Inspired By My Dad
By Melissa R. Mendelson
Farewell. Light blue letters on a white banner hung against a nearby wall. The tape failed to hold it up, and one side caved, falling into a table set up with vegetables, chips and soda. A toddler squealed with joy, jumping up and pulling the rest of the banner down.
“Larry!” A woman grabbed the banner from her child. She crumpled it into her hands but then realized that he was watching her. “Sorry, Axis.” She dropped the banner to the floor and pulled her child away.
Axis sighed as he moved off the couch that he had been sitting on for at least two hours. He glanced at the people in the room. Farewell. Only the banner dared to say that. He picked up the banner, smoothed it out and placed it on the corner of the table.
“What happened to the banner?” His wife, Marge hurried over to him. “Who pulled it down?”
“It just fell down.” Axis looked again at the people in the room. “What did you do? Invite the whole neighborhood to the Farewell Party? You know the rules. We’re supposed to keep it quiet.”
“Oh, come on, Axis. I doubt this neighborhood has those religious nuts in it.”
“Marge, we don’t know our neighbors. They’re probably looking for something to steal.”
“Jesus, Axis. It’s not your funeral, and don’t worry about our neighbors.” She kissed him on the cheek. “Why don’t you mingle? Lunch should be ready soon, and then we’ll all eat together.”
“Where are our kids?”
“Solar will be here tonight for dinner. Jon apologizes, but he will try to be here before the car service tomorrow. What time are they coming?”
“Six a.m., and we can’t tell anyone that. If anyone knows, the car could be followed to the black site, where the transition center is, and you know what those religious nuts will do.”
“I know, Axis.” She touched his hand. “They bombed a lot of those facilities, and people died. And they claimed that those people were dead anyway.” She burst into tears. “I’m sorry.” She hurried away from him. “I need a moment.”
One woman nearby turned to her husband. “You should talk to him. He doesn’t have any friends.”
“My wife is the social butterfly,” Axis snapped at her and returned to his spot on the couch.
He looked out the window, hoping the sun would shine, but it continued to rain. A gray, dismal day, and something shattered in the background. He bet it was that damn kid, who pulled the banner down. He said no kids, but one of the neighbors still brought her son with her. And sure enough, he heard her say, “Larry!”
“Are you nervous?” The woman’s husband sat down next to him.
“No.” Axis forced a smile. “I’m not nervous.”
“What if those religious people find the facility?”
“Are you going to tell them?” Axis stared at him. “Do you want to know when the car is coming for me?”
“No.” The man turned away. He cleared his throat. “When did they diagnose you?” He looked at Axis.
“A month ago,” Axis said.
“And the physician submitted the order to Administration?”
“Yes, they did, and I was approved for Transition.”
“It’s a one-time offer.” The man cleared his throat again. “My cousin was in the same boat, and he turned it down. But he changed his mind and wanted to do it but couldn’t.”
“How is your cousin now?”
“Dead. Not even forty yet, and they’re gone. How old are you? Sixty?”
“Fifty-seven,” Axis replied.
“Excuse me. I need some air.” The man moved away from the couch. He whispered something to his wife, who glanced at Axis, and he left the room. And Axis knew that he wasn’t coming back.
Lunch was served at 1 p.m. Marge went all out with pasta and sandwiches, also salad. He settled on a sandwich. He eyed the pasta, but he was too uneasy with all the people around him. He would rather be alone with his wife, but she had insisted on having company.
“So, you didn’t know that you were sick?”
Axis looked at a woman further down the table. “I’m sorry. What?”
“You didn’t know about your condition? Was it all of a sudden?”
“According to the physician, it was dormant, and something triggered it. So no, I didn’t know that I was sick until a month ago.”
“I’m sorry.” She poked a fork at her lasagna. “This is so good,” she said to Marge.
“How long will you be gone for?”
Axis looked at a man nearby. He didn’t like that he used that word, gone. He wasn’t going to die. Well, if he turned down the offer, yes, he was, but he accepted it because he didn’t want to die. “It’s a rare blood disease, so I don’t know. Will you miss me?”
