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|Visionary story universe|
Nothing can really come between best friends. Sometimes the relationship sours, sometimes money, a girl or simply time will part them, but they will always be friends.
For Mike and Tom, this was no different. Neither one could remember a time when they weren't together. Through thick and thin, through good and bad and through the years. They had been inseparable from the time they met ten years ago, when they were both infants.
In that time, there had been fights, there had been arguments and there had been promises to never see each other again. Each time, they managed to be back together by the next afternoon. After all, life was too short to find other good friends, and there was a whole world to explore.
But friendships can go through rough spots that are more difficult to overcome. The type of bump that isn't so easily correctable, the type of separation that usually lasts for a lifetime.
At least the lifetime of one of the friends.
But nothing ever separates the best of friends.
It started as most things do, on a day when nothing bad could happen. It was a typical California summer: Sun, warmth and life. It hasn't rained in a while, and it didn't look like any was about to come. It was the perfect kind of day to get outside and do *anything*.
Mike met Tom at the old field near their houses. It had once been the drainage pit for the vast orchard that had once sat here. Now, surrounded by houses on two sides and streets on the other two, it was an overgrown field covered with bike trails, red ant hills and hidden forts. The perfect place for young friends to meet.
"Hey Mike, you down there?", yelled Tom as he pounded on the large piece of rotted plywood lying on the ground.
From below came the muffled reply, "Yea, come on down!"
Tom picked up the piece of wood revealing the pit that had become their fort and meeting place. It was small, only a little larger than a hot tub, but it was private. You'd never find it without stumbling right on it if you didn't know.
Tom tossed a couple small bags down to Mike, "Lunch.", he said simply.
Mike looked into the bags, "What, cookies, cookies and cookies? You couldn't get anything else?"
"What? There's Coke in the other bag."
Mike rolled his eyes, but just as fast burst out laughing. "Whatever. Close the lid."
The next couple of hours were spent doing such earth shattering things as trading comic books and telling jokes that would have gotten them both slapped at home. After a while, though, the underground hideaway simply got too hot and uncomfortable.
It was Tom, naturally, who made the suggestion. "Let's head over to 31 Flavors for some ice cream."
It didn't have to be said twice. They gathered up there stuff, leaving the wrappers and cans behind, and climbed out. They each found there bikes where they had been left, lying in a green tumbleweed. After a few minutes taken to remove the various strands of weed from the spokes, they were off.
"Hey, why don't we head over to Thrify's instead?", asked Mike.
"It's only about a quarter a scoop over there."
Tom nodded, "Sure, okay. Follow me!", he yelled as he started peddling faster. He led Mike on a chase out of the neighborhood of cookie cutter houses, in front of the entrance to the apartment complex nearby and though the K-Mart shopping center loading docks. They just had to make a quick turn onto the sidewalk over by Ponderosa Drive and they could head right up to Thrifty's.
As they came to the end of the loading docks, Tom began to slow down to make the ninety degree turn onto the sidewalk. It was at that moment that the perfect day ended.
Tom's front tire slid on some loose gravel, sending him out of control. Given a moment to regain control, this would have been forgotten within the hour, but Ponderosa was a busy street.
Mike slammed on his own brakes. "Tom!"
The thud was sickening. The screech of brakes deafening. It was a moment that Mike couldn't recall later, except in his nightmares.
Moments later, he knelt down by the prone form of his friend. His best friend. One of his only friends. He knew that he was crying. He knew that his friend was lying on the street. He knew that his head lookedwrong. It was perhaps only a few moments later when one of the witnesses led him away.
The funeral was a couple days later. Tom's parents were broken up. There were a lot of people at the funeral, a lot of kids that Mike recognized as classmates. There weren't that many friends, though. Tom simply didn't have many. Except for Mike.
After everyone left that afternoon, Mike came back to the cemetery alone. He sat and looked at the headstone for a few minutes, and then removed a small cup from a paper bag. He pulled off the lid, set it on the headstone and left, leaving the small cup of ice cream.
Mike spent the rest of that summer in one of two places: home or at the cemetery. He went back to the fort once, but only to fill it in. His parents started getting worried, even panicked. They knew that it wasn't healthy for him to be so depressed. But they also knew that it was temporary, that Mike had to have time to mourn. They knew that he would get over it eventually. Perhaps when he started school again in the fall.
But as summer continued, Mike didn't get any better. He thought about his friend all the time. He didn't really eat. He couldn't sleep. It was nearly three weeks before he could sleep without waking up screaming. His dreams kept replaying the last moments over and over again.
