The Essence: Chapter 9: In The Pines

i


Death is swift and easy. Once one is gone, they are gone. No pain, no fear, it's done. The scary part, the painful part, the part that is hard... is the holding on. The battle to not let go. It's like a hand clenched to a rock, as its body dangles from a cliff. Take root like a pine and try to hold on. But those fingers can only hold on for so long. Eventually complete exhaustion overtakes. Desperately the fingers will begin to slip and break, yet still they claw for life till the bitter end. Eventually everything breaks. Be the pine, hang in there, hold on.


"Try to hang in there Tim." Said the man in the white coat. "You've lost a lot of blood, and you're going to need two blood transfusions."


Tim tried to focus, from the oxygen mask that was strapped to his face. He could only see all the bright lights on the ceiling as he was being carted away on bed of wheels. And the lines, like strings, they came from an IV bag, on wheels of its own. He was scared, he was cold, and felt himself slipping away.


"The bullet severed a major artery going to your heart." The Doctor went on. "We're going to have to remove a vein from your arm and replace it. Hang in there buddy, I'm Dr. K, your surgeon. I'm going to get you fixed up. I put a little something in your IV, it's going to make you feel good, very comfortable, like not a worry in the world, and you will be going to sleep and into surgery. This will all be over before you even know you were asleep."


Tim began to feel euphoric. Like nothing mattered, yet he also felt safe. From that moment he decided he was going to do more than just hang on. He was gonna hold till his wrists broke from his arms. He went off into a dream. It was like his soul was leaving his body for a short vacation, while the men in white coats worked on him. Into the void he went, where nothing was everything, and everything was nothing.


ii


There was snow everywhere. Nothing but white for miles and miles, and it was cold, the kind of cold felt deep to the bone, a chill that was hard to sooth. A flow of luminous red hair then came from the stars in the night sky, and down upon him like a constellation of warmth, like a blanket of security. He now felt safe in the cold, he felt like he knew nothing, yet everything had meaning.


"Come with me Tim." Said the wise woman with the flowing red hair. "There's something I want to show you."


He was in the mountains, somewhere, in the middle of nowhere, covered in snow. He was a pine tree, yet he was not the pine tree. He was experiencing it all though, the vibrations of nature. Ever so tall, and alone on the side of a cliff. He was the only one. His roots were deep into the cliff holding on. There wasn't another pine tree in sight. He began to feel the cold again. And the loneliness. He began to feel really sad for this pine tree.


"Do not feel bad Tim. Smile. This pine was the first of its kind. Because it was cold, the snow melted slowly, allowing the pine to drink and survive during the long dry months. Because of this, the pine survived and grew stronger, spreading its seed far and wide. Soon after, this mountainside would be covered with pine trees, and it would change life to be as life as you know it to come."


iii


Tim awoke with pain and a very high fever that next morning in the ICU. He couldn't move, he couldn't talk. He had no energy to do anything. His arm was in a cast from where they had removed the vein. His arm felt like it weighed a thousand pounds. He had an EKG on his chest that seemed to be pulling on his heart's strings, and a peg tube in his stomach. IV lines came down from above like puppet strings. And that's exactly how he felt... Like a lifeless puppet that couldn't move waiting for the puppet master. Never had he felt more vulnerable than now. Dr. K from the night before was now standing in front of him, with a couple of students at his side taking notes.


"Good morning Tim, I'm Dr. K, I performed your surgery last night. You've got some good friends. The surgery went well, we've checked the vein and it's getting a pulse, which is good news. Not many would have survived what you did last night. You are a miracle Tim, and doing amazing."


Amazing... it sounded great, but he wasn't feeling it. He felt like he was barely hanging on. A look of worry came about Tim's face when he thought of his friends. Were they okay? Dr. K picked up on this feeling.


"Your friends are all safe and doing well. They were very worried and should be here to see you soon. He took a short pause. "How's your pain? From one to ten?"


Tim struggled to muster any words. The pain was great, and the fever was hot. His anxiety was even worse than the pain which was off the charts. He had been trying to meditate it away, but it was deep, and it was loud.


"Don't try to speak or strain yourself. I'll have the nurse bring you some morphine, that should have you feeling a little better. I'll be back to check on you later. Hang tight, you're doing amazing."


A few minutes had passed, and a male nurse had entered his room. He had a buzzed haircut, and deep blue eyes. Tim was not liking his vibe at all, but there was nothing he could do. He was stuck in his body and had to try to brush it off. It was all in his head, this was just anxiety. Anxiety like no other he had ever experienced. He was defenceless.


