"The men let go of my arms ... I heard a click and a whirr. The whirr went on and on. It was getting louder. The whirr was inside my head and my knees were made of rubber. They were bending and I was falling and all the time the whirr grew louder.
"I sat up with a start. What time was it? I looked at the bedside table but they'd taken the clock away. In fact, where was any of my stuff?
"I jumped out of bed in alarm, looking for my clothes. My uniform wasn't on the chair. I turned around, then froze.
"Someone was lying in that bed.
"I took a step closer. He was quite a young man, with short brown hair, lying very still. But, the thing was impossible! I myself had just gotten out of that bed! For a moment I wrestled with the mystery of it. It was too strange to think about - and anyway I didn't have the time.
"I went back past the offices and stepped out into the corridor. A sergeant was coming along it carrying an instrument tray covered with a cloth. Probably he didn't know anything, but I was so glad to find someone awake that I started toward him."
"Excuse me, Sergeant," I said. "You haven't seen the ward boy for this unit, have you?"
"He didn't answer. Didn't even glance at me. He just kept coming, straight at me, not slowing down."
"Look out!" I yelled, jumping out of his way.
"The next minute he was past me, walking away down the corridor as if he had never seen me, though how we had kept from colliding I didn't know.
"And then I saw something that gave me a new idea. Farther down the corridor was one of the heavy metal doors that led to the outside. I hurried toward it. Even if I had missed that train, I'd find some way of getting to Richmond!
"Almost without knowing it I found myself outside, racing swiftly along, traveling faster in fact than I'd ever moved in my life.
"Looking down I was astonished to see not the ground, but the tops of mesquite bushes beneath me. Already Camp Barkeley seemed to be far behind me as I sped over the dark frozen desert. My mind kept telling me that what I was doing was impossible, and yet ... it was happening.
"I was going to Richmond; somehow I had known that from the moment I burst through that hospital door. Going to Richmond a hundred times faster than any train on Earth could take me.
"Almost immediately I noticed myself slowing down. Just below me now, where two streets came together, I caught a flickering blue glow. It came from a neon sign over the door of a red-roofed one-story building with a "Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer" sign propped in the front window. "Cafe," the jittering letters over the door read, and from the windows light streamed onto the pavement.
"Staring down at it, I realized I had stopped moving altogether. Finding myself somehow suspended fifty feet in the air was an even stranger feeling than the whirlwind flight had been. But I had no time to puzzle over it, for down the sidewalk toward the all-night cafe a man came briskly walking. At least, I thought, I could find out from him what town this was and in what direction I was heading. Even as the idea occurred to me - as though thought and motion had become the same thing - I found myself down on the sidewalk, hurrying along at the stranger's side. He was a civilian, maybe forty or forty-five, wearing a topcoat but no hat. He was obviously thinking hard about something because he never glanced my way as I fell into step beside him."
"Can you tell me, please," I said, "what city this is?"
"He kept right on walking.
"Please sir!" I said, speaking louder, "I'm a stranger here and I'd appreciate it if - "
"We reached the cafe and he turned, reaching for the door handle. Was the fellow deaf? I put out my left hand to tap his shoulder.
"There was nothing there.
"I stood there in front of the door, gaping after him as he opened it and disappeared inside. It had been like touching thin air. Like no one had been there at all. And yet I had distinctly seen him, even to the beginnings of a black stubble on his chin where he needed a shave.
"I backed away from the mystery of the substance-less man and leaned up against the guy wire of a telephone pole to think things through. My body went through that guy wire as though it too had not been there.
"There on the sidewalk of that unknown city, I did some incredulous thinking. The strangest, most difficult thinking I had ever done. The man in the cafe, this telephone pole ... suppose they were perfectly normal. Suppose I was the one who was - changed, somehow. What if in some impossible, unimaginable way, I lost my ... hardness. My ability to grasp things, to make contact with the world. Even to be seen! The fellow just now. It was obvious he never saw or heard me.
"And suddenly I remembered the young man I had seen in the bed in that little hospital room. What if that had been ... me? Or anyhow, the material, concrete part of myself that in some unexplainable way I'd gotten separated from. What if the form which I had left lying in the hospital room in Texas was my own?
"And if it were, how could I get back to it again? Why had I ever rushed off so unthinkingly?
"I was moving again, speeding away from the city. Below me was the broad river. I appeared to be going back, back in the direction I had come from, and it seemed to me I was flashing across space even faster than before. Hills, lakes, farms slipped away beneath me as I sped in an unswerving straight line over the dark nighttime land.
"I was standing in front of the base hospital.
