Aaron was still looking for a way out of the holiday as the plane touched down in Hawaii. Most people would be thrilled at the prospect of two weeks on one of the most beautiful islands in the world, but Aaron looked out of the window of the aeroplane, to the bright sunshine and welcoming Hawaiian skyline, and felt an unstoppable desire to disappear.
It was nothing personal to the people of Hawaii of course. He was sure that they were just as lovely as everybody had always said they were, but Aaron was not in the right frame of mind to enjoy a luxury holiday, and he wasn’t sure that he ever would be again. His head pounded from the four bottles of cider he had sunk on the plane and he wasn’t in the mood for being pampered, but, alas, the people of Hawaii were excellent hosts, even to the drunk and belligerent. As he watched the pink sky paint itself a warmer red and the sun set a little lower, Aaron stepped off of the plane with the others, shielding his eyes as he felt them sting from the surviving sunlight.
On the plane, he had been plagued by nightmares. He couldn’t remember much as he awoke, and simply had a nervous energy pulsing through his body, and the faint scent of something that disturbed him deeply lingering in his nostrils. Burning flesh.
“Aloha Aaron!” A voice cried before him. A strand of orchids fell around his neck and he was pulled into a hug, too tired to resist, but just awake enough to curse himself for forgetting to cancel the Lei greeting. The greeter pulled away with a bright smile, that faded slightly when he looked at the second Lei in his hands and noticed that Aaron had travelled alone. “Let’s get you to a taxi…” The greeter mumbled, and Aaron nodded, trying to return his smile, but only managing a grimace.
This was a repeated incident as Hawaii said “Aloha” to Aaron. He had planned the trip with his husband, for their anniversary, so he had spent a long time ensuring it was the most romantic trip the two of them had ever taken. Dual lei greetings, a dreamy suite full of roses and candles, and intimate dinners booked at beachside restaurants. Every aspect of the trip seemed to remind Aaron that his husband was nowhere to be seen. He had waited at the airport until the flight was about to leave, even arguing with the unfortunate desk clerk who had the misfortune to be faced with his furious attempts to have the plane delayed, but his husband didn’t show up, and after spending thousands on the trip, Aaron glumly headed off on holiday, with a broken heart.
As he ordered another cider, slumped against the hotel bar, he let out a loud sigh. He couldn’t remember why his husband had left. Perhaps it was the drink clouding his memory? Perhaps his drinking had been the issue in the first place? He didn’t remember himself being a big drinker before he headed off to Hawaii, but a lot of what came before was a blur, so he couldn’t be sure.
All that seemed to matter was his next drink, and a desperate need to forget. The good news was that Aaron appeared to have succeeded at forgetting, but the bad news was, not remembering the reasons for his sadness just gave him a greater sense of sadness.
“Cheer up, cousin.” Aaron didn’t look up as the cheery voice beside him spoke, staring down at his wedding ring with a loud sigh. “You’re in Hawaii, not hell.” Pressing the bottle to his lips and guzzling down more nectar, Aaron nodded. He had to admit that the stranger had a point. Looking up, he glanced to his left and spotted a smartly dressed but very small boy. “I’m Milu, and I’m going to be your guide.” The boy extended a hand to Aaron, who was puzzled and a little unsure of how to respond.
“Aren’t you like, twelve?” Aaron slurred with an inquisitive look at the boy. Milu remained polite, politer than Aaron deserved anyway, and continued to smile, still holding out his hand to Aaron.
“You need help, and I’m here to help you.” Aaron felt a little humbled by the boy’s kindness, even in the face of his own rudeness and finally took Milu’s hand, shaking it with a smile.
“You’re right on that, mate.”
That night, they drank and talked about Aaron’s troubles. He was feeling a little lost, and frankly a little unsure of how he’d made it to Hawaii. The trip had been booked for months, and while he could recall the long, lonesome wait in the airport, everything before that, beyond the longing for his lover was a little fuzzy.
By the end of the night, Aaron had no answers to the many questions that ran through his mind, but he did have plans for a tour of the volcanoes the next day with Milu, so as he walked back to his hotel room after saying goodbye to his new friend, he felt a little lighter.
The streets were quiet, with the island lost in dreams as the clock struck two, and Aaron could see his hotel in the distance. If he had been sober, perhaps Aaron would have looked around him and seen the danger, but alas, dear reader, the young doctor stumbled forward with only the soft sheets of his bed on his mind, oblivious to the shadows cast across his path as several figures crept up behind him.
