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The midnight club, p.13
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       The Midnight Club, p.13

           Christopher Pike
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  "There's nothing," she whispered to the green plastic bag.

  Ilonka did not know how long she stood there holding on to Anya's body. But a time came when she became aware of a hand on her shoulder. She turned and saw it belonged to Kevin. His brown eyes looked at her with such compassion that she felt as if he were touching her heart with hands made of an angel's light. But he did not say anything to her. He took her by the hand and led her upstairs to her room, limping the whole way, quite badly, but not leaning on her for support. He helped her into her bed, and then Dr. White came

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE into the room and gave her a shot in the arm. The needle went in cold but the fluid that squirted from it was warm. The warmth spread through her body, a profound drowsiness filled her. Kevin stayed with her as she fell asleep. The last thing she saw was his face. The first thing she dreamed of was the Master's face.

  ^'Master," she said. "What is it like to die?" "Why do you ask?" the Master said. "Every night you go to sleep. You sleep and you don't know who you are. But every morning you wake up."

  "But when I go to sleep I know I will wake up in the morning. When I die I don't know if I will be reborn. Willi?"

  "The real you is never reborn, nor does it ever die. But the personality and the body is another matter. You believe you are this personality, this body. You think of yourself as clever with words and attractive with your long dark hair. But these things are not you. They are always changing. The real you never changes. The enlightened seldom speak of birth and rebirth. They are concerned with the present moment. If you are fully alive now, it is enough. You don't have to think about death. Death will come when it is supposed to come. We don't have to go chasing after it. You will cast off one set of clothes and put on another. It is no cause for concern." "But I still don't want to die. I'm afraid of death." "Do you want to have the same personality you have now for the rest of eternity?"

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB

  She had to laugh. "I would like to improve it first before it was made eternal '*

  The Master laughed with her. "You make it perfect and you will see that it ceases to exist. You think I am so powerful and wise. I tell you I am no one. That is how I understand everyone. I am like the sun, I shine the same on everyone. You are the sun. You are not this personality and body. Remember that when the time of death approaches and you will have no fear. This is a great secret I give you." He paused and spoke seriously. "Remember, too, that I will be with you at that time. *'

  Chapter VII —

  She awoke in the dark. Even before she opened her eyes, or heard a sound, she knew he was still there. "How long have I been out?" she asked.

  "It's close to midnight," Kevin said.

  She opened her eyes and rolled over. He was sitting propped up with pillows on Anya's bed. He had on his red flannel robe; he had been dressed differently when she had been given the shot. He must have gone back to his room and changed. A shaft of moonlight came through the filmy curtains and shone on the floor, so she could see his face, although not clearly.

  "It's time for another meeting," she said.

  "I don't think there's going to be one tonight. Anya's gone and Sandra—she's gone, too. She came to say goodbye but you were asleep. She told me to tell you she'd write."

  "She didn't waste any time in getting out of here, did she? I suppose I can't blame her." She sat up. "Thank you for staying with me. If you want to go to your room, I understand."

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB

  He shrugged. "Fd like to sit and talk if you don't mind."

  "What would you like to talk about? How I made a fool of myself this afternoon? I should have listened to your warning."

  "You are too hard on yourself, Uonka. You're allowed to make mistakes. Everybody does."

  "Except I keep making the same mistakes. That's not good. That's what the Master I told you about would say."

  "Did you dream about him just now?" Kevin asked.

  "Yes. How did you know that?"

  "Because I dozed when you were asleep and I think I dreamed about him, too. But I don't remember much from the dream except that it was wonderful to sit with him."

  "I remember my dream. He spoke to me about death, how it was nothing to fear."

  "Are you afraid to die?" Kevin asked.

  "Yes. Especially now that I know it is so near. Aren't you?"

  He smiled. "Not since you told your stories."

  "Seriously."

  "I am serious. I told you I felt like I was in those places and times with you. And I feel that even when I leave this body I will be somewhere else."

  She felt a stab of pain deep in her guts. Her liver and spleen, spots on her lungs—what was left for the cancer to eat? The stab did not just come and go. Suddenly it was difficult to breathe. Kevin stood and came over and sat beside her. There was a glass

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE of water beside her bed. He held out a handful of white pills.

  "Morphine," he said. "Spence gave them to me. Two is a lot."

  "I think I need two." She took the pills from him and swallowed them down with the help of the water. "Thank you. I guess it's hard drugs from here on out. I can forget about the herbs."

  "You tried, that's what counts," Kevin said.

  "I refused to accept reality, that's what counts."

  "Ilonka."

  "I know, I'm not so terrible. But I'm not so great, either, and I always thought I was. I wonder if other people think about their lives the way I did. I would look around and see all the mistakes others were making, and I thought I wasn't going to be so foolish. I was going to make my mark on the world. But look at me now. A handful of people know my name. A handful of people know I'm dying, and then when I am dead, even that handful will forget."

  "I won't forget."

  She smiled faintly. "You'll remember me on the other side? I hope so. Maybe you'll be an angel and come for me when I leave the body to fit me with my wings."

