I’m Nicholas D. Wolfwood, and I’ve been dead now for over six decades. The day I died is still clear in my memory, but it doesn’t bother me anymore. Besides, today is the day she’s coming. It’s her first day as an immortal. But let me tell you about my first days after death. I lived on that dusty planet during the Frontier Days, the Golden Age of the Sand Steamer-also the era less famously known as the Day of the Braying Thomases. They say things were simpler then, but it didn’t seem so simple when not only did you have to carry a gun, but you had to use it often. Those are the days when growing old was an exception, not the rule. Those days, you had to think on your feet. A second’s indecision could cost you. I shot many people, thinking it was the necessary action. I shot them dead. But I was such an expert marksman, I could have done like my friend Vash did and shoot merely to incapacitate. Vash forced me to see this. I hated him for it.
But I loved him too much to kill him. My mentor, Chapel the Evergreen, gave me orders to snuff Vash out. I almost did it, too. I almost shot down my best friend. I thought maybe if I completed my mission, they’d let me live, and I could start a new life with Milly, the woman I love.
But I didn’t shoot Vash, and I didn’t kill Chapel, either. And the bullets from Chapel’s Cross Punisher tore into my left side, knocking me to the ground and into a pool of my own blood. In my mind, I saw Milly, saw her face, saw the milky white body she hid under all those clothes. I remembered telling her that making love to her was “like dying, yet feeling more alive than ever.”
I had actually thought, just a moment ago, that I might just get through this day alive.
Chapel seemed apologetic, mumbling something about Legato forcing his hand.
“Yeah, whatever,” I said as flippantly as I could manage, grunting as I pulled myself to my feet. No point in exacting revenge now. I shivered. Damn, it was cold. I felt sick.
“Where do you think you’re going in that condition?”
I hefted my cross upon my shoulder, and didn’t answer. But I was thinking a reply all along: “Where am I going? To Paradise.”
He let me leave. I stumbled on. All the time I was living, I kept believing there had to be something better. Vash and I would call it a place without killing or stealing-but there was more to it than that. It was what Adam and Eve lost in Eden-a place with no hatred.
No unrequited love.
A place we could never find or make while we were living-but Vash sure tried.
It seemed endless, in my weakened state, to drag my cross all the way to the church I knew lay just at the edge of the deserted town, though really it was just a minute or so’s walk. I knew why I was heading there. I was not sure why I was bringing the cross. It was just so much a part of me, I guessed. Onward, Christian soldier…Christ, also bloody and bruised, had had to fare likewise on the march to Calvary and his own crucifixion.
“He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword,” I remembered Jesus saying to Peter. Mortally wounded by another Cross Punisher, it was a lesson I had learned too late. I guess I just wasn’t cut out to be a priest.
I saw Vash, and spoke encouraging words to him. The dumb clod was so busy moping that he didn’t even notice I was dying.
At last, I made it to the humble little church, and walked inside. I started my confession standing, but soon, I knelt down, partly from reverence, and partly because I couldn’t stand on my own two feet anymore.
I was aware of all the blood I was losing, and even felt my life force fading. Milly, I wish I could end this life in your arms. But I had to have come here. My sins were grievous and I needed to make peace with God. Sometimes I felt so dirty-not just from the blood I had spilled, but everything questionable in my life. I felt dirty from tobacco smoke, dirty from filthy words, dirty from drinking to the point where instead of quoting people Bible verses, I made off-color puns. Dirty because of my desire for Milly, which I hadn’t been able to suppress any longer last night. I did not know if this underlying guilt that haunted my existence was deserved, or due to my imagination, dreaming up a God that was harsher than the real one.
As I lit my final cigarette, I thought of Milly again. Oddly, the memory of her yanking a cigarette from my mouth and scolding me with, “You know smoking is bad for the baby, darling” stuck out in my mind. I would not live to raise a family with her. I would leave her all alone, a widow after only one night. “I’m sorry, honey.” The cigarette dropped from my mouth. There. I’ve given up smoking just for you, Milly.
Maybe I was ready to die. As unforgivable as I felt myself to be, God’s mercy was vast and there for the asking. Today I had woken up with Milly, and we had made sweet and tender love. Then I had made peace with my buddy Vash. And I had finally wrested that damned apple from my tormentor-er, mentor’s hands! Now I could be in Paradise before the night came-it would be a perfect day. Yeah, maybe it would be good to die, to go to Eden and meet up with my friends later when it was their turn. Anyway, if I survived, I would have to go through life with the stigma of having gunned down a child.
Then I thought of Milly, and wanting to grow old with her. And I thought of Vash, and how I wanted to see my friend’s problems through to the end, not leave on a cliffhanger. On the Other Side, would I even be able to see how things worked out? Would I even care anymore?