"Good morning." Said the nurse, with what seemed to be an evil grin. "I'm the morning shift, and here to give you some morphine. Have you feeling like a rock star." He then entered some codes on the computer. Tim felt sudden dread, something was not right with this nurse. Was it all in his head? He had been through so much trauma. Was he just imagining it?


As the nurse prepared the morphine he seemed to be humming in a chilling tone. A song that Tim recognized from his childhood. A song that seemed cheerful from the outside, but forewarned the bad times to come.


"I've got no strings... So I have fun... I'm not tied down to anyone... You've got strings... But you can see... There are no strings on me."


The nurse then injected the morphine into his IV. A feeling of warmth went through his veins immediately, and immediately the pain started to subside. But not the anxiety. That funhow was just beginning.


The nurse then leaned in real close and whispered into Tim's ear. "Did I give you too much? Maybe it's better to let go, and be done with it? You might think you are indestructible Tim, but that kind of thinking is going to pull you down to somewhere you do not want to go. Don't think for one second that you are okay, because you are not okay. Don't dare to fall asleep, because you might not ever wake up." The nurse then stood up as if he had said nothing, and then with an evil grin. "Try to get some rest."


Tim was beyond vulnerable and feeling very alone. He couldn't move. He couldn't defend himself if needed. Rest was not an option. There was no one he could call for help. He most certainly did not want to hit the call button for the nurse. Where was Brad? Where were his friends? He needed them like never before. He needed to see Krissy's smile. He needed her like no one else.


The nurse was back, back with his dirty vibe, but also with a clean gown for Tim to change into. "I've got a fresh gown for you, but I'm gonna need you to stand up so I can change you."


Tim wasn't feeling comfortable with this at all. He was very weak and burning up like a forest from the fever. Dr. K had told him not to strain himself, and he just wanted to lay down. Yet here he was straining. He didn't want to make a scene out of it though.


"Grab my elbow and forearm, and I'll pull you up." Said the Nurse.


The nurse with his shaved head, deep blue eyes, and dark vibe, then pulled Tim up to his feet. He pulled the string from the front, leaving Tim completely naked. Tim could barely stand, and felt like his legs would pancake on him. The nurse seemed be purposely moving slow. Tim's heart began to pound, and pulse from the stitches in his chest. It was pounding so hard that he thought the replaced artery would rupture and blow from his chest.


All the energy he had was being drained from him, and if something didn't happen soon he was going to collapse. The nurse was just staring at him, with a blank gaze, that turned to a glow of blue. He was being fed on and felt like he either had to get out of this hospital, or he was going to die. In his mind it was drastic, and he needed to take drastic action.


He began to pull out all the IV's from his arms. He was getting out of here. He then pulled the feeding tube right out of his stomach. It popped out of his belly, bell side and all. And last he started to rip off all of the EKG stickers that were on his chest.


The nurse broke from his feeding and into a look of shock. "What are you doing?" He tried to restrain Tim by grabbing his wrist, but Tim pulled away giving the pale one a slight shove. Down the hall he went in he nude, looking for an escape.


"Code Grey!" Yelled the nurse. "Code Grey!"


Another nurse came to help give chase, it was like a slow paced marathon through the halls of the ICU, and he was running the Code Grey matter laps. Going nowhere. He felt like he was out of his mind, with no finish line in sight. He had not thought this through at all, but still it was a matter of survival. He went by a room where an old woman was receiving oxygen treatments. The last thing she was expecting to see was a naked man with broken IV strings running by her room. She shrieked as he ran by.


"Code Grey! Code Grey!" Was now being sounded over the intercom, and alarm lights were flashing on the walls at every corner. The halls of the ICU were like a giant corn maze. Everything looked the same. He couldn't find his way out. Where was the exit?


He began to get more and more paranoid. "What was a Code Grey?" He thought. His last name was Gray, so he began to overthink it. Were the pale ones calling the shots here? In his mind it meant they were, and they would drain what little life he had left. Grey would go black. What little light that was left inside of him would shade away to darkness.


He came to a room where the entrance was covered by giant curtains. He was exhausted and didn't know how much longer the adrenaline would last. "I should hide here."


He entered the room and it was like crossing over to another dimension. He was no longer vibrating in the world as he'd known it. Had he crossed over? Did he finally pass out somewhere? Was this all one last rick of the mind? Had he died?


He saw a man in a dark suit holding onto a microphone like he was a game show host. Behind the man were two more sets of curtains. How could this be real? He must be hallucinating. He went to pinch himself, but something was not right about his skin. It was hard, grainy, and coarse. He seemed to be made out of wood... like hard pine.


