"Phoenix Rising"

His eyes snapped open but he could not see. A look of shock passed over his face, fixing his features permanently in a stare of disbelief. The pain was momentary but excruciating. Heat seared through his body from all angles. His last living thought was to cry out but he couldn't fill his lungs enough to manage even the softest whisper.

One minute he was dreaming about playing with the kids and the next? Well, he wasn't quite sure about that. He'd had some strange dreams in the past but this was the absolute strangest. The only thing he could compare it too was like being behind the wheel of a car and having it run headlong into a cement wall. Then having the engine explode and being forcibly thrown through the glass and away from the wreckage. Unknown to him and no matter what it might have felt like, this was not a car and the driver wasn't going to walk away with his life intact.

He saw Brynn walking around the room, drunk again as usual. His thoughts were flowing one on top of another, almost too fast for him to sort them out.

Damn her, why couldn't she just put her family first for once? Before breakfast, I will just pack up the kids and leave for good this time. She was even too drunk to notice me standing here! Oh no, she's crying. I hate it when she cries. It is so hard for me to resist comforting her. And why is she holding a gun? Now I am really confused. Did she hear a noise in the house? Why didn't she wake me? I don't want her getting hurt. Where is she going now?

He shook his head in disgust as he sat down on the side of the bed. He could hear voices in the hall, Brynn's and a mans voice. As he turned towards the door he came face to face with himself, or what was only barely recognizable as the man he used to be. Everywhere he looked blood was flowing like a river from his oh too-still body. He jumped off the bed and stumbled back against the wall.

What the hell? Hey, I would really like to wake up now because this is not the kind of dream I want to hang around in.

Like a frightened animal, he felt pinned in a place that there was no escaping from. There may not have been bars in front of him but he felt just as trapped. Everything looked a bit hazy, as if a veil had come over the room and it took him a minute to realize that he was crying. He reached his hands up to wipe his eyes and in doing so noticed a faint glow coming from them. In fact his whole body was shimmering, the light even penetrating through the fabric of his shirt. He turned towards the mirror over Brynn's dresser and whatever he felt before that moment was only a minor concern compared to what he saw, or rather what he did not see. Reflected in the mirror was?.nothing. No matter which way he turned, no matter how close he got he could not see himself. The realization hit him harder than the bullet which took his life.

There is nothing there to see.

He dropped to his knees then, wanting nothing more than to either awaken from this horrible, horrible nightmare or to go to sleep and be rid of this all too real vision. Sitting now, his arms wrapped tightly around his legs which were drawn up against his chest, his head resting on his knees he rocked back and forth.

Why, Brynn? Why, why, why? I loved you.

Like a child, he sobbed harder than he ever could remember.

Just like a child. Child? Sean? Birgen?

His head snapped up and he was on his feet faster than he would ever have thought possible. He ran out into the hall and onto the stairs taking two steps at a time until he stood outside his sons room on the second floor. For the life of him (now that is a funny joke) he could not figure out how to turn the handle. He could see his hand around the knob, could even feel the hardness of the brass against his palm but he couldn't grip it enough to turn it. He tried to call out to Sean but he had no "voice", only thoughts. He could hear himself yelling for Sean in his head but there was no sound attached to it. His mind screamed out his name as loud as it could and suddenly the door opened from the other side.

Sean stood there looking very sleepy but very confused as well. "Yeah, dad?" he yelled, wondering why his father would be calling him from downstairs at this hour. "What is it, Sean?" Birgen said, peering out of her room at her brother, "I thought I heard dad calling you." "Yeah, me too" Sean said. Birgen skipped past him and headed down the stairs, "Well, let's go see what he wants!" During this whole exchange Phil stood between them, looking back and forth from one to the other trying to drink in their images one more time so that he would never forget them. They were so different from each other. He was so introspective, and she was so gregarious. He was so proud of both of them. Of all the things he had accomplished in his life, all the laughs he brought, all the art he produced, all the people he had helped these two miniature versions of himself were his greatest accomplishment. His children were his legacy and the love he felt for them stretched even beyond his own death. The feeling of love was so great at that moment that he almost forgot what was transpiring in the hall downstairs.