No, I had something to live for-Milly’s love and Vash’s friendship. I did not want to die this way! Even as I cried out my protest to God, it grew dark. I felt my hand drop to the floor, though I was no longer thinking lucid thoughts.
Death was like turning off the light as you stepped out of a house, then blinking as you discovered it was already bright outside. I felt my strength returning. I was aware of someone’s arms around me. Slowly, I looked up. A young, brown-eyed girl with long brunette hair smiled at me. She was dressed in a simple, white robe. “Brother Wolfwood!”
“Ramona?” She had died years ago, at the orphanage. At her request, I had held her in my arms until she had passed on.
“I held you, Brother Wolfwood. I held you until you passed to the other side, just like you held me!”
And then I knew for certain that I myself was dead.
“Why are you crying, Brother Wolfwood? There’s no need to cry anymore.”
“Milly…Milly, I’m sorry!”
Ramona lay a hand on my shoulder. “It will pass. The sadness will pass. I never cry anymore. I have no need to.”
It was strange-we were ghosts, yet I could feel the warmth of her touch. I could feel the tears run down my cheeks. And I noticed on my arm a dark sleeve with a cross at the wrist-apparently, I was dressed in clothes resembling the ones I had died in.
I stood and looked around. We were on a narrow, rocky path. In the distance was a beautiful city, unlike anything on the planet. It gleamed as though made of jewels. “That’s where we’re heading,” Ramona said. “You’ll love it there. Really. You know I’m not a liar.”
I rested a hand on her head. “I know, Ramona, and it is good to see you again. And I’m glad I’m here and not in Hell. But I have so much left undone.”
“You can watch your friends when you want. You can always be there in spirit.” She grabbed my hand, and started down the path. “C’mon.”
“I can see them? Can I see them now?”
“C’mon, Ramona, I need to see them now!”
“You’re so impatient!” she chided, her arms akimbo. “Well, okay, but this isn’t the best time…”
I-or what was left of me---had been silent a few moments. Vash had refrained himself from interrupting my confession, but now he hurried to my side. “Wolfwood? Buddy? We’ll get you bandaged up and you’ll be all right. Wolfwood?” The cross clattered to the church floor, and I crumpled beside it. Vash laughed nervously. “Wolfwood, c’mon, don’t do this to me!” Vash took my body in his arms, and felt for a pulse, or breathing. He pulled back my eyelids. There was no sign of life.
Vash clenched his teeth. He had seen death too many times not to recognize that it had claimed me. Hot tears raced down his cheeks, and stifled cries soon turned to open sobbing. “No..not you, too! Why, Wolfwood, why?” he demanded, echoing a question he had thrown at me a couple of days ago. “Why’d you have to leave me, too?” He drew my head closer to his own, pressing his wet cheek against my skin, then he loosened his hold. My head tilted backwards toward the floor.
“Man, I look terrible,” my spirit observed, Ramona in tow. Vash’s sobs grew more intense, and I was racked with pain just to hear them. I knelt down beside my friend. “Aw, Vash! Don’t be like that! I’m not worth it! I was just some lousy, trigger happy priest.” I looked around at Ramona. “Don’t tell me-he can’t hear me. Am I right?”
“They seldom do. I told you this wouldn’t be the best time.”
“I only just met you!” Vash cried. “We didn’t..we didn’t get enough time. I thought...” He sniffed back some mucus. “I thought we’d be friends for years.”
“How can I help him, Ramona?” I demanded. “How can I help him or Milly or anybody? So I just watch their lives like it’s some sort of play and I can’t do anything? Is that what you call Heaven?”
“Sometimes..” Ramona began hesitantly. “Sometimes they do hear you. And sometimes they feel you. But, you know, you can’t just carry on with them like you did in life. You didn’t hear a lot of ghosts talking to you when you were alive, did you? Your parents, or anyone?”
I shook my head.
“We were all there, watching over you,” she explained. “But there are borders between the mortal world and this world. But some time, maybe he will hear you.”
I nodded reluctantly. I lay a hand on Vash’s head. I found my hand could pass right through, or it could rest on an object or person as it might have in life. I rubbed his head in a friendly manner. “Take it easy, buddy.” Vash’s cries ebbed a little. I looked at him a moment longer, then stood.
“Are you ready to go?” Ramona asked.
“No. No, I’m not ready.” I folded my arms. “I’m staying here.”
“For however long it takes for Vash to find peace.”
“That could be awhile,” she pointed out, concerned.
“Yeah, it could. But I died with too much unfinished business, and I can’t rest yet.”
