Updated: Sep 24, 2019
genre: contemporary fantasy / magical realism
word count: 633
Dylan dies on a Monday.
He's pretty sure that’s what happens—there’s a crisp, late-winter breeze stinging the lower half of his face, a disposable paper cup of too-sweet coffee bleeding heat through the wool of his gloves, a kid in a puffy black North Face jacket careening down the sidewalk on a wobbly looking skateboard and a guy with a raspy Long Island accent grumbling impatiently as he shoves Dylan out of the way—and then there’s a loud screech and a dull thud and a sharp, bright, explosive pain radiating from the base of his spine—
He remembers that part.
Time passes, probably, seconds stretching into minutes, a machine-gun volley of one blank bullet after another; but he’s not awake, or aware, or alive enough to really sense any of that, and when he finally is—awake, and aware, and alive enough—he kind of just assumes he’s still dead.
“What the fuck,” he blurts out, gingerly sitting up. He inspects the cramped interior of what appears to be an ambulance, noticing, somewhat hysterically, that the siren isn’t even on. “No, seriously, what the fuck.”
Someone behind him emits this sad, strangled little choking sound.
And Dylan quickly whips his head around, which is a mistake, but then he makes really intense eye contact with a guy in a paramedic’s uniform, which isn’t a mistake, except the guy’s clutching an oxygen tank over by the door like he thinks he might be able to use it as a weapon, gaze wide and dark and incredulous and—okay, yeah, maybe the tiniest bit horrified. That. That is not promising.
“’Sup,” Dylan finally says, jerking his chin up in the universal bro nod. “I’m Dylan. Dyl. Not a pickle. You’re not gonna hit me with that, are you?”
The paramedic is named Pierre.
Pierre is twenty-four years old, built like a brick shithouse, and apparently really fucking terrible at controlling his weird Cajun superpowers.
“It was an accident,” Pierre insists, holding up a bouquet of wilting gift shop flowers as he hovers next to Dylan’s hospital bed. “I wasn’t—I didn’t mean to—I was checking your pulse!”
Dylan pokes at the IV needle taped to the back of his hand. “I didn’t have a pulse, though,” he says. “That’s, like. The point. Right?”
Pierre sputters indignantly. “I still had to check.”
“Dude.” Dylan wrinkles his nose. “You saved my life. Stop looking at me like you . . . did the opposite. It’s kind of insulting.”
Pierre’s expression instantly ripples with an incredibly depressing combination of shame and guilt. “I’m sorry,” he says, scratching at the back of his neck. “I’m sorry, I just—I’m not supposed to do—what I did. There are rules. I could get in a lot of trouble.”
Dylan reaches for one of the juice boxes the nurses had instructed him to drink after they’d drawn, like, a gallon of blood. It’s Cran-Apple. Tart and sour, with a lingering note of artificial sweetness that reminds him of long, humid-hot summers spent outside, black and yellow Batman Band-Aids and sweat-sticky games of street hockey, the ice cubes in his mom’s lemonade and the rumbling cracks in his dad’s laughter and the spangled shards of glitter in his sisters’ nail polish and the memories are really only half-there, faded and warped like a Polaroid left out in the sun, but Dylan regrets, suddenly, not taking better care of them. Not paying more attention.
He’s used to the past totally sucking, is the problem. He’d forgotten that it hadn’t always been bad.
“Trouble,” Dylan repeats, absently tonguing at the flimsy plastic straw sticking out of his juice box. From across the room, Pierre makes another one of those cut-off choking sounds. “What kind of trouble?”