Kimberly Holly’s life had changed for the better.
Her mother’s body had finally succumbed to the abuses of alcohol and tobacco, and she had died under hospice care from complications due to emphysema and liver cancer. Her final days, though grim, had become cathartic and once she had made her peace with her husband and her only child, she simply passed, quietly, in the middle of one August morning the year after Kimberly’s abduction and near death. The insurance coverage paid for the funeral and burial, and as the local Catholic priest who worked the Hospice presided over her, Kimberly could not help feeling a guilty twinge of relief. She was ashamed of it, appropriately, then forgave herself and moved on with her life, something she could not have done before her ordeal. It was funny in an ironic sort of way that she should come out of the trauma of her recent past stronger than she had ever been before it, that she should live despite her fear rather than be bound by it. Death, she had discovered, was by no means the worst fate imaginable.
So she had taken her father from the nursing home and moved him in with her, using his social security and pension along with her income earned working at Presbyterian Hospital (a job Indira Singh had set her up with after her mother’s death) to support them both. Her father had settled in immediately; their neighbors saw him daily walking their little Boston terrier down to the corner pharmacy to get the Charlotte Observer and kibitz with the other elderly men in the neighborhood who always eventually ended up there. Kimberly worked from eight in the morning until six o’clock, then came home and made them both dinner before sitting with her father to watch Jeopardy, a favorite of Clark Holly’s, and Kimberly was pleasantly surprised to find her father’s mind still sharp and she marveled at his knowledge of trivia. She threatened to make him audition for the show quite often and beamed at the look of pride on his face that she had believed would never blossom there again. Life was indeed changing for the better.
She had even begun dating. She met a man who worked at the hospital, an orderly named Michael Speight, and he treated her well. She told him immediately about her last “boyfriend”, about her abduction and the events surrounding it, with the obvious exception of how Walter Cavanaugh had actually been the embodiment of evil an alien reincarnated on Earth. Even now, the idea of boat rocking, especially boat rocking that painted the rocker as a paranoid delusional, seemed imprudent to Kimberly. Besides, she told herself, she wasn’t really sure if she actually believed that what had happened to her was as real as she remembered. Her therapist told her that her trauma had triggered her imagination to create the fantasy of good versus evil as a defense mechanism for her psyche, that aliens and gods and demons and evil were all byproducts of her depleted mental state caused by the stress of Claire’s murder and her own kidnapping and torture. She was ready and willing to accept this diagnosis, despite Indira Singh’s insistence that she accept the truth instead. It eventually led to a conflict between the two and Kimberly’s last meeting with the Bangladeshi mystic had ended in an argument. The two had quit speaking, though Indira had tried many times to bridge the gap. Kimberly’s therapist had instructed her to cut all ties with the people who had saved her life that day in a filthy Washington, D.C. apartment, who had pulled her emaciated body and satiated mind back from the rim of Hell and set her back on her feet again and she had agreed, telling Indira over the phone not to call her or approach her again, to leave her and her father alone. That was two years ago.
So now, three years after the events in Washington, Kimberly Holly felt that her life was once again back on track. She had even decided to open herself to the idea of making love to Michael, a huge step for her. Michael, for his part, hadn’t pushed her and that scored points with Kimberly. Being pushed was not something she was about to allow anyone to do to her ever again. So she had set the date and when the time came, she gave herself to him completely, ready in her own mind to make that step, to trust, and it had been the most satisfying experience of her adult life. Everything about it had gone perfectly to plan, from the dinner before at Blue, to the movie afterward, all the way to the surprise at the end when she told him she was ready. It was the proverbial storybook ending. All that was left was living happily ever after.
She is driving home now after another assignation with her lover. It is four o’clock in the morning and she knows her father will still be up waiting for her, though she had told him she would be home later than usual. It was a Saturday morning and she did not have work; she would go home, put Clark to bed, then sleep until twelve, a luxury she rarely indulged in. But, she mused, she deserved it. She slid into the turn lane for the onramp to I-77 north and, picking up speed, got onto the highway headed home.
The interstate was empty in both directions and as she accelerated, she pushed the CD button on her car stereo. Usher began singing “Burn”, a song about love gone bad and she quickly pushed the advance button until “Take Your Hand” cued up, then turned the volume high. This was more like it. She felt her cell phone vibrate in the holder on her belt. Keeping one diligent eye on the road, she unholstered the phone and flipped it open. She glanced down to see that Michael had sent her a text message and pressed the button with her thumb to open it.
-I luv u-
She grinned and began thumbing in her reply, taking her eyes from the road for just a moment. As she typed in the final y-o-u, she looked back up. She had barely enough time to scream.
A Honda Prelude coming the wrong way down the interstate was in her lane and looming very large. For the briefest of moments she caught the look of bleary-eyed shock on the intoxicated driver’s face. In a desperate act of self-preservation she jerked the wheel to the left and stabbed at the brake pedal. The sound of the brakes squealing was muffled as the two cars collided head on, the Prelude striking Kimberly’s Volvo right of center, ripping the passenger side open to the back seat and tearing through the engine compartment.
The impact sent Kimberly’s car flying, spinning in the air and rolling over twice before finally coming to rest in a smoking ruin against the center concrete median, pinning her inside the wreckage. The airbag had deployed but did not prevent her from slamming first into the steering wheel and then up into the roof. The seatbelt had cinched, crushing her into the bucket seat and as the hissing sounds of both cars’ radiators grew louder in the aftermath, Kimberly Holly lay bleeding and broken amid the twisted metal and shattered glass, her face and scalp badly lacerated, her ribs and back broken. The rear view mirror hung down, suspended by the wires that gave power to the heads up display inside it and before she passed out she caught a glimpse of her face, covered in blood, a huge gash opened in her forehead above her left eyebrow exposing bone and pouring blood and as she slipped the bonds of reality into the nether regions of her mind her last thoughts were of her father, waiting patiently at home.