Was going to type something else until I saw this, and thought it'd be a waste of all that damned time coming up with the story if nobody ever saw it. Haha. This was one of my submissions for the school's creative writing competition some time back. It's really long, so read only if you have loads of time. If you don't read that's okay too, at least I had a giant filler for a post.
Some say that death comes to a person in the form of his most powerful memory; that one gets to experience the moments that have had the most tremendous impact, even to the extent of sometimes defining one’s life, one final time before all consciousness fades into oblivion. Others say that in death, a coruscating shaft of white light emanating from above illuminates a way into the distance, and going forth into this brilliance allows one to go to heaven. That is, at least what most non-atheists could hope for in the end – living an upright life and moving on into paradise after death. After all, the prospect of one’s soul being swallowed into a flaming abyss of unfathomable depth as retribution for sins committed in the material world is rather horrifying. Still others believe in reincarnation, that a person’s essence remains on but comes into the world once again in a different form.
Mr. John Ambrose Lee, CEO of Apex Technologies Pte Ltd, the largest electronics company in Singapore, was not a religious man. A baptised Catholic – his parents were devout church-goers – his middle Christian name was truncated to a simple “A.” on his name cards, which he left there simply because ‘it looked more sophisticated with the full name like that’. Unlike his faith-driven parents, however, John preferred to spend his Sundays at his country club, for which the hundred thousand dollar membership he was determined to put to maximum use, at a bar, his usual haunt on Saturday nights as well or just simply in bed, sometimes with a woman he’d picked up from the bar the night before. John begrudged the hour or so spent in church with his parents when he was younger, and now that he was free to do whatever he liked he saw no reason to continue to do something against his will. Someday, he told himself, when he settled down, had a family, he’d attend Mass every week, just so the kids would grow up with the right idea. Until then he’d leave things as they were. He’d worked, slogged to bring himself to the level at which he was now – very rich, highly eligible – and held the firm belief that it was his own effort alone that was the reason for his success, It would only be right, then that weekends were for his own leisure and enjoyment, to savour the taste of relaxation as means of a reward for the effort put in during weekdays, wouldn’t it?
Like most people of his status and level of achievements, John was immensely busy. After all, the chief executive officer of a large company could hardly be idle, and he prided himself on being a master of managing his extremely hectic schedule effectively. It brought money, and he had no reason to complain. Gainfully occupied John was so busy he hardly had much time to sit back and think; he lived fully in the moment. Sure he planned ahead, but what he was doing at the moment he would fully concentrate on. Someday, like a once well-oiled machine that was worn out he knew he’d stop because he would no longer be able to carry on, but had the time to think about what would happen then. Probably retire even more filthy rich than before, with a bigger car and house, things like that. One day, like everyone else, he would die. Like everybody else John sometimes thought about what would happen when he died. What would happen then? He never allowed himself more than a fleeting moment to ponder over such things, though. As it was, John was a busy man, who never thought about anything else but work during weekdays and leisure during weekends, and death, or at least thinking about it, as he so convinced himself, could wait.
And then one day, something rather unusual happened.
Rain pounded hard on the roof of the bungalow he lived in that fateful morning, and John, woken by his alarm clock, his essential instrument for punctuality briefly considered staying in bed that morning. But CEOs of large companies had to have more discipline than that, and he dragged himself into the shower, emerging in a crisp suit, ready for the day. Plunging his car keys into the ignition of his rather flashy sports car, he started the engine and drove off on what was supposed to be the routine journey to his office.
It occurred at the exit ramp of the expressway, the one which he took every morning out into the roads in the vicinity of his office. He was anxious to get to the office early as he had a meeting at ten. That meant he had to be there at nine-thirty, a personal principle of his to always be in a meeting room half an hour before it started so he could go through any final details. He didn’t like coming into a meeting at the last minute all flustered and looking for his notes, that was what a CEO didn’t do. He glanced at his watch. Fifteen minutes to go. Subconsciously, his foot buried itself deeper into the acceleration pedal. Visibility was rather poor, but he was confident that he was a good driver.
A deafening crash. The scatter of debris as the car ploughed into the road divider, all hundred and ten kilometres of it. Stabbing pain everywhere. A vague sense of serenity and calm as he flew through the air, thrown through the windscreen like a giant ragdoll. At that instant, for some strange reason John remembered that he’d just wrecked his nine hundred thousand dollar car, and the feeling of calm vanished as he hit the ground with a loud thud. More pain. And then the world went black.
John opened his eyes and blinked. He felt alright; much better than he’d felt in many years, in fact. There wasn’t any pain at all, and he had this feeling of weightlessness about him. Nothing had happened after all, he thought. All of that, the accident, the horrible crunch of his bones hitting the asphalt was a dr-
And then he saw it. The wreckage of his car., twisted and almost unrecognisable as something that was once the king of the roads with its ability to roar from zero to one hundred and twenty in seven seconds. The deformed railings in the area around where his car had struck the road divider separating the ramp, culminating in a section where the metal had been wholly torn off its groundings lent an ominous backdrop under the downpour. His mind now in a confused flurry, John sought for answers in a world which now seemed to be impossible, but before he had time to collect himself, there was a bright flash of light, and this time the world was white.
