Note: The following is a sequel to this story. It revolves around a different character, so you can read just one, or read them out of order. I do recommend reading both parts, however.
Three months. They gave him three months to live. And that was the generous estimate. Worst-case scenario was just one month. Frank Hanson couldn't even imagine. It just didn't click for him. Three months? That was just too soon. It isn't real; it doesn't make sense. Things had gone bad before, but cancer? No, no way. That sort of thing just didn't happen to Frank Hanson. He couldn't think about it. It didn't matter, not now. The road is ahead. He needs to concentrate on the road.
A green sedan, another mile marker, exit thirteen, roadkill, an orange SUV....
Gah! Frank just couldn't do it. No matter what he did to put his mind off it, his mind just went back to his oncologist's office. Frank remembered being told to sit down before the desk and then listened as the good doctor buttered him up. In the back of his mind, he knew what was coming, but he just didn't want to believe it. And how could he? No one wanted cancer, especially not a cancer that granted him less than three months to live. When the news was finally broken, reality and perception shattered. His first word in receiving the news was simple, “What?”
The oncologist, Dr. Forrest D. Kelley, showed obvious remorse as he expertly broke the news, “Frank, you have cancer. I'm sorry. The most I'd give you is three months with or without treatment. There's really nothing more we can do.”
“No, that can't be.”
“I'm afraid it is, Fra-”
Frank stood and slammed his hand on the desk. He put his finger in Kelley's face and shouted, “Go to hell!” as he slammed the door. His first thought honestly was that the doctor was telling a bad joke. In his mind, he only blamed Dr. Kelley for it all. The pieces simply refused to fall together. And as they did, he broke them up again. It wasn't true, it couldn't be, and he wouldn't let it be.
All at once, he decided he needed something; something to help him forget. So, Frank took the next exit and pulled into the closest gas station. Naturally, his intention was clear. He needed alcohol; strong alcohol. Frank Hanson wasn't a drinker, but he is now. There it was: a big bottle of vodka. Frank hates vodka, but that's the point. That revolting taste may help him forget his larger problems. With money he didn't have, Frank paid for it and immediately downed a mouthful. It was horribly, horribly great. He took another and another. And another. Before long, he was back in his car and back on the freeway.
Finally, everything was bliss because everything was numb. The speed limit? 70. Frank's speed? 100. Did he care? No, so he turned up his music, which was Slayer's War Ensemble. The hammering drums, screaming, and thundering guitar were little more than distractions. It wasn't about the music, it was about the sound drowning out the world. And it did.
“SPORT THE WAAARRRRR!!!”
He closed his eyes to absorb it all. And that's why he didn't see it. That's why he didn't see the minivan changing lanes right in front of him. Like a bullet, Frank's car slammed into the minivan's turning rear, sending metal, glass, and the vehicles spinning through the air. The minivan flipped in the air and landed upside-down on the divider, splitting it in two. Frank's car landed back on its wheels, where he was quick enough to press the brakes, sending him in a doughnut spin. A third car battered into the side of the trunk of Frank's car, accelerating an already furious spin. Finally, he collided with the divider, stopping it all.
Remarkably, he was still conscious. Everything was a blur. Whether that was from the crash or being drunk or both was a mystery. And why should he care? Instead of assessing the damage, he opened his door and stepped out. Frank wasn't stupid. He knew this whole thing was his fault and he could wind up doing hard time in jail for it. Screw that. Frank had to get of here. But where? The hospital! Of course. It was down the road, quite a ways, but whatever. It was his only hope. Go to jail or walk about ten miles? Easy answer.
He could smell the burnt rubber and the fires. Everything seemed to be happening slowly. It must have been the adrenaline. A car crash does wonderful things to the mind, doesn't it? Frank looked up at the overcast sky and kind of missed the rain that was pouring earlier. He liked the way that rain could cleanse. It could always relieve some kind of pain.
