Rise Up

Quick Disclaimer: I do not own these characters or the world they inhabit. They were created by the fabulous people at Zombie Orpheus for their equally fabulous RPG, Masters of the Metaverse!  Be sure to tune in to Twitch.TV/zombieorpheus every Monday at 6PM PST to see more!

John Hardin nodded as he passed off his watch to Jesse James before heading off to bunk down for the night. They’d settled on the upper level of the barn and he didn’t see much reason to move off any where else. Picking the farthest corner, John laid down in the hay and rolled onto his side, his hat covering his eyes. He was just drifting off when he felt someone slipping in behind him, snuggling close against his back. In spite of himself, he smiled.

“Your feet are cold.” he muttered.

“My feet are always cold,” Jane replied, “I’m dead.”

“Still no excuse. You ought to warn a man before you put your cold feet against him.”

Jane snorted, “Didn’t you promise to love me for better or for worse?”

“Till death do us part if I recall correctly.” John replied, his back still to her.

Jane snuggled in closer, “Hasn’t parted us yet though.”

“No, it hasn’t.”

“Now what’s all this bunk I hear about you being in love?” Jane asked.

John grunted, “Oh, so is that what this is about? You come to give me your blessing?”

“No such thing. John Wesley, you don’t love that woman.”

“And why not?”

“Because you love me. Always have and always will. You love me just like I love you. You don’t love that woman and you know it.”

John shifted slightly, “Well, you ain’t here no more. Except when you visit, I’ll allow that. But you’re dead and gone Jane…and a man gets lonesome sometimes.”

“Lonesome? Don’t you think I get lonesome? The only part of being dead that makes eternity bearable is that I can still come and visit you. That I can still see you, can still hear your heart beat every morning.”

“You best find yourself an angel, honey. Because I don’t think I’ll be joining you. I’ve done too many things in this life to think I’d make my way up to where you are.”

Jane sighed, “Is that it? You’ve become hopeless?”

John shook his head, “No. I’m not hopeless. I’m just embracing it. I know what I am, Jane. I’m not a good man, never have been. Maybe I could have been one with you. But with you gone, there’s nothing left in me worth saving. I’m soulless. Better to just accept that. I know where I’m going the day I meet my maker, might as well use the time left to me to make sure some folks who deserve the same are there to welcome me when I arrive.”

“Resigning yourself to a life without peace? Giving up the possibility of us seeing each other again, just because you think you don’t deserve it? Sounds pretty hopeless to me.”

John made no reply but shifted away from her slightly. After a few moments he felt her arms encircle him again, her nose pressing gently against the back of his neck. Her cold feet tickled the backs of his knees and her hair brushed his cheek. They lay like this for some time before Jane spoke again.

“You said that I was a good woman.”

“A saint.” John interjected.

Jane chuckled softly, “A saint then. Well, tell me did you ever hear of a saint who loved a man with no soul? Do you think that a good woman such as myself would stoop so low as to marry a man who didn’t at least deserve a chance at happiness?”

When he made no answer she continued, “That’s the part you never understood John. That’s the bit you missed. Even a damned man can save himself with his dying breath, if he’ll only try. It’s the trying that matters. The doing counts for something but it’s the trying that can save you.”

John was quiet for a moment. Some part of him recoiled from his wife’s words. He’d been killing men for as long as he could remember. Forty-two had died by his hand before he was seventeen. A year later he’d met Jane and the world suddenly seemed better. Suddenly he wasn’t so angry all the time. Suddenly he had a reason for getting out of bed every morning. Suddenly it didn’t seem so wrong that he should make it through the day. Four years had passed this way, four blessed years that he still carried with him locked deep inside. Locked away so far that even he couldn’t taint them.

Then it all ended. One moment. One bullet. One final breath.

Her arms wrapped around him tighter, as if she knew what he was remembering. She probably did. She always knew when the demons were pulling at him, whispering in his ear and telling him to let go. She’d made him give up drinking, give up seeing other women, give up going out at night to walk in the darkness just to see if he could make it home. And for what? Why make him give up these parts of himself? He was a forgotten man.

“Because you’re not lost, no matter how much you think you are.” Jane whispered in his ear, seemingly answering his question.

“I’m angry, Jane. I’m angry all the time. Every minute, every day, I’m so angry that all I want to do is die from it.”

“I know sweetheart. I know it. That anger? It’s a chain. It’s your chain, John. You’ve got to carry it. But having chains doesn’t make you worthless or make your life pointless. The chains don’t control you. The question is, can you still stand up when those chains want to pull you down?”

John shook his head, “I don’t feel like I’ve got any heart left in me Janey. It’s just my body walking around this earth. My soul ain’t here no more.”

“I don’t believe that, not for one-second.” Jane said fiercely, “Now you listen here John Hardin. I didn’t marry you because I wanted to save you. I didn’t love you because I wanted to fix you. I loved you and married you because my heart is your heart. I believe in you. Always have, always will. Why else do you think I stepped in front of that bullet?”

“I wish you hadn’t.”

“I know. I didn’t want to die. But I didn’t want you to neither.”

John stared out into the blackness, “I don’t know if I can do what you’re asking Janey. I think I’m too far gone.”

“You are not. You just got to try, John. I’m putting in a good word for you, you just got to show them that you want to do better. I’m not saying that there won’t be some penance to do when you get here. But if I can’t spend my eternity with you…well then, that’s going to be like dying all over again.”

“What’s it like to die?” he asked.

“Not what you might expect.” she replied, “It’s just like forgetting to do all the things you’ve been so worried about doing all your life. But it’s lonesome here, John. I don’t want to be without you forever.”

Something caught in his throat and John ducked his head. He whispered, “Can I kiss you Janey?”

“You know what happens once you do. Once you see me. I’ll have to go John, I won’t be able to stay the night.”

“I know.”

“Will you be all right on your own? Just for tonight…with the dreams I mean.” Jane asked.

“Maybe. Maybe not. But I miss you and I want to kiss you.” John replied.

“Well, come on then.”

He rolled over, turning to face her at last. She smiled up at him, looking the same as she did all those years ago. In that moment he felt his heart crack open and the love he kept inside just for her trickled out. She reached up and touched his cheek, her hand fading ever so slightly as she did so. He brought his face closer to hers, his eyes taking in everything hungrily…storing up his strength for the darkness that was coming.

Lips almost touching Jane looked up at him, “John, you listen to me. You don’t leave this earth one moment until you’re supposed to. You use your time here and you try. Because when the day comes that you pass to the hereafter, I’ll be looking for you. Don’t go someplace where I can’t find you.”

He kissed her and felt her arms wrap around his neck. Then with the whisper of a cold breeze, she was gone.

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