The big semi came out of nowhere as I drove the Tesla through the intersection under a yellow light. About halfway through, I felt this crushing weight on my driver’s side as I and my two-week-old car were smashed and pummeled into a heap and pinned to a power pole on the side of the road.
I don’t remember the pain so much, but I knew I was messed up pretty badly. Fluid was running into my eyes, and I felt my whole body pinched together. I couldn’t move, but I could hear as people shouted and emergency vehicles arrived, lots of them, over a space of time I was incapable of tracking. I recognized that the door was jammed shut as men in helmets tried pulling it open, then later, this big mechanical scissor finally opened up the can of worms I was in, and they dragged me out. It was about this time I decided I wanted a different viewpoint on things as I slipped from my mangled body and got a ringside seat from above.
I could see myself on the ground as the firemen and EMTs worked on me, sticking IVs in and wrapping gauze over all the cuts and abrasions, but my limbs were at angles that weren’t conducive to walking, though I had no indication of pain from my vantage point. Then they lifted me onto a gurney and rolled me over to an ambulance, and off we went, down the road to the hospital I drove past twice a day on the way to and from work.
It was kind of neat and seemed so natural to hover over my physical body as it traveled. I’d heard about out-of-body experiences, but it never dawned on me until now, while I was actually in one, that they could be real. The people in pajamas pulled me out of the ambulance and into the brightly lit E.R. I’d been here once before when I came to see my old buddy Mel when he had his heart attack ten years ago. It hadn’t changed much as far as I could tell — just a bunch of busy people in sleepwear working next to big machines with wires and tubing attached.
They started hooking those wires up to me, and then some tubes, as others carried bags that they hung on hooks and plugged into the tubing. It all looked pretty serious to me, as I couldn’t see any laughing or joking going on, the way it was when people got together at the office. There, someone was always jerking somebody’s chain over something, but this place looked downright humorless as they busied themselves over my bag of bones.
Things settled down a bit, and I came closer, just inches over my form so I could get a good look at myself. When I saw all the bandages, my first realization was that there wasn’t much of me that wasn’t scrambled up. I decided I liked where I was better than inside that mucked-up form. Then things got busy again, and everyone in the room came running; some guy was punching me in the chest hard, but it didn’t hurt, and the others gathered around me pushed and pulled on wires and tubes until they all stepped back. It was then I realized I wasn’t going back into that mangled corpus delicti again. But I didn’t get to say goodbye, as I was suddenly whisked away, and the next thing I knew, I was standing outside the gates to a posh resort, and Mel was smiling and waving at me as he approached.
He looked just as I remembered him, dressed in those ugly plaid Bermuda shorts with a white wife-beater tank top stretched over a bulging belly, with black socks and brown leather sandals on his feet. One pudgy hand held a fat smoking cigar I could already smell the stink of as he got closer. He was never much of a fashionista, which hadn’t improved much since I saw him last.
“Hey, Bobby—good to see ya,” he said, wrapping me up in a hug, “I just got word you was coming in, sorry, but I was on the losing end of a poker game, or I’d been here to greet you.”
I was caught off guard and totally bewildered. “What is this place, Mel? And where did you come from? I know you died because I helped carry the coffin at your funeral.”
“Why this is heaven, Bobby-boy. But I didn’t die; I just got shed of my last physical body. I’ll have another one soon, but we can talk about that later. Let’s get you checked in.”
“This doesn’t look like heaven,” I answered in shock, “Where are the clouds and pearly gates and angels with wings?”
“Oh, that’s not really what heaven looks like,” Mel said, laughing heartily, “That’s just what they want you to think it looks like, so we don’t rush back here. Everyone would just hurry through life, trying to return. This is an all-inclusive resort like you can’t imagine, and it’ll be your home for a while as you get prepped for your next mortality. Come on, let’s go. I’m getting thirsty with all this jaw wagging. You’ve got to get registered before we hit the open bar,” he said as he started trudging towards the massive gates ahead.
“If this is heaven,” I inquired, “Is there really a Hell?”
Mel stopped and turned to me, already laughing so hard; tears were streaming down his face. “You’ve already been to Hell, Bobby. You were married once, don’t you remember?” He took off again, coughing cigar smoke out of his lungs as he fought to control his mirth.
I had to run to catch up with him as he trudged under the gates and into a manicured compound of immeasurable size. Colossal palm trees and lofty casuarina vied with olive trees and fruit trees for soft bright sunlight that didn’t feel hot, just warm and soothing.