He walked into the lonely lobby, walking through to the elevator and headed to his room, with the beginnings of a headache. Falling into his bed with a sigh, he closed his eyes, unable to see that from all corners of the room, he was being watched.
Within a few minutes, Aaron slipped away from consciousness and into dark, disturbing dreams. His heart raced as he sunk deeper into the dream. A long, winding hallway, fluorescent lights above that flickered and flashed as he walked, under someone else’s power, pushed forward towards sobbing that seemed to get louder with every step he took.
The floor was slippery, and as his eyes darted down, he saw blood smeared across the tiles. Screams had joined the sobbing, filling the air and as much as he wanted to run, he was drawn to them, his steps, slow but constant as a chilly wind wrapped around his shoulders, whistling and whispering in his ears as he got closer to the commotion.
He stumbled through a door, sunlight pouring through to greet him, and for a moment, just a few solitary seconds, there was peace as the scene fell quiet. Aaron peered into the bright light, his heart starting to calm as it faded away and his eyes trailed across the emergency room that was so familiar to him. He was glad to leave behind the creepy path he’d taken to where he’d found himself, and he had to admit, seeing something he knew so well was comforting.
He stepped forward, his feet moving with a little more freedom as he explored the empty emergency room. He had never seen it so quiet, and as he had that thought, his heart began to race again. Something wasn’t right.
He began running, past the reception desk, the cubicles and waiting area, looking for someone, anyone, who could make the dream a little less unsettling.
“It’s time to go, Aaron.” He froze, a chill slowly sliding down his spine as he turned towards the voice behind him. There was nobody there, and Aaron began to wish that he’d wake up, digging his nails into his palms but feeling nothing. “Aaron, you have to go now.” He shuddered, feeling an icy hand on his shoulder, watching in horror as the emergency room filled with people, flames spreading across the room, as the air ached with struggling, strangled screams again.
Aaron wanted to run, but he was cemented in place, watching the fire rip through the emergency room. The hand lifted from his shoulder, moving past his face and pointed to a bed at the back of the room. Aaron’s heart sank as he followed the hand and reluctantly looked over at the bed, seeing his own body, engulfed in flames. He felt sick, shaking as cold, clammy hands began clutching his skin. His mouth fell open as he watched his own face staring back at him, it’s own mouth open. No scream came from either of them, but they were surrounded by the sorrowful, pained howls of the inflamed crowd that were now running towards Aaron. He struggled, trying to run but finding himself frozen as they grasped for him, their hands charred and skeletal.
“Aaron.” He awoke to his name being called and a small hand shaking his shoulder. It was Milu. Aaron was still reeling from the nightmare and it took him a moment to adjust to the waking world. He was about to ask the boy how he’d got into his room when Milu continued, with a wide smile. “It was just a dream, Aaron.” He returned Milu’s smile and pushed the covers away from himself. “They’re right, though. You do have to go.” Aaron looked up, his breath caught in his throat as he stared at the boy, unsure of how to respond.
“Go where?” He stood from the bed, his eyes narrowing as he followed Milu across the room. Milu shook his head, gesturing Aaron towards the bathroom with a slight smile.
“All in good time, cousin.”
Aaron was uneasy as he showered and dressed, and to his dismay, the feeling seemed to grow as the day went on. He was sober now. Still without many of his memories, but very familiar with the dream he’d had the night before, and the new feeling that had followed him all day. Something wasn’t right, but he couldn’t quite work out what it was. He barely listened to Milu as they toured the volcanoes, troubled by the strange anxiety that was beginning to bubble in his chest. It was at dinner that he decided to ask Milu about the dream, unsure of how exactly a child was able to help, but desperate for some kind of peace.
“How did you know what I dreamed about?” Aaron blurted out as the waitress collected their dessert dishes. Milu glanced up from his lemonade, twirling the umbrella in his tiny fingers with a grin.
“Aaron, there’s something you need to understand, and…” Milu continued to talk, but Aaron had lost his focus, his eyes suddenly drawn to the television behind the bar. While the TV was muted, and miniscule in size, Aaron knew immediately what he was seeing. He stood from the table and walked closer, almost entranced, enchanted by the eyes on the screen, the soft curve of his lips as he spoke, his rosy cheeks, covered in tears. It was his husband, Joe.
“Turn it up.” Aaron barked, leaning against the bar, his heart fluttering as he gazed at the man he adored. The barman shook his head, raising a hand and pointing behind Aaron. Aaron shook his head, his eyes glued to the television, as his heart ached for Joe. “Please, that’s my husband.” He pleaded, trying to be polite, but worrying that he sounded a little demanding. I just want to hear what…” Aaron fell into silence as Joe stared down the camera, his green eyes piercing and chilling in a way they never had been before.
