I nodded. I knew what he was talking about. Probably what Alzheimer’s patients dealt with. A detachment from one’s own memories. Distrust of one’s own memories.
A horrible, horrible feeling.
And since we were already in a gloomy state, I decided to go ahead and get this over with, and pushed forward. “There was a teacher killed in this room,” I said. “I think this happened a few weeks ago, but I’m not sure. Maybe shorter, maybe longer.”
“Yes,” said the boy eagerly. “She was my music teacher.”
“Mine, too,” I said.
“A man killed her,” he said, nodding.
“Did you…” I paused. “Did you watch the man kill her?”
He nodded again. “Yes. I saw everything.”
Now images of her murder came flashing into his mind. And because her murder was recent, the images were more concrete and vivid, and the sequence seemed to be relatively in order.
And through the boy’s memory, I saw it all unfold…
My ex–music teacher—and neither of us can remember her name—is sitting at the piano in what appears to be late-morning light, judging by the explosion of color that angles down through the stained-glass windows above. The cavernous chapel is empty; her music fills the entire room.
I sense the boy’s love for music. Or, rather, her music. I also sense that he listens to her each and every morning.
This morning is no different. He watches her from the front pew, but she is oblivious to his presence.
A sudden, rapid shift in perspective…
Now he’s sitting next to her on the bench, pretending to play alongside her. She hums softly to herself, her long fingers flying nimbly over the keys, sitting straight as a board, as she always taught me to do. I could almost—almost—smell her strong perfume. Always too strong and always a bit overwhelming.
As she plays, she cocks her head to one side, as if listening for something, and then smiles to herself. Her lips move, and she forms a single word. A name, in fact.
“Jacob,” she says quietly.
And now she’s referring to the little boy sitting next to her. She senses him, feels him. She smiles again.
The boy’s name is Jacob.
The boy picked up on my thoughts and turned to me excitedly. “My name is Jacob?”
“I think it might be,” I said. “But I could be wrong. Does it sound right to you?”
He screwed up his little face, then started nodding. “Yeah, my name is Jacob. I’m sure of it.” He sat back, pleased, then snapped his head around and looked at me. “Hey, mister, what’s my name again?”
“Jacob,” I said.
“Jacob,” he said again. “Will you help me remember my name?”
“Yes,” I said. “As best I can.”
He smiled and clapped his hands and said his name over and over again.
“Jacob,” I said gently, “can we continue with the story?”
I didn’t want to make the boy relive such a horrible memory, especially since I knew something bad was about to happen to our music teacher.
“Yes,” said Jacob, reading my thoughts. “Very, very bad.”
But I was here for a reason. What that reason was remained to be seen. I had to know.
“Are you okay remembering all this bad stuff?” I asked him.
He nodded, and as he did so, I heard him whispering his name over and over. I slipped back into his memory, and the story continued…
From behind the music teacher comes a noise, a cough, someone clearing his throat.
Startled, she turns. So does Jacob. And since I’m seeing all this through the boy’s eyes, so do I. A man is standing there in the center aisle, holding a gun loosely at his side, head cocked, staring oddly at the music teacher. He sports thick eyebrows, curly black hair, and impossibly bloodshot eyes.
It takes me only a second or two to dredge up the memory of my own murder—in particular, the memory of my killer looking oddly at me from the doorway, head cocked, holding his pistol loosely at his side.
Perhaps even the same pistol.
The man is also my killer.
He is speaking to the music teacher, but the boy misses most of the exchange, although I do make out “Keep quiet” and “No one gets hurt” and “Give me the…”
But Jacob misses the last word. He also misses nearly everything the music teacher says in response. The man, apparently not liking her response, suddenly points the gun at her.
And that’s when she screams.
The man pounces, hurling himself up the stage. Jacob screams, too. Images flash and blur, like a camera rolling down a flight of stairs. I have no clue what’s happening next, but I hear grunts and cries and banging.
When things stabilize, when the dust settles, so to speak, I see the man is now sitting on top of the music teacher as she thrashes wildly beneath, fighting and clawing.
Jacob fights, too, pounding the man furiously with tiny fists that pass harmlessly through his back. Apparently, a ghost boy and an old lady are no match for the man, as he hunches his shoulders and puts more weight into whatever it is he’s doing to her.
The motherfucker is choking the life out of her. That’s what he’s doing.
This goes on for perhaps another minute: the boy pounding, the man hunched, me watching in helpless frustration. What happens next is surprising, but not unexpected.
While the teacher’s physical body still fights her attacker, her spirit, an exact replica of the teacher herself, rises from the floor and floats a few feet above the scene. Her beautifully glowing spirit looks, to say the least, completely bewildered. I know the feeling. Below, her physical self is finally succumbing to her killer. Interestingly, her spirit was released prior to physical death.
Her spirit then looks straight ahead—and straight into Jacob’s eyes. Both recoil. Her mouth opens, and various shades of gold ripple through her ethereal body. Jacob backs away as a bright light appears in the ceiling above. He looks up.
It’s the tunnel.
Unaware of the events unfolding around him, the killer sits back and sucks wind. Apparently, it’s hard work strangling the life out of someone.
Appearing from the stage to Jacob’s left, like a troupe of heavenly actors, are a dozen or so beautifully serene and loving spirits. From them, a kindly old woman steps forward across the carpeted dais. The recognition in our teacher’s eyes is instant, and immediately, her fear and confusion abate. The older woman, I can see, looks similar to our piano teacher, but younger. A sister, perhaps? I don’t know, but after hugging deeply and chatting briefly, they rise together to the tunnel above.