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Authors: Andrew Neiderman

After Life

BOOK: After Life
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After Life


By: andrew neiderman




Years after she loses her eye-sight in a car accident, Jessie moves with

her husband Lee to the peaceful village of Gardner Town, where Jessie's

blindness only heightens her awareness of strange and terrible goings





Kurt Andersen stabbed the trunk lock with his key and heaved his duffel

bag in as soon as the trunk snapped open. Then he brought the door down

quickly with a slam that shook the very frame of his '89 Ford Taurus.


It was as if his duffel bag was an animal he wanted to keep

incarcerated, something he had trapped or wanted to punish. He clutched

his car keys in his fist and turned slowly to look back at the Gardner

Town High School.


The shadowy hand of twilight now spread over the pale red brick

building. In the dim light the bricks looked more ruby, more like the

color of dried blood; but when ever Kurt first set eyes on it in the

morning these days, the building looked ablaze.


He scanned the windows, now no more than frames surrounding mirrors that

reflected the brooding fall sky.


Bruised clouds had begun to roll over the dark blue, dragging in a

curtain of thunder and rain from the east.


His gaze settled for a moment on the set of windows at the corner of the

building on the second floor, windows he knew belonged to the

principal's office. Immediately the shadows in the glass took the form

of two giant eyes.


Kurt blinked and shook his head to deny what he saw.


When he looked back, the eyes were gone.


Still, it made him feel as if he were standing barefoot in a pool of ice

water. He shuddered and hurried around to unlock his car and get behind

the wheel. It wasn't until he backed out of his space and drove out of

the lot and onto the highway that he felt any sense of relief. The

school grounds dwindled in his rearview mirror and he fixed his eyes on

the lush scenery before him.


Summer had held on tenaciously. Warm rains and warm nights had kept the

forests luxuriant and green.


Home owners in this relatively small, upstate New York residential

community were cutting their lawns and pruning their hedges as often as

they were in July.


The grass will grow into February this year, George Freeman, the ageless

science teacher predicted in the faculty room yesterday. Ordinarily

everyone would have laughed or smiled at his earthy humor, but these

weren't ordinary times. The subtle yet dramatic changes that had come

over the school community created an aura of fantasy. The community was

changing: the students were different; even some of the old timers like

himself were cutting corners and saying things he had never imagined

they would do and say. This was especially true of Henry Young, who had

been the principal almost as long as Kurt had been a teacher.


Blame it on his pneumonia and his rendezvous with death, George said

when Kurt complained to him about some of the things Henry was doing, or

more accurately, not doing. The school was coming apart at the seams.


Why didn't more people see it?


Sometimes Kurt would look down the corridors during the changing of

classes and think the world had fallen into slow motion and all sound

had dropped ten decibels. But that was one of his far less horrifying

visions. In others the corridor walls became pulsating flesh; the

students were swallowed and sucked down into the bowels of the school,

where they were churned into a syrupy liquid that poured out the rear of

the building and seeped down into the earth. He even saw himself

running over the muck, his feet sinking. When he pulled them up,

strings of hair and teeth, bones and skin clung to the soles of his



Whenever these visions attacked him, he retreated to his physical

education office and fortified himself with his administrative duties.

As department head, he was responsible for all purchasing. He taught

only two classes, but he coached soccer and varsity basketball, as well

as varsity baseball in the spring. He had been teaching at Gardner Town

a little less than five years when the department head position had been

offered him. Now, nearly twenty years later, at forty eight years of

age, he was considered an institution at this high school. His teams

had won more than their share of trophies. For years now he was known

simply as the Coach. Even people in the community didn't call him by

his name anymore.


Perhaps being a bachelor had made all the difference Married only to his

profession and his love of sports, he was at it day and night with a

seemingly monomaniacal passion. He lived and breathed his work. His

boys were his family. People were so accustomed to him being dressed in

his sweat suits and sneakers that he looked out of place in a jacket and



It brought smiles instantly to the faces of those who saw him. He was a

solid jock, standing six feet two, muscular, his light brown hair in a

permanent crew cut Although he had had two slight romances, he had never

been able to make the compromises necessary to take someone else

significantly into his life. His friends kidded him: he would have to

find a woman with a good jump shot or one who favored the scent of

perspiration over the scent of perfume and cologne. There were women

like that, but they demanded too much of his space; they were too



Bachelorhood was comfortable and he had his extended family without the

obligations that accompanied it.


Usually, once he left the school, he left the problems behind. Sometimes

one of his players had personal problems and sought him out for advice;

but the point was they left afterward and he could sit back in his

oversized, cushion chair and turn on ESPN. What could be better?


Why disturb it?


He looked into his rearview mirror again as he made the turn that would

take him onto County Road 17 and to his small, but cozy ranch style home

between the hamlets of Gardner and Sandburg. It had been his home ever

since he had begun teaching here, first renting it and then buying it.


The road behind him was empty and dark now, the darkness so deep that

night seemed to be swallowing him. The moment his car headlights washed

through a section of road, the darkness poured behind him like ink. It

made him speed up. His tires squealed as he turned and accelerated.


