Dedicated to
Faith Mackenzie Shaw

And all those who are born
To a fate that is not of their choosing,
Yet proudly create their own destiny.

As Fate Would Have It

(unedited version)

A Novel
By David Brooks

Part One

"…What a long strange trip it’s been."
---The Grateful Dead

Chapter One

It was always the same…to a point. Chris can see the small crowd of eleven dressed in black, hooded robes gathered around the casket at the top of the hill. The features of their faces are indiscernible, laying deeply in the shadows of their hoods. Their heads are bowed as if in silent prayer, their black-gloved hands clasped together before their waists.

The Priest standing at the head of the casket also wears a black, hooded robe with his face equally concealed within its shadows. He is reading from a large, noticeably worn black book that he holds delicately in his two large hands. He wears the same robe as the mourners around the freshly dug grave but his long, white, bony fingers are free of gloves, perhaps to make it easier to turn the pages as he reads. The Priest also wears a red band tied around his waist while the others wear a black one around their own. The Priest towers over the others, standing tall at six and a half feet, while the rest of the mourners surrounding the gravesite are all no more than five feet in height.

The casket they are gathered around is suspended over an open hole in the ground awaiting the Priest’s final words of comfort for the living before being lowered to its final resting place. Chris is still far enough down the hill that he can’t make out the words the Priest is reciting from his Bible, but between the low breaking waves of the wind gently urging him on from his back, he is able to hear some of the chanting, yet doesn’t believe they sound like any words he has ever heard before, let alone understood.

Chris slowly makes his way up the winding path between scattered tombstones on both sides. The faces of the old, gray markers seem to be watching Chris as he passes. Somewhere on a subconscious level he is asking himself if it is even possible, if the dead resting under these final acknowledgements of their lives could be watching him as he slowly ascends the hill. Subconsciously he feels as though he is interrupting a play in progress, as if he is walking across center stage as the actors in black on the hill remain in character, continuing their story, uninterested in his approach. Yet the audience, the gray and decaying faces etched with memories of better days, the tombstones, have shifted their attention to the newcomer, to himself. Subconsciously he feels many eyes upon him. But on a conscious level, his own eyes and mind are fully riveted on the approaching scene at the apex of the hill.

He is reluctant to go up the hill but he knows he can not retreat. When he stops walking, he feels the wind pick up behind him as if laying a gentle but firm hand on his back to help coax him along in the right direction. The sun is beginning to sink behind the hill. The sky directly above is still a cloudless, slowly darkening blue, but the sky peaking out from behind the burial mound is a combination of a deep red and a brilliant, fiery yellow, causing what appears to be a strange glowing aura surrounding the silhouettes of the ominous looking group clad in black around the casket.

The air around him feels heavier than normal and he seems to have to swallow each breath into his lungs and then let it out again slowly, cautiously. There is a scent of wet grass in the wind, sweet like a freshly mown lawn on a dewy spring morning, but its taste seems tainted with something less pleasant, something dead, as it wisps past his lips in its gentle gusts. He dreads reaching the top of the hill, but he also senses that he wants to get there, if he must, before the sun’s light loses its hold on the day.

As Chris nears the site atop the hill, all the mourners in black, slowly, appearing as unsurprised as though it were called for in their previously read and well-rehearsed scripts, turn to face him and watch him approach. Even the Priest falls silent, closes his book, and shifts his attention from the Bible in his hands to the newcomer. Yet even as Chris approaches the site, their faces remain eerily just out of sight with the sun at their backs.

Chris stops walking, again wanting to turn and run in the opposite direction, but the wind behind him urges him forward with increased force. The day is still hot even as the sun sinks into the earth and his hands and face are drenched in sweat as he takes a few more steps toward the small crowd.

He can’t take his eyes off the closed coffin yet he can feel all other eyes on himself. The coffin itself is also a deep ebony, with elaborate carvings in its side in the same dark black, only revealing their presence as he approaches the fresh hole in the ground.

As Chris reaches the site, standing at the foot of the hole, he looks up at the Priest standing on the other side. The Priest says nothing but slowly bows his head again towards the coffin, willing Chris’ eyes to follow. Again the wind picks up, chilling the sweat on his face and raising goose bumps on his arms. He can still feel the watching eyes of the audience now behind and below him, senses an anticipation with their gaze causing more sweat to fill his pores and be chilled by his skin.

