William Jones sighed softly as he sped his car through the rural roads of New England, which were alive with autumn splendor. He'd hoped that this nice quiet drive would help lift his spirits, but even the bright sun and beautiful scenery did nothing to ease his brooding. His angst had been building for quite some time now, and it felt like it was about to reach critical levels. His troubles at work, combined with some serious personal issues, had grown over the past few months from sadness into full-blown depression.
As he gazed wearily at the colorful landscape speeding quickly past him, his thoughts remained murky and dark. His eyes were hollow and his expression almost blank. His total lack of feeling was ironically complemented by the slate-gray business suit which he wore; it too seemed devoid of any meaning or personality.
He sped through the countryside as if in a trance, looking but not seeing anything. His dark brooding thoughts held most of his attention, leaving only the necessary cognitive functions needed for him to pilot his vehicle like an automaton. The sun illuminated the colors of the trees all around him, but still he didn't notice.
And he continued to brood. His thoughts were caught in a tight spiral of depression and self reproach, circling tighter and tighter, drawing him deeper and deeper into the muddy depths of his psyche. There was no way for him to stop that wild descent, and there was a part of him that wanted it to happen, and maybe was even enjoying it. As his mind was drawn further downward into despair, his foot seemed to gain a mind of its own, and started to apply a slow, but steadily-increasing amount of pressure on the accelerator.
Caught in this confused act of self torture, he didn't notice when the car started gaining speed, as if on its own volition. He continued racing through the landscape, while in his mind he was traveling towards his doom at the same hell-bent pace. He didn't notice the sign warning travelers of the hairpin turn up ahead. He didn't notice the turn until it was too late.
When he started into the sharp bend, he was jerked back to consciousness by the scream of the tires, and the centrifugal force as he tried to keep his vehicle on the road. His efforts went un-rewarded though, as the car sped off the road, crashing through the guard rails. The vehicle was briefly airborne, giving the illusion of flight before the earth reached up and extended gravity's pull. He felt the illusion of his weightlessness shatter quite brutally as the car was pummeled by the ground below.
In these fleeting moments before the final impact, time was stretched wide and his consciousness expanded. He could see every detail of the landscape below him, he could hear every single scrape of the metal, and sense every fracture in the car's body. Memories from long ago flooded vividly before him: old friends, lost loves, forgotten dreams and ambitions. There was so much more to do, so much left to see, so much living yet to be done. The few seconds stretched on to eternity, leaving him ample time to ponder those regrets.
It was then when the car struck the tree and brought time and space back in on themselves, collapsing in an instant of brutal awakening. His last experience was that of the airbags in his masterpiece of European engineering engaging, exploding against him. Then there was complete and utter darkness.
He came back into consciousness slowly, as if waking from a dream. Opening his eyes all he saw was darkness. His body seemed to be weightless as he floated in this void. There was no pain though, neither physical or mental, in fact all there seemed to be there was nothingness, completely and totally surrounding him. He drifted in that state for what seemed like hours, but could just as well have only been a few minutes, before he noticed the soft light diffusing all around him.
Turning his head he saw in the distance what appeared to be a bright light in a tunnel of darkness. It was just like he had heard it described countless numbers of times on talk shows and in the tabloids, but now that it was actually happening to him, it didn't seem at all foolish. In fact he felt a great peacefulness wash over him as he headed for the light at the end of this tunnel.
As he was moving slowly forward, he felt something grab him by his ankle and give a light tug. Whirling around to face the darkness, he was snapped to the realization that he wanted to fight this. It wasn't his time yet. Running crazily in the darkness trying to find his way back, he lost his footing and was sent careening into the void.
"No, I'm not ready yet. There's so much more that I want to do. I can solve my problems, I can figure things out. Just give me another chance!"
