This story is by Bren Kyveli and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Edward’s phone switched from an email to a video of his son Tate.
Tate kissed the side of a star-shaped award then held it up as if in a toast. “For you Dad. I wouldn’t be here without you.”
Silence engulfed him, rang in his ears. That never happened.
His eyes peeled away from his phone… the city stopped. People froze mid-step, cars mid-acceleration even birds hung in the air.
This had to be a dream. Or a product of too much booze and not enough sleep—
“It’s not a hallucination you know,” a girl’s voice said next to him.
“You’re not frozen. Who are you, what’s going on?”
“Reapers exist outside of time.”
“Now I know I’m dreaming.” He smacked his cheek. “Wake up.”
“Not a dream either. It’s your death. Take a look. In two milliseconds you’ll be run over by an ambulance.”
“I knew it was there…” Words lodged in his throat. He saw himself mid-stride oblivious to the ambulance’s bumper a centimeter from his thigh.
“I can give you twenty-four hours.” The girl meandered through the statuesque people. “You don’t want to waste your day. You’ll be trapped between the living and the afterlife. Alone. Forever.”
“I don’t want to die. A day’s not enough time, I have a major closing in half an hour, a meeting with—”
Her icy eyes speared him. “One day. That’s it. And only because I’m nice and don’t want to fill my next order. Don’t. Waste. It.”
The ambulance zoomed by, brakes screeching. Dozens of people rushed at him making a fuss over his well being and apparent guardian angel.
The rest of the day went by same as any other day; phone calls, emails, paperwork he passed off to his assistant and finally a tour of the hottest restaurants in the city. If he landed this sale, he’d bank a million in commision.
“We won’t have any trouble selling this place,” Edward said. “It’s centrally located, near several public transportation depots.”
“I need this place sold as fast as possible.” The chef leaned on the edge of his desk and folded his arms across his chest. “I don’t care if I take a loss on it…”
Edward’s eyes landed on the same star-shaped award he saw his son kiss on his phone earlier today. The chef’s words warbled out of focus. He snatched the award off the desk. “What is this? Where’d you get this?”
Chef’s eyebrows drew together. “I won it.”
“Well certainly not for my skills in the courtroom.”
“Courtroom?” His pulse pounded in his throat. “Why would you say that?”
Was Chef connected to this morning’s bizarre incident or was that a coincidence?
“Just an expression lad.” Chef picked up a framed photo and smiled. “I could never be a lawyer, too much stress not enough rewards. All I need is a kitchen, food is the foundation of the heart.”
Tate had spouted nonsense like that since he could microwave a hot dog on his own. Food was food.
“Money is a great reward.” Edward rocked on the balls of his feet. “Speaking of, if we wait to put your place—”
“No! I want it on the market today.” Chef thrust the photo at Edward. “My daughter’s sick I need to be with her and my granddaughter. Not across the country. Family’s what matters in this world.”
Goosebumps prickled along Edward’s skin. The girl from this morning and her mother starred back at him. He pointed to the girl. “Wh-who is this?”
“My granddaughter Silvia.” A smile crinkled the corner of Chef’s eyes. “Everyone calls her Silly though.”
How was this possible? Was she dead? Alive? Caught between?
Chef shrugged. “She’ll be living with my wife and I when—err—if, if the treatment doesn’t work for my daughter. That’s why I have to sell. I may not have much time left.”
Edward’s head spun. There were too many coincidences; the girl, the chef, the award.
He glanced at his phone. Ten hours to make up for a lifetime of mistakes. “I have to go, I don’t have much time either. Karen from my office will be in touch.”
He spent the rest of the evening and most of the night making calls, sending emails, and wiring out a year’s worth of income. The sun peaked around a skyscraper. An ache throbbed behind his eye and his bones seemed to weigh a ton. Didn’t matter. Tate had an interview with the culinary school director.
After barging into his son’s class, shoving him in a cab and navigating the six blocks in record time, they rushed into the kitchen with five minutes to spare. He apologized, crushed his son in a bear hug, then transferred more money into the director’s account. For good measure.
At first Tate floundered around, keeping one eye on him. But after a few minutes he flourished. Moved through the kitchen with confidence and purpose. Graceful even.
Edward’s heart could’ve burst with pride. How could he have been so blind before? The kid was born to be in the kitchen, not arguing real estate technicalities in court.
Tate placed a dish with a long fancy name in front of him and the director then rocked on his toes.
The director took her first bite, mulled it around her mouth, wrote a note on her clipboard then smiled.
“Wow son,” Edward said around a mouthful. “This is amazing! I can’t believe you made this.”
Searing pain exploded in Edwards’ chest, burned down his arm. He clutched his chest, clawing at his skin. What was happening?! Every beat of his heart sent a bolt of lightning through his veins.
“Dad!” Tate lunged and cradled him in his lap. “It’s going to be all right Dad, I got you.”
“…heart attack, maybe,” the director said into her phone.
He gripped Tate’s arm. “I’m so… sorry… son.”
“I know Dad it’s okay.” Tears spilled down his cheeks.
The edges of reality breathed in and out of focus.
He needed more time to make up for forgotten soccer games, ignored artwork… dismissed dreams of cooking.
A small hand with pink fingernails reached for him. Ice replaced fire in his body at her touch.
“No. You can’t do this. You have to send me back like you did this morning.”
“Can’t,” Silly said. “Check the time.”
He glanced at the clock… Twenty four hours, to the minute. Gone.
“But I’ll never see him again, I have to go back. I’ll do things right this time.”
She toyed with a curl. “You have to stay here, you’re not allowed in the afterlife.”
“You didn’t fulfill your destiny. You didn’t do anything, good or bad.” She squeezed his hand. “But hey, at least I didn’t have to take him. He was scheduled for suicide. I hate filling those jobs, they’re so jarring. For both the living and the dead.”
His own son wanted to kill himself?
Edward collapsed onto the countertop. “It was him or me?”
“Why didn’t you say so? I would’ve given up everything to protect him.”
She shrugged. “Free will.”
He tried to wipe the tears from Tate’s cheek but his fingers passed through unnoticed. “I’m so sorry kiddo.”
Two years after that fatal day Edward’s chest swelled with enough pride. Standing before a restaurant of people dressed in tuxedos and evening gowns, Tate held a star-shaped award.
“Thank you for this honor. If you had told me three years ago I’d be standing here holding a Michelin Star with my name on it, I would’ve laughed in your face. Well not laughed, I was in a dark place then. Trapped in law school because my dad wanted me there, miserable every day of my life. I wanted to cook but cooking was a girl’s job to my him.”
“You have no idea how wrong I was son,” Edward said aloud to no one but himself.
“But then he showed up, hauled me out of class and dropped me in a kitchen with the director of the most prestigious culinary institute on the eastern seaboard. I lost my dad that day but was given my dream.” He kissed the side of the star then held it up as if in a toast. “For you Dad. I wouldn’t be here without you.”
The room erupted in applause. If Edward had the power, he would’ve stopped time and lived in this moment, the happiest moment of his son’s life, forever.