Distant Present

"Boy, it sure is raining out there."

That was what my eight-year-old daughter had said while eating dinner out in the parking lot a half-hour before. Even though I couldn't actually see outside the plant, I could hear the incessant pounding on the roof above me. I couldn't agree with her more. It sure was raining out.

"Hey," The guy known as Duffel called to me, "You want to give him a hand?" He gestured to the new guy standing behind me. It was his second time ever pulling the parts off the line, and attempting to pack them in the box. He was obviously struggling to keep up.

I put the two parts in my hand on the line and took a quick step back to him. "If you want a break, I'll swap with you for a bit."

He grunted a reply and moved aside. I stepped in and took his place, moving quickly to get things caught up. I had been doing this for a while, and considered myself quite good at it. I was almost there – reaching for the last set of parts that would put us back on schedule – when the lights went out, and the most unusual and intense sensation coursed through my body.

The light slowly faded in as squares on the ceiling of an otherwise dark hallway. They seemed to be moving by overhead at a regular rate, so I must have been moving, even though the sensation of motion was not there. I looked down at my feet. They seemed to disappear into a blurring somewhere below me.

I came out into an open area. There was a pentagon shaped desk on one side, several couches in a circle around a big play mat, and a few little people sized tables scattered around. It was the children's ward of the hospital. I knew I had been here before, but at the moment, I couldn't recall exactly why. I stepped onto the carpeted area in the middle of the room. There was a little boy playing a Game boy, using headphones for the sound, immersed in his own little world. Rain pelted off the skylight above me, and I thought I could hear the distant rumble of thunder. Doctors, nurses, and patients moved effortlessly around me, almost as if I weren't even there.

A small girl was sitting at one of the little tables, painting pictures. She looked up from her watercolors, and locked eyes with me. "Hello," She said.

I looked behind me to be sure that she wasn't addressing someone else, but there was nobody about. I turned back to the girl. "Hi." My voice felt distant, and strained, rattling through a constricted throat.

The girl took a drink from a cup that she had to use both hands to lift. The purple liquid coursed through a spiral shaped straw, and was soon followed by a slurping sound, indicating the bottom had been reached. "Why are you here?" She asked as she put the cup down.

"Pardon?" I was still confused as to what was happening. My brain felt like it was in a fog.

"Why are you here?" The girl pointed back towards the double doors that led to the pediatric critical care. "My brother is here. He needs an operation. I didn't want him to be left alone."

"I see," I said. I sat down in one of the little chairs beside her, and added, "I don't know why I'm here." I looked through the open double doors towards the room beyond, and thought I could see a tiny pair of fingers reaching for a yellow tassel dangling above the crib. My son had needed an operation when he was ten days old. But that was five years ago. My son … my children … where were they? Why was I here now? Why wasn't I with them? I looked back at the girl. She was perhaps four, had dark hair and incredibly blue eyes. She would have been the age of my daughter who had died … was I dead?

The girl picked up her picture, looked at it through a squinted eye, then tossed it on the floor. I looked down, and saw a rather substantial pile. She had been doing this for a while. The pile included pages from newspapers, magazines, and even the cover of an Uncle Henry's, all smeared with water paints.

"You know what?" The girl said, "I don't think you belong here."

An alarm sounded from the other room. People began rushing to answer the emergency. The details in the distance began to blur.

The girl dropped her paintbrush, and picked up a toy troll sitting on the table next to her. She turned, and held it out to me, a big smile plastered on her face. "Look," her voice echoed strangely, "His hair is standing up…"

The image of the toy troll faded as the emergency lights came on. The shrill of alarms of machines stopped in mid cycle filled the air. The rain still pounded on the roof.

"Look, his hair is standing up!" A voice filtered through the dimness. I wanted to move my hand to check, but I couldn't. For that matter, I couldn't move anything.

From a lot closer, came another voice. "Are you okay?"

I managed to blink my eyes, and was able to focus on Duffel, who couldn't have been more than three inches from my face. The main lights were not yet on, so his face was cast in a rather eerie shadow from the fluorescent glow behind him. He did not look too unlike the vampire he claimed to be.

"Are you okay?" Did he repeat it, or did I just hear the question twice?

I looked down at my left hand. It was clenched into a fist, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not move it. It had been hanging onto a part. What happened to it? Why couldn't I make my hand move?

