Chapter Two - Presence

My chest heaved and my vision blurred, as the air felt thinner every passing second. The last ounce of physical strength within me was sapped out, as I struggled to get air. It seemed like an eternity, as I frantically prayed for any form of salvation. Everything slowly but surely became dim, and my eyes began to flutter.

Before I was about to pass out, my bedroom door swung wide open. Miraculously, I immediately felt a welcome surge of much-needed oxygen. Taking the precious opportunity, I desperately gasped to fill my aching lungs.

"Why are you up?" Dean concernedly asked, as he entered my bedroom and placed my luggage on the floor.

"Just got startled," I replied in between breaths - my chest still burning from the earlier lack of air, and extremely thankful that Dean inadvertently came to my rescue.

By this time, the room temperature went back to normal. However, the coldness of my hands and face reminded me that I was not imagining what I just experienced.

"Everything okay?" Andy inquired while peering his head inside my room. He then queried, "Sis, do you want some tea?"

"Would you, please?" I affirmatively replied, knowing that tea normally helped me feel better.

Andy nodded and proceeded to the kitchen.

Dean, on the other hand, sat at the foot of my bed. With probing eyes and a raised eyebrow, he pried, "You looked bugged out. What's wrong?"

"Aren't you cold?" I inquired, after a couple of minutes of silence between us.

"Are you kidding? It's ninety degrees outside," he responded with a smirk.

"My room suddenly got cold before you walked in," I explained, as I struggled to talk as my head mercilessly throbbed.

His smirk disintegrated into a thoughtful look. Scanning the entire bedroom, his eyes focused at a spot, widened, and then relaxed.

He then gazed at me and said, as he twirled his index finger while pointing towards the ceiling, "It may be the centralized air going haywire. Or you probably got that nasty twenty-four hour bug."

"Maybe," I semi-agreed, as I let out a sigh.

"Maybe, what?" Andy quietly interjected as he slowly walked in the room with a hot cup of chamomile tea. As he set down the cup and saucer on the nightstand beside me, I gave my thanks.

Dean intently looked at Andy, as he resignedly explained, "Lynn got cold all of a sudden. I told her that maybe it's the centralized air."

Andy's eyebrows met, as he put more thought into Dean's explanation. "But how could it be the AC, if there's no electricity?"

Dean and I were startled.

"No electricity?" Dean echoed back with a frown.

"It was supposed to be on since yesterday. Nobody's coming out to fix it until tomorrow mid-day. I did the best that I could," Andy said with a slight tone of disappointment draped in his voice.

Our eldest brother assured him, "Hey, it's okay. Then we'll just get some candles, too."

"Let us go to the store before it gets too dark," Andy suggested to Dean - prompting the latter to stand up, fish the keys in his pocket, bid me goodbye, and go outside the apartment.

Then planting his gaze at me, Andy reassuringly said, "We'll be back in an hour."

"Okay," I softly replied while giving a faint smile.

After a couple of minutes, he then quietly closed the door.

"Lynn! Lynn!"

Fists repeatedly banged on my bedroom door and drew me out from my sleep. It was already morning.

I groggily bolted out of bed, absent-mindedly threw on a robe over my pajamas, and stumbled towards the door. Panic and confusion replaced sleepiness, as I saw a pale-faced and petrified Andy. With a crinkled forehead, I asked him, "What's wrong?"

In answer to my question, I heard sirens coming closer - startling me, but not Andy. I saw him abruptly turn his back from me, hastily run towards the living room, and widely open the door. I could not figure out what was going on.

As I remained stupefied in the spot where I stood and put two and two together, panic struck me like a knife through the heart. I quickly ran inside my brothers' bedroom - desperately hoping that Dean was okay.

Dean was still lying on the bed. He was pale - much paler than Andy was.

My tears instantly welled up, as I sat on the bed besides him. While laying my hand on his chest and shaking him, I screamed, "God, Dean! Don't joke around! Wake up!"

He did not stir from his slumber. He always made a joke about this, which prompted me to punch him in the arm as my usual response.

After biting my lower lip so hard that it almost bled, I strongly held him by both arms and repeatedly shook him. "Dean! Please wake up! Please..."

The sirens finally stopped, and was replaced by the sound of sprinting.

A uniformed man stepped inside the bedroom. "Clear the room!"

"No!" I hysterically retorted in the middle of tears - leaning and embracing Dean, as if my life depended on it. I ignored the fact that his body was still very cold.

"Lynn, come on. Let them work," Andy softly pleaded, as he reached out for my hand.

I helplessly looked at Dean, and I saw up-close how pale he was. My gaze dazedly went over to Andy, who gingerly offered his hand to me. As soon as I got up and joined him, three men crowded around the bed to resuscitate our eldest brother.

