Day Sixteen - Jerry Roth
Jerry Roth is a graduate from The Ohio State University where he studied English Literature. He has written for Ohio newspapers and sports articles for the Disc Golf Pro Tour.
His fiction career began as a screenwriter. He currently lives in Ohio with his wife Tricia and his three children Jesse, Lea, and Nick.
After reading The Stand by Stephen King, he became passionate about creating his own work of fiction. Bottom Feeders is his debut novel.
For updates of Jerry's work you can follow him on social media at
I’m going to die today. If I could stop it—rewind history like a wristwatch and start from the beginning, would I? Hell, we all would, I suppose. The question on your mind is, why would I kill myself? The simple answer, my death is a gift for someone else.
The path to my demise began when I sat down in the clinic. A pimple-faced intern with onion breath attached technology, that I didn’t understand, to my skull. This study, unlike other paid a small fortune that I couldn’t pass up.
“Is this gonna hurt, Doc?” I knew he wasn’t a doctor, but I said it anyway. The lab helper continued with his task of wiring me up like a toaster, and I let him do it, for a price. The amount doesn’t matter to the story. What I earmarked the money for was a decent Christmas for my
daughter Meagan, for once. I wasn’t what you would call a stable parent. There is an unfortunate characteristic, deep in my DNA, I blame for my divorce. And it’s the same flaw that took Meagan away from me except for monthly, supervised visits.
I like to drink. Nope, scratch that. I love getting drunk. I always have ever since my first drink in college. That’s right. I went to college for an entire semester. Thank you very much. But when I placed that first beer to my lips at a Freshman keg party…let’s just say I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. The funny thing is, in my short time as a college boy, I was undecided on a major. I never did pick one. How could I? Something already chose me. Till death do us part, it whispered. And the sentiment was right on the money because I’m dying here on a rocky slab—tasting alcohol in my mouth—along with the copper taste of blood. A new mixer for you future drinkers. It comes with a cost, I’m afraid.
When the overachieving assistant left, a more suitable person to call doctor slid into his place. The more he talked, the more I thought about the bar I was heading to next and a toy store if I could still walk by then. I might have saved myself if I took the man seriously. I mean…probably not, but at least I had a shot of walking out the door.
“I guess you would like to know what you signed up for. Am I right?” the doctor asked, scratching notes onto a yellow notepad. The guy didn’t appear to have a medical degree. If I met him on the street, a sleazy lawyer fit the bill.
“I can’t wait.” His smile widened. Another sign that said run for the hills. But ignored that too.
“Have you ever had a dream where something or someone was trying to kill you?” A knowing smile transformed his face.
“All the time,” I said. He nodded, expecting the answer.
“But in all of those dreams, have you ever died?” I thought the question over, trying to recall such a time.
“There’s an old wife’s tale that says if you die in your dreams,” he paused, turning on the theatrics. “you die in real life.” He focused his eyes on and waited for a reaction.
“Yeah. I think I heard that bullshit before,” I boasted. That was actually a new one for me.
“That’s what we’re going to assess.” When I opened my mouth to speak, he cut me off. “Oh. Don’t worry. We are sure you won’t die. What we want to do is test your brain when it thinks you died,” he said, like they were already crafting his Nobel Prize from his work in a shitty little clinic.
“Listen, Doc. I don’t need to know how you make the peanut butter. Just spread the shit,” I said, losing my temper. He threw me a look that would stop a heart if it were able. I couldn’t think of anything except having that first drink of the day, and the only thing standing in my way was this bozo in a white jacket. He adjusted some dials, peeking back at me every so often.
“Most dreams are nothing but a fog fading into the air when you wake up. Not this one. You will remember every second as if you were wide awake,” he bragged. He turned more knobs until the room started humming. It turns out that it was me that hummed. One second—the doctor was fiddling with his controls, and the next, I was gazing over a cliff—so high I couldn’t see the bottom.
Things got real serious, real fast. I swiveled to see a desert landscape behind me that went on forever, then back to the mile-high drop that awaited me. You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach heading up the impossible slant of a rollercoaster? Multiply that by infinity. If I were standing there admiring the abyss—my mind said I was—I would have pissed my pants all over the desert sand.
“I’m done now. Sir?” A hand that felt like a car bumping me with its grill slammed into my back. And then I was flying and not like a bird but a rock. The distance down was so long that the butterflies in the stomach had enough time to go away. I remember thinking, I’m never going to land. That’s when I hit bedrock with all gravity’s might. With that velocity, things happen instantly. Like bones crushed—organs smashed. And any hope I had of survival—dashed just like me against the rocks. I stared up at the star with immense pain coursing through me. That when I got a glimpse of a soul—my soul.
