Zero Stars, Endless Black
Belief is where you find it
One step. That's all it would take.
[Close-up on her eyes, so open and honest you'd confess every transgression, knowing she'd never judge you.]
One step, and you could find the answers you've searched for your entire life.
[Soothing voice, wrapping about you like silk.]
One step to the journey of a lifetime... and beyond.
[Camera panning back now. First her face with lips ripe and full, skin smooth as fine china, hair flowing like a spring brook in a torrent of blonde curls. Dressed in a high-tech white jumpsuit. Looking off at a horizon far beyond the image frame. An expression radiant with hope and anticipation, her form sharply defined against a brilliant white background.]
Take the step.
[Out of the background, ill-defined figures slowly form. She begins walking toward them.]
Transform your world.
[She is slowly absorbed into the light, becoming one of the shadow figures.]
Take the step, now. You'll never regret it.
[The figures all fade to pure white. The word Crossover appears, along with a phone number and a web address.]
"Load of crap," Joe Corrigan muttered to the empty room. "Bunch of airy-fairy nonsense."
Nonetheless, as he thought about the ad, the germ of an idea flickered at the base of his brain; a crazy idea, so crazy he tried to ignore it. Instead he poured himself another Scotch, neat, and walked over to the window.
Below him stretched the city, brilliant in its night time lights. From his penthouse it was no more than a colorful, dynamic grid, a work of kinetic art set out for his enjoyment. But Joe wasn't up so high he could kid himself. He knew what filled those streets—every venal, petty, disgusting, passionate craving humans could express. He'd made a fortune serving those cravings. The streets spawned him; their chaotic energy flowed through his veins. In his heart, he never really believed he'd left them behind.
That had been his brother's problem. Christopher thought he'd escaped. Their mother thought so too.
"You should be like your brother," she told him once, sitting in the living room of the house he'd bought for her. "Your brother made something of himself. He's a big shot banker. Look at you. You're just a thug."
Yes he was, and proud of it. That's what it took to survive the streets. If he'd told his mother how his money fueled Christopher's success, would she believe it? That his whores, his drugs and his gambling joints gave Christopher his start. Yeah, it cut both ways: Christopher was legit. That made it possible to grow, and hide, their fortune. They'd been a good team.
Ten billion dollars worth of good. That's how much they had, the last time Joe asked.
He lived a good life. Lots of toys, lots of diversions. A tv the size of Brooklyn. Priceless artwork he couldn't have identified if you'd held a knife to his balls. A $3000 DSLR camera he'd taken maybe five shots with. In the garage downstairs sat an antique Maserati that he hardly ever drove. But so what? They were real, and they were his, and that's what counted. "Believe in yourself, Joseph," Father O'Shannon told him once. Joe didn't need to believe. He knew.
He pulled a large volume down from his bookshelf and started thumbing through the pages. It was an old atlas, dusty, but still in decent shape; it had belonged to their grandfather. For all their dealings, Joe and Christopher had not been close, at least not in later years. This book was the only thing Joe had in his apartment that linked him to his brother. When they were kids, the two would pour over the maps, unconcerned that countries like Rhodesia, Ceylon, the Congo or Trans-Jordan no longer existed. They'd weave great adventures in distant lands, casting themselves as the heros. When their Mother had moved, Christopher fetched the book from the confusion of packing boxes.
"I thought you might want this," he said the next time they saw each other.
"That's uncharacteristically sentimental of you," Joe said.
"Keep it. You never know when you might need a map."
Joe was kind of touched, actually, that Chris thought to preserve the memories, and so it had remained on his shelf. But otherwise, nothing in Joe's life gave a hint that he'd ever had a brother.
When the stroke unexpectedly hit, Joe stationed himself beside Christopher's bed in the ICU. Tubes and wires ran in and out of his brother's comatose form like something from an alien abduction. Joe prayed for his brother to wake up, begged whatever God might still care to give them a last lucid moment together. It hadn't been in the cards. Christopher died with Joe watching, helpless and lost. Joe cried then, maybe the first tears he'd shed ever.
With good reason, too. Only Chris knew where the money was.
