Dead or Alive

'Dead or Alive'
By,
Christina Nanfeldt

A massive vacuum covers the entire perimeter of my face, sucking all the air from the depths of my lungs, chewing my inert eyeballs and jolting my heart into a stampede of panic. I beg my brain to help my body escape, but I am trapped. No glimmer of light or salvation appears; only these four walls that coil tighter and tighter around me, waiting to engulf me. Only my arms are free to discover.

Like a blind man, I trace the surface of what surrounds me. Above, a long wooden board and cradling me on all my sides is a satin mattress--the only thing that hints a sense of comfort. My fingers tremble frantically, contagiously causing the rest of my body to seizure. Gulping and gasping for a savor of oxygen, I began to shriek for mercy, but my dehydrated body leaves me mute. Then I catch hold of something resting on my stomach, a cross. Unsure of whether it is a sign of hope or death, I knew I found the answer to my question. I am trapped inside a coffin.

Hysteria and confusion builds within me, and in a grave fury, my arms whale in all directions pounding against the walls. Someone will find me; someone will find me, this all a dream. Minutes of desperation took its toll. Black swamps of spots clot my eyes and the darkness spins me on its endless merry-go-round. My tongue rolls up like a frightened snail into its shell and I can feel the life draining out of me with every breath I try to take.

Just when I was about to withdraw a white flag, I heard a variety of muffled sounds from above. With a slow cringing echo, a wave of a blinding light erased the shadows over me. My eyelids peeled open, and eyes stung at the sight of the arms of the sun. The face of my hero appeared above me in awe. Seeing ghosts was only a mythical part of his job description. Usually his clients remain dead when he buries them.

'Jesus Christ, you're alive!' the gravedigger exclaimed. The middle-aged man, with wrinkles made from working beneath the Floridian sun each day adding to his age, tried to overcome his misbelieve and help me. Muscles he had grown from daily labor shown through his white t-shirt as he hoisted my stiff body out of the coffin. I tried to stand, but my joints crumbled with each step, and I sat discombobulate on the grass.

'What the hell. I can't believe this. I mean, I just saw'you just, you just had your funeral and you were'you were dead! Why aren't you dead?' Shock of the situation ignored the stupidity of such a question, but still the question made me think. Surprisingly, I had no answer to give him. I had no recollection of how I got there or why I was dead, or in this case, not dead. Hundreds of questions, even simple ones like, what is my name, began to flood my thoughts and all answers were left with question marks.

'I'm not quite sure.' I said bluntly with honest confusion hidden with fright. How could I not remember? What is wrong with me? A gentle breeze washed over me, calming me slightly. Surrounding my grave were several bouquets of white lilies and calla lilies, some tied with letters with poems or good-bye letters. The centerpiece of memorabilia was the gravestone, which read 'R.I.P. Jack Crescent, loving father, son, and husband whom we shall always remember--1960-2008.' Jack, my name is Jack.

'Well God damn, I knew Jesus worked in funny ways'but this I never expected. Miracle, I guess, or just my boss has been getting lazy, huh. Well, miracles happen for a reason don't they, that's what I always say. And you have a lovely family. They just left here, about an hour ago. They were all torn apart.' I could tell he recognized how distressed I was and wanted to cheer me up. It worked. Even though I knew I did not remember any of what the man explained, I wanted to, so I pretended.

'Yeah, they are.' I said solemnly. I began to walk away still tainted with confusion.

'Wait a minute buddy! Let me give you a ride or call someone or something.' I stopped walking away and turned around.

'No,' I pushed him away. 'I'm fine, there's something wrong I'I gotta go.' I responded abruptly and quickly sprinted away before he had a chance to respond. Past gravestones and the gated entrance, I kept running, kept asking myself how I could not remember. A symphony of car horns, growling of lawn mowers, chirping of children's laughter and slapping of my shoes against the sidewalk kept replaying in my ears, driving me insane. Streams of sweat trickled down my back like oozing blood as I kept running, but now with a destination pinpointed ahead.

I arrived at the neighborhood park, which was home to the youth of suburbia and a family of ducklings living in the pond. A mother and daughter stand beside me, near the pond, feeding crumbs of bread to the ducklings, laughing with such simple amusement. Sitting on the stone fence that borders the edge of the water, I pause finally for a moment to contain myself. As I lean over into the water, I catch glimpse of a distorted image of my reflection in the muggy rippling water. Instead of a well kept man in mid-forty's, a man who has two kids and a wife, I see a college drop out looking thug with brown greasy hair, bags under his pink eyes and sweat stains on his cheap suit. Does this look like the kind of man that would carry his daughter's on his shoulders and push them back and forth on swings?

I bury my head within my damp palms and close my eyes, trying to remember anything. I open them again with failure and notice a bridge to my far right, isolated from the virginal happiness of the rest of the park. Drawn to its darkness, I walk beneath it, hidden in my own cocoon. Lying between cracks of the stones that paved the ground near my feet were several cigarettes. Instantly, memory jolted on a journey to the past and I remember leaning against the ivy laced walls of the bridge, eying families in bitter envy, smoking that cigarette. Like a troll, I felt at home in this cave of mine and admired the beauty of its acceptance.

A voice speaks to me, telling me which street to turn on, left or right or how many steps to take. I don't know where it is taking me; I just follow. As I pass the sights of this quaint neighbor, the sky becomes my watch clock, morphing from blue, to pink, to indigo. Once it turned black, I stopped. I have arrived.

