Luke realized with horror that he had a few fleeting seconds to correct his mistake in going the wrong way on the freeway as he was heading toward a speeding tractor-trailer. Maybe if he hadn’t been so tired after a long night working as a computer programmer on a rush job he may have remembered to put his seat belt on, but it was too late. His head went through the windshield with glass cutting deeply into his face. A shard of glass hit his eye and the pain felt like someone had poured gasoline into his eye and lit a match. He felt his crushed and bloody body slam into the front of the tractor trailer.
All he could remember afterward were the ambulance sirens.
At the hospital, Luke thought he was surely close to death. And then, alone in the room, he felt more and saw a hand above him in his bed. Was it a summons to the afterlife, he wondered? He was resigned. He was ready.
"God, if this is you, I’m ready. I’ve accumulated money and traveled the world, but I have no family. I’ve led a selfish life. I’ve always looked out for myself because no else would."
You are not ready yet.
The hand had a voice, a strong and yet oddly gentle one.
"What do you mean I’m not ready?" Luke asked, puzzled as he strained with his broken body to touch the mysterious hand. “You mean, not ready to die?”
There is more work for you to do. You have greater things to do.
“What work? I don’t understand.”
But the hand and voice were both gone.
"Mr. Samuels, I wasn't sure if you were going to make it," the nurse said as she secured his cast and then checked his vital signs. "You’ve been in a coma for three days. Do you have any relatives, wife or children? We couldn't find any."
"I have no family. Where am I?"
"You’re in Our Lady of Forgiveness Hospital in the Bronx."
I’m alive, Luke thought with relief. Now he recalled the cryptic voice. Had he been dreaming? What did it mean that I have great things to do? Was I imagining all that?
Several weeks passed and after finishing physical therapy, Luke felt encouraged by the progress of his recovery, but he was still limited to a wheelchair. The hospital staff, though, recommended that he move around to help get his strength back. He was only forty-five. Now at the age of forty-five he had years more to live.
On one of his strolls on his floor, he spotted an elderly woman in bed when the door to her room was open. A glow or an aura surrounded the woman with all sorts of medical equipment by her bed. He wasn't sure if it was the medicine that he was taking that was making him see this strange phenomenon, but with no one in the room with her he wheeled himself for a closer look.
Now he heard a faint beep that came from the woman’s heart monitor attached to her frail-looking body. A tube was in her throat and her chest sagged up and down. Her eyes were closed. Luke wheeled right up to her bed. She will be dead soon, he thought. Suddenly, the blips on her heart monitor went flat into a straight line. A doctor or nurse wasn’t there. He should shout for help, but he felt strangely compelled to put his hands on her chest, which felt cold even through the blanket.
Inexplicably, he began to see things in the woman’s past that she surely kept secret. He learned that she had worked in a bank for thirty years, and had stolen small amounts from the bank over her career. She had never told anyone but now he knew her guarded secret.
To his surprise, the woman’s chest pushed upward and she gasped for air as if she were drowning. He feels a torrent of electricity shoot through his body, and when he tried to remove his hand from the woman he couldn’t. It was as if both bodies had become conjoined. The heart monitor accelerated with activity.
The woman’s eyes opened. She gazed with surprise at Luke and then smiled. Tears poured down her face. Now he was able to withdraw his hand.
"Thank you,” the woman said in a slightly stronger voice. “It felt good to get that horrible mistake off my chest."
Luke was deeply perplexed. What had just happened? I felt good knowing this woman’s secret. She seems better. Was I really responsible?
"What are you doing in here?” the nurse demanded to know as she rushed in. You shouldn’t be in the room.”
Luke felt both confused and oddly confident. "I was just trying to give her comfort."
Later, to his surprise, Luke learned that the woman had made a complete recovery from her heart attack and had been released from the hospital. But she didn’t come to see him, which was disappointing. The hospital staff was perplexed how this woman recovered, and so quickly. Everyone called it an act of God.
But Luke suspected otherwise. Healing this woman and saving her life made him think about his life before the accident. I lived my life as a shallow and selfish person. He had been through a couple of relationships, but when the commitment became too much he bailed out like a man parachuting out of a plane. His career as a computer programmer had allowed him to make enough money to travel and live comfortably – but alone. Always alone.
Now, after the accident, he felt he had, for some reason, been given a second chance. Did God talk to me? He couldn't be positive, but something remarkable had happened. Never particularly religious before, he now felt a surge of faith.
After release from the hospital, Luke returned to work. But completing his assignments gave him less satisfaction now. He had a longing to see if he could help other people, or to finally learn if the incident with the woman in the hospital was just a one thing event..
I want that feeling again, he realized. The pleasure of healing someone was like a drug. He drove around in search of someone injured, feeling like an ambulance chasing lawyer looking for trouble.
One night, while driving home after finishing another night tour and while wearing his seat belt, he heard a gunshot. Just ahead of him a man was staggering on the sidewalk. He parked and approached the man holding his stomach where blood was staining his shirt. A glow was coming from the man similar to the elderly woman in the hospital.
Is it another opportunity? Luke wondered, strangely expectant.
Luke knelt by the moaning man and felt warm blood seeping through his fingers. The man's unkempt black hair curled up like snakes.
"I'll get those bastards!” the man muttered, his face pale as if life was draining from him.
"I can help you," Luke said as he placed his hand on the man’s chest..
"You're not the cops?” the man murmured. “Are you a doctor?"
"No, I’m neither."
Suddenly, Luke became aware of hideous things that this man, slowly bleeding to death, had done. He had murdered several men. He had enjoyed torturing people and seeing them beg for mercy. He had a monster dying before him on the cold concrete of the street..
