Elaine’s first taste of alcohol had been a spur of the moment thing when she was 12 years old. Her dad drank with gusto when the guys were over but her mother didn’t allow all that beer to be kept in the family refrigerator. So, “Big Ed Martin” kept the cans out of sight in a big blue cooler in the garage. Elaine had been looking for a tennis ball and found the leftovers from the night before. Seven cans floating lifeless at the bottom of a cooler full of lukewarm water.
She couldn’t resist. That first taste was warm and bitter but it made her head swim with a dizzy happiness she had never felt before. Sneaking a can of warm beer became a ritual when there were enough beers left over for dad not to notice one missing.
“Elaine, are you okay to drive?”
“Don’t be silly Jill. I’ve had stronger drinks than these and made it home alive.”
“Okay. But slow it down. I’m trying to wrap this shindig up before 2 which means I can’t drive you home tonight.”
“Last one. Promise.”
“Want to spend the night?” Asked Jill.
“Can’t. Got a 8 am court appearance tomorrow and my overnight bag is under the sink in my bathroom. I’ll be fine, really.”
If there’s one thing Elaine is good at, it’s driving while buzzed. She’s had lots of experience but she is definitely not a drunk like some people she knows. She drinks just enough to feel good without losing a grip on the reality of the situation she finds herself in. Well, that’s always been her story anyway.
However. There was one occasion in college where Elaine’s judgment had failed her. Shots in the dorm room. Shots and Manhattans at the bar before dinner. More Manhattans, Mai Tais, at least one Whiskey Sour and a few more shots at the club. She was down for the count. Knocked out on her feet.
Elaine was belligerent, laughing too loudly, bumping into people, she even knocked over a high top table by the bar. She was the center of attention for all the wrong reasons. The last thing Elaine remembers that night was telling the bartender to go bite her butt. She was unhappy about the bartender’s decision to cut her off.
The first time Elaine awoke the next morning, it was still dark outside.
She found herself hugging the small waste can by her desk. Her head was filled with the echo of upchucking as she centered her face over the small trash can.
The second time Elaine woke was to the sound of someone choking. It was her. Actually, she was not choking, it just sounded like she was. Elaine had flopped onto her bed with her head hanging off the side, face up. She cracked her eyes open tried to swallow and focus on a world that was upside down. Her dorm room was spinning. Not good.
Her room also seemed to be too bright. Her throat was thick and sore and there was a rank taste in her mouth. The smell of vomit pierced the warm stale air in the room. As she forced her body upright the room shifted and leaned. Her head exploded from the sudden rush of blood to her brain and a wave of cold nausea swept over every inch of her being. She lurched violently toward the dorm room door, hand pressed tightly to her mouth as she bound across the hall into the restrooms.
Elaine’s dorm mate, Connie, found her standing bent over, legs spread as she hurled into a shower stall drain.
“Elaine, are you okay?” Asked Connie.
“You got blasted last night.”
“You think?” She said wiping chunks from her lips.
“Oh girl, I know. I was there, I saw it. Everybody saw it.”
“Great.” Elaine moaned.
“Who else was there?”
“Oh, the usual crowd. Mostly nobody we know but if strangers give you a double take, they were probably at the club last night. It was a Friday night and the place was packed. Other than knocking over the table and making a huge scene, most of the real embarrassing stuff happened after we were kicked out of the club. Well, allow me to rephrase that. After YOU were kicked out of the club. We couldn’t let you stumble into the night alone.”
“I was kicked out?”
“Oh yes. Actually, you were escorted out by two of the security guys. One of them was that cute guy you are always flirting with.”
“So what else embarrassing did I do?”
“Well, you dropped your panties and pissed on a street lamp standing up. You thought a stranger was your brother and you told him about sneaking beers when you were a kid. You flipped off an old lady sitting at a bus stop. The old lady flipped you off back so you mooned the old lady while simultaneous sticking your hand between your legs and returned the bird. It took all of us to get you up the dorm stairs and into your bed.”
Luckily for Elaine, the only people of importance who witnessed this embarrassing episode of her life were friends who were not completely innocent of similar behavior. Sometimes the most valuable lessons learned at college are experienced outside the classroom.
You would think this event would make a sane person give up alcohol. Not Elaine. She didn’t stop drinking. She did cut back for awhile but she didn’t stop. Over time, on random occasions, Elaine let a few too many drinks cross her lips. However, she never pissed on a lamp post or mooned an elderly woman again.
“Jill, I’m outta here!” Elaine said.
“You okay to drive?” Asked Jill.
“We had this conversation already. I’ve had five weak drinks. Hell, I drink more than that on Sunday mornings before church.”
“You’re going to go to hell,” Jill said.
“Not until I die and I ain’t dead yet.”
“Call me after work tomorrow so we can plan this weekend.”
