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Awaiting Death 1998 by J. Vandersteen

a horrifying tale of Harvey Banks, tabloid reporter-

***

I wanna die young - And sell my soul

Use up all your drugs - And make me come

Yesterday man - I was a nihilist and

Now today I’m - Just too fucking bored

By the time I’m old enough - I won’t know anything at all

 

- Marilyn Manson, "I Want To Disappear"

 

***

Joseph Weinberg smiled when he walked to his room. He’d just won 3 cigars in a poker game with Bart and Max. Sometimes life in a nursing home wasn’t that bad. Especially if that cute blonde nurse was on the nightshift again. Hell, he was happy to be alive, after all the things he had seen when he was young. But no, he didn’t want to think about that.

When he had his hand around the doorknob he suddenly got a funny feeling in his stomach. A feeling like he knew somebody was in his room. He shook his head. He was getting paranoid in his old age. Hey, maybe it was that cute nurse dressed in some sexy lingerie thing, like he’d seen on that Melrose Place show last night. He laughed. Yeah, he might be an old man with false teeth and arthritis, but his hormones were still working. He turned the doorknob and went inside.

His room was sparsely furnished. There were two chairs, a bed and a salon table with an old radio on top of it. And there were paintings. Lots of them. He liked paintings. They reminded him of his late wife, who was an artist herself. God, she was great. He wouldn’t have traded her for anything in the world, not even that cute…

There it was again. The feeling someone was in his room. He looked around his room. Nothing. Then he started to have trouble breathing. He started to cough. He walked to the window, trying to open it, but it was stuck. He knew what was happening. He had seen it happen before. He had seen it happen to his parents.

Wrestling with the window he heard the sound of boots clacking against the floor behind him. He turned around and looked at what at first sight seemed to be an alien, coming from the mist, that was in reality toxic gas. As he looked closer he saw the strange eyes weren’t that of an alien. No, they were the dark lenses of a gas mask. The alien was a man in a dark uniform. The uniformed man started to laugh, but the mask muffled the sound, distorting it in a strange and creepy hiss.

The uniformed man was the last thing Joseph saw, just like it had been the last thing his parents had seen.

***

I’d never liked nursing homes. All these people just sitting there waiting to die made me feel uncomfortable. Not that death itself made me feel that way. After all, I had seen plenty of dead people in my life, but the slow, drawn out way death claimed these men, that scared me. If I die, I know it will be being slashed in half by a serial killer, or choking in my own vomit after having too much to drink. The idea of dying alone in my bed, after my body has simply stopped functioning… upsets me.

I owed my Uncle Max this visit though. The old coot had been the only adult who really cared for me as a kid. He stood up for me when my dad, may he rot in hell, beat me up. He poured me my first drink. He told me about the birds and the bees. He bought me my first nudie mag. Uncle Max was one good-hearted sonofabitch, and if he needed to see me, I was going to visit him, even if I didn’t like nursing homes.

The walls were white. Just like a morgue’s. The smell of antiseptic filled the air. People dressed in white clothing, just like butchers, scuttled across the halls. There were so many doors, the place reminded me of a honey rate. How was I going to find Max in this place? Then I noticed a cute looking blonde nurse.

"Hi," I said to her. "My name’s Harvey Banks. I’m looking for my uncle, Max Banks."

She smiled. "Hi, I’m Heidi. Don’t worry, I can take you to him. Quite frankly, I think every nurse younger than 30 knows where his room is. Your uncle is a naughty old man," she said and smiled. It was a lovely smile. Maybe nursing homes weren’t so bad after all. And from what I was hearing now, Max enjoyed it here too, that horny old motherfucker.

***

Uncle Max had gotten older, but he still looked the same to me. He still had those mischievous eyes, that charming smile and those ridiculously big ears. He rose up from his chair as soon as I came in. "Harvey! Good to see you, kid!"

I shook his hand. He still had a firm grip. I glanced behind me, to thank the nurse for taking me to him, but she was already gone.

"Cute little thing isn’t she, old boy?" Max asked me.

"Down, dirty old dog," I said smiling. Then I took my hip flask of Scotch from my pocket and handed it to him. "I brought you a little gift."

Max gave me a grateful look. "Thanks, kid. You always knew how to make me happy. But please, sit down and pour yourself a drink too."

I sat down with a glass of Jack D. and decided to get to the point immediately. "Listen, Uncle, it’s great seeing you again, and it’s been too long really, but… Why did you ask me to visit you all of a sudden?"

"Christ, you don’t beat around the bush, do you? Well, you never were a very patient child, were you now Harvey? All right. I’ll tell you. You see, people are dying in here."

"That’s not very surprising in a nursing home, now is it, Uncle?"

"Don’t get smart with me, boy. These deaths…they’re not natural. The people dying are still spry old folks. They die too suddenly. And too many of them have died in too short a period. Something unnatural is going on."