Chris opens his mouth to ask the Priest who is in the coffin but then thinks better of speaking to the Holy Man. Something about him scares Chris in a way he doesn’t want to think about. He looks back at the coffin. He knows he will see who is in the coffin soon. He always does.

He watches helplessly as the coffin lid slowly opens on its own.

* * * * *

Chris woke up feeling a bit disoriented, lost and exhausted, the face in the coffin still lingering on the edges of his mind. It was a new face again, no one he knew or recognized. He had known none of them, in fact, since the first, but that didn’t eliminate his ever-present fear that he would know the next one. And he usually knew when a new face was going to appear. No, he always knew when a new face was going to appear. That was part of the problem.

He dragged himself out of bed and into the shower where he tries to wash away the remnants of this recurring dream each day upon awakening. The memories rarely fade, but the feel of the warm water running over his face, the enveloping and seemingly purifying heat that pounds against his skin, is needed. It makes him feel a bit cleaner just beneath his skin, nearer to the soul. The dream always makes him feel used and violated in a way he can’t quite explain even to himself. It leaves him feeling as though he has done something wrong, trespassed where he shouldn’t be trespassing, dabbled where he shouldn’t be dabbling. But most of all, it leaves him feeling tired. So very, very tired.

The first time he had had this dream, he had seen the face of his girlfriend in the coffin, or his ex-girlfriend, as she had just become at the time. When the dreamland coffin had opened and he stood gazing at her face, her eyes had suddenly opened, seeing only him.

"YOU DID THIS TO ME!" she had yelled as she lay there. "THIS IS YOUR FAULT!"

Chris had bolted awake immediately, his pillow drenched with tears mixed with the sweat running down his face. The dream had been so vivid and seemed so real and had refused to fade from his consciousness the way most dreams do upon awakening.

As soon as he began to recognize the familiar surroundings of his bedroom and realized that it had been just a dream, he had raced to the hospital to see her, sure that she had died during the night.

She hadn’t.

He ran down the hospital’s corridor without stopping at the receptionist’s desk on her floor to ask a nurse of her condition, despite the fact that Sherry, his (ex)girlfriend, had said she never wanted to see him again. Without thinking, he burst into her room sure that her bed was going to be empty.

It wasn’t.

Sherry awoke with a start as the door to her room swung open and banged loudly against the wall.

"What the hell are you doing here?" she sneered at him as she realized who had wakened her. "I thought I told you I never wanted to see you again! Look what you’ve done to me!"

"I am so sorry," was all Chris could think to say as he lowered his head and turned back towards the door he had just bounded through. "I just needed to make sure you were okay."

"Oh, I’m okay, if you consider never being able to walk again as okay," she said sarcastically as tears began to well up in her eyes. "Now get out of here!" she screamed. "I meant it when I said I never want to see you again!"

Chris retreated back through the doorway, quietly closing the door behind him. He was glad she was okay, well…at least not dead like his dream had wanted him to believe. It was true that she was never going to walk again. And it was true that it was his fault, or at least he never argued with her that it hadn’t been.

In fact, it had not been directly his fault, but he had been the one to talk her into bungee jumping with him. If only she could have landed on top of me when the bungee cord had snapped instead of the other way around, he wished silently. But that hadn’t been his fate apparently. What had happened had simply happened, and he could never change that. There was no going back. Now, six months later, he was still trying to learn how to live with it.

* * * * *

It had been only their third date. A mutual friend had set them up on a blind date a week earlier and they had seemed to hit it off well right from the get-go.

Chris was 29 years old, a well-groomed, tall, and very shy desk clerk. Most women considered him a head-turner with his dark eyes, dark hair and dark complexion. He’d been thin and lanky most of his life, but over the last few years of his early adulthood, he had filled out his six foot two inch frame rather well. But his shyness had kept him humble…and single. He never complained of his single status. In fact he often gloated playfully about his being ‘his own master’ to the growing number of his friends getting married whenever they asked when he was going to get around to finding ‘the one.’ Despite his faithfulness and loyalty to singledom, his friends still enjoyed setting him up on the occasional blind date, which he allowed them to do more than he actually cared for, to humor them more than anything else.