"Hey," The voice repeated more insistently, "Are you okay?"

With great effort, I finally managed to formulate an answer. "I don't know."

Duffel's reaction was one that indicated that that was not the answer he was looking for. "Someone get him a chair!" He demanded, "And find Dave!"

Dave. Yes, my group leader. He would know what had happened. He knew everything.

Suddenly I realized I was sitting. Where had the chair come from? But it was only half there. Or maybe I was. Where did my left side go? Why couldn't I move?

"What happened?" A new voice. It was Dave. When did he get there? How much time had passed? Why didn't Dave know what had happened?

"I think he got zapped," Duffel said, "In a very bad way."

"I can't move," I managed to insert for clarification. Not only could I not move, I couldn't feel any parts too move either.

"Call Tom," Dave said, referring to the shift supervisor.

Yes, Tom would know. If Dave didn't know, Tom would. Why was it so hot? Why was it so dark? Why couldn't I see who was standing next to me? Who was standing next to me?

"Can you walk?" It was Tom. It was the second time he had asked the question. What was the answer? Was there an answer?

"I'll try," I finally said.

"We have to get you out of this heat," Tom said, "We'll take you to the front office. It's air conditioned up there."

I could feel motion, but there was no sense of movement. My legs just seemed to dissolve away from beneath me, and my mind swirled in unreality…

I looked at the toothbrush clenched in my left fist, and then at the water running out of the faucet in front of me. I became painfully aware of the watch and ring on my left hand. My wedding ring…

"Honey, are you almost ready?"

The voice was strange, and certainly didn't belong to my wife. I turned towards the voice, and the slim dark haired woman that was standing there was most certainly not my wife. She finished looping an earring the shape of a basketball through her lobe. "I hear the auditorium roof leaks when it's raining like this," She said. She looked in the mirror, touched up her lipstick, and dabbed on some perfume. "We better hurry if we want to get good seats. Do you have the tickets?"

I couldn't let go of the toothbrush. She left the bathroom, and I turned to follow, leaving the water running.

We were in a hotel room of some kind. There was a single double bed, unmade, and a small couch and a dresser. She picked up her purse from the dresser, and started rummaging through it. She pulled out two or three bottles of nail polish, and a pill dispenser before exclaiming, "Ah, here they are!" She turned around and faced me, holding two tickets in her hand. "High School basketball is such a neat sport."

Basketball? But it was the last week of June. Wasn't it? Why were we going to a basketball game?

My hand finally popped open, and the toothbrush hit the floor. The ring on my left hand became unbearable, and I twisted and pulled at it until it popped off.

The woman smiled broadly. "I see you finally agreed to do things my way."

"Huh?" Her way?

She kept pulling things out of her purse, and came to a pair of airline tickets. "And after the game, we catch our flight to Cincinnati, and start our new life together."

Cincinnati? I didn't want to go to Cincinnati. I wanted to go home. With my wife. MY WIFE! Where was my wife? Why wasn't she here? She was always here when I needed her? Who was this woman?

She moved closer to me, the warmth of her body penetrating my every sense. "We could always skip the first half," She said in a strange echoing whisper. "I'll put the do not disturb sign on the door, and we can do it…"

"…on the couch." My eyes focused again, and I was being put on the couch in the front lobby. Sweat trickled down my temples and into my ears. Music was playing. It sounded sort of like Elvis. I could feel metal biting into my right hand. I managed to move my eyes enough to look. Crushed in my grip were my watch and my wedding ring. With some effort, I managed to secure them in my pocket. I wasn't going to lose them.

Tom appeared from the doorway of the main office. "Well, they're on the way. I told them the main entrance."

Dave nodded. "The rescue squad will get here first."

Rescue squad? I tested the motion of my left hand. It sort of moved. Where were my feet? I realized I was lying down, and could see Tom pacing the length of the lobby. He had to calm down, or he'd need an ambulance too. I visually located my feet, and tried wiggling my toes. Or at least I thought I did. Only one foot showed a response.