Did I see someone out of the corner of my eye? I turned to see two people behind me. The petite woman wore a white dress, embroidered with multi-colored flowers. Her face was kind; her reddish hair gathered up in a bun, giving her a Hispanic look. The man was wearing a white suit. Except for the goatee and the ponytail, he looked a lot like me.
“Who are you?” I asked warily.
“Nicky, come home,” the man said.
“Nicky?” No one ever called me that.
Suddenly the woman smothered me in an embrace, pulling me down into a kneeling position. “Oh, my precious child! I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you, to protect you from the bad men and all the misery they caused you. I am so sorry you couldn’t have lived a happier life. But I promise you everything will be okay now.”
I knew now that these were my parents, the people who, for better or for worse, had given me life. But… “I don’t..I don’t remember.” All I could recall was resenting my uncle and wishing my parents were still around, but no specific memories.
My father knelt down by my mother and I. “It’s all right, Nicky, you will remember.”
Then I caught a glimpse of the past. Daddy carrying me on his shoulders. Mamasita patiently trying to get me to eat vegetables, the warm smile never leaving her face for an instant.
I previously thought I had forgotten them because I was too young when I lost them. But the truth is, I had repressed those memories-not because they were so horrible, but because they were so happy. And that had made them painful, suffering under the abuse of my guardian, and yearning for what I had before, now forever lost.
No, not forever lost. Once again, I found myself crying, this time in the arms of my mother and father.
As when I had taken Milly as my mate, I found a part of me that had been missing. This unconditional love. Yet there was more to existence than the love of parents and of a good woman. There was friendship. I pulled away to look at Vash.
His tears had dried, but his eyes were still red and his breathing hard. “Rem, Rem,” he called. “Take care of him, Rem, for me, please? I’ve gotta..Gotta find Meryl.” He gazed at my body, still cradled in his hands. “I’m sorry,” he said softly, running a hand through my bangs before gently laying me down.
“It’s all right,” I said, in reply to his apology.
Before he got very far, he stubbed his toe on a pew, and nearly started wailing all over again.
“I can’t leave him like that; he’s a helpless fool,” I said to my folks. “I can’t come home right now. Not yet.”
“But, Nicky-” my mother began.
“Now, Maria,” my father corrected. “It’s his decision. When he’s ready to come home, the door will still be open for him.”
I followed Vash as he stumbled out of the church, bumping into an unusually tall man. He gasped. He hadn’t expected to run into anyone else in this deserted town.
The man was dressed in black, including a black hat. He wore unusual glasses that made his eyes look red and bugged-out. But what startled Vash the most was that he was carrying a cross almost exactly like mine. This man was, of course, Chapel the Evergreen.
Vash continued to stare.
“Is he dead?” the man asked.
Vash realized he meant me. He sniffed. “Yes,” he said warily.
The man nodded solemnly.
Vash noticed a hint of red staining his dark clothes. “You’re wounded.”
“It’s not fatal.”
Vash’s eyes narrowed. “Did you kill him?”
The stranger patted the cross. “My Cross Punisher fired the fatal blow, but my hands were not my own.”
“Legato,” Vash hissed.
The man hefted the cross to his shoulder. Turning away, he told Vash, “I will avenge him. I am in his debt.”
Vash let him walk away, too busy thinking about me to detain the stranger. “That time in Mai City,” he said aloud, gazing into the sky. “You shot a lot of bad people, but only injured them, to honor my philosophies. Or outside Keybos, when after insisting that gunfire was the only way out, you instead joined me in peacefully surrendering to the townsfolk-and got beaten for it. Now, I guess you got yourself killed because you let your opponent live-something I would have done. Wolfwood, all this time it was you who would concede to my views, and I never budged a bit in your direction. I was too busy preaching at you to see all the sacrifices you made for me.
“I will remember you, Nicholas D. Wolfwood. I will think of you every day-this I swear. You’ll be right up there with Rem.”
I got to see my own funeral-a rather informal, unofficial affair, much like my recent marriage. They had no coffin, so they just put my body right in the dirt. Vash lashed out at Our Maker. Milly couldn’t bring herself to throw dirt in my grave and ran off bawling. Meryl just looked bewildered the whole time. But, given the circumstances, it was a decent service.
There was something between Milly and I right from the day we met. And love sparked within me for such a stupid reason. When that girl took her stun gun and incapacitated those deadly machines, it floored me. Daintiness and flowery dress and refined manners are nice qualities for a woman to have, but there’s something to be said for being able to take care of yourself. There’s something to be said for a girl to be able to kick butt.
She probably would have been handy when Vash and I went after a lost child and faced the machines in force, but we had both hastily told the two girls to stay behind. I was speaking mostly to Milly, and Vash to Meryl-a sign of things to come.
