"We used to be able to fly."
Tik Sandstrom flipped a quarter into the air and walked away before it hit the ground. With his back to Becky he called it. "Tails," he muttered without skipping a beat.
"Mr. Sandstrom, I would appreciate it if you stayed for a while longer until we work out the remainder of the details. This is not a simple request that you have made. There is a lot of work involved."
Tik Sandstrom snorted loudly, drawing up all matter of mucous through his nose, and then spit it across the floor at a standing ashtray some six feet away. All of the disgusting matter he worked free managed to land in the ashtray. Becky was not impressed. Dealing with Tik Sandstrom always made her stomach queasy.
"I don't have a lot of time left, my dear. That is why I hired you and your company to work out these details for me. If I wanted to be shackled to the gears of this less than well oiled machine I would not have paid you people what I paid you. My life is reaching its expiration date. Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
"You are asking us to contact people and bring them together without giving us any idea who they are or where they might be. We need your help in making this work, Mr. Sandstrom. I am not certain we can make your deadline given the limited details of your list."
"I'm all out of sympathy, my dear. I ran out of that some time ago. The well has run dry. If your company cannot organize this last request of a dead man, then I will find someone who will."
Tik had every intention of writing the final chapter of his life and letting his hand picked cast play out the last scene. That cast was being selected from key players in his life's past. There were those he remained in touch with, those he had lost touch with and those who were missing without any clues pertaining to where they might now be. Some had been missing for as many as thirty years. Others had asserted once upon a time that they wanted nothing to do with Tik Sandstrom. He had hired Becky's organization in order to make sure they would for at least one final curtain call. Tik had no intention of going out without saying farewell to those who had been sewn into the tapestry of his existence.
Nightmares can make you crazy, and Tik had no escape clause when it came to their intrusions. He had been given only a handful of months to live. His body was wracked with disease and was dying out from under him. There were questions as to how stable his mind was under the circumstances and if it had been biologically affected. The doctors told him that was unlikely and that his emotional condition was the result of stress accumulating as a result of his death sentence. Two psychologists had been unable to offer much in the way of unburdening Tik from that stress and so he stepped forward into the crashing waves. He needed all the crayons. The last few pages of his life's coloring book needed all the colors in the box. The few splashes of color that remained were insufficient for painting the picture.
"When you unearth the past in the present there is a certain amount of risk. It is like digging up all the bodies in the graveyard and placing them side by side."
Two birds were sitting on the tree branch outside of the building where Becky's worked overtime to produce clues pertaining to the location and fate of the people on Tik's list. Tik watched them for a moment and wondered if he might outlive them or if they had more than enough time remaining to do what was necessary. He had been cheated out of that time. It was not so much that he had been cheated by the news of his impending passing. What truly disturbed Tik Sandstrom was the way he had let so much sand run through his fingers, always falsely assuming that there would be better things on the encroaching horizon.
You can easily allow life to become a collection of subway stops that you never even consider getting off on. The wheels roll forward and the sparks fly. When life is about a destination you forget the importance of the journey until it is too late to turn back. At some point there might have been a chance to stop and smell roses that are now only dust seeping through the air ducts of an air conditioned building with no soul.
Tik felt his arms and legs becoming heavy, as they usually did after too much exertion. What was now considered too much exertion paled in comparison to the fast paced, go-getter lifestyle Tik had known for so long. Something as simple as buttering a croissant took effort that afterwards required a nap. Life was consistent now in the fact that it allowed Tik too much time for reflection and introspection. There were too many hours spent sitting quietly in the dark. Sometimes even the light hurt his eyes. At other times, he longed for it.
The final act was a last ditch effort to salvage Tik's life from ending as a complete tragedy. The unfinished business of life had nothing to do with his business deals or the status of his estate. It had to do with the unclosed doors and unpainted windows of a life spent mostly alone. That had been by design and now that design was being torn up and sent fluttering into the angry breeze. The presence of love in Tik's life consisted of a scrapbook filled with warm memories that had lasted no longer than the steam off a cup of hot tea. There needed to be a bridge to those tiny islands that crossed back temporarily from the mainland.
The truth was that Tik did not expect Becky and her associates to be able to pull together any more than twenty percent of the list. Yet, he pushed her to complete the job, because there were a few people on the list that were far more essential than others. He just could not tell her who they were because that would mean having to admit their greater importance to himself. As cold as Tik appeared to the average acquaintance, he was in fact capable of deep and meaningful pangs of emotion. He was even capable of love, but he ran from love because it took away his capacity for being in control of everything around him. This last supper would reverse all that and leave him all at once completely without control and at the mercy of his emotions. It was so intended.
