After a bone-crushing accident that takes the life of an innocent child, Christen Bass finds his world transformed for the worst. His constant companion, a bad angel points the way to salvation. But what sort of salvation is it?
On Tuesday, December 31, something awful happened to middle-aged Christen Bass and a young girl named Ashley Austin. The implacable, inscrutable hand of fate delivered to them both that day a certain sort of doom, which came crushing down upon them with all the terrible surprise and awesome weight of a mountainside cut loose without warning. Theirs was not a happy way to go, as it was a passing of blood and guts and gruesome, wicked, mortal cuts. Their destiny came as a bone shattering blast of concrete, steel, glass and human tissue, all swimming in excruciating agony that stopped time and dragged seconds to the length of hours.
After he rounded the darkened corner of a rain-slick, night-bound street, and his left front wheel rolled into a gaping manhole that an unknown prankster had uncovered for fun, Christen knew he must die. He saw the child standing near the curb across the wide, empty avenue, waiting alone in the evening. As soon as he saw her, his heart sank, and he knew she must die, too.
When the shaft of his steering wheel snapped with a sudden, sharp spin, both his arms snapped in the same moment, jerking his head sharply to the left, shattering the windshield with his skull. Before his car spun out of control, Christen's head and body rebounded violently to the right, crushing several of his ribs over the shifter jutting from the vehicle's center console. Now his mind swam with breathless pain and stunned confusion.
Stars filled his vision, while the impact pressed his lids tightly shut with a miserable squint, sparing him the gut-wrenching vision of his wildly tumbling sedan careening across the street, sparks and shattered parts flying. He heard her scream shrilly, and Christen watched Ashley die. Her terrified shriek came to an abrupt end, and his smashed machine rolled over her mangled body without ceremony or grace.
Firemen pried him from the tangled ruin of his car an hour later, and then revived him with their cruel machines. His vision instantly filled with a bizarre, stop motion replay of the accident, ending with his last memory of it; Ashley's startled face.
"What happened?" he wondered aloud, his smashed mouth rendering the words a mumble. As all victims of such violence and trauma must, he asked, "Where am I?"
"You crashed your car, sir," returned a mustachioed medic, who hovered over Christen, as others prepared the wounded man for transport via helicopter. "How much have you had to drink this evening? What sort of drugs did you take?"
Christen's tongue and lips refused to work, fat, swollen and bruised black as they were. He shook his head, and garbled, "None. Nothing. No."
"Come on, sir," returned the disbelieving attendant, as he fixed a sensor to Christen's neck with a bit of tape, "This is New Year's Eve, a half hour from midnight, everybody's had something to drink, or smoke or snort. What was it? Whiskey? Beer? Pot?"
Again, Christen shook his head, though it ached miserably. He mumbled his denials.
Rolling his eyes, his tone laced with professionally detached accusation, the medic responded, "Help us help you, sir. If you've taken something we don't know about, you could die tonight. Do you understand me? Stay awake for me, now!"
Christen struggled to open his eyes, though his face, a mass of edema and abuse, refused to comply. Sleep seemed most appealing.
"You're badly injured, sir, we may need to give you a variety of medications to keep you alive. Are you hearing me?" Christen nodded. The medic tapped one of his comrades on the shoulders, and they all moved slowly, carefully across the sidewalk to a waiting ambulance. The man's head bobbed as he walked. "If you've taken something, we need to know about it, otherwise you may experience a fatal interaction."
"No," choked Christen. "Nothing."
"Try to remember, sir," prompted the medic, "You were at one party, and you were heading to second… it was late… raining… you nodded off… Is that what happened? How much did you have to drink?"
Before Christen could respond, one of the firemen barked, "Hey, pal, why don't you lay off, huh?"
"I'm just doing my job, here."
"Bullshit," retorted the other, "You're interrogating the guy. This ain't the time nor the place. Can't you see he's all messed up?"
"Yeah," returned the medic hotly, "I see. I see it all the fucking time! Just like you and all these other people see it all the fucking time! Just like I see that awful mess over there, which once was a little girl!"
Christen groaned. His heart heaved, trepid and horrified.
"It was an accident!"
"Maybe," retorted the medic flatly. "Maybe not. If not, then I think we should know, don't you? I've seen guys like him, before. Lots of times. You have get to them quick, while the shock of it is still new, and before they start thinking about saving their own asses! Once, I worked this DOA where a guy…"
Christen lost the thread of the conversation, as they rattled and bumped him into the back of the ambulance, and the medic passed beyond earshot. Inside the life saving ambulance, which would carry him three blocks to a broad lawn and a waiting helicopter, Christen concentrated on his own heartbeat, his own breath. He felt his life ebb away, drop-by-drop, and he realized with a sudden, mortal shock that he lay too near the peril of death.
He gasped for breath behind the blue plastic mask pressed to his face. His body heaved and arched with the effort, straining against the temporary splints and straps that held his shattered limbs together.
Seconds passed that seemed hours, before the lead medic climbed into the ambulance to replace the firemen. Somebody slammed the doors shut, and a siren wailed forlornly. Christen felt every rock and jolt of the short, slow ride, where broken bone grated against bone, where gaping wounds twisted open and shut, tiny mouths in his flesh to vomit forth his blood. All the while, the medic hovered over him, working deftly with his hands, while his hateful gaze remained fixed on Christen's unseeing face.