No. Oh dear God, no! Please stop them, don't let them see me like that.

The image of his children standing over his lifeless, bloody body flashed before him at the precise second a high pitched scream rose from the bedroom below. That scream tore into him like a knife through his soul.

"Daddy? Daddy wake up, daddy! Daddy please, I'm scared." Birgen cried, as Sean stood and stared, obviously in shock.


Phil stood in front of them (how he got there he wasn't sure), standing between them and the bed in the vain hope that he could block the sight they were seeing.

Birgen, daddy's here honey, I am right here. Please look at me, sweetheart daddy is here.

He wrapped his arms around her and tried desperately to pull her to him but she was unmovable. Again, he could sense her body in his embrace but it was almost unreal. How could she hold on to something that had no substance, no warmth? As hopeless as he sensed it was he continued to comfort her because he knew of nothing else to do. Of all the injustices he had seen in his lifetime, and all the sorrow in this world this was the most heartbreaking of all. He would have gladly experienced the pain of the bullets entering his body over and over again for an eternity in order to spare his children the pain they felt at this very moment, and in fact would feel for the rest of their lives.

A father is supposed to protect his children from pain and hurt but I can't stop this. I CAN'T STOP THIS!

Birgen passed through him and for an instant father and daughter occupied the same space. Their spirits touched and instinctively recognized each other. Phil felt Birgen hesistate, just for a second before crawling onto the bed and laying next to his body. She tugged the sleeve of his shirt and shook his shoulder, trying to wake him. "Sean?" she sniffled "Call the doctor so he can help daddy." She reached up and smoothed his hair back from his head and then did something that only his little daughter would do; she planted her lips over the wound in his forehead and kissed him there.

Kissing the boo boo? Oh, my precious angel, how many times did I kiss your scrapes and bruises to make them better? You can't fix me honey, oh how I wish you could. I'm sorry baby, I'm so sorry, so sorry.

Suddenly the lights from a car turning into the driveway shone through the window. He sensed an urgent need to get the kids back to their rooms and fast.

Sean, hear me please. Get your sister out of here now. NOW HURRY!

Sean grabbed at his sisters arm. "Come on sis, we gotta go back upstairs before someone finds us in here." he said, but Birgen wouldn't let go of Phil's shirt. "No Sean!" she wailed, "Daddy needs us! We can't just leave him here!" Sean pulled her off the bed and put his face right up against hers. "Daddy needs to rest right now, Birg," he lied, "now come on." She took one last look back at her father, sighed deeply in defeat and let her brother lead her back to his room.

Phil could hear the front door open and the heavy steps of a man coming towards the bedroom. At first he felt the urge to hide but resisted knowing that death afforded him the best camouflage available. He stared hard at Ron when he walked in the room, and if looks were daggers he would have been dead a million times over. There was no love lost between the two men because Phil knew that standing before him was the cause of his wife's downfall. A drug dealer by night masquerading as a stunt man by day, they had their run-in's in the past. Ron stepped through Phil to get to the bed and felt an instant chill envelope him. The air around him turned to ice, like someone had opened a window in the dead of winter. Ron just shook it off, cursing the damn central a/c of the house. He reached down and grabbed Phil's wrist in his hand checking for a pulse. He laid it back down in the position it was in before he touched it. "Damn, why did I even bother!" he chuckled, "He is as dead as dead can get." He stood over Phil's body smiling. "Phil, I hope it hurt like hell."

That's where you're going buddy, I am just sorry I won't be the one to send you there.

Ron pulled a revolver out of his pocket and put it on the night table next to the bed. It was one that Phil had never seen before and he wondered what he left it there for. For the first time, Phil noticed that Ron was wearing gloves.

No fingerprints. Clever bastard.

