I open my eyes and I am pressed warmly against her soft skin. She still sleeps. Her sweet breath is a gentle tide across my mouth. I don’t want to get up; I never do when she is with me. And we have been together since our marriage five years ago. Gloria and I were so young but I wanted her like I want my next breath. I do still. My love for her used to be terrifying when I imagined the possibility of not possessing her completely forever. And now, now we have a little daughter who looks like her and my love for our little girl is, is, is… excruciating. I never thought it was possible to love something, someone else as much as my Gloria. Is this much… really possible? Sometimes I think it is all the happiness that I can possibly bear.
Forgive me, dear Lord, when I honestly say that I don’t care about the rest of Your foolish world. I mean, I would help someone truly in need, but Gloria has been my sun and my guiding star and, yes, dear Lord, my religion. I work so that she never shall want. My will on her behalf is unbending and it grows stronger. My career has been like a solid stairway, every step higher, more sure, more secure but always for her, never for myself. I am strong because I am so sure of my path. And my little girl is the finest gift I ... we could ever bestow upon this foolish, undeserving world.
Today is Christmas Eve and we will be having our parents over for dinner and a very special surprise for Gloria as well. I have such a good relationship with her parents. All those in-law jokes have no meaning in this family. Tonight Gloria’s parents will arrive in the new XL-Z that I bought for her. She will not believe her eyes, and she will be so happy which is all that matters to me.
I finally get up and I go to work. There will not be much work accomplished anywhere onsite but I have a report to finish as a favor to my boss. No problem, he is a really good boss and I greatly respect him. And I finish my report after 5PM. No problem, I just need to be home by 7PM. It is already very dark and cold outside and I look out my window to see that the parking lot is shiny with this afternoon’s rain slick that captures the full moon light.
I log-off my computer to my Yahoo Home Page. A news brief catches my eye. Your teenager and the new designer drug dubbed “Éuphoranasia”. What a world. It is not my world. But I should probably know something about it, so I click on the link. Instantly a message in red lettering against a black screen states Side effects can be Hell. The message dissolves into an up-close visage of an upper face with malevolent glaring yellow eyes that seem to stare right at me. Oh, great. A virus. Well, I’ll have to tell IT on Monday. I shut off my computer completely.
Outside my car is the only one left in the moonlit parking lot. As I walk toward it I notice the alley-way across the street. Of all things, there is a dark and gleaming XL-Z parked there. Next to it is the silhouette of a man. He is standing still, but I have suddenly the sensation of ice-water in my chest as I believe he is watching me. I get into my car quickly and lock the doors. The man has not moved, but he still seems to be watching me. I step on the gas pedal and slide out of the parking lot into the main street. It is lucky there are no other cars coming.
It is starting to rain again. I look in my rear-view mirror and see no other car behind me. I focus forward and begin to think about tonight. Christmas Eve with everyone I love. The oncoming car headlights look like a string of bright ornaments. But there is one that has those really bright “phosphorous” headlights that young people think are so cool. I have to squint and turn my face sideways, the phosphorous headlights are so bright. Suddenly, Jesus! The phosphorous headlights swerve directly in front of me. My eyes are wide, my mouth is open to scream, I lean back, and then there is blackness.
I awaken. I am in unbelievable pain. It feels like every joint is broken. I am lying on the wet asphalt on my side. I see my car. It is crumpled and shredded into the front end of ... of the XL-Z from the alley-way. The XL-Z is unscratched, but there is a furious inferno inside the vehicle.
I sit up in agony. Something softly bounces on my cheek. I reach up and touch it. It is my eyeball, with splinters of glass in it. I try to scream but I choke. My hand falls on my face. It is wet and ragged and I feel glass splinters. A thought hits me: I was thrown through my windshield. Help me. Help me, God!
Suddenly there are figures rushing around me that I can barely make out. I am grabbed under both arms and lifted screaming. I am conveyed toward the XL-Z that is so shiny and unscarred but with the boiling flames inside that seem to burn without consuming. The door to the back seat of the XL-Z is now pulled open. I am flung inside screaming. The unimaginable pain causes me to shrivel instantly. I faint.
I awaken on my back under a bright light. My skin shivers in pain from the merest breeze. There is a person in medical garb above me. I am paralyzed. I cannot speak. My one good eye is open but I can not move my field of vision. My sight is glazing over. I cannot blink. The medical person looks into my face and clicks his tongue. Suddenly he slits my torso from neck to crotch. I faint into the raging pain.