These periodic jitters were beginning to annoy him.


He hated when it came over him at school, and now it was happening

outside the school. When he saw his house ahead of him with the solar

sensitive porch light triggered by the curtain of darkness, he felt his

muscles relax and the tightness go out of his stomach. It wasn't ever

like this, he thought with regret. There were times the custodians

practically had to chase him out of the building so they could clean his

office and the gym.


He turned into his driveway and waited as the door to his small,

unattached garage lifted on command, turning on the garage light. Then

he drove in and shut off the car headlights and engine. He went around

to the trunk and took out his duffel bag. It seemed heavier, remarkably

heavier. The sensation brought a smile of confusion to his face.


How could his sweat suits, shorts, sweat socks, and jocks suddenly weigh

so much? What, was he getting weaker by the second? He started to

laugh at this illusion when the bag turned so heavy it made him lean to

the side. Huh?


He dropped it to the concrete floor and stood up, his heart pounding.

What the hell . . .


He bent over and grasped the handles again, but this time he couldn't

lift it off the floor. He nearly wrenched his back in the attempt. For

a long moment he stared down at it. Then, with his fingers trembling as

he did so he leaned over and pulled the zipper open. He separated the

sides and gazed in.


Somewhere at the pit of his stomach, a primeval scream began and

reverberated its way up his body, through his chest, and to the base of

his throat, nearly gagging him on the effort to get it out. He exploded

in a high pitched screech so unfamiliar and so unlike him, he thought it

came from another being living within his body. It drove him back. He

felt his eyes widen so fast and so hard his forehead ached and burned

with the resulting folds of skin.


He clutched at his chest. His heart thumped with deadly force; he could

actually feel the cardiovascular strain, hear the ripping of precious

tissue and the gurgle of blood, blood that had rushed into his face with

great force, lifting the skin from his bones, inflating his face like a

balloon. His tongue curled up with the effort of the scream and

contorted like a snake whose tail had been squashed under a jagged rock.

Its struggle to tear lose drove it to selfdestruct, to rip that part of

its body that was free from that part that was trapped.


He shook his head to deny the sight before him, but it didn't disappear.

There, stuffed into his duffel bag, a recent gift from one of his teams,

were the decapitated heads of his starting five basketball players,

their mouths open, their eyes in the glassy hold of death. They bobbed

in a pool of their own blood, one disappearing, another appearing. Kurt

Andersen screamed again, but this time he made no sound. The scream was

caught in his throat and reverberated throughout his body, growing

louder and louder as it bounced from his chest to his spine to his neck

and into his brain, where it lodged itself and turned into a chorus of

screams. He felt the bones in his legs soften until they were no more

than straw and he began his collapse to the garage floor, a slow descent

that seemed to take him forever and ever, as if he were dropping down a

deep well.


Lee Overstreet paused for a moment in his unpacking of cartons and gazed

out the side window in the kitchen.


Despite the size and brightness of this apartment and the reasonableness

of the rent, he couldn't get used to the idea of living right next to a



He never told Jessie about the cemetery when he described the apartment

he had found for them. One thing they didn't need now was something

else to depress them.


The car accident would last for a lifetime. Whenever there was a chance

for any happiness, all he had to do was watch her grope her way about

their apartment or watch her reading in braille and that would put

things back into perspective.


Of course, he had anticipated that the accident and her subsequent

blindness would change her; he had expected her to become bitter if not

frustrated and full of selfpity.


Instead she became oddly mysterious, often uttering things that

seemingly made no sense. And those voices!


It gave him the jitters how she could look up suddenly and say, Who's

here, Lee? Who's in the kitchen? or Who's out in the hall What who?

There's no one there. Yes, there was, she would insist. Listen. He

heard nothing.


Someone was whispering, she would say. They were just out of range for

her to make out the words or at least all the words. Sometimes she

heard one or two.


You're imagining it, he would tell her, stroking her long, light brown

hair and kissing her softly on the forehead.


Life had taken another downturn for them when he had had his job cut at

Hicksville High School on Long Island. He had been unable to find

another teaching position in physical education nearby and had had to

work for a taxi service, doing the late shift. He was desperate, so

they could give him whatever they wanted. Then, seemingly out of

nowhere, came this advertisement in the mail for an immediate opening at

the Gardner Town High School in the Catskill Mountains of New York. He

applied and forgot about it until he received a telephone call inviting

him to come for an interview.


He had met with Henry Young, the principal, who explained why the school

responded so quickly to his letter of application and why there was such

urgency to fill the position.


Kurt Andersen was more than just one of our better teachers here, Henry

Young had said. He was, in every sense of the word, Mr. Gardner Town

High. And, he added, a friend. The tall, lean man with the kind of

tired, drawn, and melancholy face that reminded Lee of Abraham Lincoln

swallowed back his sorrow. It was understandable. Andersen's death was

so recent.


Massive coronary, Henry Young explained, and shook his head. No one

BOOK: After Life
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