j e stanley
"So, what's troubling you today?"

"Well, it's probably nothing. There was this lottery ticket. I bought a lottery ticket at Dairy Mart. The same numbers as always. Our birthdays, the months and the days: my wife's, my son's, mine. But, there were only four numbers. My birthday was missing. Sam reprinted it. But it was still wrong, just the four numbers."

"How did that make you feel?"

"I assumed it was just some glitch in the machine. But still, it made me feel, I don't know, strange. Like I don't belong. He tried to print it two more times and it still didn't work. I gave up and went home. But, it wasn't my home. The same house, but it already had the new driveway I'd been saving up for and the yard was landscaped and a stranger came out the front door like he lived there."

"And then you just found yourself here, on my couch. Tell me about that time you were shot, by that hunter."

"Why? We've covered that already."

"No, we haven't. Tell me about it."

"It was like getting hit by a car. But then. . .then I didn't feel anything. I just passed out. The world disappeared. Tunnel vision, then nothing.  It was like a void, that 'nothing.' From the time I passed out until I came to with nothing in between. I don't even know how long I was unconscious. I wondered if that was what death was like, that nothingness, that void. Deb tried to call 911, but she couldn't get through. It wasn't working. How could you not get through to 911?"

"I don't know. Then what happened?"

"She called Kevin. He drove me to County General. I was lying on the floor in the back of his panel van. It was nice, solid, metal, not like the world that had just faded away. I felt safe."

"Tell me about that girl again, the one in Madison."


"All right then, tell me about your brother, the one that died. You could have saved him?"

"I told you about that already. Yes, I could have told my parents what he was doing, but he never would have forgiven me. And I was just a kid. How could I know it would end the way that it did? Why are you doing this, jumping from one thing to another?"

"Just making a point, that's all. Those kids on West 24th . . ."

"Oh, for God's sake, we covered that already too. Yeah, I messed 'em up. But, they started it. And my wife was pregnant. What was I supposed to do? What would you have done? Why do you keep rehashing this ancient history?"

"Like I said, making a point. That ride, in the back of Kevin's van. . .you didn't make it. You died in that van. You've just been lingering a bit, like a ghost."

"But, I'm fine. I'm fine now."

"You're not fine. Look at your shirt, the blood soaking through it."

"But that was 15 years ago. When I was shot. 15 years ago."

"No, it might seem like 15 years to you. But, actually, it's only been a few minutes. The rest is, well, sort of like a dream, your imagined future. Because you didn't want to let go. Usually, there's not even a few minutes. But. . . how can I say this? No one was looking for you."

"What do you mean no one was looking for me?"

"That was the point starting to review your history. You're not bad enough for an eternity in hell but you're certainly not worthy of heaven. So, no one came for you. No angels. No demons. No one."

"What then? I just stay here. Like this?"

"No, I'm sorry. The dead are not permitted to walk the earth."

"What else is there then?"

"Nothing, I'm afraid. There is nothing else. Oh, and our time is up. You have to go now."