Today: A short story.
This week I am doing things a little differently than what I had been doing them. Instead of the normal podcast, Today I am sharing a story I wrote called Today. A friend of mine who is familiar with the fact that I mostly write horror type short stories told me I should try to write some inspirational stories, and this is my first attempt at a motivational story. I hope you enjoy it.
Today is the day I Die
Today is always the day I die
In the dark of early morning, John sat on the edge of his bed in his pajamas, staring at the clock, waiting for the alarm to sound. John was always awake before his alarm went off on this particular day and he knew he could have just turned it off before going to bed, but he always liked to hear its shrill beeping; it was somehow conforming and official. John wasn't sure why he was always awake before his alarm sounded, but he assumed it was because of all the stress associated with the day.
"Today is the day I die," John said aloud to himself."Today is always the day I die. How many times have I said that, one hundred perhaps?" he asked himself, laughing nervously.
When the alarm sounded at 5:00 AM John turned it off and returned it to the dresser before slipping his feet into his house shoes and shuffling down the hall to the bathroom, lost in thought. John went through the mechanics of brushing his teeth and washing his face without so much as thinking about what he was doing. As John dried his face and put the towel back into its place he thought aloud to himself.
"Today is the day I die. That sounds bad when I say it out loud," he said, sighing. "I don’t say this because I have some sort of death wish or an imminent plan to end my miserable existence, though I might if I thought it would do any good. I say today is the day I die because it is true, always has been and always will be. There’s no changing that and God knows I have tried. I couldn’t even kill myself to get out of this early, regardless of what I do. I know because I have made attempts and failed spectacularly at them. No, it has to be today at the predetermined time. It is an awful thing to know the exact time of one's death and not know how it is to be accomplished."
John gripped the edge of the counter for a few minutes before picking up his overpriced electric razor and beginning to shave his face. As he shaved he thought about his life and all of the wasted time, so much time. When his face was sufficiently smooth, John placed the razor into its holder where it automatically came to life in its self cleaning cycle. John slapped a little after shave on his freshly shaved face and stared into the mirror.
"I have lived my life over a hundred times in a hundred different ways. The one thing that is always the same, regardless of what I do, what I think or what I try, is I always die on December 2nd, 2017 at exactly 11:59PM Central Standard Time." John looked at his watch. "That gives me approximately eighteen and a half hours to figure out and accomplish what I should have accomplished years and lifetimes ago."
John stepped out of the bathroom, turned off the lights, and walked to the kitchen where he set the coffee pot on the stove and turned on the element. Electric coffee makers are easier, but John had always loved the sound of an old fashioned stove-top percolator and proffered the way it made the coffee taste. New isn't always improved.
"I am convinced I am supposed to learn something or change something, but so far the joke is on me because I can’t figure out what it is to save my life," John said laughing, "and yes, the pun was intentional. In fact, I could say that pun was to die for."
John opened the refrigerator and took out the ingredients he needed to make breakfast, bacon eggs and grits, heavy on the bacon. John wasn't sure why, but eating a big breakfast on this fateful day always made him less nervous, as did talking to himself out loud.
"I have lived my life as an addict that would literally do anything for the next fix and, and later I lived my life as close to being a saint as I could ever hope to get, and I died the same day the same way both times, with hot led violently ripping through my mid section."
John placed his right hand over his stomach, remembering the pain and the blood. As John thought about his life he considered that his life may be like a video game and there are no consequences for anything, but he also remembered that in a lot of video games you only have so many attempts at achieving the objective before it is as Bill Paxton's character said in Aliens, "Game over man, game over!"
The real question was whether he was starting the game over every time or whether he was stuck in a level he could not pass, and it seamed a lot more likely he was reverting back to a save point at the beginning of a level. John though about his restart point and wondered why it is where he always goes back to.
After John dies, regardless of how he lived or how he died, he always wakes up in his car, parked on the shoulder of a county road just before a narrow bridge across the river. Sometimes John asks himself why he was parked at the bridge in the first place, but deep within he knows why. Without fail, John is always awakened by an old rusty Plymouth with the driver laying on its horn as it passes, and continuing with the horn long after it is out of sight.
