Chapter 43: The Shining Man
THE painless sensation of flesh tearing from bone surged through my body as I sat up and rose to my feet on the interstate outside of Bennett. I had no soreness. No aches. No weight to carry. My limbs moved as if gravity had taken a lunch break. I felt better than I’d ever felt in my life.
I looked down the stretch of I70 to the east, then turned back to see the monk staring down at a dead body on the ground. The guy was turned on his stomach, his face partially obstructed from view.
“You can’t save them all,” I said to the monk. Heck, I couldn’t even save one.
The monk didn’t respond. Didn’t even acknowledge me. He just bent down to pick up the body and hoisted it over his shoulder like I wasn’t there.
The body’s face came into view. It looked strikingly like me. As I took a closer look, I gasped and stumbled back a few steps.
It was me.
There was a strange familiarity to all of this. The dots connected. I’d separated from my body like Abby. Had I just developed a new power? No, that wasn’t it. Something else was going on.
I was dead…and I needed to get back into my body! Where was the monk going with my body?
“Hey, I’m right here!”
The monk vanished into curls of black smoke along with my body.
“Hey,” I yelled, “I need that.” How was I going to get back into my body? I threw up my hands. “Son of a—” I bit off the last word, clenching my teeth. Had I gone mad?
I turned in a circle and laughed. I spun ’round and ’round, taking in the scene.
Madness. That’s what this was. Why else would I feel weightless and be laughing for no good reason?
As I spun, a dark tunnel appeared in the sky with a bright light at the end. It looked like it was coming out of the storm clouds above. It pulled at me.
And I let it.
As I passed through the tunnel, I came out into the light. A scene painted itself around me. I took in a sharp breath and came to a stop.
The scene was my house, thirteen years ago, on that fateful day when my life had changed forever. But instead of seeing it from my own eyes, I saw it from above.
My five-year-old self walked into my dad’s office, a black haze outlining him. What was that?
I wanted to reach out and turn the naive kid around, tell him what was about to happen. But somehow, I knew he wouldn’t hear me. All I could do was watch the horrific scene play out just the way I knew it would.
Dad sat at his desk in his brown, leather chair. But something was different. This time, he had a black haze around him like the one I saw around the five-year-old Ian.
Little Ian asked his dad to play, and he refused. A dark look came into the child’s eyes. His arms flexed, and the black haze around him began to take shape. It formed into a massive, human-like beast, easily four times Little Ian’s size. Its eyes glowed a deep crimson, and it heaved air like an angry bull. Black horns protruded from the sides of its head, twisted forward. He was inside and outside of Little Ian all at the same time. This seemed like the beast Abby had described from the graveyard.
I watched another black haze spread from the monster throughout the room like a bubble. When it reached the desk, objects shook and vibrated, pushing backward. The energy touched the walls. Little Ian flexed, and the walls bowed outward. The force exploded from Little Ian and the walls recoiled. Energy blew out the office door and the window, slamming Dad back against it.
My little sister smashed against the wall outside the door.
She couldn’t hear me.
Little Ian fell to the floor, clutching his stomach in the fetal position. Like a rubber band, the dark energy recoiled into the black beast which shrunk back into the young boy, leaving only a dark haze around him once again. I looked at my stomach as the awful pain came back to me—the pain Little Ian was feeling. And now, somehow, I understood the pain had never gone away. I’d merely desensitized myself to feeling it back then.
Dad shouted, “No!” and ran to pick up Ally just as Mom rushed in.
The pain in my stomach dulled to nothing and my father’s emotions washed over me instead. Regret. Failure. Confusion. He blamed himself for what happened to me and Ally.
All these years, I’d thought he was angry with me. That he thought I was defective. A failure.
I’d had it wrong.
Waves of shame washed through me as I realized how I’d treated him all of this time because of this lie I’d bought into. I’d been so angry with him, thinking he didn’t accept me for who I was. I’d changed the way I acted to suit him, to try to get his acceptance. When none of it worked, the anger had grown much worse. And it was all a lie. Not a lie I understood just in my head. It was something I understood in my heart at that moment…and it hurt.