"What the hell is going on, Andy?" I uncontrollably sobbed while looking at the paramedics frantically work. I was desperately begging for an answer other than the obvious. I felt my brother's strong and comforting hold on my shoulder.

One of the three men went outside - bringing with him another paramedic, a stretcher, and a large black bag.

My eyes widened, and my voice raised - seeing that the paramedics were about to lift Dean from the bed. Indignantly, I inquired, "Where are you taking him?"

One of the paramedics stood from the bed. Tight-lipped while shaking his head, he grimly stated, "I'm sorry, Miss. He's gone..."

I felt like my head suddenly swelled twice its size. I did not believe a word that the man just said, nor was I convinced that all the events before me were really happening.

Yesterday, I was just laughing with Dean during our plane trip. We were looking forward on being reunited with Andy, and dreaming of a bright future in California. I just could not understand what was going on. How the hell could someone who was with you yesterday be gone today?

Helplessly, I sobbed and hugged Andy - further tightening my embrace on him as I heard the sound of the zipper, marking the end of the paramedics job of securing our eldest brother in a body bag.

Since Dean's death was mysterious, the coroner had his body for autopsy to determine the cause of death. More than a week had passed before the body was released for burial. Andy and I made the funeral and travel arrangements during that long wait.

I did not know what was more surreal - seeing Dean stuffed inside a body back a week ago, finding out that he died from an aneurysm, or flying back home while holding an urn containing his ashes. For the past week, my head and my heart were too bombarded with thoughts and emotions that I could not filter anything anymore. Why did this ever had to happen? If it had to happen, why was it so sudden and so soon?

It was nice to see Mom and Grandma again, but the reunion was bittersweet. The small suburban town where Dean and I grew up welcomed Andy with open arms, and the local parish gave a poignant memorial and mass for Dean. Most of the townspeople who knew us were at the funeral.

As the priest gave Dean his last rites, Mom and Grandma cried non-stop. Andy and I did our best to console both of them, while holding back our own tears. He did a better job maintaining his composure than I did.

While the undertakers lowered down the small wooden casket containing Dean's ashes, I constantly shook my head - hoping that all these events were untrue. I noticed that Grandma's grip on my arm tightened as the coffin went lower to the ground. As dirt was placed back into the six-foot rectangular pit, I wept for the first time since my return to New York.

After the funeral, everything else flew by too quickly: the reception, condolences from friends, and other reminders that Dean was dead. By this time, I was already too shocked and so overwhelmed that I could not cry - like every event went by like a nightmarish haze.

What I did remember well was the conversation Andy and I had with Mom and Grandma, inviting us to move to New York. After spending a couple of days weighing our options, we were on a plane back to California. The four of us agreed to give California at least a year, before we relocate to New York.

The days went by fast. It was already twelve days since our brother's untimely death. It had been hard for me to sleep ever since he died, so I find myself lying awake in my dark bedroom until the crack of dawn - silently weeping, constantly denying, and persistently searching for a reason why our brother died so young.

It was not fair for Dean to die so young. We just moved to California, then he died one day after our move. He left me alone in a strange apartment far away from home with Andy - a brother that I barely know. What the hell would happen to me, now that the only familiar person in this strange place was gone? Where did all those optimistic dreams of a bright future go?

Another wave of overwhelming emotions filled my being, driving me to tears. I really missed Dean's company. We went through thick and thin together - not just as brother and sister, but also as friends. Even though we teased each other, argued over petty matters, and got on each other's case from time to time, he did his best to always be there.

Now that Dean was gone, Andy and I were left behind. Would we get along as well as Dean and I did?

The room suddenly felt cold, and the floorboards inside my room began to creak. Footsteps coming from the farthest corner of my room became more audible, as they approached my bed.

I tightly closed my eyes, gathering as much inner strength as I could, praying for protection, and assessing what was causing this experience. The footsteps then stopped. Seconds later, someone - or something - sat on the foot of my bed. This time, the wooden bed frame and the floorboards simultaneously creaked.

With my eyes still tightly closed, my fear further heightened as the room temperature dropped. I panicked, as my terror-ridden mind made a connection.

Hours after this same incident, Dean died. Now, the phenomenon was happening again. Was this another omen - a sign that someone would die hours after this experience? Whatever it was, did it now come back to claim Andy or me? Should I cower and hide under the covers? Would the comforter be enough to protect me?

After swallowing really hard, I sat up and opened my eyes - my hands clutching the covers as it hid my body from the neck down. While my vision was adjusting to see through the darkness, I heard an audible voice coming from the foot of my bed say, "Lynn..."

End Chapter Two

Author's Notes

Hope you liked this chapter. I thank everyone in advance for reading and constructively reviewing this piece.

No part of this publication may be reproduced in whole or in part or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the author.

Copyright 2003 by Zatken. All rights reserved.