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In a Heartbeat

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Damp wisps of dark, pony-tailed hair cling to the collar of Sara’s pink sweatshirt. Soft music filters through earphones as she jogs in place on the corner of Fourth and East Main, waiting for the light to change. She glances left and sees the fall-colored trees lining the sidewalk in front of County General Hospital. Sara loves these times most – fall for its beauty, and early morning because it’s her time: time to quietly leave the house for a quick run while Tim and Emily are still asleep. Sara smiles as she remembers watching her husband’s peaceful face and the baby’s soft pinkness before setting out for her run. The light turns green, and Sara steps off the curb. Seconds later, she’s engulfed in darkness.

 

***

 

Three blocks away, Wayne and Maureen Beck head as fast as traffic allows up West Main toward the hospital. In the final stages of labor, Maureen’s muffled cries become more frequent. Wayne glances nervously at his wife of two years; moisture beads her upper lip, fiery red hair hangs in damp ringlets around her shoulders, and her eyes are glassy. He takes one hand off the steering wheel and reaches over to curl her fingers around his. He squeezes gently then turns his attention back to the cars ahead.

"Why are we slowing down?”

"I don't know sweetheart, traffic's not usually bad this time of the morning," Wayne says. "Are you all right?"

Brown eyes huge against ashen skin, she swallows hard. "I think so; just a little scared, I guess. How about you, are you ready to help me bring our son into the world?"

Wayne's pulse quickens. He smiles. "You bet I am!"

 

***

 

Sara, disoriented, feels no pain. She hears muffled voices and senses feet pounding toward her. A gentle pulling sensation takes over her body, and she feels light and airy. The blackness fades. Afloat, she rises to hover several feet above the noisy street – an interestingly odd sensation, yet she experiences no fear. From this vantage point, Sara surveys the area and observes a woman, in a darkly-stained pink sweatshirt, lying on the asphalt. Blood pools around the woman's head. A broken portable MP3 player lays strewn across the blacktop. Steam rises from the crumpled hood of an SUV tilted in the center divide, its driver slumped over the steering wheel.

Sara feels the gentle pull turn her away, but she resists – there’s a vague familiarity about the woman on the ground.

 

***

 

A little over a block away from the accident site, Wayne moves his head to see past a van. He lets out a sigh. "We may be stuck in traffic awhile, sweetheart. Think you'll be able to hang on?"

His wife nods, her smile weak. "I just hope the ba..." A pain rips through Maureen's abdomen so strong it makes her eyes bulge; she grits her teeth to keep the scream inside. When she can speak, fear quakes her voice as she whispers, "Oh God, Wayne. Something’s wrong!"

 

***

 

Above Fourth and East Main, Sara feels no emotion at the realization that the body now surrounded by paramedics and hospital staff is her own. She turns and floats. Angry honks from frustrated motorists, backed up on both sides of the intersection, rise to meet her. A man leaves his car in the middle of the street and runs; Sara sees him head toward a policeman who signals traffic. A pain-filled cry comes from below, and she floats down to look inside the car the man vacated. There she observes a red-haired woman in the throes of labor and instantly understands the man’s mission.

The air around Sara thickens. The gentle pull increases until it becomes so rapid that color and light blur. When the movement ceases, she finds herself above her daughter's crib. As she watches her beloved Emily's peaceful slumber, a sense of tranquility washes over Sara; how she loves her little girl.

Sara is pulled again, this time to the master bedroom. Her husband's bare chest glistens with perspiration as he tosses in his sleep. She reaches out, feels the soft warmth of Tim's bare shoulder. Her unseen touch seems to calm him, and she feels an incredible sense of love radiate through her.

At the now-familiar tug, she doesn't want to leave, but this time her attempts to resist fail. The pull intensifies; color and light blur. When the movement ceases, Sara finds herself hovering between the accident site and the vacated car. To her right, she sees that the man is now standing with two officers. She hears the first policeman say to the second, "Try to get a doctor down here; meanwhile, I'll get ready to deliver this man's child if time runs out."

Looking to her left, Sara sees that her body still lies on the ground. She watches as a paramedic cuts open the sweatshirt and holds paddles, connected to a small case, to the chest. Snippets of conversation reach Sara, as if radio stations are being changed: "lost a lot of blood"; "heart rate plummeting"; "cardiac arrest." Then she creeps upward and gathers speed until the scene below fades into a bright, white blur.

 

***

 

Maureen, now sprawled on the back seat, experiences pain so intense she no longer cares that her private parts are bared to a total stranger. Officer Cramer crouches, prepared to deliver the baby if medical people don’t arrive on time. "Hang in there, Mrs. Beck; it shouldn't be too much longer now. The baby's head’s crowning."

Maureen looks up at Wayne, standing over her in the open doorway, and smiles as best she can. "Go get ready to welcome our son into the world, honey. I'll be okay."

 

***

 

Inside the vortex, Sara gradually becomes aware of a distant melody. Soft white clouds buffet as she soars higher, and an utter sense of peace washes over her.

 

***

 

"Stand back," commands the paramedic.

 

***

 

A violent jerk forces Sara downward. Surprised, she tries to resist, her only desire never to leave the peacefulness. But the force overpowers her and again she finds herself above East Main, this time pulled toward the open doors of the car where she saw the woman in labor.

Inside the automobile, Sara hovers against the roof and looks down on the woman she now senses will be her new birth mother. Sara notices the crown of the baby's head; in that instant, a gentle tug pulls her down low over Maureen’s legs toward the child’s body.

 

***

 

The hard push Maureen gives exposes the baby's head. Wayne sucks in his breath at the sight of his son's tiny, blue-gray face. The next push exposes the infant's neck – and the umbilical cord squeezed around it. A sob erupts from Wayne's throat. Officer Cramer shoots him a warning glance.

 

***

 

A violent jolt backs Sara out of the birth canal and into the air above the car. She drifts a few moments.

 

***

 

"What's wrong?" Maureen's panic-stricken voice beckons.

"Uh, I'll be right there sweetheart." Wayne prays for a miracle, but the sudden slump of the officer's shoulders announces none will come.

 

***

 

"We're going to try this one last time,” the paramedic shouts and places the defibrillator paddles on Sara’s chest again. Her body jerks, and all eyes turn to the monitor. No one breathes.

 

***

 

Officer Cramer, lost in thought, nears the exit of the station house. That son of a bitch – can’t just drive anymore, gotta multi-task! No wonder people get creamed and babies die! His fingers press into the skin at the base of his neck, but rubbing provides little relief. Images continue to flash through his mind and, yet again, he sees the umbilical cord wrapped as tight as a noose around the baby’s neck; the horrified look on Wayne’s face; and Maureen’s anguish as her scream finally dies out.

At least the lady’s alive, for now.

Steve pushes the door open and chilly air envelops him as he heads for the parking lot. He lights a cigarette, takes a puff then tosses it to the gutter. Pulling out his cell phone, he realizes once again how lucky he is as he punches the speed-dial. At the sound of his wife’s sleepy voice, his eyes shimmer. He clears his throat and whispers, “I love you.”

 

Bio: April wondered why people have near death experiences and her imagination took over. She hopes you enjoy her unusual story.

 

 

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