“Will do. Love ya!”
“Your ticket please,” said the handsome young man standing at the valet parking station.
Elaine fished the ticket from her purse and stood shivering in the early morning air. She could hear the low rumble of her new Porsche 911 GT3 well before it rounded the corner. The sight of the brightly colored Lava Orange beast made Elaine giddy inside.
“This is one beautiful ride Ms. Martin,” the valet said, exiting the car.
“Yes it is,” said Elaine, sliding a twenty into the hand of the young man.
“Thanks Ms. Martin. Always a pleasure to be of service.”
“Ms. Martin, take this.”
“Breath mint. Better safe than sorry. This ride probably attracts the attention of the cops by itself.”
“Thanks but I have friends in the law. You might say I have a get out of jail free card.”
“Wish I did.”
“Go to law school. The pay is good and the benefits are great.”
The young man eyed Elaine as she slid behind the wheel and eased onto the street.
Life is good, Elaine thought. A new car. A new condo at the very top of the overlook with a view of the city and a new position with a firm that’s paying twice as much as the last and hinting at a partnership. Sanderson, Parks and Martin, now that would be sweet.
It took long enough for Elaine to arrive and she was sure she would be paying student loans until she died, but al least she could afford to make the payments. Why would you go into debt to be an English major when you could get a law degree and drive a $130,000 Porsche?
“Indeed,” Elaine thought.
The giddy buzz that comes from one to many drinks and the power of the 475 horsepower motor sent a wave of goosebumps through Elaine’s body. As she eased the car onto the boulevard, she could feel the rumble of the six cylinders through the gas pedal, through the leather seats, through the shifter. Suddenly the energy of the German machine was pulsing through her veins and she did what she had wanted to do for weeks. Elaine punched it!
For a second the car fishtailed as she slammed the shifter into second gear. The beefy tires gripped the road and the bright orange beast lurches hard and fast. From 30 to 70 in two seconds, Elaine jammed into third, by the time she looked at the speedometer the Porsche was blowing past 110. Heart pounding, a steel grip on the wheel she slammed the shifter into fourth gear and lifted her foot from gas pedal. Coasting at 135, Elaine’s whole body felt electrified.
“Hell yeah!” Elaine shouted.
The car reached almost 140 in less than a mile. A red light ahead turned yellow and she decide running the light at 200 might be a bad idea. Sitting at the red light, she considered the road ahead. Sweeping curves, long straights and no traffic at two in the morning. She pumped the pedal contemplating her reaction to the impending green light.
She had been drinking all night but the drinks, in her experience, were weak. She had a slight buzz but nothing more than any other night out with the girls. There was the possibility of passing a cop on the divided four lanes but she would know any cop on duty tonight and any cop on duty would know this car. After all, she had wanted to test the limits of this sweet ride and there was no better time than the middle of the night when the road ahead was deserted and hell, the light just turned green.
The magnificent machine had seven gears and topped out at 200 miles per hour. Elaine reached 185 in less than 15 seconds and that was going easy on the accelerator. She felt like she was piloting a jet. At top speed, the car was surprisingly quiet. Smooth. Sexy. This speed made a tickle in Elaine’s stomach.
She mashed the clutch and coasted for a few minutes. Even at 170 mph, the Porsche blew through the sweeping curves of the canyon like a roller coaster on rails. Rounding the widest curve on the highway, she knew there were a couple miles of straight road ahead.
“No need to quit now,” Elaine said.
Shifting back into fourth, she slowly pressed the pedal and started climbing in speed. 110, 120, 130, 150, 170, 190. It’s hard to describe 190 mph in the blackest of night. The lines on the road are a blur. The speed limit signs fly past so fast you can’t read them. There is a sensation of floating along but the visuals suggested a ride on a low flying rocket.
Heart pounding, palms sweaty, arms trembling as Elaine gripped the steering wheel. The ride was almost over when it happened.
Straight ahead, almost imperceptible at first were two small lights. Then two more and again, two more. The lights blinked off and back on, then again. Then again. Elaine knew instantly what she was seeing. She saw these same small horizontal lights every year at this time. The lights were eyes. The eyes of deer. There were, at least, three deer in the road ahead. Traveling at almost 200 mph, deer come quickly. Too quickly.
When you’ve been up since 5:00 am. Had five or seven or nine drinks till 2:00 am and find yourself flying into a herd of deer at 2:45 am, judgment is not on your side.
Elaine closed her eyes, stomped the clutch and stomped the brake harder. The quiet of the night was violated by the scream of tires and an explosion of sounds and glass. A pair of blinking eyes entered the warm comfortable atmosphere of the $130,000.00 automobile bringing with them the cold of the night and a sticky, warm spray. Elaine the Porsche and, at least, one deer exited the highway flying through cold night air, impacting the landscape at a speed no one should ever experience.
