Not having Lewis around was the hardest part of going through physical therapy. Even though Arthur had been mostly ambidextrous, it was hell learning how to write with his right hand. The letters were sloppy. Nothing looked like it was supposed to, and he couldn’t doodle to pass the time without everything becoming a demon’s death trap of spiked lines.
Vivi made great company at therapy. Her encouragement that things would
be better once he would be able to work on his new mechanical arm kept
his spirits up that he would be able to get over his involvement in
Lewis’ death. Vivi’s cheery singsong voice could push him to try harder.
But she wasn’t Lewis.
Looking over his most recent attempt Arthur cringed. Another spike pit. Grabbing the drawing he quickly crumpled the paper and threw it against the wall. Arthur was just barely breathing.
“Arthur, look at me, deep breaths.” Vivi’s face was worried. She had slightly stood up from her seat from across the table. Her brow furrowed. She looked ready to grab Arthur and not let go.
Why is breathing so hard? It’s just a drawing. Stealing a glance at Vivi, Arthur took a deep breath. “I’m sorry Vivi,” he managed to squeak out. “I got lost in my fears again.”
The nurse’s aide approached the table. Her charge and his temporary caretaker weren’t a disturbance, yet. But they needed to be brought into line or leave. “That’s a perfectly normal reaction Mr. Kingsmen. Your file doesn’t state that you have been to a psychiatrist.”
“I don’t need a psychiatrist. They only tell you that things will be fine. I am not wasting time on someone that’s going to tell me that lie.” Arthur wasn’t thrilled to think about talking to a psychiatrist. He probably needed it, but he was terrified that he’d mention killing his best friend and being torn away from Uncle Lance, Vivi, and Mystery.
“If you can’t afford one, then I suggest speaking to a priest or clergy. They may be able to help you spiritually.” The nurse had been down this route with many other amputees, though most of them were surgical amputees. Arthur was different, his arm had been severed, roughly, before his arrival to the hospital.
“Thank you miss,” Vivi appreciated the offer of an alternative. She knew Arthur was not the most religious person, but he still celebrated some traditions and beliefs. Maybe, just maybe, he could find some relief speaking to one.
Muttering under his breath as the nurse left, “What God would let this happen?”
“Arthur,” Vivi seethed, “losing your arm isn’t the end of the world.”
Shaking his head in disagreement, “I lost more than that in the cave Vivi.” Vivi’s look of disappointment stung. She didn’t remember Lewis, at all. When he brought him up she would zone out and her eyes would gloss over. It was as if her entire brain and body refused to remember Lewis.
While Vivi got freedom from the cave, Arthur’s heart was broken, shattered beyond repair. Lewis was taken from him, by a demon using his body. Every time he closed his eyes he could see Lewis’ face as he fell from the cliff. When a room was silent he could hear the squelch of Lewis’ body being pierced by a stalagmite. It was horrible. He couldn’t escape his own thoughts. Sleeping only made it worse, as the events of the cave would replay constantly until he woke up.
Whispering, “Can we leave Vivi? I don’t want to be here anymore.”
“Sure Arthur, where do you want to go?”
“Can you drop me off at the cemetery?”
“Want to talk to your folks again?”
“Yeah.” Arthur’s response was automatic. His voice was small and easily mistaken for an apology.
Making to leave, they signed out of the clinic and got into the van. Not a word between them. The ride wasn’t long, it would be over before the third song stopped on the radio.
Keeping up his recovering appearance wore Arthur out. He had to smile when he wanted to cry. He would need to laugh when he wanted to scream. He made jokes when he wanted to ask for forgiveness. Above all, he wanted Vivi to be happy. Vivi’s best days would be some of Arthur’s worst.
Vivi pulled up to the cemetery, put the car in park and let Arthur hop out. She would come back later to pick him up. Arthur never let her stay with him at the cemetery. He’d said that he didn’t like people watching and listening when he talked to his parents.
It would be a little unsettling too, thinking about it too much she reasoned. He was more comfortable talking to his parents’ graves than to her, Mystery or Uncle Lance. That upset her, but that was Arthur’s thing. He would bottle things up until it was too late. Maybe talking to his parents was his way of letting some of that out.
“Thank you Vivi, pick me up in twenty?” Arthur asked over his right shoulder.
“If you change your mind just call me.” Vivi replied. It was the least she could do. She wouldn’t go far, just to the next block over. That way if he called after five or ten she would be there almost immediately.
Arthur opened the gate to the cemetery with practiced ease. The old metal cracked and squealed under the slight movement. The noise was eerie to Arthur, the squeal resounding like the word ‘wel-come.’
A through J were on the right side of the cemetery, he would need the left K through S. The back of the cemetery housed T through Z. His parents were near the front of the first left section. Walking the rows, he knew the number they were in, row five, eighth gravestone from the path on the right. He’d lost track of how many times he’d visited their grave over the years.
Standing at the beginning of the fifth row, Arthur stared listlessly over the gravestones. “I’m sorry mom and dad. We’ll talk another day? Okay?”
There was someone else he needed to talk to today. Making his way further into the cemetery, he could feel the breeze around him. The trees swayed in the wind, leaves finding their way from the branches and into Arthur’s hair. He picked out the ones he noticed, but a few clung to his spikes.
The walk was long, far longer than he liked. Why did it have to be so far away?