Speaking of pain, Frank's hip suddenly started a throbbing. It was minor, but slowly got worse and worse. The throbbing turned into stabbing. It went from perfectly bearable to piercing agony. Frank fell to his knees. This won't stop him. No, he wouldn't let it, so he forced himself back to his feet. It took only four steps before he fell down to his face. He saw the pavement of the highway in that he saw the blackened road of life. It all kept going before him, but Frank? No. He stopped right there.
His only thought, which he asked aloud, “Am I going to die now?”
Suddenly, a childish voice answered, “No, of course not silly!” A little girl dressed in pink suddenly hopscotched her way before him. There was a bit of blood on her face and her hair was a frayed mess. Her most disturbing feature, however, was her missing foot.
“What? What's going on?”
“You're de- you're what?”
“So, I am going to die now?”
“I just said that you aren't going to die, silly.”
“Well, of course you are. Everybody dies. Just not right now.”
“When will I die?”
“What did your doctor say?”
“You're very intelligent for a little girl.”
“I'm not a little girl! I'm death!” she heaved a very heavy sigh. “Now, what did your doctor say?”
“He said I've got three months to live, tops!”
“So, that's how long you have to live. Will you play with me?”
“Wha- No! I've got better things to do than play with some stupid little girl!” Frank pulled himself up and rested his back against the highway divider.
“I saaaiiiddd I'm not a little girl!”
“So, if you're death, then why the hell are you doing this to me?! I want answers!”
“Hey, don't use curse words! Those are bad.”
“I'll say whatever I damn well please! Now I want to know!”
“Because it's your time.”
“My time? Well, change it!”
“I don't want to die so soon! I want to start a family, maybe get somewhere in life first,” Frank exhaled. “You couldn't- you couldn't wait just a bit more?”
“You would be mad no matter when you died. Nobody wants to die and some people just have to go early,” she pulled a set of jacks out her pocket and started to play.
“Come on, look, little gir- I mean,” he paused to roll his eyes, “death, we can't work something out?”
“No,” she smiled as she managed to pick up three in one toss.
“I don't decide when you die, I just make it happen.”
“So, it's inevitable?”
“Of course it is, silly, death happens to everyone at some point.”
“It's just happening to me early.”
“Yep!” She threw the jacks again for another game.
“So, why should I even bother? I mean, it's all going to be over soon.”
The little girl image of death stopped her game, dropped everything, and then moved to sit in front of Frank. He, again, noticed her missing foot. She looked into his eyes, tilted her head, and asked, “Why are you so sad when you have something that not many people have?”
“What do you mean?”
“I come for everyone and nobody knows when, but you when I'm coming. That's a gift.”
Frank thought that over, “But that doesn't change that I have so little time!”
“I've seen a lot of people like you, Frank. You aren't unique, not really. But you really have two choices. One, you can just roll over and let me come. Most people do that.”
“And the second?”
“You can make the best of it.”
“How do you make the best out of three months tops?”
“That's for you to decide, not me. You do what you want while you stay. I just take you away.”
“So, that's it? Three months?”
“You know your choices.”
Frank looked up the overcast sky and thought that through. His mind was overloaded with all of this. The car crash, dying of cancer, and death talking to him through a little girl- “Hey, uh, death? Why do you look like that?”
“It's one of the people you killed, Frank. Her name was Jenny. She's dead now.”
“I- I killed?”
“Yes, Frank, it's your fault. Poor Jenny only got five years. Perhaps you should appreciate what you have now.”
He slumped, “I will then. I promise.”
The last thing he saw was little death's innocent smile.
It felt like one of those redundant hospital dramas. Frank lay there and he couldn't move, but he could feel himself on a rolling bed as the doctors yammered on about him. It hurt everywhere. But he could feel the pain going away. They must have given morphine or something. Frank struggled to stay awake, but it was soon he remembered his conversation with death. He remembered how death had showed him the girl he had killed.
Little Jenny must have had a family or something. There must have been someone left alive who knew her! Maybe she was in the minivan... who was driving her? Was that person dead too? Frank realized then and there that he needed to atone for what he had done. He needed to atone and then some. As Frank passed away into a medicated sleep, he vowed that he would make the best of his final months.
One of the EMTs pushing him in heard him whisper, “I'll live the last for you, Jenny.”