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by David Berardelli
Description: Rand Powell didn't expect to die before the age of forty. He also didn't expect to wake up in someone else's body, or meet a beautiful, mysterious angel named Harriet. But the biggest shock of all is when Harriet takes him to Barnes, Ohio, a small town in his past, where he is to help a deeply troubled young woman who was in love with him when she was in high school.
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net/ebooksonthe.net, 2008 ebook
eBookwise Release Date: May 2008
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [311 KB]
Reading time: 176-246 min.
His temples throbbing, Sergeant Roger Amos squeezed out of the police cruiser and screwed his service cap onto his large, square head.
The intersection was a mess.
Glass shards scattered over six lanes of highway twinkled like precious gems in the glare of the afternoon sun. Jagged pieces of metal were strewn a hundred yards from the collision. This was going to be ugly if traffic wasn't detoured. Rush hour had started nearly an hour earlier.
The stench of gas fumes and peeled rubber hung heavily in the air. Paramedics hauled the semi-conscious driver from the twisted metal husk that had once been a shiny red Toyota Supra.
Farther down, traffic had already bottlenecked. With glass covering one lane the only vehicles chancing through were a mean-sounding Hog and an ancient pickup chugging away on four bald tires.
"Drunk's gonna be just fine." Rivera trotted over, his knife-blade-thin frame easily dodging the slow-passing ambulance. "Couple scratches and a bloody nose, maybe a cracked rib or two. His alcohol level's gotta be sky high. We'll take good care of him till it's time to get him to trial."
Amos was having trouble holding down the rage. At his last physical his doctor clucked over him like a mother hen. That same old lecture about high blood pressure being the silent killer and that he wouldn't see retirement in the next five years if he didn't learn to mellow.
But this was too much. Some poor Joe coming home from work and getting in the way of someone who shouldn't be anywhere near a steering wheel. Amos had lost several friends and a brother-in-law under similar circumstances.
"What tears me up," he told Rivera, "is the poor slob who got in the way when that drunk tore through the red light. Guy was just trying to make it home in one piece after a hard day at the office. Too damn much to hope for these days."
Rivera shook his head. "I just hope they'll be able to cut him out of the Mustang."
The squealing ambulance from Orlando Regional rocked to a halt, flashers lighting the littered roadway. Its paramedics jumped out to join the first group. Removing the driver from the smashed green Mustang was going to be a chore.
"I gotta see this." His nightstick tapping his thigh, Amos jogged over to the wreckage. The car was mashed into a grotesque horseshoe. The trunk lid, slammed open at impact, dangled at an odd angle, scraping the macadam.
Two paramedics huddled near the driver's side. Two broad-shouldered men working the Jaws of Life forced the passenger's door open. A slender Latina woman, her black hair tied in a thick ponytail, hopped down from the rear of the ambulance and pushed a gurney over to the group.
Amos reached them as they laid the driver carefully onto the gurney.
Glass and metal debris covered the man's shirt, tie, and trousers. Metal flecks glistened in his blood-matted dark-brown hair. His head and neck were immobilized in a yellow neck brace strapped to the gurney. Once his left arm and leg were stabilized, a young male paramedic tended to the bleeding while his older partner flushed the glass carefully from the victim's closed eyes and fitted an oxygen mask over his face.
"Any chance?" Amos asked.
The older paramedic gently swabbed away the last of the tiny fragments. "Never know. He could pull out of it. He seems to be in pretty good shape."
"What's the scenario?"
The paramedics pushed the gurney toward the ambulance. "Massive internal damage," the older one said. "Some arteries were severed but we got them clamped for the time being. I'm worried about his head injuries. Hit it pretty hard when the Toyota slammed into him. Can't tell for sure but looks like his neck snapped. There's a pulse." He shook his head.
From the other side of the road the drunk driver yelled something incoherent while the paramedics raised his gurney before shoving it into the ambulance. Amos wanted to shut him up permanently with his billy club. One of these days the courts would stop messing around with these idiots and put them away for good.
The victim opened one eye.
Amos bent over, leaning close. It was best to sound hopeful; a little optimism might help. "Hey, fella! You with us?"
The victim managed a faint smile under the mask.
Amos tapped the younger paramedic's arm. "He's smiling."
The rear doors were pulled open wider.
Amos stayed close. "Say something, fella."
The man's lips parted. Beneath the collective roar of idling traffic, sirens, cops, angry drivers, and harried paramedics, the only word Amos could distinguish was something that sounded like "Philadelphia."
"What was that?" Amos reached for the mask. "He's trying to talk."
"Leave that alone." The paramedic grabbed his wrist. "It's helping him breathe."
"But I can't hear what--"
Amos ignored the comment. "Hey, fella. They're gonna take real good care of you. They'll be taking you to ORMC. They know exactly what to do. Got doctors all over the place, specialists--the works. You'll be there in just a few minutes. You'll get everything you need. Understand?"
"C'mon." The paramedic rapped him on the beefy shoulder. "We gotta go."
Amos clasped the man's wrist, searching for a pulse. It was very weak. "Can you hear me, fella?"
The man's eyes closed.
Amos could feel the heat gathering in his neck. The poor guy was slipping away.
"You'll ... be okay." His heart pounded. He kept talking even as the ambulance doors slammed in his face. "They'll take real good care of you. You'll be ... just fine. They'll know what to do. You hear me?" * * * *
A shimmering white shape.