Every time when the blaring horn jolts him out of his sleep, John wakes up with his neck all askew and his shirt and suit jacket wet with drool. John always has an empty bottle of Jack in his right hand when he wakes, and as a natural result, the events of the previous night are just out of his grasp. Not his finest hour to be sure. The one thing John always remembers is that he graduated from college the day before, and his gown and cap are in the passenger seat as reminders.
John always wakes up with a splitting headache and the intense morning sun is far from comforting. Flies swarm in and out of the open windows, drawn by the smell of the previous nights dinner, something greasy in a sack. The spilled chili on John's suit jacket and tie have dried and started to turn, matching the smell of the crumpled sack in the passenger floor.
A fly lands on John's face and he swats at it in vain. The empty bottle of jack rolls from the seat into the floor. John bends down to pick up the bottle and smacks his head on the dash, swearing bitterly. John sits back up and throws the empty bottle out the passenger window and it rolls down the embankment. John then reaches for the keys, still in the ignition, starts the car and drives away leaving a cloud of dust.
"Some day my number will be up," John said to himself, turning the crackling bacon in the pan and stirring the grits, "and if I haven’t accomplished my assigned mission, my prime directive or whatever, instead of waking up hung over in my car I’ll wake up in hell. Tomorrow could be that day, but I hope not."
When the bacon and grits were almost done, John cracked a couple of eggs into a pan. At least something about this day would be sunny side up. John wondered again, for the thousandth time, why that bridge, of all places, was his restart point. John couldn't think of anything important that happened in the days leading up to or following that day. Sure there were things he wanted to change, but they all happened years previous to graduation, in the part of his life he could not change, the part before the restart. John really didn't see the point to any of it since no matter what he did or where he went he wound up in the same place.
John put his breakfast onto his plate and poured a cup of coffee, black. John always thought coffee was perfect the way it was and there was no reason to "pollute" it by adding unnecessary things to it. With the coffee cup in one hand and the plate in the other, Jahn sat down at the kitchen table and said a little prayer before he started to eat, asking for guidance on this the last day of his life, or at least the last day of this life. John put a fork full of grits and a piece of bacon in his mouth and thought about his life while he chewed.
In one of his cycles, John thought he should put an end to his life and go back to the restart point. He parked his car on an overpass over a busy interstate and climbed up onto the railing, waiting for a eighteen wheeler. John timed it perfectly and the grille of the truck caught him before his feet touched the asphalt. However, instead of waking up in his car hung over the day after graduation, he woke up a week after he jumped from the overpass, in a hospital and in intense pain. He spent the next fifteen years in a wheel chair, living on disability and in constant pain. After a year in a wheel chair John tried to overdose on painkillers washed down with cheap whiskey, but all he accomplished for his efforts was another hospital stay and a few new and painful health problems. That was his longest life by far, despite it being the same number of days as always. He never again tried to kill himself; he had learned his lesson and knew better than to try.
"At least the manner in which I die keeps me guessing." John said silently to himself. " I have died from almost every type of death I could imagine from getting mauled by a bear to dying of electric shock. I wonder how I will die today?"
John took a sip of coffee and another bite of his breakfast, thinking about some of his many deaths. One time John took an entire bottle of sleeping pills the night he was to die, thinking he would just die in bed while he was asleep, but he woke a few minutes before his usual death time with excruciating pain in his chest and died of a heart attack, right on schedule.
Another time John died in his living room of an aneurism while watching the television. He was twice hit by a car and once hit by a bus, all in different cities.
The one and only life John lived in Alaska he was run down and killed by an angry momma moose. He was sure his death would have made the papers had he not restarted, making all he did in that life null and void, or perhaps life was like Borges Garden of the Forking Paths and every possibly scenario was going to happen and his death did make the papers after all. The day he got killed by the moose, John was just walking down the street with a bottle in his hand when he somehow offended this moose, making her think he was out to get her offspring. He thought he could get into the dumpster before she reached him but instead she head butted him into the wall next to the dumpster and then proceeded to stomp him for the next ten minutes until he died at 11:59. Those were possibly the longest ten minutes of his existence, even considering all his lives.
John once drowned when he fell off a boat and hit his head, and another time he fell of a boat and when the driver came back to get him he was accidentally run over.
