It would be here, in this room where they’d find him. There would be no letter, no prim and proper folded attempt at saying goodbye; nothing to leave behind, nothing to say, or to pass on. It was to be his goodbye. The radio held its farewell ceremony, commencing its invisible fanfare as it sounded off from the corner of the bare apartment living room. The young man walked slowly to center of the living room to claim his ‘award’. He grinned at the thought of such a blasphemous act that would soon come to pass in such a place. All of the blinds were clenched shut—save for the sparse traces of light that fought eagerly to pierce through the darkened veil of the once lively red room. He had turned over the photos of many friends, and family. He didn’t want to have their eyes change his mind, to further judge and condemn him. He had laughed the loudest out of all his friends, and would go out of his way to bring a smile to people all around. As of late though, he was now tired of the facade.
A crumpled cigarette laid smoldering in a crystal clear ashtray—that last final puff before no more. He took one last shot of whiskey; the almighty liquid courage, and then threw the glass against the wall—shattering it to pieces, and with that. . .he continued on to complete his destiny. He stared at the pair of freshly polished black leather combat boots that sat patiently on the cherry oak chair in the center of the room. “Death’s boots,” as his granddad described them. “One day, they’ll be yours. . .and one day they’ll be what you wear to your grave.” He smiled at the shared memory.
The young man recanted the immortalized memory on the eve of his passing thirteen days ago. “My boy, we’re all part of a grand orchestra; one were we each have a piece to play, and one that we play to an unknown conductor. Some sections are rivals; some don’t like what the other plays, but all in all, it’s a massive classical masterpiece we all play. When the music gets too loud, we have the ability to turn it down. Some do; some don’t. Some quit the band, while others try to stick it out. Me? Why, I’ve been playing the same tune now for 92 years. When the chorus ends. . .well. . .that’s when I’d like to go.”
More and more memories began to seep from the long sealed vault. His world was upside down. His family was left in shambles. All of his friends were scattered like ashes to the four winds. While his love was some thousand miles away.
The young man put the boots on, one at a time, and laced them to perfection before tucking his blue jeans in. He wiped the few specs of ashes that had clung to his white t-shirt for life, smearing them into a gray oblivion.
His mother often reminded him to “get rid of those damned boots!” That, “they took your Pop and Poppy, and with the way you’re shaping up to be, they’ll take you too!” He stood atop the chair, tall, certain, and readied the rope that hung in front of him, placing his head through the noose he had diligently made. It wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t anyone’s. It was his choice, and remedy to cure the pain.
Then, an old song came on as he had made his last gesture. It seemed to increase in volume until it flooded the darkened room. It seemed to speak to him, retelling the tale of his life: its highs and lows, of the dark and light. Where one group sang of what he could do, while another told him what to do. Music had helped so much in his darkest of times, but as of late it did not have as much effect as it once had. He found no joy in the things he had come to know, in people, in places, or things.
His eyes sweltered with tears; the confusion set in, along with panic, and fear. He could feel a presence behind the front door, one that would barge in, and assure him everything will be alright—to come home and stop the pain. He could hear a voice on the end of the line tell him it’s OK, that there are things worth fighting for, living for: people, places, that life has a meaning. He could feel eyes outside the window, ones that fought to penetrate the barrier to make their plea; to make him turn around, come down and talk about it. That maybe tomorrow would be better, just have a little patience, and it’ll be alright. That this apartment, and this life—his life—was not just a prison.
However, there was no one. No one behind the door. No voice on the other end of the unplugged line. No eyes that attempted to sway his choice. He was alone. He would soon be a memory. . .a voice. . .an image to be stored away in the dusty minds of multimedia, people, and books. He would be gone and forgotten—save for being a statistic. For what he would come to face; whether it be a religious deity, a void of nothingness, or an afterlife, he’d face it alone.
The chair gave way, and here he swam in the middle of the room. He struggled to pull himself above the sea of blackness, but it only continued to push him down. A kaleidoscope of colors and shapes played out before him, with memories of old flashing vividly one last time on his minds faulty camera, which then led him to darkness. The music slowly played on, while the dying choir sang of his final moments in the ever-growing dismal and abysmal background.
Sunlight pierced the darkness, stirring him to his senses. He could note the mumbling voices, and sobbing that echoed all around. He found himself in a hospital bed with people now huddling over him, most of them with tears that streamed down their cheeks, their eyes red and heavy. Everyone had come. He wasn’t alone. No one quarreled with one another. No one laid blame. No one criticized, judged, or condemned him. They all pleaded for him to stay, to live renewed, and gave praise to his love that had come to surprise him at his apartment.
Meanwhile, in the corner of the room, there stood a silhouette of a tall slender man in a long black coat by the window. He had a square ghostly face, with wild feathered short black hair, and pallid eyes. He gazed out to the world beyond. He took note, and turned to the young man’s attention as he puffed on a cigarette. Slowly did the figure exit the bustling room; however, on his way out, he turned down the volume on the radio that echoed the same tune before, giving a slight nod before leaving. Whether it was in his mind or not, the words resounded, and the young man couldn’t help but smile in thanks to the mysterious stranger.
Next to his bedside, on the floor, there sat Death’s boots; its laces crisscrossed, forming a makeshift smile—a welcome back.
Inspired by Mark Sandman’s “Devil’s Boots” off Sandbox: The Mark Sandman Box Set.