  "I don't know if Herme ever had wings or not."

  "You know, Anya really wanted you to finish your story last night. I think she knew she was going to die." When Kevin didn't respond, she hastily added, "I didn't say that to make you feel guilty.

  THE MTONIGHT CLUB Your story is just so captivating.*^ She took his hand. "It's midnight, can't you tell me the final installment of The Magic Mirror'?"

  "But Spence isn't here."

  "You can tell him the rest later," Ilonka said.

  Kevin thought for a moment. "Maybe I should finish the story now." He pointed to her glass. "May I have a sip of your water first?"

  "Of course."

  Kevin had his drink of water and made himself more comfortable on her bed, borrowing one of her pillows to prop himself up. He seemed to have no strength left in his back, in any part of his body. He cleared his throat and began. His voice came out soft and dry. Ilonka suspected he was taking plenty of morphine.

  "Herme left the bridge where he had come close to suicide, but he didn't go home. There seemed no point in doing so. He walked the streets until dawn, which was not that far off, and then decided that he was going to find a job unrelated to art. He felt that by continuing to paint he was still living in the narrow world he had in the museum, and even though he was hoping to get back to the joy he had experienced as an angel, he also wanted to go beyond that. He believed God had granted his wish to be mortal because God had wanted him to become more than he was. Herme decided to embrace life, in all ways.

  "He decided to become a taxi driver. The only problem was he didn't have a driver's license. He

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE did have a fake American passport that Teresa had purchased for him on the black market in Paris before they had entered America. With that he was able to get a temporary license, and then a job as a taxi driver. The company put him on the night shift, which was all right with him. Driving a taxi in New York City is hard work. There is the constant fighting with traffic and strange people. But that was the one thing Herme loved—all the different
people he met. Living with Teresa he had been somewhat sheltered from the world. As a taxi driver he was face to face with the best and the worst the world had to offer.

  "He stayed in New York for five years, and in all that time he never ran into Teresa. Over time the pain of what had happened eased, yet he never went through a day without wondering how she was. He still loved her, you see, but he was never tempted to try to find her because he could see that his love for her was not enough. She still had to live her life and grow her own way, just as he had to. He saw that he was actually bad for her in many ways. He had made her dependent on him, and likewise, he had become needy. But he wished her well, Herme did, he wished everyone well. There wasn't a person who rode with him that didn't leave him feeling a bit better. That was enough for him. That he could work at a job and give love to complete strangers eadi day. He wondered sometimes if that was why everyone was on earth—^just to learn how to give love constantly.

  THE MIDMGHT CLUB

  "But after those five years he left New Yoric City and moved to Colorado, to hve in the Rocky Mountains. He became a forest ranger in a national park, and when he was not on duty, he would often hike deep into the forest and camp out under the stars at night. He craved the wilderness, the solitude, yet there was also a part of him that remained lonely, still searching, maybe for that perfect human companion, maybe for something else.

  "There was this one woman who also worked at the national park that he liked. Her name was Debra, and she was the cutest thing, at least to Herme. They spent time together, and it wasn't long before she moved in with him. For Debra being with Herme was like a dream—he was the kindest man imaginable, also one of the funniest. In the many years since leaving the Louvre, Herme had developed an incredible sense of humor. One day, after living with Herme for six months, Debra asked him to marry her. Herme was flattered and not good at saying no. So a date was set, and at long last Herme was going to be married.

  "A week before the wedding a huge fire broke out and Herme was sent in to fight it in a remote part of the forest, where he found a family trapped by the circling flames. Bravely, he broke through the wall of fire to the people, and immediately the wall closed behind him. But Herme found the only way out for the family—they had to scale down the rocky side of a sheer drop. Initially the family was frightened to do what he said, but as the flames

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE closed in they changed their minds. Herme had a rope and other climbing gear and he helped the woman and children down hrst. It was when he was coming back up for the man that he ran into trouble. The wind had changed and the hre was precariously close. It reached his rope, and when Herme was halfway up the cliff it started to smoke. He could see the rope burning above him and tried to grab on to the rocky cliffside for support. But it wasn't enough, and when the rope burned through he fell a hundred feet to the ground. He landed on a boulder and his back was broken.

  "He didn't regain consciousness for a couple of days, and by then he was in a hospital in Denver. Debra was by his side, and he learned that the man on the hill had not survived the fire. He also learned that he was to be paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life. Herme took the news badly because one of his greatest joys as a mortal was in being able to move around and feel the earth, something he had been denied as an angel.

  Debra was devoted—she promised to stay with him no matter what. Yet Herme didn't feel a crippled husband was something she should have to live with. Although it broke his heart to do so, he refused to see her. She would call and write to him during his convalescence, but he continued to ignore her. In time she gave up, and once more Herme was alone.