As the summer began to slowly wind down, so did the fine weather. It was the second week of August when the sky began to darken. Mike found himself in the middle of the cemetery as a light rain began to fall. It took a few minutes before he realized it. Mike started walking away from the grave and decided to take shelter in the only building available, the mortuary.
He stood in the entrance to the building for a while, dripping over the reddish-brown Spanish tile. The warm summer rain began to fall harder. Mike simply continued to stare vacantly out at the rain, not really focusing on anything.
Mike felt a hand on his shoulder, but was so out of it he didn't really notice until he heard the deep, smooth voice. "Are you okay, son?"
Mike only turned his head halfway, not far enough to see the man behind him. "Yea. I guess."
The man turned him gently around. "You've been here a lot lately. I've seen you standing over young Mr. Crawfords' grave. A friend?"
Mike nodded, "He is."
The man raised his eyebrows, but said nothing for a long while. He seemed lost in though. "Come on in, son. Let me get you something warm to drink."
Mike didn't want to come in, but the man led him into the building. The man led him into a small modern kitchenette in the back of the building. The room was brightly lit and cool. A window was slightly ajar letting the sound of the rain come in unfiltered. A wooden chair was pulled out and Mike was guided into the seat. The man said nothing as he set some water on the stove and pulled out some packets of hot chocolate and tea from the cupboards. As the water began to boil, he made a cup of the chocolate and set it in front of Mike, keeping the tea for himself.
"Why do you keep coming back here, young man?"
Mike never looked up from the cup of untouched hot chocolate. "Tom would get lonely. He never liked to be alone."
The man sat down. "I want you to tell me something honestly. Was he a good kid?"
Mike didn't realize it until that moment, but he was crying again. He started thinking back on all the years he'd spent with Tom. The good times and the bad. Every memory, Tom had been there for him. "Yea."
"What would you be willing to give up for him."
Mike didn't need to think about that much. He had already asked, prayed, that he could switch places with him. "Everything."
"He can't come back, you know. No matter what you want, he left this existence on this Earth. His human existence is over."
Mike just nodded and watched the steam drifting off the top of the mug begin to cool.
"If you are right, and he is truly the good friend that you say he was, though, I can help."
Mike looked at the man for the first time. He saw the deep furrowed lines of a man who had lived a long time. He saw the kindness in his eyes, and felt the genuine warmth of his desire to help. There was simply something about the man that he felt he could trust. "Can you bring him back?"
"In a manner of speaking. But you will have to be willing to bear the responsibility for him. Are you willing?"
Mike nodded, "Anything."
At that moment, the sound of the rain stopped. Mike glanced up to the window to see the sun was once again peaking though the clouds. The man stood up and lightly gripped him on the shoulder. "The rains stopped. It's time for you to go home. I think that you left your bike in the cemetery, though."
Mike started to protest, but felt the fight go out of him. He didn't know what was going on, but he was willing to see what happened. The man led him out the door and Mike walked down the steps. He turned to thank the man, but he was gone. The door was tightly closed. Mike hadn't heard the door close.
He walked sullen and confused through the front gates of the cemetery and up the path to where he had left his bike. He picked it up and absently wiped the drops of water off the vinyl seat. Then a slight sound caught his attention.
He glanced up in the direction of where his friend rested, and saw something he didn't expect. There was a small black lab puppy sitting on the grave. Mike walked over and picked it up. "Where'd you come from, fella?" He held the small pup to his face. For a second, he thought that it looked confused and little scared. Then it seemed to see Mike for the first time and yapped excitedly.
Mike was so startled that he nearly dropped it. He carried it over to a concrete bench on the path and sat down. "Awe, geez, it's all wet" He stopped and looked at the puppy again. It had stopped yapping and seemed to be concentrating on his face, but that's not what drew Mikes attention. Mike looked around the cemetery quickly. There was no one around to have left the it. Everything was drenched from the shower. Even though he'd been inside for a while, his own cloths were still wet.
But save for the pups rump where it had been sitting on the damp grass, it was dry.
Mike looked again at the puppy and back at the mortuary and again at the puppy. He thought about what the old man had said. Tom had ended his human existence, he had said, his human existence.
He held the pup closer to his face for a moment, "Tom?"
The pup yapped excitedly, its tail wagging fiercely. With his wet paws resting on Mikes chest, he began licking his friend in the face.
Mike started laughing and crying at the same time, "You were gone. I thought you were gone!" The pup kept licking his face, and Mike let him. After a few minutes, he pulled the excited dog away.
The pup yapped in the affirmative.
Though a small window in the back of the mortuary, an old man watched approvingly at the reunion. As the young man carried his once lost friend from the cemetery, he slowly faded from sight.
Nothing ever really separates best friends.