"Can you hear me?"
Smoke whirled around the approaching form. Pieces of shadows sputtered before his eyes.
A difficult day at the office--computer glitches, angry customers, unnecessary meetings, conference calls. Sitting in the conference room, his reps duking it out while he zoned out and watched the clear-blue Orlando skyline. Isolated in his own little sphere, wondering why he didn't sell the company and find a quiet place where he could sit out his days on his back porch, listening to his CD collection. He'd been in the work force most of his life and had been burned out for as long as he could remember. The company had been doing well the last five years but he knew there had to be more to life than a healthy stock portfolio, a substantial checking account and a Money Market fund.
Shouldn't he be enjoying life?
The faces of the reps meshed into one, clouding over and turning into the road ahead as he drove back to his apartment.
The heavy Orlando traffic--a sprawling mass of restlessness--roared and growled around him. The drivers were anonymous and anxious in their fast-moving, heavily-tinted sanctuaries.
Vehicles pulled up alongside him, eased back, cut in behind and in front, zigzagged, and roared away. License plates from every state blended into a collage of irritation.
A deafening, growing roar erupted on his left. A loud, sickening crunch forced his head against the driver's window. A large red blur pushed against him, screaming before plunging into the Mustang. A colossal burst of intense heat exploded down his limbs. A scorching rupture of blinding pain turned everything dark and gooey.
The blackness gradually lifted, leaving only the heat and the pain.
A cornucopia of smells.
A bulky blue shape bent over him. A shiny black plastic nametag--Amos--sparkled before his eyes. Large, big-knuckled hands opened and closed nervously. A strong mix of sweat, exhaust fumes, and stale coffee floated lazily past.
Clouds appeared, dimming the shadows. The pain ebbed. A glittering rainbow dazzled the sky, smearing it with neon.
The bulky figure lightened, then dimmed, the smells around it growing faint. More whisperings. The scents changed, grew sweeter; the clouds thicker, warmer. Where Amos was standing, a slender vision in a flowing white robe appeared in the whirling clouds.
The smoke cleared.
A beautiful woman with long white hair the same texture as down, smooth alabaster skin, and bright blue eyes came into view. As the vision neared, warmth filled his being. The intense pain disappeared. He wanted to know where the pain had gone--what sort of healing powers this strange creature possessed.
"Can you hear me, Rand?"
He found his voice. "You ... know my name?"
"I know all about you." The creature's bright blue eyes glistened. They stayed on him, showing both fear and concern. For a moment he wondered if he'd seen her before.
A restless white mist surrounded them. There was nothing to be seen beyond it.
"Come with me," the beautiful creature said softly.
The prospect of entering the eerie whiteness frightened him.
Fear of the unknown. He'd dreaded the dark as a child and would not enter the basement of his parents' home at night. All sorts of creatures lurked down there. Creepy little things hiding behind the hot water heater, in the coal bin, or behind the cabinets. Monsters. Rats. Vampire bats. Hordes of scary things craving the tender flesh of a small boy.
But this was different. Darkness was nowhere to be seen. Light abounded. Yet he feared it.
"You must come with me." Her mouth formed a grim line; a crescent-shaped dimple appeared on either side of her full lips.
Where was he? What place was this?
"Why?" he asked.
"It'll be explained."
Her long white hair swished quietly across her robe. "They told me you'd be difficult."
"Let's just say I know all about you."
"You know I'm difficult?"
"Among other things."
"My mother must be spreading rumors again."
"They're obviously not rumors."
"Dad must be around somewhere, too."
Something just occurred to him. "Mom and Dad are dead..."
He could tell by her tone that she was playing with him. "If ... you know them, then--"
"C'mon. Your questions will be answered later."
"Who are you?"
"My name is Harriet."
"You look like the Ghost of Christmas Past. Not the one with Alistair Sim--the version with Reginald Owen. The one with Sim had a nasty-looking old man in a really tacky dress. But in the older version, that ghost was a sexy babe--"
"That's right. You're a movie buff. Lucky me..."
"She was a fox. Her hair was probably dyed. Yours isn't, is it?"
"Hardly. Listen to me..."
"You're not gonna say 'take my hand,' are you? That's what they usually said in those old fantasy flicks."
"Will you please listen to me?"
"She was also in that Danny Kaye movie. The one about Walter Mitty? She was a real bitch in that one. Had this ratty little dog that wanted to eat Danny Kaye. But her hair was darker, and she wasn't nearly as sexy or--"
"Enough strolling down Trivia Avenue. Take my hand."
"Couldn't see that one coming."
"Now is it time for me to say I'm a mortal? And that I'm liable to fall?"
"It doesn't pertain to us."
"Lovely. So where are you taking me?"
"I don't know if I should trust you."
"Why shouldn't you?"
"Women have been getting me in trouble since I was a kid."
Her milky features tightened. The blue sapphires flared. Despite her tension, the trace of a dimple remained at each corner of her mouth. He wondered if they ever disappeared completely.
"I really don't think you have much choice here."
"Where's a cop when you need one?" Then he remembered. "That's right. The last one I saw was trying to pull off my mask. That idiot. Doesn't the Police Department hire people with brain cells any more?"
"Shut up and take my hand."
"You sure are pushy." He did as she said.
A flurry of heat traveled up his arm.
Everything grew fuzzy.