The “Night Danger” signs for moose were getting on his nerves. The pictogram of a large herbivore plunging onto the road appeared too often. How was he supposed to identify a dark moose against a black background?
The posted speed limit was ninety kilometres per hour, but he maintained a hundred. Joel estimated he’d be just as dead if a moose made a suicide run in front of his car.
Three hours more to Thunder Bay.
The strain of glaring into the darkness was causing him to imagine movement in-between the various road reflectors.
“Great. By the time I get home I’ll be hallucinating moose in the tub,” said Joel.
There was no chance to see the patch of ice.
Self-awareness returned to him. Joel stood at the side of the road (or so he thought) and frowned at his overturned car. Unsure of how he came to be outside the car, Joel approached his battered vehicle and saw someone familiar sitting in the driver’s seat. A double-take later, he realized he himself was sitting upside-down in the car. There was a massive abrasion across his forehead.
“If that’s me, what am I?”
Self-inspection revealed an unwounded copy of himself hovering barely a millimetre above the shoulder of the road. Clouds obscured the moon and he wondered how he could see so well. It was like looking through a rifle’s starscope. Then he realized the car lights were off. His hand, or some other part of his body, had pushed in the light switch. He reached to pull it and could not; he was completely insubstantial. The car was resting partly in the road, just around a curve. Some other rushing fool could easily crash into him.
Question two: “Am I dead?”
Joel passed his way into the car and crouched close to his twisted body and stared at the face. He could discern a faint intake and release of air. Fantasy? Wish-fulfillment? Near death experience? Joel knew he had a low pain threshold and it seemed oddly logical that his consciousness would “hit the road” before his car and body did.
He feared he would be permanently disembodied if he didn’t at least get the hazard lights going.
A lumbering rustle startled him. He looked clearly into the darkness.
“Christ — a moose.”
Curious, he wondered how close he could get to the beast in his current state. Investigating the roadside for twigs, the moose perfected the art of being oblivious. Joel stood beside it and touched. Unlike the lifeless auto frame, the moose offered patterns and signals and … ingress.
Joel believed he could get inside the moose’s neural processes and control it so he merged with the herbivore’s biological network. He made the creature wave its head and antlers about. Neat.
He remembered “Deadman,” a comic book hero who was, obviously, dead but could take over any living creature. If this was the case, why not reoccupy your own body?
He left the moose; it seemed bemused by being possessed.
Joel’s own body was unwilling to accept him. His biological processes were too keen on self-preservation to permit the presence of an active consciousness. Even his own.
Joel then knew he’d die if he didn’t get help.
Bloody lights, he thought.
The moose was moving off. Joel dashed over and reoccupied it. Controlling the ambulatory processes was tricky. Like a moose after too much Wild Turkey, Joel moved toward the car. He realized a hoof could not pull ON the headlights, but it might be able to push IN the hazard light button. After gouging away chunks of the dash with the right front hoof, the hazards started blinking. Now all he needed was a rescuer.
The moose was getting feisty and starting to fight his presence, so he released it; the creature promptly crunched its way into the forest.
“You figured out how to manipulate organics pretty quick.”
A man with a goatee and clothes like Jay Gatsby was addressing him.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Joel. Are you, uh, like me?”
“No, I’m actually dead.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“No no; it’s been this way for quite a while now.”
“But I’m not …”
“Not yet, anyway.”
“I see … can you explain this? Are you a ghost, an angel?”
“Something like that … look, it’s going to be a little while before you either die or get rescued and I was wondering if you’d like to help me.”
“I — uh — sure, I guess. What did you have in mind?”
“Being Christmastime and so forth, I try to help people out, but I’ve not had an affinity with the flesh — like you — for a long time and I’ve been working on a thorny problem.”
“Tell me about it.”
“I’d rather show you.”
Gee appeared to touch Joel on the shoulder and the world started to spin unusually fast.
The music in the dance club was loud. It would have hurt Joel’s ears were they real. The band was live and thrashing out lyrics like: JESUS IS HERE!
That’s Front 242, Joel thought.
“What a nice welcome,” said Gee.
“Where are we?”
“Hamburg Germany, December 22, 1993.”
“That’s yesterday. How …”
“Our non-biological forms have certain privileges that make up for insubstantiality.”
“But, time travel?
“Think of it as having crossed the date line. Twice.”
Gee led them in the direction of the toiletten. “Here’s where I need your help. Inside, in the second stall, is a fellow named Karl — he’s about to try to fix the problem of his earlier downer with an upper. I’d like you …”
Joel was already on the way, motivated by the memory of a friend in school who had overdosed. He walked through the walls and passed into Karl’s body. Control was harder to maintain; the moose hadn’t been drugged.
Joel crushed the hypodermic under foot. He tossed all of the remaining drug into the toilet and flushed. He left the stall, stumbling. The chemicals in the blood stream were partly to blame, but mostly Joel was having trouble coordinating the host body.
Gee was standing by a basin. “Try to manage only the decision control functions of the bio-network. You can’t, and don’t need to, run the whole thing.”
Joel commanded the body: “Walk to the basin.” Karl’s body smoothly performed the task.
“Well done. Now I need you to beat up the bouncers.”
“I want Karl to bring a lot of attention to his drug problem. Getting arrested should do it.”
Joel pushed his way through the teeming dance floor and made it to the front door. Gee simply passed through the bodies.
“Now, insult the bouncer.”