It was my first adventure with Vash, and he saved the day, as usual. I found myself defenseless and with a weapon pointed right at my head. Before Vash shut off all the machines, I remember thinking as I prepared to die that I had never slept with a woman-it was pretty much a taboo thing in our church unless you were married.
I’ve met two types of people in my travels. One type, when they found out I was a priest, would be quite adamant in telling me what I could and couldn’t do. “You can’t smoke, you’re a priest! You shouldn’t swear, you’re a priest!” They were so quick to demand of me things they’d never think of enforcing in their own lives. Like I was going to take on the life of an ascetic just to fit in with their pre-conceived notions.
The other people, well, realizing I smoke and swore and drank and did these things priests supposedly weren’t supposed to do, assumed I would do anything-commit any sin. So, it surprised them to find out I had abstained from sexual relations-when I pointed out that, hey, I was a priest, they would say, “But you do everything else!”
Well, yeah, anyway I was a chain-smoking, hard drinking, coarse-talking virgin. So, in order to rectify that situation, when we were all safely back on board the bus, I helped myself to Milly’s shoulder and fell asleep. Maybe you don’t think that counts as sleeping with a woman, but like I said, to go much further would have gotten me kicked out of the priesthood.
My love for her continued to grow. I sometimes reveled in it, sometimes reviled it. The church wanted me to remain celibate. But I knew St. Paul had said it was better to marry than to burn. And I burned for Milly. I wanted to wake up by her side. I wanted to come home to her. I wanted to plant my seed in her and have her raise my children. I wanted to grow old with her. I wanted to love her, not just with feelings, but with my entire body. I knew yearning to its fullest extent. And I realized what St. Paul was telling me-if it’s going to be this much trouble, just go ahead and take her as your bride. But I was hesitant to make that move.
She caused my heart to race with an excitement I had never known. I had never been in love before-sure, there was that young widow I protected, Angelina. I felt something towards her, but in retrospect, it was more of a crush or courtly love than the real thing. With Milly, it was exhilarating just being in the same room as her. My palms would sweat and my nerves grow taut-sometimes I even snapped at her out of the sheer reluctance of feeling that way. She would just giggle and smile, which puzzled me to no end, but I was glad I hadn’t hurt her. It was as if she knew-she knew all along that I was crazy about her.
I guess falling asleep on her shoulder gave it away.
I was in agony when I saw her anguished reaction to my gunning down Zazie. I couldn’t bear that expression; it cut me right to the core. I was afraid I had lost her-as though I had ever had her in the first place. But she came to me the next day, kindly offering me food. I preferred just her company.
That night, she gave herself to me. In spite of all the wrong I had done, she gave me her love, and let me give her mine. She agreed, and agreed readily, to be mine for life. Ah, my honey. I had never known anything like it before, growing up abused, tormented, and alienated. But she surrounded me with tenderness and understanding, and showered me with powdery soft kisses.
And she looked at me with adoration in her eyes. Seeing her gaze at me with nothing but affection, I trembled as I lay naked in her arms.
She took what should have been my darkest night and made it blindingly bright.
Did I seduce her or did she seduce me? Aah, I don’t really like to think of it that way. We were in love, and though we had no access to an official ceremony, we vowed to be husband and wife to each other. Then again, wasn’t seduction what I had wanted? When, shy as a schoolboy, I had asked her to stay, hadn’t part of me-the part I was trying to hide from my conscience-wanted her to hold me?
I didn’t really know if I was staying behind more because I wanted to be with Vash or more because I wanted to be with her. There was so much Milly and I had just begun to explore, it being the first time either of us had taken a lover. I wanted to discover more. I wondered if people made love in Paradise.
Some nights she cried. She cried while trying to get to sleep, keeping it soft so as to not disturb Meryl. I didn’t know if it was over me she cried, or over Vash. That idiot had fallen unconscious days ago, to sleep off his first kill, and had yet to wake up. Did it matter who Milly cried for? My heart ached as I vainly tried to kiss her tears away. Those nights I spent with her, me a spirit, she a mortal-I couldn’t ask that she knew I was there. I just hoped some of the love and consolation I longed to give her was indeed felt by her, even if she didn’t know its source.
One night, her eyes opened. She stared right at me-through me, actually-it wasn’t that she saw me. It was just that her gaze was focused in my direction. “Nicholas,” she said, and I felt a thrill. Maybe she did see me? She turned and looked up at the ceiling. “Nicholas, why did you leave me?”
“I’m sorry, honey,” I apologized once more, knowing she did not see me. And though she was talking to me, she didn’t realize how close I was. “Someday, honey, we’ll see each other face to face. And I’ll never have to leave again.”
“I still can’t believe you’re never coming back,” she mumbled. I sighed. She’s a believer; she should have known better than to say never. But, I realize, when you’re in the mortal state, all that seems real is that world, not the world of spirits and the hereafter.