  "He was down but not out. In time he was discharged from the hospital and able to get around

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB in a wheelchair. The staff at the hospital had left a lasting impression on him, and he decided he would like to be a doctor. It was a momentous decision because he was older and as a paraplegic his life expectancy was shorter than ordinary. Plus he had to start his schooling from the beginning. He had to attend college for four years before he could apply to medical school. Fortunately, during all this time, he received money from the state because he had been injured on the job.

  "But Herme was determined, and after nine years of struggle he was officially a doctor. He had massive debts from medical school but he immediately began to work in a free chnic, which offered services to the poor and homeless. By this time he was living in Los Angeles, in a crummy apartment with a broken-down elevator that could hardly carry his wheelchair to the top floor. But he was content, maybe not as happy as he had been during the days inmiediately after he left the Louvre, but satisfied that he was performing a service to humanity. His main difficulty was his health. People in wheelchairs often have trouble with their kidneys, and Herme had not been working many years as a doctor when his began to fail. Part of the problem was his own laziness. He was so busy taking care of others that he failed to watch his diet and drink enough fluids. In time he had to go onto dialysis, and this slowed him down some. Yet he continued to work long hours, even as his hair turned white and began to fall out. As an ex-angel he was not

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE afraid of death, yet he feh if he were to die soon, it would be with regret. But he didn't know why. He had done the best he could with his life.

  "He was ready to leave the clinic one night when a woman, close to death, was brought in. It seemed she had been living on the streets and had a severe case of pneumonia. She was literally drowning from the congestion in her chest. Herme examined her and drew a blood sample. She was clothed in rags and covered with dirt. For those reasons, and also because she was completely emaciated with numerous sores on her face, he didn't recognize her. But after the nurses cleaned her up he saw that it was Teresa.

  "He was overjoyed to be with her again, yet saddened because she was obviously very ill and he could tell her life had not been easy. She was half delirious, and he immediately started her on medication. Fortunately the pneumonia responded to the drugs, and within a day her temperature was down. But it didn't go away, and after more tests he knew she had a full-blown case of AIDS. Her pneumonia was not bacterial, but a parasitic type that is common in AIDS patients. He realized she was going to die and that there was nothing he could do to save her.

  "While working in the clinic he wore a nametag, but it only had his last name, which he had invented, so she had no idea who he was. Herme was both saddened and relieved by her lack of recognition. He was sad because he had never

  THE MTONIGHT CLUB forgotten her, and felt he must not have mattered much to her since he had passed out of her memory. Of course, he knew he didn't look like the young man who had walked so boldly from the Louvre. At the same time he was relieved she didn't know him because he didn't know what he would have said to her as the great love of his past. They had not parted under ideal circumstances.

  "He continued to take care of her, though, often staying after his shift was through to do special things for her: rub her back and bring her the paper, and buy her books and bring her tapes to listen to. With her fever down, she became talkative again, and was always pleasant to him. But it was obvious that she was in a great deal of pain, and also suffering from depression. As the days passed he was able to get her to open up and talk about her life. He learned that she had been married twice and had two children, but that both her marriages had ended badly and that one of her children had been killed in a car accident. It seemed that the death of the child had started her on a downward spiral from which she had never been able to escape. She had become addicted to alcohol and lost her job and then her house, and then everything, and had ended up on the streets. Herme almost wept as she talked, thinking how it could have been if they had stayed together, especially when she mentioned someone special from her youth. Then he realized he had been too quick to judge her memory.

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  "'I met him in Paris,' she told Herme. 'When I was a young woman. He worked at
the Lx)uvre, that famous museum with all the da Vincis and Raphaels. He was an artist and I fell in love with him at first sight. He was so shy when we met—I practically had to twist his arm to get him to leave the museum. From the beginning we were inseparable. He got a job painting portraits and soon he was able to open a studio. We lived together and he took good care of me. Then we moved to New York City and everything went wrong. He didn't want to paint portraits anymore and we were getting low on money and I was getting nervous. Then I met another man and had an affair with him. Well, the inevitable happened, my boyfriend came home and found us together.' Teresa sighed. *He turned around and walked out and I never saw him again.'

  "Teresa's talking about the fateful night brought it all back to Herme. He just stared at her, unsure what to say. Yet he realized that he did not blame her for what had happened, and that reassured him.

  " The memory is a painful one for you,' he said gently.

  "She sniffed. 'I never had a chance to tell him how sorry I was for what I did to him, and how wonderful he was.' She smiled suddenly. 'Did I tell you about his talent? The pictures he painted— they took people's breath away. He could have been one of the greatest artists in the world. Over the

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB years I always kept an eye open for his work. I kept expecting to see it, but I don't know what happened to him.' Her smile vanished.

  " 'What's the matter?' Herme asked.

  " 'Nothing.' Then she began to cry. 'Doctor, I tell you all these things but I can't even remember what I was like in those days.'

  " 'I'm sure you were very beautiful.'

  '"I don't know.'

  " 'Maybe you will meet him again and be able to tell him how you feel.'

  "She shook her head. 'I don't want to meet him looking this way.' Abruptly she stopped and scanned her surroundings. 'How come there's no mirror in this room?' she asked.

 
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