Fiction

Sorry, room for one only

A short story by Carl Dow
Editor and publisher
True North Perspective

In this time of casual, Travis Robertson went formal. Except at the beach or in bed, he always wore a suit, shirt, tie, matching socks, and polished shoes. He selected his own wardrobe. Not his wife. His secretary was called a secretary, not an administrative assistant, nor any other fancy name to suit current fashion. He called her Miss Berlinger. She called him Mr. Robertson. They had been working together as master and slave for more than 20 years. They knew each other as intimately as could be possible without being man-and-wife. Miss Berlinger and Mr. Robertson saw themselves, without qualification, as the cornerstone, nay the very foundation, upon which rested and thrived Robertson-Cotton Communications and Cybernet with its three hundred and thirty-nine employees in key locations throughout North America. Early in the microchip era Robertson/Cotton found a lucrative niche for itself in the development of computer software and last fiscal year saw a tidy, satisfying, profit out of a turnover of more than one hundred million dollars. Both partners had secured enough by now to enjoy a luxurious retirement. But retirement was not on the minds of either one.

"Mr. Robertson. Mrs. Robertson is on the phone."

"Thank you Miss Berlinger." For the sake of privacy Travis bypassed the speaker and picked up the piece, "Barbara. How nice!"

"Travis darling, I have bad news. I just got a panic call from Penny. She's in despair trying to sort out wedding preparations for daughter number one, so I've volunteered to drive up and help her get organized. That means I won't be able to meet you for dinner. Do you mind terribly?"

Travis replied with loving patience, "No of course not. Penny couldn't organize a fuss in a barrel of monkeys. But she's a good friend. I'll miss you of course, but go ahead." He glanced out the window at the parking lot of his complex in the suburbs and saw the swirling snow. "Have you checked the weather? Last time I heard, a Colorado Low was to hit sometime today. By the look of the parking lot it's already here."

He reminded her that aside from the new storm, she would be driving through traditional snow-belt country. "Maybe you should sleep over. That's a dangerous highway at best of times and the prediction calls for about 10 inches of snow..."

"That's 25 centimetres today, dear," she said with a smile and wink in her voice. His huff revealed good humour. "That's for you and the kids. For me it's still inches."

"Some cyberman you are."

"I work the books. Decimal points are still decimal points. Black is black. Red is red."

"I know. I was just joking."

"So was I. Anyway, think about sleeping over. The snowfall will be bad enough — inches or centimetres — and there'll be plenty of wind to pile it up. I want to dance at the wedding, not mourn at your funeral."

"I'll be careful, and if it looks bad, I'll stay over. Thanks honey. You're a dear. I'm the luckiest gal in the world. After twenty-five years, I still haven't found anyone who is as thoughtful and as kind as you are ... uhh by the way, sometimes I think you can be too kind."

"Now Barbara. Don't start."

She responded with an impatient sigh. "So Harry is going to the convention."

"I didn't say that."

"Oh Travis, I can tell by the sound of your voice. You're going to stay behind and carry on with the dull bull work while Harry Cotton gets to have all the fun!" Then the empathetic smile returned to her voice. "You know the saying: all work and no play makes Jack a dull gray ..."

"Ooof!"

"Well it rhymes anyway!"

"Better than Longfellow! But seriously, conventions are work! And Harry is a natural for it. You know I'm a lame duck at small talk over cocktails. But Harry thrives on it. Last convention he lined up ten million dollars worth of contracts. And like they say, that ain't hay. And anyway, what're you trying to do, get rid of me?"

"Don't be silly! You know I wouldn't trade you in for a dozen young studs, dear heart, but you know full well you could charm the pants off those convention types just as easily as Harry! The trouble is, you let him push you around!"

"We've got a fine partnership. Even in this recession, we've got a booming business. . ."

"Because of you dear! Without you Harry would be a failure selling water on the Sahara. The best thing you've done, was way back at the beginning when you first formed the partnership, was agree to each of you taking out a million dollar life insurance policy and willing it to each other to reinforce the business in case one of you died. I'm looking forward to a special spending spree once Harry is called by the Grim Reaper. . ."

"Barbara!"

