tunic — added a nice touch to his medieval look. It was enough to bring a smile. He pressed his palm against his chest, finding his heart as steady as it could be. The thought was strange; after all, it was only moments ago he had learned of his passing as a human being.
“You’re the Commissioner of Death then?” asked Gale, holding back a hint of sadness.
“Better adjusted than most,” repeated Aaron to himself, before adding, “It isn’t my title. But you could say that for now.”
The confirmation jolted a memory of the phone right back into his mind, the ringing louder than it ever was in reality. He remembered the stench of his own blood as he slumped lifelessly onto the floor, the abnormal temperature, and then the blackness. What was that blackness?
“Not that I doubt you,” said Gale reassuringly. “But where is my body? I don’t feel any different from when I was alive.”
“You probably feel better,” said Aaron with a smile. “Unfortunately, I cannot show you your body.”
“And why is that?”
“There are laws that your world must obey,” Aaron said matter-of-factly. “If you’ve been commissioned to a different realm, there is no requirement of your existence here.”
“You wouldn’t mind if I confirmed it for myself then, would you?”
“Not at all.”
Gale squatted to stir his legs back to life, hopping into a sprint. As he steadied his course, he chose to head home, wary of his need to feel alive. He wanted the exhaustion to remind him, the sweat, the restless breathing; it was all a yearning to hold onto his idea of life. But more than all of that, Gale felt an abnormal pull toward his parents.
“You’re drawn to what you loved most in life,” said Aaron. “But you’re not the only one drawn to it. There’s always something on the other side of the coin, Gale C. Storm.”
It had begun to rain, and as the storm roared, Gale sought shelter at the porch to his home with a sense of uncertainty. He rested his knuckles on the door and wondered about the consequences of every decision he could possibly imagine. It was unlike him. His palm slid across the wood and found its way to the doorbell.
It was late, and under normal circumstances, Gale would’ve worried more about the repercussions of having ignored curfew. But this time, his lips curved to a smile when the lights flickered to life from inside the house. When the door opened, his father sighed, looking around then scratching his head in frustration.
“These pranks are turning out to be awfully exhausting,” Robert said. “I hope I catch these youngsters in the act one day.”
“Dad,” called Gale, loudly enough. “Please tell me you’re giving me a hard time for coming in late.”
Gale attempted to follow in the wake of his father, but had the door firmly shut on his face. A sense of restlessness settled on the edge of his skin, driving him to slam his fist against the door. The lights didn’t turn on this time, and hurried footsteps found its way towards the door instead, falling into silence in a matter of seconds.
The door swung open and Robert hopped onto the porch, startling his son in the process. Gale almost laughed at the sight of his excited father and watched as the man looked around. Robert eventually found his smile wane and wearily walked back into the house, leaving Gale outside once more. It was all Gale needed to abandon what remained inside of the reality he once knew.
“Do I really feel nothing?” whispered Gale. “Odd.”
He turned to head back to the park, unconcerned with the rain. However, as he exited the front yard, something familiar slipped past him and toward his house. He looked over his shoulder, a shiver running through him in recognition. He chased behind it, but the being seemed to have slithered through the cracks.
“It’s that blackness,” said Gale. “What’s it doing here?”
The door remained firmly shut, forcing Gale to move toward the nearest window. He wiped the panes, struggling to see the creature inside. The moon — almost poetically — illuminated the otherwise dark living room and with it, a shapeless entity struggling to find form. Despite the distance, Gale felt the overwhelming presence of dark emotions at their worst.
Weirdly certain that his parents would remain oblivious to the creature’s presence even upon contact, the boy hurled a rock toward the window.
“I’m sorry, dad,” said Gale, unlocking his only way into the house. “In time, you’d see this as a blessing.”
Backed by the weight of his body, Gale ran as fast as his legs could carry him, shouldering the creature away from the foot of the stairs. It crashed against the wall, waking both his parents. As they rushed to identify the source of the commotion, the being evolved a set of sturdy limbs and a face that appeared melted at best — its features struggling to hold form. Its unstable body however, supported the creature as best as it could, reforming the parts that lost shape quickly.
With the stairs blocked, the being turned its eyes from Gale’s parents to the boy himself. It lunged towards him at a blinding speed and latched onto his chest, digging its teeth in as much as it could. Gale struggled to peel the creature away in vain and decided to carry it outside of the house instead.