One life John froze to death in the Alps with only his left hand sticking above the snow. Another life he died in a car fire and twice in a house fire, both times in the same house. There seamed to be no rhyme or reason to the deaths and there were a few times he did actually die peacefully in his sleep, but most of his deaths were more on the extreme or violent side.
If he were to be honest, if John had it his way, he would just stay dead, even if it meant going to hell. At least that way he would know what to expect.
John finished his breakfast and poured another cup of coffee, his third so far, staring into the darkness inside the cup, wondering what the last few hours of his life would hold and whether or not it would even matter.
Out of all the lives John had lived, only one had ever made him proud and that was when he was a Christian missionary. He was often tempted to repeat that life, but since he hadn't changed anything he refrained and made different choices instead.
John was so caught up in what he was doing and the people he was helping that he forgot to keep track of the calendar and had no idea this was the day he would die, and even if he had remembered, not being dark like it typically was when he died threw him off. Most of John's deaths were in the continental United States and regardless of which time zone it was, it is dark everywhere in in the lower 48 at 11:59 on December 2nd.
The grass was waving in the gentle breeze, the sky was clear and the sun hot. There were makeshift refugee tents everywhere and John was at a table serving food to the people in line. In between serving one person and the next John had to wipe the sweat from his face to keep it out of his eyes. Those people John was serving had all types of struggles imaginable from sickness, hunger and poverty to the constant threat of gorilla fighters taking from them what little they had, including their lives and their children.
From the time he woke up hungover in his car to the time he died, John had devoted his entire life to the physical, emotional and spiritual welfare of those forgotten and marginalized people. It was not why he was doing it, but John hoped that devoting his entire existence to the welfare of others would allow him to go to heaven instead of coming back. When he woke up in his car again he was reminded that good works are not what saves us.
With at least half of the camp still in line for food, seemingly out of nowhere, a Jeep pulled up and a six men man jumped out with automatic riffles slung over their shoulders. Both the refugees and the gorillas were screaming and shouting and everything was chaos. There wasn't a tree, rock or building for miles, just grass, but the people ran for all they had anyway, in every direction, hoping that at least some of them would get away.
John dropped his ladle, still full of food, and ran to the nearest tent, taking one of the thick tent poles, causing the tent to fall down. Holding the tent pole in his hands like a club, John shouted "NO! You can’t have them!" as he ran toward the men.
One of the men snatched a girl about twelve years of age, and pulled her toward the waiting Jeep. She tried to get away but the man was too strong. The girl bit the man's hand so he shoved her down and kicked her in the stomach, knocking the breath out of her lungs. The man gathered up the girl's long hair and dragged her by it while she continued struggling to breathe. Just before they reached the Jeep, John bludgeoned the man in the head with the tent pole, causing him to let the girl go. As the girl rans off, one of the other men shot John in the gut.
John didn't feel like his work was finished, but he died all the same and according to schedule.
As his life bled out, pouring between his fingers pressed over the wounds, John watched through failing eyes as more vehicles showed up and the people were mowed down. All the adults were eliminated and the children were taken, the boys for soldiers and forced labor and the girls taken captive for other reasons. The girl who John had given his life to save was recaptured and loaded into an old military transport truck, screaming kicking and crying along with the rest of the girls. The vehicles sped off, spitting gravel as they left, leaving John to die alone.
John knew where those girls were headed and was powerless to stop it from happening; he knew all about prostitution because in one life he ran an underground prostitution and gambling gambling ring, but at least all of the girls in his ring had willingly signed up for it as adults, or at least that is what he had deluded himself into thinking. Deep down he knew a lot of the unfortunate souls he "employed" were only in that line of work due to drugs and/or previously being forced into it by someone else and not knowing what else to do.
That life, the life where he ran the illegal underground gambling and prostitution ring is where the dying by electrocution came in. John was convicted of his myriad of crimes and sentenced to death by electric chair. Out of all his lives, this was the one he was most ashamed of.
No matter how many lives he lived, John would never forget the look on his mother's face when she saw him admit in court to the crimes he had been accused of. Though John hadn’t had a close relationship with his mother since his father died, he never wanted to hurt her and the look of hurt and shame on her face was something he wished he could forget. He doubted he would ever do anything to let his mother down so completely as had in that life. The pain evident in his mother's eyes hurt him more and caused him more shame than anything he had ever done.