He followed him out of the room and into the hall. Ron pulled a cell phone from his pocket and dialed a number. "Yeah, it's done. No, no problems at all he was sound asleep. Yeah, Brynn's so toasted it was easy to convince her that she did it. Don't worry, there's no way they can pin this on us. The kids? I don't know if they saw anything or not really. Ok, yeah I can do that. No, hell if she believes that she shot her own husband it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to tell her she offed the kids, too. Ok, later." He placed the phone back into his pocket and headed for the stairs.

You son of a bitch. Don't you go up there. I'll kill you if you touch them.

If his heart had still been beating it would have burst through his chest by now. The mere thought of this bastard touching his children caused him to feel a rage that he never experienced before. There were things worse than his own death and it was the death of his children. If he had a life to give it would have been sacrificed without hesitation for their sakes. So, his own death was put on the back burner, that was not what mattered now. He would deal with him later for that. Now he had to find a way to protect his kids. He raced ahead of him up the stairs, passing through him again as he went. And again, the overwhelming chill swept over Ron. This time there was no denying the sudden change in temperature. It was that drastic and that intense. Now there was more to it however. Ron had the unnerving feeling that he was being watched, and from a very close range. "Too much coke tonight" he thought in explanation as he reached the top of the stairs and turned toward Seans room, the first in the hall.

Phil had never in his life (or death) felt anything like what he was feeling now. An anger so all-encompassing it was almost tangible. What compounded it and made it a million times stronger was the fact that there was no outlet. He couldn't hit him, couldn't grab him, couldn't block his way. So it burned inside of him and grew. As Ron began to turn the knob of Seans door Phil did the only thing he could. He threw himself at Ron and consequently INTO Ron. Immediately, Rons hand flew off of the handle. "What the hell??" he wondered aloud.

You want to know hell? You've found it.

The cold that Ron felt was not outside of him anymore, it was inside. He shivered and shook to try to warm himself but nothing he did had any effect. He heard a voice in his head telling him to GET OUT and he was more than happy to oblige. As he headed back down the stairs Phil, still inside of him matched his every step. Phil wanted nothing more than to make him suffer. Suffer the way he made his children suffer because if it wasn't for Ron, his children would have been spared a lifetime of torment. So, he pushed his thoughts into Rons mind. Pushed so hard that they became Ron's only thoughts.

If I can I will haunt you for the rest of your miserable life. I will make sure you never have a moment's peace. I will never let you forget what you did here tonight. If I can't take your life from you, I can at least make you wish you were dead.

Every unspoken word in Ron's head dripped with hate. Ron put his hands over his ears as if that would silence the noise filling his senses. As he headed towards the door he had to stop and steady himself against a table placed against the wall. Glancing up, he caught sight of himself in the mirror hanging above it. Looking back at him through his own eyes was Phil.

Well hello, Dorian Grey, quite a picture you've painted for yourself.

Ron screamed and looked away. He grabbed for the handle of the front door and stumbled outside. While moving across the threshold Phil stayed behind, happy to be free of Ron Douglas's body. He watched as Ron jumped into Brynn's car and sped off. Phil was exhausted. It took a lot of energy to do what he just did and now he was feeling the effects of it. He wished he had a body to wash because being inside of Ron Douglas had left him with a dirty feeling. He found nothing good inside that man, nothing of value at all. Just greed. He sat down on the bottom step of the staircase to collect himself.

Well, now what? What is supposed to happen now? Where's the bright light I am supposed to go toward or the people who have died before me? Aren't they supposed to be here to greet me or something?

"Will I do?" A familiar voice echoed in his head. Startled, he turned to face an older version of himself. It was his father, smiling.

Dad? Is it really you?

Phil choked back a sob and stood up to face his father. The last time he had seen him he didn't even recognize his own son. Now, he not only recognized him but he even looked about 20 years younger. His father opened his arms to him and Phil flew into them. Overwhelmed by so many feelings and so much confusion, he held on to his dad tightly grateful for the feeling of solidness of another person.

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