“Driving a stick is not as hard as you think,” said Elaine’s father. “You have to slowly release the pedal on the left while you slowly mash the gas at the same time. Now give it a try”
The engine revved, the tires barked quickly and the little Nissan truck lurched violently like it was a bull in a ring trying to throw the rider. Or in this case, Elaine and her father. The truck bucked to a stop, the motor dead.
“Dang daddy, did I break it?”
“No girly. You just killed the motor. It’s not broke.”
“Crank it up and try again.”
Elaine releases the clutch and slowly pushes the gas pedal. The truck begins to inch forward. No hopping, jerking or revving of the motor. A huge smile flashes across Elaine’s face. “I’m doing it! I’m doing it! Dad, I’m doing it!”
The motor starts to whine as Elaine reaches the limits of first gear and then she panics. She quickly pushes the clutch to the floor and jerks the shifter back into second gear. The truck bucks from the sudden release of the clutch hops down the road a few feet and jerks to a stop.
“Well dad, I did it for a minute.” Smiling confidently, Elaine turn to face her father but he is gone. In his place is a dog, Elaine’s dog, Lucky Chuck, is sitting in the seat beside her.
“Lucky Chuck? What are you doing here?”
“Hello Elaine. I’m not sure why I’m here. Are we going somewhere?”
“I was learning how to drive. Dad was teaching me how to drive a stick. I can get my learner’s permit next year when I‘m 16 if my grades are good and I can drive well enough. Dad was just here, teaching me to drive this truck. It will be my first car or truck, once I learn how to drive on the roads, around other cars and trucks.”
“Dad was just here. Sitting right there, where you’re sitting.”
“Have you learned how to drive on the roads? I think you’re doing a good job,” said Chuck.
“Thank you. I’m not sure. I was about to ask dad how I did but he is gone and now you are here. I’m still learning. I think I have a lot to learn.”
“You get better. I remember you driving this truck. Coming and going. Sometimes every day.”
“This must be a dream.”
“A dream?” Chuck asked.
“Yes. Are you okay? Are you hurt?” Elaine asked.
“Well, the stop was kind of sudden and I almost slid off the seat but I’m okay.”
“No, that’s not what I mean. Chuck, I killed you. I accidentally ran over you in the drive when I was 17. You liked to sleep in the shade under my truck, this truck. One afternoon I was late for work and I backed over you.”
“When you were 17?” Asked Chuck. “Aren’t you 15 now?”
“Why, I’m not sure. I learned to drive this truck when I was 15. With dad sitting right there. Right where you are now. He was just there. I guess I am 15.”
“Well, then my death hasn’t happened yet. I’m still alive. See!” Chuck said wagging his tail.
“Yes I see, but I don’t understand.”
“I cried and cried when you died. Mom said you were not in pain, that you were in a better place. You were very old when I… You looked like you were sleeping. You never made a sound. We buried you in the backyard under that big Oak tree. We buried you where your old house was. Dad said you would rest in peace there, where you slept on summer nights. Chuck, I missed you so much! You were my only dog. I could never replace you. I loved you Lucky Chuck. I still love you.”
“I love you too Elaine.”
A blinding flash of light startles Elaine. She jerked her head toward the windshield and remembers she is still in the parking lot. Elaine looks back at Chuck, he’s gone. Her father is still gone too. She is alone and the sky begins to darken. In an instant, blackness engulfs Elaine.
Voices. Elaine hears voices. Whispers. Male and female voices are whispering. They all laugh at the same time. She hears her name, in the blackness, the voices are talking about Elaine.
Elaine feels like she’s in a dream but she also feels awake. She tries to move, her hands at first, nothing. She tries to lift her head. She wants to look in the direction of the voices but her head will not respond. She can hear her own voice as other voices murmur in the distance. Can they hear her?
“Dad, Chuck?” Elaine shouts. “Is that you? Who’s there?” Elaine can feel someone or something is very close to her.
“Elaaaaaine,” said a creepy screeching male voice.
“Who are you? Where are you?” Elaine asked.
“Why, I’m the voice in your head Elaaaaaine. The new voice in your head and I’m right here, right in front of you Elaaaaaine. You can’t see me Elaaaaaine. You will never see me Elaaaaaine.”
“Where am I? Where am I at?”
“A nightmare Elaaaaaine. You’re in a nightmare. You’re not alone Elaaaaaine. I’m watching you. I will always be watching you here.”
“Who are the others I heard? Where are they? Is it my father, Chuck?”
“Chuck is dead Elaaaaaine and no, you’re father is not here. I’m here Elaaaaaine”
“I’m here in your nightmare. I’m in your dark world Elaaaaaine. No matter where you think you are Elaaaaainee, you will always end up here in your new dark world.”
“Get away from me!” Elaine shouted.