Following him along a pathway paved in marble and grouted in gold dust, we entered the first of several palm-thatched rotundas attached with short covered walkways going in different directions. We were met by a beautiful young woman with long black silky hair, dressed in a purple sarong and carrying a thick journal. “This young lady will get you checked in, Bobby,” Mel explained. “Meet me over at the Tipsy Toad Pub when you get finished. I’ll order you a pint to celebrate your arrival.”
He trudged on, not waiting for a response. The young lady looked at me with a knowing smile as I stared back in confusion, “Don’t concern yourself; it’s totally acceptable to be in a quandary when you arrive back in the haven again, Bobby,” she said in a voice so soft it was like a feather pillow.
“Arrive back?” I stuttered, “I’ve been here before?”
“Why yes, Bobby. Many times. Let’s see,” she said, opening the ledger and scanning the pages. “This is your nine hundred and forty-second tarriance. Your eternal memory will start to return later after the initial shock wears off, but yes, you’ve been here many times, as we all have. Now, let’s get the formalities out of the way. They are serving endless nachos at the pub today. I know you like plenty of jalapenos on yours, so I’ll try and make this quick.”
My head was starting to spin with her revelations as I asked, “How do you know I like jalapenos? Have we met before?”
“Of course, dear Bobby. I was your sister twice. Your wife four times, your mother eleven times, and your brother in twenty-one lives. We have quite a history. That’s why I was chosen to check you in.”
“I don’t remember you. What’s your name?” I asked, totally flummoxed.
She giggled sweetly, putting me at ease, as she replied, “I’ve had many names, as have you, but for now, you can call me Carina. Don’t let your lack of memory trouble you. Once you spend some time in the library, your memories will return in a flood. Now let’s discuss your last cycle, shall we? Right off, what would you say you learned from that existence?”
“Learned? Was I supposed to learn something from my life? I don’t know, other than it wasn’t long enough.”
“Oh, they are rarely long enough, Bobby. But in each life, we choose to learn something, and once we have that learning accomplished, we return here so that we can prepare for another lesson in the physical. I know your assignment will show itself to you later as you relax, but right off, I’d say one thing you might have learned was not to be in such a hurry. You could have stopped when you saw the traffic light turn yellow.”
With a touch of exasperation, I replied, “It had just turned yellow. I thought I’d make it through the intersection before it went red. But you’re right, Carina. I should have slowed up; it’s just that I hated to be late for work.”
“I completely understand, Bobby. So many lives are ended early because we get in too much of a hurry. You’ll have time to reflect on this later, but for now, here is your room key. You’ve earned a beach bungalow this time back. That’s pretty special. Now go on to the pub. I may see you there later.”
I took the big brass skeleton key from her, unable to fashion much of a response other than to nod my head. I headed on in the direction Mel had gone, passing little kiosks where lone bartenders were serving up shot glasses of rum and tequila to happy, smiling patrons. The subtle sounds of island music, steel drums, and ukuleles were in the air, but I couldn’t tell for sure where it was coming from, only that it surrounded me and soothed my spirit.
Up ahead, I saw a big neon sign advertising the TIPSY TOAD PUB. Throngs of people were gathered around the entrance, and several called to me as I eased my way through the crowd. I waved back, feeling like I should know them but unable to put a name to their faces just yet. Mel was bellied up to the expansive bar that circled the enormous room, emptying a pint glass of amber brew down his neck as I approached. Wiping a sudsy mustache off his upper lip, he grabbed my arm and pulled me in close, “You took your time, but I’ve got a fresh platter of nachos on its way. Slake your thirst with this while we wait,” he said, pushing a full glass of stout to me.
I was thirsty, that’s for sure, and I didn’t need to be asked twice, taking a long draught of the cold refreshment. The bartender quickly pushed another full one towards me, saying, “Here, Bobby, this should hold you until your nachos get here. They are loading them up with extra jalapenos, just the way you like them.”
“How come everyone knows I like jalapeno peppers on my food, Mel?”
“Why Bobby, it was you that coined the phrase, “If you’re not sweating, you’re not eating,” about fifty lifetimes ago. Don’t you remember? Oh, probably not yet, but you will after you have some time to chill, then spend a few days in the library,” Mel stated.
“Whats this library, Mel? Carina mentioned it to me as well.”