“So, you just gonna sleep?” I demanded. “You’re hardly injured!” I tried slapping Vash, but of course, my spirit hand had no impact. “C’mon, wake up!”
I sat on the edge of my friend’s bed and sighed, resting my head in my hands. “You’re so hopeless.”
A luminous presence walked straight through the door. I gaped up at her. She had long, lustrous black hair, a gentle face, and she was wearing a white robe over what looked like white jeans. “Are you an angel?”
She smiled in a laughing way. “No, I’m Rem. I’m an old friend of Vash.”
“-Nicholas D. Wolfwood, I know. I’ve seen you before.”
“Were you Vash’s lover?”
“No,” she said, walking over and placing a hand on Vash’s forehead. “I was more of a substitute mother when he and Knives were children, before this world was settled.”
“You’re the one who taught him not to kill!” I realized. “He beats himself up over your memory.”
She sighed. “Yes, he even imagines himself to be having conversations with me. But the words are not my own. They’re, well, what I might have said then, but not necessarily what I would say to him now.”
“Don’t get me wrong, you seem like a sweet girl,” I began. “But that philosophy of yours has gotten him into a lot of trouble on more than one occasion. Like out there with Legato the other day-he had no choice but to kill him, or Meryl and Milly would have died. Their two innocent lives over Legato’s depraved life-the choice seems simple to me.”
“When Vash was a child,” Rem related. “He, Knives, and I were in the nature room of the spaceship. We saw a butterfly caught in a spider’s web, and the spider was closing in on it. Vash wanted to free the butterfly and leave the spider alone. But Knives just crushed the spider. Vash was so upset because he wanted to save both beings-and that’s still how he is. He wants everything to end with no one dying. He’s such a sweet boy.”
“I wish it were possible,” I said. “That things could always turn out like he wants them. In the end, he even had me convinced that they could. But now, well, it’s me who’s died. I’ve been a sacrifice. I probably was wrong, most of the time. But as for Vash back there with Legato, I can’t see it as a sin on his part. It’s this indecision I can’t take-if I knew one philosophy or the other was right, I’d take a stand...”
“It will make sense in time,” Rem assured him. “You haven’t been to Heaven yet, have you?”
“No, I guess I’ve been a restless spirit.”
“Well, you are going there, I can tell. You should go as soon. All wisdom will be revealed to you-there will be no more gray areas. And you’ll still be able to see Milly and Vash-I mean, I’m here seeing him, aren’t I?”
“That may be true. But I want to stick around until things settle down for him. He’s had it so hard and he never gets a break-I don’t know how he goes on the way he does.”
“Yes, he’s over a hundred years old and he’s not jaded-or, unfortunately, thick-skinned. He’s as sensitive as he was when he was a toddler. You see, not only does he still have the body of a young man, but the spirit of one, as well. It makes him vulnerable, but it also keeps him going.”
She leaned down and kissed Vash’s forehead. “It’s all right, my little boy. It’s not your fault. You did the best you could. I forgive you and I’m not disappointed in you. Not in the slightest. So go easy on yourself.”
“You think he can hear you?” I asked. “He doesn’t seem to hear me.”
“Once in awhile, they hear you,” Rem answered. “It doesn’t hurt to try. But even when they do hear you, they don’t always take your advice. Did Vash always take your advice when you were alive?”
“I hope Vash listens to me and doesn’t blame himself, but when he wakes up, there’s no telling…” She trailed off.
I asked the question I supposed most dead people asked each other as small talk. “What was it like for you?”
She looked at me quizzically. “What?”
“You know, dying.”
“I-Well, I was probably around your age. I had to send Vash-and Knives-off in an escape pod. Then I had to save the other ships with all the colonists. It seemed like everything was lost, but as I ran to the controls, a calmness took over me. I didn’t even feel myself being ripped apart by the explosion. Just one second, I was pressing buttons, the next, I was in a peaceful place. I was able to see what happened, though. Well, of course, you know that, or I wouldn’t be here talking to you! I was able to see the planet was colonized successfully.”
“So…” I began. “You’ve been to Heaven. You know the absolute truth. What is the right balance between pacifism and violence?”
“Na-ah-ah!” Rem scolded, wagging her finger. “I’m not telling you. You have to find out yourself.”
“But why shouldn’t I know something like that?”
“It’s not like you need to know right now. You’re a ghost! What harm can you do?”
“I’m more worried about what good I can do.”
Rem headed for the wall, halfway vanishing into it. “Are you going so soon?” I asked, for I liked her company.
“We’re both attached to Vash,” she replied. “We both like to visit him. So we’ll see each other again.”
