He walked among the market stalls, pretending to ignore the whispering and giggling women. His relaxed demeanor, handsome features, and ready smile meant no female in the town missed his weekly sermons and the church’s coffers were overflowing of late.

Feeling a touch on his sleeve, he turned and his smile disappeared. Looking first left and right, he angrily spat, “I told you to never speak to me again!”

She blinked, her long lashes brushing her cheeks, and said, “But, I need to talk to you.” Leaning closer, she paused, and lowered her voice. “You see, I’m…”

(Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.)

On their deathbeds, some people bargain with God, some people make deals with the devil. Others–too bereft, too broken, too desperate–snatch at whatever small piece of immortality they can get.

The moment Zeke was born, Alicia vowed she’d keep him safe. Three years later, as she lay bleeding beneath a giant sequoia, five feet from the hiking trail from which she’d been dragged, she didn’t think of herself, she didn’t think about Zeke’s father, she didn’t think about God, all she thought of was her son. “Zeke, I love you. I’ll never leave you,” she whispered, as her life force departed her bruised and beaten body.

Alicia watched over Zeke whenever she was able. Watched–and cried–when his adoptive parents held him in their arms, soothed him when he cried, tucked him into bed. Watched him chase ducks in the park, play soccer on the grade school field, kneel next to his bed, head bent over clasped hands. Her attempts to capture his thoughts proved futile, not even his spoken words could travel the distance between them.

Zeke must’ve been told his mother was in heaven, because sometimes–unknowingly, perhaps–Zeke called for her from his soul. Only when Alicia was summoned thus, could she come close–though never actually touch. But she could inhale his sweet/sour boy scent, feel his breath on her cheek, hear his whispered words. “Mommy,” he’d say. “Mommy, are you there?” Each visit brought both happiness and heartbreak.

Zeke grew into a handsome, smart, and charming young man, adored by his parents, respected by his teachers, and liked by his classmates–especially the army of simpering girls who battled for his attention. Then soon after he turned sixteen, Alicia watched, horrified, while he and his pals brought girls and booze into the very woods where her life had ended. She consoled herself with the explanation that this behavior was simply a teenager’s rite of passage.

But Alicia knew his dark side. Those times when he felt stressed or overwhelmed or depressed for no apparent reason, she’d often find herself close. Sometimes he’d exude warmth she took for love, sometimes he wouldn’t react at all. Other times, he’d scream to be left alone.

As the years passed, her visions became less frequent. When he’d reached his mid-twenties, she was allowed only a glimpse every week or so. His depression increased. To Alicia, his life deteriorated into flickers of alcoholic rages and drugged despair. She saw him passed out in alley ways, confined to jail cells, then finally, mercifully, safe in his parents’ home. She rejoiced when she saw him sitting thoughtfully in therapy groups, studying in the college library, enjoying quiet nights with his parents.

Uneasiness plagued her when she found him hiking through the woods, almost always stopping at the place where she’d taken her last breath. Surely, he couldn’t have known the significance of that particular sequoia, but Alicia had long ago abandoned thoughts of unraveling the mysteries of the universe.

Zeke found his calling: ministering to those who’d traveled the same darkened roads he had, and motivating others who’d never found their way. Alicia’s brightest joy was seeing Zeke behind a podium, arms outstretched like an angel’s, holding the rapt attention of his adoring audience.

Years passed. Alicia’s visions clouded as if seen through a veil of cataracts. Strange images flashed before her: violent, beautiful, incomprehensible. Sounds assaulted her: screams, laughter, stuttering gibberish. Scents overwhelmed her: vile, sweet, cloying. Was it possible for a soul to go mad?

Frightened, Alicia used all her energy to find Zeke, but saw only the meanderings of strangers–mostly women–Zeke’s friends or girlfriends, she assumed. But why? Had something happened to Zeke?

Then one day, the veil abruptly disappeared. Alicia found Zeke strolling through a farmers’ market on a sunny autumn morning. Young ladies waved and giggled as he walked by, but Zeke ignored their flirtations. From all except one. Blonde, buxom, and beautiful, dressed in a tight white t-shirt and denim shorts. She stood behind a table covered with boxes of scones and cookies, one hand on her hip, the other waving a pair of long handled tongs as if it were a wand.

A roaring sense of danger struck Alicia. There was something about that woman. Instinctively, she called out to Zeke. Did she see a slight tilt to his head? Had he registered her warning? Hope engulfed her–then suddenly, Alicia saw black. Minutes passed, maybe hours, Alicia wasn’t sure. She focused on Zeke. Zeke. Only Zeke. Her intense concentration dizzied her, weakened her, until she felt herself fade away.

She awoke to laughter–a complete contradiction to the foreboding Alicia still felt. A feeling so overpowering that when she opened her eyes, she found herself standing next to her son outside the farmers’ market. Amazed and terrified, she reached out to touch him.

He turned, eyes widening at the sight of her. “Leave me alone!”

“Zeke, you don’t understand. I’m your mother.”

“I know who you are. Go away!”

“But you’re in danger! That woman–”

Zeke laughed, a high maniacal laugh, a laugh identical to his father’s. That laugh, the last sound she’d heard on her final day on earth.