Joe put the atlas back on the shelf, finished his Scotch, then picked up the remote and rewound back to the Crossover ad again. This time, he paid close attention... particularly to the testimonials.
* * *
Crossover's office looked just like their commercial—clean, polished surfaces all bathed in the brilliant light of purity and truth. The place sucked all the sound out of the air. Everyone wore white. It felt like some weird church from the future.
When Joe was a kid, he and Christopher had snuck into a fancy wedding reception in the swankiest hotel in town. They were quickly spotted, and ejected, but not before they'd stuffed their faces at the buffet. He figured it wouldn't be long before these folks spotted him, realized he had no business being here and threw him out on his rear. For the tenth time in the past fifteen minutes he considered junking this whole hair-brained idea, head for the nearest bar. But then a door opened and a vision of an angel walked over to him. Her name tag even read Angela. You couldn't make this stuff up if you tried.
"Welcome to Crossover, Mr Corrigan," she said, flashing a smile that showed a perfect set of teeth. He could tell she took herself very seriously. Her smile never wavered.
"Yeah, well, I gotta tell ya, I'm not sure I should even be here."
She also had perfect curves squirming underneath her white jacket, but maybe he wasn't supposed to think of stuff like that in a place like this.
"Why don't we go have a little chat and see if we can find out for certain. If you should be here. How's that sound?"
"Like you're probably gonna try to talk me into it."
"Only if you're ready."
She led him down a hallway to a small conference room. "So tell me what you are looking for, Mr. Corrigan," Angela said when they were settled. "What brings you to Crossover?"
She had an easy style and Joe started to relax, against his better judgment. "Well, I've heard about you guys, never thought much about it. Sounded kind of bogus, you know what I mean? But I saw one of your ads the other night; maybe I thought I could use a little transformation in my life."
"And what would that look like?"
Joe shrugged. "That's what I'd be trying to find out. Right?"
Angela smiled. "Quite. You understand, we make no claims or guarantees."
"You charge a steep price. You're telling me I still have to pay even if I turn up squat?"
"We've had a high level of success, Mr. Corrigan, and many satisfied customers. But we can't make promises about what is a subjective experience."
"You're gonna make me think I'm dead. That doesn't sound too subjective to me."
"That's not quite accurate. What we guarantee is to reproduce brain patterns that we've determined accompany patients who have actually undergone the near-death experience. In most cases our clients report results that are truly profound."
"You didn't answer my question. You gonna charge me if I end up just taking a nap?"
She paused a bit, thinking through options. Then, measuring her words carefully, she said, "Perhaps this isn't the time for you to attempt something like this, sir. Trust is crucial."
He'd always been a lousy poker player. Couldn't bluff worth a damn.
"Okay, okay, I got it. Look, I'm not up on this spiritual shit. I'm the kind of guy likes to hold something in my hand, you know what I mean?"
"So let me ask you again: what are you looking for? Why have you come to us at this point in your life"
Joe realized that his answer would probably determine whether or not they let him go through with it. Decision time. Was he ready for this? Yes, he was. The longest of long shots, but his only option, far as he could see. That meant it was time for some serious bullshit. Like George Burns said, "If you can fake sincerety, you got it made."
"I need some answers in my life. I need to find some direction... Like... find out if there's something more than just..." He waved his hands around the room. "... this crap I deal with every day. You know?"
Angela smiled. "I do indeed. That's exactly what first brought me here."
"So, you've been over there too? What's it like? Everyone playing harps, sitting on clouds?"
She almost broke her composure at that. "As I said, Mr. Corrigan, it's a subjective experience. It all depends on what you bring to the table."
"Right. Different strokes for different folks."
She produced a thick document and set it in front of Joe. "We'll need your signature in several places here."
"I got it. Heaven's cool, but business first. I like that."
* * *
Joe lay on the bed, naked but for a pair of loose-fitting boxer shorts. Attendants bustled about under Angela's watchful eye. She consulted with the techs at their monitors, issuing various instructions. As he knew would happen, when she started attaching electrodes to his body, a pronounced erection sprang to attention.
If Angela noticed, she gave no indication.