“It’s time to go Aaron.” Aaron fell back in shock, his jaw happened as Joe stared at him, his eyes empty of emotion. “Go!” He yelled from the screen. “Go!” Aaron glanced around, noticing that the patrons at the bar were now pointing behind him, along with the barman. “Aaron, you have to go now!” He thought about looking back, to see what they were pointing at, but the thought of what he might see tied his stomach into nervous knots.
“Aaron.” He jumped at a voice, right at his ear, gravelly and ominous. “It’s time to go.” He felt a hand on his shoulder, and his eyes darted frantically to the people that surrounded him, all pointing with blank faces. The air began to cool, and he could hear the crackle of flames behind him, his eyes filling with terrified tears. He surveyed the blank faces before him, their fingers pointing insistently towards him, and as he ran down the row of silent people, his jaw fell open as he spotted one, looking back at him, with the same horrified stare. Flames ate at his skin as he tried to scream, looking back at Aaron with his own, horrified, terrified face.
“Let’s get a drink.” Aaron shuddered as he felt his hand being snatched, breathing a touch easier as he looked down and spotted Milu. The boy grinned up at him and nodded towards the bar. Aaron cautiously looked up, relieved to see everything was normal. The TV was showing a baseball game, the patrons and barman were relaxed and chatting, and as he looked around him, everything had returned to how he’d hoped it would.
“What’s going on Milu?” Aaron asked, his voice shaking a little as the young boy handed a fistful of dollars to the barman. “Why can’t I remember anything before this?” Milu slid a glass over to Aaron with a friendly smile and Aaron immediately raised it to his lips, swallowing a few mouthfuls all at once before slamming it back down on the bar. “What were they pointing at?” Milu pondered the questions, signalling to the barman for more drinks as he swung his little legs against the bar stool.
“I thought you’d have figured it out by now, to be honest.” The boy sighed. “No offence, cousin, but I thought doctors were smart.” Without another word, Milu slid down from the stool and began walking down towards the beach. Aaron chased after him, his mind racing as fast as his legs with questions.
“Milu, wait.” He rushed past the busy, smiling holidaymakers, bolting towards the sea, where the small boy sat. Milu was waiting at the shore, seated in the sand, the soft waves lapping against his legs as he stared out into the ocean. “Milu, what is going on?”
“The sun is going down.” The boy whispered, reaching up to Aaron’s hand and gently pulling him down to the ground. “It’s nothing to fear, you know.” Milu squeezed Aaron’s hand gently, turning to him with a smile.
“Am I in hell?” Aaron mumbled, looking away from Milu as the young boy chuckled at the question. “The flames, the voices…” He whispered, trying to swallow the spectre of dread that was swirling in his stomach.
“The flames do not belong to the devil.” Aaron’s eyes fell on the sunset before him, and for the first time in the whole trip, he felt a soft, almost strange sense of peace washing over him. “The things you run from belong to you.” Aaron didn’t want to look away from the sun. It bowed behind the waves, still shimmering as it descended from the sky. “You’re hiding here, but you have to go.” Aaron felt a warmth throughout his body, and his eyes felt heavy. His fingers tingled as they tapped slowly against the sand before Milu took his hand again. “There’s nothing else to be done, cousin.” Aaron looked down at his hand, now held tightly in Milu’s own. Flames wrapped around them, slowly licking up Aaron’s arms, but he felt no pain. “You have to go.”
Aaron nodded, still a little unsure of what was unfolding but no longer able to summon the strength to fight back.
“Will you stay with me?” He whispered, falling to the sand, the blaze crawling across his body as the world seemed to fade.
“I’m right here.” Milu said softly, their hands still entwined as the sun fell behind the sea entirely.
Aaron heard the flames crackling softly, his mind full of the memories he had been searching for. His wedding day, hand in hand with Joe as they kissed tenderly outside the registry office. His smiling face as he held his doctorate high above his head on his graduation day. The two lovers, sharing a gentle kiss as Aaron clicked the confirmation button to book the trip of a lifetime, to beautiful Hawaii. His body was basked in warmth as his memories surrounded him.
Somewhere in the background was the hospital, the fire, the end, but in that moment, it didn’t matter. In the end, he was at peace, at last, finally finding his way as the sun set over the beautiful beach.