"Oh, I'm sorry Travis! I'm just angry for you! I just wish that for once you'd wipe the floor with that smart mouth! You let him get away with murder and it makes me so mad every time I think about it!"

"Well don't think about it," said Travis, his voice firm but gentle, "Leave Harry to me."

"Ummmm . . . well . . . you're the boss. I guess I've sounded like a shrew but you know it's because I love you and I don't like seeing you get hurt."

"I know."

"Anyway, I've pestered you enough, so I'll be on my way to rescue Penny. And oh! I almost forgot! You must promise not to practice that silly Yoga trick of yours! You slide so deeply into a trance, I'd swear you were dead. Honest to God! I don't know how you do it! You don't seem to be breathing. You're pulse is so weak I'm never sure if I can really feel it! One of these days you're going to slip away and never come back!

"Just total relaxation, light of my life. Keeps the ulcers away!"

"Well, working with that Harry, you need something! Oh that man makes me so angry I could kill him!"

"Barbara!"

"Oh there I go again. Sorry. But you've got to promise me you'll behave yourself while I'm away. If I decide to stay over, I'll phone. But if you're in your trance you won't hear the phone. Promise?"

There was a chuckle and a shrug of compliance in his voice. "Okay love, I'll behave. I'll talk with you later."

Travis leaned back in his black leather chair and clasped his hands behind his head. There was no sense in telling Barbara that when he was in a trance he had no trouble hearing the phone ring. And even while his body lay prone, that which left his body could easily pick up the phone. Talking with her would be another matter because she would not be able to hear him; for her, he would need to use his physical voice box. He stared at the ceiling. After next week, Barbara my dear, we won't have to worry about our friend Harry because I'm going to kill him while he's driving to that convention in Montreal. It will be the perfect murder because my body will be safe and snug at home while I end that miserable rat's life. But it must be my secret — a secret that I will carry right to my grave.

Travis left work at the usual time. The drive home was not difficult because the snow was light and frozen into tiny pellets that scattered when hitting the windshield and looked like blowing mists on the pavement. His recollection reached back to one of the old novelty songs of his teen years, Sparrow in the Treetop, and he paraphrased:

I love my wife

And my darlin' kids

Ain't scared o!goin' home

'Cause it ain't so late

Despite the unpleasantness regarding Harry, it had been a good life so far (and would soon get a lot better). He and Barbara had had three children. All grown and gone now. All happily following their own stars. As he pulled into the driveway, and unlocked the front door, he thought, what sweet memories this house has for me. Even now, here, alone, I can hear the echoes of the joys we had as a family growing up. Yes. All of us growing up. But it's nice to be alone once in a while. Like now, so I can exercise one of my secret vices. To hell with classical music. Down with semi-classical! Upward and onward with gude ol' kuntry and westurn! He placed the CD and pushed ON and stretched his arms to the ceiling with satisfaction as the music swelled. Who'd ever guess an old stuff shirt like me would have a yen for korny kuntry.

"Hee-hee!" he said aloud in a laughing voice, "Who knows what evil lurks in the minds of men? The Shadow do! Hee-hee-hee!"

Then with a frowning shrug of his lips, he headed for the kitchen. Rustle up something to eat pardner and then dig in for a couple of hours of work, planning, and practicing for the perfect murder!

After about an hour on the computer he saved his work with a backup on a flashdrive, checked it to make sure the transfer had been successful, ejected the flashdrive, then trashed that which was on the screen. He didn't want any evidence of his plans on the hard-drive. He put the flashdrive in his briefcase, thinking, well, so much for the dull bull work. Now for a little action. But first I'd better call Barbara and make sure there's no interference from that quarter.

Penny answered with the usual simple hello. "Penny! How are the preparations?"

"Oh Travis! Hi! We're moving along just fine! Hang on, I'll turn you over to the magician!"

"Travis!" said Barbara, obviously pleased. "Are you conscious?"

He ignored that but his voice revealed he had taken it playfully, "Just called to see how things are going."

"Like strawberries in June. We should be finished in a couple of hours or so!"

"Mmm.. . it's seven o'clock now. Why don't you stay over and come back in the morning. The storm should have blown out by then."

"Travis," her voice wary, "no trances now. . ."

"No-no-no. I'm just worried for you. The storm's bad enough down here but you've got to drive right through the snowbelt. It simply makes sense for you to stay over."