The game show host looking fellow then gave him a strange look, with a strange smile. "Come on down! You're the next contestant on My Life is not Right!" Tim didn't remember coming on down, but there he was now closer to the strange host. Now face to face, to his rubbery complexion that was caked in makeup. The host pointed to the cut IV lines. "Look Timmy! You've lost your strings! There are no more strings on you! It's like you are a real boy now! Have you been a good boy? Have you lived a good life? Were you a gooooood... person?"


"For the most part... I think I've been a good person." Said Tim. Then he began to think of all the pain in his life. All the things he had wanted to do, but never did. The hearts that would be broken, and most of all the pain he knew he would cause Krissy when she found out he was dead. His nose began to grow.


The host began to laugh. "According to your nose, that doesn't seem to be the truth. You could have done better. And your nose always knows! But that's okay, I'm still going to give you a fifty fifty shot anyhow. Let's make a deal!"


"Oh...okay." Said Time. He just wanted out of himself. He wanted the anxiety to end.


"We have two curtains here." Said the host. "Behind one curtain is eternal paradise, where you'll know nothing but happiness and joy. But behind the other curtain is eternal misery, where you'll know nothing but sadness and pain."


"I just want to rest." Said Tim. "I just want this to be over." He did not want to gamble away his soul, but he couldn't run this marathon anymore. He was on the verge of collapse.


"Awe, that's very touching." Said the host. "Eternity is a long fucking time, so take your time." He then paused for a moment. "I do have another side deal for you though. Should you chose to take it, you can go back to your life, do all the things you've ever wanted to do. Live the life you've always wanted. Be in love. Be loved. Experience all of the things you've so badly wanted to experience in this life."


Tim felt like he was about to make a deal with the devil. It was the easy way out, but it wasn't easy. It would mean instant relief though. It would mean he would get the mercy he so badly needed. But what would it mean for everyone else? "What's the catch?" Asked Tim.


There's always a catch.


"Awe... what's the catch..." Said the host. "You're right Tim, there is always a catch. If you should chose to take the deal, you will wake up, you will heal. You will be able to do all of the things you've wanted to, but you must give up the chase. No more investigating the Essence or the death of Dr. Cain. You must let it go. You must walk away from it completely. You will be happy too. Everyone will be so happy to see you, like walking in a homecoming parade. No one will judge you for letting go of the case. Everyone will love you, for being there."


Tim struggled with it. It should be an easy no, he could not just walk away from it all. He needed the anxiety and the pain to end though. The consequences would be great which ever way he went. There needed to be justice and more importantly, the cure for cancer was out there somewhere in the Essence. So many would find relief. But then there was the thought of being in eternal misery like this forever; and being in this broken state forever was heavy. He wanted to be selfish.


"Again... take your time Tim."


Noise of shouting came from behind him. "Take the deal! Take the deal!" There was a studio audience behind him. Had they been there the whole time?


"Take the deal!" He couldn't do it though.


"I will take my chances with the curtains." Said Tim. He was weak, afraid and still in great pain, but he would endure bitterly till the end.


With his response came thunderous applause from the studio audience. They were an array of lost souls hiding behind their costumes, pretending to be something they were not, pretending to be happy when they were sad. But his not giving in was inspiring and the applause was real.


"Seems the studio audience approves of your decision Tim. Very Bold! Very Bold!" So what will it be? Curtain one, or curtain two?"


"I'll take curtain one." He was reluctant, but held his breath. Then came more thunderous applause from the studio.


"Very Bold!" Again said the host. "But first let's see what's in curtain number two! Let's see what you gave up!"


Curtain number two slowly began to open, and behind it was a place of paradise, a place of beauty and happiness. He saw Krissy's huge smile, he saw the cure, all of the cures to every known ailment. A glimpse of heaven. The expressions from the crowd were now sighs of sadness. Not even their happy masks could disguise it.


"I'm very sorry Tim. I'm very disappointed. I was really gunning for you. Let's see what's behind curtain number one though. Let's see what Tim will be taking home with him!"


The audience began to laugh and jeer as the curtain slowly opened. Behind it was giant man dressed like lumberjack, wielding a giant axe. The lumberjack resembled Billy Bob, the giant monster of a man that had put the bullet in him, the one that him in this very hospital.


"Look at all that firewood!" Cried the giant lumberjack.


Tim looked to his hard wooden skin and shrieked in terror!


"Chop him up! Chop him up!" The audience jeered.


"I'm going to chop you up! Turn you into a pine box and bury you deep where the sun never shines!"


Tim stumbled clumsily with his cut strings, but he kept himself from completely falling. The axe was upon him now, as the crowd jeered on, but before it could strike him, a glow of red luminous hair came between and shielded him. It was the wise heavenly mother from his dreams.