The man forced a smile and focused on the salad in front of him. “I knew someone that was gone for almost twenty years. He never aged, but his family couldn’t deal with it. And I don’t know what happened to him.”
“I don’t care how long Axis will be gone.” Everyone stared at Marge. “Yes, it’s a rare blood disease, so he will be gone for a good amount of time. But I don’t care. When he returns, his family will be waiting for him, and I hope to be there too. But if I’m not, his children signed agreements that they and their children will take care of him, and he will not be one of those lost souls that we see wandering the streets. Administration may take care of us when we are sick or dying, but the rest of it is on us. And I will not fail him.” She raised a glass of wine. “To Axis,” she said.
“To Axis.” Most of the people around him raised their glasses. “May he return in good health.” They downed their drinks.
“Thank you,” Axis said. “Thank you, Marge. I love you.”
“I love you too. Now, if none of you mind, after lunch, I would like time alone with my husband.”
At one-thirty, the house was emptied. Axis helped Marge clean up, but as they worked together, she didn’t say anything.
“How long do you think it will take for them to cure you?” Marge looked at him. “Do they even know?”
“No, they don’t. Those with rare conditions like mine could take some time, but it’ll be fine, Marge.” He pulled her into his arms, holding her tight, and breathed in her scent. He needed to remember her, and she needed to feel him. “How long do we have until our daughter gets here?”
“You’re such a dog.” She chuckled, leading him up the stairs. “Sure you can manage at your age?”
“Get up the stairs, woman.” He chased her up the last few steps.
An hour later, their daughter, Solar walked into the house. “Mom? Dad? I’m here.” She dropped a suitcase to the floor. “Hello, anyone here?”
“Be right down,” Marge shouted from upstairs, then giggled.
“Ewwww. So disgusting.” Solar walked into the kitchen. She saw an open wine bottle nearby and picked it up. She raised it to her lips and downed the rest of the bottle.
She nearly dropped the bottle in her hands. “Dad?” She hurried over to him, hugging him tight, the bottle still in her hand. “Please, don’t go,” she whispered into his ear.
“I have to, Solar. You know what will happen to me if I don’t.” He took the bottle from her and placed it on a counter nearby. “It will be okay,” but he watched his daughter burst into tears. “It’s okay.” He hugged her tight.
“Can I go with you?”
Axis led his daughter over to the couch, and they both sat down together. “I’m sorry. You can’t.”
“When are they coming to get you?”
“Tomorrow at six a.m.”
“Okay. Then, I’m not leaving your side until then. Jon apologizes, but he doesn’t think he will make it to see you before that.”
Axis heard the anger in her voice. “Don’t be mad at him. This isn’t easy for any of you.”
“But what about you? Jon should be here for you, and he’s not.”
“Solar, this isn’t easy even for me, so don’t be hard on him.”
Five o’clock appeared before he could even blink. Then, six p.m. Twelve hours left. At least, he had a little time alone with his wife, but it was a nice family dinner with her and their daughter.
“You going to bed, Axis?” Marge yawned and gestured toward a clock on the wall. It was almost midnight now, and he should go to sleep. His daughter was already passed out on the couch, her head resting on his lap. “Aren’t you tired? I could stay up some more,” but she yawned again.
“Go to sleep, Marge. I’ll be up in a little bit.”
“Okay, but I’m waking up at five-thirty. Are you showering before they come?”
“They said not to.”
“What about bringing anything with you?”
Axis shook his head. “Only the clothes that I wear and my wallet. Nothing else.”
“But you have a family picture in your wallet. Right?”
“I always do. Go to sleep.” He watched Marge kiss their daughter on her forehead. “It’s okay,” he said.
“No, it’s not.” Marge walked away, but she looked at him a few more times before moving up the stairs. “Good-night, Axis.”
He knew that he was not going to sleep that night. He wasn’t nervous or scared, but his mind was spinning around. What would happen tomorrow? Where was he going, and how long would he be gone for?