She hesitated.

"You stay honey," he urged in her silence. "I'm going to turn in about nine o'clock. I want to be at the office by six and I don't want to have nightmares about you in a head-on collision."

"Ummm ... well . . . maybe. But you've got to promise: no more trances unless I'm there."

"Well, I forgot to mention when you called earlier, I have a pleasant surprise for you. Next Wednesday evening. I'm going to take my very last journey into tranceland and you'll be there to hold my hand and bring me back."

Barbara's voice was hesitant. "Your last? Your very last? Promise?"

"I promise. On the rock of our marriage, I promise."

Barbara, missing the fact that he had not promised not to go into a trance tonight, said, "Well, you're a man of your word. I know that. If the blizzard still holds by the time we're through here, I'll sleep over. And I'm sure glad you've decided to give up that weird hobby of yours. As I've repeated ad nauseum, it gives me the creeps."

"Watch out! First thing you know I'll be taking up Country and Western music as a hobby!"

"You!" she said laughing. "That'll be a long day in December!"

"You can never tell. Well, have a good time! I'll see you tomorrow!"

As he hung up he thought, well Barbara dear, into each life a little white lie must fall. Actually, I told the truth, as far as it went. You will be with me when I go into my last trance on Wednesday. But tonight I must have one more. One more practice run to perfect the execution of the perfect crime: the murder of one partner who has gotten just a little too smart for himself.

He took a small case the size of a Red Cross first-aid kit from the safe in his study. He sat down on the leather sofa and prepared himself for an injection.

This to artificially quicken the process. I inject what would be to anyone else a lethal dose of valium. But because I've been conditioning myself for five years, it merely brings me to the doorstep of death, but not beyond There! Now I lay me down and with the added influence of practiced Yoga, I slip deeper and deeper into a trance. So deep that clinically I will be in more than a coma; 1 will be dead Not physically dead; just clinically dead Yesssss. . . that's it... deeper... deeperrrrr. Nowww. My breathing has all but stopped. My heart has slowed almost to the point of arrest. Now my life force can rise from its prison of flesh and blood and bone into another dimension but still of this earth. I can move about freely, leaving my body safe and snug on the couch! Careful now ... avoid damage to cells ....

Then he was free. It had taken him five years of walking the edge of death to learn the process. First he learned how to leave his corporeal self. Then he learned how to will himself beyond the walls of his room and then the house. Next he experimented successfully to have immense power over material things. And most important, his research and practice underlined that he could remain in this out-of-body state for only two hours. After that his body would be physically dead. With no body as a host, his life force would evaporate into the ether. For while there is life after life, it still ends in death.

Travis could remember the man who, out-of-body by accident, wandered away from it too far for too long and when he returned it was too late. The body was dead. With only seconds left of his ethereal existence, he desperately searched for another body to enter. But bodies on the razor's edge of death, that are in good condition, are almost impossible to find. Available bodies usually are ruined by disease or are broken and crippled beyond use. And their owners, out of ignorance, almost always stay within their physical bodies to the last, vainly hoping for some miracle to renew their lives.

My God, I'll never forget how terrible it was to witness the life forces of those two young men whose physical bodies had been mangled almost beyond description in a head-on collision, fighting each other to enter the body of a ninety year-old-woman only to discover that she was going to use it herself for another two years. Oh the shrieks of anguish as their life forces thinned and then vanished But none of that for me! I'll always be back in time! Now, away through the ether to the office! I can be back before nine in case Barbara calls.

Ahhhhh here we are! Now through the walls into Harry's office. No need to know the combination of the safe. I have the power to reach inside and get . . . let's see now ... ahhh! Here it is! The Marchbank file hardcopy! Now, just to shake up smart-Harry a little, I'll simply take it, go to my office and put it in my desk drawer. He'll wonder where the file went and when he learns where, he'll never know how. Might as well have fun with the rat before I finish him off on Wednesday.

Barbara stretched and covered a swallowed yawn with the back of her right hand. "Well! That wraps it up!" She looked at the time and saw that it was five minutes to eight.

"You're a genius," said Penny, "I don't know what I'd have done without you!"