I heard feminine voices outside the door. “Oh, the girls are coming,” Rem observed, popping back in. “Meryl and Milly.”
“Milly is my bride,” I said wistfully.
“I think Meryl may someday be Vash’s bride,” Rem remarked mischievously.
I shrugged. “Maybe.”
The girls came into the room, Meryl going up to Vash and laying a hand on his head. “Ah, still asleep. Temperature feels a little high.”
“Gee, Meryl, how long do you think he’ll be asleep?”
“I don’t know. He is humanoid, which may mean-”
“He’s really not human?”
“Yes. I don’t even know if his temperature is normal, by his standards.” She glanced back at a small table set against the wall. “Oh, I forgot-I moved the chairs out of the room. I’ll go get them.”
“Okay.” Milly sat down on the end of Vash’s bed, unknowingly right next to me. I clutched her arm and lay my head on her shoulder. Milly looked up, a curious expression on her face. She sighed. “I miss you, Nicholas. You’d know what to do.”
“I miss you, too, honey,” I said, but she didn’t hear.
Meryl dragged a chair in, then went for the other one. When she brought it in, the girls took their seats, and silently watched Vash.
“I sense something different about Milly,” Rem said.
“Well, yeah, a lot has been going on in her life lately,” I remarked dryly.
“Nicholas, you must learn sometimes now that we’re not mortal, we can sense hidden things.” Rem moved up behind Milly, placing her arms around her. “Ahh…let’s see..Oh, I know! I know what it is!”
Rem laughed merrily. “She is with child.”
“Your child! Isn’t that exciting? I think it is exciting.”
“A child, why?” I sunk to the floor. “I can’t be a father to the child, Rem. He’ll never know me.”
“He-or she-will know all about you,” Rem said, kneeling down beside me. “They’ll tell him all the great things about you. And someday, he’ll see you face to face. All of us will be together.”
“I don’t like being dead.”
“Then stop being so restless and go Home. All your tears will be wiped away. You’ll never know misery again.”
“Eternal pain,” I mouthed, almost soundlessly.
Rem grabbed my shoulders. “Not for you, Nicholas! Not for you! If you come home, your conscience will be wiped clean forever. You’ll be whiter than snow.”
I had never seen snow personally, but I had read about it. “Gee, that sounds nice. But what could you have possibly done that you’d need to be cleansed?”
She smiled mysteriously. Then suddenly thinking of something, she leaned towards me and-rather unnecessarily, I thought-whispered in my ear. “Think yourself into her dreams,” she said, and it sounded like so much cryptic nonsense to me.
Before the twin suns rose, I walked to Milly’s bed, lying down beside her, my ghost body overlapping with her corporeal one on the small mattress. I put a hand on her womb, then inside. “Yeah, I feel the baby, honey. It’s small, but growing even now.” And it was beautiful. “Poor Milly, you don’t even know we have a child yet.” I half-smiled. “And the irony is, you’re going to be the one thinking I never knew I had a child.”
I stayed there with Milly, watching her breathe. For the most part, her sleep seemed easy, until she gave out a troubled whimper as if confronting a crisis. “Easy there, honey,” I said. “It’s all right, Milly, it’s all right.”
Then suddenly, I felt myself being pulled into her mind.
Wearing an olive dress like the one she had found in Tonim Town, she was standing in a green field full of flowers. To the right of her was a crystal stream with little rapids here and there. The air was cool and misty. She looked up. “What are you doing here?” she asked, but not in the alarmed manner she might have asked had she seen my ghost when she was awake.
“I think I’m here because you want me to be,” I replied.
She came up to me-touched my hand, my shoulder, my cheek, and my hair. “I think you’re really here,” she remarked brightly. “Do you know how I know?”
“You won’t do what I’m thinking at you,” she told me, pointing at her head. “You’re thinking independently.”
“You got me there,” I said with a smile. I gazed around. “Is there someone else here? Someone bothering you?” I asked, remembering how she had seemed uneasy.
She shook her head, puzzled. “No.”
“I guess I was just missing you.”
“I’ve missed you, too. I’ve been right by you all along, but I miss being able to talk to you and have you actually answer.”
“I talk to you, too, and you don’t answer back.”
“But I hear. I try to answer. What are you looking at me like that for?” Her eyes had a very mischievous gleam. She snapped her fingers. I looked down to see my clothes had disappeared. “Damn, you’re good.”
She giggled. “I like it when you wear that outfit.”
“But I’m not wearing anything.”
“That’s exactly why I like it so much.” Her own clothes faded away. She turned, gesturing for me to follow.
We entered a bedroom. It had flower print wallpaper, and flower print sheets on the bed. On a bureau was a picture of six children. “These are our kids,” Milly chirped matter-of-factly. There was a boy who looked like me, a girl who looked like her, a girl that looked like me, a boy that looked like her, a girl that probably resembled a sister of hers, and a baby.
