Across the Street

Jimmy was perplexed. He stood on a sidewalk, looking across the street. It was a wide street, four lanes going each way. There was no crosswalk, no traffic lights, no friendly policeman to help him across. Vehicles of every color and type whizzed by, causing his jacket to flap and his hair to muss. He could barely make out what they were. It was dark, and there were no streetlamps. It was raining, too. Jimmy took his thick glasses off his nose, cursing under his breath. Without them he was blind as a bat. With them, it was like looking through a layer of gauze, and it was worse when it was raining.

He heard more cars whoosh by. The sound of the raindrops on the brim of his hat, onto his coat and down to the pavement was almost a quiet roar. Jimmy tapped his foot into the puddle that was forming around it, splish-splashing the water. Where was it, he thought as his hand rummaged through his pockets. I’m getting wet, he complained. It’s getting dark, he worried.

Jimmy was already wet, and it was definitely dark. He just liked stating the obvious.

His hand fished around in the fourth pocket he tried, and closed around his prey. Out came a crumpled handkerchief, which he quickly took to the lenses of the rain-streaked glasses in his other hand. Jimmy fretted as he wiped. The rain was steady, and it was soaking through the cloth as he wiped. The glasses went from streaked to smudged. Crestfallen, he perched the frame back onto his nose. The street continued its busy commerce in the waterlogged night. Jimmy considered his next move.

Should he cross the street?

Her voice turned in his memory. “Would you be interested in exploring,” she said. Jimmy was all about exploring, unless it involved danger. If you offered him cookies and a hot cup of coffee, he’d be quite excited about exploration. This wasn’t quite how he had envisioned the whole adventure though. Jimmy supposed being rich and famous would involve far more than crossing a street. “We know just the thing for you,” she said, “come to us and we can talk about it.” So after hemming and hawing and pacing up and down, Jimmy stepped out into the sidewalk. And now he was here.

If only he could remember where he came from. Knowing exactly where he was going would have been nice too. He couldn’t recall, and he didn’t have a clue. It was all very peculiar. Jimmy felt like he had a good memory. In fact, he remembered that he had an excellent memory. He was also certain that he had half a roast beef and cheese sandwich at ten o’clock. He was Jimmy. And… that’s all he had, at the moment.

Heartbeats. Staccato, like the rain. The earthy smell of the heat rising from the cooling ground, perhaps creating the light fog that hugged the street. Jimmy wondered if he should just go home, and wondered where home was. He recalled the sandwich, and checked his watch. It was a battered old thing, its pitted faux-gold metal dull in the dimness. He cursed. It had stopped at midnight. The mist from his breath clouded the cracked watch face. Somewhere distant, there was a crack of thunder.

Jimmy looked up from his wrist and sniffed the air. A brisk wind whipped past, snaring his shabby fedora and lifting it into the traffic. Jimmy stepped into the street, and was staggered back to the sidewalk by a dark car that sped past unmindful of his movement. Now he was pissed off. He’d had that hat for a long time. His silver-white hair matted as the rain soaked through, and his glasses were met with rain spatter anew. Through his equally shabby overcoat, Jimmy felt the cold roll in. His eyes widened behind the thick glass spectacles.

Dim memory assailed him. Her.

He squinted, making out the next oncoming vehicle thorough the rain and fog and darkness. His wrinkled hands flexed. As the car went by, Jimmy stepped into the street, already seeking out the next onrushing obstacle. He stopped thinking, and let the chill in the air wake his atrophying muscles from their slumber on final time. Jimmy spun past two more cars that were side-by-side. He looked into the headlights of the fourth and half fell into the center isle. The bus whipped past him, catching his coat and sending Jimmy spinning end over end. He landed face-first into the pavement, smashing his glasses and cutting him in a dozen places. He felt his knee give under the impact.

Behind him, the cold had arrived, and had begun to flow through the traffic. Inexorably, Jimmy knew that he either moved, or he ended there.

He was practically blind now, from the blood running through his ruined eyes as much as the loss of his glasses. The chill was slowing him, inviting him to lay down where he was and escape from the pain screaming through him.