The soul radiated energy, and it was beautiful. The sarcastic asshole that I had been my entire life melted away. I witnessed my soul slipping from my body like saran wrap off a sandwich. The urge to reach out and grab it before it floated up like some wayward balloon at a carnival washed over me. And the realization came, I was too broken to move. So, I just watched my balloon, made of light, float up and away from me.
I was breathing if you could call it that. My damaged lungs pushed out the air in short, raspy spurts until they stopped altogether. When I realized that my lungs had failed, I panicked and tried manually circulating the air. It was a no go, and the soul became a dot in the starry night. My vision was the last to abandon me, and the stars above disappeared.
* * * *
The next thing I knew, the doctor’s smug face hovered above my gurney. I recoiled back into my pillow, relieved that my fate, crushed on the rocks, was nothing more than a wispy dream—more like a
“See? Nothing to worry about,” the doctor boasted.
“That seemed too real to be a dream,” I said. The doctor’s smile was everlasting.
“We projected into your mind. To you, it was real.”
“Way too real,” I whispered to myself. As I was drowning in the memory of the fall, he unbuckled my straps.
“Think of it this way,” he began, still releasing me from the bed, “how many people get to experience death and still walk and talk afterward?”
“Once is enough.” I didn’t think it was possible, but his smile increased again.
“You can pick up your check in the front,” he said—finally, a reason to smile back.
* * * *
When I had my first drink of the day, the projection of my death lingered in my head like a fly bashing against a window trying to get out and failing. I wondered if it would ever dissolve or how having it as my companion might change me. That kind of thinking was useless. What’s done is done. The check was big, and I ate into it a bit by downing beer after beer. By the time I staggered off my stool, the world was spinning—just the way I like it.
As I stepped from the bar, the failing light splashed across my face. I drank faster than my average pace, and there was still day left. I stared into the failing light, satisfied that I accomplished something of a day. I was also determined to keep the party going, but at home. Picturing the bottle of bourbon resting on my refrigerator at home was the motivation to pump my legs harder to get home before my buzz faded.
In my hurry to keep the celebration chugging along, I failed to notice an old guy blocking the path. Before I could stop my momentum, the guy was on his ass, and I was on mine. Laying there feeling stupid—my vision went dark. I swiveled my head in every direction and couldn’t see a damn thing.
“What did you do to me?” I screamed at the older man—somewhere in the darkness.
“You ran into me, son,” he spoke, but I still couldn’t see him or anything. When I couldn’t stand the darkness any longer, light seeped in like a dimmer-switch coming to life. What I was seeing played like a movie from some other time. I saw the old man standing in front of me at a bus stop. But this wasn’t happing right now. I was experiencing some other reality.
“Hey, you?” I called to the old man in the vision, but he couldn’t hear me. Instead, he stepped off a curb as an arriving bus approached. The steal beast roared into the old man’s path.
“Watch out,” I screamed and would swear he heard me as the bus, with immeasurable weight, plowed into the man—crushing him. As I saw his body mangled under the bumper, my vision came back in a flash. When I tilted my head, the old man had me by the arm, bringing me to my feet.
“You’re okay?” I asked, seeing him untouched by the bus.
“I’ll survive, but you need to watch where you’re walking,” he said.
“The bus didn’t hit you?” I saw the answer in front of me, but the urge to ask was too great.
“Nope. No bus hit me.” As I stood upright and took a step back, his glowing aura floated toward me. It resembled the same one from my dream in the clinic—the same golden balloon that floated into the atmosphere. This one wasn’t drifting up. Instead, the thing wrapped itself around me like a cocoon. I saw its gold skin cover me until it sunk into me, then vanishing from sight.
“Are you okay?” the old man asked me.
“I’m fine,” I said, dusting myself off and was already walking toward my apartment.
“Stay safe young fella” a voice followed me as I left the scene behind.
* * * *
Waking up in your puke isn’t as glamourous as you might think. The chunks of vomit were mostly dry—that was good, but I smelled like a bourbon still from all the regurgitation that sat on my chest. The night before was a blur. I recalled making a beeline for the alcohol, and that was all—the rest faded in the fuzzy warmth of intoxication.
I pulled the shirt off me like it carried disease and clicked on the television. I thought of showering the vomit smell that wafted off my chest entered my mind but didn’t last long. I sunk into my chair and watched the flickering images of the local news. The volume was down, and I was happy to just enjoy the transition from one story to the next without the roar of sound. An image filled the screen that made me sit upright and scramble for the remote.
The news story was of a bus and its stop. I raised the volume way too loud but left it like that so I wouldn’t miss a thing. My vision from the day before came flooding back into my memory like a movie horror scene come to life. The field reporter showed the crumpled bumper on the bus—minus the body under it, of course. The bus driver said, “The old guy just walked in front of the bus. Never seen anything like it,” he swore.
