The package sat on the bamboo coffee table. Even though we both agreed to no gifts for our six-year anniversary, I was never going to follow that rule. Daniel always talked about how he wanted the first issue of the original Ghost Rider comic since he was a teenager. On our first date he went on and on about how much he loved that comic. It took me three months of non-stop searching to find a copy in good condition.
He never got the chance to see.
I knelt down and wiped away the blue ash covering the small metallic Jump Pad at my feet. When I first started all of this, I kind of enjoyed the cotton candy smell from the ash. Now though, it just made me feel nauseous. I picked up the pad and carefully placed it in my pocket. If anything happened to the device, I would be stuck. The last thing I wanted to do was live through the next three years again.
Even though it wasn’t my first time coming back to this night, part of me still felt sick walking around our living room. Every time I came back, I thought it would be easier trying to save him. Every time I thought it would be my last. It never mattered what I did, Daniel would still die tonight. This was the last time I would ever step foot in our home. I wasn’t trying to save him tonight; I just wanted to see him one last time.
I went back to the package on the coffee table and picked it up. The package was lighter than I remembered. It had been ten years since I placed it on the top shelf in my closet. I shook it and felt the padded comic shift inside. The seller lied about the date that he had shipped it, causing it to be almost a week late. Daniel never got the chance to open it.
Six pictures lined the wall leading to the stairs. They looked different, printed on quality paper and encased in their decorative frames from theme parks we visited. I had grown used to seeing the two of us on my small phone screen every morning. My throat tightened as I watched him lose more and more weight between each photo. By the sixth photo he was mostly bone, his skin was pale, and large black circles surrounded his eyes.
The last photo was taken outside of Disneyland’s castle, a week after we finally got news that Daniel’s cancer was in remission. It was taped inside a Goofy and Mickey frame, with the words “Our Day of Adventure” written on a red sash that hung from the top of the frame. I still remembered that day and all of the walking we did, taking breaks every half hour to ensure Daniel never overextended himself.
My hand reached for the frame, but I pulled it back to my side. The lump in my throat swelled and my hands shook. Part of me wanted to tear everything apart, break every dish in the kitchen. I wanted to do anything that might wake him up. After six failed attempts at stopping this night from happening, I knew nothing I tried would matter. Time would find a way to readjust itself.
I took each step to the second floor one at a time. This wasn’t going to be like the comics or movies I was used to read as a child; I wasn’t going to have my revenge and bring justice to the murderer. There was no black spandex, cape, or cowl in my future.
A year from tonight, the murderer would sit in a metal chair, surrounded by three guards and a prison warden. They would soak a worn and cracked sponge in a rusted metal bucket, wring it out, and then place it on the murderer’s head. The whole time he would stare out into the filled viewing room of his victim’s families, with a smile stretched across his face.
It wasn’t like the movies when they turned on the chair. The lights didn’t flicker, he didn’t thrash in the chair, and he didn’t burst into flames. He just sat there. His hands dug into the metal armrests, and his head shook as though he had been standing outside in the cold for too long. After a few seconds, his head slumped forward onto his sweat soaked chest. The warden stepped forward, avoiding the liquid pooling at the bottom of the chair, and pressed his fingers on the man’s neck.
The black curtains closed and the room erupted in tears and cries. The woman sitting next to me threw herself into my lap. Seeing the so-called justice occur right in front of me did nothing to calm my nerves. My body was still as tense as it had been for the trial.
Dread rushed over me as I finally realized how slow I was moving up the stairs. I bounded up the last few stairs and looked down at my watch. It was a force of habit since I already knew the watch refused to work. The second hand continued to flick back and forth, unsure of what to do with itself. I knew there wasn’t much more time.
I gripped the crystal door handle and my heart hammered in my chest. The door seemed to open by itself after my hand touched it. I watched as our old bedroom opened. Everything was exactly how I left it earlier that day, rushing for the airport after waking up late. Daniel must have passed out after I left. My tan coat was pulled over Daniel like a blanket, barely long enough to reach his thighs.
My feet were cemented to the floor. My head throbbed, trying to justify walking over and kissing him one last time. Or to crawl into bed next to him. It wouldn’t matter if the murderer killed me as well. Why couldn’t I die with Daniel? After everything I went through to get here, paradoxes were the last thing on my mind.
Trash cans crashed outside.
It was him.
The front door screeched open. I had been telling Daniel to fix it for months, but I guess it wouldn’t have mattered. The murderer was already shifting through everything downstairs. He would find my mother’s diamond necklace, and Daniel’s camera lenses sitting on the counter.
Even though I knew he was a professional, with fifteen burglaries in five states, and three murders, he was moving faster than I expected.
Daniel turned in bed. I rushed out of the bedroom, looking back as he reached to his side table, knocking over one of the dozen of medicine bottles scattered across it. The last image I saw was Daniel pulling his glasses on, his thin hair a mess like it was every morning I woke up next to him. I forced myself to remember everything about the moment.
The door seemed to close by itself one last time.
For the first time since I placed it in my pocket, I felt the weighted metal pad. I reached in and rubbed the large metal button on the top of the device. My heart jackhammered in my chest, trying to break free from my rib cage to reunite with Daniel.
The door handle to the bedroom turned. I jabbed at the pad’s activation button before the door cracked open. My stomach knotted as the hallway erupted in a kaleidoscope of colors and light trails. Everything that happened in the hallway after that night raced in front of me. I saw the cops combing over the bedroom. Another split second passed and the painters rummaged through laying down painting tarps and covering our colorful walls with a bland eggshell color. Another split second and dozens of random faces flashed in and out, running their hands over every inch of the place.
I closed my eyes.
My stomach lurched upward as a cold breeze slammed into my face. I kept my eyes closed, hoping not to vomit. I swallowed a mouthful of saliva and opened my eyes to a hallway littered with trash and cardboard boxes from squatters.
I knelt down and picked up the receiving Jump Pad in front of me. Thin wisps of smoke snaked out from the exhaust ports running along the device’s edge. I placed it inside my tan jacket pocket and took a deep breath.
Every step down the stairs felt like I was climbing down from a mountain. I closed my eyes as I took the last step, and the final image of Daniel, with his messy hair and crooked glasses flashed in front of me. For the first time in years, I didn’t have to force a smile.
It was finally over.