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THAT CREEPING THING Print E-mail
Written by Kevin L. Howard   

“Hello,” answered Dan after being startled out of his sleep.

            “Dan?” questioned the female voice on the other line.

            “Yes!,” he replied with a curious tone.

            “Dan, this is Mrs. Whitmore.  I’m sorry to disturb you at this late hour,” her voice somber and cold.

            Mrs. Whitmore was the wife of Dan’s boss, Frank, the president of Design Corp.

            She continued, “Dan, I’ve got some bad news.”  He could only hear a sniffle.

            “Dan,” she said, “Frank died tonight!”  She began to cry.

            “What…what happened?”

            “Heart attack,” Mrs. Whitmore answered.

            Dan could not believe this.  Frank was only 50 years old.  A long silence followed.  A tear slowly crawled out of Dan’s left eye.

            “Mrs. Whitmore,” Dan said.  “I’m sorry.  Is there anything I can do?”

            He did what he could to console her.  Mostly, he just listened.

***

Dan’s physique was nothing out of the ordinary.  Disrobed there was no smoothly tanned skin or bulging muscles.  He stood five feet, eight inches tall, and weighed about 160 pounds.

            Physically he was average.  His skin, pale.  His face, fairly whiskerless, but a clear complexion.  His eyes, dark as tar.  His hair, black.

            He wasn’t handsome or ugly.  Just average.  Although his glasses gave him an extra-intelligent look.

            The only special physical feature was his winning smile.  Rarely did his face convey sadness.  Dan loved to laugh, which is what drew people to him.  His smile opened many doors for business.

            With his personality more charming than his looks, he knew how to deal with others.  People often went to him for advice.  His advice wasn’t necessarily all that special; people went to him because he listened to them.  People are dying for someone who cares enough to listen.

            At age 40, Dan was doing well.  Actually, life for Dan was better than ever.  His salary was six digits a year.  He drove a Benz, and lived with his wife and two kids in a nice house in a suburb of Boston.      

As a second generation Chinese American, Dan grew up with an understanding of two different cultures.  His parents struggled when they came to the States in the late Fifties.  Work for them was an all-consuming task.  In spite of the prejudices his parents faced, they eventually started their own business.

***

            Dan dealt with his shock and sorrow over Frank’s death.  Frank wasn’t just Dan’s boss; he’d been a friend.  Dan wanted to be president of Design Corp, but he never wanted it via Frank’s death.  But Dan was now the president and it didn’t take long before he got the hang of being CEO.  But Dan’s mind would often wander to the suddenness of Frank’s death.  Frank was young and in supposedly good health.

            Dan had never been too morbid before.  But now that Dan was older and had a family, he was beginning to sense how fragile and short life could be.

            In spite of his occasional fears, he continued to smile.  And he loved his work and family.  He golfed several times a month.

            Dan was not a religious person.  His grandparents were devout Buddhists, but his parents were nominal.  He just wasn’t interested. Besides, all religions seemed to be reaching for the same thing—God, happiness, and meaning.  Dan had two out of three, and figured that wasn’t too bad.

***

            Then his 3-year-old daughter, Melony, fell down their back stairs and had to go into the hospital for surgery.

            “Is she ok,” Dan asked Peggy as he rushed into the ER waiting room.

            Peggy, already crying, began to weep in Dan’s arm.  Dan could only assume the worst.

            “Honey, please tell me, how’s Melony?” he said with tears forming in his eyes.

            “They’re in surgery now,” she sobbed, “it could take another hour.” Dan embraced her firmly.  “Melony,” Peggy continued, “could have brain damage as a result of the fall.”  Peggy’s tears now took on sound, as she heaved audibly.  Dan wanted to be strong, but found little strength, his tears now forming a steady stream down his cheeks. 

            They sat for a while and held each other, saying whatever came to mind.  Dan and his wife hoped for the best.  Dan even prayed, though to no particular god.  He just prayed to anyone who might be listening up there.

            More than an hour had gone by and Dan was pacing the floor, pondering how easy it might be to pick up smoking at a time like this.  Finally, the surgeon emerged from the sacred double doors that only the most holy of divines can enter.  The doctor’s hardly containable smile relieved their fears.

            She was fine, but this put quite a scare into Dan and his wife. 

***

            Dan wanted to forget about death, but things around him served as reminders: a funeral procession, an obituary, a speeding ambulance, an earthquake in a foreign country, a pet killed by a car, a friend diagnosed with cancer. 

            “Why this obsession with death?” he asked himself.  Why was he having nightmares?  He didn’t want to tell his wife, lest she think he was going crazy.

            Dan loved life and possessed a passion to live.  But he wanted to live without the fear of death.

            To help ease his fears, he bought a book on death, and, kept it hidden from his wife.  As he read through this volume he found himself agreeing with the author,

For centuries man has feared death.  But why?  Because of religions and belief systems which have taught us to fear death.  They’ve taught us that if we’ve been bad or immoral, then we will be punished.  But this is non-sense and is based on faith and superstition.  Since we all evolved, as Science has long since proven, then why fear death?  We die and then we cease to be, just as before we were born.  No need for senseless fears.  Just enjoy life…it’s too short to spend worrying.

            He leaned back in his brown leather chair, with his hands behind his head and a small grin on his face.  He felt relieved.  It was as though he’d saved the team with a 3-point shot just before the buzzer.

            He thought, “Even if there is life after death, no body knows what it’s like.  And if there is punishment beyond the grave, I’ve been pretty good.”

            Dan turned to his computer, emailed a friend and then played a quick game of Solitaire.  He went home and slept well that night. 

He bought a boat and spent more time with his wife and kids on the weekends.  Nothing more satisfying than to see Dan’s smile stretched across his face, exposing his teeth, as he water-skied with his kids.  Months went by and Dan was not disturbed by his nightmares.

            Except for one night as he took a long stroll, he began thinking again about death.  Maybe it was the coolness in the autumn air that spoke of winter’s coming chill, or maybe it was thoughts of his mother’s weakening condition which brought death to his mind.  The mind has a way of pursuing deep subjects when it’s got some solitude.

            He walked home frightened that he’d never live to see his kids finish graduate high school.

***

“I’m scared out of my mind,” Dan explained the next day to Fritz, the new vice president.  They’d known each other for several years.  Dan could trust him.  He bounced his knee nervously waiting for Fritz to respond.

            “Why are you so scared of death anyway?” probed Fritz. 

            “That it could come at anytime, any place,” Dan muttered and then mildly bit his lip.

            “Maybe you’re just under too much stress...weren’t you going north for vacation?”

            “Aren’t you ever haunted by death?”

            Fritz looked up toward the ceiling, as though gathering his thoughts.  “Not really!” he said with a relieved sigh.  “I guess I just think about living.”

            “But don’t you ever stop to think about death?” inquired Dan, now with intrigue smattered across his face.

            “Eh, who has time to waste life thinking about death?” Fritz said, obviously wanting to change the subject.  “Sounds like you just need to give it a rest and relax a little.”

            “Yeh, I suppose so.  Maybe I’ll take that trip to New Hampshire soon.”

***

            Dan did live to see his kids graduate high school. He even saw two of his grandchildren graduate from high school.  Dan lived far longer than he ever thought he would.  For forty more years he avoided the Creeper.

            But some things can’t be put off forever.  At the age of 82, he slept more peacefully and more deeply than ever before.  His wife breathed softly at his side in their king-sized water-bed. 

Then quietly, without a struggle, Death dragged Dan helplessly to that place of never ending torture, like an alligator drowning his prey.  And Dan smiled no more.

 
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