Okay Elaaaaaine. I’ll go, for now. But I’ll be back soon and next time, it’ll just be you and me Elaaaaainee. Good bye for now. See you soon Elaaaaaine.”
Elaine is sure she is awake in a dream, She seems to remember reading about people who could wake themselves while asleep deep in a dream. She is certain this is what is happening. Except, she is suspended in total blackness. She feels like she is floating, disconnected from her body but not her mind. She is not sure if her eyes are open, maybe that’s why it’s so dark. Dream paralysis. That has to be it. She is deep in a dream and paralysed. She knows she has heard of dream paralysis.
Elaine is not in the truck with her father anymore, or with Chuck. Lucky Chuck was talking to Elaine, that had to be a dream. Dogs don’t talk. Elaine is not sure if she is dreaming now or was she dreaming before? Except for the part about Chuck, that had not been a dream. That was a memory. Her father had driven her to the parking lot to teach her how to drive the truck. That was a memory. Elaine remembered it all.
She had stalled the truck in second gear. Her father had told her how to press the clutch first, lift her foot from the accelerator then slowly slide the shifter into gear then start all over. Give it gas while releasing the clutch and go. She did it. By the end of the day she was doing it. She got better every time they went out. Then, the family ate at Dairy Queen that night. Elaine, Ricky, mom and dad. Talking Chuck was not in the truck that day for sure.
“The other voices. After the truck memory. The laughing voices. The creepy man. Something has happened. Am I dead or is this some crazy dream?” Elaine asked out loud.
Elaine feels far away. She is certain her mind is right here with her wherever here is, but she can’t feel her body. It is now silent in Elaine’s dark world. But she feels like someone or something is near, very near to her.
“Is someone there?”
“Yes. I am here,” said a young female voice.
“Who are you? Where are you?” Elaine asked.
“I am like you. I am near you. I can feel you. Are you new here?”
“Where is here? Where am I? What do you mean you’re like me.”
“I’m not sure where we are.”
“What do you mean you’re not sure? You are here but you don’t know where here is?”
“I’m not sure where I am or where you are or where the others are.”
“Yes, there are others here.”
“I am not sure where we are. All I know is it is very dark and sometimes scary here too. I think we are all in a dream. A dream you don’t wake up from.”
“A dream. What makes you think that?” Asked Elaine.
“What else can this place be? I remember things that I have done and places I have gone but sometimes the things I remember can’t be real. Like a dream.” Said the girl.
“I was just remembering or dreaming about my father. About a time when I was 15 years old. He was teaching me how to drive.”
“My dog Lucky Chuck was in this dream also. Chuck is what makes me think I was dreaming and not remembering. In the dream, Chuck was talking to me but Chuck was not with me and dad when we were in the truck that day and dogs don’t talk.”
“So this memory or dream was when you were younger?”
“Yes, 15 I think. That was when I learned to drive the truck.”
“How old are you now?”
“How old are you?” Elaine asked.
Before the young girl could answer there is a tremendous flash on the right side then the left side of Elaine. These flashes are like light explosions in her mind. The flashes made blurry shapes like ghost lights in the blackness. When she tries to focus on the shapes they move away quickly and fade into the blackness.
“What was that?’ Elaine thought. “Am I dead. Is this what death is?”
A voice right in front of Elaine speaks to her but she can’t understand what the voice is saying. It sounds like a blob. Like someone talking under water.
“Elaine, I am Doctor Richards. You are heavily medicated. We have you sedated. You have been in a very bad accident. You have severe head trauma. I believe you can hear me and I just wanted you to know we are here to help you. You will receive around the clock care. Family and friends will be visiting you. Hopefully, soon we will take you off of the drugs that are keeping you asleep and then you will wake up on your own. I have to go now Elaine but I will be checking in on you throughout the day.”
The voice is a man’s voice but Elaine does not recognize who he is. She is not sure what he’s trying to tell her. She knows this man is not where she is. He is somewhere else. She does not know where.
“Elaine, your father is here.” Said Doctor, Richards.
“Laney. I’m here. Daddy’s here. ”
Elaine feels like she should know this voice. There is something familiar to the tone of this voice. Elaine immediately finds herself back in the truck with her dad again. He’s beside her in the truck. She’s driving. Really driving. No jerking or bucking or stalling at red lights and stop signs. He did it. Dad taught her how to drive. “I’m driving!” Elaine shouts with joy.
“Elaine, I am so sorry. I sure wish I could take your place. I’d give anything to take your place.” Her father sobs quietly beside her.
“Dad, why are you crying? I don’t understand. I’m driving, you taught me how to drive.”
“Laney, I should have been a better example to you. How many times did you see me falling down drunk? Me and all my drunk friends. It’s all my fault, Laney. I never should have let you see me like that. I never should have been like that. I’m sorry Laney. I love you so much.”