My chest seized when I saw the same bus stop from my vision. The old man died the exact way I pictured. Did I predict his death? I dismissed the entire experience as nothing more than a drunken hallucination. I couldn’t do that anymore. That damn clinic gave me the power to see the future. Somehow my brush with death, simulated or not, awakened something in me. Something came through into the actual world.
Turning off the television and launching my frame from the chair, I headed to the shower. It didn’t enter the front of my mind, but I refused to think about my newfound ability to see the future. I cleaned, dressed, and was through the door before my hair dried. I needed food to dull the acid pain in my gut. I wandered into a fast-food joint without even thinking about the choice. My appetite guided my feet. The old man’s death tumbled in my mind, and none of it made sense.
I shuffled in line as one customer ordered, then stepped aside like automatons. One away from my turn, and I heard my belly rumbling—ordering me to step on it. And that’s when I got my first glimpse of the auras. At first, it was nothing more than a halo over the customers head and then I saw their bodies outlined in a bright illumination as well. I closed my eyes and tapped my feet to keep from shouting at the guy ahead to hurry up his order. When I released my eyelids, the man a couple feet in front of me, screamed at the cashier.
“Open the register. Or you’re dead,” he promised.
I’m no hero, but the fogginess in my head from the auras, mixed with the frightened young girl’s face empowered me. I charged the assailant without a plan. From behind, I squeezed him tight and pushed him onto the restaurant’s linoleum floor. The move was more Saturday night wrestling than any actual skill, but the guy went down hard just the same. I gripped his wrist tight, and that was when my vision went black like it had the day before.
The perpetrator was waving a gun at officers. Shooting his weapon from behind parking lot cars as if he were some gangster in a movie. I saw it all like a film projector flashing across a bedroom wall. After a few unsuccessful shots, the guy I was holding stood up in my prophecy in time to take a bullet in his forehead. The wound appeared like a third eye as he crumpled onto the pavement.
Sirens wailed. I let go of the robber just as my vision returned. How long had I been holding him? I didn’t see a gun—it doesn’t mean he didn’t have one. Instead of showing me, the guy shook his head and ran for the door. When gunfire rang loud into the restaurant, I knew he was dead. Again, I saw the future, and although I didn’t want to admit it, as he was escaping the scene, I spotted his dark, golden cocoon floating toward me. He was the second person to donate their soul to me for safekeeping.
The rest of the day, I wondered if death was their destiny, or I had something to say about their fates. These were bad guys, I decided. I’m the Grim Reaper, dealing out justice. I liked that idea. It made me feel noble. I wanted to tell everyone I knew about my divine gift. But who could I tell? My bartender? My Ex-wife and daughter? That would only scare them. I was alive with possibilities, and so much that it almost slipped my mind that today was the day I got to see my daughter. I smiled to myself and thought how proud she would be when she knows that I will finally do some good in the world.
* * * *
Visiting with my daughter became my single focus. My ex-wife lived in the center of town, within walking distance. The sun shone high in the sky—the cicadas made their humming sound in the trees—a perfect Summer day. The surrounding made me feel normal again and was so thankful until I saw them. The townsfolk scurried on the sidewalks in every direction when I noticed the auras come back to life. With every person going about their day, their souls glowed brightly on their skin like shimmering diamonds.
I continued through the town, watching the souls undulate with the movement of their bodies like an invisible extension of the limbs. A toddler in the arms of its mother had a soul that shone twice as bright as the one holding him. An older woman strolled passed, and I saw her soul a much darker shade. I can’t say how I knew, but she was sick and close to death—I was sure. I could read the health in each soul, and that scared me.
As a dog-walker with six dogs pulling her through the square scooted passed, I was astonished to see the vibrant souls of the animals bounce and hop with their active little frames. I closed my eyes. I didn’t want to see it anymore. All I wanted to do was make it to Meagan without thinking about my new cursed ability.
When I made it to the door, the relief in my heart was palpable. After a few knocks, my ex swung the door inward. She didn’t say a word like usual. I slinked into the doorway as if I were diving into the mouth of a whale. The place was no longer my home, and when I entered the living room, I felt like an intruder—an unwelcomed guest. Too many drunken nights turned the modest ranch-style home from mine into someone else's.
Shaking my head at where I ended up in life, I spied the couch I helped pick out.
“May I sit?” She was thinking it over and nodded.
“You’re late. You are always late,” she said.
“Sorry. I’ve had a strange weekend,” I said. She didn’t seem to care how my weekend was going.
“Where’s Meagan?” She bit her lip as if she were thinking something over.