He moved away from the couch, gently placing his daughter’s head on one of its pillows. He walked over to the entertainment center and opened a cabinet door, pulling out a photo album. He flipped through the pictures and smiled, but his smile disappeared. Would he see his wife and children again?
Five a.m. came fast. His daughter stirred, sitting up and finding him surrounded by photo albums, yearbooks and arts and crafts that his kids had made years ago. She watched him stare at the photos and touch everything, trying to hold it all into his mind, his memory. She started to cry, but he didn’t move toward her this time.
“Dad, what are you doing?”
“I need to remember you.” He looked at her and smiled, but his eyes moved to the clock nearby. He had to get ready to go. “Could you help me put everything back?”
She also looked at the clock. “Don’t worry about it. Just get ready.” She wiped her eyes. “I got it. It’s okay.”
“Thank you.” He walked over and kissed her on the cheek.
He usually moved quickly up the stairs, but his legs felt slower as if this were the last trip that he would make to his bedroom, and he didn’t like that feeling. He was coming back. He walked into his bedroom and found Marge crying on the bed.
“Marge, it’s okay.”
“No, it’s not.” She bolted from the bed and hugged him tight. “Don’t go. We can figure something else out. Just don’t go. I have a bad feeling about it.”
“Marge, if I don’t go, I die.” He met her gaze, and she slowly nodded. “This is the only way that I can live, but if there was another way…”
“But there isn’t,” she whispered. “Okay. You get ready. They’ll be here soon, and I’ll pull myself together.”
“Okay.” He kissed her on the cheek and walked into the bathroom.
Six a.m. A black car arrived at the house. Of course, it was a black car that would get him. Now it felt like his funeral. Even the driver wore a black suit, and the other man with him seemed mercenary, surveying the scene for any kind of threat, looking for those religious nuts.
“Let’s go.” The driver opened the back passenger door. “We have a schedule to keep.”
The house phone rang. Something inside told Axis that it was his son calling, and he should answer. But the driver grabbed his arm, shaking his head.
“Let’s go. One more minute, and you stay.”
Axis allowed the driver to lead him away but hated hearing that phone ring. He pulled away from the driver, hugging his wife and daughter and kissed them good-bye, trying to force that last image of them into his mind. He couldn’t, he wouldn’t forget them, and they would be waiting for him. He got into the car and gave them a wave, but his daughter hurried into the house. Marge waved back with tears running down her face.
The windows in the car were darkened, so he couldn’t see where they were going. There was no conversation between the driver and mercenary, and the radio was silent. Yes, it felt like a funeral, and the space tightened around him. But he had to do this. There was no going back now.
A large warehouse appeared down the road. Its appearance must be to throw off the religious nuts, he thought. Before their facilities were large and magnificent with the word ‘Transition’ right out front for all to see. No one thought anyone would bomb them, but they did, declaring that Administration was trying to save people, who were meant to die.
“Get out.” The mercenary had the back passenger door open, and Axis stepped outside.
“This way.” A thin woman appeared, wearing a medical suit. “Don’t touch anything.” As she led Axis away, the car took off, and Axis followed the woman into the building.
The woman led Axis up at least two flights of stairs and pressed her hand against a metallic plate on a nearby wall, the doors slid open. She stepped back and gestured for Axis to step into the room. He did, and before he could say anything, the doors slid shut, cutting him off from her and the outside world.
He paced around the white room. There was no furniture. The floor was cold and metallic. The lights overhead bothered his eyes. The walls were bare, and finally, a man walked into the room, holding a thin, metallic suit in their arms.
“Strip,” they said.
“I’m sorry. What?”
“Strip,” they repeated. “Everything off.”
“Off,” they said. “Now.”
Axis blushed with embarrassment as he stripped. He turned his body away from them as he pulled off his socks and underwear. He placed his hands over his lower half, and the man handed him his suit. Axis sighed, moving his hands away, and pulled on the skintight suit.
“Follow me.” The man exited the room.
