Here it is the first chapter. Publication is now the second week of January. Thanks everyone.
Copyright 2015 Neil Ostroff
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author.
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously.
“The light’s still red!”
Sound of screeching tires! Donna’s terrified scream! Explosion! Impact threw me against the steering column! My head bashed the door frame! Air whooshed from my lungs! Glass sliced my skin! Metal twisting crunching tearing!
My pulse kicked in.
Instantly I was sober and aware of my surroundings. My mind was a scramble. Pressed up against the steering wheel I was barely able to breathe. I raised my head. It had been lying on the cracked dashboard. Glass shards scattered across the plastic. Embedded pieces pinpricked my face. Pain pierced my neck. Bright red blood, my blood, was splattered everywhere.
“Donna,” I croaked.
Blood saturated Donna’s clothes. Her beautiful face was ripped and shredded from impacting the windshield. Massive trauma affected the side of her head.
“Donna,” I strangled.
I moved my eyes to look out the smashed passenger’s side window. The car that had rammed me, a Toyota Corolla, was badly damaged and parked askew several yards away. Smoke poured from under its crinkled hood. A figure with shoulder length black hair was slumped over the steering wheel. It appeared to be a woman. She was unconscious.
Cocoon of vibration wrapped around me and the pulsing pain withered away. I reached to touch Donna and surprisingly was freely able to move my arm. But when I tried to make contact I watched my hand go through her flesh. Shocked, I spun my head around and saw myself mangled in the metal. I had two bodies, one trapped and injured, and one unaffected. My injured body’s eyes were open and fixed.
Stunned by the site it took me a moment to fully realize the ghastly significance.
* * *
My lunch shift working as a line cook at The Steak and Ale House ended at four but Donna’s supervisor shift at Walmart didn’t end until five. I had an hour before she came to pick me up. My own car was in the shop getting a bent rim fixed; the result of me hitting a pothole, so Eddie the fry cook offered me a ride to Mazzi’s Bar where he was going to spend the remainder of his evening. Mazzi’s Bar was also five miles closer to my house.
I texted Donna my plans and headed out in Eddie’s old Sentra. Temperature outside had swelled to above ninety and I was sweating profusely and feeling dehydrated from cooking all day in a hot kitchen. It had been rough at the restaurant, we were understaffed by two chefs and because of the upcoming Labor Day holiday weekend we were busier than usual.
My craving for a cold beer skyrocketed as we strolled through Mazzi’s doors into the cool, air conditioned open seating sports bar. A drinker in college; now a steady job, a wife, and a home mortgage had matured the party guy in me into a responsible, sober adult. It had been nearly two weeks since I’d had any alcohol and the thought of sipping an icy beer seemed a treat sent directly from Heaven.
I’ve earned it! I justified.
Mazzi’s had a happy hour (4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.) that Eddie bragged couldn’t be beat, $1.00 drafts and $2.50 shots. Time flew and that first beer turned into a second one and then a third as I quenched my thirst. Eddie bought me a shot of whiskey. And then I bought him a shot of tequila. Shared stories of our hectic shift flowed along with the drinks.
My cell phone buzzed with a text from Donna that she was waiting for me outside the door. I paid my tab, said goodbye to Eddie, and was walking alongside her in the parking lot to her Honda Civic when I realized how intoxicated I’d become.
“Got your keys?” I asked, trying to hold and maintain an air of normalcy as we stepped to the driver’s side door.
I reached for her hand that held them but she pulled it away.
“I’ll drive,” she said.
Her usually styled hair was limp from the humidity. Her skin was shiny with sweat and some of her eyeliner had smeared into the corners. Despite that, her brown eyes sparkled with her beauty and her assertion.
“I was only there for an hour,” I said.
Donna glanced at me sideways. “You can drink a lot in an hour.”
I smiled, impaired but adamant. “Can I have the keys?”
Her questioning look on me lingered. I could tell she was reluctant as she dropped the set into my palm.
“I’ll never understand this need you have to be in control all the time,” she said.
I leaned over and brushed her forehead with a kiss. “I like to drive, what can I say?”
“You like to take risks,” she muttered.
I knew I wasn’t nearly as sober as I claimed when I went to insert the ignition key and dropped the whole jumble onto the floor mat. Donna wore an expression of concern as I reached down, grabbed, and then reinserted it.
“You sure you’re okay?” she asked.
“Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride,” I boasted.
I stifled a bitter burp as the engine grumbled to life.
The last tiny curve of the sun was dropping below the horizon and a velvet sky infused with pastel colors stretched above. Gray clouds bubbled to the east. I rolled down the window. Air was heavy with humidity and the turbulent feel that comes before a thunderstorm.
