EXCERPT - Bob Highlands

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Everyone is accountable
Death is neither a friend nor an enemy. Death is always coming until it gets here. What follows is not as great a mystery as many think. Discover what to expect and why today could be the most important day of your life.
Chapter One "It's A Long, Long Line" (c) 2019
The Last Day
And I'll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years.
Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.
Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?
Luke 12.19-20
Winston James Cummings had just five minutes and thirty-four seconds to live as he stepped out of his office and pulled the door shut behind him.
This day had gone the same as thousands of others that had proceeded it. Up first in the house, he had showered, shaved and been able to use the bathroom before anyone else was up. He had gone through thirty-five emails and two sports websites in the quiet of the bathroom when suddenly he heard yelling and knew the girls were up. Breakfast had been chaos with the two girls arguing about some silly computer game everyone was playing at school. His wife, Sarah, was running late for her job and needed his help getting the girls motivated. Why she had asked him for help was beyond him. They never listened to him. The little princesses had learned early in their lives that dad was all bark and no bite, so they were now utterly oblivious to anything he told them to do. The only way he got them to listen was with bribes, and they were now holding out for more before doing what he wanted. It was getting expensive for him to have any leverage over them at all. Kissing his wife on the cheek to not smear her lipstick and patting the girls on the head as he went by was all he intended. Then, Mavin the youngest, who was named after her mother’s sister’s favorite singer, ran after him.
“Hey, you.” She said with a stern voice. “Where are my kiss and hug?” She was in the hall with her arms out and her cutest expression of ‘ain’t I sweet’ on her face, ever. This face led to a hug for everyone and kisses all around, even his wife, and a dash to the car. Winston had about ten hours and fifty-three minutes to live.
He pulled into the park and ride as the bus was coming down the ramp from the freeway, so he had to dash across the parking lot. The bus driver was a sixty-four-year-old woman who he had mistaken for a man on his first day he rode the bus, and she had never forgiven him. She had now been on this route for five years, and every day started with a stare that said, ‘Go ahead, open your mouth and I will chew your head off.’ He boarded and moved toward the middle of the bus. He had read that in an accident, people in the middle of the bus are less likely to die or be as seriously injured. He did not know if it was true, but he was not going to take any chances. On the ride to work, he had clocked in over the server using the link on his phone and started working on his computer. About half of the trip he would be on a sports page catching up on the morning reports for his fantasy league but would charge it to his office hours.
The ride averaged one hour and thirty-eight minutes. It was only 45 miles to the transfer station, but the traffic was horrendous and getting worse every year. Last year the regional traffic commission had finished a traffic revision at the cost of four hundred and sixty-five million dollars that had looked great on paper five years ago but with the flood of new workers, had in effect, only made things worse. It used to take one hour but with the new lane restrictions, tolls and increased traffic he might soon have to sleep at the office during the week. The traffic commission had come up with a new plan to double the number of bus riders in the area from 2 percent to 4 percent in 10 years at the cost of 5 billion dollars. It had been approved in the general election last year but looked like it was about to be pulled. When people started getting their car tab bills at four times what they used to be and double property taxes to cover it, the revolt had begun. He arrived at the transfer station, and he could see his bus downtown pulling out. He would have to wait for another 12 minutes for the next bus. Winston had eight hours and forty-two minutes to live.
It had been raining when he arrived at the transfer station. It seemed strange to outsiders that no one in the area, where it rains half the year, uses an umbrella. He had grown up here and was not going to be the only one using an umbrella and thus be weird. He darted to the platform in the steady rain like mist and hugged up against the building to wait for his bus downtown. Late, as usual, the bus arrived after nineteen minutes and was packed to overflowing. The combination of commuters trying to get to work and the homeless trying to get out of the rain by using the free bus passes given out by a local homeless advocacy group the bus was an angry, smelly ride every time it was raining. He stood, refusing to sit on the stained seats. At his stop, he had to force his way out, and a woman with purple hair on one side of her head and the other side shaved Marine Corps close screamed obscenities at him for tripping over her backpack that she had put down in the center of the aisle of the bus. As he opened the door to his office, he had seven hours and fifty-four minutes to live.