“The library is where all the akashic records are preserved. We all spend some time there when we come back home each trip. All your lives are on record there, as well as your thoughts, emotions, and every event you’ve ever experienced. It’s fun to refresh ourselves there and get our memory back, but first, you need to chill out for a while. I heard you have a beach bungalow this time. That’s pretty cool. I’ve been in the dormitories myself, with several thousand others this time.”
“So, Mel, I’ve always read that your parents meet you when you come to the white light. I didn’t see the white light, and where are my parents?”
“Bobby, that thing about the white light is an old myth. Someone probably saw the sun reflecting off of the ocean. And your parents? Good luck with seeing them. They are party animals. They left on a cruise, and I don’t know when they’ll be back, but they are into swinging, so you might be uncomfortable even if you do run into them.”
“Swinging?” I said in shock. You mean like swingers, as in multiple partners?”
“That’s exactly what I meant, Bobby. Your parents were strict Baptists in their last sojourn in the physical, and when they came back, they decided to cut loose. They are a wild and crazy couple now, I’ll tell you.”
I was in a total state of consternation, unable to process all of the information I was receiving. So I drank. I’d sucked the suds dry in the two-pint glasses by the time the nachos arrived. A huge platter, steaming right out of the ovens with refried beans, cheese, chopped beef, cheese, jalapenos, more cheese, and to top it off, jalapenos and cheese. Super nachos!
I didn’t have to signal for more beer, as the glass in front of me was never even close to empty. Mel had drifted off to chat with other partiers when I felt a soft arm entangle mine, and a voice like soothing waters washed over me, “Order me a margarita, Bobby,” Carina whispered in my ear, “On the rocks, no salt.”
Before I could even speak, Russ, the bartender, had Carina’s drink before her. “Geez, Russ, how do you make a drink so fast?” I asked.
Russ was laughing as he answered, “No big thing, Bobby. I knew she’d be here to watch over you, so I had it ready for her. We all want you to feel comfortable your first day back in the spirit.”
Directing my question to both of them, I asked, “But I don’t feel any different, and everyone has a body, even me. I don’t understand what has changed?”
“It’s because you haven’t started to see yet,” Carina giggled, and Russ chuckled, “You see the spirit form, but you try to superimpose the physical embodiment on everyone because it makes you comfortable.”
“Here, Bobby, do a shot of Everclear. It’ll help you see us in our true structure,” Russ said as he handed me a shooter of clear liquid. “That’s 190-proof grain alcohol. With a couple of shots of that—you’ll see everything much clearer.”
I held up the shot glass, which said, ‘I visited the Big Apple’ on it, then tossed it down my throat. Flames could have erupted from my lungs as the burn lit me up from the base of my tongue to the depths of my gut. I couldn’t form a word, much less a clear thought, as tears ran from my eyes, but just like a dirty windowpane that had been wiped clean, I looked out at a different world.
All the human body forms had instantly gone through a metamorphic change into bobbing, glowing, luminescent egg shapes. None were identical, but all were similar, so I could tell everyone apart. I took a slow turn, scanning around the bar, and could see everyone looking at me, and I felt their profound approval at being able to see them as they really existed in the true spirit conformation.
My first thought was not one of shock and wonder—but of familiarity. I knew in a flash that I had witnessed this seeing before, many times. I shook my head, and their shapes melded back into the human contour again. Russ and Carina were both smiling their endorsement at my recognition.
“Don’t worry, Bobby. One day you will start seeing everyone as they are, but for now, you are comfortable seeing us as we were, so no worries.” Russ said kindly. “Go ahead and chow down on the nachos. We threw Nacho Night just for you.”
Carina joined me in wolfing down the nachos, though she shoved most of her jalapeno slices over to me. I ate with gusto, finally comfortable enough to find an appetite. When we had polished off the enormous platter and finished our drinks, she waved goodbye to Russ, who was serving others down the bar, then grabbed my arm and whispered, “Let’s go for a walk. Bobby. I’ll take you by the library; then I’ll show you to your beach house. You need to sit and reflect a while on your last life.”
We walked arm and arm through the crowds as many I felt I knew but couldn’t remember yet, waved and hollered that they’d see me later. Once outside the pub, Carina led me past the pool or pools maybe, as it was more like a series of Olympic size pools linked together that appeared to extend to the horizon. Multitudes of people were swimming, playing on slides and diving boards and throwing beach balls, laughing, and carrying on as if it was the most enjoyment they’d ever had in any life.
