by Ethan McCray
My name is Rylie Reeder. I was once a low-level street thug. I was born the son of a prostitute and to my father, her John.
By age twelve, I was living on the streets, selling pot, robbing tourists and gambling until one night that all came to a sudden and unexpected stop.
I have seen a man die in front of me before. But until tonight, he was never me. Now it was.
It was me lying against a garbage dumpster with a long and painful knife slash from one side of my chest to the other and bluish blood pouring out into the street reflecting the streetlight above me in its dark pool.
Breathing was becoming difficult as I spat and coughed up blood.
I was losing any sense of where I was, and the black cloak of panic and a Stalin fear of imprisonment flooded me. I now knew what death looked like, and it was pure hell.
I grabbed what I could. Bundles of a dirty newspaper that I could wrap a draining wound.
Fear and sweat poured from me and night were turning gray and then to an opaque blackness. I closed my eyes.
When I awoke, I had no idea how long I had passed out.
I rose to my feet easily, and the bleeding had stopped, and there was no more pain. I turned to see my body over there. It was a gray shadow slumped against a garbage dumpster and at peace for once.
In front of me was the sparkling and vibrant Marquee of the Hotel Portal. It shined, and the sidewalk in front was clean and empty of trash and its entry door’s glass shown like diamonds. Music drifted from its lobby and captivated my ears and drew me into its breast.
I entered it, and the lobby was awash with brilliant light, and it held waxed marble floors lined with thick carpets.
I spun around and yelled out.
“Is there anyone here, I need a doctor, I am bleeding to death.”
I met my echo and in front of my were two solid metal elevator doors. I walked towards the first one and punched its call button. Immediately the floor lights lite up from the seventh floor of its basement and ticked off one level at a time until it opened.
He stood there. He met me. He was tall and dressed in a black. His face was gray, his eyes dark as a doll’s, his lips green and slippery.
“Good Evening Mr. Reeder.” His voice hissed like air from a vent.
“My name is Damien Pulcifer.” He hissed.
“We can help you. Here take my hand.” He reached it out towards me and instead of flesh and blood, the bones of a skeleton curdled its crooked fingers in an inviting manner. I started to reach out when the second elevators arrival rang out as it had descended from the seventh floor above.
It’s door opened and in the entrance appeared a charming, well-dressed man with a warm and inviting smile.
“Good Evening, My dear Sir. How might we help you? My name is Theodore Craine.”
“Craine, back off, he is ours!”
“No, not this one, Damien. Craine demanded. Back to Hell you go.”
Damien hissed and spat at Craine. The door to the basement elevator shut.
“My dear Sir, Mr. Reeder, I am here at the request of the Council on the Seventh floor. I am so sorry to inform you, but you are formally dead. However, they have voted, given their wisdom, you are given a second chance at Life.” He stated with calm and with reassurance. But before we send you back I do leave you with one request. You must realize that your second chance depends on you knowing one thing. That is that you need to see who you are, and that is to look into the face of a newborn baby.”
The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital bed, and the doctor was telling me that the surgery was successful. He added that I had a visitor that had sat vigil at my door for two straight days waiting for me to awaken.
“Yes and he is here now.”
“Who is he?”
“He is the man that saved your life.” My doctor answered.
Still in a state of confusion and allowed him in. When he entered, I knew that it was Theodore Craine.
“You! You were in the Hotel Portal.”
“No, I was out walking my dog. We came to you and tried to stop the bleeding. I called 9-1-1, and luckily the paramedics were with minutes away.
“Why me, why would I matter to you,” I asked in confusion.
“Oh, my dear young man.”
“I had once a young son like you who I lost to the street life. He lost, and I was busy in my life, a successful business person and caught up in the trappings of success. He died on the streets of violence and drugs. I once asked for a second chance. The night I met you, was my second chance.”
After Theodore’s visit in my hospital room that day, my life transformed. I finished high school, entered a Buddhist retreat for a year and then attended a Theological Seminary for three years where I teach today. I got married and raised three beautiful children.
Then, strangely enough, one blustery fall day in New York City while attending a retreat, I got an anonymous text.
It asked me to meet the sender at the Westlawn Cemetary on E. 233rd St. in New York City, plot 506 at 4 pm the next day. I was very curious and cautiously I did so.
When I finally found plot 506, I stood stunned. My eyes watered and my breath deepened and a slow calm settled in and around my body. I read the inscription on the tombstone silently, and the tears flowed. It read:
“You only need to look into the eyes of a newborn, to see who you are.”
I remembered those were the words he spoke to me in the Hotel Portal, the night I died. The wind blew, and the leaves railed like a fall confetti full of wonderful delight. It was then I heard the clicking. I looked around and then saw an old man, with a cane, smoothly and methodically moving towards me, his eyes intently on mine.
He approached me, and as he did, there was the slow realization of someone I once knew.
As he got close enough to feel his warm smile and clear eyes, I knew that it was Theodore; Theodore Craine. I wiped my tears and warmly smiled.
His clear eyes filled me with love. He asked me to sit with him on a nearby bench, and we did.
He settled in and placed the cane between his legs and looked at me and smiled. He asked.
“No stunned and confused. You haven’t aged a day in the last 20 years.” I answered.
“Sit and listen; I don’t have much time.”
He looked over at the tombstone. He raised the cane and pointed it towards the grave.
“That was me, and I know you have so many questions, Mr. Reeder.” He clicked the cane a few more times against the pavement. He used the cane to gather my attention. He gazes it the tombstone. Its date of birth and death.
“You died in 1965?” I could hardly speak. Who was before me?
“Mr. Reeder, my form is merely an illusion.”
“But, I can see and feel you.”
“I told you I once had a son. He was much like you. He led a life on the street and to his death. It crushed me. I struggled with it for months and eventually I committed suicide.” He finished without looking at me.
“What?” I answered in disbelief.
Theodore remained quiet and didn’t speak for a long time. Then
I knew it. Theodore Craine was with me the night that I transported to the Hotel Portal.
“Mr. Reeder,” he rested his hand on my knee.
It was a calming and reassuring touch, one to ground me and drain my fear into the earth.
I realized that Teddy was more real now than the form that my eyes and mind made him up to be. I listened to my heart, instead of my ears. He continued when he knew I was ready.
“Mr. Reeder, the world today in 2016 needs your special, unique and gifted talent for healing the scars that our world is burdening under more than ever. He finished by standing up and turned to me. He held his arms out for an open embrace, and we hugged.
“Mr. Reeder, I need to go now.”
With that Teddy left me and disappeared beyond the cemetery.