I landed on an unforgiving surface with a bone-jarring thud. As I lay, mentally assessing the damage, I marveled at the lack of pain radiating through me. By all rights, an impact like that should have left me splatted on the ground like a bug on a windshield. But I was all right. It hadn’t even knocked the wind from my lungs. I guess being dead had some perks after all.
I didn’t want to open my eyes, certain that this time, I’d be met with the volcanic home of demons and pitchforks. As far as I remembered, heaven didn’t reside below purgatory. And I wasn’t quite ready to face the reality of my eternal afterlife yet.
So I lay against the cool surface, heat breathing down on me from above. It felt oddly like lying on a beach, except the ground beneath me was definitely not sand. It was grainy, though. I tentatively ran my fingers across the surface, curiosity starting to get the best of me. If this was indeed Hell, shouldn’t the ground be on fire too? And what was that roar?
I listened intently as the sound grew louder, reverberating through me in a familiar way — a diesel engine. But that didn’t make any sense. I highly doubted the Devil supplied pick-up trucks to his minions. And that was definitely a pick-up.
The rumble peaked and then started to fade as the truck passed me. I dared to open my eyes and was met with the blinding cacophony of midday sunlight. I blinked rapidly, squinting as I strained to make sense of the visual overload. Finally, the glare sorted itself into images.
I stared up at a brilliant blue sky, wispy clouds meandering across it like lazily grazing sheep. The metal object glinting viciously to my right was a truck, explaining the cool, gritty texture beneath me. I was lying on concrete.
How appropriate. A snide grimace twisted my features before I turned my gaze back to the truck. It was familiar somehow. And then I saw why — emblazoned on the side was a logo that read “Richards Construction, LLC.” Dad’s mobile business card. I was at my parent’s house in Virginia.
It wasn’t hell, but close enough.
Starting to feel distinctly like Scrooge minus the helpful little spirit guides, I pushed myself to my feet. Apparently, my spirit guides were a bunch of lazy bastards. I imagined them sitting on a couch somewhere with a bowl of popcorn, laughing as they watched me try to figure this out on my own. Well, screw them! I could do this. I would figure it out. Maybe.
I wiped at the backside of my clothes, although I was pretty sure nothing could stick to a ghost, and swung my gaze across the well-manicured lawn and brick facade of the ranch-style home, trying to place the date and time. It was clearly mid-afternoon, based on the angle of the sunlight and it’s soft, golden tint, and probably mid-October. The trees lining the street were various shades of red, and leaves carpeted the sidewalks.
Dad’s truck was the only car in the driveway, so was this before, or after I’d graduated and fled for my life? Where was Mom’s Mercedes?
Confused, I decided there probably wasn’t much to be learned by standing in the driveway, and turned, heading hesitantly toward the door. There were only a handful of memories in this house that wouldn’t be painful, and I highly doubted I was about to be shown one of those.
As I reached for the doorknob, I paused, a familiar whooshing growl resonating in the distance. I looked up just in time to see a black, 1967 Mustang round the street corner. My 1967 Mustang. I watched my younger self race up the street, disregarding the 25 MPH speed limit with a defiant revving of the engine. I closed my eyes, and let the sound wash over me, rumbling deep into my bones and sending goosebumps all over my skin. The V8 engine, the dual exhaust, the raw, 485 horsepower — God, I missed that car!
Young-Derek swung into the driveway with a squeal of brakes and chirp of protest from the tires. I’d always loved to corner too fast. Grinning, I moved away from the door, drawn toward the signature glug-glug-glug of the engine.
The mustang sat idling in the driveway while Young-Derek fumbled with something inside. I reached out, placing my hand against the warm hood, feeling the engine shudder and growl like a lion. I could feel the waxed, glossy finish as I trailed my fingers over the silver LeMans Stripes. I’d loved this car. And it had taken everything from me.
My grin faded, and I pulled my hand back as the shackles of grief tightened.
The engine choked off with a sigh, echoing my bittersweet thoughts. Young-Derek climbed out, shutting the door behind him with a heavy thud, and headed toward the house. With his black jeans, too-tight t-shirt, and light blue button-up dress shirt hanging loose, he looked like a boy band had vomited all over him. His hair was even streaked with overly blond highlights. I cringed at my former self’s fashion sense. What had I been thinking, going out in public like that?
He paused at the front door, turned and came back to the mustang. I watched as he pulled a large stack of ungraded term papers from the back seat.
All at once, I knew what day it was, which memory was about to play. There was only one time I’d been sent to pick up term papers — the day Mom had a lumpectomy and couldn’t swing by her university office to get them herself. And that was not a day I was keen to remember.
I knew better than to try and stop Young-Derek, side-stepping out of the way as he carried the papers past me, heading inside. I wasn’t sure what would happen if we collided, but I wasn’t about to find out. Time had enough issues without me creating a rift in the continuum, or whatever.
So instead, I squared my shoulders, braced myself for the scene about to unfold and trailed after my younger self.