The young man driving the hearse swerved to avoid one of the last obstacles lying on the old, crumbly tar in the off-skirts of Fuckno, Califoreveryonebutme. It was a fat balloon tire, and it was the last remnant of the young man’s once-powerful Jeep. The tire looked similar to one that might have been on a Moon Rover, bouncing along the surface of our lovely satellite. She has waltzed with our blue marble for billions of years, and she will continue to guide us through the night until the angry sun explodes and devours us all.
When he swerved, I rolled over and fell against a damp, doughy body lying there. It had considerably more mass than me, and I scrambled away in horror.
“What The Fuck?!”
The young man up front hollered back in horror as well. “What?! What?!” He heard the frightened register in my voice, and it unnerved him to a great deal. You see, he was just barely hanging on to his own wits already. He was dancing along the brink of a black chasm of fear, and the only thing keeping him from falling into the hole was his intention to drive us to safety.
I screamed back at him. “You have a body back here!”
The body groaned. My skin crawled all over, and I felt a clammy hand on my knee. Fuck that. I clambered over into the front seat and spun around. In the back of the hearse, I could see nothing.
I could not hear anything but the rain punishing the roof.
And then a pale face rose up and a fat arm reached over to grab at me.
I reached for the door handle. Time up. Game over. Please insert another quarter to continue. No high score. I was gonna bail. Take my chances on the tar.
The young man at the wheel shouted at me. “Calm down! It’s Sean!”
Except one thing. It wasn’t Sean. Sean was gone. This was something new. We just didn’t know it yet.
+ + + + + + +
The young man in the expensive vehicle swung in to the Hostibal Emergency Lane and screeched the brakes to a halt in front of the automatic doors. He had come in the wrong way. A man in uniform ran out to meet him and opened the passenger-side door.
“Hello son, what is your emergency?”
Joey pointed at the limp figure in the passenger seat. “She been in a crash! She ain’t breathing now! She got mud in her lungs! Help her! Help her!”
“Calm down, son. Let me call this in.” He clicked the walkie-talkie mic on his lapel and shouted orders. Then he said, “Now hold on, does she have any broken bones?”
Joey shrugged. “I don’t know! My buddy put her in here! She AIN”T FUCKING BREATHING!”
A group of hospital folks came running out, one with a gurney. The man in uniform appraised them of the situation, and they got her out of the car in the exact position she was sitting in.
One checked her for a pulse and another put a face mask over her mouth and nose and slowly squeezed the big rubber ball attached to it, forcing air into her lungs.
Joey began to feel weak in the knees and he climbed back into the driver seat. He felt the world begin to spin, and his hands would not stop shaking.
Adrenaline had run its course. He had made it. But would she?
He passed out.
+ + + + + + +
The young driver at the wheel of the hearse pulled over to the side of the rode as I was opening the door to get the fuck out. The interior light came on.
He pulled me back in and turned back to Sean. “You Ok?”
Sean’s eyes rolled, and he felt his head. All of his hair was burned off. In its place was a matt of dried blood, and the scattered, dried remains of a poultice.
He said, “Never felt better.” He sat forward and looked at each of us in turn. “Where am I?”
I felt trembly from fear, but also relief. I could have giggled like a schoolgirl from my delirium. So I did.
Sean looked at me, and then back at the young man. “What’s going on with him?”
The young man smiled. “He made it, and so did you. I saved you both. I said I would, and I did. I’m so happy to see you are alive, Sean.” He looked like he wanted to give Sean a man-hug.
Sean smiled back. “Sean, huh? Yes, it’s good to be alive. What’s your name?”
The young man stopped smiling. “I’m Tellesco. Don’t you remember me? I’m your best friend!”
Sean grinned. “Best friend. Nice. Thank you for saving me. I think I took a bit of a bump on the noggin. Please forgive me while I get my bearings.”
I shivered, and not from the rain dumping in on me through the open door beside me.
Something about his way of speaking had changed.
Something about his mannerisms wasn’t the same.
Something was quite different here.
I had the willies, and it would not go away.
There sat another young man awake in the night, with his legs draped over the edge of his metal bed, and his bare feet pressed firmly upon the slick, cold concrete. His walls were also made of the same material, and upon them were taped letters and photos of his friends. There were none of,
He looked into his interlaced fingers, as he sat with his elbows propped upon his knees.
He recalled his nightmare.
(A dark figure staggered down a hallway, with the sound of jangling keys falling from a kitchen table echoing again and again.)
This was a memory that wasn’t his own.
(The dark figure reached the last bedroom on its left.)
The young man furrowed his brow as he sought for a meaning. He got up and went to the bars in front of the skinny window that was set deep in the concrete.
(The dark figure reached for the doorknob, turned it, and pushed. The hinges squeaked loud and then they stopped, and the dark figure muttered swear words.)
The young man would be getting out of jail in a couple of days. Good Behavior. But what awaited him? What had been going on all this time in the real world?
(The door opened quite slowly this time, and the squeak of the hinges became a low growl of metal pain, in resistance to their movement. Something bad was about to happen.)
The young man looked out through the streams and blur of a powerful desert storm pelting the bullet-proof glass before him. The lights of the city of Fuckno gleamed in their blur and made him want to repaint them. He wanted to fix them. He was a fixer, and while he had the urge, he did not yet know that he was capable of such an ability.
The world had changed.
Something bad was going to happen.
He wished he could get out tonight.
He wondered whose memories these were, and why he was dreaming them.
He had an idea.
His time in prison was not wasted. He had cleaned up, you see. He saw the world for what it is. It is a watercolor painting, and because such a medium is vulnerable to change, it is possible to repaint your direction.
People do not change. No one suddenly becomes the hero, saves the world, and lives happily ever after.
But there is something else.
There is the ability that resides deep within each of us to recognize and control our animal impulses. It becomes a life-long battle, but each battle can be won, each time.
It simply takes great effort, a great determination to do such a thing.
Such a pursuit to change your path takes digging deep, and unearthing one's inner strength.
This is called Mettle.
God Help You.
God Help Us All.