John's very first death took him by complete surprise. He was taking a shortcut through an ally in Chicago, looking at a piece of paper in his hand. It had rained recently and the city lights were reflecting off the slick street like a stained glass window. Over the top of the paper, John saw a man coming toward him in the reflection on the the street and looked up. The man was wearing a mask and held a revolver in his right hand.
"Give me your wallet and your watch!" The mugger yelled. The man was obviously nervous and kept looking over his shoulder.
"OK, there is no need for trouble," John said calmly, handing the man everything he had asked for. "Here you go."
"Your phone and your car keys too," the masked man said impatiently.
John got his keys and phone and handed them to the man. Just as the mugger took the phone from John's outstretched hand the phone unexpectedly made a sound, a text notification. The man was startled and shot John twice in the stomach.
The mugger stared at John in silence for a moment before turning to run. From the look of shock and terror in his eyes, John thought that was probably the first time he had ever shot a person. As John died holding his stomach he saw a bank sign just out of the alley that said the time was 11:59. When John came to the unmistakable knowledge that he was going to die he had no reason to think he would be back. John recalled thinking that 42 was too young to die, but now it was just a number, besides, if you counted up all of his lives up to that point, he had lived the repeated portion a total of one hundred and five times and the part before that once, for a total of 2,330 years. So much wasted time.
John finished off the coffee and ran some water in the sink to do the dishes. "It looks like I would have learned my lesson by now, but apparently I am a slow learner," John said and started washing the pans.
John remembered most of the details of his past lives when he would once again wake up at what a gamer would call "the save point,” but he couldn't figure out what he was supposed to do or what the objective was. "This is the level I just can’t beat," he said.
When John had finished the dishes, changed his clothes and turned out all of the lights he walked out of his house, locking the door behind him. It occurred to John that washing the dishes and locking the door was pointless since he would not be back to this house and everything would all be erased by the end of the day.
When John left his house it was still dark, but the sky was beginning to break. John got into his car and started the engine. In all of his lives, there was one thing he had never done and he was extremely nervous about it, nervous to the point that he was sweating profusely, in Illinois, during the month of December.
John thought about calling but decided that a surprise visit would have be best, first though, he thought he should stop and get a peace offering. John pulled his Corvette, an extremely impractical car for winter, into the ice covered parking lot of a local donut shop. The first morning rush on donuts had already come and gone and John's car was the only one in the parking lot.
When John walked into the donut shop he was greeted with a warm smile and a friendly welcome from an elderly man wearing a flour covered apron.
"What can I get for you this fine day?"
"I will take four of those jellies," John said, pointing through the glass at the raspberry filled donuts, "and two small black coffees."
The jovial old man put the chosen donuts into a paper sack before pouring the coffee. "That will be seven dollars please," he said.
On the way out of the city to the country, John sat in silence thinking about his life previous to the restart point and wondered why his restart point wasn't ten years earlier as that would give him the opportunity to change the things he regretted but could not undo. Sometime life, or lives in his case, is not fair.
After a half hour of driving, John turned off the main road onto a dirt road. During the summer the corn on both sides of the road was all you could see, but now there was only stubble and blowing snow. After ten minutes on the dirt road John turned down a private road leading to a farm house surrounded by barren farmland and skeletons of trees waiting waiting for spring and the leaves it would bring. John parked the car in front of the house and shut off the engine. He started to open the door and get out but was overtaken by dread and had to sit a minute and calm himself.
"You can do this John. The worst that can happen is she kills you and tomorrow you start over hung over in your car again."
John stepped out of the car, taking the coffee and donuts with him, and shut the door as quietly as he could. John took his time walking to the door, telling himself it was so he would not slip on the ice, but he knew that was not the truth, or at least not the whole truth.
John thought It strange that Debbie was the nicest and most caring woman he had have ever known and yet he was extremely nervous about seeing her. From her perspective, it had been more than twenty years since the last time he had seen her. He hoped she remembered him. No, she would remember him for sure, he hoped she would have the grace to forgive him."