"Come with me Tim. You will be safe. Because you chose not to be selfish, you will get your life back. No strings attached. Open your eyes."


He opened them and he was back in the halls of the ICU. He was back in the world he recognized. The lights were flashing, the staff were still trying to catch him, it was like he'd been sleep walking. He was still naked, scared, and hurting physically.


"Code Grey! Code Grey!"


He was getting another chance at his life. Oh the pain, and the fever though. The nurses were trying to talk him down. He saw Krissy standing behind them with a bouquet of flowers. He hobbled over to her and embraced her.


"Oh my god am I glad to see you."


"What are you going out here babe? Why are you naked? You should be in bed." Said Krissy. She was extremely worried and her eyes began to swell.


"Please don't ever leave me." He replied.


"How did you get him to calm down?" Asked the nurse, the one with the buzzed head, and the blue eyes. "We've been chasing him around here for a good fifteen minutes."


"I'm magic." Said Krissy. "Let's get you back to your bed babe. You need rest. I'll stay by your side. I won't ever leave you. Not ever ever. I promise." Her eyes completely glossed over, and tears rolled down her cheeks. She could feel all that he was feeling. Everything. And she loved him more than everything.


iv


Some time had passed and Tim was back in his hospital bed. The IV's and the EKG were all hooked back to his body. He had been given some much needed medication for anxiety. The most important medication though, was the one holding his hand at his bedside. She was there and he could finally sleep.


"Does he have issues with PTSD or something?" Asked the nurse. "He ripped out everything, and even pushed me. I've never seen someone in his condition get up like that."


Krissy was annoyed by his tone and the wording of his question, and not having it. "He just went through some serious trauma, he doesn't have issues."


"Visiting hours are over at 8pm, just an FYI." Said the nurse.


"Well I'm not fucking going anywhere. I can't see why he would have pushed you, you are just so delightful."


"Sorry miss. I don't make the rules. Don't shoot the messenger."


A few more moments passed, and Julie Shogun was now there too. She was dressed in scrubs, as she was a nurse, and she was here on business. She was here to look after Tim and she had a huge smile on her face.


"I'm here to relieve you of your shift." Julie said to the male nurse with the shaved head.


"But... I'm supposed to be here on a double till the morning shift change."


"Don't shoot me, I'm just the messenger." She said with a wink. "Take it up with the Charge Nurse."


He gave her a glare, and there was a moment of quiet strange coincidence. Krissy was glad to see her and also glad she wouldn't have to use her metaphorical AK. The rest of the day would be good and she could spend the night. She wasn't going anywhere anyhow. But the pale one hadn't left yet. He was still in the room taking his time, putting out his nasty vibe, like bait, waiting for a bite.


Brad Shogun then entered the hospital room, almost on cue to break the nasty silence. He was holding a big bundle of balloons, as he had way with over doing things for those he loved. His confidence carried with it demand, and his energy was too much for the nasty vibes in the air. This pale one was still new, and did not have enough power to counter. Part of the blue star tattoo peeked out from Brad's short sleeve shirt. It was a game of peekaboo the pale one was not prepared to play.


Brad sensed the awkward disturbance in the room, and right away played on it. "I see you looking at my tattoo?" He looked to the male nurse, and rolled up his sleeve all the way and watched the nurse turn sickly. "You like it? I love how all it really is, is two triangles. One pointing up. The other pointing down. As if there is some hidden message in that. You like it?"


The nurse stuttered a bit as he fumbled to put some words together. "I was actually just leaving, my shift is up." The tables had turned, and he fled quickly without uttering another word.


"Well you have a good afternoon too." Brad finished with a smile. His nose was still busted, and even though it hurt a little to smile, it still felt good. He then looked to the girls. "Something was not right with that guy."


"Tell me about it." Said Krissy.


"How's our boy doing?"


"We're still waiting for the doctor." Said Krissy.


"All of his vitals are good." Said Julie.


At that very moment Dr. K entered the room, in his white coat and holding on to a clipboard. "Hey Mr. Shogun, how've you been? It's been a while." Said the good doctor.


"Dr. K, long time no see." They smiled and embraced in that secret handshake, the same one that Brad had often done with the man from the lodge. "How's our boy doing?"


"He's coming along just fine. Everything is healing ahead of schedule. We just have to keep an eye on that vein, and make sure it's getting a pulse. He should be good to go for discharge in about a week. What happened to your nose there?" He was giving Brad a hard time. "I thought you were a kung fu master?"


"You should see the other guy." Said Brad.


"Yeah, I heard. You guys stay safe, and no kung fu in my hospital." Said Dr. K with a smile.