“I thought you didn’t want sextuplets,” I quipped.
“Don’t be silly. They weren’t all born at once.” She put the picture down, then realizing her waking reality while still in dream mode, she sighed. “These are the children we’ll never have.”
“Well, five of them, we won’t.” I touched her bare belly. “But one already exists.”
Her eyes grew wide and she smiled. “Oh, it’s just what I’ve hoped for!” I kissed her cheek. She kissed my lips. “You know,” she said coyly, putting her hands on my shoulders. “I didn’t bring you in here just to look at a picture.”
“I know.” I backed her towards the bed.
Making love wasn’t exactly like it had been in mortal life. I was a spirit, and she was a dream figment of herself. That didn’t lessen the passion. It still seemed completely real. “Milly, my honey,” I breathed. “Not even death will keep me from you.”
When the climax had passed, she kept clinging to me. “I’m not letting you go!” she insisted. “You’re staying right here-in my arms.”
“Someday, honey, we won’t have to let go,” I assured her.
“You’re leaving?” she asked frantically.
“I’ll stay here, right now, as long as I’m allowed.”
She nodded, and nestled in against me, silent for a few moments. Then, she asked me, “Are you happy now?”
“Huh?” The question startled me. “Right now? Yeah. I’m with you.”
“No, I mean..you’re dead. What’s it like? Are you happy?”
“Not in general.”
She gasped. “I thought for sure you’d make it to Paradise.”
“Shh-shh. Don’t worry,” I said to calm her. “They told me I was going there. I just have a little unfinished business first.”
I smiled. “Like being with you.”
She blushed and looked downward. “I understand. It all got cut off short-your life and our marriage.” She snuggled in closer. “Let’s just make this moment last.” Her eyes closed. In time, she passed into the deeper stage of sleep where there are no dreams.
And I found myself back outside, back in my usual outfit, in her and Meryl’s real life room, just watching her sleep.
My honey’s blue eyes opened, and she stretched and yawned. “Mmmm,” she moaned lightly to herself, and smiled. “Meryl, I just had the most wonderful dream.”
“What was it about?”
“That’s the funny thing-I don’t remember much. I just know he was there. I don’t remember what he said, but…But I know he was really there.”
“I don’t know how the spirit world works exactly,” Meryl began. Damn her, she was going to say something to dash Milly’s hopes. She was too practical for everyone’s good! “But I suppose it is always possible he really came to visit you in your dream.”
“Atta girl, Meryl!” I exclaimed. Milly smiled blissfully and sighed, hugging her knees as she sat on the bed. I couldn’t demand that she be allowed to remember the whole dream-it was enough that she remembered my being there.
Rem was already there, a glowing aura around her. “Are you sure you’re not an angel?” I asked.
“Yes, I’m sure,” she replied cheerily. “You’ve been hanging out in this cabin with Vash for ten days now,” she pointed out. “And he’s still sleeping.”
“Yeah, it’s really boring.”
“Let’s try this one more time then.” She knelt down by Vash. “Vash! Vash! Wake up, quick! Oh, Vash!”
And then Vash’s eyes fluttered open. “He heard you!” I exclaimed.
As Vash’s memories came back to him, his face went white. Meryl came in, glad to see he was awake, but frightened of his grief, she quickly excused herself.
“Don’t chicken out now!” I chided.
Vash screamed in emotional pain.
“It’s as we thought,” Rem said. “He does blame himself.”
Vash, actually, now that he was awake, was the best mortal companion a dead person could hope for. He often talked aloud directly to Rem or myself-he knew we could hear him. He just couldn’t hear our replies.
“Wolfwood,” Vash said suddenly, as he sat on the narrow edge of his bed.
“What?” I asked, then remembered the barrier of death between us.
“I don’t know if you’re here or not,” he continued. “Or if you even have time to concern yourself with me…”
From my seat on the floor, I smirked.
“You know, when I found you in the church, you were bathed in this glow. There was a ray of light shining right on you. And I sat there with you in the light and it warmed me. It made me feel as if God was shining down on you, and though you had died, that you were going to be okay.”
“I’ll be okay soon enough,” I muttered.
“But…” He trailed off, thinking for a moment. “Back in Tonim Town, when we buried you, my mind was so clouded I couldn’t even remember how we met. But I remember now. The girls and I were riding the bus to Mai City when I saw the sunlight reflect off something in the desert. And I cried out like a happy little kid, as though I knew I had found something extremely valuable. And I did-I found you.”
I closed my soul’s eyes, feeling anguish and warmth all at once. Had I been alive, I probably would’ve smacked him and told him enough with the mush.