With the coffee in his left hand and the donuts in his right, John rang the doorbell. "Here goes nothing," he said under his breath.
Seconds after the bell rang a commotion could be heard inside and in short order the door opened. Debbie, an woman in her sixties, stood on the other side of the threshold and when she saw who was at her door she stood in shock, silently staring. They both stood there in silence for what felt like an eternity and tears started a silent stream down her wrinkled face. Without warning, Debbie reared back and violently slapped John across his face, and before he could overcome the shock she wrapped him in an embrace.
"Curse you John! Why couldn’t you come see me more often? Do you have any idea how hard it has been on my to loose my husband and have my only son, my only child, forget that I exist?"
Tears were now streaming down Debbie’s face in an uncontrollable, core shaking, sob and her knees went week. John managed to catch his mother without spilling too much of the coffee and helped her inside to the couch, closing the door behind them with his foot.
For the next ten minutes, the rhythmic ticking of the grandfather clock was the only sound in the house. Both had things they desperately wanted and needed to say but neither of them wanted to be the first to speak. Finally John broke the silence, staring so intensely at his cup that it might have caught fire.
"Mom, I have something important to tell you that I should have told you years and lifetimes ago and I can't continue to live with myself if I don't get it out."
John fidgeted with the coffee cup in his hand, turning it round and round. Minutes went by. "Father loved you more than life itself and didn’t abandon you. He is dead because of me. I killed dad, not intentionally, but I killed him all the same."
Debbie placed her hand over John’s and squeezed gently. "But you weren’t even there. Your father was killed in a collision with a drunken driver in Indiana, and you were away to college in Ohio. You know this."
John sat down his coffee and turned to look into his mother’s eyes. "When dad left that day without discussing it with you, you suspected him of having an affair. He wasn’t. He couldn't. Dad loved you."
"Than why did he leave, and how do you know? Why would your father leave and not tell me where he was going? He never did that. I got home from work and he wasn’t there. There was no note and no messages. I never saw him alive again."
John looked away from his mother and fixed his eyes on the floor, wringing his hands nervously. "A couple of college friends invited me to a party at one of their family's vacation home in Indiana and I went and partied too hard. I was on my way back to college when I got arrested for a DUI, in Indiana. Since I was seventeen, they decided to let me go if I told them who gave me the alcohol, but only if one of my parents came to get me. I called Dad and he left without a second thought. Dad tried to call you but you were out of the office and didn't have your cell with you.
"We were only a hour or so from my dorm when we crashed. The closer we got to school the more I begged dad not to tell you about my arrest but he insisted that he had to. He said the two of you would probably decide to take my car one he got it out of impound. I was upset and called dad all sorts of horrible things. I know now dad was just trying to help me, but at the time I couldn't see it and I was angry.
"I demanded that dad pull over and let me out, but he told me not to be dramatic. In a fit of rage I grabbed the steering wheel and dad overcorrected, right into the lane of an oncoming vehicle. I saw the van coming and knew we were going to die, but we didn't or at least I didn't.
"Everything happened so fast and I don't even remember the impact. I don't know how long it was after the crash that I realized what had happened and that I was not only still alive but unharmed. I guess I was stunned.
John sat quietly for a moment trying to force down the lump in his throat. "The last words I ever spoke to dad were words of anger. He always did so much for me and I was ungrateful. He died because of me and I didn't even appreciate it."
Debbie reached over and lifted John’s Chin. "John, If you were there why didn’t I hear about it? You were a minor and the police would have had to tell me."
John put his face into his hands to hide his tears and silently cried, desperately trying to get himself together. " I wasn’t there when the police and emergency crew showed up. When I realized what had happened I turned to check on dad, but it was obvious that he was gone. The way the other car looked, and with the blood dripping out onto the road, I knew they were all dead too. I killed everyone and ran like a coward so I didn’t get in trouble.
"I ran mom. I killed dad and I ran! I killed dad and all those other people!" John said, no longer trying to control his emotions. A deluge of tears streamed down his face. "Worst of all, I let you think the worst of the greatest man I ever knew."
"Your solution was to run and lie about it?" Debbie asked in disbelief. "So you just ran and let me have doubts about your father? All these years…you could have said something. I never dreamed you could be so cruel."