"It's nothing personal," he told her. "Happens all the time."
She smiled and nodded, kept hooking him up.
"That reminds me," he said. "Do folks... you know... get it on, over there? I mean... can ghosts screw?"
A faint chuckle at that. "Everyone's experience is unique, Mr. Corrigan. Now just take it easy. This won't hurt a bit." She approached him with a needle in her hand.
"Whoa! What's that?"
"An IV. It's part of the process. It will put you into a trancelike state, without knocking you out completely."
Finally, headphones and a hi-tech eye mask. "Can you pipe in some Led Zep? Seems like 'Stairway To Heaven,' would be a good fit."
"Later, perhaps. For now we'll be using binaural beats and complimentary light rhythms to control the frequency of your brain waves."
"I gotta tell you, Led Zep sounds like a lot more fun."
* * *
It began as a low tone with a strange pulsing rhythm to it. Shifting hues of red, yellow and orange slowly blended one to the other, like some fancy screen saver on his computer. At the edges of Joe's vision, lights flashed on and off, rapidly, in sync with the pulse in his ears. The colors shifted to greens and blues, then gradually changing to deep violets. The pulse steadily lowered in frequency.
This was stupid. No way it could work. But despite his doubts, he began to unwind and his mind started to drift. He'd bring himself back but it kept wandering away again. Like he was going to sleep. He thought about Angela. Told ya, damn it. Just an expensive nap.
His right arm hung off the side of the bed and the tips of his fingers brushed against the floor. Huh. He didn't remember the bed being low enough for that. He reached down further and could have sworn his fingers were pushing through the floor. Then, out of nowhere, he felt nauseous. Dizzy. It got worse. To Hell with this, he thought, and sat up and tried to pull off his head gear. It wasn't there. He looked around the room, noting the brilliant, over-saturated colors, how crisply defined were the sounds, how he could... well, wasn't this strange? It wasn't like he was seeing with his eyes. He was literally seeing the entire room, in front, behind him, to the sides...
"If you feel yourself detaching," Angela had told him, "roll to the side." Was that happening? Holy cripes, he was still laying on the bed, and yet he was sitting up, right in the middle of himself! Roll out, Joe remembered. And so he did.
And he began to fall, through the floor, down, down, through the street... except that now, his surroundings simply shifted, fading like one scene to another in a movie. The sensation of falling turned to one of floating, in total blackness, which lasted for... well, truth is, he couldn't have said how long. Time seemed all stretched out.
Another scene fade, and though he still saw nothing, Joe sensed that he was walking. He seemed to have a destination in mind, though he couldn't have said what it was.
He gradually realized he wasn't alone; someone or something was walking with him. But he sensed no threat, felt no fear. Whoever, or whatever was with him filled him with complete trust. That was definitely a new sensation.
Now a voice. Or did he simply imagine it?
"A voyager," the being next to him said, or thought, or projected, and then Joe was aware of a second being who now took over, accompanying him as he continued his walk.
He began to see, as if light from a great distance was dimly reflecting off his surroundings. Joe found himself in a tunnel, rough hewn walls showing their contours, as though the path had burrowed through a mountain. As he walked on, walls steadily brightened, until up ahead, the path curved. Beyond the turn, an intense light spilled onto the floor and walls, so brilliant that as Joe approached the turn, fear took control of him. Whatever was ahead was too strong, too intense. He wasn't up to this. He was out of his depth. He flinched, pulled back, found himself unable to move forward.
A hand touched his arm, steadying him.
"You've travelled far. See it through."
That was enough, just enough to prompt Joe forward again. He followed the path through the turn, and found himself blasted in fierce light, sharper and purer than anything he could have imagined possible. As the energy passed through him, filling him, the fear vanished. Only excitement, anticipation, and the sense that this was a place he'd searched for all his life, never knowing it might actually exist. The hand remained on his arm, not restraining him, not forcing him, simply comforting and supporting him.
And so fortified, Joe stepped into the light.
* * *
Joe stood on the side of a hill. Below him on a vast flat plane, a crowd milled about. While there were no balloons or banners, the mood was undeniably festive. Across the field a path wound its way up another large hill. A line of people waited on the path, slowly ascending. The top of the hill was shrouded in mist.