For the first time I can remember, I sympathized with my dad.
Guilt and anger my father was feeling centered in my gut, burying itself there. Dad was afraid to feel those emotions, so he’d unknowingly put them into a shallow grave. He hadn’t realized they would resurrect many times in the future, coming out on me and Mom in various ways, often times in the form of avoidance. Though the emotions seemed to emerge in that moment, they were very old, passed down to him. Passed down to me. Passed down and inescapable.
The same guilt and shame had been buried in my gut all these years. I couldn’t suppress it anymore. The pain made me cringe.
What Abby had said about people feeling others emotions after death had become a reality, and it was breaking me.
Something tapped my shoulder. Beside me stood a shining man, full of light. This was his doing.
I looked into his eyes and saw my reflection staring back at me, staring into my soul. “Why are you showing me this?”
I’d merely thought the words in my heart and he’d heard them. They hadn’t come from my head at all. In fact, my mind didn’t exist in that place, only my heart, and it was what spoke instead of my mouth. There was no such thing as hidden thoughts there. All was laid bare. This being saw every part of me.
And yet he smiled.
A smile I both saw and felt as if it had wrapped itself around me. “Things aren’t always what they seem, young one.”
A tremor haunted me at his words. I’d spoken them just yesterday to Joseph and Asa had spoken them to me months before.
The emotions were overwhelming. Consuming me. “I’ve treated my dad so badly for so many years. It was so bad, so wrong.”
The shining man put his arm around my shoulders. “No, no…not good or bad, not right or wrong…just a lesson learned.”
I understood at that moment that he wasn’t judging me, that he didn’t see right or wrong like I did. He understood me completely and loved me without condition.
The shame abruptly dissipated, replaced by feelings words couldn’t describe. It was as if the tentacles of life itself, that heavy weight, had been ripped from my heart, and all that remained was overflowing peace and joy. I’d never experienced anything even close to this, and there was nothing more that I wanted than to just exist with this being. His joy had turned this place, even the horrible memory, into a paradise. There was no reason to go anywhere but here. I was home…forever.
The being squeezed my shoulder. “Some parts have been abandoned. Banished.”
I frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“In time, you will.” The man’s glow grew brighter and brighter, blotting out the scene around me. “You must go back.”
“No.” I shook my head vehemently. “I wanna stay here.”
“Your body has died before its time,” he said. “I brought you here to show you the mystery of your anger and how it hides your peace. But now you must return.”
I resorted to reasoning. “I can’t go back if I’m dead.”
“I can raise the dead once they’ve stopped resisting my help.”
“You don’t understand.” Pain twisted my face into a frown. “I don’t wanna go back.”
“No, it is you who does not understand.” The shining man’s words were so gentle. Hard to resist.
The scene around me became a vibrant land flowing with colors I’d never laid eyes on before. I’d read about the human eye only perceiving a very small range of colors, but that had been hard to comprehend…until that moment.
The shining man’s voice engulfed my very being. “You made agreements with people before you were born—agreements seated in eternity. Your purpose is to fulfill those agreements no matter the consequences. It’s how your heart matures. You must complete them before you die.”
I’d be in immense pain if I went back to my body. The weight of life would crash into me, those tentacles thrust back into my heart. I wanted none of it. “Please let me stay.”
“We will meet again.” The compassion in his tone was infectious, alive.
The shining man’s light shined brighter, overtaking the gorgeous flowing landscape around me. “I’m not as far away as you think. You are made of me. All things are.” He smiled again, that wonderful smile that enveloped me. “I cannot be separated from myself, and so we will never be apart, young one, even when it feels like we are.”
I reached out for the shining man like a little kid reaching for his father’s hand as he slips off a cliff.
He caught my hand with an easy grip whose strength knew no end. “You can stay if you like, but you made unspoken agreements with Abby that will go unfulfilled, such as the one to save her.”
Something in my heart came unhinged. The peace I experienced had caused me to completely forget about Abby. I had to choose between her and paradise.
And in that moment, I braced myself…