They did the secret handshake again, and left with a wave to the girls.


"What was that all about? Asked Krissy, with a bit of feistiness in her voice.


"What was what all about?" Asked Brad.


"The weird handshake you guys did?" Her eyes lit up a bit. "You guys in some kind of weird man cult?"


"Haha, I have no idea what you are talking about."


"Ah, it's top secret." Said Krissy with a wink. "Got it."


"Well, not so much a secret, as much as it's considered sacred." Said Brad. "If you can't trust a man with a handshake, can you really trust him with anything at all?"


"I guess not, but it's still kind of cultish." Said Krissy. "By the way I've started."


"Started what?" She gave him a look. "The fasting? You started? When?" He asked.


"Yes I've started the fast. I haven't eaten anything since yesterday morning. Last night after I heard Tim had been shot, I decided it was time. I don't ever want to see him hurt like this again. In a month we will know exactly where to find Carol Cain. And there will be justice for that bitch."


v


That week went by and Tim was discharged from the hospital. Krissy had stayed with him night and day, fasting the whole time, while feeding him the most important medicine that he had need. Her love for him.


As more time passed, Krissy took care of Tim at Brad's house by the beach. She loved the sound of the crashing waves. It gave her the energy she much needed to keep fasting. The days went by, Tim healed and grew stronger, as Krissy became weaker. Weeks of fasting was taking its toll on her body.


A month eventually passed and it was now early on the morning of June 02, 1995. Tim was now completely healed, and Krissy was now at her weakest. Julie had hooked up an IV to Krissy to keep her hydrated. It was her turn to wear the strings, and it was Tim's turn to feed her with his medicine.


"It's time." Krissy said weakly. "Get Brad. I will be going into a trance soon."


Tim's eyes widened. It was like they were expecting and her water had broke. He hated seeing her in pain, and had not once left her side the whole time she had fasted. He was so happy that it would all be coming to an end soon. He never wanted to see her hurt ever, not ever again. He could feel what she was feeling in his heart. His eyes were now full of tears. Had he ever really loved before? Not like this. All other love seemed like a farce to him now.


"Brad! Brad!" He yelled as ran up the stairs. "She's ready!"


This particular day was a Friday, a beautiful Friday morning under the sign of Gemini. Both Brad and Julie were home, they knew she was close, so they hadn't gone to work all week. The beach outside was now crowded with surfers, summer was coming.


"I'm coming!" Brad yelled back. His wife Julie was right behind him.


The three of them entered the room in astonishment. There she was already in a trance. Her long brown hair was full of static and floated upwards, like as if there was no gravity. Where she was there was no gravity, and she was levitating a good six inches off the bed. Her glasses glowed as if they were reflecting the sun. Something magical was happening here.


"What the fuh..." Said Tim


"Oh you've never seen anything like this Tim." Said Brad. "You are in for a treat."


Her eyes then rolled back behind the shine, and she began to speak.


"They are showing me her. I can see Carol. They are showing me her. She is in a place that is very dark. She is alone and she is scared. Something is keeping her there like a trap. She's in a cabin made from logs of pine, in the mountains surrounded by nothing but pine trees. The side of a mountain, all alone surrounded by pines."


"That could be anywhere." Brad whispered. "Do you see anything else, any signs of where exactly?"


"It's not too far from here. They have me following the Sierra Nevadas to the curve, I see lots of lakes, a small town, people skiing. I see one of those old prehistoric elephants, what are they called? They are showing me that and pointing at it like it's important."


"Like a Woolly Mammoth?" Asked Tim.


"Yes exactly, they are nodding at me as if to say exactly."


"It's got to be Mammoth Lakes." Said Julie. "My parents used to take me there every winter when I was a little girl. It's so pretty there."


"Yes, they are showing me a stoplight. It's green, meaning we need to go now, before it's too late."


Krissy then fell to the bed, her hair dropped. The trance was over and her eyes rolled back to where they should be.


"How'd I do?" She was feeling weak.


"You did great babe." Said Tim as he tossed her an Ensure.


"You know I hate those, nasty shakes."


"Please drink one for me. I don't ever want to see you starve like that again."


"I know sweets, but it's kind of what I do. It's my gift, it's my curse."


"We need to leave now." Said Brad. "Sorry to be curt, but they used her to have him killed, and we need to get up there before she's gone."


"Shouldn't we give her some time to get her strength back?" Asked Tim. He loved her and wanted her safe, healthy and strong.


"Im fine baby." Krissy said with a wink. "We need to finish this. I'll even drink your nasty Ensure."


"Again, sorry to be curt, but we got to get to Mammoth."








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