He realized that his guide from the tunnel now stood next to him. He turned to gaze upon a face that was absolutely flawless, and spectacularly beautiful, as if the archetype from which all people were imperfectly descended. An angel? Or were angles simply our clumsy efforts to render such inhuman perfection?
"What are they waiting for," Joe asked.
"Answers," said his companion. "And what about you, Joseph? Do you seek answers."
"Yeah. Sort of. I was hoping to see my brother."
The being nodded. "Christopher. That might be difficult. Christopher has... evolved."
"What's that mean? He's too good to see his brother?"
"It's not like that. But it will be his choice. We'll see what can be done."
Another scene shift, and Joe found himself in a reception area of a large office. It looked like the Crossover office, except it was huge. Outside the glass walls, endless corridors stretched on to infinity. All were brightly lit, with no one present, save for a lone woman at one end of the office, sitting at a desk. She said nothing, simply watched him. He approached.
"I'm looking for my brother." She said nothing, kept looking at him. "Christopher," Joe added, as if that would make a difference.
"He'll be with you when he can."
"So... what? He's in a meeting or something? I dunno, I kind of thought things would be different here."
"He'll be with you when he can."
"I heard. Thanks."
He turned away and waited for... well, again, he couldn't have said how long. Time felt strange here. There seemed to be a lot more of it.
Finally the receptionist said, "He will see you now."
"Damned decent of him," said Joe. She opened a door and he entered the most opulent office he'd ever seen, way more impressive than Christopher's office back at the bank.
Standing with his back to Joseph, studying the books on a shelf, stood Christopher. He made no move, offered no acknowledgement that he knew Joe was there.
"Chris..?" Joe offered, finally.
Christopher turned around, a faint smile on his lips. "Joseph. You surprise me. I would never have expected this."
Joe looked around the office. "Nice digs. I'd say you've done pretty good for yourself."
"This isn't me Joseph. Its how you see me, that's all."
"Maybe. But I gotta tell you, I'm glad to see you doing good. I was worried about you. I was afraid they might send you to the other place, all the crap we pulled."
Christopher pondered that a moment, then said, "There is no other place, Joseph. Everything is here. All expectations are realized. All possibilities come to pass. All beliefs materialize, exactly as you expect them to."
"So where's the money? Can you materialize that?"
Christopher stood motionless, seeming not to have heard. The images flowing to Joe shimmered, as if a transmission signal encountering static. "Forgive me," Christopher said. "I'm not accustomed to thinking in terms of time and space."
"Christ, listen to you. You've only been gone a month."
"When there is no time, Joseph, all intervals are equal. Measurement ceases to have relevance."
"Yeah, well one thing hasn't changed. You still talk with your head up your ass."
Christopher smiled now. "It was good to see you, Joseph." He began to dissolve.
"No. Not yet. Tell me. It's not doing you any good. How do I get the money?"
Christopher closed his eyes as the distortion grew more severe.
"Do you remember, Joseph, when we were boys, how we'd pour over the old atlas, study the maps, think about places we'd travel to when we were rich?"
Christopher was beginning to come apart. As was the office. Not crumbling. Simply breaking down into smaller and smaller fragments.
"Happy birthday, Joseph."
"What are you talking about? Don't go yet."
But he was already gone. As was everything else. Joseph floated in a void of absolute nothingness. And then a voice, somewhere near, said, "It's time to return. There is nothing else for you now."
When he opened his eyes, he was back in the lab where he'd started. No grogginess, no dizziness. And no fuzzy memory, like waking from a dream. He remembered everything that happened with crystal clarity.
"How are you feeling, Mr. Corrigan?" asked Angela.
"I have no idea. How long was I out?"
"About an hour. Did you find what you were looking for?"
"I don't know. I found something. But I have no idea what it is. I gotta think."
"That sounds like most of our clients."