Axis’s bare feet touched the cold floor beneath him, and he folded his arms in front of him. He reminded himself to breathe, be calm. They walked down a hallway that mirrored his room, white, sterile, empty. Where was this guy taking him? More doors opened, revealing an elevator. He stepped inside, and the elevator dropped downward. His stomach dropped too, and he stepped out in a vast space with so many tubes.
“Are those people?”
“Yes. Some not as sick as you.” The man glanced at Axis. “This is the short area. People like you go into the long area.”
“The space reserved for those who will be staying with us for an extended time.”
“Here we are.” They walked into another section, but this one didn’t have so many tubes. “Please, wait here.” The man walked away.
“Wait. Why are there less people here?”
“Not everyone has a condition like yours.” A woman approached him, her warm voice calming his nerves. “This way. Please.”
Axis stared at her. He felt better doing that than looking at the tubes, knowing that soon, he would be in one of them, and they approached an empty tube. “What happens next,” he whispered, his voice shaking.
“Get in. It’s okay.” She watched him step inside. “Place your hands on the cylinder blocks. Good. Now, place your feet in the metallic blocks. Good. Now, don’t move.”
Restraints snapped across Axis’s wrists and ankles. He couldn’t move. He struggled, but it was no use. He looked at the woman, her warm smile failed to silence his nerves.
“What is this? What’s going on?”
“Pick a moment.”
“Pick a moment that you want to return to. A moment that you would want to relive. It could be any moment, but choose one right now. Did you choose a moment?”
Axis knew there was one moment in his life that he always wanted to change, but what about his family? No, it wouldn’t be real, so his family would not change. They would still be there, waiting for him. “I have my moment,” he said.
“Okay. Here comes the hard part.”
Before Axis could say anything, the tube slammed shut. Purple liquid started to fill into the tube. He pulled at his restraints, but he was still trapped. The tube was filling up fast.
“Don’t panic,” she said. “You won’t drown. Just relax. Close your eyes. Hold onto your moment.”
“I can’t do it,” Axis said. “Let me out.”
“It’s too late for that. I’m sorry.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Axis, focus! Remember your moment. Come on. You can do it.”
The liquid was up to his chest. He slammed his eyes shut, trying not to panic. He had his moment, and he wanted to change it. He had to change it, and maybe, he would dream of a better life while waiting to be cured.
“Oh, one more thing. I forgot. Don’t change anything drastically.”
“What,” but liquid ran into his mouth. He gagged, and he spasmed and convulsed, more liquid rushed into him. As he panicked, he felt like he was drowning, but what was worse was what she said next.
“If you change anything drastically that would alter your brainwaves, we can’t wake you up.”
Everything went dark. He tried to hold onto her words, but he slipped, disappeared into the liquid that had consumed him. And he was gone.
Axis found himself in a bed, the same bed that he had as a kid. The sheets were still itchy, but the Star Wars cover was soft. He missed having that cover as a kid, and suddenly, the room turned upside down. He landed hard on a cement sidewalk, and traffic blared into his ears. Why was he lying almost in the street?
“Welcome to Earth, freak.” A kid jumped over him and landed on his skateboard, taking off down the sidewalk.
“Wait!” Axis struggled to his feet. “What the hell happened? What year is it?”
“1988, weirdo.” Another kid zipped past him on his skateboard, chasing after his friend. “What the hell are you wearing?” He didn’t stop for an answer.
Axis looked down at the metallic suit that he had on. Why did he get ejected out of his house? A car sped past him. It was his older brother and his friend, Paul, and they were going to his house. Yes, today was the day, where he would meet Paul for the first time, and his life would change forever.
He ran down the street, following his brother’s car, but then he stopped a short distance away. He didn’t want to alert his brother or his friend, Paul. His older brother never believed him, or maybe, he never wanted to. But he knew what Paul did to him, and it took a long time for him to lock that memory away.
“I need to do something.” Axis paced around on the street in front of the house.
