This story is by Clark House and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Machines beeped in the hospital room where John Loman laid and listened to the sounds of nurses outside going about their rounds. His wife Rebecca had been there at his side since the cancer was discovered. They had talked about surgeries and treatment options that might delay the inevitable, but John shrugged it off. He tried to convince Rebecca that it would be too expensive and that they weren’t a guaranteed solution.
A knock at the door was a welcome distraction from the conversations that neither of them wanted to have. A man walked in that they had never seen before. He waited to see that John was awake and said, “Hello, I just wanted to introduce myself. I’m Reverend Thomas, and I am the chaplain here at the hospital. If you would like to receive any religious services, counseling, or just need to talk, I am here for you.”
Rebecca wanted to tell the man they weren’t a spiritual family, but before she got the chance, John turned to her and said, “Darling would you mind going to get us some lunch while I speak with the Reverend, here?”
Taken aback by the unexpected request, Rebecca replied, “S-sure. I’ll just run over to the that deli we found last week and pick something up.” She gave her husband a kiss on the head before collecting her purse and leaving.
As soon as he heard the door shut behind her, John said, “I was wondering when you would find me.”
The reverend made his way over to the chair by the bed, placed his hand on John’s and replied, “Our paths would cross when it was time.”
John sat up in his bed a little more. The change in elevation set off a chain of coughs that seemed to crescendo into violent hacks.
Reverend Thomas motioned to try and help him, but as he stood, it seemed the worst of it was over and Mr. Lowman was gesturing to a cup of water on the bed tray off to the side.
After taking a few sips, John’s breathing was more labored and now accompanied with a low crackling wheeze.
“What would you like to talk about?” the reverend asked, as soon as he felt John was able to respond.
John looked up at the ceiling for a moment before facing the chaplain, “I supposed people normally ask you for prayers and things like that near the end?”
“Sure. Others ask about grief counseling for their loved ones when the time comes. What is it that YOU want?”
“I’m just curious about what people pray for when it’s the end of the line. Is it peace of mind, forgiveness, a miracle? I’m sure that’s the top three but I have steered clear of the church for so long I guess I’m just wondering if things have changed.”
Reverend Thomas shifted in his seat, noticeably unsure of where this conversation was heading. “Those are the more common ones. I’d say if you’re not in need of asking for either of those things, are you just wanting to talk? Are you and your wife not…”
“I guess I am looking for a miracle. I’ve never been terminally ill before so I’m curious to see how this plays out.” John turned away and grabbed his chest again expecting another coughing fit, but nothing came.
Reverend Thomas took a moment to collect his thoughts before he responded. “It had been my experience here in the hospital that being terminally ill is a once in a lifetime thing. As for a miracle, there are great advances being made in medicine and research all of the time, but I’m afraid for someone in your condition…”
The phrase made John chuckle slightly, “For someone in my condition, DEATH would be a miracle. Not a fleeting death mind you, but the lasting one where I don’t wake up the next day.”
Puzzled and unknowing how to proceed with the conversation, Reverend Thomas cleared his throat and was about to ask for clarity, when he was interrupted.
“You won’t make heads or tales of this yet, and you may never; You’ll no doubt cast it aside when you leave here as the ramblings of a sick old man. But, while I have you here under the vow of secrecy or whatever, I want to tell a love story.”
The reverent leaned in closer, “Is this about you and your wife?”
“Yes. My first wife, though. Not Rebecca.” his face turned toward the turned off television mounted on the wall as if he were watching the story as he told it.
“How old were you when you met?”
“We were young. We were never supposed to meet though. Fate’s funny that way, I guess. I had just been knighted in preparation the continue the crusades. She was a princess betrothed to the prince of a neighboring country.”
“So, you’re saying that you were a knight in the crusades?”
“I’m going to ask you to suspend belief on this and just listen to an old man ramble.”
“Yes, sir. Please continue. You look great for your age by the way.” Both men laughed a little bit.
Still not looking away from the television, John continued, “Hollywood has it wrong. Immortality isn’t a person with one body that never ages. It’s what I have come to deem a ‘parasitic consciousness.’ My body dies and then my mind invades someone else’s and I retain my memories and theirs. People have been dying in their sleep for centuries just so I can keep going. To repeat the cycle of waking up, being told ‘good morning’ and carry out another lifetime or so.”
“Have you…uh…have you met other…” Reverend Thomas was intrigued by the theory of this new take on everlasting life, but was also curious about how deep-seeded this delusion was.
“No. I’m the only one cursed with this. Which brings us back to my story,” John took another sip of water, “our paths crossed one day when I was searching for some thieves that had taken to the countryside. Her coachmen had become ill on the side of the road and had asked me to escort her to the palace. Her name was Annabeth, and we fell for each other at first glance.” John noticed Reverend Thomas glance up at the clock. “I’m sure you have other people who need you, and Rebecca will be back shortly, so I’ll sum up the story. We ran away together and got married, but the prince and his priest, who was actually one of the last great wizards, until I killed him, found us. The prince was so enraged at our betrayal, that he killed Annabeth and would arrest me for it, the priest however decided that death would be too easy a punishment for me. Not only have I been cursed with immortality, but each of my lives comes with a great love that I will lose.”
Silence filled the room as a new heaviness entered. “That…sounds devastating,” was all the reverend could think to say in the moment.
“As I said earlier, I’ve never been terminally ill before and it seems like I may finally go before Rebecca. I hope that in telling my story to a man of religion, this close to the finish line, will finally allow me to slip away peacefully forever.” Shortly after the words left his lips, John closed his eyes and took his last breaths.
As the sounds of alarms started going off, Reverend Thomas stood up, quickly prayed over the body, and moved out of the way as medical personnel rushed into the room. He tried to make sense of what might have caused John to create such a tragic fantasy, but couldn’t. He walked out of the room and was going to head back to his office when a nurse walked by.
“This has been a crazy day hasn’t it?”
Letting out a deep breath, the reverend replied, “It sure has. I just heard the oddest last words.”
“The timing of his passing is odd too. I just heard that we just brought his wife in unresponsive not too long ago. Apparently, she got into a wreck downstairs. I guess maybe they were soulmates or something.”
“Huh, yeah I guess so. Weird.” Thoughts raced through the reverend’s mind as he made his way back down to his chapel. There he sat and contemplated the recent occurrences, the odds of both husband and wife passing nearly simultaneously from different causes, the impossible story that made it seem possible, and he questioned whether or not to be thankful that he walked into that room when he did.
“Buenos días, Arturo,” was the what he heard before a lifetime of new memories flooded his mind.