Mar. 4, 2009

Kenneth Burchfiel

The room was too dark to gauge its size; all he had for light were two windows. The only thing he could see or feel was the wooden bench below him.

He felt the least bit anxious, as if he had forgotten something on the way here.

“Your mother is going to die today.”

He looked up, startled. That was unexpected.

“Your mother is going to die today.”

He stood and looked around. Hard to tell where the voice was coming from, he thought.

“Your mother is going to die today.”

The noise echoed off the wall. If he ducked or clapped his ears together, the voice continued. Pale-faced, he sat on the bench, afraid that it might come back.

“Your mother is going to die today.”

The less he wanted to hear the voice, the more it continued. The man squinted at the ceiling, then searched for a crack in the wall. This statement—was it possible?

“Hoist that bench, or your mother will die today.”

He looked back at his seat. It seemed irrelevant—but the voice could be right, and if so, he could never live his mother’s death down. Anything to ward the fear out of his mind.

“Your mother is going to die today.”

He ran over to the bench and lifted it up. Solid wood to its core; it required a strongman’s effort just to keep risen. But if the voice was right, he might kill someone by dropping the piece of furniture. And that was what he dreaded.

“Your mother is going to die today unless you carry it to the other side of the room. After that, she will live.”

He walked over to the other side of the room. The chair felt like a boulder in his arms, but he had to carry it.

“Why are you walking? Do you not care about your mother?”

He broke into a sprint. His arms seared with pain as he carried the chair, but the other wall—yes, he could make it out—was barely feet away.

Relieved, he sat the bench down and reclined in it. To think his mother had almost died, and that he was nearly complacent with it.

There was a minute of peace.

“Your mother is going to die today.”

He looked up, confused at the noise. One of the windows had closed, making it near-impossible to see more than twenty feet in front of him. The origin of the sound was a mystery.

“Your mother is going to die today. Did you not hear?”

Fear clouded his vision. The bench—if he could just pick up the bench, maybe she would be all right. Was it really worth sitting here her life was at risk? Even if pain would shoot in his arms?

“Pick up the bench and walk it to the right.”

He gave the voice no resistance, lest his mother die early. A few seconds later, the bench was safely in his arms, and his mother—the man imagined—safe as well.

His arms wobbled with shock. Every beam in the bench weighed his shoulders down and caused his spine to bend. The second window closed in front of him.

After two minutes of labor, the bench fell onto the right corner of the wall.

“That is not good enough. You did not move it to the right enough.”

He began to slide it towards the wall.

“Slide it back and pick it up. This is your mother’s life at risk; it would be deadly to hold back any effort.-

He walked the bench back, heaved it into his arms, wobbled over to the corner and dropped it. That same uneasy peace returned, except this time, there was only darkness.

His arms felt ready to fall off his shoulder blades. His back felt torn down the middle. It was for his mom, he knew. But what did any of this have to do with his mother? The bench was not in her way; it would not block anything from hitting her, or affecting her. But he felt like picking it up would save her from an untimely demise.

“Your mother is going to die.”

He looked at the ceiling, then at the bench, and tried his best not to be afraid of the voice. There was Something inside of him—warm-feeling—that told him to stay, and not to listen to the noise above.

“Your mother is going to die,” the voice repeated, louder.

He stared at the bench. Those beams, those legs; there was no connection between his mother and this piece of furniture. And he felt inclined to listen to the Warmth.

The first window opened back up.

“Your mother is going to die.”

As if walking through gale-force winds, he staggered over to the bench and sat down. This voice knew nothing. The Warmth knew everything, he was sure. And the former was not going to win.

“Your mother is going to die. Your mother is going to die. Your mother is going to die. Your mother is going to die. Within hours. No, within seconds!”

He no longer looked up. He was not going to respond. He was not going to give in. His mother was alive, and would remain alive for as long as God willed it. This voice was a fraud.

“Your mother is going to…”

The second window opened up. And then a flurry of windows and doors burst open, bringing in sunlight so bright that he had to squint. It was enough to make him forget the voice had ever spoken.

“Your mother is… going…”

From across the door walked in a middle-aged woman. She smiled and wove at the man in the bench, who rose up to meet her.

“How are you? It’s been so long.”

“Yes, yes, I know. Not sure how I even got in here.”

Out of curiosity, the man looked up. But all he could see were crossbeams and rafters.


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