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The Ending, The Beginning


He heard the scream of tortured metal as it was brutally twisted out of shape.  The smell of gasoline as it dripped from torn fuel lines filled his nose.  The wail of sirens and a woman crying rang in his ears.  He felt damp from the gentle rain that drizzled through the cracked glass.
Why was he thinking of these things?  Surely these were not his memories?  He concentrated, pushing his mind back further, past all the jumbled images.
He had been at a party given by a college friend.  He remembered having had a couple of beers, and not really being much of a drinker, he had already felt an alcoholic buzz; his brain engulfed in a numbing, fuzzy haze.
He had gotten into his car and was driving home.  He remembered a turn he took a little too wide.  He remembered over-compensating and losing control of the car.  Suddenly he saw, with perfect clarity, the glare of headlights coming towards him.  Close, too close.  He saw a woman, her eyes wide; he saw a child, its mouth open in a scream.  No!  No!
His body ached from head to toe; his head was pounding with the unwelcome memories.   Slowly he opened his eyes, not really wanting to, but he needed to know.  Through slitted lids he saw his mother asleep in a chair nearby.  Opening his eyes further, he saw he was in a hospital room.  There was an IV in his hand attached to a bottle over his head filled with some kind of liquid.  There was a machine beeping out the beats of his heart.  He groaned, bringing his mother awake instantly.  She stood over him gently cupping his cheek. 
“Son, how are you feeling?”  He tried to answer her, but his mouth was dry and his tongue felt twice its size.  She understood and quickly poured him a glass of water, popping a flexible straw into it.  She held it for him while he drank greedily; he hadn’t realized he was so thirsty.  When he signaled that he had had enough, she put the glass down on the little bedside table. 
“Mom,” he croaked out, “what happened?”
She took one of his hands in hers, smoothing back his hair with the other.  “Don’t you remember?” 
He shook his head, wincing at the pain it caused.  “There are images, all jumbled up.  I remember the party and that I was on my way home.”  He gripped her hand hard, “A car, coming at me, I remember a car.”  He looked at her, his eyes pleading with her to tell him it wasn’t so. 
“You were in an accident,” she said softly. 
“Mom, I remember there was a woman,” he said urgently, “and a kid.  How…?”  She bowed her head as tears started to fall.  “Mom?” 
She looked up at him, “The woman is going to be all right, but her…”  She couldn’t continue and bowed her head again, her shoulders shaking. 
“Mom!  Tell me, you have to tell me.”  His voice took on a hysterical tone. 
She looked up at him again; lines of sorrow creasing her face.  “Her son didn’t make it,” she said quietly.  He lay there stunned as she went on.  “The police say you lost control of the car when you made the turn.  They took a blood sample, it showed you were drunk, and they’re arresting you for DWI manslaughter.” 
He was shocked.  This can’t be happening, not to him, he was the good son; compared to his two brothers and sister, he was a saint.  Why did this happen?  He was going to college, he was in his third year, and he was going to be a famous architect some day.
A nurse came bustling in, “Ah, we’re awake, are we?  Very good, and how are we feeling today?”  He wanted to punch her right in the nose, where did she come off with this ‘we’ crap.  She was probably feeling just fine. He was feeling like shit; his whole life had just crumbled down around him.  He had killed someone: a child, a little boy.  How was he going to live with that?  He groaned and closed his eyes while the nurse changed the IV bottle. 
His mother had stepped out into the hall and was talking to someone.  When the nurse left, his mother came back in, followed by a police officer.  The name on his badge declared him to be G. Isabel.  His mother stayed with him, standing at the head of the bed gripping his shoulder, while the officer read him his rights. The officer explained that when he was released from the hospital, he would be arraigned in court and bail would be set.  If the bail were paid, he would be free until his court date, when he would stand trial. 
His mother assured him that they would pay the bail, whatever it was.  The officer left to resume his watch out in the hallway while his mother phoned home to let everyone know he was awake. 
The nightmare continued.  When he was released from the hospital, he stood before the judge who set the bail.  His parents paid it by taking a second mortgage on the house.  He was able to go home, but wherever he went, the whispers would follow.  It was a living hell; he was an outcast, treated like a leper, and like a murderer, which he was.  But no matter what the treatment he got from others, his treatment of himself was the worst.  At night when he finally slept, he would relive the accident over and over.  During the day, he would wonder about the ten-year-old boy he had killed.  What would he have become if his life hadn’t been cut short? 
As the trial date loomed closer, Kanin became more morose.  He didn’t want to go to jail; he couldn’t picture himself cooped up in a cell.  He had made a mistake, everybody makes mistakes.  Why did his merit taking one or two years of his life to stick him in a little room.  Was that going to bring that boy back?  His thoughts and feelings swung wildly, from self-recrimination to anger.  Finally, a few days before his trial, he ran away.
