There are services out there that will deliver a message to loved ones a few weeks after you’ve passed on. (for example http://deathswitch.com – give it a look) Your prompt is to write a story about one such message, the implications the message has and, well, whatever else that just popped in your head about this subject.
This is the r/writingprompts August Contest, where I had my first go at writing in a modern-day setting. This was also my first practice of first-person, and my first time writing as a male character. I didn’t really have anything more specific than that in mind, as I was still in the phase of just writing something to see what I could do.
Here’s a link to my post. I hope this is sufficient for Google not to punish me for duplicate content.
“I’ve been considering ways to begin this message with something other than a cliché,” I read aloud softly, my eyes flickering across the screen as they danced over his words, “but it turns out that the old’uns are the good’uns: if you are reading this message, it means that I am dead.”
My heart leapt into my throat. I already knew the fact of his death, of course; it had been my mind’s sole occupant for the three weeks since I awoke to find his cold, still body lying battered and bruised at the bottom of the stairs. But still, it jolted me to think of him sitting at his computer, secure in his room, safely enclosed in my house and supposedly my protection, contemplating his death. My son. My blood. Had he known it was coming? Had he felt it, suspected it? I shook my head. No. These constant questions were encroaching further and further upon my sanity by the day.
“If this message remains unchanged by my age and my father is still the recipient rather than my wife I’ve yet to meet, then I suppose I died young,” he went on. “You always hear how hard it is for a parent to bury their child, so my heart aches for you. Especially as you don’t have Mum’s strength by your side.”
I felt my teeth clench in a vain attempt to hold back the sudden swelling of pain that threatened to overwhelm me. Even when faced with the concept of his own death my son was thinking of others. I wondered if he ever really thought of himself, of his own wants and desires. I wondered if he had ever truly lived for himself in his too-short lifetime. My vision blurred and I blinked away the tears to continue reading, leaning in towards the screen as if such an action could bring me even an inch closer to him.
“I know how hard things have been since she died, for both of us, and I know that no matter what harsh words have we have exchanged in these past few years, we still love each other dearly. I know you tried to be strong for me – you were, you must believe me! But you could never see just how strong you truly were. I hope I was strong for you.”
I nodded away like a marionette as I read, controlled by nothing but the strings of instinctive reaction as I recoiled further inside myself, away from his words that were like daggers in my heart. My son. My lifeline. I could not face his words. I knew I should, but it was all too much. They were too true. I could not be transported to that morning again. Nor that night.
I returned to myself, steeled my resolve, and continued reading. “I know it is futile to say, but please try not to feel guilty.” My stomach plummeted and I almost vomited its acrid, alcohol-soaked contents over the keyboard. I spun the chair around and away from the message to take several deep, calming breaths, focusing intently on the bare walls that were illuminated only by the glow of the screen. At one time they had been alive with posters of musicians and movies, awards for sport and science, photographs of young smiling faces whose laughter echoed through the years. But after his death I could no longer bear to see the life on those walls, so I boxed it all away like I’d tried to box away my pain.
I took another shuddering breath. Another. Okay, I was ready again.
“Whatever you may think, you were always my protector. I know that, however I died, you did all you could to prevent it. Please remember that. Thank you for everything, Dad. I love you.”
It was all too much to bear, and I flailed madly in my attempts turn the screen off, turn the computer off, rip out the cables, destroy it all, do anything to make those words go away. I felt my hand knock the near-empty whisky bottle from the table, and I turned just in time to see it crack against the floor and spill the last of its dark amber contents. For an instant the cracked bottle became my son, and the whisky shone bright red as it leaked from his head. This time I could not control the convulsing of my stomach, and I stumbled in drunken, teary blindness to the bathroom.
I crouched there with my arms circling the toilet seat in a warped embrace, stomach finally empty, and I wept. I poured out my grief, my guilt, my unforgivable sins. My son. My tiny bundle of joy, my little footballer, my growing student, my full-grown Bachelor of Science. Through everything, the thought had never crossed his mind. My son. My innocence.
In all he wrote, he was definitely right about one thing: I truly did not know my own strength, especially not when my brain was pickled in whisky and my heart was drowned in grief. If I had known my own strength, I would never have lashed out at him. If my brain had not been pickled in whisky, I would have heard and understood the sound of a body tumbling down stairs and not dismissed it as the tantrums of a teenager that he no longer was. If my heart had not been drowned in grief, it would not have been so numb as to let me turn away and go to sleep after all that had happened that night.
Through everything, it never crossed his mind that my harsh words to him could ever turn into harsh actions against him. He never suspected for one moment that he could have died at the very hands of the person who was supposed to protect him.
My son. My only son. My torment.