"And so began one of the strangest searches that can ever have taken place: the search for myself. From one ward to another of that enormous complex I rushed, pausing in each small room, stooping over the occupant of the bed, hurrying on.
"I backed toward the doorway. The man in that bed was dead! I felt the same reluctance I had the previous time at being in a room with a dead person. But ... if that was my ring, then - then it was me, the separated part of me, lying under that sheet. Did that mean that I was ...
"It was the first time in this entire experience that the word "death" occurred to me in connection with what was happening.
"But I wasn't dead! How could I be dead and still be awake? Thinking. Experiencing. Death was different. Death was ... I didn't know. Blanking out. Nothingness. I was me, wide awake, only without a physical body to function in.
"Frantically I clawed at the sheet, trying to draw it back, trying to uncover the figure on the bed. All my efforts did not even stir a breeze in the silent little room.
"Suddenly I was aware that it was brighter, a lot brighter, than it had been. I stared in astonishment as the brightness increased, coming from nowhere, seeming to shine everywhere at once. All the light bulbs in the ward couldn't give off that much light. All the bulbs in the world couldn't! It was impossibly bright: it was like a million welders' lamps all blazing at once. 'I'm glad I don't have physical eyes at this moment,' I thought. 'This light would destroy the retina in a tenth of a second.'
"No, I corrected myself, not the light. He. He would be too bright to look at. For now I saw that it was not light but a man who had entered the room, or rather, a man made out of light, though this seemed no more possible to my mind than the incredible intensity of the brightness that made up his form.
"The instant I perceived him, a command formed itself in my mind. "Stand up!" The words came from inside me, yet they had an authority my mere thoughts had never had. I got to my feet and as I did came the stupendous certainty: 'You are in the presence of the Son of God.'
"If this was the Son of God, then his name was Jesus. This person was power itself, older than time and yet more modern than anyone I had ever met.
"Above all, with that same mysterious inner certainty, I knew that this man loved me. Far more even than power, what emanated from this presence was unconditional love. An astonishing love. A love beyond my wildest imagining. This love knew every unlovable thing about me - the quarrels with my stepmother, my explosive temper, the sex thoughts I could never control, every mean, selfish thought and action since the day I was born - and accepted me just the same.
"When I say he knew everything about me, this was simply an observable fact. For into that room along with his radiant presence - simultaneously, though in telling about it I have to describe them one by one - had also entered every single episode of my entire life. Everything that had ever happened to me was simply there, in full view, contemporary and current, all seemingly taking place at the same time. Every detail of twenty years of living was there to be looked at. The good, the bad, the high points, the run-of-the-mill. And with this all-inclusive view came a question. It was implicit in every scene and, like the scenes themselves, seemed to proceed from the living light beside me."
"What did you do with your life?"
"Desperately I looked around me for something that would seem worthwhile in the light of this blazing reality. But there was only an endless, short-sighted, clamorous concern for myself. Hadn't I ever gone beyond my own immediate interests, done anything other people would recognize as valuable?
"And all at once the question itself built up in me. It wasn't fair! Of course I hadn't done anything with my life! I hadn't had time. How could you judge a person who hadn't even started?
"The answering thought, however, held no trace of judgment. 'Death,' the word was infinitely loving, 'can come at any age.'"
"What about the insurance money coming when I'm seventy?" The words were out, in this strange realm where communication took place by thought instead of speech, before I could call them back.
"If I'd suspected before that there was mirth in the presence beside me, now I was sure of it: the brightness seemed to vibrate and shimmer with a kind of holy laughter - not at me and my silliness, not a mocking laughter, but a mirth that seemed to say that in spite of all error and tragedy, joy was more lasting still.
"And in the ecstasy of that laughter I realized that it was I who was judging the events around us so harshly. It was I who saw them as trivial, self-centered, unimportant. No such condemnation came from the glory shining around me. He was not blaming or reproaching. He was simply ... loving me. Filling the world with himself and yet somehow attending to me personally. Waiting for my answer to the question that still hung in the dazzling air. 'What have you done with your life to show me?'
"The question, like everything else proceeding from him, had to do with love. How much have you loved with your life? Have you loved others as I am loving you? Totally? Unconditionally?
"Hearing the question like that, I saw how foolish it was even to try to find an answer in the scenes around us. Why, I hadn't known love like this was possible. Someone should have told me, I thought indignantly!"
"I did tell you."
"But how? Still wanting to justify myself: how could he have told me and I not heard?
"I told you by the life I lived. I told you by the death I died. And, if you keep your eyes on me, you will see more ... "