Dan came to slowly, his eyes seeming heavy, unable to open. His head throbbed, and there was a tremendous, crushing pressure in his chest, as though something were pinning him to his seat.

As gradually he began to grow more alert, he realized that his body ached all over, a soreness that felt like he'd been battered. Groaning painfully, he slowly opened his eyes...

At first he could not comprehend it... the twisted metal and shards of glass, the white pillow pinning him to his seat... and the silence, the deadly silence that surrounded him. What had happened... what was this? In his blurry vision, it all seemed a dream, an illusion.

As his vision began to clear, as he saw with more detail what had happened around him, his memory began to return, suddenly he remembered it all...

He looked around frantically, his mind swirling with alarm, with panic... driven nearly sober by the crash, he now had the comprehension necessary to realize what he had done...

His horrified eyes took in the remains of his car, of the car in front of his, equally totaled... and to his further horror, he could see the other driver of the other car's body, hanging halfway out the shattered windshield...

Dan couldn't turn his head, couldn't move anything but his feet... straining mightily, sending waves of pain up and down his body, he managed to bring his foot up to the steering wheel, push the button underneath it that would deflate the air bag. As it slowly began to lose air, sagging downward to clump into his lap, Dan felt the pressure on his chest ease, and slumped down in his seat for a moment. But almost immediately he jerked upright, looking frantically for his children.

It didn't take him very long... they were still in the car with him. Or at any rate, their bodies were.

Trey's head was hanging out of his shattered window... it looked like it had struck it during the collision, breaking the window. His neck was at a strange angle, and blood covered his face. His eyes were open, and Dan stared in horror as he saw they did not move...

Dan turned frantically, and ignoring the pain that shot through his muscles, searched for his younger son and daughter. They too were still and silent, so silent...

Daisy was slumped against the door beside her, eyes closed, her neck bent over in a way that could not be natural... and Kolby... the door on Kolby's side was open, and Kolby hung upside down, halfway out of it, the door closed onto his body- as much as a door could close with a three-year-old boy in its path...

" No," Dan whispered, his voice wrought with panic. " No... no... no..."

Fumbling for the door handle, he finally opened it, not noticing or caring when it nearly fell off its hinges. Moving slowly, painfully, his muscles sore and stiff, his face twisted with remorse, he began to stagger down the road, not knowing where he was going or what he planned to do. No cars passed him; the road was silent.

About a quarter of a mile down the road, he came to a bridge that cars were supposed to drive across, overlooking a river some fifty feet below. Slowly, Dan turned and began to cross it at its center...

************************************************

Dan stood close against the guard rail, looking down into the swirling waters. Swallowing repetively, he tried to steel himself, gather fully the courage he needed to jump.

It was what he must do... there was no other way to redeem himself than to take his own life as well. What was it worth now? What had it ever been worth? Nothing... nothing!

Shaking, shaking... he knew he had to do this, WANTED to do this, but some cowardly part of him was still afraid...

It's not an option... it's a sentence. An eye for an eye...

He couldn't do it.

You have to...

What will happen...

You have to...

Once more, he pictured the faces of his children; solemn, mature Trey, laughing, bubbly Daisy, childish, grinning Kolby... and then their faces in death...

You have to...

Gripping the guard rail fiercely, he closed his eyes, imagining the icy feeling of the water on his skin. Then slowly but determinedly, he began to climb over the railing...

Suddenly an image flashed into his mind... the faces of his children, laughing, happy, forever young, forever free... the image tormented Dan, pained him to see what no longer was.

And then they were gone, and it was just him, he was alone... it was dark and cold, and he was alone. The loneliness penetrated his chest with its icy, impersonal chill, sharp, hostile, horrible.

The visions left as suddenly as they'd come upon him, and Dan was left breathless, stunned, astraddle the guard rail. He balanced, clutching it tightly, the implication of the images in his mind leaving him barely able to think.

He had never been a particularly religious man, but Dan had always believed in a God, a higher power of some kind. Now he saw all too clearly what self-punishment suicide would bring. Whatever the truth about life after death was, he knew that regardless, if there was any afterlife, when he died, he would not go with his children. He would have no chance to see them again, to apologize, to have his second chance to be the father he should have been.

You don't deserve a second chance, Dan. You screwed up your first one. You don't deserve to see them again. You deserve whatever God or whoever has in store for you...

But he wanted to have a second chance, he wanted to...

You have to jump! You have to make up for what you did!

But now Dan was crying... his leg slowly swung back over the guard rail, back onto the safety of the bridge. His chest hitching with harsh sobs that only intensified the aching of his muscles, he swayed, nearly falling.

Slowly, he began to make his way off of the bridge, walking back toward the scene of the accident. He deserved hell for what he had done, what he had become... but he would live his hell, make his atonement, here on earth. Somehow he would pay, make up for his failure... somehow he would redeem himself, if only so he could have his chance to explain when he died...

He trudged slowly, with renewed determination, to the hell called life that awaited him.