Compressed between Jade Lake's Asian Buffet and a tailor's parlor in the town's city, was a slice of a door. Inside, to enter into the apartments you need either a key or need to call someone to let you in. With no key or recollection of anyone, questions that I had escaped came back to haunt me. No place to sleep, no money or friends, I am homeless. Utterly exhausted and frustrated from the day's events, I slide down the wall, onto the entrance floor and coiled in a ball filled with hopelessness.
Suddenly, the door swung open, punching my back, sending me flying up onto my feet.
'Where the hell have you been? Next time you decide to drop off the face of the Earth, wanna let someone know,' shouted the balding man. He looked like a Hispanic Santa Clause, with a groomed mustache and beer belly that was fighting to burst the buttons on his red polyester blouse. 'Oh, and someone came looking for you earlier. Big guy' says he knew you. I didn't look at your place yet, but I sure as hell hope you're not getting back into that kinda business again, Travis. You know I can't afford no mess-ups around here no more.'

'Just let me in.' I said sternly without thinking. I brushed past the man, pushing my way through the door, barely processing what he had said to me. Only until I reached the first flight of the staircase did I comprehend the importance of the message he had given me.

'Did you call me'Travis?' I asked aloud, although I know the man had passed by now. After climbing another flight of stairs, I knew instantly which one was my apartment. The door was slightly ajar and the A on the sign 2A nailed on the door swung on its side. I nervously swung the door open, praying I was the one that had carelessly forgotten to close the door. As the tarnished hinges' creek reverberated down the vacant corridor, my anticipation skyrocketed. Then, I saw it.
Like a snow globe, my home, my world, had been flipped up side down. The tacky sea foam green cabinets swung open, cheerios infested the tiled floor in a collage mixed with utensils and papers from the shelf, the one-person table and plastic chair lay on their bellies in front of the doorway. To left of the kitchenette, in the same congested room, was a butchered green coach with spots of scattered stains and a once prized television set that lay in sharp metal fragments with wires sticking out like spears. I began to feel the same as I had inside the coffin, the overwhelming panic, the nausea built by fear that rose and burns in the back of my throat, the uncontainable shaking.
Suddenly, my mind turned to static and flashes of memories fuzzed before me. Scattered images of me and other men sitting in my apartment taking hits of heroin, me hiding under the park bridge to pay for my deal, a smug Puerto Rican, who we called Tintos, with a stabbing stare craving his knife into my lower back as I crouch, back to him, with my hands wrapped around my head in mercy. Memories began to drain back into my mind. The once appreciated and wishful idea that I was Jack Crescent deteriorated, and my identity, Travis Helmer, 28, drug addict and number one target for a drug deal I carelessly avoiding paying, snapped back into my mind. Back into character, I instantly felt myself again, the constant needing, the daily dose of fear for the worst, the ruins of the past and knowledge of who had done this to me. Tintos was here, he had done this to me, and if he sees me again, this time he would make sure I was dead before he buried me.
I have to leave, go anywhere. Stumbling over the obstacles ahead of me on the ground, I manage to make it to my bedroom, which was even more of a disaster. My twin sized bed mattress was flipped over, leaning on the windowless wall, all the secret treasures kept within my desk were sprawled on the mildew carpet and all the books, the ones that I cut the pages out and hid drugs within, were stolen. I scurried into my closet, all the clothes were on the floor and the boxes, where I kept pictures from my childhood, were torn apart on the floor. I crouched down and softly picked up half of a worn black and white photograph of my mother. Once a beautiful, black haired Goddess, now her picture shows her without an arm and half of her face torn off. Everything that had been apart of me was ripped out and battered, killing my soul more than they had tried to kill me.
An old addiction returned with full vengeance. I darted into the bathroom attached to my bedroom hoping to find some pain reliever to sooth me. But what I found was not bottles Vicodin, but a note pasted to my medicine cabinet mirror. A thick dampening boom, my heart sank beneath me. I peeled the note off slowly and fell onto the toilet seat.
'Tintos don't waste your time looking for me, because you will never find me. I say goodbye to you tonight from six feet under, and will only say hello again when I see you in Hell.'
Holy shit, I remember. Back into the past, my mind raced on rewind. I see myself scurrying around my apartment, hurrying to beat a ghost that was not even there. In my closet, out of my closet, into the bathroom, in my suit, writing the note, panting, can't breathe. I stopped, prayed to God one last time, one last time. Walked out the door, taxi was waiting, got to the graveyard, found Jack Crescent in the coffin waiting to be buried, dumped the body in the park pond, can't breathe, can't move, can't think. Back to the graveyard, climbed into Jack's coffin, overdosed on painkillers, dead, not dead?
Drowning in boiling waves of sweat, I was on the brink to breakdown. How did this happen? Rising in the pit of my stomach, rolling up towards my mouth, vomit spewed across the floor. I collapsed over, my body flapping against the tiles like a wilting fish out of water. Then, in the corner of my eye, I see a cross, the cross I held between my palms when I prayed before my attempted suicide. God had sent me a sign, not a sign of death, but a sign of hope. My plan failed to work as I had hoped, but in the light of desperation and downfall, I have made myself the greatest escape. I am a living dead man, on the way to life.





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