“Maybe, I could imagine myself holding a knife?” He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to imagine a knife in his hands, but nothing happened. He realized that a woman was staring at him from her window. “I’m not crazy.” He gave her a brief wave, but she moved away. “But you are still going to call the cops on me.”
He walked away from his house, looking back several times. They were in there right now, his brother and Paul, but today, nothing was going to happen to his younger self. He was still safe, and he had time to do something. And he would be damned to let Paul hurt him again.
He ducked behind some bushes as a police car drove by. He waited, but they never turned around. Something clinked against his foot. It was a broken beer bottle. “I guess that will do,” he said.
Paul emerged for a smoke because his parents never allowed smoking inside the house, and his brother had to be careful when he smoked too. Paul strolled down the block, smoking his cigarette. Where was his brother? Probably fighting with his younger self. They fought a lot back then, and this was his only chance. So, he was going to take it, moving fast and slamming the broken beer bottle over Paul’s head.
Paul spun around, landing a hard punch into his chest, knocking him down to the ground. “What the hell, man? What did I ever do to you?”
“You touched me.”
“I touched you? You hit me, you freak.”
Paul stepped away from him and out into the street, rubbing his head. Just then, a car sped by, slamming into him, and pulled him under it. Blood splattered onto Axis, and an arm rolled out toward him. The car stopped, and the driver got out, screaming her head off, saying, “I didn’t see him!”
Axis laughed as blood poured out into the street. It was as if the universe had said, “You can’t do it? I’ll do it,” and now Paul was out of his younger self’s life. He would never have to know what happened to him. He was free.
“If you change anything drastically that would alter your brainwaves, we can’t wake you up.”
He remembered the woman’s words, but he wasn’t worried. He was sure that the memory with Paul would never affect his choices later on. He would still meet and marry Marge, and he would still have his two kids, Solar and Jon. And yes, unfortunately, he would still get sick, and he would have to make that decision. But none of this was real. It was all in his head, and again, everything went dark.
He found himself in another bedroom, but not his childhood one. This room was completely white like back at the facility, and he was wearing white pajamas. Did they do it? Did they cure him? How long was he gone for? Was Marge still alive, and just then, she walked into the room. And she looked like she had not aged since he last saw her.
“Marge, you look great.” He sat up in the bed. “So, I’m cured? They did it? They cured me?” He didn’t like the look on her face. “Marge, what’s wrong? Is it the kids? Are they okay?” He expected her to come over to him, hug him, cry, something, but she just stood there, looking at him.
“Yes,” Marge said. “Solar and Jon are okay.” He was right. Nothing had changed. Killing Paul was only inside of his head, so why did his wife look so unhappy? “And no,” she said.
“No, they did not cure you. You turned down the offer. Remember?”
“No, I did not turn down the offer. I’m in their facility right now. Why are you here, Marge? You shouldn’t be here.”
Marge walked over to him, sitting down beside him, but didn’t touch his hand. She crossed her arms over her chest and sighed, avoiding eye contact. She turned toward him and said, “I told you, Axis. I told you to make that choice, and you ignored me. You did what you wanted to, so you’re here now. You’re in hospice care.”
“Hospice? No, I would never choose that.”
“I don’t want to fight with you, Axis. I don’t, not with you being so close to the end.”
“Marge, we don’t fight with each other.”
“We always fight with each other because you’re too damn stubborn and have to have your own way, so you did. And you’re here because of it.”
He was about to say something when Jon walked into the room. What was he doing here, and where was Solar? She was usually the one that would be here for him and not Jon.
“Mom, don’t fight with him. You heard what the doctor said.”
“You’re right, Jon.” She moved away from the bed. “I need some air.” She left the room.
“Jon? Where’s Solar?”
“She apologizes, Dad, but she couldn’t be here. She couldn’t do this.”
“That’s funny, Jon. You’re usually like that and not her.”
“What are you talking about, Dad? I’m the one that was always there for you.”
“No, Solar was.”
“Oh, I see.” Jon sat down beside him. “You’re confused. It’s the sickness, but you’re wrong, Dad. I was always there for you.”
