(journal entry 10101.5)
Along the walls, in shadowed rafters
Moving like a thought through haunted atmospheres
Muted cries and echoed laughter
Banished dreams that never sank in sleep ...
-- Dan Fogelberg, "Ghosts"
The door lock clicked, and the door of the office opened slowly. D.K. stood at the entrance, unsure whether he really wanted to come in. There was so much of John in here .... a psychic presence mixing with the physical reminders. The sound of his laugh, the tone of his voice when they argued a design point, a thousand small memories. And now they were all D.K. had left of the friend who had been by his side since childhood.
He took a deep breath, switched on the light, and the fluorescent glow made him blink for a moment. Two days before, John had headed for the 'rat cage' and he had headed home. They had both done all they could to make the flight work. John had been more anxious than he for the success of the flight. He remembered saying, "Hey, if it doesn't work, it doesn't, but it's not gonna be the end of the damn world ....
That was before the "wave" hit the ship, and the Farscape 1 disappeared.
Fat lot I knew about the end of the world, D.K. thought, gazing around the room. Everything was as he - they - had left it, and yet now everything was different. There was the textbook and graph paper on John's desk, the calculator and slide rule on his. John's desk was neat, orderly, the product of an upbringing in a military household. His was a welter of papers that only he could find sense in, but within that chaos he could pick out any needed sheet in an instant. In many ways they were so opposite, in others alike enough to be twins. Their strengths complemented each other's, and their friendship had weathered more storms than most. Both were intelligent, opinionated and headstrong, and there had been some massive arguments over the years. But underlying it all was a deep affection and respect that anchored them through everything life could shove at them.
And now John was gone. He still didn't really grasp that, expected to turn around and see his friend coming down the hall, hands in his pockets, grin on his face. D.K. knew all about denial, and recognized it for what it was, but that didn't make the feeling any less real. And if it helped him get through the next few days, that was fine by him. He'd stay in denial for as long as it took.
D.K. closed the door behind him and walked toward his desk. He felt his foot strike something on the floor and looked down. A CD case had fallen off John's desk and slid a little way from the edge of the chair leg. D.K. bent to pick it up. It was one of John's favorites - D.K. wondered how he hadn't managed to burn a hole in it. He remembered the morning, about a week before, when he'd walked into the office and John had beat him there. The CD was already in the boom box, and the volume was cranked. Drums resonated and D.K. started to worry about the windows. He rummaged through the bottom drawer of his desk, found what he was looking for, and tossed it to John.
"Yeah, headphones. Take that thing out of the deck, plug it into your computer, and plug those onto your head. Or you don't want to know where I'll stick that CD!"
John looked at him for a moment to see if he was serious, decided he was, and complied with the request. That was the last D.K. had heard of the music, except for the occasional finger-drumming John did on his desk ...
He turned the CD case over in his hand, opened it, and looked at the liner notes. Nothing much registered until one line of lyrics caught his eye: For I'll never see you again ....
Reality threw a massive right hook and denial was down for the count. "Oh, shit," D.K. whispered, the hand holding the CD case beginning to tremble. "Shitshitshitshitshit....
The next he knew, he was sitting on the floor, back against John's desk, knees drawn up to his chin. The CD case had fallen beside him, dropped from nerveless fingers. D.K. wrapped his arms around his knees, dropped his face against them, and let go. Tears flowed down his face, scalding and hard, and he made no effort to hold them in. Sobs wracked his chest until it ached, and he welcomed the pain - it was his penance for still being alive. A hand was twisting his guts, threatening to rip them loose. His own voice screamed in his head: Why? Jesus God, why? It wasn't supposed to be like this! John was supposed to go up for a few hours, come back down, and no matter what they had planned to go out that night. If the flight worked, they were going to paint the town. If it didn't, they were going to drown their sorrows and start all over again when the hangovers wore off. This wasn't part of the equation. This was wrong ....
He didn't know how long he sat there, but finally the tears stopped, his breathing evened out, and the pain eased enough for him to lift his head and look around him. He wasn't sure if the day had gotten later, or if the sun just seemed dimmer somehow. It didn't really matter, he supposed - nothing was ever going to be the same again.
He wiped the drying tears off his face, retrieved the CD case from the floor and stood up slowly, feeling far older than he had any right to. He reached toward the midi tower of John's computer, hit the eject button, and popped the CD slot open. The disk was still there, where John had left it. D.K. hesitated a moment, then picked it up, replacing it in its case. He took another look around him at the small piece of the world they had shared so intimately. "Goodbye, John," he whispered to the ghosts that still lingered. "Fly free, buddy."
He switched off the light, left the room, and locked the door behind him. Next week he would request a new office - he wasn't sure he could work in there again. And a door inside him was now closed and bolted, too. The room behind it might be entered again one day, but D.K. knew it would be a long time.