Head spinning and coated in sand, Nathan struggled to open his eyes. They were heavy from more than just the grain atop them. He convinced one eye to draw back its gate. Though fuzzy at first, his vision cleared. His other eye shot open upon seeing the expansive beach that he had washed up on.
“Mister?” a voice called from behind him.
Fear induced adrenaline, granting him strength. He pushed himself to his hands and knees, slow and painfully. Nathan, shaky on his feet, looked at the man who addressed him. He wore overalls, and had a string of dead fish hung from one pocket. He gripped a fishing pole with one hand, and offered to brace Nathan with the other.
“You ok?” the man asked again.
“Where am I?” Nathan asked.
The fisherman looked puzzled, turning the words over in his head. Figuring English wasn’t the man’s primary language, he tried again.
“Donde estas mi?” he asked in the best Spanish he could muster.
The man’s brow ruffled further.
“Telephone?” Nathan asked, motioning with his fingers between his ear and mouth, pretending to talk.
His request was met with a blank stare.
With the adrenaline wearing off, his body was racked with pain. The length of it ached.
“Doctor?” he tried.
“Doctor,” the man parroted.
Then he smiled and gestured for Nathan to follow him. Nathan did as instructed. As they walked, he scanned the horizon. The beach was littered with debris. From what he could tell, some ship had wrecked there. Being washed up among the scrap, he could only guess that he was aboard, although he had no memory of it.
The fisherman led him to an old pick up. With effort, he climbed into the passenger seat of the cab. The truck smelled of gasoline when the man turned it on. As they drove, it was evident that the old shocks had worn away. Every bump and pit drove pain to shoot through Nathan’s frame. The lightning agony made him wonder if he would make it to whatever passed for a doctor in this part of the world.
After a lengthy, silent ride, they had finally arrived. The truck pulled up to a small, white building. The crisp building stood out against the surrounding tropical landscape. With the car in park, the fisherman left the engine idle, and looked at Nathan.
“Doctor?” Nathan asked.
The fisherman nodded.
“Thank you,” Nathan said.
The fisherman’s face grew sullen. Saying nothing, he placed a hand on Nathan’s shoulder. He squeezed gently. The fisherman’s face told Nathan that it was time to go, but had a regretful flavor. Nathan hesitated to leave, contemplating the meaning of the man’s expression.
“Doctor,” the fisherman said, releasing his shoulder and pointing out the door.
Nathan tried to shake off the odd feeling. Perhaps the look was merely a cultural gesture that he didn’t understand. Or maybe the damage to his head was making Nathan foggy.
Upon his urging, Nathan exited the truck. He went to the entrance of the square building and pressed against the solid door. It opened easier then he’d have expected. He found the inside of the place distracting. The large reception area seemed to have impossibly tall ceilings, and was at least three times the size the structure looked from the outside. Swirling, shiny marble covered every surface. Slowly, he approached the desk, getting hypnotized by an exotic salt water fish tank along the way.
“Sir, follow me,” a woman said.
Consumed with the swimming colors, he hadn’t seen her approach. She wore white, pressed scrubs, and held a chart in her hand.
“Don’t I need to check in?” Nathan asked.
“It’s ok. I already have all of your information. We’ve been expecting you.”
He followed her down the hall.
“What do you mean? That you’ve been expecting people from the wreck?”
“The doctor will be in momentarily,” she said, leaving him alone in an exam room.
No sooner did the door close, then it opened again, and the doctor entered the room.
“Hello, Nathan,” the doctor said.
“How do you know my name?” he asked.
“What’s important is that you know it. How are you feeling?” he asked.
“I’m,” Nathan stopped.
The oddness of the situation had distracted him from realizing that much of his pain had subsided.
“I’m feeling better then I did, actually.”
“Doctor, where am I?”
“What do you remember about your accident?” the doctor asked.
“Nothing. It’s so strange. I know who I am, my life. But I have no idea how or why I got on a boat. And nothing about the shipwreck. But, that’s normal, right? A little short term memory loss after trauma.”
“Sure. But that’s not what I meant. What do you remember about the car accident?”
Nathan searched his mind. Coming up blank, he shook his head.
The doctor motioned for Nathan to take a seat, and wore the expression of the fisherman.
“Nathan, I have something difficult to tell you. This is the hardest part of my job. Many times, when people come here, they have some memory of what happened. I had hoped you’d be further along. Of course, other times, they have no memories at all. You’re somewhere in between. Regardless, if you’ve come to me, then it means that you’re ready to hear the truth.”
“Nathan, you were in a terrible car accident. The shipwreck, the beach, this office, it’s all a construct of your mind. It’s whatever it needs to be for you to process the fact that, well, you died.”
Nathan erupted in a burst of laughter. His chuckles slowed to a stop when the doctor didn’t join him. Anger replaced his humor, and he felt hot.
“That’s ridiculous. If I were dead, why was I in so much pain?”
“Your body was experiencing your loss and grief. The fact that your feeling better means that on some level, you’re accepting it.”
“You’re a lunatic. This is crazy. I’m leaving,” he said and went for the door.
“I wouldn’t advise that,” the doctor said.
“Thanks for your consultation, doctor, if you are a doctor,” Nathan said, swinging the door open.
As he attempted to step through it, he was struck with a vision.
He found himself in his car. It was a rainy morning. He was on a street that he drove every day. An oncoming car slipped, and was coming at him so fast.
The doctor pulled him back into the room, and the vision ceased.
“I didn’t think you’d want to see the rest. Of course, if you do, just try to walk through again.”
“No,” Nathan said weakly.
He sat, and took a moment to gather himself.
“What now?” Nathan asked.
“Now that you know, and accept, the truth, you can move on.”
“You’ll find out when you get there,” the doctor said.
Nathan nodded and stood.
“Who are you, really?” Nathan asked.
“I don’t like labels. If you need one, you can think of me as an angel.”
“And the fisherman?”
“He really doesn’t like labels. But he does like to personally greet everyone who walks through here and help them along their way. He doesn’t want anyone to go through this alone.”
The nurse appeared in the open doorway. She took him by the hand, and lead him through the door. He hesitated at first, but this time, the threshold took him to a different, and much better, place.