I took a steadying breath. Why was it so hot? I closed by eyes, and tried to sort out the sensations. Hot, cold, no sensation. Hot, cold…

My legs hurt. I looked down, and saw the desert sand was packed hard. In the distance, I could hear the crash of the surf against the shore. Maybe it wasn't a desert. Maybe it was a beach. A very large beach. I shaded my eyes against the glare, and looked all around me. I could not see the water I could hear. There were footprints trailing away behind me in the sand. They were mine, I presumed. Maybe I could see better if I had my sunglasses on. I reached up and touched my face. My safety glasses were in place, those annoying side shields resting on my upper cheeks as they always did. My other glasses got dim in the sunlight. Maybe I could find those.

I fumbled through my pockets, but I could not find my other glasses. There was a jackknife of mine (I hadn't seen it in years – where did it come from?) but it fell to the ground as my inept fingers of my left hand could not grasp on to it tightly. It landed in the sand next to a pile of seashells. Shells that I thought I recognized. My father in law had brought some home from his lobstering one night. I dropped down on my knees, and got a closer look. They were indeed a pile of Lightening Welch.

That thought had no sooner crossed my mind, when I realized I could hear the thunder of the surf in the distance again. I looked up. It was darker now. The sun had gone behind some clouds. There was still nobody else about. I was very much alone.

I looked back at my long lost pocketknife and decided that wherever I had been going, I may need it. I reached forward to pick it up. My left had refused to co-operate. Something seemed to be holding it back. My right hand didn't seem to be working any better, but I could feel the pressure keeping it from moving.

The beginnings of panic sat in. I looked around once more, and the feeling of being alone slammed home with a very intense realness. Nothing but empty desolation around me, an ocean I could not see, a knife I could not reach. The knife…

I focused all my attention on the knife. I shoved the other thoughts to the back of my mind, and concentrated on simply picking up the knife.

My left arm still would not move. My right started to, but then the sand beneath the knife began to move. At first it was just gentle waves, but then the wind picked up, and it began to move faster. I thought I could feel raindrops on my face. The sand suddenly erupted in a mini earthquake, and a giant rattlesnake reared up out of its buried nest of eggs. It hissed once then leaped forward. I felt the points of its fangs against the inside of my elbow…

"IV is in, looks good," the paramedic said.

I blinked my eyes. I was staring at the ceiling of the Ambulance, the clear hose from the IV bottle snaking away from my right arm. I wasn't sure exactly how I had gotten here, but at least it wasn't so hot any more.

The paramedic finished securing the needle with a gauze bandage, and looked down at me. "How are you feeling?"

How was I feeling? Half there? Not even? Bewildered, confused, and alone?

"I don't know." Then I remembered the hard packed sand of the desert. "My legs hurt."

The paramedic patted my shoulder. At least, he made the motion of doing so. I couldn't feel it. "We'll be at the hospital in a moment or two," he said, "Just hang in there. They'll take good care of you."

I closed my eyes and thought back to the last few…minutes? Hours? Days? I had lost all concept of time as the surreal world of fear swirled all around me. All I knew was that I wanted to see my children, my wife, and that I felt very much alone in a hostile world.

In a flurry of lights and people, and more raindrops spattered against my face, I was eventually pushed into the emergency room, connected to all sorts of equipment, and then left alone. Through it all, I kept hearing the same phrase repeated over and over again and again. "Don't worry. We'll take care of you." We'll take care of you. Take care of you. Take care…

"…of you, don't worry man."

I looked at the little man with the derby cap and the tweed coat. He pulled a silver case from his pocket, and deliberately withdrew a meticulously hand rolled cigarette.

"Hey, buddy," He asked, gesturing to me. "Can I bother you for a light?"

I was about to tell him that I didn't smoke, but my hands were in the deep pockets of my beige trench coat, and came up with a small box of matches. I struck one against the side of the box, and held it out in front of me.

The little man lit his smoke and inhaled deeply, apparently savoring the flavor. He sat back on his metal trashcan and gestured toward the sky. "Wicked storm we had, wasn't it?" He took another drag. "In all my years I have never seen lightening that intense. Nice to see it's finally moving off."

I looked up at the clouded sky. Beyond the tops of the impossibly tall buildings, lightening still flickered in the distance. The thunder was just a dull throb by the time it reached my ears.

"Thanks for the light, Pally," the little man continued. "And while you're up there, say hi to Dianne for me. Don't you worry. She'll take good care of you."