Well past the pools, we came upon an immense building more massive than any structure I had ever set eyes on before. It was so tall and wide that I couldn’t see all of it. It rose above me farther than my vision would allow me to view. Carina guided me through the entrance foyer into a vast room with walls lined with shelves full of ancient leather-clad volumes. I couldn’t see the back of the room nor the ceiling either; it just went up higher than my eyesight allowed without a telescope or binoculars. Hundreds, no thousands of antediluvian wooden desks were lined up across the floor for as far as I could see, and most had people or souls, I guess, sitting at them with open tomes in front of them, but they were not reading from them. Instead, over the written pages, a grandiose hologram displayed the images of the psyche’s lifetimes, multitudes of them presented in a graphic display.
“This is where all the knowledge and life experiences of every soul that have ever existed are stored. When you are ready, Bobby,” Carina explained, with a wave of her arm, “you will spend time here as well, going over your last physical life and many of your past lives as well. Your memory of people and places and times will be refreshed, and with it, the lessons you learned from each continuance. This is how we grow, how we mature, and how we improve ourselves individually from one physical existence to the next. After you have renewed your memories, you will, with the aid of older souls, choose your next animation. You will plan the lesson you feel you need to work on, select your parents from whom you will learn either good or bad judgment, and the souls who will share your life, like you and I have so many times before.”
“We get to choose our parents?” I queried.
“Oh, by all means. Choosing our parents puts us in the right place and time geographically on the physical plane to gain the knowledge and experience the emotions to grasp the lesson we want to learn. Once you have that all planned out, you will join the physical body you will inhabit for however long that particular life existence requires to learn what you need to attain.”
“So, how long will it take to do all that?” I asked.
“Bobby, time is not a factor here in the spirit. In physical time, it could be a minute or a thousand years. None of that is important. All that is crucial is that your time in the physical realm is productive, and then you will return home again to refresh your essence and prepare for your next lesson. But, come on, enough of this for now. Let’s get you settled at your beach cabana so that you can begin your reflection period.”
Unable to question her more, as I struggled to assimilate all that she had told me, I followed her outside the akashic library and down a long footpath paved in diamonds and precious gems. Up ahead, I soon saw the glow of light reflecting off the surface of a boundless ocean. Lined up for as far as I could see were small cabanas with expansive covered patios and thatched palm roofs. Carina pointed towards one that was painted in turquoise and yellows. Vibrant colors that spread a warm glow through my spirit.
“That is your dwelling for as long as you require it, Bobby. Sit and relax and reflect. You have a lot to digest. Not just your past life but what you have been reminded of since your return. Take as long as you like. And Bobby—slow down.”
“Why am I next to the water, Carina?”
“Because water is soothing to the soul, Bobby. Mountain streams, falling rain, and waves lapping at the shoreline. All these sounds bring us contentment. Enjoy your time here. I will see you again,” and with that, she turned and drifted away.
I looked out over the water and began to hear bells ringing faintly — not church bells, but something quite familiar. I sat down on an old bentwood chair that was so comfortable I could have slept in it, but I was not tired, hungry, thirsty, or lacking in anything I could sense.
I considered how practical the order of things was as presented to me by Carina. It all made sense, maybe because I had experienced it many times before. A light breeze began to blow off the water, like the trade winds in the tropics I’d known as a young man, and the sound of bells ringing grew louder until—
I woke up drenched in sweat like I’d run a mile on a hot afternoon, and my mind tried to grasp the strangest of dreams—or was it a premonition. I couldn’t tell, but no matter, as I looked at the alarm clock ringing. I was late getting up, and I had a very busy day at the office ahead, so I hurriedly showered and dressed quickly, not even taking the time to break my fast. All I could think of was how busy my life was and how I needed to use every spare minute. Besides, I had the new Tesla to show off to my coworkers. They’d be so impressed.
I jumped into the car and backed out of my driveway, and drove just over the speed limit out of my subdivision. Once on the main street through town, I kicked it up, racing through gears hoping the cops were busy elsewhere. Up ahead, I saw the light turn yellow, and I pushed the gas peddle to the floor, knowing full well I’d never beat the red light.
And as I flew into the intersection, my thought was that—I should have slowed down.
Look for this story and others in Behind the Mask- An Anthology of Short Stories, available here.
For information on my books click on the menu in the upper right-hand corner, or go here.