Joel made Karl emit an English — mild by North American standards — bit of invective.
This German took the oath quite seriously. He grabbed Joel/Karl by the shirt and moved to throw him out of the club.
“Tell Karl to defend himself,” said Gee.
“OK,” said Joel. Karl’s body crouched, rolled backward and propelled the bouncer away from him. He crunched loudly against a wall. The bouncer’s partner came up and took a swing. Missed. Karl — still on auto pilot — landed a punch to the solar plexus.
For Joel it was like being inside a martial arts film.
Bouncer One returned and grabbed him about the legs. Karl smashed a hand against each of his attacker’s ears.
A third dance club employee landed a minor kick to Karl’s face. “Ow,” said Joel.
Gee stood by, watching; he fidgeted with his goatee.
Karl planted both hands and kicked out, catching the newest attacker in the knee and thigh. Bouncers One and Two used this opening to grab Karl and pin him roughly against the wall. Gee looked down the street and saw the flashing light.
“OK,” said Gee, “tell Karl to pass out and then exit his body.”
Gee and Joel were walking up the steps of an urban Hamburg home. The sun was just rising, but Joel hadn’t noticed time passing and wondered why.
“Here we have the pleasant unassuming home of Karl. His mother is single, works in a hospital, and has a young daughter. She is three and is Karl’s half-sister, born out of wedlock. Father and mother parted ways shortly after the baby arrived and he has since permanently entered a cancer clinic. Karl’s family has been consequently unaware of his drug problem, until now.”
“Quite the soap opera,” said Joel. “What’s the point of being here?”
“For starts, it’s Christmas and, furthermore, the arrest of our young friend Karl is only part of his potential rehabilitation. His mother could use some assistance — she’s a bit of a basketcase — and the daughter’s the key.”
“She needs help placing a phone call.”
“Oma?” said the little girl into the phone. She thought it just wonderful that the kind voice inside her head had shown her how to make her grandmother’s phone ring.
“Ja, Oma; ist Susanne.”
“What are you doing?”
Now comfortable with the phone Susanne was able to a talk a blue streak. Karl. The fight. The doctors. And of course all the chocolate yesterday at the market.
Oma eventually convinced Susanne to stop talking and go get her mother. Soon a good long-distance mother-daughter cry began.
“Perfect,” said Gee.
“You see, Oma will call her son.”
“You must learn to pay more attention to numbers.”
Oma promptly called her son, a doctor, for advice on what to do. Tears soon regained a prominent location on her face. He melted under the pressure and, on December 23, started driving from Dryden to Thunder Bay.
Gee and Joel floated over The Kings Highway 17 like clouds. “What’re we waiting for?”
“A black 1984 SAAB 900S. Loaded.”
“I assume it’s driven by someone … significant.”
“Oma’s Canadian son, a Dr. Hessel.”
The SAAB rose over the hill like a lunging elk.
“There’s a moose making a beeline to the road. Intercept course.”
Joel re-focused. It was true. “I guess I better change its mind.”
He descended and met with the moose. Joel tried accessing the creature’s bionet (he was an expert now) but was repelled. There was someone else in there. The moose lumbered on. Who the hell would have …
Joel had a nasty feeling. He repositioned himself one hundred metres before the road. The moose had glowing blue eyes. Joel forced his way into the beast, ignoring the resistance.
“Who are you?” asked Joel.
“You don’t want to know. Get out.”
“No.” Joel sent a message to the moose’s motor control centre. He told it to stand on its head.
The moose had a giant muscle spasm. The other presence tried to correct the balance centre problems. Joel did not give up. The SAAB approached. He kept bombarding the moose’s brain with off-putting commands while all the time hearing the other entity issuing one command: “run.”
The moose collapsed three metres from the road. The SAAB passed, oblivious to the danger.
Both Joel and the other spirit emerged.
“How did you get here? You haven’t even crashed your car yet.” The hatred made Joel nauseous, even without a body.
“Mef, leave him alone.”
“Hello, Gee. Should have known.”
“Guess I’m getting sneakier. You don’t think your power to directly take over a biological entity came from nowhere?”
“Takes you to ruin a good tragedy.”
And Mef was gone.
“Who was that?”
“A nasty devil of a fellow.”
“And … ‘power imbalance’?”
“Can’t time travel, and make use of it, without counter-effects. Come on, let’s watch you crash your car.”
Joel’s car took the corner, hit the ice and tipped. Even in his insubstantial form, he shivered.
“All-season radials just don’t cut it out here,” said Gee.
They watched his astral body control the first moose and activate the hazards.
“Why didn’t we see us standing here before?”
“We’re not quite here yet.”
The SAAB arrived on the scene several minutes after the ‘original’ Gee and Joel headed to Germany.
“Now we’re here.”
“You did all this just to have Oma’s son rescue me?”
“Karl badly needed help and the timing was just too tempting. Mef didn’t catch on until too late. The moose charge was an obvious desperation ploy.”
“So you’re saying …”
“You better return to your body, Dr. Hessel’s got you about as stable as he’s going to before getting you to hospital.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“‘Thanks’ will do.”
“Merry Christmas, Gee.”
He regained consciousness in the hospital and saw his wife peering at him. Joel figured a couple of hours had to have passed for her to be with him. Dr. Hessel was in the room.
“You all here?” she asked.
He reached out and held her hand, happy to find out his body was real. Turning briefly away from his wife, he said: “Excuse me, doctor, how’s your nephew Karl doing?”