I felt odd when I woke, and had a hard time concentrating on my surroundings. Everything around me had a surreal quality to it, unlike anything I’d experienced before when waking. Not even that time I’d fallen off the ladder and knocked myself out.
Looking around, I could see that I was in a long, narrow room, with white walls, no windows, and a wooden floor. The room was full of beds, stacked along either side, with a person in a white coat at the end of the room. It looked like he was reading some kind of newspaper, and I couldn’t see his face. There were other people in the room, some sleeping, others sitting up or wondering slowly around the room. Everyone wore white nightgowns, and they were of all ages, all races, and both sexes. That one stopped me a bit. Since when did hospitals house people of differing sexes in the same room?
Of course, that’s it! I was in some kind of hospital. Question number 1 answered, now how about questions 2 through a 100, beginning with “Which hospital” and ending with “How did I get here”.
I patted my body but could feel no bandages, no cuts, no bruises. Aside from that odd feeling, I felt perfectly fine. Did I have a concussion? Is that why I’m here? Is that why everything seems a little out of synch?
I sat up, slowly. I tried to remember how I got here, what had happened. I recalled that I had been with Sally and the girls, and that we’d been on our way to Canon Beach for a day of fun. The weather was a bit blustery and we almost changed our minds about going, but the girls would have been disappointed. The last thought I had before waking was driving over the mountain that separated Portland from the beach, enjoying the view.
I panicked at that point. Where was Sally?! Where were the girls?!
I jumped to my feet and immediately fell back again. I had the hardest time feeling my feet, almost as if I tried to stand on cotton rather than flesh and blood. Not painful, just strange. I tried again, this time a little more slowly, and once I was safely on my feet I walked towards the desk. The attendant would know where I was and what happened. More importantly, he would know where my family was.
Sometimes a person just doesn’t know when to let well enough alone. When I got closer to the attendant he moved his paper aside and looked up. I’m using “he” in the generic sense, because this…this…thing, was not human!
“He” had two eyes, but they were positioned lower than where our eyes are, and were milky looking, with no pupils. He had slits instead of nostrils, and wavy little spiky things coming out of his head. “His” skin had a metallic quality that almost looked like copper. Rusted copper. Big ears, too. Probably could hear an insect fart from 20 feet.
He smiled at me and I thought to myself, “That’s it. It can get worse”. The guy had a nasty set of choppers. If flat teeth are the marks of vegetarians, this thing’s people never touched anything green and leafy.
“Ohmigod!”, I though. “I’ve been captured by aliens, and this is their lab!” All sorts of visions ran through my head at that moment, most unpleasant. My thoughts must have showed on my face because the alien stopped smiling and looked alarmed, if I could read his face correctly. Maybe it was hunger, instead. I stepped back a bit.
“Please, Mr. Anderson.” He said. He actually had a pleasant voice. Too bad it sounded like it was coming from the back of his head, and his mouth wasn’t moving. If there is a God, please keep that thing from turning around.
“Don’t be alarmed by my appearance. Surely you must have known that your species is not the only one in the Universe.” He continued. “If you’ll just return to your bed, this will all be over with shortly.”
Whatever he was, he must have been used to humans because he was pretty good about reading my face. He surprised me then by chuckling. Yep, the sound was definitely coming from the back of the head.
“Mr. Anderson, I can promise you that you won’t be harmed in anyway. You haven’t been kidnapped, and you are not going to be undergoing any nasty evil experiments”. He shuddered and said, “Really, you people have incredible imaginations. And this infantile obsession with horror. It truly boggles the mind of rational creatures such as myself.”
I tried to talk and croaked out a sound. I tried again.
“Okay, if you haven’t kidnapped me, then why am I here?” I managed to ask. “How did I get here? Where am I? Who are you? What are you!” I was getting more frantic with each question. I finally leaned over the desk and grabbed his lapels.
“Where is my family! I want to know what happened to my family!”
He looked at me, at least his eyes seemed pointed in the direction of my face. He folded the, newspaper was it? Metal, strange writing. He looked at my hands, so close to his mouth. That mouth. The mouth. I dropped my hands.
I noticed that other patients/prisoners/kidnapees were standing behind me. It gave me comfort. I was not alone, and the alien was outnumbered. He looked around at the people behind me, then me again, and gave what sounded like a sigh.
“Normally, it’s not my job to tell you what’s happened to you. Someone from your own species usually handles this. ” A bit annoyed, he continued. “However, since Charlie is late today I had to fill in, and have no choice but to tell you myself”. Hands folded, head raised, he looked at all of us.
“You are all dead.”
About half a dozen people hit the ground with that one. A couple of the kids started crying. Most were like me. We just stood there and looked at him.
“Oh, yes, you are all dead. You all died anywhere from a couple of seconds ago to almost 60 minutes for some of you. Mr. Anderson, you died about 59 minutes ago.”. He actually sounded a bit cheerful at that. Buck up, sweetie, you’re dead. No more worries.
I finally managed to whisper out “Is this the afterlife?” I asked a little stronger, “Is this Heaven?”
“Oh, no, not in the sense that you know ‘Heaven’.” He looked at a …timepiece, is it? And continued. “Well, look you have a few seconds left. I’ll try and explain.”
“All beings in the Universe contain the essence of what we are when we are alive. You would probably call it your “Spirit” or perhaps “Soul”. When we die, we leave one plain of existence and enter another. You live in this new existence for a time, and then go on from here. What happens after this existence we don’t know.” He seemed a little sad about that. “But I’m sure we all have as lovely a time there as we do here.”
“You see, it’s all about balance. The Universe is based on balance. You can’t truly cease to exist because your leaving would cause a gap, an imbalance. Non conservation of matter/energy, that sort of thing. Instead, you just enter another state.”
“You Mr. Anderson died very close to an hour ago in a car accident.” He noticed my start and hastened to add, “No, no, your family survived the car crash, though I’m sure they will miss you.”.
He beamed at me. All explained now, and all was right with the world. World?
My head was spinning and I wasn’t sure of what to say or do or even feel. The people behind me were muttering about loved ones lost, jobs left behind, kids, and friends. I felt myself sort of fading a bit, and noticed that a few of the people around me had disappeared. I grasped onto the only fact I could understand.
“Why an hour?”
The alien looked annoyed, not at the question but at the reason. “Well, as I said, the Universe abhors an imbalance, and there is a peculiar occurrence in your world that created just such an imbalance when you died. To correct this you exist here, in this room, not truly dead, but not truly alive, for one hour”
I continued to fade. Most of the room was transparent and the alien was about the only thing I could see.
He took a breath and continued, “Mr. Anderson, you died during Daylight Savings Time.”
“The Universe owed you an hour”.