In reaction to the grotesque images, Luke strained to remove his hands from the man's chest but was unable to. It was just like the time in the hospital.
I’m not sure I want to help this man after what I’ve seen, he thought.
"Get help!” the stricken man cried.
Everyone is deserving of healing. Luke heard a familiar voice in his head, but there was no hand hovering over his head.
Luke's hand, which he still can’t withdraw, was drenched with blood. The man's eyes seem distant. He’s dying, Luke thought. Was it too late? Should he try to get help? Then he felt that same electric surge pulsating through his body similar to when he helped the elderly woman. In an instant, the bleeding ceased and the man stopped groaning.
Luke heard sirens and rushed back to his car and swiftly drove away..
At his apartment, he tried to analyze the surreal event in his head that he just encountered. Had I just helped a murderer? But no answer came and he soon fell asleep..
In his dream, there were hundreds of people outside his building waiting for him to heal them. He could tell they were a motley crew of murderers, thieves and rapists. They waved bats, knives and guns in their hands, screaming his name in unison. Luke! Luke! Luke!
He awoke screaming. What was going on, he wondered? Was being able to heal people a burden or a blessing?
In confusion, he got up and went to church, something he hadn’t done in a long time. I should have gone to church regularly, he chastised himself..
Inside, and alone, he stared at the stations of the cross.
Was he being called upon to make sacrifices? Was this now his burden?
Luke remembered his teaching from Catholic School. Jesus had made many sacrifices. Only one seemed ordained for him, a mere sinner, but still he wanted to be released from his strange bondage.
"God, was that you who saved me when I was in the car accident? He whispered as he knelt at the altar. Was it your hand that reached out to me?"
There was no answer.
"I enjoyed saving the woman", he said, looking up at Jesus on the cross. "It feels good to help someone, even if she was a thief. But trying to save the man, a murderer, was terrible. If there are others like him I want no part of this. I don't want to do this again. Please take this burden away from me."
Then he heard a voice in his head.
You don't get to choose who to save. Everyone deserves a second chance. There is a great opportunity ahead of you.
Hundreds of people were assembled in front of a public school on Corona Avenue. The streets were cordoned off from the Woodlawn cemetery to Yonkers. Patrons were spilling out of the bars that lined the avenue to take a look. Senator Carl King, seeking reelection, was looking to garner some last minute votes. But many voters feared his controversial views on abortion, socialism and immigration. He started speaking atop the stairs of the school.
Luke pushed through the thick crowd and tried to use his 6"3" height to his advantage as he looked for an opening. God told me to heal and I will, he told himself. He hoped to spot a telltale aura among the onlookers that he had experienced before. But he didn’t see any..
"We don't want any communists," jeered a man in the crowd wearing a BETTER DEAD THAN RED shirt. Senator King's eyelids rose high when he saw the man's shirt. The mob of people in the front became more forceful and surged forward. The police did their best to hold them back until a gunshot went off.
Luke was initially unclear where the shot originated. But when the crowd dispersed in sheer chaos, he saw a glow that emanated over the fallen cop next to the Senator.
"Stop, who are you?" another cop asked, his gun drawn as Luke rushed toward the downed officer lying on the steps to the school.
"I’m a doctor,” Luke said, sure that he had heavenly permission to lie. “Let me help him."
Buttons popped into Luke’s face as he ripped open the police officer’s shirt. He saw the bullet wedged deep into the protective vest. Still, he now knew this policeman was corrupt and had been taking bribes from drug dealers.
"I had been doing this so long," the bleeding cop whispered to Luke with a contrite expression on his pale face. "My family is in so much debt. I didn't know what else to do."
"It's okay now," Luke said in a low voice as he put his finger over the bullet hole.
Suddenly, Luke turned to see a man wearing a hood running towards him. The cop by his side fired, but it was too late. The hooded man in the gray shirt reached into his jacket and detonated the bomb he was carrying by his waist..
Luke's long legs wobbled as the ground shook from the explosion. Body parts flew in the air, with blood coloring the steps and sidewalk with splotches of blood. Screams of agony resounded as survivors cried out for help amid the black smoke lifting up from the blast.
Luke felt several stabbing pains in his back and his fingers were bloody. But now, through the acrid smoke, he could see many glows.
God, there’s so many people I can heal, he thought. In return, he heard the voice again: This is what you are here for.
Luke ran down the stairs, stepping over dead bodies looking for survivors. He went from one body to another, conscious that his back was hurting him.
I must keep going. Is that blood running down my legs?
He laid his hand on several people, ignoring the often sad information he learned, and was gratified to see that the bleeding stopped for many and that there was less shock on their ashen faces. But there were so many more to get to as he heard sirens blaring in the background and a police helicopter hovering above. He searched for the next survivor. Sheer adrenaline kept him going. His trousers were red now, but his back pain seemed gone. His euphoric feeling kept growing with each person he helped.
This is my role. This is my duty. This is my second chance. .
"I’m okay," Luke said as an emergency medical technician tried to assist him. He staggered on weak legs to a group of bodies just ahead that he could help. Tears slid down his face, glowing itself as if from an interior fire.
The glow that his cloudy tired eyes could see was now reduced to a couple of victims. I must keep healing. His knees buckled as he looked up at the dark sky and the clouds floating lazily by. I’m tired and must rest. His knees buckled and he stumbled like a drunk onto the street. Blackness wrapped around him.
"God, thanks for a second chance," Luke said as he reached up to the hand above him. He was conscious of pushing his body as if nearing the top of a mountain. Just a little more. He kept moving, and this time he grasped the hand.
You are ready now, he heard, and then he smiled for the last time.
Jim Keane is a fiction writer with a BA in English from Mount Saint Mary College. He's attended several fiction/creative classes. He lives with his family in Westchester, New York.