"Glad to be of help ... ummm ... I think I'd better call that man of mine, just to make sure he's not into any hanky-panky."

Penny wrinkled her nose in disbelief, "You mean....?"

Barbara smiled, "No-no. Nothing like that. It's just that he's picked up this awful Yoga business ... I mean the real thing ... an intellectual hobby he calls it. He slips into the deepest trances. I swear to God when he's in one you'd think he was dead!" She paused to look at her watch again. "Otherwise, he's a man of fixed habits. At the moment, he should be settled down in his study with a hot rum toddy." She picked up the phone and began tapping numbers. After about a minute she frowned. looked at Penny, and said, "That's funny. No answer. But the phone is on his desk, right at his elbow."

"Didn't you say he was going to sleep early?"

"Early yes. But never before eight. And never before his rum toddy. Like I said, my Travis is bound by habit. No. If he's not at his desk, then something's happened to keep him from there."

A gust of wind hissing snow shook the house. Penny looked at the curtained window with an anxious glance. "Why don't you wait awhile and try again."

With a quick shake of her head, Barbara rapidly fingered the telephone keyboard, waited for the appropriate nine rings and then said, "Oh dear! Still no answer! There must be something wrong! Oh God! Maybe he went into a trance after all, and he can't get out!"

She jumped up with clenched fists looking hard at Penny. "I've got to go!"

Penny was seriously alarmed. Home was forty miles away. "You can't go! There's a blizzard out there! Telephone someone! A friend! A neighbour!"

"No-no! They wouldn't know what to do! They could kill him just trying to help! I must go! I must go. . !"

Barbara was born and raised on a farm. Winter storms were nothing new to her and she was an excellent driver. The car was well equipped for being stuck in a snowdrift all night. On the floor and seat behind her were a small kerosene heater, candles, matches, an extra parka and an arctic sleeping bag. If she had to sleep in the car, she knew enough to keep a front side window and the opposite back window open the thickness of her forefinger to allow for circulation against the carbon monoxide of the heater and candles. She and Travis had spent more than one fun night practicing for just such an event, when they were younger of course, and could easily withstand the cramped conditions. Even now, at her age, she was convinced she could pass the test if her life depended on it.

As she headed cautiously south through the wavering myriad of snow flakes and pellets, she said loudly, as a way of shouting down her fear, "Travis you darling idiot! If we survive this I'm going to make you redeem yourself in a way you'll never forget! Such foolishness, these trances. Foolishness from a man who is never foolish!"

The wind howled and shrieked, shaking the car and causing a whiteout. She took her foot off the gas pedal but was too experienced to hit the brake. She held the wheel steady as the car slowed. Then, out of the proverbial nowhere, an eighteen-wheeler's horn howled as the vehicle roared past, leaving her blinded and for a moment so disoriented that she jerked the wheel.

"Oh that damned fool! He must have radar! How can he see to drive so fast!"

The turmoil caused by the wake of the truck, combined with the wind to reduce her vision to zero. She felt the car skidding and caught a glimpse of a railing. She was certain the car would crunch to a stop and was thankful she had remembered to put on her safety belt. She held her hands to her face and waited for the collision.

But it never came. She opened her eyes and saw that the car had returned to its logical place on the road. Lord! What happened! It's as if someone else just took control of the car and ... and ... I don't see how I could have escaped that ... I should have been dead by now. The car wrecked But here I am moving down the highway as if ... as if ... as if tended by the hand of God, or the hand of something!

Travis, unseen, settled in the seat beside her. Just your dear hubby, Barbara dear. Good thing I decided to ... ummm ... drop in on you my sweet or I would have been mourning at your funeral. Let's see now, I've still got a half-hour to go before my time is up. In another twenty minutes you'll be through the snowbelt. There, I'll leave you in safety so that I can return safely to my body- otherwise you'll be arranging my funeral instead of a wedding.

* * *

Travis was at work by six. The door to his office was open. There was Harry sitting in his chair, rummaging through his drawers. Harry looked up sharply, the humour on his face failed to camouflage guilt. "Aha! Travis! You've caught me with my hand in the till. I came in early to complete the hardcopy of the Marchbank file, so that it'll be polished for presentation on Friday. I was sure I had it locked in my safe, but it's not there. I didn't give it to you did I?"