* * *
In the coming days, Joe spent no time at all pondering any possible cosmological implications of his trip across the veil. He was a practical man— Down to earth, would be chiseled on his tombstone. He didn't understand what had happened, figured he'd never understand it, so he didn't worry about it. Instead, he thought about the cryptic answer Chris had given him. Was there anything there? Or was it just stuff he'd made up, using the atlas since it was the only thing he had that related to Christopher? He decided to take the whole thing at face value and turned his attention to the book.
Since Christopher had given him the atlas, Joe had pretty much ignored it. Now, he gave it a close examination. The first thing he discovered, on the inside cover, was a note from Christopher, one he'd never noticed before—HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JOSEPH. Had he seen the message before, forgotten it, but worked it into his fantasy? He felt a lightness at the back of his brain, where his lizard instincts were housed. Suddenly the connection to his fantasy trip became a bit more real.
Now he checked for any notes that might have been inserted between the pages. He riffled the book while holding it upside down, but nothing fell out. So he then leafed through each page, one at a time in case anything might be stuck in the gutters. It was a large book. It took some time, but in the end, it was futile.
Well, damn. What next? He thought about the other thing Christopher had said, wishing him happy birthday. The fuck was that about?
He was born on March 8, 1971. He wrote the date several ways. He discarded using the word "March," in favor of the numerical formats, starting with 3/8/1971. Page numbers, maybe? The atlas contained 943 pages. So if a page number was being encoded, it would most likely have to be 381.
He turned to that page, found himself looking at a map of Spain, and two smaller maps, one of Madrid, the other of Barcelona. Each map contained an accompanying location index. He stared at the pages, trying to will the random words and images to form themselves into a communication, but if a message was there, it remained beyond reach. And what about the number 971 that was left over? It couldn't be a page number, but nothing else suggested itself either.
So he tried 3/8/71. That looked promising. He could pull 387, or 871 out of it as possible page numbers. But so what? He was stumbling around in the dark. Trouble was, this is the kind of problem that he'd always passed on to Christopher.
He turned to page 387. A map of Belgium. Like anyone ever needed a map of Belgium. There were two maps on the page, one large one of the country, a smaller one of Brussels. So that might account for the left over digit, 1. The first map was the significant one. But once again he saw nothing that suggested a message, a code, any communication from beyond...
He glanced over the location index on the opposite page. Nothing. Nothing, except...
He felt a tingle. Certain letters appeared to have dirt or smudges above them. Which might make sense; it was an old book. But a quick check of other pages revealed no similar markings. He looked closer; whatever they were, they were smaller than the 4-point type used for the index listings. Too small for his eyes to make sense of. If he was going to play Sherlock Holmes, he should have brought a magnifying glass to the party.
But he had something better. His DSLR camera had a kick-ass close up lens. He had to think a moment to remember where he'd stashed it, then leafed through the instruction manual to figure out how to get the Macro setting. He opened his laptop and hooked it up and waited to see what happened.
And there on the screen appeared the room, from the camera's perspective. Hot damn! He aimed it at the page and pushed the zoom button. Large letters filled the screen, blurring in and out of focus as the camera established distance. They finally sharpened and Joe looked for one of the smudge marks. What appeared on his screen sent a cold shudder through him. Up until now, thinking about his supposed journey, he'd sort of believed, but... probably not. But when he focused in on one of the dirt marks, and saw, not a smudge, but a clearly formed numeral 7, a finger from beyond reached out and touched him on his forehead with icy certainty. It really had happened. He'd crossed over. He'd spoken to his dead brother. Turns out, his brother had already spoken to him. He'd had the key all along.
It was a sobering realization. But finally, excitement got the best of him. He pumped his fist in the air, exclaimed "Yeah, Baby!!" and searched out other marks. All were numerals. Some double digits. Some were over letters, some over spaces.
Okay, now what? He had a code, no doubt, but how to break it? He quickly realized that if Christopher really had handed him a code, he was still screwed. So maybe it was something else. Christopher knew who he was dealing with. Joe had always told him—Keep it simple, stupid. No way Chris would have handed him something that would make him actually have to think. So Joe would keep it simple.
He started by writing down each letter / number combination. There were forty-eight of them. No numbers were repeated. So what would happen if he just rearranged them in numerical order? Number one was paired with the letter B. He looked for number two, and found it paired with an O. Three gave him an X, and Four added a space. With that, his blood pressure shot up about fifty points. The sonofabitch really had kept it simple.
