A Hero’s Departure by E. J. Nowicki

Between one moment and the next, she was gone. Lorleigh felt the human spirit fly through the hall—a wispy rush that was there and then gone. Released. It had come from the third room on the left.

Lorleigh let the sadness rush through her. A heavy weight that would never lift again. Working around the dying didn’t make death any easier. She started toward the room.

The regal green tiled floor and white walls were befitting for those who had given up everything to save the world. Those who had fought seventy years ago in The Great Beyond War.

Rooms lined the hallway, a hospice for those who made it this far. They would need help passing over. They always needed help.

The room was somber. The woman’s son and daughter were at the bedside. Their spouses comforting them the best they could. Lorleigh knew the grandkids were down the hall.

On the bed was a small, sunken body. She had been a hero—was still a hero. Some heroes get to die of old age.

Lorleigh quietly ventured into the room. Schmar Bayswood lay peacefully, face relaxed and big eyes closed. Schmar had been one of the greatest.

“She’s gone,” Lorleigh said softly and was met with a big hug from her daughter. “She’ll be at peace.”

“We knew it was coming,” the son said, his lean face taut. They had the feeling of a close-knit family, ones that got together on the weekends just for the fun of it.

“I sent for the doctor. You can wait at the end of the hall,” Lorleigh said and gave the daughter another hug. The smell of coffee and hash browns clung to her as everyone, red-eyed and sniffling, left the room.

She took Schmar Bayswood’s bony hand and mouthed a prayer she so often used. Prayers never hurt.

“Do you feel it?” Doctor Gellmind asked, coming up on the opposite side of the bed. “The vibration?”

“I always do,” Lorleigh sighed and concentrated on the hum just beneath the skin she grasped. It grew louder, not in sound but in feeling as if something was trying to escape.

Something was trying to escape.

“Then let’s proceed,” Doctor Gellmind opened his tall black bag and reached inside.

The vibration shook Lorleigh’s entire arm, pulsing to the point it hurt but she didn’t let go. The vial Doctor Gellmind retrieved was blood red. Ruby red was the chosen upon term but Lorleigh had more experience with blood than rubies. At least the liquid was thin, not thick like blood.

As Doctor Gellmind rubbed the liquid over Schmar Bayswood’s forehead, temples, chin, neck, and chest Lorleigh started her prayer again. The elixir only worked to release what was trapped after death. Schmar’s life was over in every form. Her human spirit released but her other spirit jumped and bit at the confinement. A growl reared up from the vibration.

“…be free.” Her words ended just as Gellmind stepped away.

From deep within, a form lifted above the body of Schmar Bayswood—a dark ghostly shadow. A wolf on strong legs and a large tail. Schmar’s nuzzle turned this way and that as her spirit shook as if she’d just crossed a river. Air gusted around the room.

Then the wolf spirit of Schmar Bayswood ran. She was gone. The animal was gone.

“Thank you for your service,” Doctor Gellmind said softly bowing his head at the bed. He closed his bag and shot Lorleigh a sad smile. “For yours, too.”

Lorleigh nodded, numb. Even after seeing hundreds of crossings each one still hurt. Bears. Weasels. Lions. When humans couldn’t fight any longer it was the animals that did. The invaders from the Great Beyond hadn’t counted on that, hadn’t even thought of how the world they were descending upon was as much all the creatures, big and small, as it was the most civilized.

So they turned the animals into humans, thinking they would have the same control over them with their technology as they did with real humans.

But they didn’t. A wolf will always have the spirit of a wolf. A bear a bear.

Not all animals were turned, but the fighters fought and the world was won. For the humans. For the animals. For every creature big and small.

They wouldn’t be back, Lorleigh knew. The invaders wouldn’t come back to this edge of the forgotten universe. They were safe because Schmar and the others in the Hall, to their last breaths, lived a long human life with their animals trapped inside.

Lorleigh placed the furry paw clutched in her hand back on the bed. She stroked Schmar Bayswood’s snout and quietly closed the door as she left.

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