Travis, with a friendly shrug as he took off his coat and hung it behind the door, apparently easily accepting this invasion of privacy. "Sure you did. Don't you remember? Just before you left yesterday."

Harry's face wrinkled in a frown. "That's strange. I don't even remember talking with you at all yesterday."

"Uh-oh," Travis offered with obvious good humour, "Better take some memory lessons partner. Now. If you'll get up out of my chair and away from my desk, I'll get it for you. It's a good thing you gave it to me because I was able to look it over before I went home. It was in pretty good shape but I made notations of some minor suggestions on the appropriate pages."

As Harry took the document he said, "Well I'll be a snow bunny in July! I must be getting senile!" Then his voice and manner turned patronizing. "Good old Travis. Relentless as Great Lakes water on its way to the Atlantic. You never miss a trick do you? That's why we make such a good team. We're sort of like the tortoise and the hare. You've got the deadly determination and I've got the speed."

"Well there you are Bugs Bunny," Travis said with a disarming smile. "Aside from those few comments I've noted in the margins, I think we're ready to go ahead with the Marchbank project."

"Good! I'll get right to work on it." Harry hesitated, giving the manuscript a reprimanding slap on the palm of his left hand. "Uh ... Trav old boy, you've been keeping secrets from me."

Travis felt a chill of guilt at the back of his neck from the ears down, compounding fear that his plan of execution had been discovered by the quick-witted Harry. Before he could clamp his tongue, he responded with a startled, "What!"

"Well," said Harry with a slight narrowing of his eyes smoked by an indulgent smile. "I don't mean to pry, but we've been working buddies for twenty years now, and you've never told me that you were into the occult."

"Occult?"

"Well, yeah. When I was at your desk just now, looking for Marchbank. . . well, you know me, I'm a complusive reader ... I found a folder on ... Life After Life ... ?

"Oh that!"

"You're not going fruit cakey on me, are you?" Harry said with a friendly nudge in his voice.

Travis could feel the chill change to heat. "Hell no!" he said with an embarrassed chuckle. "Just an intellectual hobby!"

This didn't satisfy Harry. "But what's all this about Life After Life? God and church stuff? I thought you gave up on all that after Sunday School! I just took a quick look at it mind you, but I saw where some of these people who were clinically dead for two hours had strange experiences, like the consciousness or life force, or something, being able to go anywhere, like right through walls, and do anything they wanted to before their bodies were brought back to life from a clinical but not a physical death . . ."

Travis, his fear now bordering panic that he'd been found out. God! I wish I could shut him up and get him out of here! But I know Harry, if I'm too abrupt or too indifferent it'll just make him all the more curious!

"Well, I don't know about God, but what these people report is something like a religious experience. It's probably squarely in realm of hallucination, Harry. That's what I put it down to. Just so much speculation. No more important to me than a good crossword puzzle."

"But that stuff about being able to bring a body back to life after the body temperature has been as low as forty-five degrees F. No discernible heart beat. No discernible breathing. Jeez! That seems a little more exciting than a crossword puzzle!"

"You don't know what a crossword does to me!" Travis said with a self deprecating smile. "But let's discuss it later ... both of us have plenty of work piled up; especially you, if you're going to leave on Wednesday."

Harry responded with a doubtful frown. But that was Travis in character, always in focus. "Okay Trav." He looked over his shoulder as he walked out and said with a wink and a grin, "See you in Life After Life."

* * *

When he arrived home, Barbara was stiff and formal as she laid out plates and cutlery, and fetched the food from the kitchen. Although they were wealthy, for the sake of privacy they kept no live-in servants. Travis gave her a peck on the cheek and went to his quarters to shower and dress for dinner. Fifteen minutes later he settled into his usual place opposite Barbara and they silently settled to passing back and forth and then to eating. It was Barbara who broke the silence.

"All right now. Full confession, if you please sir!"

"Mmmm! I must confess this is a most delicious meal!"

"Don't try any of that stuff on me, mister! Where were you last night?"

"Why right here. Didn't budge. Cross my heart."

"Well, I tried to phone you about eight. There was no answer! I tried again about twenty minutes later. Again, no answer. So I decided to drive right through that blizzard, and almost killed myself except for the strangest. . ."