Joe worked fast, but carefully, double checking his work several times. But when he was finished, he had the answer he'd been looking for.
Box 4992 - 3988761 - xY8c35 banque suisse zurich
Account, box number and access code. But if what he was looking for was a deposit box, where was the key? He didn't know much about banking, but he knew that you needed a key. He felt along the surface of both covers, inside and out, but found no protrusions that would suggest something embedded within. He studied the spine, peered down the length inside the cover material, then got a flashlight and studied it again. He couldn't say for sure, but midway through, there appeared to be a bump. A razor blade made quick work of the outer cover, and there, dead center, was a clear patch that had been glued onto the bound signatures, made of gauze and reinforced with some kind of acrylic coating. Joe pressed against it and knew he'd hit pay dirt, which was confirmed a second later when he ripped off the gauze and a small key pinged onto the table.
Christopher, the bastard, was almost too smart for Joe's own good. But all was forgiven. All he needed now was a reservation and plane tickets.
* * *
Banque Suisse kept a low profile. Unlike its more visible relatives, USB and Credit Suisse, there were no marques, no logos, no flags, no indication at all what waited behind this plain facade. Joe double checked the address. Then he saw the small, gold plaque. Neat Helvetica lettering spelling out Banque Suisse, and nothing else. He was buzzed in and met by a polite gentleman who apparently hadn't smiled in years.
Joe didn't need to introduce himself. Names were seldom used in rooms such as this. He was led into a small, plain office.
"How may I help you," the banker asked.
"I need access to a deposit box."
"Of course." The man handed Joe a pad and a pencil. "If you'll give me the account number..."
Joe wrote it from memory.
"One moment," said the banker, as he consulted his computer screen. Then he handed Joe a small keypad. "If you would enter your access code..."
Again, Joe complied from memory.
The banker consulted his screen, nodded in affirmation. "And the box number?"
"Excellent. If you'll follow me. I assume you have the key?"
"Of course. By the way, can you give me a current balance for this account?"
"Certainly. I see that the initial deposit was for 100,000 francs, and that has been the only activity. There has been appreciation, but nothing dramatic."
Joe nodded. There'd better be something really good in that box.
As Joe was led to the elevator, the banker said, "You might be interested to know, sir, that, unlike funds deposited in an account, items in deposit boxes are not subject to unwanted intrusions. These uncertain political times have compelled our business to become more... creative. Maintaining the privacy of our clients remains our number one priority, despite being forced to cooperate with certain legal necessities."
"Uh-huh. Do you speak English?"
"What do you mean?"
"Translate that so I know what you're saying."
"Ah. We issue 1000 franc notes in our country, a considerably higher denomination than you'll find anywhere else in the world. It allows for large sums to be converted to a form easily stored, away from prying eyes."
"Hmm. I like that. I think I might need some of those bills real soon."
The elevator reached the basement and opened onto a large room secured behind sturdy bars. From floor to ceiling, all four walls were filled with deposit boxes. The banker opened the gate, consulted his notes and then retrieved one of the boxes from across the room and signaled Joe to follow him as he walked into a small anteroom. A single bench filled the space. He set the box on it, presented his key, and Joe did likewise. They both turned at the same time, and the box opened. Inside, a second box kept the contents private.
"I will be locking you in, sir. When you are finished, simply press that buzzer behind you, and I'll come for you."
Joe waited until he was alone, then opened the box. Inside was a single sheet of paper. And Hello, a Glock 17. Way to go, Christopher! Maybe the kid was more grounded in the real world than Joe thought. He looked it over; full magazine, perfect condition. He didn't see needing to use it, but, hey, you never know. He pocketed the weapon and turned his attention to the piece of paper.
Yeah, baby! This was it; the real deal. It was a list of thirty different accounts, in thirty different banks, with all necessary information to effect wire transfers from anywhere in the world. Balances were included. All Joe could see were seemingly endless rows of zeros. Joe's hands shook as he held the priceless page. The first thing he needed to do was get this information someplace where he could actually put it to use. He closed the box and pressed the buzzer.
