THE TENTH OF A SECOND DETOUR

By John Hammelton

(Based on an actual event)

         It was snowing lightly when I turned my pickup onto the road and headed down the mountain. Closing the bar had been a breeze; the crowd dissipated, and the regulars had all left early. Spring weather made snow conditions less than ideal for most skiers; they complained of ice in the morning and slush in the afternoon, along with sun burns and sticking skies. Soon there wouldn't be any snow at all, and that was fine by me. I was ready for a vacation from my day job as a ski instructor at the resort town of Brian Head, Utah.

         Ernie was the last customer to leave the bar. He stopped by to drop off a fine bottle of wine, already corked, before driving his car to the Vegas airport. Naturally, we had a toast to the end of a long cold winter, even though it was still early May. I didn't think anything of it when I tucked the bottle behind the seat of my pickup, and strapped myself in. Drat! I cussed as I took the seat belt off; I had forgotten to turn my hubs in; there had to be ice under that new fallen snow, and being in four-wheel drive made me feel a whole lot safer.        

         A clean white field of snow stretched from the forest on one side of the road to the forest on the other side. There was no way to tell where the edges of the road were except for the tiny reflectors placed every hundred yards or so along the right side of the highway. It was obvious no one had been up or down for some time. My headlights reflected off the ice crystals clinging to the limbs of the Aspens. A heavy snow load weighed down the branches of the Spruce and Pines from the last storm now passing away.

         There won't be any plow up at this time of night, I reminded myself. The standard procedure is to take it really easy—especially in the turns, and that's mostly all there are until reaching the valley. I breathed a sigh of relief when the road leveled out and entered the small town at the foot of the mountain. The treacherous part of the journey home was over, although a light snow was still gently drifting to the ground. This calls for a toast to the snow gods for a safe ride to a warm bed, as I reached behind the seat, pulled the cork, and took a long drought from the wine bottle.

         The short ride through town to the interstate gave me no confidence in better driving conditions. Gently using the brakes confirmed the presence of ice as one wheel or another momentarily locked up. This was the stuff no one wants to drive on, ominously called "Black Ice." Nonetheless, the warmth in my gut felt good as I uncorked the bottle again and took another healthy swig. Time to turn the music up as a Yanni tape began turning on its spindles.

          Odd, I thought, as my trusty Toyota headed down the on-ramp to the interstate, there were absolutely no other cars in sight. The highway ran straight and true, and gave me a sense of safety, unlike curvy mountain roads. I settled on a speed that seemed safe, and as long as I didn't need to turn my wheel, there wasn't the danger of sliding. Or so I thought. 

         It came unexpectedly. My pickup began a slow slide away from the straight and narrow. My wheels had no traction; there was not the slightest hint of any slowing; my vehicle continued to veer to the left. Fortunately, my momentum continued sending me straight down the highway. Being an experienced winter driver, I slowly and carefully turned my wheels into the skid, attempting to correct for the position of my truck. A wave of relief washed over me as the nose began turning back to facing down the highway. But it was short-lived; now a new terror confronted me. Even though I had come back to a straightforward position, the truck continued turning in the other direction. I was in big trouble now. The vehicle was sliding toward the edge of the road. I looked out my left window and knew that when my wheels hit the side of the road I would roll over, and the driver's side would hit the ground first.

         Then a very strange thing happened. My vision began to darken, almost like a veil being drawn over my eyes. What was happening? The next thing I knew was total confusion. I seemed to be out of my truck walking around. There were two images, like a double exposure on film, and no way of telling which set of images was real. My truck, with me at the wheel, appeared suspended about six feet above the ground, and inclined at a weird angle, frozen in time. The image was not solid, but rather like a vision, or a dream. What the heck was going on?

         My side of this double image didn't leave much room to see around; hazy and limited in scope, very little could be made out to understand my predicament. What to do? Wait! Did I see someone? How could that be? Yes, in the mist, someone is doing something. I felt fear and relief at the same time. This is all too eerie, but maybe I could get some answers.

         I cautiously approached what appeared to be a figure taking notes. He turned abruptly as I approached and a smile came across his face.

         "There you are." He said.

         "What the hell is going on?" I asked.