Suddenly Elaine’s father is gone. He’s not in the truck. Night is coming. It’s getting dark fast.
“I need to get home. Mom and dad don’t like me on the roads after dark.” Elaine thought.
The night is very dark. Blackness surrounds her. Far away she can hear someone sobbing. Elaine thinks It’s her father. He’s crying but she is not sure why.
Elaine can feel his sadness. For the first time, she can feel what she think’s is some part of her body. She believes it is her heart. Elaine can feel her father’s sadness and it’s hurting inside of her. “I can feel sadness in my heart, my dad’s sadness.” Elaine realized.
She also realized she had heard her father’s voice, where he was, not here where she is. He didn’t sound like he was under water like the other voice, She was sure she heard what he was saying while having a dream. A dream about being back in the truck.
The blackness slips Elaine’s mind away so easily. She can feel herself drifting away again. She’s floating. No. she’s flying. She’s in a rocket or a jet and she is flying very low to the ground. She can see the trees zoom past. The landscape rolls and dips. Moonlight shimmers across bodies of water. Elaine looks up and see’s the moon. Big and bright. She aims for the moon. She can feel a tickle in her stomach as she climbs higher and higher then she feels like her body has come to a stop. There is no longer a sensation of speed. Elaine is floating high above the Earth.
A voice. She heard a voice calling her name. Elaine looks down. The Earth is miles away. Suddenly she loses her balance and starts to tumble, turning slowly, falling back to Earth. The jet is gone. She is free falling faster and faster. She feels like she is traveling a thousand miles an hour. The ground is coming at her very fast. She can see the spot where she will land. There is a road directly below her.
“Elaine, it’s me, Ricky.”
“I’m going to hit the road and die,” Elaine thinks.
She closes her eyes. Her body jerks violently and she feels herself turning. She skims the surface of the road and flies directly toward the trees that trace the highway. There is an ear-splitting sound. She tries to scream. The blackness engulfs her again. A chill creeps across her face and down her body. Her mind sways like your body does when you fall backward into a pool of water. She can hear that sound. The sound of water when you are deep under its surface. She heard a voice. The voice pulls her from this dream, this black place as she drifts back from the blackness. This voice she knew. This was the voice of her brother.
“Elaine.” Ricky said again “I’m here.”
“I talked to Doctor Richards and he thinks you will come out of this. It could take awhile. Dad is taking this very hard. He blames himself.”
“I feel I have some blame too Elaine. I’ve known about your drinking for a long time. I guess since I was 13. I saw you once in the garage. I saw you pull a can out of the cooler in the garage. I thought it was a soda at first. But when you went to wipe your mouth on your shirt sleeve, I saw the can. I knew what it was. I had seen the beers in the cooler before. I couldn’t believe you were drinking one of dad’s beers.”
“I thought you were so cool back then. I thought you would be angry if you knew that I saw you. I found a bottle in your room once. I was snooping around your room and found the empty bottle under that big stuffed bear in the corner of your closet. I guess you were 16 then.”
“I’ve always thought you were so cool. so pretty, so smart. I guess I should have snitched on you, told mom and dad but I could never get you in trouble. I guess that was a mistake. I’m sorry Elaine. I’m sorry.”
Elaine desperately tries to scream out to her brother but she is not connected to her body. She can hear the words of her brother but the words sound far away. She feels far away.
“Dad and I met with your boss, Don Sanderson. They don’t know alcohol was the cause of the crash. The police who responded to the scene knew you and didn’t put anything in the report about alcohol. You hit a deer on the highway on the way home last night. Only a couple of police officers, the doctors and dad and myself know you were drunk. Don promised you had a job waiting for as long as it took for you to get well again. I don’t know if you can hear me but I am here for you Elaine. We are all here for you. We are praying for you Elaine.”
Elaine heard these words and she can feel the sadness from what her brother has said. That feeling is back. The feeling that feels like her heart. It’s breaking. She has never felt more awake than she does now but she is awake in the blackness and she feel very disconnected from her body.
She replay’s her brother’s words over in her mind. You will come out of this. I’ve known about your drinking for a long time. I thought you were so cool. They don’t know alcohol was the cause of the crash. We are praying for you.
“What have I done. I am so stupid. I have hurt all the people I care about the most. I have hurt myself, maybe forever. I have ruined my life.” Elaine cries out. No one heard her. Elaine lies silently in a hospital bed in the ICU.
“I’m in a coma. Some people never wake from comas. How long can I live like this? I’m sure my family and my friends will stop visiting me. It’ll be just me and the doctors and nurses who get paid to deal with people like me. People who live in blackness.” The realization hits Elaine all at once. “And those voices in the dark.”