"What do you mean? How did they die?"

"Two weeks ago someone died of a punctured lung. A week ago someone died of a broken neck. Yesterday someone suffocated. But the strangest thing of all is, there is no reason to be found why these deaths happened. They didn’t fall down the stairs, had no prior complaints that could explain the things that happened to them. It’s weird old shit, Harvey. And I know what you do, Harvey. You know about weird shit. You got to find out what’s happening here before your old Uncle Max kicks the bucket too."

"Sorry Uncle, but I’m not sure if there’s anything I can do."

"Stay here for the night, Harvey. Stay here, see what happens. It’ll make me feel safer."

I nodded. "All right. If you want me to do that I will. I owe you that much at least for all the stuff you did for me. Now get that glass of yours over here so I can refill it."

***

Uncle Max was snoring like a bear. The chair in which I was sleeping felt like an instrument of torture, but the whiskey made me fall asleep anyway. I had a nightmare about me, at the age of 80, staying in this nursery home. I was looking like a skeleton, sick, old, incontinent. But the worst part of it was that I was surrounded by good-looking nurses, but couldn’t get it up anymore.

A scream startled me awake. As I sat upright in my chair I was looking against the back of uniformed man. He was standing at Uncle Max’ bed. In his hands he was holding a rifle with a bayonet attached to it. I saw him lift it above his head, ready to thrust it into the old man’s heart. Max had his mouth wide open, but he couldn’t find the strength to scream anymore. I could.

"Leave him alone, you son of a bitch!" I shouted and got up from my chair. I grabbed it and slung it at the Uniformed Man.With a loud crack the chair broke on his back It didn’t seem to hurt him, but at least it got his attention. The man turned around and looked me right in the eye. He was wearing an old-fashioned gas mask and a steel-gray helmet. Amazed I saw the twin S signs on it. This guy was dressed like a fucking nazi! Making good use of my initial surprise he smacked me in the jaw with the butt of his gun. I staggered backwards, while he ran to the window. Regaining my footing I started to run after him. Then, I swear to god, he just jumped right through it without breaking the damn glass! I opened the window, looking outside, searching for him. He was nowhere to be found.

***

It took us two glasses of whiskey to get over the initial shock. "I don’t get it," Uncle Max stammered. "How did he get through that window without breaking it? Did you just safe me from getting impaled by a damn ghost?"

"I’m not sure what it was," I answered him. "I do know however, that it needs to be stopped. It’s coming back, I’m sure of it. The thing that puzzles me though, is why it was dressed like a nazi."

"It’s ironic, that’s for sure," Max said.

"Ironic?"

"Yeah, ironic. I mean, this place is largely reserved for war veterans and victims of concentration camps. It’s partly funded by the German government, to make up for all the shit in the war."

An idea started to grow in my head. "You were in the war too, weren’t you, Uncle?" I asked.

"Sure as hell was, kid. I was a fly-boy. Had me some good dogfights, too."

"The other ones, have they fought the nazi’s too?"

"No, but two of them were Jewish. Survived Auschwitz, they did. I tell you, the things those two had to go through…"

"And the other one? He wasn’t Jewish?"

"No, old Jeremiah was black."

"Shit," I said. "I think I know what’s going on here. I can’t really explain it, but I think I know. Listen, Uncle. I need you to gather everyone who could be targeted by a nazi. By that I mean Jews, war veterans, communists, blacks, the handicapped. Everyone who could have perished in a concentration camp during the war. Every man or woman who the nazi’s would have killed during the war. Take them all to the recreation room."

***

I’d never seen so many old people in one room. Some of them were sitting in a wheel-chair, some had no teeth, a very annoying geezer couldn’t stop coughing. Jesus, maybe if I started to smoke 3 packs of Luckies I could die before I was old. Fuck, who the hell was I kidding? With the life I lead I’m lucky if I make it to my pension. A shrink would probably say my fear of becoming an old demented wreck is the reason I always walk into the path of danger. Of course, I know it’s really just because I’m a thickheaded, stupid shithead.

"Hello folks," I addressed the Geezer Brigade, "you’re probably wondering why Max asked you all to come in here. Well, it’s not to play shuffleboard, I’m afraid. You’re here to defeat an evil spirit." They looked at me like I was the one who was demented. "I know it’s a little hard to swallow, even harder than those pills they feed you, but it’s the truth," I told them. "You all know about the people who died here the last couple of weeks, well I know what killed them. You did." Of course now, they really thought I was nuts. "You see, all the fear and nightmares you carried with you when you came to live here, has taken a tangible form. By psychic projection you created a phantom stormtrooper, an ectoplasmic nazi. Now, since you were able to create the thing, you should be able to destroy it too. The only thing you have to do is conquer you r fears."