I touched my finger to the brim of my hat in acknowledgment, and began walking down the street. A nice looking Rolls Royce was parked outside a restaurant. The building appeared to have a hotel in the floors above. I wasn't sure where I was, because there weren't any buildings that tall in the cities near where I lived. In fact, I didn't think there were any buildings that tall in the whole state.

What was happening to me!?

A Model A clattered down the street followed closely by a new looking Dusenburge. New for the nineteen twenties, anyway. The street lamps flickered in an eerie surrealism, and a radio blared from a storefront across the street.

Not knowing exactly what I was doing, or where I was going, I stepped through the foyer of the restaurant into the main lobby.

"There you are!" A slim blonde woman rushed up to me. She was wearing a simple sexy dress that was clasped to one shoulder with a gold brooch embedded with pearls. The other shoulder was bare, and the dress fit well, all the way to her ankles where a pair of stylish sandals were strapped to her petite feet. "Where have you been? Vince has been looking all over for you!"

I realized I was staring, looked back to her face, and shrugged, a sheepish smile on my face.

"Oh, you look dreadful," she picked up a cloth napkin from the reservation stand, dabbed the end against her tongue, and began rubbing at something under my left eye, "What happened to you, anyway?"

"That's an answer that Vince wants to have as well," A new voice rang out. A bald guy wearing a three-piece white suit appeared from a side door. "You just bought yourself a stay for the night. Dianne, take his coat."

Dianne sighed and held her arms out in front of her. I carefully laid my trench coat across them, and placed the hat on top of that. I winked at her. What was the little man's name? Did he say it? "Sully says Hi." I said.

She blushed, and smiled as she turned towards the coatroom. I must have got it right.

The bald man tapped me on the shoulder, and gestured back the way he had come. "Upstairs. Now."

I followed him up two flights of stairs. We arrived at a door and he knocked twice upon it. It opened a crack, and a big guy poked his head through.

"Three phase." He said sternly.

"Square route of three," My escort responded.

The other man grunted, and opened the door, admitting us to a private banquet room that I guessed to be half the size of the main dining room on the first floor. Several men in various colored suits appeared to be standing guard at different points, while white clad chefs and servers transported food from the dumb waiters to the tables.

I was brought before the main table where an obviously well to do man with enormous hands was poking at a plate of fried rice with chopsticks.

"Here he is, Vince," the bald man informed his boss, and took a step back.

Vince finished chewing his food and wiped his mouth on a napkin tucked into the front of his shirt before he spoke.

"Johnny tells me you got fried last night." He removed the bag from his cup of tea, and took a sip. "Why didn't you tell me? You know how I hate being the last to know."

I gave him an apologetic shrug. "I don't know, Vince," I said quietly, "I'm not even totally sure what happened."

"Not sure what happened?" Vince put down his cup. "We'll see about that." He snapped his fingers. "Mister Altoid, show him the film."

The bald guy walked over to a cabinet, unlocked the padlock, and pulled open the door. He returned with a strip of negatives. "Do these look familiar?" He asked.

The photos were black and white. Inverted on the negative as they were, they looked like X-rays. There were small splotches here and there that could have been lightening. I shrugged, smiling weakly at Vince. "I guess. I'm not sure."

Vince stood abruptly from the table, knocking over his cup. "What do you mean, you're not sure?"

I shrugged again. "Like I said, it's all kinda fuzzy right now."

Vince came around the table, and grabbed me roughly by the arm. "Well, then, maybe we can refresh your memory!" He led me across the room and opened another door. Mister Altoid and two of his compatriots were right behind me. On the other side of the door was a dimly lit bowling alley with just two lanes. It was empty. There was no one else around.

I looked around, my confusion growing more by the moment. "This is supposed to refresh my memory?"

"Absolutely." Vince hefted the ball, and in one smooth motion sent it down the lane. The ball collided with the pins, and crashed like thunder. Crashed like thunder…

"I have to go," I said, and turned to the door. I pushed by Altoid and his buddies like they weren't even there. The room became hazy around the corners, and my destination became indistinct. My head was swimming with images of people that I knew, that I didn't know, and some of those that I didn't want to know. I looked for the door I came through. I had to find my way back. My way back to the place I was before. To the place where I belonged.

"You should thank me," Vince's voice echoed in the back of my mind, "You should be dead because of this! Do you hear me? YOU SHOULD BE DEAD!"