He didn’t know where he was going to go, but he couldn’t face the court, or the mother of that boy.  He took public transportation and ended up in the city.  He figured he could lose himself in the thousands of people that lived and worked there.  He lived on the streets, getting food out of garbage cans, sleeping in cardboard boxes in the alleys, or on benches in the park.  He would often think about how his life could have turned out except for that one moment in time.  His life had turned on the edge of a knife, cutting him off from friends and family, cutting him off from the career he might have had, the life he might have led.
* * *
One night he found himself in a storm drain in Central Park, and as he lay down to sleep, he cursed God for his fate.  Hadn’t he suffered enough?  A year of living on the streets of New York, barely getting enough to eat, sleeping in alleys and gutters, freezing in the winter and roasting in the summer; wasn’t that enough?  He had been afraid to get any kind of employment, fearing he could be traced or would be recognized.  He smiled ruefully. His own mother wouldn’t recognize him right now, he had changed so much.  He was tired, more tired than he had ever been in his entire life.  He was done; he didn’t want to go on.  What kind of life was this?  Living just for the sake of living?  He made up his mind that this was where he was going to die.  He would fall asleep here and never wake up, and then it would be over; that was his last thought as he fell asleep.
When he awoke it was in a bed, soft and warm and comfortable.  He thought that this must be heaven; he had died, and heaven was a soft bed.  He snuggled into the pillow, enjoying the sweet, clean scent of it.
“Ah, you’re awake,” came a soft, cultured voice. Was this God?  Was he going to have to account for himself already?  He just got here.  Even death wasn’t fair.  His eyes flew open   Standing by the bed was an elderly man with brown hair that was streaked with gray.  Blues eyes twinkled merrily as they held his gaze.  “Ah…we took the liberty of throwing your clothes away, they were rather in a state.  I hope you don’t mind?”  He shook his head minutely, not understanding any of this.  There was an incessant banging, which he had originally thought was in his head, but now realized it was outside of himself, outside of the room.  The man laid his hand on his forehead, and then took his wrist feeling for his pulse.  “Good. Much better, you seem to be improving.  Tell me how do you feel?” 
“I…I don’t really know.” Kanin stammered.  “I thought I was dead.” 
The man patted him on the cheek.  “You’re far from that now, but you were close, you were close.  How does some food sound?” 
His stomach growled loudly, replying for him.  He looked up embarrassed. 
“I guess that’s a yes.”  The old man chuckled and turned away, returning shortly with a tray.  Kanin’s mouth watered with the sight and smell of it, and he dug into it with relish, finishing every crumb. 
When he was finished, Father took the tray away and sat down beside him.  Kanin looked at him, still not believing he was alive and being cared for. “You know,” Kanin began, “I went to sleep in that storm drain intending never to wake up again.”  Tears welled in his eyes and his voice caught. 
“There, there you’re here now. You have no need to worry about anything,” Father reassured him.  “Now why don’t you tell me how you came to be in this situation?” 
Kanin’s mind raced, he couldn’t tell this man the truth, that he was a fugitive; but at the same time, he didn’t want to lie either.  Eventually self-preservation won out, and he told Father that he had come to the city expecting to find work.  He had gotten jobs here and there, but not for very long. When he had gotten sick and his money had run out, he had ended up on the streets.  He’d been living this way for a year; he had no family, no friends, no one to turn to. 
Father listened attentively, and at the end stood up, patting the boy on the shoulder.  “Well, you can stay here with us as long as you like, if you follow a few rules.”  He told Kanin about the tunnels and the people they hid and protected from the world Above.  He said Kanin could stay and become a member of this community or, when he was up to it, he could go back Above.  No one would keep him here.  All they asked is that this place be kept a secret. 
So Kanin stayed and became a valuable member of the world Below.  Eventually he had met Vincent, who was just recovering from a severe illness.  Father said it had been some kind of virus, but rumor had it that a girl had broken his heart and that she had been sent Above.  The two became great friends,along with Pascal, Winslow, Jason, Rebecca and Olivia.  The group would always convene  Kanin had his eye on Olivia, but she only had eyes for Jason, and when they were of an age, they married.  Unfortunately, shortly after their marriage Jason was killed in a tunnel cave in.  For a time Olivia withdrew into herself, shunning the company of the others.  But eventually she worked through her grief and became part of the group again.  Kanin courted her shamelessly, and eventually they married.
The memories of that horrible night are still with him, haunting him.  He decided to dedicate his life to this community of tunnel dwellers, helping and giving of himself whenever he could.  He worked hard, learning all kinds of useful trades that the community needed.  He knew dedicating his life to others would never bring back the life he had taken, but perhaps in some small way it helped.