Then she remembers. Like a flashback, a movie reel spinning her life at high speed. She remembers the look on the people’s faces. At the club when she knocked over the table. When she was pushed into the street. She remembers waking up in her truck when she was 17 behind her house, passed out in her truck. She snuck into the house at sunrise, still buzzing. She remembered seeing her brother as she crept down the hall to her room. Ricky saw her with puke on her shirt. He saw her and never said a word.
She remembers waking up at 3:45 on a Wednesday afternoon. She had to be at work at 4:00. She remembers rushing to her truck, frantically fumbling for her keys. Elaine remembers the bump as the back tire rolled over Lucky Chuck. She was late to work because she accidentally backed over her dog. No, she was late to work because she was drunk at 2 in the afternoon and passed out on her bed. She remembers so many more times when her drinking had caused a problem.
“What have I done?”
“So Elaaaaaine, now you know. You know where you are and why you are here. You know it’s your fault Elaaaaaine. Hmmm?”
Elaine does now know. She remembers. The accident. The car. The blinking eyes in the middle of the road. She was drunk from drinking at a party. Jill’s party. Jill. How is Jill taking this, she wonders.
“Elaaaaaine, can you hear me?”
“I hear you! Who are you?” Elaine snarls.
“Ooohhhh you’re a testy one aren’t you Elaaaaaine?”
“Get away from me! Get the hell away from me!”
“Funny you should use that word. Hell. Some people here believe that’s where they are.”
“This is not hell!” Elaine yelled.
“Oh, but it will soon feel like hell. Since you know the cause of your calamity, would you like to know your fate Elaaaaaine?”
“Silence! You bitter old ball sack. Leave this young woman be.” Said a strong male voice.
Elaine was silent too. These voices were too much to deal with. Everything was too much to deal with and now there was another voice.
“Hello, my dear. I hope Edgar didn’t frighten you too terribly. He gets a thrill from terrifying the new arrivals. Especially the females.”
“Edgar? The voices have names?”
“Well yes, we are or were people. Just not in the way that we use to be. What is your name?”
“And how old are you Elaine?”
“Elaine, I am Jacob and I am 28. Have you encountered anyone else here?”
“There was a young girl. She seemed confused. I’m confused.”
“I am sure you are and you probably have questions. The young girl is new and she does not talk with the males here. Maybe you can befriend her.”
“Where are we?” Elaine asked.
“That is one question I don’t have the answer to. But wherever we are we seem to be able to sense others that are around us and we can communicate with each other. I hear you and you hear me but I have no sensation of my body. I can’t feel my lips move, can you?”
“No, I can’t,” said Elaine. “Weird isn’t it?”
“Not as weird as waking up in a black place like this and then finding out others are here too.”
“Do you remember what happened to you?” Asked Jacob. “Some people don’t remember.”
“Yes I do, Just recently, I remembered what happened. I heard my brother talking to me in my hospital room and I remembered the accident. For some time, I couldn’t remember anything and I couldn’t hear others either.”
“You mean others over there? In the real world?”
“Yes, in the real world.”
“So then you know, over there, you are in a coma. Probably some type of head injury but almost anything that causes the brain to swell can cause a coma.”
“I was in a car accident. I ran off the road. I think I hit a deer in the road.”
“I was jumping from a rope under a bridge and my foot got tangled. I swung too close to the cliffs and hit my head as I fell into the water.”
“How long have you been here?” Asked Elaine.
“I’m not sure but I think it has been a long time. Time is different here. My mother and father have stopped coming to visit me in the hospital. That’s why I think it has been a long time. My father stopped coming first. He didn’t say much when he did visit. We were never really close.
“Dad works long hours. He is a VP of an IT company. Mom would come every day at first. I would know it was every day because she would tell me what day it was. She would tell me all kinds of stuff. Now she comes less often and she doesn’t tell me what day it is. Sometimes she tells me how nice it is outside and about family stuff but her visits have been shorter lately.”
“How sad.” Said Elaine.
“Yes, it is sad but I don’t seem to have any feelings about anything. I could hear the sadness in those that visited me but I felt nothing. It’s like I can’t feel feelings anymore.”
“I think I could feel something when my brother was talking to me. I think I felt his sadness. And my dad was talking to me in a dream and I could feel sadness then too. I was dreaming or remembering when I felt my dad’s sadness but I was not dreaming when I felt my brother’s sadness. I had just woke up, or, whatever you call it.”
“It can be confusing,” said Jacob. “Here is what I have found.”
“I can dream. I have had the most amazing dreams while here. You will know you are dreaming because you can see people and places, like in the real world. I can also hear when people are around me over there. Mostly I ignore the voices from there but if someone speaks to me there then I hear whoever is speaking to me. It’s like I am in the room but I don’t really feel anything. I can just tell that I am there because someone who is not here is talking to me. If no others are speaking to you and you are not sleeping you can simply exist in the blackness where time doesn’t seem to apply anymore. Understand?”