"Avoid any kind of upsetting or overwhelming situations.
Your body cannot handle those kinds of shocks to the system.
It would hasten the onset of the more serious elements of the illness."
And it could kill you sooner. Those words were the most important to Tik Sandstrom and played an important role in the decision to organize the final act. One night of confessing the truth and exposing the man who hid behind the curtains and the veils was duly intended. There was a hidden romantic element that sincerely hoped he would die in her arms.
In the darkness people can disappear without a trace and leave behind empty spaces. Tik could feel the presence of the empty spaces. They were always there, swarming around him like ghosts who never spoke but always sang. Their song was sometimes bittersweet but more often they sang in abject silence. It was important to give the ghosts a chance to hear what Tik needed to sing to them in return, for all too often he avoided them. The sadness of a childhood friend left behind when college and career called. The shunning of the woman who loved him because Tik considered her too financially unstable to entangle himself with in marriage or any long term relationship. The never ending ballad of his childhood sweetheart, swept away when they were called to opposing corners of the physical world. They were all on the guest list and Tik needed to share a drink with them for one final moment in time.
"They would otherwise be lost to me forever, which is what I openly wished for, but inwardly hoped would never come to pass."
The final act would come to be played on the first snowfall of the season. It was two weeks outside of Christmas and Tik had no desire to experience the season one final time. Dry, carefully planned business parties where Tik smiled and discussed his intentions for the coming year with people who were as staid as he was, were often followed by too many nights where Tik sat by the fire alone in his big house sipping egg nog and wondering if it was all worth it. There were too many similar reflections in the mirrors of the house that shielded Tik from everything he was afraid to become.
Tik had no desire to make a grand arrival in a limosine as he did for most parties. Still, he needed a driver, as he could not rely on his body and mind to get him anywhere under his own power. He arrived in a non-descript black sedan, dressed in his most simple three-piece suit, and once he got out of the car he could feel his feet crunch the newly fallen snow with every step. Ahead he could see the window into the rented banquet hall. The room was full of people, all standing with glasses of wine in their hands, neatly dressed and talking amongst themselves. Tik straighted his tie, cleared his throat and approached the door. He could see the faces of the people he once left behind who cared enough to accept his invitation to say a final farewell. There was warmth creeping up inside him, a warmth that came from knowing these people all cared enough to travel distances great and small to be here for the final act.
"You look nervous, Tik."
The voice belonged to a tall man standing beside the door to the hall. Tik did not recognize him, but supposed he might be any of a number of childhood friends he had sought to invite. Tik extended his hand, but the man did not shake it. Instead, he placed his hand on Tik's shoulder and pulled him closer.
"Look, friend, I don't recognize you and I am sorry. I was afraid I might have some trouble recognizing faces. We have all been through so much."
"We have not met before."
Tik's first thought was that this might be the husband or boyfriend of one of his lost loves. Perhaps he might even be the lover of the woman who once meant everything to him but could not overcome Tik's need to seek out the destiny of fame and fortune. Tik stood silently and stared into the man's eyes. They were dark as night and hypnotic. Tik wondered if perhaps he should have accepted the medication the doctor offered him to help him get through this night.
"I am sorry. You cannot go inside. You must come with me."
Tik's expression changed to that of one who feels he is about to be robbed without being able to prevent the crime from happening. He pulled away from the man and reached for the handle of the door. His hand passed through the handle, affording him no grip and no opportunity to open the door to the hall. The stranger strengthened his hold on Tik's shoulder and there was a feeling of ice water suddenly coursing through Tik's veins in place of the warm, red blood that was normally there.
"What is going on? This is my party."
"Think of it as a dream, Tik. Take a long last look and then we must be going. There are appointments that cannot be delayed. There are stringent rules to which we must adhere."
Tik looked through the window again. The faces were so familiar and so real. So many of those he had not believed would make an appearance were there. They had come, regardless of the circumstances. They had come because somehow what once was had not been completely drowned in the river of time. They came for him.
Had it not been for one last sight crossing into Tik's field of vision, he might have believed this to be no more than another nightmare. At the head of the room was a large, ornate, black coffin. It was the coffin Tik had selected himself some years back in the event that tragic circumstances befell him. Now those circumstances had come to light. The final act would be played out without Tik's presence, but more than ever before, Tik was there.