"I know."

"What?"

"I mean, I know you drove right through the blizzard, otherwise you wouldn't have been here when I woke up to go to work this morning. But blame Bell, not me. I swear by my Prospector Canoe that my portly presence ..."

"Your portly presence was as cold as a corpse when I got home. I found you on the couch in your study. I suppose you don't remember me giving you a couple of extra blankets."

"Well, yes, in a distant sort of way. . ."

"You did go into one of your trances didn't you? After you promised me!"

"Well . . . not the kind that was so deep that I needed your help. More like a peaceful sleep. You know, the kind you can get from a valium. And anyway, next Wednesday is the very last of these trances I'll go into. I won't even go into the kind of trance that doesn't require your help. I promise. I've taken the whole experiment about as far as it can go, and I'm getting bored."

Barbara took a deep breath, sipped at her wine, then looked at him with urgent appeal. "Oh I hope so! It really scares me! I love you so much. I don't know what I'd do without you!"

"You could always marry Harry. He could use a good wife."

"Don't even joke about it! You know how much I detest that man!"

With the suggestion of empathetic laughter in his voice, Travis said, "Forget about Harry. The only way he could get a shot at you is through my dead body."

* * *

Travis was back in his office Wednesday morning before six. At precisely six there was a knock on his open door. "It's open."

A smiling, fresh-faced Harry walked in. "Well, I'm off to the convention this evening. Any words of wisdom before I go?"

"You're the man of the hour. All I can say is go with your usual good luck. What time are you leaving?"

"I should hit the MacDonald-Cartier about six, right on the tail-end of the rush hour. That should put me in Montreal about midnight; time enough to rest up and be ready for action tomorrow."

"Good. Oh by the way, if you happen to pull in at the Joyceville truck stop, give my compliments to the cook who makes that terrific apple pie ... or are you planning to drive right through?"

"Oh no! The Joyceville Sideroad is about exactly the half-way mark between Montreal and Toronto. I always stop there."

Travis looked down at his paper work. "Well then, see about you about nine."

"What! You're going to be at the Joyceville Sideroad?"

"No-no! I mean that's fine! I'll see you when I get back!" He shook his head with a wry smile. "I mean, I'll see you when you get back. Like I always say: never mind what I say; understand what I mean."

* * *

"Travis! You're home early!"

"This is Wednesday. And tonight I go into my last trance."

"You really mean it then. At risk of sounding like a nag, you couldn't make me more happy. I was beginning to think they would be the death of you.!

"Not my death dear."

"What?"

"Uh . . . nothing. I mean these trances are being terminated.."

"Terrific. I suppose you won't want to eat until afterwards. What time do you want me to inject the valium?"

"Precisely at eight. And don't start the recovery process until ten minutes to ten. And remember, massage toward the heart. Always toward the heart. Otherwise it could kill me."

Harry took a shower, changed into his pajamas and bathrobe, and then lay on the comfortable leather sofa in his study and began the procedure. A half-hour before eight he began to slip away. At eight, he was ready.

Yes! That's it! I am as deep into a trance as I can go with Yoga! And now, my dear Barbara, the shot of valium you are now giving me will within minutes make me clinically dead At that point I will be able to leave my body and settle myself down in the front seat of Harry's car to enjoy the last hour of his wretched life.

Barbara winced as she swabbed the selected spot on his right arm in preparation for the injection and took the hypodermic needle to effect the transfer. "Oh how I hate doing this! The Yoga trance is bad enough! He's so cold!"

Unheard by her, Travis chuckled.

Poor Barbara She doesn't know it but I can do all of this myself. I've just involved her so that she wouldn't be alarmed at catching me at it. Of course, it's good to know that she's around just in case anything goes wrong. Normally, I can start the recovery process myself, just before re-entering my body. Still, this will be the longest time away from my body and it's comforting to know that she'll be watching over it until I get back. Who knows? The house could catch fire or something. Then where would l be? Fighting with some other poor soul trying to enter a ninety-year-old walking corpse.

He let himself go for a few minutes, seemingly floating in a void.

That's it! I'm free! Now away to Harry and his death-bound car!