"I'm truly sorry Mom."
"You weren't the only surviver John," Debbie said. "The youngest child, a little girl, survived. She lost her entire family that day. Her oldest sister was dead when the paramedics arrived and the middle sister died later that night at the hospital. Her mother died in the ambulance and her father went to jail for driving drunk."
"I, I didn't know," John managed.
"You didn't want to know!" Debbie shouted. It wasn't common for Debbie to raise her voice but she thought this occasion warranted it. "You never asked, you never spoke of it, and you couldn't even be bothered to open a news paper, or did you actively avoid news of your colossal failure and the pain it caused? Is that why you stopped seeing me? Was your pain really that much more important to you than mine?"
Debbie turned away from John and he wanted to take his mother's hand but thought better of it. No one spoke for a few minutes. John wanted to say something but he didn't have any good answers. Finally Debbie turned and spoke.
"What did you hope to accomplish in coming here after all these years, besides breaking my heart?"
"I guess I was hoping you would forgive me."
It was silent for what seamed like an eternity and John was afraid to speak again before his mother replied.
"I can forgive you, in time," Debbie said slowly, "but I am not the one you need to beg forgiveness from."
John placed his hand on his mother’s shoulder. "What do you mean? Who should I ask for forgiveness."
"Think about it John, are you really that dense? If you caused the accident than there is someone who wrongly took the fall for it, someone who thinks he killed his wife and two of his children, as well as your father."
The realization hit John like a big rig hitting a rabbit. In all those years and all those lifetimes, John had never stopped to think about the pain that he had created. For the first time he considered the possibility that he had in fact died when he was shot in Chicago and went to hell and living his life over and over without the power to change what he did wrong was his punishment.
"I was so inconsiderate, I never even stopped to think about that in all these years. I was so caught up in my own pain, regret and shame the I never considered how my actions may have hurt others.
"Please know, if I had it to do over, I would." They sat in silence for a little while before John placed both of his hands on his mother’s shoulders and turned her toward him. He stared intensely into her eyes. "Do you know where he is being held? I need to see him."
Debbie silently got up and walked into another room. When she returned she had a box full of letters and photos, which she unpacked onto the small coffee table.
"He was in the state Prison in Michigan City, Indiana. I wrote him every week, and he wrote me back."Debbie pulled out some of the letters from prison and handed them to John.
"Why have you never told me?" John asked.
Debbie looked at John like the idiot he was. "When have you ever spent enough time with me for it to come up? When have you ever called me? As you just admitted, you were too caught up in your own little world to bother to think about anyone else, including your own mother. You accidentally killed your father, and instead of dealing with it you ostracized your mother and made yourself an orphan."
John looked down in shame. Debbie pulled out some photos of a young woman at her college graduation and placed them in Johns lap. John didn't ask who the young woman was because he already knew.
"Theresa," Debbie said, "Tom Dillon’s daughter. I put her through college and I see her a few times a month. She is like a daughter to me. Through this terrible tragedy we became family; both of us lost so much that day. Once Teresa got out of the hospital she was adopted by her grandmother, Tom's mother."
John looked at the photos for a while before gingerly placing them on the table. "What did you mean when you said he was in Michigan City? Did he get transferred somewhere else?"
"He was released yesterday. I picked him up from prison and drove him to his brother’s house. Tom's brother lives about an hour from where your father died. Theresa didn’t want to go when I picked Tom up; she still has a difficult time forgiving him for the crash."
John took both of his mother's hands into his and looked into her eyes. "Mom, I have a terminal disease and I don’t have long to live. I need to speak with Teresa today. I can’t die and allow her to hate her father for something I did."
Debbie cried uncontrollably and John wrapped her in a big hug. He had almost forgotten how good it felt to hug his mother. The donuts and the cold coffee sat on the table untouched.
"After all these years, you showing up at my door now, I should have known you were dying. Why else would you come? Do you even love me or are you just here to clear your conscience?"
John again fixed his gaze on the floor, struggling to find the words to answer his mother's charge. "I Love you mom, I just haven’t been able to face you after what I put you through. I thought I had done you enough harm."
"Please mom, I need to see them."
