She woke abruptly, in the early hours of a Sunday morning, as if the bed had suddenly been shaken by a giant hand.

“What”?! she exclaimed, sitting upright, rubbing her eyes into focus and climbing out of bed to get a glass of water. She felt horribly thirsty as she stumbled down the corridor and into the kitchen. She let the water run until it was ice-cold and, when she gulped it down, it tasted like revitalizing nectar. She refilled the glass a second time and, turning around, screamed as the glass slid from her fingers and shattered across the tiled floor.

In the middle of the kitchen table sat, perched on a small wooden stand, a sapphire-blue metal Easter egg with a gold locket to open it from the middle. Beside it lay a little golden key. She trembled as she approached the egg and read the inscription carved into the stand: 

 For my Maggie this Easter, 1987

Love Daddy – xoxoxo

“Oh my God”, she gasped. Her father had given her this egg, filled with little chocolate hearts, just a few days before he had been killed, an innocent bystander during a bank heist gone wrong. She had only been seven years-old.

‘Impossible’, she thought, her mind reeling. The egg had been destroyed in a house fire several years ago. As she grappled with the presence of the egg she was suddenly gripped with a different kind of dread. ‘Somebody’s been in my home…’ she thought, as panic swelled inside her, ‘while I was sleeping. Someone could still be in here…’ She grabbed a long carving knife and raced around the apartment, throwing open every closet door, checking every window was locked and looking behind the bath curtain. Once she was satisfied she was alone she returned to the kitchen.

Taking a deep breath, she picked up the little golden key, slid it in the locket and turned. The egg sprang open and revealed a small slip of ancient-looking paper. It had been folded in half and, as she picked it up, she noticed it had the texture of papyrus, a texture she was familiar with having led a number of archaeological excavations in the Middle East. Her hands trembling, she opened it. A curt message read:

 Come and see me.

There was no mistaking the sloppy scrawl. She had kept everything he had ever written to her before he died. It was her father’s handwriting.

“Okay, you’re dreaming”, she told herself sternly. “Wake up”! she called out, shaking her head violently and pinching herself hard. “Wake up”!!!

Nothing happened. It was not a dream and she felt strangely comforted by that. Getting dressed hurriedly, she let herself out of the apartment and walked down the deserted street to catch the train across town to the waterfront.

Forty-five minutes later she was walking along the beach, through the already-gathering sunbathers, heading towards ‘the rocks’. This was a place that she had discovered with her father, when she was about three years-old, after they had gotten fed-up with the crowds and had gone in search of sanctuary. It was a very small cove, just beyond an angry spit of rocky land jutting out into the sea. It had a stony beach, rather than the endless swathes of white sand that comprised most of the beachfront, and people rarely ever went there. When they found it, her father had rejoiced in the quality of skipping stones and so she, as young children do, gave the place the simplest and most obvious name: ‘the rocks’. They had spent hours ‘on the rocks’ together, playing and swimming and reading and talking.

Since his funeral, she had never once visited her father’s grave in the cemetery. ‘The rocks’ was the place she always came to when she missed him. On the tenth anniversary of his death, when she was seventeen, she had spent a weekend hauling large rocks from the spit to make a cenotaph for him. He had been an avid Egyptophile (one of the reasons she had become an archaeologist) and so she had built it in the shape of a pyramid. She had maintained it ever since against both natural decline and periodic vandalism, including, on one occasion, a graffiti attack.

As she approached ‘the rocks’ on this morning, she felt the terror slowly subsiding and felt more and more calm with each step. As she picked her way over the spit, she could see the pyramid about 200 meters away and there seemed to be bright red blotches all over it. Frowning, she quickened her pace.

‘Impossible’, she thought for the second time in the same day as she stood bewildered in front of the pyramid. The most astonishing crimson red roses had sprouted from the barren rock beneath it, crisscrossing it with thorny stems, the petals of their luscious heads flecked with morning dew that was as thick as honey. At the apex of the pyramid sat the enormous head of a single black rose, a flower she knew does not exist in nature. It was the most beautiful flower she had ever seen and tucked between its heavy petals, she noticed immediately, was another small slip of paper folded in half, just like the one from the egg. This one read:

 These are you.

Go in the water now.

“Daddy”, she whispered hoarsely, “are you here”?

There was no answer as she turned and stared out over the vast expanse of Pacific Ocean, gentle blue and green waves crested in white surf, stretching all the way out to the grey smudge of the horizon where the odd ship’s smoke puffed ragged clouds of blackness into the otherwise cloudless, azure sky. She took off her sandals and waded out into the water slowly. It was warm and the foam lapped gently at her ankles, knees and then thighs as she lifted her skirt and went in deeper. The water felt like there was a very mild electric current running through it that was both intensely energizing and relaxing at the same time. She tilted her head upwards and felt the sun massage her face and, for the first time in her life, she felt completely and totally at peace. The trance was broken when she felt an object bob up against her leg. Looking down, she saw it was an old chemist’s bottle, corked, containing yet another slip of paper. It read:

 You should go back now

Go to Cavalry Street and Third

She did not want to leave. Ever. But she felt a tug, gentle but inexorable, pulling her back towards land from the shoal she stood upon. She put her sandals on, took a picture of the blooming pyramid and headed back towards the city.

As she approached Cavalry and Third, it was clear there was something very wrong. There were plumes of smoke coming from the intersection and the flashing lights of police cars, fire engines and ambulances could be seen from several blocks away. When she reached the area that had been cordoned off with yellow police tape, she could see through the crowds of people craning their necks that there had been a terrible car crash. The accident site was a jumble of twisted metal and plastic wreckage, shards of glass strewn everywhere. One of the crushed cars had been flipped upside down. It looked all-too-familiar and when she saw the license plate, she almost fainted upon confirmation that it was her car.

She pushed through the crowd and ducked under the yellow tape. No one seemed to mind or try to stop her. There was a throng of paramedics crouched over a bleeding young woman lying on the pavement. It was her and one of the paramedics was performing CPR and shouting “Come on! Come on”!!

“She’s gone, Jack”, said another paramedic holding an IV bag.

“Just a little longer”!

“In one minute, I am declaring time of death”.

“Come on! Come on”!!

As she watched in bafflement she heard her father’s voice, gentle and kind as it had always been:

Go back, Maggie

It’s not your time yet

She felt herself rising up into the air and then lowering back down into her injured body. The pain was excruciating but she knew that she was not afraid.

“Welcome back”, said the paramedic smiling down at her. “We thought we had lost you”.

As the ambulance whisked her away, she turned on the small digital camera that she still had clutched in the palm of her hand. She reviewed the last picture taken. The pyramid was there but the flowers were gone. A single tear rolled down her cheek. She smiled and murmured: “See you on the rocks, Daddy”.


About Requiem for the Damned

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