The Uncommitted

By Margaret M. Goss

Magical realism, Horror, Paranormal, Thriller

Paperback, eBook

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981
3 mins

Excerpt from Chapter 1

CHAPTER 1: JOSIE

PHOENIX, ARIZONA—APRIL 2002

Josephine Reilly cradles her sleeping infant daughter, Anna. The cabin’s recirculated air drifts stale beneath her nose. Space on the plane is tight and tests her endurance; another minute may collapse her resolve. The plane sinks lower, and the Saguaro cacti dotting the mountains come into view as do the cars whizzing by on the freeway below. Michael, just two, grows irritable from being confined—several trips to the lavatory are not enough to break the four hours of monotony. The flight attendants rush up and down the aisle, collecting leftovers and ordering all to return their seatbacks to their original positions.

The forward movement of Josie’s chair jostles Anna. She emits a loud cry, arches her back and pushes her feet into her mother’s lap. “Shhhh.”

Josie presses the pacifier firmly between Anna’s lips, hoping it will relieve the building pressure in her ears. Michael peers out his window, mesmerized by the swift current of desert passing beneath his feet.

“Mama,” he says, “almost there?”

“Yes, Michael, almost there.”

Josie thinks about her mother. She should not have gotten this sick so fast. Her eyes cloud over from a surge of tears. How could they have missed it? Chronic indigestion, abdominal pain, backaches—months of warnings obscured by over-the-counter remedies. Was her physician incompetent, unable to map a constellation of symptoms that would have pointed him toward an accurate diagnosis? Or was it her cancer? The sneaky culprit hid behind her stomach, wrapping itself around her pancreas and vital organs in an insidious maze. “Too late,” her oncologist said. Stage IV. A week ago he gave her six months. Then after more testing, he revised the terms and six months morphed into two months or less.

The plane touches down and slows. It jars Michael forward and then back. “Whoa ... fun!” he says. His red-brown hair is soft and overdue for a trim. Josie remembers her father’s offer, he promised to take Michael to the barber while they are here. At least it will give her father something to do besides hold vigil by her mother’s bed. While the plane taxis, Josie pulls a note from her pocket. God in his heaven, through death, recovers His own. Josie reads her mother’s words over and over, but they give her little comfort. He will eventually call all of us home, her mother wrote—but where was His warning? Josie had expected a sign that would have alerted her to His plans.

Above her, the fasten seatbelt light dings and turns off, indicating the end of her flight, but the beginning of her real journey. She watches the people around her stand-up and shuffle into the aisles. Their faces, eager and pale, are seeking a sun that has been hiding for months under cloudy Midwestern skies. However, she will not find a refuge here from reality. She is here to do what they asked, “they” being her parents. She’ll be responsible for administering her mother’s morphine, lifting her out of bed, taking her to the bathroom, bathing her and more. It will be arduous, round-the-clock attention. Her nursing experience, limited to emergency care, did not prepare her for this sort of work. Nevertheless, Josie’s specialty doesn’t matter. She would care for her mother to the best of her ability—no matter how overwhelming it was sure to become.

The difference, though, was the inevitability of death. In the ER, lives were to be saved, not lost; there would be no life-saving interventions here. Above all, deaths in the ER belonged to other people’s families. This one belonged to hers.

Josie navigates the double-stroller around the airport’s milling crowds to find a passable track through the long stretch of terminal. They arrive at the elevators and enter. “Water, Mama ... want water.” Michael reaches out his arms in search of a drink.

“I know, sweetheart, I’m thirsty too.” She rummages through the diaper bag and finds all she has left to offer him is a bag of cracker crumbs. “We’ll find you some water as soon as we meet your Aunt Nora.”

Michael has no understanding as to why they are here, nor does his sister. Despite Josie’s best efforts, they will not remember their time here with their grandmother. Josie hasn’t any recollection of her own grandmother and thinks it strange how history repeats itself. Her grandmother died when she was two—the same will now be true for Michael. They exit the elevator and begin their search for Nora. Josie finds her waiting by the last baggage claim carousel. Nora’s long black hair is cut in a short pixie, cropped to the base of her neck. She wonders why Nora didn’t mention it. Despite the physical distance between them, the two sisters were close, bonded together like an old pair of glasses—each having their own independent lens but connected by the same frame. “Josie!” Nora waves and walks toward her. “What’s the matter?” She stops and examines Josie’s face...



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