(from an NPR 3 minute fiction challenge, using the first sentence as provided).
She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. And even as she stood up and placed her hand on the door knob, she had a feeling that it was not entirely her decision and that she was being watched, and guided.
Alexa shied away from sick people and hospitals for as long as she could remember. When her father needed hernia surgery, she refused to visit him. She even had trouble seeing him in bed at home when he was recuperating. Mention the possibility of death, and she would clam up. She’d never attended a funeral, not even her own grandparents’.
But now her best friend Karin was lying unconscious in a hospital bed after a car accident. Since she and Karin did everything together, she couldn’t ignore how this event had altered her life. Many of their friends had visited Karin. Now it was Alexa’s turn, and she hated feeling obligated. Surely Karin would know how hard it was for Alexa to be there. But the book had emboldened her.
An avid reader, Alexa had heard about a book which described a young boy’s trip to heaven while he was hospitalized with a serious infection. The early chapters, describing in detail symptoms of the boy’s abdominal infection, were hard to slog through. Not a quitter, Alexa read on and became fascinated. The boy in the book talked in great detail about what it was like being in heaven, a ‘trip’ he took at precisely the time that the operating doctors feared they were losing him. The fact that a child was describing the vivid colors in heaven, the animals walking about, the people he knew – relatives he couldn’t have known, the clothes that Jesus was wearing…yes, the fact that it was a child relaying these things made it all seem innocent and somehow credible.
Now that Karin was in a hospital, fighting for her life, Alexa was glad she had read this book. She slipped the paperback into her purse as she left for the hospital. She drove slowly, thinking of her friend. Was she wandering around heaven as the boy in the book had done? Would she see the same things, or would Karin’s version be different? As she neared the old brick building where her friend lay comatose, Alexa felt the familiar fears resurface. She wasn’t at all sure she could do this. The waiting room was near the entrance, and Alexa found a chair away from people, where she could collect herself. After leafing through the book for a few minutes, another thought jarred Alexa. The boy in the book was able to see those around him in the hospital. He knew, for example, that his father was praying, through his tears, in a waiting room outside. Could Karin see her now?
Alexa put the book down and walked across the waiting room, past children playing and a grieving family. She placed her hand on the door and turned the knob. At that very moment, Karin was returning from a journey to heaven. She had been given a choice: to stay here, or to walk through the door to the life and the people she had known. She had made her decision, and on her way back to the room where her aching body lay, she had seen her friend put the book down and approach the door. She placed her hand on the knob. To Alexa it felt as though the door was opening on its own, and she was filled with an overwhelming calm.