         He chuckled a little and said, "My name's Jake; we're here to try and fix this mess."

         I felt immediately at ease, and suddenly very curious. "Uh, yeah, I think that's a really good idea, but I'm totally mixed-up."

         Through the haze in the background there appeared to be other figures moving around. The central image was my truck with me inside wearing a horrified look. But it just didn't seem real because I could virtually see through everything.

         "Yes, these are unusual circumstances, and it doesn't happen very often, but when it does we certainly understand how you feel."

         I hesitated a little and asked, "I wonder if you might help me figure out what this is all about?"

         "Sure," he said, "Come over here and sit a minute."

         I felt very relieved and more relaxed; someone was in charge here, and my confidence began to return.

         "It's really quite simple; you're about to die in just a few more seconds. Problem is: it's not your time to die. That's what I and my crew do; we're fixer-uppers when things get out of whack."

         "Oh dear, can you fix this mess?"

         Jake looked up at my truck and pondered a second or two. "Well, in your situation, it's a little more complicated because we have to alter the laws that govern the physical world. When that's the case, we have to get okays from the highest authorities; normally it's forbidden.

         I paused, "I had a feeling that it was all over for me the last time I looked out the window; just like what I'm doing in the truck right now. Can you tell me more about how you're going to work this out?"

         "When it became obvious your survival was at a high level of doubt, an injunction came through that in effect suspended time for about a tenth of a second. We're in that window of time right now, and since the dimension we're in happens to exist outside the bounds of physical laws, we can go about our business setting new conditions in the other dimension that will, hopefully, get you back on track with your life. See?"

         "Well, I can only say that I thank you very much; nothing could sound better than that. I'm not only awed, but humbled to think that such efforts are worth saving my life. Is this happening because I'm special or something like that?"

         Jake looked down at his notebook, and then at my truck suspended in mid air at a slightly odd angle.

         "Yes, you are, but then so is everyone else. Life is special here on this planet, and human life especially. You have a meaning and purpose for being here; I can't tell you what that is because I don't know, but everything is done to help you and others from this side of reality, within the limits set for us. That's part of our purpose for being here too. Every person has the potential to do wondrous things, improving conditions in the world is high on the list, but only time will tell whether they attain their goals or not. Those goals are unique to the individual; no two people have identical roles to play in life, just as my role here is to fix problems dealing with time and space, while others help travelers adjust from one dimension to another. Does that make sense?"

          I nodded, and thought about what Jake had said as he got up and hailed one of his crew. I existed and was as real as ever, but my body—totally undisturbed at the moment—was in another place. I'd read of strange stories like this, and wondered if I was now experiencing my own. Many people scoffed at the idea of life after death, but was this proof? I didn't know anything for sure, but I was still a conscious, thinking being lost somewhere between dimensions or worlds or time niches or mental states or who knows what.

         I looked up as Jake approached. Behind him, instead of my truck being at a weird angle off the ground, now appeared perfectly normal.

         "Well, John, we're about done here. Our time warp is going to close soon. You'll be back almost to the moment you left your truck. You should be able to handle things from that point on."

         "Wait Jake," I almost shouted. "There's so much I'd like to talk to you about. Do we have to part so soon?"

         "Can't help it; we dare not let this time gap stretch any wider, or things could get beyond our control. That we can do this at all is the real miracle; I guess it's what's called progress on this side of the spectrum. Take care; we'll meet again, in another time and place, until then, good-by."

         It seemed like a veil being lifted away from my eyes; I was still sliding, but now I was sliding straight down the highway. Much of my momentum had been lost as my truck made one final half spin and came to rest on the shoulder of the road facing the direction I had just come from.

          Several miles later down the interstate I pulled off into a truck stop, parked, got out and walked around my truck several times. I thought long and hard about what had just happened, then reached behind the seat, pulled the wine bottle out and dropped it into a trash barrel. I knew the wine wasn't an issue, but had there been a wreck, it wouldn’t look good.

          Had I been rescued from an ignoble death, and given another chance to live out my life? Jake didn't know my destiny any more than he knew anyone else's. Who are the higher authorities? He never mentioned religion, or used any terms like God. I had no doubt that I had almost skidded off the road, but did that tenth-of-a-second detour really happen? I'll always wonder.

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