"Relax, Mr. Jones, everything's alright. You've been in a bad accident, but you're going to be okay." Opening his eyes, he looked up to see a paramedic talking softly to him as he finished securing him to the stretcher. "I've been given another chance, haven't I?" he asked. "Yes you have, everything's going to be just fine" the paramedic replied. "Life's a really precious thing isn't it?" "Yes Mr. Jones, but you need to rest now." As he was carried to the ambulance, he had the time to notice the beauty around him and how bright and blue the sky was that afternoon. Once in the rescue vehicle he allowed himself to drift peacefully into sleep, while quietly enjoying the gift he'd been given.
"Mr. Jones, how do you feel?"
He opened his eyes as the doctor looked quizzically down at him. "Okay, a little confused, but peaceful" he answered after a slight, confused pause.
"That's good Mr. Jones, but do you remember why you're here?"
"I... I was in an accident."
"No Mr. Jones, try harder, where are you?"
"I'm in the hospital... the emergency room."
"No, you're in the hospital but you're in the walk-in psychiatric ward," the doctor corrected him.
"Psychiatric ward? But that doesn't make sense..."
"Try and remember Mr. Jones, why are you here, how were you feeling this morning?"
"I was... I was tired, and miserable. I was depressed" he answered as the haze slowly lifted from his memories.
"Yes, and do you remember why you came here?" the doctor probed further.
"I wanted to feel better, I wanted to feel happy again, before it got too much to take."
"That's right Mr. Jones, you can sit up now."
Sitting up, he found himself on a couch of the psychiatrist's office. As he continued talking, the doctor removed some electrodes attached to his forehead and temples. Those wires connected at the other end to a small computer on the table next to the couch. The video display on the unit had gone black, and the few lights that remained on were all shining green.
Looking around the office, he felt a wave of disorientation flood over him, but it passed in a few moments. Everything had snapped back into focus, leaving him with a feeling of happiness and tranquillity. "I remember it all now doctor, I came to you to help me feel better."
"That's right Mr. Jones, ever since they perfected the experience- simulation unit, we've found it quite useful in our field. It's been noted that people surviving near-death experiences have come out of the situation with a newfound love of life and an improved state of mind. We've been using simulations like these to help many patients recover from depression. It's especially helpful in suicidal cases like yours."
Quickly standing up, he grinned at the doctor and headed for the door, with a noticeable bound in his step. "Well then that's that isn't it doctor? This is truly wonderful, I can't thank you enough. I'll settle the bill with your receptionist and then I'll be on my way." He paused briefly and smiled again, before continuing, his voice sounding with energy. "I've got so many things I want to do, so many people I want to see, and I'm eager to start back to work. I just know that I can do my job much better than I have been. Thank you so much for this."
"Wait one moment, Mr. Jones, aren't you forgetting something?" the psychiatrist called out to him.
Turning to him, with a surprised look on his face, he asked "like what doctor?"
"Like the fact that you've felt this same way the other times, and that it never lasted. We've treated you this way three times over the past two years and after the initial euphoria you slip back into your depression within a few months."
"But doctor, it won't be like that this time, I feel great. Nothing can get me down. I'm cured."
"I'm afraid not, a cure doesn't come this quick. You need to seek counseling before things get bad again, then maybe things will turn out differently this time. I'm worried about you Mr. Jones. We had to take the simulation up to level eight this time. We can't go much higher before we run into the problem of safety risks."
"Oh you worry too much," he replied, casually dismissing the psychiatrist's worries. You've cured me, all my problems are over now. Things are going to be different, nothing can go wrong. It's a beautiful day outside, I think I'll go for a walk in the park and enjoy the afternoon. Thank you again and good-bye doctor."
He walked triumphantly out the door, a smile on his face. After he was
gone the psychiatrist looked sadly at the door for a moment before he
turned to the machine on the table to shut it off. "Good bye Mr. Jones, try
to stay happy this time" he muttered softly to himself as he stood alone in
Copyright 1993, 1999, Will A. Sanborn - email@example.com