Finding the row he needed was rather easy. It would be the only stone in the row. Over there. Arthur had walked up to the row, almost walking past it.
Lewis Pepper was all the gravestone read. Neither his birthday nor death were listed on the stone. No inscription had been made either. The stone only stood in the grave as a way for The Peppers to help Arthur’s recovery.
The Peppers hadn’t believed him when he told them what happened to Lewis. Their son couldn’t be dead. He’d simply left, that was it. He couldn’t forgive himself for not being able to protect Arthur from whatever happened that night in the cave. They couldn’t blame him for not being able to face Arthur. But they had begun to worry when he never contacted them. Arthur couldn’t be right. Could he? He had been traumatized, his mind was making up an excuse as to why Lewis wasn’t around anymore. That had to be it.
Arthur sat down against the headstone, his hand rubbing the grass above the un-dug grave. It was relieving to have a place to connect with his long-gone friend, even if his body weren’t buried there.
“He-hey Lewis,” Arthur was still nervous talking to his friend. His imagined version of Lewis hadn’t forgiven him entirely for what had happened. He wanted Lewis there to be mad at him, and to comfort him. Lewis had always been Arthur’s anchor, keeping him steady when his fears would run wild. Now he was gone and Arthur feared the worst.
Would Lewis even forgive me for what happened? Of course he would, he knew you were prone to possession. And this was a demon.
But it was still my body, I couldn’t warn him. I couldn’t stop it.
That’s what an accident is Arthur. God. He could still hear Lewis’ forgiving voice in his head. It wasn’t right. It never would be right.
Arthur sniffed, his nose was running. And his eyes were streaming. He was beginning to become a mess. He couldn’t let Vivi see him like this. “Lewis, what am I suppose to do when the best part of me was always you?”
The trees rustled in the distance. They almost seemed to be wailing in sympathy. A few leaves swirled around his feet, coming to rest against the headstone. Wiping them away, a rose florette was underneath. “Was that already there?” Arthur wondered out loud.
Before he could question it further his phone vibrated in his left pocket. Pulling out the phone to read the screen:
Vivi: Arthur. It’s been half an hour. Are you ok?
“And what am I supposed to say when I’m all choked up and she’s okay? I’m falling to pieces Lewis, and I can’t put them together again.” Arthur wiped at his face. The tears were beginning to sting his eyes and the chill from the wind burnt at the tracks they were leaving. There would be no mistaking that he had been crying.
His phone vibrated again.
Vivi: Where are you? You’re not at your parents.
Arthur: I’m at a friend’s. Just keep going. Beginning of the Ps. Can’t miss me.
“She’s moved on while I’m still grieving. I’m falling to pieces Lew, and I don’t know what to do.” Arthur sobbed into the headstone. How can I face Vivi like this? Vivi deserved someone better, and she had found that in Lewis. But Lewis was gone thanks to him.
“I don’t have your words to stop the bleeding.”
The van’s tires picked at the gravel of the cemetery’s road. The sound unmistakeable. The van stopped as soon as Vivi spotted Arthur’s golden spikes. His hair lively and bright in the otherwise dreary place. She bolted out of the van. The warning signal that the door was open and the driver’s seat not buckled were undertones in the rumble of the engine.
Grabbing hold of Arthur, Vivi rested her head over his left shoulder. “You’re ok!” Vivi cried out. “When you didn’t call or text, I got worried. I thought something had happened again.” Vivi looked into Arthur’s eyes and brushed away his remaining tears.
Looking over the headstone, Arthur saw that Vivi’s eyes hadn’t glossed over. She could read the grave. “Who was this Arthur?”
“He’s my best friend.” Arthur’s tears returned, she was listening to him. She hadn’t spaced out. “That’s Lewis, but he’s not buried here. He’s supposed to be just missing, but I don’t think he’s ever coming back.” It was a partial truth, but the lie hurt just as bad as the truth.
“I hurt him, Vivi, and then he was gone. I didn’t want him to go away. He didn’t deserve to leave, I should have been the one to leave.” Arthur’s tears were staining Vivi’s scarf. He’d worried about her seeing him before, but now it was coming out. She was still there, she was listening, she could understand.
“Oh Artie, they say bad things happen for a reason.” Vivi’s cheeriness borrowed his attention from his inner thoughts. “He was special to you wasn’t he?”
Choking back tears long enough to answer, “yeah.” He sniffled a little.
“He was more than a friend?” Vivi was asking questions. Oh how he wanted her to ask more, he needed to be able to tell her more. He wouldn’t be able to tell her if she didn’t ask. He didn’t have the courage to do that.
Arthur simply nodded in agreement.
“Artie. Look at me.” She cupped his cheek in one hand and titled his head up to meet her eyes. “He has your heart, and you have mine, and you’re in so much pain. We can go looking for him, we’re detectives. I don’t care if that means you going back to him, I just want to see you smile again.”
“I, I, I’m sorry Vivi. Just, let me say goodbye and I’ll meet you in the van.”
“Take your time, I’ll be right there waiting for you.” Vivi pointed over to the idling van. The grave. That name. It’s so familiar. Who was Lewis? Now I’m trying to make sense of what remains.
Standing over the gravestone Arthur steadied his breathing. He felt calm but anxious. Vivi had just admitted that she loved him, and that he wasn’t able, or couldn’t, love her back. There was one thing she was right about. He needed closure.
“I’m still alive but I’m barely breathing.”