My eyes snapped open to bright sunshine filtering in through the window of the hospital room. The vividness of the dream slowly fading away as the doctor stood at the end of the bed, flipping through his charts.

"We can't really tell you what kind of developments to expect," he was saying. "By all rights, after an accident such as this, you should be dead. You should consider yourself extremely lucky."

I heard a soft moan escape my lips.

The doctor moved over to the side of the bed, and placed his hand on my left arm. "How does it feel?"

I chuckled softly to myself as I thought of the best way to describe the sensation I was feeling. "Who put the Alka-Seltzer in my blood?" How do you describe a sensation of constant tingling and numbness rolled together under the skin of your arm? Carbonated blood? Ants on patrol? A rolling pin covered with straight pins?

The doctor smiled. "So, do you feel it's an improvement over last night?"

I shrugged my right shoulder. It was only last night? "I suppose. I can feel that there's something there, which is more than I had before."

"This is a good thing." The doctor walked back to the end of the bed. "Consistent with the amount of muscle damage that occurred, and your own neurological account of what happened, we're guessing you received an electrical charge between three and four thousand joules." He hung the chart off the end of the bed, and turned back to face me. "Essentially a bolt of lightening."

"A watt is a joule per second," the instructor wrote on the board. I was back in my electrical power class. At least I thought I was. I still felt very much displaced. The edges of the room were fuzzy and indistinct. Why were we talking about joules?

"All we have to do," the instructor continued, "is determine what portion of a second the exposure occurred."

Exposure? I looked around the tiny class. It was still hot. My left side was still saturated with that annoying carbonation sensation. I recognized some of the students sitting there, but they didn't belong in the class. Where was I, really?

There was a click from my across the room, and a muffled repeat of the last statement. Some kid had a little tape recorder, and was playing with it.

"Did the power go out?"

The question had been directed at me. It was dark. "Yes, I am told the power went out."

The instructor nodded. "A power grid clears, in the longest instant, in three cycles of an AC sine wave. Who remembers how long a cycle is?"

"Sixteen point seven milliseconds," the kid with the recorder said.

"You may want your calculators," the instructor advised. I looked at mine sitting on the desk, but I didn't have to touch it. The room around me dimmed, and numbers started floating through the air in front of me.

Three cycles of sixteen point seven milliseconds into worst case of four thousand joules came up to eighty thousand watts. Eight kilowatts of power ran the length of my left side in fifty milliseconds or so. At normal household voltage of one hundred twenty volts, that was six hundred seventy amps. But since I wasn't charbroiled, it was probably closer to the milliamp range, which put the voltage in the ten millions. Hello. No wonder it got my attention.

The hot August sun shined down on Madawaska Lake. A cool breeze ever so gently ruffled the water. I sat on the screened in porch of the log cabin that served as our family's camp, staring down at the pile of forgotten jacks and checkers that were scattered along the floor. I was pleased that I was able to navigate around them without tying myself up in knots or losing my balance.

It had been six weeks since the accident. I was still learning how to walk all over again, and deal with a left arm that essentially went off and did what ever it felt like doing without any help or endorsement from my brain. My strength was still a long way from where it was. I tired easily, and it seemed that I was spending more time napping than doing anything else.

My wife came up behind me, and draped a towel over my shoulders. She was wearing her new green swimsuit, and was kicking the toys off to the side.

"How are you doing today?" She asked.

I shrugged, my left shoulder now only slightly lagging my right. "The end of the tunnel may not be in sight," I said, "but the path is certainly well lit."

She wrapped her arms around my shoulders, and kissed my cheek. "We'll make it through," she said.

I patted her elbow with my right hand. "We've made it this far. I know we'll make it the rest of the way."

"Come on." She took my hand, and helped me to my feet, "The kids are waiting to see their daddy try to swim again."

I chuckled at the thought of laying in the inner tube, and paddling in circles with my one good hand, with my left one occasionally adding random motion to it all. "They sure think it's funny, don't they?"

"At least you're still here for them to laugh at," she said quietly.

"Yes," I reflected to myself. "I suppose I am."

My father wrote this over 13 years ago, it is an experience and we were all grateful he survived. We were both curious to see how well it would be receivced, so i offter to post it here.

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Shadow Wisher