I checked my appearance in the rear view mirror. My eyes showed as a puffy network of inflamed blood vessels. My hair was a mess of curls and devil horns. I was surprised Donna hadn’t mentioned my raggedness; I suppose she assumed it was work related.
I flipped the radio to a country and western station and steered out of Mazzi’s parking lot forcing my brain to stay focused and alert. Tires slapped the hot asphalt as we drove for several minutes listening to the music. Instead of two yellow lines separating the lanes of traffic I now saw four stretching before me and drove down the street focused intently on keeping the car on the right side of all of them. My grip on the steering wheel tightened. Drunk-sweat leaked from my pores.
Just a few more miles, I thought as duel red light signals appeared suddenly ahead of us and I was going through.
My reaction jacked. I stomped the brake pedal stopping the car with a rubber-scraping screech halfway in the middle of the intersections of Summerland and Cudjoe Streets. Donna’s eyes lanced me as I put the gear in reverse and backed up until I was safely at the correct distance from the red light.
“Pull over!” she stated. “We’re lucky there wasn’t another car coming!”
“I’m fine,” I assured and flashed a confident, sloppy smile. “We’ll be home in a minute.”
Her face tightened and she blew a sigh of frustration. “No! Pull over! I’m driving!”
I lifted my foot off the brake pedal and pressed the gas.
“The light’s still red!”
* * *
“Not quite,” a female voice said.
Steam from the car’s cracked radiator partially obstructed my view but I saw a small, middle-age woman with a slender figure standing in front of the crushed hood. She was dressed in a tie-dye T-shirt and faded blue jeans that were bleached to holes at the knees. Long, straight, silver hair was pulled back in a ponytail displaying a pale, pretty face with a small button of a nose centered between enormous eyes and bordered by high cheekbones. No make-up heightened her creamy skin or enhanced her full lips.
“My wife!” I gasped. “She’s hurt!”
“Donna is no longer alive,” the silver hair woman replied, her tone sounding collected and firm while her expression remained impassive.
It took a moment for those words to register but when they did despair reeled through my system and lodged in my head.
“The driver of the other car that hit you will survive her injuries,” the silver hair woman continued. “She is lucky.”
My eyes squeezed shut against tears. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I thought the light was green!”
The silver hair woman shrugged. “Makes no difference now. What’s done is done.”
“This can’t be happening!” I argued, trying to organize my fractured thoughts. Desperation surged through me. “Do something!”
“There is nothing I can do. Unpredictability is the consequence of human autonomy.”
Bystanders emerged from houses most talking on their cell phones, probably to 911. I moved to extricate from what I thought was a mangled mesh of crumpled steel but amazingly, easily pulled out of the wrecked seat and through the smashed door. I felt normal, alive, pain free, as if I were an actor playing a role in all that was occurring. I glanced at my injured body and Donna and then over at the other bashed car.
Emotions went haywire.
Sirens split the night and echoed through the surrounding neighborhood. Another siren lifted from nearby and screamed in our direction. Flashing strobes of reds and blues lit the area as two police cruisers pulled up. An ambulance braked behind them.
Three police officers and two medics scrambled out. One police officer spoke into the microphone attached at his shoulder while the others hurriedly approached with one of the medics behind them.
“Help my wife!” I pleaded, as the police officers and medic rushed passed.
One police officer made a beeline to the Corolla.
“Hey!” I called in despair. “Do you see me?”
“Your cognizant energy doesn’t exist in their world,” the silver hair woman said. “Only your mortal body is tangible to them.”
The police officer and medic peered through Donna’s smashed window. A look of deep concern formed on the medic’s face.
“What do you got?” the other medic called out, as he yanked a gurney from the back of the ambulance.
“We’re looking at an 11-80,” the medic replied, and I heard the gravity in his voice. “Multiple traumatic injuries, possibly deceased.”
My mind was revving.
“What have I done?” I muttered, horror-stricken.
The medic rushed to the Corolla as the police officer attempted to pull open Donna’s door. The other medic wheeled the gurney over.
“We’re going to need the Jaws!” the police officer stated.
Ghastly mortified, wholly overwhelmed, and infinitely confused, I grabbed the silver hair woman’s shoulders frantic for answers. She held my timorous gaze without reaction. Her large, oval eyes were cobalt blue; no pupil, no iris, as if her sockets were filled with dollops of million-year-old glacial water.
“Who are you?” I demanded. “How did you get here?”
Thunder rumbled like demon laughter as the barrier of oncoming storm clouds ebbed closer. Rain dropped smacking the cars and ground with synchronous tapping beats.
“Bearing witness to the final moments of other lives will teach you,” she said.
Shivering, I crossed my arms tight. “Teach me what?”
Lightning speared the sky illuminating the tiny silhouette of a jet airplane high above.“The meaning of everything.”