Authors: E. A. Fournier
Tags: #many worlds theory, #alternate lives, #Parallel worlds, #alternate reality, #rebirth, #quantum mechanics, #Science Fiction, #artificial intelligence, #Hugh Everett, #nanotechnology, #alternate worlds, #Thriller
Now & Again
By E. A. Fournier
Copyright © 2012 E. A. Fournier
All rights reserved.
eBook editions by eBooks by Barb for
For Hugh Everett III - a man with many failings of both heart and mind, but a crackling genius, nevertheless. Here’s to the hope that his theory is right.
The smell of clean damp earth floated lightly on the breeze that moved through a tidy graveyard in Ohio. Early leaves had started turning color two weeks before; now, high in the boughs, a golden fluttering canopy arched above the stone crosses and white markers. The fat sun gleamed through black branches, and pieces of it rippled across a small pond. Nearby, a few birds called to each other, scolding the mourners around a raised casket.
This wasn’t Mike Aldon’s first committal service, by any stretch. Still, it was a particularly tough one. The slender minister in his dark suit made brief eye contact with familiar faces. Everyone clustered near the edge of the plastic grass that hid the rich black dirt pulled from the hole. As such ceremonies go, the graveside was lightly attended, mainly adult couples and grown children. A few women held handkerchiefs to their noses, and some dabbed their eyes. The deceased, Leah McCaslin, had been as sweet and straight a woman as Mike had ever met. Her excruciating death from cancer was extended, and demeaning, and even frightening at the end. Pastor Mike had thought long and hard about what was left to say, and he still wasn’t done thinking, but he simply had no more time.
“We don’t grieve like people without hope. For those of us with faith, like our sister Leah, death is not an end but a beginning.” Well, here we go, Mike thought. I hope I’m loud enough. Everything sounds so thin out here. He looked at Leah’s sturdy husband, Kendall, and her lean twenty-year-old son, Josh. They stood tight up against the coffin, just as they had stayed beside her at the hospital, and later, close to her in the ICU, and at the end, right next to her hospice bed. Kendall seemed stiff in his suit. His large hand rested on his son’s shoulder. Josh’s tired eyes stared at something far away while his fingers wrapped tightly around a brass coffin handle. Tucked in beside Josh, Hannah Teel, a young Asian woman, held his other hand with both of hers.
Plowing resolutely on, Mike hoped he could make his thoughts clear. “Death cannot kill us. That’s the paradox at the heart of the good news – in death there is life. Paul wrote in a letter to the Corinthians, ‘When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying will come true: Death has been swallowed up forever.’”
The minister paused to glance at the gold and red leaves above him. “I know, standing here beside this grave, these words are hard to listen to; but that doesn’t make them any less true. In the letter, Paul went on to quote from Hosea, ‘Where, O death is your sting? Where, O grave is your victory?’ Don’t misunderstand, Paul never meant that death doesn’t hurt, or that we shouldn’t grieve. No, Paul knew better than that. He was hounded by death his whole life. By the time he wrote these words, he had been shipwrecked, starved, stoned, left for dead, and imprisoned. He knew death inside and out, and death knew him.”
Josh pulled Hannah tighter. She tilted her head against him as her eyes darted briefly up to his, and then back at Aldon.
hurt and we
grieve, and we should; but we look forward to a time when God himself ‘will wipe away every tear from our eyes.’”
The minister looked directly at Kendall, hoping to offer some measure of comfort. “That’s Paul’s point. That’s the key. Death doesn’t win. Death doesn’t get the last say. Not for Leah. Not for us. And no matter what our eyes see; no matter how our hearts feel, the truth is that death is without power over us.”
Kendall watched Josh. The boy’s face tightened. It was hard to know what was washing through him. His eyes had returned to the present but they were now glistening black buttons, revealing nothing.
“Leah is more alive right now than she’s ever been at any time before. That’s what Paul held onto, so long ago, and all those before us who died in Christ, and that’s what we need to hold onto, all of us here, at our moment in time. Our bright and present hope is the same as theirs: that one day, in that place of eternal life, we will find Leah alive again.”
Mike bowed his head and ever so briefly let himself feel proud about the way his words had rolled out. Clearly, they weren’t what he had set out to say, but he was satisfied they were, somehow, what he was meant to say. At least, that was his fervent hope, since they were, after all, what he’d said, and he couldn’t have them back. Catching himself, he flashed a guilty prayer skyward as he stepped over to Kendall with his arms open.
* * *
“Hate these stupid things!” Kendall angrily unknotted his tie and it hissed as he yanked it from his collar. He tossed it through the open back window of his black crew-cab pickup and hurled his suit coat after it. Suddenly, his anger fled and he stood with hands braced against the truck, and his head down.
The afternoon was warm and sunny, despite the telltale signs of fall. The air had a taste of fullness to it that spoke of a long languid summer, and winter still held at bay. It was one of those rare Midwestern days that deserved to be cherished.
* * *
After the minister left, Josh had stood quietly beside his father and shook hands and hugged friends and relations. They both endured the awkward after-service smiles and pats and small talk. And then, at the end, they stood there alone, unsure what to do. Abruptly, Kendall had walked away, shrugging off his coat. Josh and Hannah trailed after him, but then Josh stopped. He looked again at the coffin, perched above the open grave, circled by all the glory of an autumn day, and grieved.
Hannah carefully wrapped an arm about him. “I’m so sorry, Josh.”
He struggled with his emotions. “It’s just one of those things. I…I can’t talk about it the way pastor does.”