Vash continued. “If I had known then what would happen-how much pain your death would cause me, I..I would’ve chosen to meet you anyway. I’m glad you were in my life.”
I drew my legs up into my arms, and rested my head on my knees. “I’m glad, too, you idiot.”
“Unless by not meeting you, you’d still be alive,” he added, in his usual conscientious way.
“Shut up!” I snapped. “You should’ve quit while you were ahead, you…you…” I stood up, giving up on thinking of an insult to call him. “I’m gonna go see Milly!”
I went into the girls’ room. Meryl was lying awake in her cot, wide-eyed and curled up like an embryo, no doubt worrying about Vash. Milly was sleeping in her bed. I lay down intertwined with her, feeling for the baby. “I could’ve had a family,” I muttered to myself. “Why’d I have to forfeit my life for that jerk? He’s already lived a life twice as long as most of us. He’s had his share-why couldn’t I have had mine? And all he’s gonna do is mope around second guessing everything.” Either way you think about it, I died for Vash. You could say I died for him by adopting his ideals at the end, and then being shot down by a man whose life I spared. Or you could say I died for him by defying the Gung-Ho Guns and their orders to kill him. Punishment within the Gung-Ho Guns was always fatal.
I thought about what he had said, that given a second chance to do it all over, he would have still chosen to be my friend. “If I had a second chance…” I sighed. Yeah-I still would have died for him, for his ideals. “Ugh, who’s second guessing now?”
Rem and I were now outside, sitting some distance behind a strung out Vash, who was staring at the stars. “Why does he blame himself?” I demanded again. “He had no choice!”
“He’s not only upset about that,” Rem pointed out. “He’s upset about Brad and the Project Seeds spaceship.” She looked at me. “And he’s still mourning you, Nicholas.”
I held her gaze a second, then looked down and sighed. “I just don’t see why he tortures himself like he does.”
“Why are you torturing yourself, Nicholas?” she countered. “You’re here instead of in Paradise. You yourself said this planet is Hell.”
“We’ve discussed this before, Rem,” I mumbled sullenly.
She moved closer to me. “Your love for Vash is so great, you know that? You sacrificed your life for his ideals, and now you’re postponing your heavenly reward-peace of mind, eternal happiness-so you can see his problems through. You know, even though your time together in the mortal life was short, I’m glad Vash met you.”
I could find no words to say in reply.
Vash started to sing faintly. “Oh, that’s my favorite song,” Rem remarked, and sang as well. Meryl approached Vash, and also sang.
Rem looked at me. “Well, excuse me, I don’t know that song!” I defended. “Besides, I’m a lousy singer.”
Rem smiled. “Meryl’s not chickening out anymore. She really is going to be there for him.”
Well, I’m glad to say eventually Vash got his act together and walked away to face Knives, carrying my cross on his shoulder. It fit him well-in fact, he probably looked better with it than I ever did. It was one of those knockdown, drag-out fights, and Vash was able to control the Angel Arm powers at last. The area around them turned from trees to dust, but Vash kept the dark power from spreading to any towns or cities. Then Knives got the upper hand--Vash was on the ground, weaponless. Knives was ready to finish the matter forever. Soon Vash would join me on the other side. And after him, Milly and my unborn child, and Meryl, and the whole freaking world.
It couldn’t end this way.
Then I saw it-what Vash with his living eyes couldn’t see-my cross, buried under a thin layer of sand. Just as Vash was about to take his fatal blow, I yelled, “What are you doing, needle noggin? It’s right next to you! Use it, dammit!”
And…he heard me.
Knives was defeated, but not killed. The world was safe from utter destruction.
Rem was dancing around like a ballet dancer, whirling and leaping. “He heard you, he heard you! Oh, isn’t that wonderful! I told you, sometimes they hear us! It doesn’t hurt to keep on trying!”
Then I realized it-the battle wouldn’t have gone down the same way if I had not died.
I found out later that because the fate of the entire human race depended on it, I had been allowed to “break through” to Vash. Not very often are spirits allowed to directly communicate to the living.
When Vash returned from the battle, he told Milly and Meryl how he had heard my voice. Milly was quite pleased, and then she told them her news; that she was carrying my child. Everyone was happy-well, Meryl didn’t know what to make of the baby news at first, but soon, all three were embracing each other.
I stood, and walked over, not to Milly or Vash, but to Meryl. Her loved ones were my loved ones, too. “Take care of both of them, Meryl.” I kissed the top of her head.
“I only wish he were here to share our happiness,” Milly remarked.
“I feel like he is here,” Meryl said.
I turned to Rem. “I guess now’s a time as good as any. Let’s go Home.”
“I was beginning to think you’d never say that.”