"Alright," Debbie said, "but we are not through with this conversation.I will take you but you will answer every question I ask you, truthfully and honestly. Agreed?"
"Agreed," John said, though he knew he might not be able to actually answer all questions honestly.
As they got up to head out John started to grab his coffee but decided to leave it. John never did like cold coffee, besides, he'd had more than enough adrenalin to keep him going for the rest of the day without the added caffeine. There is something about knowing you are going to die that keeps you on your toes, regardless of how many times it has happened, especially when you don't know how you will die.
It took several hours to get to Tom's bother's house, and when they got there Tom was not there. Pete, Tom's brother, thought he may have gone to his mother's house to try and patch things up with Theresa.
Debbie wanted to stay and talk for a minute but John insisted that it was of the most dire need that he see Tom and Theresa before the end of day. It was another half an hour before they arrived at Teresa's house. Debbie knocked on the door, but John decided to ring the bell, just in case. Footsteps could be heard and a young woman opened the door.
"Teresa," Debbie says, going in for a hug. "This is my son, John."
John offered a hand, "Pleased to meet you. I have something urgent to discuss, may we come in."
"Of course," Theresa said, ushering them in and pointing to the couch, not sure if she should be concerned or not. "Please have a seat."
On the coffee table there was an unopened letter that appeared have been hand delivered. The only thing written on the envelope said: To Theresa.
"Is that from your father?" John asked.
"Yes, but I'm not going to read it."
"I think you should," Debbie said, "and after John tells you why we came you will be glad you read it."
Theresa picked up the letter and opened it by sliding a finger under the flap and tearing the top. She started to take the letter out but changed her mind and shoved the paper back into the envelope and laid in on her lap.
"Why don't you tell me what you have to say and then I will decide if I want to read it. My father caused a lot of hurt in my family, hurt that a little letter can't undo."
"You only think your father caused the accident, and the hurt that that came as a result. I caused the accident Theresa, not your father. You were to young to remember, but your father didn't cause the wreck."
"But he was drunk," Theresa said. "The cops said he was drunk."
"He was drunk, that much is true, but he didn't cause the accident. Yes, he deserved to go to jail for that, but he didn't deserve to go away for twenty plus years, he didn't deserve your hate and he didn't deserve to loose what I took from him."
John intertwined his fingers and rested his forehead on his hands. "Dear Lord, please help me to get this out," he said under his breath.
From the expression on her face it was apparent Theresa had something to say and she opened her mouth several times in preparation to speak but closed it again instead. Finally she spoke.
"How did you cause the accident? The police report said your father was driving."
"He was, but I was the stupid teen who grabbed the wheel and then ran after the accident. Life is unfair. I didn't even get a scratch and everyone else was either injured or killed."
Everyone in the room was crying and Theresa was so over whelmed she didn't know what to think. John motioned to the letter on Theresa's lap and she picked it up again, slowly pulling the letter from the envelope and began to read. John and Debbie could see Theresa's countenance drop when she read the letter.
"What is it dear?" Debbie asked, concerned.
Theresa wiped the tears from her face and silently handed the letter to Debbie, who read it in silence before handing it to John. The letter read, "My dear Theresa. I am so terribly sorry about all the pain and suffering I have caused you and I wish I could make it better, but know I can't. I can't live with what I have done and by the time you read this I will be dead. Please forgive me and know that I love you. -Your father. "
"I know where he'll go," John said standing and putting his jacket on, "Let's go."
John knew exactly where Tom would go, the bridge where he drank himself into a stupor the night of his college graduation, the bridge where he always wakes up on his restart, the bridge where everyone's life changed forever. John knew it would be late when they got there and could only hope and pray that Tom hadn't already jumped into the icy river below. John wondered again why he always woke up there at the bridge where his father died, much too late to do anything differently.
The bridge was somewhat narrow with a single lane in each direction with no shoulders or walk ways. The bridge wasn't long since it crossed a narrow spot on the river, but it was a hundred feet or so above the water. Every so often the topic of widening the bridge came up with the state legislature, but so far the state had decided it wasn't needed and the bridge hadn't changed since it was built in the sixties.