“You don’t have to,” Hannah replied softly. “There’s no right way, and no one’s keeping score. If you want to be by yourself, I’m okay with that; that’s not a problem. But afterwards, I mean later tonight, I’d stop by the house, if you want.”
Josh looked down at her. “We’d both like a…a woman in the house, again.” He gave her a soft hug and a half smile. “Besides, he likes you almost as much as I do.”
Hannah kissed him on the cheek. “Oh Josh, this is so hard.”
A shadow from a cloud ambled across the nearby pond. Josh noted its passing. “I guess I need a little more time here. Just me and Mom. Okay?”
She nodded, trying not to tear up.
“Go give Dad a hug. He needs one, too.”
* * *
Kendall turned from his truck as Hannah stepped up to him. She squeezed his arm and looked into his eyes. “I’m sorry for your loss, Mr. McCaslin. I don’t know what else to say. That sounds so empty…so…I just wish I could…” Deep sobs suddenly captured her. Hannah’s carefully constructed wall against grief let loose and the held back tears flowed unchecked down her face. “It’s just not fair!”
Kendall enveloped her in his big arms and tenderly rocked her back and forth until she regained some control. The fresh scent of her perfume reminded him of his wife. He gently straightened her up and patted her shoulders. Hannah took a shuddering breath and let him gently lift her chin until they were eye-to-eye.
“They help, dearie. The words help. I never understood how much they meant, until now. And I don’t know why they help, either, but they do.”
Hannah dug out Kleenex from her purse and wiped her nose. “Sorry for this. I just…it just all came over me.” She shook her head. “And I’m supposed to be the one comforting you.”
“You are.” He brushed her hair affectionately with his fingers. “You’re kind. That’s what Leah said about you.” He caught her pleased look. “You didn’t know that, did you?” Hannah toyed with his hand as he continued, “And it would comfort me a lot if you could be there for Josh. Promise?”
She nodded and managed a sad smile before walking off across the grass to her car. Kendall wiped at his nose with a quick hand, and then moved quietly toward his son.
“Josh, we need to go.”
Kendall waited. “Mom’s better off now. She’s not…”
“Yeah, I know.”
Kendall stood still. Josh didn’t move. “Josh?”
“I said, I know.”
“You have to walk away. I know it feels wrong, but we have to leave her here. It’s part of the deal.”
* * *
Josh’s head rocked softly against the passenger seat cushion. He was far away again. The V6 grumbled in a low gear as Kendall guided the pickup around the asphalt curves of the cemetery road. The sheer beauty of the sun-filled day was ironic.
Kendall glanced over at his son. “Where’d you leave your car?”
“Your Mustang? At the church or home?”
“Um,” Josh slid up and shook his head like a diver coming up from the water. “I left it at church…near the side door.”
Kendall checked the intersection and then pulled out onto a feeder highway and rapidly accelerated toward the freeway. “Yeah, okay.”
Josh continued to stare out the side window with empty eyes. “Dad, what’re we gonna do?”
Kendall glanced over his left shoulder as a gap opened in the line of cars entering the on ramp. He wedged into line and was rewarded with a timid honk. “I’m droppin’ you off at your car, that’s what.” Kendall scowled into his side mirror at the compact red sedan behind him.
Josh found himself suddenly angry – angry about the truck, the traffic, the sunny day, the season, the horrible normalcy of it all. Pain rolled over him in a sudden swell that caught him unprepared and pulled him under.
“No!” he said with a strain to his voice. “Stop it! Stop acting like it’s all fine.” He drilled his father with a look. “You know what I’m talkin’ about! How can you pretend it’s okay? I mean after everything? It’s just not…it’s not…” He choked up and couldn’t continue. Furious with himself, he turned away and viciously punched his door.
Their black pickup shot up the freeway ramp and merged into the fast moving traffic.
Kendall drove silently for a time and then responded. “Look, we go on. We just go on. It’s not pretending; it’s just what it is. It’s what you do.” He glanced at the back of Josh’s head. “None of us is okay. We just let it hurt, and we go on anyway.”
Josh snapped back, “Well, I’m done hurting. I don’t have anything left. It’s all gone, okay? It’s just one big, empty hole. I don’t feel anything and I don’t care about anything. I’m just…”
“Yeah, yeah, you’re just angry. I know. Kick the chairs, bang the windows, pound the doors; I know.” He held out a clenched fist for inspection. “Check
knuckles sometime. Don’t you think I’ve been there, too?” Kendall sighed. “We’re blood, Josh. We’re built the same way. Be pissed. It’s okay. We’ll get through this; you
get through this. Hear me?”
Staring straight ahead at traffic, Josh said nothing.
Kendall changed lanes and sped around a slow car. “Look, would you stay at the house tonight? There’s beer. I got food. I…I just don’t want you to be alone…pissed or otherwise.” A sweet expression crossed Kendall’s face. “Okay, I guess I don’t want to be alone, either. You know what I mean?”
Josh kept staring ahead but his voice was softer. “Yeah.”
A sea of brake lights suddenly glowed red ahead. Josh blinked and then shot up straight. He braced a hand on the dash. “Hey! Look out!”
Kendall jerked up. “Shit!”
He jammed the brakes and swerved to avoid the green car in front of him. His extended screeching of tires was swallowed by the solid impacts of nearby metal bodies. The green car slammed another vehicle and spun. Kendall skidded and fought the chattering wheel to avoid a pileup. Behind him, the red sedan he’d earlier cut off slapped his rear end and sent them both into sudden fishtails.