A shadow in the dark

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So many things have to come together for a life to begin. It has to happen in a place that supports life, something approximately as rare as hen's teeth, from the perspective of the universe. Parents, in whatever form, have to come together for it to begin. From conception to birth, any number of hazards can end a life. And that's to say nothing of all the attention and energy required to care for a new life until it is old enough to look after itself.

Life is full of toil, sacrifice, and pain, and from the time we stop growing we know that we've begun dying. We watch helplessly as year by year, our bodies age and fail, while our survival instincts compel us to keep on going-which means living with the terrifying knowledge that ultimately, death is inescapable. It takes enormous effort to create and maintain a life, and the process is full of pitfalls and unexpected complications.

Ending a life, by comparison, is simple. Easy, even. It can be done with a relatively minor effort, a single microbe, a sharp edge, a heavy weight... or a few ounces of lead.

So difficult to bring about. So easy to destroy.

You'd think we would hold life in greater value than we do.

I died in the water.

I don't know if I bled to death from the gunshot wound or drowned. For being the ultimate terror of the human experience, once it's over, the details of your death are unimportant. It isn't scary anymore. You know that tunnel with the light at the end of it, that people report in near-death experiences? Been there, done that.

Granted, I never heard of anyone rushing toward the light and suddenly hearing the howling blare of a train's horn.

I became dimly away that I could feel my feet beneath me, standing on what seemed to be a set of tracks. I knew because I could feel the approaching train making them shake and buzz against the bottoms of my feet. My heart sped up, too.

For crying out loud, did I just say that death isn't scary anymore? Tell that to my glands.

I put my hands on my hips and just glared at the oncoming train in disgust. I'd had a long, long day, battling the forces of evil, destroying the Red Court utterly, rescuing my daughter and murdering her mother-oh, and getting shot to death. That kind of thing.

I was supposed to be at peace, or merging with the holy light, or in line for my next turn on the roller coaster, or maybe burning in an oven equipped with a stereo that played nothing but Manilow. That's what happens when you die, right? You meet your reward. You get to find out the answer to the Big Questions of life.

"You do not get run over by trains," I said crossly. I folded my arms, planted my feet, and thrust my jaw out belligerently as the train came thundering my way.

"What's wrong with you?" bellowed a man's voice, and then a heavy, strong hand wrapped around my right biceps and hauled me off the track by main force. "Don't you see the damned train?"

Said train roared by like a living thing, a furious beast that howled and wailed in disappointment as I was taken from its path. The wind of its passage raked at me with sharp, hot fingers, actually pulling my body a couple of inches toward the edge of the platform.

After a subjective eternity, it passed, and I lay on flat ground for a moment, panting, my heart beating along lickety-split. When it finally began to slow down, I took stock of my surroundings.

I sprawled onto a platform of clean but worn concrete, and suddenly found myself under fluorescent lights, as at many train stations around Chicago. I looked around the platform, but though it felt familiar, I couldn't exactly place it. There were no other commuters. No flyers or other advertisements. Just an empty, clean, but featureless building.

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