BY KEITH NEWTON
This is the continuation of previously posted story, “Out of the Frying Pan……?” Copyright is held by the author.
IT HAD been a nightmarish day for Andrew Deacon. That was the best word he could think of to describe it. A horrible, scary day, but surreal, somehow. Shock, he supposed. Of course he remembered the sudden snow; blizzard, more like. It was thick and heavy and the edges of the road were indistinct as he took the winding road high above the river. He recalled the sick feeling of dread as the Beetle began to slide toward the edge. No guardrail. The sickening split-seconds airborne, deafening bounces, and the final crash had been terrifying.
Deacon could only vaguely recall the agonizing climb back up to the road and his desperate signalling to the lone pick-up that had appeared through the thickly falling snow. He knew that he would never forget the hearty renderings of Danny Boy as his saviour and her companion drove him happily to the police station back in the village — clearly anticipating the post-prandials to what must have already been a decidedly bibulous lunch. His safe return home in the police cruiser with the polite, efficient lawman was a bit hazy. Apparently his wife Belle and their good friend Rob, hastily summoned, had overruled his protestations of “just a few bumps and bruises” and brought him to the hospital for a thorough check-up. He remembered the matter-of-fact, but oddly reassuring words of the doctor; then the sedative; and the gurney.
Now he appeared to be in a large, open, rectangular space with soft white walls the colour of talc and a dull pale grey floor. The light was uniform but not bright and there were no signs of lamps or lights. The area was bare: no chairs, desks, tables, cabinets or machines. No windows, just doors; one in each wall. And the silence!
He lay on the thin white mattress in the thin white gown. From his position close to one wall he tilted his head to watch, fascinated, as white-clad figures emerged at irregular intervals, from each of the doors in turn, to traverse the space. They would cross directly, in a dead straight line, to the opposite door. Usually they came singly, but occasionally two figures would emerge and take perpendicular courses. Neither would break stride, nor acknowledge, by even the slightest move of a muscle, the presence of the other. The timing, the orchestration, was awesome: supremely serene, they never collided. Both male and female, as far as he could tell. None beautiful, exactly. No Aphrodites or Adonises, but with smooth, perfectly regular features. They seemed to glide effortlessly, elegantly, soundlessly in their long white robes. Their eyes trained dead ahead, expressionless, they sailed to and fro, doors opening and closing noiselessly for their entries and exits. Utterly fascinated, he watched, totally relaxed, comfortable, seemingly weightless. It was odd: he, too, felt serene. No thoughts, reactions, emotions. Just the visual images. Tranquility. He blinked and recognized two concerned faces.
“You OK?” asked Belle solicitously. “You look a bit pale.”
“Want a wheelchair?”
“Naw. It wasn‘t an operation, just a check-up. I’m perfectly capable of walking.”
“Yeah, couple of beers’ll fix him,” said Rob, ever practical.
They bundled him into the car and the questions began.
“Did you sleep?”
“Whaddya mean ‘sort of?’ ”
“Well I think I did. I think I must have been dreaming or something. Bit vague, bit weird.”
“‘Or something,’ what’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well, of course; you’re tired.”
“Shock,” said Rob.
“I don’t really know what that means,” Andrew said, “but the word’s as good as any right now.”
Rob drove them home expertly in his squat, grey, muscular Volvo with its heavy-duty suspension and fog lamps: a solid, dependable reflection of its owner.
“OK, you two, get comfortable. I made a stew and there’s fresh rolls. It won’t take long. Rob, do me a favour, love. You know where the beer is. Oh, and I laid a fire. Just light it will you?”
The men settled in front of the promising flames.
“Ah, here comes Florence Nightingale with the manna from heaven.”
“Mixed metaphor, Rob,” said Andrew.
“Shut up and eat.”
“OK, now tell us all about it.” It was more of a demand than a request from Rob.
“What do you mean?” Andrew asked innocently.
“You know jolly well,” said Belle, “the weird dream or whatever. What was it all about? Where was it? Were you in it? Anyone else? What happened?”
He tried his best to describe it, knowing full well that they wouldn’t let him off lightly. Oh shit, here comes that word again. “It was surreal,” he offered weakly.
“So, let’s get this straight. Blank expressionless faces, long white robes, sailing back and forth in dead silence in a whitewashed room. No shoes?”
“I didn’t see their feet.”
Rob: “Bloody hell. You mean they were floating?”
“And you. Were you conscious of yourself?” from Belle.
“Yes; I mean no. Not sure exactly. I don’t much like the word serenity but it’ll have to do.”
Rob burst in with, “Ever heard of NDEs — near-death expeiences — OBEs — out of body experiences? Seems to me that’s what we’ve got here.”
“Sounds like a bunch of bullshit,” Andrew replied. “People wanting to believe in the supernatural. Things that go bump in the night; ghoulies and ghosties and all that rubbish. What do you know about it anyway?”
“Not much. Like you I’m a bit skeptical but there are some rather credible accounts by people with impressive credentials. It’s not all just totally unbelievable ramblings of looneys.”
Oh shit, where is this leading? Andrews long-harboured skepticism rose up. “Get real. I’m surprised at you, Rob, Mr. Stolid-strictly-no-bullshit-Benson making this into some other-worldly harps and angels apparition. Sorry, Rob: there was no music , no wings, no cherubs”
“But,” interjected Belle.“What about the silence, the white robes, the tranquility? Maybe it was a kind of vision of …. well, you know…”
“Heaven!?” Andrew snorted contemptuously. Quickly he went on “Come on, let’s be realistic. It was a dream, that’s all. I was out for the count and I just dreamt it. Look, it makes sense: I was set up for it; primed; conditioned; prepped for the dream. The props were there: the hospital, white gowns… and I’d just been sedated. It all adds up. So let’s leave it there. It was strange, but a dream. Nothing more. Now let’s have another drink and talk about something practical. Rob, what are your plans for Christmas?”