“Elaine, it is very quiet here now but there have been people here who were messed up bad. They would scream and cry out. They sounded tortured. These people eventually go away. I assume they died back there. I assume that people who are here are alive back there so if they are no longer here, they either died or woke up there. I hope I wake up.”
“Me too.” Said Elaine.
“Oh God! Oh my God! Elaine, I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” Jill cries.
“Jacob, my friend Jill is in my room.”
“Go. I will be here.”
“How will I find you?”
“Just call out my name. I will come to you if I can.”
For the first time, Elaine knows that she is not dead but her new existence is torture. Jill is sobbing like a child. She thinks the accident is her fault. Elaine feels so sad, not being able to comfort Jill. Her cell phone rings and in true Jill fashion, she answers like she was just walking in the park. Elaine knows Jill will be fine, their friendship was more business than personal. Dad and Ricky, on the other hand, may have a difficult time dealing with this mess she has created.
This might be a little bit easier to handle if her mother had not died just two weeks before Elaine was to graduate from college. She had complained of severe headaches for months and then one afternoon, Elaine’s mom had laid down to cover her eyes and rest for a bit. This is how she dealt with the headaches. Later that afternoon, Elaine’s father went to wake her. She had died of a stroke. Now two years later, Elaine is on the brink of death herself.
“When mom died, dad said I was the woman of the house now. What a disappointment I turned out to be,” elaine said.
“Your mother is dead?” Asked the soft voice of the young girl.
“Yes, she died two years ago.”
“When you were 24 years old?”
“Yes, when I was 24.”
“How did she die?”
“She died in her sleep, she was very sick.”
“I am very sick. I have a brain tumor and I am going to die,” the girl said matter-of-factly. “I thought I was dead but this is not heaven. Mom read the bible to me and I know what Heaven looks like. Heaven is light not dark. I can sometimes hear her and daddy. She tells me every day that she is praying for me and the pain will soon go away but I don’t feel any pain. She tells me to be a brave girl but I’m scared.”
“What are you scared of?”
“The dark. I don’t like the dark. And the voices in the dark. They scare me.”
“Are you afraid of dying?”
“No. When I die I will leave this scary place and be in the light with Jesus.”
“You don’t scare me. What’s your name?”
“I am Elaine. What is your name?”
“Elizabeth. My mom and daddy call me Lizzy. The doctors and nurses call me Lizzy too.”
“Are you sick?” Asked Lizzy.
“No. I was in a car accident. I hit my head.”
“Are you going to die?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. I hope not.”
“I hope not too. People should die when they are old, not when they are 26 like you or 13 like me.”
“You are 13?”
“Yes. I’m not going to live long enough to be 14. When I am 14 I will be with Jesus.”
“Lizzy. I think you are very brave,” said Elaine.
Elaine has begun to feel almost fluid in this place. She can be in the darkness with the others or she can be in the darkness in her hospital room. There she can hear the doctors and nurses. Her father sometimes leaves the TV on when he leaves and she can hear the shows she used to watch. It’s almost like being alive again. She wonders if this is what it’s like to be blind. Well, except for the part about being paralyzed.
The best part of this sad existence are the dreams. In her dreams, she can see the world she lived in before the accident. The people, the places, everything. Some of the dreams are very realistic. Some are memories, those are the best. Some are crazy, not realistic at all.
In the last crazy dream, Elaine was a deer like the deer she hit with her car. She could see the other deer. She could see the woods where the deer live. It’s like she was seeing the world through the eyes of the deer. She could even hear the birds in the woods and she heard the cars speeding down the highway. This sound of the cars frightened the deer and Elaine awoke back into the darkness. In her dream, she could feel the fright. In the blackness, she felt nothing.
Remembering Jacob’s suggestion to call out to him if she needed him, she does just that. “Jacob! Jacob, can you hear me? Are you there, Jacob?” She waits for some time but there is no reply. Elaine remembers what Jacob said about the voices going away. Did Jacob wake up or did he pass away? If either had happened, would she ever know.
One thing Elaine was learning, just before a dream, there was a swaying floating feeling that came over her. At first, it was hard to recognize but it only took a few times to realize this must be the sleep state coming on that allowed her to dream. She was also learning that it was easy to force this dream state to come on. All you had to do was be silent. So Elaine went silent and the sway slowly overtook her.
”Elaine. Doctor Richards is here with me and we have removed some of the bandaging around your head and eyes.” Said the nurse. “It’s time to introduce a little light back into your world.”
Instantly there was a slight brightening to the blackness Elaine had been living in. For the first time since before the accident, Elaine thought she could feel her body. It was as if she was starting to reconnect with herself. There was also an old familiar feeling. Elaine was drunk again. The medications that had Elaine suspended in that dark place were strong and she could feel their effects as she slowly drifted up from the pit she had been suspended in.