Travis was annoyed when he settled beside Harry as the car sped along the 401, because Harry was singing to the tune If You Know Suzie, paraphrasing:

If you knew Travis

Like I know Travis

Oh, oh ohhhhhhhh!

Travis-the-tortoise'

Has brains of a porpoise

Oh, oh ohhhhhhhh!

Have your fun Bugs Bunny! You can't see or hear me sitting right here beside you. The time is now eight forty-five. Just fifteen minutes away from the Joyceville Sideroad and your death by accident! The whole world will never know why you failed to negotiate the curve and slammed into the rock face the size of a house. Driver cold sober; car in perfect condition; pavement dry; moonlit night...

Harry's hands tightened on the steering wheel. "Damn! Flat tire. I thought that right rear looked a little soft when I left!"

You idiot! Just like you not to do something about it! Well, stop the car and get out and fix it!

Harry released the accelerator pedal and checked the rearview mirror. There was an eighteen-wheeler bearing down on him. He put on his four-way flashers and was relieved when a few moments later the truck pulled out from behind and roared past. There were some vehicles back far enough not to be of present danger. He held steady, keeping the car moving straight along the lane, and his foot off the brake pedal. As he slowed, other cars passed safely. When he was almost stopped, he angled the car to a gentle rest on the gravel shoulder.

"Easy does it now. There. Safe and sound. I just hope the spare is in good shape."

It better be!

It was. Harry removed the jack, wrench, and tire, and methodically set to work at the unpleasant task.

Come on Harry! We haven't got all night!

Finally, Harry had the flat tire in the trunk. "There! That should get me to the truck stop," he said, slapping his hands lightly to shake the dust off. "I'll have the tire repaired while I stop for coffee and apple pie." He put the car in gear, checked in the rearview mirrors and over his left shoulder, then put the car in motion.

Get a move on dummy! It's now nine o'clock! Still fifteen minutes to the Joyceville Sideroad! That'll give me forty minutes before I have to get back into my body. Still plenty of time but I don't like to cut it that close!

Harry began singing absently again, "If you knew Travis, Like I know Travis . . ." then fell to humming the tune. About seven minutes later his eyes caught the flashing lights of more than one police car. "Now what! A roadblock? Oh well, I've got plenty of time. . ."

Well l haven't!

Harry rolled down the window as a provincial police officer approached. "Sorry to hold you up sir, but there's been an escape from the penitentiary. Three men. They're armed and dangerous. So we're checking cars and advising people not to pick up hitch hikers." The officer flicked his flashlight at the back seat of the car and then stood back and asked Harry if he'd mind opening the trunk.

"No. Not at all! Saw some hitchhikers a while ago, but way back at the Cobourne cut-off. They were heading this way, so I guess it can't be them. . ."

Never mind the gabbing Bugs Bunny! Just open the trunk and let's get going!

"Nothing but a flat tire," Harry told the officer.

"Sorry to trouble you. Have a safe journey."

He'll have a safe journey all right — for the next eight minutes!

Travis clenched and unclenched his fists as Harry again began humming what had now gratingly become, "If You Knew Travis."

Precisely eight minutes later, as the car slowed off the highway onto the off-ramp to the truck stop, Travis said savagely, Ahh. . . at last the Joyceville Sideroad! Let's see now. It's nine-thirty. I've got twenty minutes to complete this little job and get back into my body. Too close for comfort, as they say, but with Barbara back there ready for the recovery process all should go well if... NOW!

Harry felt the gas pedal jam to the floor as the steering wheel froze in his hands. His last thought was a scream reflecting the knowledge that he was going to slam the rock-face head on at full speed.

The sound of metal crushing against rock alerted those outside at the pumps of the truck stop. They turned and saw a ball fire as the gas tank exploded. They could hear the roar of flames.

Oh what a beautiful sound! Oh what a beautiful sight! Oh what a perfect crime! Couldn't be better! Steering wheel post has speared his chest! Skull crushed by protruding rock! Legs! Feet! All mangled! Beyond a doubt, he is both clinically and physically dead!

The flavour of Travis's voice turned to patronizing cunning.

Harry! Come on out Harry! Your body is dead Harry! But there is Life After Life Harry! Maybe you can find yourself another body Harry! Perhaps a ninety-year-old woman on her death bed, and spend a few weeks longer in that condition!