He stumbled at the threshold of the door, unsettling the creature enough to scamper away to a safe distance outside. At the sight of a shovel no more than an arm’s length from where he stood now, Gale armed himself, steadfast in his gaze. The creature let out a bloodcurdling roar as it rushed its prey, visibly angered by his absence of fear.
In that moment, Gale thanked his years of gymnastics, pivoting to avoid a direct blow. He found himself faster than usual and struck the creature with every bit of strength he could summon, breaking his weapon in half. He threw what remained in his hands at the creature to no effect, falling back to a safe distance in the process.
“So much for that,” said Gale. “I’ve got to hold onto his attention until he arrives.”
“If you’re talking about me,” a voice announced the Commissioner’s presence. “I’ve been here the entire time.”
“Aaron, my dear friend,” said Gale, finding him seated at the edge of the roof. “I would appreciate a hand here with whatever that is.”
“What an unexpected find this boy is,” thought Aaron. “Forget well adjusted; he’s literally just shrugged the thought of his death aside.”
“But what’s stranger still is that he appears to hold onto much of his emotions, at least he did when we first met,” Aaron remained lost in thought. “No. I did sense remorse when his father couldn’t notice his existence.”
Gale clicked his tongue in annoyance, slipping away from the creature’s grasp once more. Fatigue was catching up to him, and the open wound on his chest was not helping his cause either. The only thing that kept him on his feet was the thought of rescuing his parents, to ensure that they didn’t follow him to the grave.
“That, and how predictable its movements are,” he considered, dodging it again.
He found himself at the entrance to the front yard, by his mailbox. Gale dug it out with a gentle tug, much to his surprise, recalling no such strength from his time alive. As the creature lunged once more, he swung the box into what appeared to be its face, hammering it away.
The wood weakened at the centre, breaking in half just as the shovel had. This time, the being made no mistakes, manoeuvring itself to disable Gale, stubby hands curling around the boy’s throat. Gale continued to fight his battle, stabbing the creature with what was left of his weapon. He stopped only when the constriction of the creature’s hands tightened beyond his threshold for pain.
“Was I mistaken?” thought Aaron at the sight of Gale’s near defeat. “That’s a shame. I’m sure he would’ve managed to make things interesting on the other side.”
Gale winced, his sight blurring. His memories surfaced, and the thought of his death met with little resistance. He was giving up.
“What am I doing?” he whispered. “I wouldn’t be able to call myself their son if this is the best I could do for them after kicking the bucket.”
He willed his body back to life, shutting his eyes to find a source of strength. It remained elusive at first, but Gale continued to beg — beg for a miracle that would help him overturn his situation. Time passed and the creature strengthened its grip as Gale fought both the pain and his resolve to revitalize his body.
The earth spasmed, causing even Aaron to raise his eyebrow. His curiosity piqued, the man leaned forward with eager anticipation. When thunder rent the air, it left what appeared to be an open tear in the fabric of space and time. A whisper reached out to Gale, and the boy wriggled his arm free in response, driving it into the chasm.
In response, the creature dug its teeth into Gale’s shoulder, and though it weakened his grip, the boy’s resolve remained as firm.
A radiant light escaped from within the open crevice, exploding circumferentially and with significant force. Temporarily blinded by the light, when Aaron’s sight returned, he stood in awe of the boy — healed of every injury.
The Commissioner grinned fiercely at the thought of being proven right, his eyes trailing to what Gale gripped in one hand. A sword, seemingly forged in stone, long and wide and etched with runic symbols along its length.
Pebbles rattled over the ground, the tremor growing ever violent. The shadowy creature made an attempt at Gale’s neck, hoping to end the battle. It stretched its mouth wide, armed with teeth that could have shredded armour. But the creature never made it, falling to oblivion under the force of Gale’s sword. As the ground settled, the boy rested his arm, not fully used to swinging a large sword.
“Anticlimactic,” Aaron said to himself. “But how can I not be pleased with the results?”
“I suppose this is where you tell me what my job is going forward,” said Gale, sighing in relief. “And please don’t tell me I’m a chosen somebody.”
“Chosen?” repeated Aaron. “Far from it. Your death was a consequence of — how do I put it — wrong place, wrong time?”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Gale said, with smile. “Go on then. Introduce yourself.”
“I am Aaron Heart, One of the Three,” Aaron said. “And you, Gale C. Storm. You have been recruited.”
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