When they reached the bridge it had been dark for hours and as they pulled the car off the road behind the clunker already there. The wipers were angrily batting the large white flakes off the windshield and the three strained to see if anyone was on the bridge or in the car. Debbie and Theresa checked the car while John ran ahead to the bridge, again hoping and praying that he was not too late.
In the muted light of headlamps on his mother's car John could see Tom standing on the ledge of the bridge, contemplating the cold plunge. Realistically though, jumping from this point would not likely result in drowning since the water was so shallow. A jumper would probably die on impact.
"Wait" Don’t jump! It wasn’t your fault," John yelled.
"I don't know you and you don't know a thing about me," Tom said, slightly turning toward John. "I ain't got nothing to live for and you ain't gonna stop me."
"My father was in the car you collided with here. I was in the car and I caused the wreck."
That caught Tom's attention and he twisted around so he could see who was speaking to him. Tom's breathe made a cloud of steam in the snowy sky that was illuminated by the headlights.
" I know you think it was your fault and so does almost everyone else, and you even went to jail for it, but you have to believe it wasn't you fault," John said, slipping and nearly falling on the slick road.
John slowly walked closer to Tom. "I grabbed the wheel and pulled the car into your lane, and when it was all over I ran and let you take the rap. I don't know why I did that and I am sorry."
"Even if that's true, I ain't got nothing to live for. My daughter hates me."
"I told her the truth. I told her what I did. Theresa will learn to love you again and let go of all the hate she has had for so long," John said, "Do you hear me Tom? Your daughter knows you didn't do it."
"Why did you run and why are you telling this now, twenty five years later?" Tom asked, still standing on the ledge.
"In answer to your first question, I still don't know for sure." John said, closing the gap between him and Tom and extending his hand. "The second one is easy; I am dying and want to set things right. Come on down, Theresa is waiting at the car."
Tom took John's hand and stepped down onto the roadway. John gave Tom a big hug and the two men cried. Still embracing, John looked at his watch: 12:01
"I finally made it!" John said contentedly. "I finally figured it out."
"You finally made what?" Tom asked with a puzzled expression.
"Never mind," John said, "Let's go back and join my mother and your daughter.
John took Tom's hand to lead him back to the cars. As John took a step back he heard a confusing mixture of sounds, women screaming, a blaring car horn, a vehicle skidding, and then nothing. It all happened so fast John didn't realize there was an oncoming pickup truck until it hit him and threw him to the other side of the bridge. He was about to black out from the pain and blood loss but he did his best to hang on.
Kneeling in the light from the pickup, Theresa and Debbie took John's hands in their own and Tom laid his hand on his shoulder. All were crying and John already sensed this was the end. John wondered if he would wake up hungover in his car again or whether he would wake up in hell, but at this point it was unlikely he would wake up at the restart point again.
"Please forgive me," John gasped. Breathing was difficult as he had multiple broken ribs and he was choking on his own blood. The snow all around John was crimson read and the three trying to comfort him were kneeling in his blood.
"I forgive you," Debbie Tom and Theresa said in unison.
John felt good about what he had done that day, even if it would all be erased and meaningless to everyone but him in the morning, or even if this was truly the end and he went to hell. John kept his eyes open but all went dark. He could barely hear his mother saying she loved him. Things got darker and darker and more and more silent until there were no sounds or lights. Time was meaningless.
From some distance John could see a light and thought a paramedic may be shinning a light while trying to revive him. No, that wasn't it because it was also getting warmer. Perhaps he was hallucinating. This would not be the first time he had hallucinated while dying, but this time it was different.
"This has never happened to me before," John said silently to himself. "I don't think I am going back to my car, not this time. Time to face the music John, this is the end."
The light grew in both size and intensity until there was nothing but light and warmth. John had no idea how long he had been dead, but it didn't matter; he wasn't coming back this time, nor did he want to. He only felt happiness and contentment, no pain or anxiety. John was standing, barefoot, on a white floor and felt a hand gently take his.
"Follow me," a male voice said. "You are home."
NOTE: This story is in no way saying that we earn our salvation or that we are saved by anything we do, because we are not; we are saved only through the grace of God. The main point in writing this is to illustrate that, unlike John, we only have one life and we have to do what is important while we are here and we need to realize that what is important is our relationships with God and with other people.