Some of the voices she could hear were familiar. Elaine cracked her eyes and there was a blinding light. Beautiful bright light. A nurse was hovering over her face as Elaine blinks back into the world she had drifted from for what felt like many days.
“Hello, Elaine. I am Nurse Nancy and I have been taking care of you along with a few other nurses and doctors here. They will be glad to know you are back with us again. I will let your father know you are awake.“
As quickly as the world reappeared the memory of the world Elaine just left started to fade. Jacob, Lizzy and Edgar were dissolving from her mind. Now almost fully awake, Elaine is not completely sure why she is in this room. It’s obviously a hospital room but why was she here.
Knock, knock, knock, came a rap at the door.
“Elaine. How are you feeling?”
“Daddy. What happened? Why am I here?”
“You had an accident last night.“
“Well, it was actually early this morning. Jill said you left her house a little after 2 am. Another driver saw your headlights off the road. Looks like a deer crossed your path. He probably never knew what hit him.”
“Yes, it totally destroyed your new car.”
For just a second, Elaine thought she could remember blinking eyes on the road in front of her. In another second the remembrance was gone. A deer, Elaine thought. A deer has destroyed my car and seems to have done a number on me.
Elaine. I’m going to step out and make some calls. There are some people who have been worried about you.
As Elaine’s father exits the room a tall and very doctorly looking man enters.
“Elaine, I am doctor Richards. Can you tell me how you feel?”
“Maybe a little dizzy.”
“You have been sedated most of the day. When you arrived there was some swelling around your brain so we sedated you. The swelling has subsided so we will not need to sedate you any longer.”
“My face feels funny.”
Yes, your face is a different story. The swelling of your brain was caused by the impact of the airbag to your face. Your nose is broken, your lips are busted, you may lose some of your front teeth and both of your eyes are blacked. The good news is, you fared better than the deer. Oh, and I hear your new car is banged up beyond repair. You, on the other hand, will repair quite nicely.”
“Do you need anything?”
“Doctor, what time is it?”
“It’s almost 9 pm. You came in just after 4 am this morning. You had to be cut from your car. I’ve got a few other patients to see but I will check back in before I leave tonight. There are a few people waiting to speak with you. I’ll let them know they can see you now.”
“Thank you, doctor.”
Over the next hour, Elaine’s small hospital room is filled with family and friends who have spent the day waiting to learn of Elaine’s outcome. Her father had been the first to arrive before the sun was up. Ricky had also come by very early and coordinated the communications with family and friends and filled Elaine in on all of the people who had stopped what they were doing to come and be with Elaine, her father and Ricky.
Elaine’s father was unable to handle all of the visitors under the current circumstances. He spent most of the day pacing across the waiting room. Jill had come by as well as officer Stevens, the first officer on the scene and one of Elaine’s newest friends. Don Sanderson stopped by for almost an hour. He assured Elaine’s dad that her position at the firm was safe and they would accommodate her needs until she was fully healed. A number of Elaine’s friends, most of whom Ricky had never met before, arrived throughout the day. Some stayed for a few minutes, some stayed for hours comforting each other, Ricky and especially dad.
“Little sister, you’ve got quite the collection friends around you. And none of them look like the gang of slackers I run with.” Ricky smiled, Elaine tried.
Knock, knock, knock, doctor Richards stuck his head in the room and asked if Elaine was awake.
“Yes, I am.”
“The nighttime nurse will be in shortly to give you something for pain. Nothing too strong, but your face looks like it lost a round with Mike Tyson. Maybe two rounds, Mike put them down quick.” Again, Elaine tries to smile. “You should try to get a little sleep tonight. You’ve had a serious head injury. Some people don’t survive injuries as bad as the one you’ve experienced. Your father said you’ve always had a hard head.” Elaine nods and, this time, feels a successful smile cross her swollen lips. “I will be back in first thing in the morning. Sleep tight.”
Visiting hours ended at 10:00 pm but the nursing staff didn’t seem to notice the time. Friends and family hung out in the room until well past 11:00 pm. The pain medication along with a lack of real food was beginning to take its toll on Elaine’s ability to stay focused on all of the excitement. She had felt herself start to nod off during long blinks. Everyone said their goodnights and promised to see Elaine again tomorrow. “Tomorrow.” Elaine thought. “What will tomorrow bring?”
As the blue glow of the TV flickered in the dim room, Elaine could feel sleep and medications dim her mind. The darkness of the room turned into blackness and surrounded her like a slow moving thick fog. Elaine could feel her body drifting down. She realized she was not asleep, she was awake but all she could see was the darkest dark she had ever seen. Blackness, familiar blackness. Elaine could feel a presence. Someone was nearby.
“Welcome back Elaaaaainee. I’ve missed you.”