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Today's Story by Neal Marks

Going Home

I should’ve known better.

The traffic light had turned red before I entered the intersection. But I was in a hurry and gunned the engine–a split second before the semi tractor-trailer started his left turn.

It was no contest.

After the crash, the truck driver made a beeline to what was left of my car. He checked for my pulse, then pulled me out, laid me on my back, and started CPR. Big guy, balding with a ponytail. I never got a look at his face, though. That’s because I saw all of this from about ten feet above.

I watched him working on me continuously until the paramedics arrived. Heard him telling them he’d been a corpsman in Vietnam. Observed one of them shaking his head and saying, “What kind of idiot plays chicken with a 4-ton tractor trailer?”

Then, as the paramedics started to take over, everything went black.


The next thing I know, I’m lying in bed at home, my knees raised so that the blanket on top of me looks like a mountain. I’ve arranged my plastic army men in the folds–pretending they’re enemy commandos–and am about to drop bombs on them. Well, marbles, actually.

Now I smell bacon, which means it’s Sunday morning, and there’ll be scrambled eggs and pancakes, too. The attack can wait.

I scamper into the kitchen. My mom is at the stove cooking; my dad is reading the funnies; my sister is munching on dry Cheerios, crumbling a few onto my seat, the little pest; and … wait a minute … I must be dreaming.

I try to wake up. Instead, the scene changes: Now I’m sitting at a table in the University Research Library working on a poli-sci term paper, “Roots of the Iran-Iraq War”. I lift a cup of coffee to my lips and close my eyes–savoring the aroma as I take a sip–opening them in time to see a girl walking my way, man, looking like Michelle Pfeiffer.

Wait a minute, that’s Deborah, as in my wife Deborah. And this is the day we met. I let the scene play out, experiencing the excitement and awkwardness and sense of kismet all over again.

I try again to wake up. But now we’re at my sister Lisa’s house on Thanksgiving, relaxing in the family room, the Macy’s parade on TV. My parents are on the couch, relishing the grandkids’ excitement as each new float appears on the screen. Deborah smiles at me, pointing out the contented expressions on my folks’ faces. I’m contented too.

Then we hear laughter coming from the kitchen, Lisa and her husband Michael enjoying a private moment together. My dad gives me a look that says, how come Lisa’s not being her usual bitchy self with Michael tonight?

A few minutes later, Michael walks into the room and pulls me aside, saying, “It’s been quite a day for you, huh, David?”

I know I’m supposed to say something, but I’m not sure what. I mean, a dream is supposed to be like a movie, right? You just sort of watch it; you don’t have to write your own lines.

Michael can see that I’m flustered. He says, “You start out the day as a kid in a warm home, surrounded by a caring family. Then you relive love at first sight. And you’re about to enjoy a special Thanksgiving Day, the one you remember best.”

Now it doesn’t feel like a dream at all. I say, “How could you possibly know all that?”

He motions me to follow him into the living room. We head over to the wet bar at the far end of the room, and Michael pulls out a bottle of Glenlivet and pours us each a shot. “Salud.”

The whiskey burns my throat as I swallow. That should be my cue to wake up, but I don’t.

Michael pours me another, saying, “Think. Something happened to you earlier today. It ended in darkness.”

I down another shot of scotch. “I remember driving home,” I say. “I was in a hurry.”

Michael cocks his head. “David, what kind of idiot plays chicken with a 4-ton tractor trailer.”

I picture the red light, the truck turning in front of me. Damn, the big guy doing CPR, saying, “Work with me, man. Work with me.”

“Oh my God,” I say. “I’m dead, aren’t I? And this is heaven.”

Michael nods.

“Wait a minute.” I shake my head. “This can’t be heaven. My wife and kids are here. But they’re still alive; so are you and Lisa.”

“Think,” he says.

I do–for a minute, for an eon. I’m beginning to understand. “Heaven’s not a place, is it, Michael? It’s life’s greatest hits, played within your soul, 24 hours a day, for eternity. That’s it, isn’t it?”

He smiles.

But something is bothering me. “Lisa’s being nice to you tonight, Michael. That’s very weird.”

“Don’t you see? I’m not really Michael. And “Lisa” is not really Lisa. This is yourheaven. It’s how you want ‘forever’ to be.” He’s silent for a moment, letting it sink in. Then he says, “One thing for sure. Spending eternity with your sister? For me–I mean, for Michael–that would truly be hell.” He reaches into his pocket for a bottle of Tums, popping four into his mouth.

Boy, I can relate to that. I grew up with Lisa.


I feel pain all over. I hear hissing and beeps–hospital noises. I open my eyes.

Deborah is sitting next to my bed, and I see her face light up and feel her squeeze my left hand. I try to touch her face, but my arm and hand won’t cooperate. I just hurt too much. She starts to cry and says, “We’re so lucky, David. We almost lost you. But the doctors say you’ll be okay.” She turns toward the door and shouts, “Lisa? Michael?”

They hurry into the room; and Lisa, too, starts to cry and places her right hand on mine. “The doctors told us you actually died for a moment, right there on the pavement. God bless the truck driver and paramedics. God bless them.”

“It’s unbelievable,” I tell them. “I’ve read about near-death experiences, but I never thought it would happen to me. I saw them trying to revive me. I actually saw it from above.”

My sister raises her hand to her mouth, then clasps my hand with both of hers. “Oh my God. Did you go down that tunnel? Did you see Mom and Dad? Grandma and Grandpa? Nana and Poppa? Did they tell you to go back? That it wasn’t your time?”

I close my eyes and try to remember. “I clearly see the truck driver and paramedic performing CPR, but things get fuzzy after that. I don’t recall a tunnel or anyone waving me in.” Then an image starts to form in my mind’s eye. “It’s crazy, but I’m picturing a conversation with you, Michael. You were my guide in heaven.”

“Wait a minute,” Lisa says. “I’m your sister. How come I wasn’t your guide.”

I roll my eyes. “The point is, we’ll all be together in heaven forever. Right?”

Lisa thinks it over for a moment, then smiles.

Michael reaches for his Tums.


Neal Marks is a law-abiding citizen who pays all his taxes, observes every traffic regulation, and never bets with bookies. Writing crime fiction is as close as he gets to lawlessness.  His work has appeared in Shred of Evidence, Crime Scene Scotland, and the print-anthology ‘The Deadly Bride and 21 of the Year’s Best Mystery and Detective Stories’. His fiction can be found on his website: www.crimetime.webs.com.


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