“You blew off my fiftieth birthday.”
“No, that was Solar.”
“You crashed my car once and blamed it on me for not getting it fixed before that.”
“Still, Solar. Look, Dad, I’m mad at her for not being here at the end, but you’re confused. You were always closer to me than her.” He touched Axis’s hand. “I’m the one that was always there for you.”
“No, you weren’t. Solar was, and what do you mean at the end? At the end of what?”
“They can’t wake him up.” A voice echoed into the room.
Axis looked at the door and saw his older brother standing there. He looked so old, but he hadn’t seen him in a very long time. They hadn’t spoken to each other since he told him about Paul. Why was he here now, and what did that mean they can’t wake him up?
“Henry, what are you doing here?”
“Why are you looking at me like that, Axis?”
“Like you haven’t seen me in forever? You just saw me yesterday and the day before that and the day before that. Jon.”
“Uncle Henry. I’ll give you two some privacy.” Jon walked over to his uncle. “He’s very confused. I think we’re at the end now.” He touched his uncle’s shoulder, looked over at Axis and left the room.
“I’m not at the end of anything,” Axis said. “I’m transitioning. They’re going to wake me up. Any time now. Any time.”
“His brainwaves are different.” Another voice echoed into the room.
“Who’s talking? Who said that?” Axis asked.
“What are we going to do?” That voice from before asked.
“Axis, look at me.” His brother sat down beside him, taking his hand in his. “You’re okay. Do you hear me? You’re okay.”
“We have no choice. We have to flush him,” the second voice said.
“What? They’re going to flush me?”
“Axis, calm down. You’re at the end. You know that. The doctor spoke to you earlier.”
“Can we save him?” The first voice asked.
“Please, save me,” Axis shouted. “Please, I don’t want to die.”
“Axis, who are you talking to? It’s just me here.”
“I shouldn’t have tried to kill Paul,” Axis said.
“Paul? He was killed years ago. Some woman ran him over.”
“But it changed everything. It changed me.” He stared at his brother. “It’s my brainwaves. They’re different. That’s why they can’t wake me up. That’s why they’re going to kill me.”
“Get ready to flush the chamber,” the second voice said.
“No! Don’t flush the chamber,” Axis screamed, hoping that they would hear him.
“Relax, Axis. Just lie down, and close your eyes.” His brother smiled at him. “Everything will be okay.”
“What if he survives?” The first voice asked.
“Yes, I want to survive,” Axis said.
“He can’t,” the second voice replied. “He’s changed.”
“I just wanted to change that moment.” Axis cried. “I had to change it.”
“Don’t worry, Axis. You didn’t change anything,” his brother said.
“Get ready to flush him,” the second voice ordered.
Axis tightened his grip on his brother’s hand, staring into his brother’s eyes and looked over at the door to see his wife, Marge and son, Jon standing there. He would never see any of them again. A sound of rushing water filled the room, and he could feel the liquid pulling away from his body. He gasped, but no air came in. His body stiffened, and he felt himself falling like in a dream, where you just fall, plummeting down into darkness. And at the bottom were piles and piles of bodies, people wearing the same metallic suit that he wore, and some of them were fortunate enough to have their eyes closed. But others like him were left staring into nothing but distant memories.
Bio: Melissa R. Mendelson is a Poet and Horror, Science-Fiction and Dystopian Short Story Author. Her stories have been published by Sirens Call Publications, Dark Helix Press, Altered Reality Magazine, Transmundane Press, Wild Ink Publishing and Owl Canyon Press. She also won second place in the Writer’sWeekly.com 24 hour Short Story Contest. She has written two books “Better Off Here” and “Stories Written Along Covid Walls“, both of which can be purchased at Amazon, or found on our Bookstore page.
She has previously published the short stories “That’s Not My Face”, “Unprotected” “The Dead Are Smiling.” and “I Won’t Be Me Tomorrow” on The Yard: Crime Blog. She has also been interviewed by us, HERE.
You can find her at her website. HERE.