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After our children grew and moved out of the house, we decided on a change of scenery. The island had given us a home for years. Now my parents had passed away, and Val's parents had moved to Florida. I unrolled a map on our kitchen counter. The country spread out at our hands, beckoning us to try a new life. We decided to go all out and picked a town on the Oregon coast.
The move was complicated. I informed the college of my resignation and started sending my credentials out west. A community college accepted my application for a professorship. We put our house up for sale and looked for our new one on the Internet. The house sold, and we purchased. We started the move in late November.
I hated our next choice. We decided I would fly out to get things together. Val would lag behind to see some old friends and close the place. Her brother came up from Jersey to help out, and that made me feel better--not that the neighborhood was dangerous, but I worried about her having any alone time. She had a tendency to draw bad things to herself.
I made the second choice I hated by second guessing my flight and renting a truck to drive west. The directions from the computer gave me the miles and time estimate. I decided to pace myself. I'd never made a cross-country trip, but friends told me to enjoy it. They said it was the trip of a lifetime and it would be worth it to go once. I set off in early January.
I died in a car accident five miles away from our new house.
After losing my patience, I decided to drive the last leg through the night. A heavy snow was falling. Our place sat midway up a cliff side. It overlooked theocean and forest below. I bought a large cup of coffee and kept it in the truck's dirty cup holder. The intersections all turned to blinking yellow lights. I saw no plows or salt trucks.
I drove up to one of the intersections and stopped, seeing no other cars. I started through and heard the horn for a second. A yellow flash came from my left, and then I fell asleep.
It felt like sleep. You wonder what happens to your body at the point of fatal impact. A car, driven by an intoxicated teenager, weighing more than a ton, hit me going ninety miles an hour. Tiredness prevented me from picking up his headlights as they crested the hill. The impact happened during my last breath.
Your systems run every day you are alive. Your lungs inflate. Your heart beats out a steady rhythm. When you die, these systems all stop without warning. They are damaged and give out their function to rest. When the van stopped, on its side and on fire, I woke up.
My eyes focused on snowflakes. The white points fell outside the window. Flowing red blood contrasted with the snow. It felt like a scene from a bad movie. The broken window let in cold air. The fire made its way into the cabin, but the heat didn't bother me. My hair started to singe, and I smelled it. Sirens came in the distance, and, when my eyes shut, everything came together into a new reality.
This is where we start, standing on the side of the road and watching an accident scene. My first thought was to grab the cell phone and call Val. I knew it was still in the van and nothing more than melted plastic. An explosion sounded over my shoulder, and I cringed. The vehicle, a Honda with its hood compacted into the driver's seat, exploded. The kid did not make it out.
The back door to the moving truck dropped open, kicking up sparks from the road. I walked around to see inside. Our clothes were piled in the corner. The headboard and mattress shifted to the wall and broke in half. Mirrors and pictures were shattered. The truck showed its open wound, waiting for help. I sat down in the street and started to cry.
An ambulance arrived, and a pair of police cars. Two minutes later, a fire truck pulled up and radioed for another to remove us both from our vehicles. I wiped my nose and looked around. The emergency people ran all different directions. They set up flairs and cones to block off the intersection. A medic leaned into the moving truck window. He reached his hand in to take my pulse, and I felt a pressure on my neck. He turned back to yell at his partner.
"We have one fatality here. What's the status on the car?"
"No way could anyone survive that. The fire guys say a body is in the front seat, so I would chalk up two deaths."
"Damn this weather."
"Tell me about it."
I heard this exchange, but it didn't sink in. Then it did. I screamed. I panicked. I remember looking around, spinning so each face turned into a blur. I tried to touch people. I yelled into their faces that I was there. I told them they needed to see me. When the firemen cut the door open and pulled out my body, I was silent. I looked into my eyes. It felt like gazing into a mirror. Bones were broken. Blood took over the surface area of my skin. The smell was too much, and I vomited. The contortions wracked my stomach, but nothing came out. I fell to my hands and knees, trying to be sick, and only causing hard abdominal pain. I heard a shuffling in the snow and looked up. A man was standing there, watching me. He looked past the accident and into my eyes.
I ran. I ran up the road. His gaze followed me, but he didn't move. I ran up the hill, surprised at my newfound endurance. My lungs did not take in the cold air. My breath did not fog in the night. My feet did not smack off the ground. The pavement moved with increasing speed under me. I cleared the hill and hit the spot where the street flattened out. By then, my speed was out of control.
I ran by the house, glancing to see it from the corner of my eye. I tried to put my feet to the ground and stop. Alive, we take advantage of our physical control. Dead, we lose it. We have intent but not the ability of control. I wanted to move, so I did. I had to want to stop before I could. I panicked again and felt myself going off the end of the street.
I went down. You probably think we all float. What you see there is our distance from the ground. Our physical connection is so light that it doesn't appear. As I ran off the road, I stumbled and rolled down the cliff.
I use the term cliff loosely. It was maybe fifty yards to the beach and pocked with trees. The ground was a mix of leaf litter and sandy soil. I stopped finally on my back, on the sand. I stood, not sore, and checked myself for injuries. Despite the fall, I looked normal, still wearing my outfit from the accident. Our house was dark at the top of the cliff. I looked out to the water. Waves came in dark and cold, reflecting the half moon above my head.
I walked over to the water's edge. The sand did not move under my feet. The water flowed through me. I focused on the moon and the sky. Wasn't I supposed to go up? Should I go somewhere? Why hadn't something or someone come after me? I discovered a sense of loss. The lack of a place scared me. Home sat on the hill, but I knew it wasn't mine. Anger flared from inside, and I yelled to the moon.
I jerked my head down. The sand, I felt it through my feet. In the moment of intense emotion, things solidified. My amazement ended the feeling. Realizing that there was nothing there for me, I turned. The man from the road stood at the top of the cliff. Rather than run, I decided to face him. That was where I met Kronus.
I went up the hill, and he watched my every step. At the top, I was not winded. He wore white, an outfit that flowed around him rather than solid clothes like mine. His eyes were blue and bright.
"Are you an angel?" I asked. My voice strained.
"Howard, you have something you need to complete before you move on," he replied.
"Who are you?"
"Like the god?"
"That is what they called us then." His voice kissed my ears. He spoke with no accent. He also gave no intent of falsehood.
"Why are you here?" I knelt. The force of his power was too much to stand against.
"Let's talk." He looked at the house that was to be mine. I followed him towards it.
We went through the wall to get inside. I know how this sounds, but it's one thing the movies got right: we could move through a physical boundary if we wanted. Intent was the key.
We stood in the kitchen without turning on a light. I reached for it in reflex.
"Don't," Kronus said. I turned. The room, despite darkness, lightened to my perception. It was like a faint night vision image.
"Am I dead?"
"Did you see your body back there? Did you see that crash?"
He stood next to me, looking out the window and down to the ocean. I wanted to run again. I wanted to scream.
"You need to go east. You need to get back to your wife. Something is unresolved."
"Do you know what it is?"
"It's not my place or time. You will meet some people on the way who also need your help."
Now I questioned my sanity.
"You're not crazy." The bastard could read my mind. "It's part of the process. Your thoughts are transparent like your new body."
"When do I leave?"
"Valerie will get the phone call in two days after they find your information. You need to be working your way east before then. No better time than now."
"Which direction do I go?"
"Head to Reno. Your first visit is there." He vanished.
I went outside. A pillar of light shone on the horizon. It looked as if the moon was my personal flashlight. A voice came into my head.
"Follow it." In a wisp of fog, the voice vanished. I started to walk.