Matthew’s spirit passes the baton before he leaves this world for the next. Baby Ethan will grow into his mission.

Enjoy the short story.

Tag, You’re It

Bob Gillen

Matthew lay in his hospital bed, the cancer claiming his life a breath at a time. His wife and two daughters lingered, knowing his last moment was imminent. IV tubes fed Matthew with pain killers, leaving him unconscious. A white beanie sat on his head. He had complained of being cold. His wife thought he was also self-conscious of his sudden and total hair loss.

At nine p.m. on Christmas Eve Matthew flatlined. His family sobbed, hugged one another, and said goodbye. The oncology nurse began removing the IV tubes. His hospital gown slipped off his shoulder, revealing a tattoo of a heart. She touched the tattoo gently, covered his body and left the room.

Matthew’s spirit lingered in the room. Not quite ready to pass over. He had one more task to perform. His spirit drifted off the Oncology unit and through the halls. Sadly quiet on a Christmas Eve. He moved until he found the Maternity unit. The room he was looking for was at the end of the hall. A few hours passed. At one a.m. on Christmas morning little Ethan burst onto the scene. His mother lay back exhausted. The nurse soothed the baby’s squawks, washed him, then laid his naked body on his mother’s bare chest. Skin to skin. Warmth to warmth. Bonding at the start of life.

Matthew hovered unseen in the background. “Hey, little buddy. Welcome.” Ethan blinked.

Ethan’s dad hurried into the room. “I go down for coffee and you have the baby!”

He rushed to see Ethan. A tear wound its way down his cheek. 

“He surprised us,” his mom said.

The dad sat at bedside, holding his wife’s hand. 

The nurse pointed to Ethan’s shoulder. “He has a tiny birthmark. Almost in the shape of a heart. It will probably fade as he gets older.”

The nurse slipped a white knitted cap on Ethan’s head. A precious gift from his grandma. “They lose some of their body heat through the top of their heads,” the nurse said.

Matthew’s spirit spoke to Ethan. “Little man, I know you can’t communicate yet. That will take time. I’m here to tell you, I’ve got your back. I’m leaving now. Turning it over to you. I’ve done what I needed to do. It’s your turn now.”

Matthew lingered for a few minutes. Christmas Day. New life. The baton passing to another. It was time for Matthew to leave. Matthew’s spirit brushed Ethan’s birthmark. “Tag, you’re it.”