"That’s quite a story, young man," a geezer with a squeaking hearing-aid spoke up. "But it explains why you gathered the people here that you did. We are not only the ones who created this thing, but also the possible victims, right? Jews, blacks, the handicapped."

"Wait a minute," an old lady said. "Didn’t the nazi’s go after the homosexual as well?"

"Oh god," the man with the hearing-aid said. "They did. And nurse Heid has a girlfriend!"

I was out the door before he finished the sentence.

***

Nurse Heidi was walking across the hall, shoving a little cart filled with food before her. When she turned around the corner she suddenly bumped into someone. "I’m sorry, sir," she apologized. Then she saw who she bumped into. And started to scream.

I bounded into the hall hacking and coughing (three packs a day can do that to a guy). "Heidi, run!" I yelled. But she was too afraid, too shocked to move. She just stood there, staring at the man in the SS-uniform. This time, he had a vicious dog with him, too. The phantom raised his rifle, ready to use his bayonet, like he’d tried to do last night. When I arrived, I knocked the cart into him, keeping him away from Heidi for a moment. I grabbed Heidi by the arm, dragging her further away from the phantom. "We have to run," I said, "NOW!" This time, she listened. We ran through the halls, while I heard the nazi push the cart away from him. The sound of his boots resonated through the halls, loudly, menacingly, while his dog barked at us.

***

"What’s going on here?" Heidi asked me, while we got into the recreation room. "No time explain," I said, starting to push one of the tables in the room against the door. "Somebody help me!" Two surprisingly old geezers did. I doubted the table would stop our stalker though. No, physical force was not the thing that was needed here. I needed these people’s willpower.

I could hear the vicious attackdog’s paws scratching at the door, barking and growling, while the butt of the Phantom Nazi’s gun kept banging against it. "Aufmachen! Aufmachen!" he shouted at us in a horribly distorted voice.

"No!" an old lady screamed. "It’s just like on the 4th of May, when they came! Oh god, no mommy, don’t let them get me again!" That did it. That gave the phantom just enough power to ram open the door. The table was pushed aside, as our ectoplasmic enemy entered the room, preceded by his dog.

Panic was the result of his entrance. People started screaming, crying and yelling. "The dog! It’s the one I saw rip apart those poor escaped Jews! It’s going to rip us apart now!" a man yelled.

"To hell with that mutt!" I shouted, beside myself with anger, as I kicked the beast in its guts. It howled, and rolled on its back. The nazi answered my attack with a blow from his gun’s butt. I fell down on the cold, tiled floor. "Zerreische ihm!" the phantom ordered its dog. The animal was on top of me in mere seconds. I could feel its warm breath on my face, see its large teeth come closer. Shit, for a phantom it seemed pretty damn real. Real enough to rip me apart!

"Let him go!" an old man shouted, and used his crutches to batter the dog. It helped, the dog let me go and now turned its attention to the old guy. It jumped him and ripped open his throat before any of us could do anything to help the poor sap.

"They can’t hurt you if you don’t let them!" I shouted at the people. "You’ve seen what they react to! They feed on your haunted memories, realize that and you can stop them. You have to use your willpower to wish them away! Overcome your fears and overcome these monsters!" The nazi now raised his gun, aiming it at me. "His bullet won’t hurt me if you don’t allow it!"

"He’s right!" Uncle Max said. "We’ve lived long enough with our fears. The war’s over. It has been for years. It’s time to move on. The nazi’s are gone, so this guy has no place here. He can fuck off to the hell that spawned him!"

The phantom pulled the trigger. There was a loud bang, a flash of muzzle fire as I braced for the impact of the bullet. It didn’t come.

Surprised, the phantom checked its rifle. Then the old folks started to surrounded it and its dog, Max leading them. "This is it, people, we do what we did fifty years ago. We take our freedom back!" All of them yelled loud and clear "FREEDOM!" as they started to close in on the nazi. They kept repeating the word with every step they took. Every time they uttered the word the phantoms faded more and more. Then there was a loud howl by the dog as it disappeared. It was followed by an even louder "NEIN!" as the phantom nazi faded away as well.

Slowly I got to my feet. I had to admit, I was pretty impressed by these folks. For a couple of relics they did damn good. The phantoms were gone now, the only reminder of their existence the dead body of the guy with the crutches, his throat ripped apart by the phantom dog.

"I just do not believe what happened here," Heidi uttered. Max smiled, putting an arm around her. "Even I don’t believe it, nurse, and I’ve been around a while. But it seems we finally laid our ghosts to rest."

I took a cigarette from my pack and put it between my lips. As I took my lighter a soft hand grabbed mine. "Sorry sir," Heidi said. "No smoking in here."

I shook my head. I just saved her cute lesbian ass and now she was giving me grief about me smoking. Now I knew for sure I wanted to die before I got old.

THE END

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