Sherry was 24 years old and fresh out of college. She had no idea what to do next with her life but was ready to see what the world had to offer. Also quite a looker herself with her long slender legs and long blond hair, the two looked very comfortable together and hadn’t stopped smiling since they had been introduced. Chris was just beginning to feel that maybe his married friends could be on to something, and Sherry had been able to think of no complaints thus far either.

On their fateful third date, Chris and Sherry had gone to the State Fair to see Classified Trash, a new bluesy metal band they had both heard for the first time on the radio during their first date and had instantly liked. Over the phone the evening after that first date, Chris had informed her that Classified Trash was going to appear at the State Fair. Having greatly liked the song they had heard from the new group, and having heard the song for the first time on the radio while being together the first time, they had dutifully and romantically declared the song ‘Baby Whatcha Gonna Do (For The Rest Of Your Life),’ by Classified Trash as ‘their song.’

They arrived two hours before Classified Trash was scheduled to play and had walked the fair grounds merrily chatting and people-watching, enjoying their new-found puppy-love. Chris had always loved roller coasters and thrill rides. He had never bungee-jumped before, but it had been high on his list of things to experience the moment the craze had become popular a few years earlier. They found themselves by the bungee cord apparatus and watched a few people jump off the metal tower and fly towards the ground, only to be snatched back up about twenty feet before hitting the giant air-mattress awaiting their return to earth. After two or three bounces on the bungee cord, the thrill-seekers were slowly lowered to the mattress where they slid the remaining six feet down its side to solid ground.

Chris decided the time was right for him to try it himself. To fly, if only for a moment, without wings. Other thrills on his list of things to be experienced at least once in his life, things like hang gliding, parachuting, mountain climbing, pyramid exploring, were equally high priorities, if not more so, but bungee jumping was the only one before him at the moment, presenting him an opportunity to cross one off the list.

After purchasing a ticket from the grungy man in the tiny square hut beside the entrance for twenty-five bucks, the going rate for a few seconds of terror (not to mention a chance to impress his new girl friend…a fair price, he figured), he passed along his ticket to another equally distracted and slightly grumpy looking man at the gate. Next he proceeded to a third man who strapped him into a harness for the ride. Then he climbed the 100-foot tower and walked boldly out to the edge where a fourth man waited with the final safety instructions and told him he could jump whenever he was ready.

Chris had taken the next step without hesitation. He had heard of people dying doing this, but he figured just as many people drowned in their own bathtubs every year and that didn’t stop him from taking a bath, so he wasn’t particularly worried about the dangers in bungee-jumping. Besides, he and Sherry had just watched several jumpers take that leap of faith and every one of them came away saying, "Wow! That was great!" So stepping off the tower had come easily for him and his reaction, as he approached Sherry after sliding off the giant cushion, had been the same as the others he had witnessed returning from the thrill.

"Wow, Sherry. That was great!" he said, all smiles. "You have got to try it once."

"No way," Sherry had replied. "Flying isn’t one of this featherless creature’s idea of fun," she added with a giggle.

"You’ve never flown?" he asked.

"No."

"What’s your favorite food?" Chris asked, not willing to let her off the hook quite that easy.

"Pizza. But what’s that got to do with the price of tombstones?" she quipped back.

"Say you’d never eaten or tasted a pizza before," he reasoned, "then you wouldn’t know what you’re missing. Same thing here. It’s wonderful and you don’t know what you are missing out on."

"People have died on that thing, Chris. You call that fun?" She pushed out a pouting lower lip as she said this, but the smile had not disappeared altogether.

"No one has died on this one," he replied with a wink. He wasn’t positive whether that was true or not, but figured it probably was. "That was mostly when bungee-jumping was new. People didn’t take the same precautions they do these days."

Chris had been steering them back towards the man in the hut as they talked. He pointed up at the pricing chart. "Look. You can even go two at a time. How about if we go together? I’ll keep you company so you won’t get too scared. Come on," he prodded, "it’ll give us something to tell our kids."