He had always been stubborn, he thought, probably more now in his twilight years than in his youth. He wasn’t ready to go. It would be on his own terms.

“We know just the thing for you,” she had said. “Would you be interested in exploring?” Despite being unable to see, Jimmy felt the light across the street now. It beckoned to him.

He gritted his teeth and thrust his hand into his pocket. This was going to hurt, he knew. If it killed him, and it very well could, at least he went out being himself. His hand closed around the familiar warm leather. A tingle went up his arm, as if probing. Jimmy braced himself.

The smell of ozone billowed from him. The rain fell harder. Thunder smashed down around Jimmy, and he felt the lightning sear through his being. The white fire erupted into the night sky.

Jimmy screamed.

He was still screaming as the hammer shredded the entire side of his coat where it had been stored. There was only one of these in him, he knew. Maybe not even one, but then he’d be dead and be beyond caring. Jimmy swung the hammer around, once, twice, thrice. On the third arc, he felt the cold reach out and attempt to wrap around his arm. The icy touch soothed the charred skin, but he wasn’t going to give in now.

Jimmy released the hammer towards the far side of the road. The vehicles that whizzed by plowed into a white-hot sheet of fire and disintegrated. Jimmy felt his arm pop out of its socket, the muscles tearing as the leather thong yanked violently. He was lifted off his feet, careening through the air enveloped by the searing light. The hammer dragged him through one, two, three lanes, shattering everything in and around it.

Just as suddenly, the lights went out and the hammer crumbled into dust. A bus was right in front of him, speeding down the fourth lane. Jimmy plowed into the bus broadside. He was lifted into the air as the bus skidded sideways and toppled, off of the street and onto the sidewalk. Jimmy was airborne, though he didn’t know it. His world was black as his broken body bounced off the crumpled steel of the bus and onto the pavement below.

=====

Sweeping unearthly music crescendo.

Bright. Too bright.

Voices. Singing. Hundreds. Thousands. Voices-not-voices.

Everything hurts. Stop.

Hosannas. The highest of the highest kind. Filling my head to bursting. Hurt upon hurt.

By the darkest storms, stop badgering me with the choruses. Fine.

Jimmy opened his eyes, expecting the usual vaseline-blurred world he had become content to live in. What greeted him was a tall figure clad in flowing bright robes. The face was alabaster, the eyes pinpoints of light. Long, thick hair of spun gold framed the face. Whatever it is, it had no mouth.

“We are honored that you chose to explore.” The voice was speaking but not with language. It echoed around him, akin to a chorale. He understood, without hearing words.

He had been among mortals too long. He spoke with his mouth, as he had for eons, even if it would hurt less to communicate without. “Eh. Everything has an end. Even us.” Jimmy paused and took in the scene. “Spare me the niceties seraph. Get to the point.”

“What we proffer is life eternal.” The figure had unfurled six plumes of blinding light behind it, each akin to a searing, pulsating flame. “Your place in heofon will be determined by Him.”

Och. Already with the italics and capitalization and emphasis. This is going to be a long afterlife. He had always assumed that this place would be insufferable.

Jimmy looked at his watch. The watch face was charred and chipped, but the second hand was ticking again. Time to find out how to make the most of life eternal.

=====

This post is a response to The Daily Post’s Writing Challenge for the week of July 20th, “Mystery Ending”. Felt that a footnote for posterity on how this entry evolved would be useful, if only for my own instruction.

1-Started with the simple premise of a variation on “why did the chicken cross the road?”

2-A telemarketer conversation prompted the question that Jimmy receives. Wasn’t quite sure what they were selling at the time.

3-I had always wanted to live to old age, a full life with no regrets. Jimmy turned into an older, crusty fellow that’s been battered but not bowed by life. His stuff is part of him, part of his memories. He has amnesia, but each of the items brought into focus contributes to his personality.

4-The sandwich. Didn’t really know where to go with this, so it’s a throwaway.

5-David Guetta and Sia’s “Titanium” was on the radio. The Piano Guys version is on my working/writing playlist. This gave me the glue to pull the story together and have an ending that kind of made sense. I tried to restrain the obvious superhero approach. Overall, satisfied with how it ended up.

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