His mocking laughter was maniacal.

Come on out Harry! Don't be afraid! There 's no more I can do to you! Come on out and let me tell you why you deserved to die! Come on now! Time's a -wasting! Ten minutes gone already. One hour and fifty minutes left and then your life-force will evaporate! Poof! Just like that! Poof! Still time to talk smart-mouth! Still time to sing 'Travis the tortoise has brains of a porpoise'. Who's got the brains now Harry! Come on out! No use hiding in that mangled corpse of yours! There's no hope for it now! Come on, take a chance! You like taking chances! Surely you're not afraid of dull ol' Trav, are you Harry baby?

Travis was interrupted in his indulgence by the voice of one of the men who had run to the wreck. "Sheesh! There's nothing we can do! Let's hope he died on impact and didn't burn to death!"

Time's running out Harry! You're missing your chance at the big one: Life After Life! You're missing it because you're nothing more than a stupid blowhard cowardly cur! You don't have the guts to come and face me! Well good riddcmce! Now I'll go back, re-enter my body, come back to life in the real world and make plans for Barbara and me to go on a special spending spree with that million dollars from your insurance while I run my own business in my own way! No more smart Harry interference from you!

Travis checked the time, and said to himself, I'd better get back. Only five minutes left before Barbara starts the recovery process. Goodbye Harry! May you rot in hellllll!

Barbara checked the time. I know he said ten minutes to ten but I can't see what harm there could be in starting five minutes early. There's a strange look about him, almost as if he's smiling, as if he's encouraging me to begin the recovery process. Sure I'll start now. I'm sure that's what he wants. Thank God it's the last one. Now let see ... massage toward the heart ... always toward the heart ... That is a smile on his face! I'm sure of it!

Ahhh back in time! What's this! My God! She 's already started! Barbara what are you doing! Screaming even though he knew she couldn't possibly hear him. If my body recovers too much I'll not be able to get back in! He tried desperately to calm himself. Then he recoiled in horror. Wait! There's someone else in there! Someone else has occupied my body! I can't get back in!

Then he heard Harry's malicious chuckle.

You're too late Trav old boy! I have taken possession of your body! Sorry, there's room for one only!

Harry!?! But you can't! You're dead! I mean you're body is dead! You're back at the Joyceville Sideroad! You never came out!

Poor Travis the tortoise! So thorough; but oh so slow! I still have more than an hour of Life After Life but you've only got about a minute now. Sixty seconds ticking away. . .

Get out of there! That's my body! I've got to get back in or. . : or...

Or poof? Eh Trav? Poof! Your two hours are up Trav! Your Life After Life, this time, for you, means death! Your powers are waning! You can't do anything now, can you Trav?

Travis was stunned, accepting defeat. What happened? How did you get here ...?

Well, after I found the material on Life After Life in your desk, I did some reading of my own. And some practicing. Not much mind you, but enough, as you can see. You know me; never miss a trick! When I died in that accident of yours, I knew I had only two hours to live. Soooo, rather than spend my precious time arguing with you at the scene of your crime, I decided to come back here and take possession of your body ... Oh dear. . . it's a rather slaw and awkward body and not very good looking, but I suppose it's better than nothing... Isn't it Trav?

Travis shrieked, No! You can't! Let me in! Let me in ... as his being faded to nothing, accompanied by Harry's adieu, So long Travis! followed by triumphant laughter.

* * *

Six weeks later at her daughter's wedding reception, Penny found time for a one-on-one with Barbara against the background of celebrating voices and a live band.

"Oh Penny! You're daughter looks so beautiful!"

"Barbara, I don't know how to thank you for all the help you've given me! The wedding would have been a mess without you!"

"Think nothing of it! Glad to help!"

"Well, everybody seems to be having a good time. And Travis! My goodness! I never would have believed it! To see him carrying on the way he is! Dancing, joking, talking, why he's the proverbial life of the party! He just doesn't seem like the same man at all!"

Barbara's face fell thoughtful. "No he doesn't Penny. He's been different ever since that last trance, the night Harry was killed in that dreadful accident. Sometimes I feel as if I don't know him anymore." Barbara shrugged with a faint smile of gratitude, "At least he's abandoned those scary trances. That's a blessing."


End

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