He winked again at her and even though she knew he was just teasing her, it was his charming, confident wink that had weakened her resolve and caused her to agree to just one jump…on the grounds that he would never ask her to do something like this again.

Chris triumphantly agreed, paid the man at the counter another thirty-five bucks, the discounted price for two, and the two young lovers got harnessed up and climbed the tower.

* * * * *

Their cord had snapped on its way back up from its first extension and the two of them had fallen the remaining twenty feet to the air-mattress. They had gotten their legs tangled up together as their limbs flew everywhere, reaching for anything to grab, but of course nothing was there. They had bounced together off the mattress in a tangled human ball and rolled down its side to the hard earth awaiting gravity to enforce its law. Chris landed on Sherry’s back, bending it in ways in which a back was not meant to bend.

They were both rushed off to the hospital. Chris had been knocked out cold and suffered a mild concussion while Sherry had broken her spine and was paralyzed from the waist down. Three days after the accident, Chris had been released. Sherry was still in critical, but stable condition.

He stayed with her in the hospital, along with Sherry’s parents, until she awoke for the first time since the accident, almost a week and four extensive surgeries later. At first she looked confused as she scanned the room with eyes squinting against the brightness.

As she began to regain her focus, she saw her parents standing over her with their "my poor baby" faces on. Next she became aware of the fact that she was not at home in her soft and fluffy bed where her parents had last stood over her in this manner as she awoke from a long fever once when she had been sixteen. The bed was hard and cold, the sheets a spotless white that seemed to intensify the brightness that still slightly burned her tender eyes.

The last time had been bad enough. She had later discovered in talking with her parents that the doctor had actually assigned a percentage of a chance of survival to her condition. It had been an 80% chance, a very good chance indeed, but it is still a bit unsettling to know that your life has as good a chance to live as a sunny day sometimes has for an unexpected rain shower. Sometimes it can rain when you least expect it.

Sherry had gone with the odds on that occasion, remaining sunny and bright as the clouds blew innocently by. She had awakened as her fever returned to a manageable level to see her parents leaning over her, smiling and telling her that they loved her, but with very tired and sympathetic faces. This time, however, a visible sorrow remained in her parents’ faces as she saw them lean in and over her. A sadness remained in their eyes where she had seen relief on the previous occasion. She instantly understood that this time might not be as good as the 80% chance she had had before. She struggled to mentally shake off the blankness in her mind that still concealed the events that had gotten her where she now laid.

Then she saw Chris. He was standing slightly back and to the right of her parents. Everything came back to her in a massive and cruel flood of understanding. The large steel frame, the harness, the cord, the last step off the platform; the fall, the helpless feeling as she grasped the air for purchase of anything, the feel of the plastic airbag as they first made contact. And then the crack. She remembered hearing the crack as she had felt the airbag’s yielding contact replaced by the hard earth. That was the last thing she remembered…but it was enough.

Anger flared up inside her as her first reaction to seeing Chris. She remembered not wanting to do the bungee jump. She remembered trusting Chris. She remembered that awful crack. He was the one who had brought this misfortune upon her. It was his fault that she was in whatever kind of mess she was in.

Not having the strength to relay the message she desperately wanted to direct at Chris, she slowly shifted her gaze back to her mother and father and weakly said, "Will you ask him to leave? Tell him I never want to see him again." Then she calmly closed her eyes awaiting to hear her parents carry out her request.

They hadn’t needed to say a word to Chris. As they turned and looked at him prepared to carry out their daughter’s instructions, he saw the hurt, and the hate that hadn’t been there a little while earlier, in their eyes and simply turned and walked out of the room without another word.

It was that night that he had his first dream.

* * * * *

Chapter Two


Faith

Front Desk

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As Fate Would Have It

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-One
Chapter Twenty-Two
Chapter Twenty-Three
Chapter Tweny-Four
Chapter Twenty-Five
Chapter Twenty-Six
Chapter Twenty-Seven
Chapter Twenty-Eight
Chapter Twenty-Nine
Chapter Thirty
Chapter Thirty-One
Chapter Thirty-Two
Chapter Thirty-Three
Chapter Thirty-Four
Chapter Thirty-Five
Chapter Thirty-Six
Chapter Thirty-Seven
Epilogue