I awaken breathing hot sulfurous vapors. The smell is hideous. My head is tipped back staring at the ceiling of a stone cavern. I am straining on my tip-toes, gasping. Out of the corner of my one good eye I see the unthinkable. I am in a lake of feces. There are others mired as I am, wailing. I suddenly see a pack of hideous dog-like creatures patrolling the shoreline of this Hell. When they pass, one of the other poor mired people wades quickly to the shoreline and scrambles out, slippery with the nauseating feces covering him. Suddenly, there is heart-stopping howling from the pack of dog-creatures who race back to the individual who tries to run. He slips. The dog-creatures are upon him. They rip his guts out and gnaw off his limbs, shaking their heads viciously and with a final shake toss the gory remains back into the lake of feces.
I am paralyzed with terror. But a moment later a head breaks the surface and gasps, wailing. It is the mutilated fugitive, now apparently whole again. I turn to a woman beside me who has watched the same spectacle. I cry to her. What is happening?
She looks at me sadly and says it is near the End of Days. The Devil has been allowed his own “Rapture”.
Do you mean the Devil is kidnapping innocent souls? I must be dreaming, but there is too much pain and terror.
She tells me I have a chance. That I am lucky! She tells me, saying that she no longer cares that she will pay in more suffering for telling me this : my Free Will has not been consigned to the Devil.
She says to me in earnest that she will create a diversion and that I must flee. Down that tunnel. Before my mind can even sort the meaning, she wades to the edge of the lake and clambers out, gasping. A moment later the dog-creatures are upon her, but before she suffers the same fate as the man before, she screams to me to gather my Fee Will.
While the dog-creatures are slavering in their mutilation of her, I myself wade to the edge of the lake and slither out, covered in foul feces. The dog-creatures do not see me. I run, slipping and sliding away from the hideous lake and into the tunnel. But where is this going? God help me. God why is this happening to me? Help me.
I see a glow ahead and finally I am stopped against a perfectly smooth stone wall. The glow intensifies and I can suddenly see through the stone wall as if it were a huge pane of glass. There is a room beyond. It is illuminated only by the light stealing in from the window of a door on the opposite side. Oh, Jesus, Jesus… I am looking into the refrigeration room of a morgue! There are bunk shelves and gurneys with shrouded figures.
Suddenly, to my shock, one of the shrouded figures arises, casts of his sheet, gets off of the gurney and walks slowly towards me. When he encounters the other side of the wall, there is a halo of light around him and he passes through into the tunnel right beside me! Help me I cry. He never turns his head. He has a bewildered look upon his pale face and he proceeds down the tunnel as if hypnotized. I cry after him, but he is soon lost to me in the dark distance.
I turn back to the translucent wall and I pound upon it. Help! Help! I’m in here! Help!
But then, for some reason, I think of what the woman who saved me said. She said to gather my Fee Will. I lay my forehead against the translucent stone and I pray to God with all-consuming intensity and I feel my guts tensioning. Suddenly there is a flash of light and I am on the other side, in the refrigeration room of the morgue. The freezing air feels like a balm, but I race to the door opposite and emerge into the morgue examining room. Soon enough I find the employees shower and I run warm water to remove the slime of feces from myself. But when the warm water strikes my burned skin it becomes agony and I barely keep from screaming. I open the nearby hamper and I pull on some soiled scrubs. At the exit door of the morgue there are several white coats hanging. I grab one. I pull some paper booties over my bare feet and I exit into a hospital corridor. Basement Exit the sign informs me. None of the few people I pass take any notice of me. I am outside. I am free.
I recognize where I am. This hospital is only a few miles from my home. I shuffle rapidly as my paper booties shred into clinging fragments. I just cannot run! I wince in tiny agony with every step. I don’t want to faint again.
After an hour of eternities I arrive at my street. It is still Christmas Eve. I am crying. But what is this?
My house is dark. There is police crime-scene tape around my entire property. On the sidewalk is an improvised memorial. I see a large framed picture surrounded by flowers, teddy-bears, and candles. I limp toward the picture. Oh, no, no, God. I fall to my knees in the gutter clutching my hair. It is a picture of my wife and child! No, no, please, God, no! Then suddenly I remember.
I am not her husband. She is not my wife. She is not my child. I killed them. I was supposed to kill the family of a rival Éuphoranasia dealer. I went to the wrong house. I was caught. I was sentenced to Life Under The Influence Of Éuphoranasia.
The candles begin to glow brighter. Brighter. BRIGHTER! I cower in blindness, drooling in mental anguish. I feel weak. I am going to faint. Oh, God, no, no. Not again!
I open my eyes and I am pressed warmly against her soft skin. She still sleeps. And now, now we have a little daughter who looks like her and my love for our little girl is, is, is… excruciating. I never thought it was possible to love something, someone else as much as my Gloria.
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