“Meagan,” she screamed toward another part of the house. The sound of little feet erupted on the wood floor, growing louder until I saw my six-year-old running toward me. Her face showed her delight, and she dove headfirst into my arms—a miniature Superman.
“Daddy,” Meagan hollered. Her tiny body landed on my lap and into my arms. The sort of reunion that I always hope for with my limited visits. As her soft skin rubbed against mine. My vision failed. Everything around me went black. Oh shit!
In my mind, I saw Meagan in the back seat of a car bobbing her head along with the radio. The city street passed by in a blur, but she appeared happy and safe. Maybe she’ll be okay. No sooner had the thought entered my mind, I heard the screeching of tires. Something was happening to the car, but my vision remained on Meagan. The sound of twisting metal filled the inside of the automobile. Her little body shifted back and forth—jostled violently. Until the side of the car crushed her slight frame.
When my vision returned, I was already crying. I wiped at my face and saw my baby girl alive and well in front of me. I knew that she wouldn’t be okay for long.
“Are you okay, Daddy?” she asked. Even her mother flashed a rare expression of concern.
“I’m fine.” I try to pretend. I had to think about how to save her, and fast. If I saw the future, there must be a way to change it. But there wasn’t enough information from the vision. All saw was her sitting in a back seat. There was nothing else. I couldn’t point to a timeframe, and I had no way to keep her out of a car for the rest of her life. I was out of options. Then, like a bolt of lightning, I thought of the clinic. The doctor can help.
“Meagan? Daddy forgot your gift,” I tried to keep my voice even. The last thing I wanted to do was scare her.
“You got a gift for me?” Her face lit up.
“I did, but dumb Daddy forgot it back at my apartment.” My former wife gave me a sideways glance. She knew me too well.
“It will only take me a minute to go get it, though. Would you like that?” Meagan was already nodding furiously.
“I’ll go grab it and be right back,” I said and stood up. When I did, I saw the golden balloon stretch from Meagan’s body onto mine. In horror, I realized that it was my touch. It wasn’t prophesy. I was taking the souls and now I took my baby’s life-force. Panic took hold of me as I remembered the fate of the old man at the bus stop. I hugged her again, hoping the soul would transfer back. It didn’t.
“Are you leaving?” Meagan’s mother didn’t understand, and I didn’t have time to explain.
“I’ll be back soon. I promise.” And I kept promising until I was out the door.
* * * *
When I slammed through the door of the clinic, the doctor dropped his boxes at once. Most of the furniture was no longer there. Anything that made the clinic a medical facility had disappeared. His expression told me I caught him in the act.
“Where are you going in such a hurry, doc?” The doctor backed away, finding the wall with his back.
“We are just done with our study. That’s all,” he said. I grabbed him by his white coat and slammed onto the floor like he was a rag-doll.
“What did you do to me?” I screamed at him, bouncing him off the floor once more. I loosened his tongue.
“There were side effects.”
“What kind?” I clenched his clothes as a threat.
“If you die in your sleep—you lose your soul.” He confirmed my worst fears. “You can’t live without one so—”
“So, my body takes another. Like a vampire?” The doctor nodded.
“This happened to others?”
“Yes,” he said. “but we weren’t sure until today. Other incidents were verified.” I wanted to dig further, but I thought of Meagan.
“What can I do to stop the future deaths?” the doctor threw me a blank stare. I flung him to the floor harder than before.
“Tell me!” I roared.
“I don’t know. But I suspect you must kill yourself,” he said with a whimper. He was both right and brilliant. “Theoretically, if you die before your victim dies, then the soul that belongs to them will return to the rightful owner. In theory,” the doctor said. I let go of his white coat, and he fell to the floor.
* * * *
And this is where you found me. Standing on the edge of a cliff with a bottle of whiskey in my hand. There were only a few swigs left, and that meant my time was near. I clutched the note I wrote for Meagan, making sure it was still in my jean pocket—and it was. The spot appeared identical to the projection used on the patients in the clinic. I had no doubts.
As I thought one last time of the fate that awaited my daughter, I closed my eyes and stepped out over the edge and found nothing but air. I plummeted to the rock surface below—the moment stretched an eternity just like it did before. The impact jolted all my senses when I hit bottom. And as I stared up at the stars, taking my last breath, Meagan’s soul float up and away. My gift is on its way, Meagan.
Today's church door...
Christ Church, Norwich
Christ Church is one of those churches I have walked on by on many an occasion and oh how I now wish I had stepped inside sooner, for it has the most delightful of interiors. Painted in shades of duck egg and cornflower blue, with splashes of buttercup sunshine yellow, this beautiful colour scheme has an instantly calming effect and creates a wonderfully serene atmosphere.