As his searing irises cleared, John realised that he was no longer at the scene where his accident had occurred. He looked about, and an unspeakable sense of familiarity and déjà vu overwhelmed him.
He was nine, and he was at a theme park. He’d always wanted to try one of those roller coaster rides, but he’d been too young before. Today, on his ninth birthday, he was finally going to get to ride one. He was excited. He’d begged his parents to take him to the theme park as a birthday present, but they weren’t so sure that he could cope at first. His persistence made them give in, though. Now here he was, staring wide-eyed as he stood in the queue for the ride. He wasn’t going to do it alone, of course. His dad would take the ride with him. As he and his dad climbed into the seats while the attendant pulled the cushioned metal bar that would keep them in during the ride, John watched his adolescent self from afar. What was this? A travesty of his fondest memory? As the cars of the ride came one full round and his dad hoisted his small frame out of the seat, the adult John went over to himself and leaned in to listen. If this was truly one of his memories, surely its defining aspect would be there. “Wow, Dad, that was great!” exclaimed the young John, the joy evident on his face. Dad smiled serenely, gave John a deep look which he remembered all throughout his life - and even now, as he stood beside himself – and messed up his hair with the palm of his hand. “You’ll go far in life, John.”
He had no idea what had spurred his dad to say that. As it was, those words he kept in his heart all these years, a target set for him by his father that gave him motivation when he felt that things were hopeless. No, it wasn’t just a goal, it was his father’s wish and prediction that John would have a bright future, and somehow it always gave him assurance. As John reminisced with the scene of his memory playing right before his eyes, something suddenly caught his attention. A shaft of white light giving off a soft glow had appeared to his left, and intuitively John knew that he was supposed to walk into the light. A step forward, then another. Was this the clichéd light that was going to bring him to heaven? He didn’t exactly believe in heaven, but he didn’t know what to believe now. He hesitated. If this was what it was, did he really want to go just like that? He’d worked so hard to get where he was today, and it would all be taken away so quickly? No, he told himself. Not yet. He didn’t know if the choice was his, but there were so many things he had to do. Turning his back on the light, he took one step away, and he promptly felt himself falling, falling into a pitch black abyss, and someway along the way he slipped into an unconsciousness that was a welcome respite from the feeling of leaving his stomach behind.
Pain flooded John’s body as he opened his eyes. He tried moving, but stopped trying almost immediately from the pain. He groaned. Where was he? Swivelling his eyeballs, he surveyed the plain white ceiling. His face and most of his body seemed to be wrapped in bandages. A hospital, then. “Ah, Mr. Lee, I see that you are awake.” If John hadn’t been so immobile he would have jumped, but he only gritted his teeth. “How are you feeling?” came the voice again, as the face of a man clad in a white coat swam into view. When no reply came, the doctor continued. “You’re a very lucky man to be alive, Mr. Lee. You were thrown clean out of your car from the impact of your accident, and you survived. Don’t worry, I fully expect you to make a full recovery.” “Th-thank you.” And then the doctor was gone. John thought hard. Two weeks later after he was discharged he was still thinking. Had all of that he’d seen, his third-person experience of that memory, the light and then the fall, been real, or nothing but a figment of his subconscious? He didn’t have the answers, and he didn’t know what to believe.
Soon enough, John got back to work. It wasn’t because he was a workaholic, but rather that the constant pondering without fruition made him want to go back just so he could take his mind off it. It did not work. He was distracted; lunch hours were spent grabbing a quick bite before settling down at the nearby café to his office with a cup of coffee and the day’s newspaper in hand, but he only found his mind wandering back to the incident. He couldn’t concentrate while in the office, and was listless when he wasn’t. This went on for a few months until it became almost unbearable.
And then one day, John finally found the answer to the strange near-death phenomenon he had experienced. He was driving along Thomson Road en route back home in his new convertible with the top down. Oddly enough, the new car gave him no satisfaction although it should have. It was about six in the evening on a Sunday, and as he drove past the church there the bells started tolling. Suddenly, he knew. It was a calling, for him to finally believe in something he never really believed in. Something he know knew to be true. His hands slightly trembling, John made the U-turn which would take him back towards the church he had driven past. He could barely contain his excitement as he pulled the handbrake and stopped the car in the parking lot. Almost jumping out of the car, John picked up the one essential item he knew to be the key to the answer and practically ran towards the church building. That day, John Ambrose Lee found his calling to go back to church.
The next Sunday, John was back as his country club, the one-time visit and donation of one million dollars written on a single cheque from his chequebook, the key to his answer - with his request to remain anonymous, of course - putting his mind finally at ease.