At the end of the hallway, a door opened and footsteps approached. The banker unlocked the gate and entered the room.
"I trust all is in order, sir?"
"Everything's grand. I think we might have some business to transact."
A voice from the hallway said, "Actually, Mr. Corrigan, I believe your business is with us."
Joe whipped his head around and found himself facing three men in beat-up trenchcoats that screamed police.
"What the...?" He turned to the banker.
With a mournful look, the man said, "As I mentioned, our business has grown more complex. There was nothing I could do."
"So all that crap about 1000 franc notes, that was just to keep my attention, huh?
One of the detectives said, "Your brother had his hands in a lot of nasty business. We placed a watch alert on this box when it was first purchased. We figured eventually someone would come to claim it. Surprise."
"It's empty," said another detective, examining the box.
"Exactly," said Joe. "That's how I found it. Looks like Christopher sent us all on a merry chase."
"In that case, you won't mind if we search you? Seeing as how there's nothing for us to find."
The three were positioning themselves to surround Joe, and closing the circle. His next step was pure reflex, a reflex from the street—when threatened, attack. Hard.
He lunged between the two detective closest to him, pulled the gun out of his pocket, turned and squeezed the trigger. Apparently, these weren't the run-of-the-mill cops that he was used to. His shot went wild. Possibly he was distracted by the three bullets that entered his body just before he fired.
Joe was dead before he hit the ground.
* * *
Joe watched the subsequent activity with surprising detachment. A moment of regret and despair gave way to calm acceptance as his body was searched, more officers arrived, he was bagged, tagged and carted off. But by then, Joe had lost interest, in all of it. He hadn't understood, on his Crossover excursion, what it meant to truly step outside of time and space, what Christopher had been talking about. Now he got it. The news wasn't good. The idea of spending eternity rubbing shoulders with a bunch of gorgeous, light-washed angels dressed in white seemed pretty damned boring. Maybe, like Christopher, he'd "evolve," whatever that meant.
But Joe was nothing, if not pragmatic, and when the walls of the bank vault shimmered, then faded and a tunnel opened before him, he set off. All seemed as before. Total darkness gradually gave way to increasing light until Joe once more stood before the brilliant barrier. Okay, folks: get ready for peace, love and flowers. It's showtime. He stepped through.
And back into darkness. Well, not total darkness, but it took a moment for him to get his bearings. He stood on a city street corner at night. A cold wind blew scraps of paper along the cracked sidewalks. Only two street lights actually worked and these gave off a pale yellow glow. No lights shone in any of the surrounding buildings. Several storefronts were boarded up.
A few cars were parked along the street. In front of him, a '71 Pontiac GTO. Across the street, a '67 Ford Fairlane. Next to it, a '69 Chevy Impala. Joe was mesmerized. These were the last real cars ever made; he hadn't seen them on the street since he was a kid. The Chevy's doors were opened, and Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love," blared from tinny speakers. Joe looked up. There was no moon. There were no stars. Just an endless city night that stretched as far as he could see.
Diagonally across from him, five punks gathered around a fire burning in a trash can. He walked toward them now. As he passed the GTO, he glanced at himself in the window reflection. He looked twenty years younger. As he approached the group, they studied him in silence. They all looked at each other for a moment or two; then one said, "They said you were coming."
"They? Who? Who's 'they'?"
The punks looked at each other but said nothing.
Joe asked, "Who's in charge here."
Looks of puzzlement followed. Then another one said, "Aren't you?"Joe listened to the pounding rhythm accompanying Jimmy Page's guitar break, read some of the shop signs—Fred's Pawn Shop; Royal Pizza; Tony's Gym—smelled the street, felt the energy. Remembered Chris's words: Everything is here. All expectations are realized. All possibilities come to pass. All beliefs materialize, exactly as you expect them to. His whole life, Joe had wondered what he believed in. As he looked around at the dark streets, he realized that he'd always known the answer.
About the Creator
Writer, image retoucher, musician/composer, 3D artist. Despite modest success in all those fields, Photoshop paid the bills.
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