The morning had been filled with phone calls, text messages, a brief meeting to discuss the retirement of one of the secretaries who he was glad to see leave and listening to his favorite sports radio through his new almost invisible mini earplug while he surfed news and sports websites. He was looking forward to lunch and spending time with Donna. She was his previous secretary who had a job across town at another firm. For a while, they had been very close. Though they had never crossed the line physically, they always seemed to be as close to an intimate relationship as two people could have without physical contact. They had agreed to be friends when she left and had never done anything physically inappropriate but shared lunch and an occasional dinner. She was ten years younger than him and unmarried. She was buying him lunch to celebrate his most recent promotion. It would be a long lunch as it always was with Donna. He always enjoyed his time with her and thought that if he had met her first his world would be very different.
More than once he had found himself daydreaming about spending his life with her or having a more intimate relationship. The lunch was a highlight of his week, and they had talked and laughed for several hours. Winston was surprised and flattered when at the end of lunch, she hugged him to congratulate him for his promotion and then kissed him on the cheek before walking away. She stopped at the corner and looked back as she smiled at him and he could not hold it in and smiled back. Things were changing, and he liked the feeling of excitement and adventure it brought to him. Maybe dreams do come true. Winston was less than three hours and twenty-four minutes away from a very tragic accident and an appointment with death.
The walk back to his office took ten minutes. As he walked, he was in a daydream about spending time with Donna on a more intimate level. He sat down at his desk and clicked on his computer monitor. There was his favorite picture of his wife, the girls and him that was taken at the beach last summer. He smiled and went back to work.
He had spent the last fifteen years happily married. His wife was a committed believer, and she and the girls were in church every Sunday. Winston, on the other hand, kept it down to the necessary family events he could not avoid without causing world war three at his house. There was the Christmas pageant, Easter, the summer carnival and usually right after school started to get things back on track after the summer. It never worked. He went and was able to tune out the message while he arranged his dream fantasy sports team in his head. All that guilt stuff was not for him. God, if there was a God, was not going to eat up his precious little time. He made sure something was happening on Sunday mornings. Anything was better than going to church. Last Saturday he had taken the family to the local farmers market for a community festival honoring the different species that share this planet. There were all sorts of religions represented, and they all seemed to want to get along. The coexist stickers made in the shape of all the major faiths were everywhere, and he had bought one for the minivan which had not made his wife happy. That was his idea of religion and the full amount of his relationship with God, whoever he or she was.
His best friend Mark called and wanted to know if he could cover for him. He had been out of the office all day at a comic book convention that was held in town. He had told his boss he was consulting with him about a project their two companies were working on together and wanted to be sure they had the details straight. With one hour and fifteen minutes to live Winston was using up his last day rather foolishly.
As he evaluated his workload, he decided that it was time to get in gear and accomplish something before this day was over. In the next forty minutes, he finished three projects, forwarded or answered seventeen important emails while deleting seventy-five others. One he did not eliminate was from a pajama company. He smiled as he left it on his computer. They might be something to send Donna after their lunch today. He would also send one to his wife. He would charge them both on his one truly personal credit card. He kept it for occasions like this. He could charge something as a surprise for his wife, and she would never know about it because the bill and confirmation email came to his office account. He could also send Donna flowers, and maybe even that cute sleeper set, and no one would be the wiser. He wanted to keep up the romance in his life. Twenty-five minutes and counting. If he only knew what was about to happen. How much different this day might have been.
He started closing up and planning his dash to the bus and the long, annoying ride home. He would get more done on that ride than the rest of the day. It was his real office. An Emergency alert text message came in telling him his favorite player was injured and his fantasy team would be without him for the rest of the season. He let out a profanity followed by, “Now that has got to be the worst thing that could happen to me today. I thought it was going to be a good day, but nooooo… he has to go and ride a motorcycle into the side of a tree and mess up my whole fantasy season.” He only thought that was the worst thing that could happen to him. Winston was on a collision course with death and meeting his Maker. He headed toward the door as the other employees in the office hustled out too. They smiled, nodded and all walked toward the door. Five minutes and thirty-four seconds can be a lifetime if it is all you have left to live.  

exerpt from It's A Long, Long Line
(c) 2019 Robert E. Highlands III All rights reserved
© 2023 Bob Highlands III

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