Welcome to a sneak peek of The Goldens, my debut novel coming out late 2015. I would love to know what you think!
When David Graff woke up, he was dead. He was surprised at how definitively he knew this. One minute he’d been driving, Billy Joel on the radio. The next minute he was here—although he wasn’t exactly sure where here was—and he was no longer alive.
He surveyed his surroundings. He was in a room, generic but comfortably furnished. There was a bed, a TV, a rocking chair. A window behind a heavy navy curtain did not provide any clues, as it was too dark and foggy to see outside. When David turned back around, a dog was staring at him. It was not a dog he recognized. It looked a little like a collie, but with a little street mutt thrown in. David had never been very good with dog breeds. This particular dog was wearing a fisherman’s vest and regarding him with big brown eyes.
“Hello,” the dog said, and David was not shocked, although he was aware he should have been.
“Hello,” said David. “Who are you?”
“You can call me Barney,” the dog said.
“Where am I, Barney?”
David glanced around. “This is heaven?”
“Well, the first steps.”
“I always thought it would be…prettier.” David said.
“I daresay it will be,” said Barney. “Although I don’t know for sure what yours will look like.”
“What mine will look like?”
“Heaven looks different to everyone,” explained the dog. “Suited to their design of perfection. Can you imagine trying to create a place that made everyone happy? Logistical nightmare.” He shook his head. David nodded. This made sense, but something else bothered him.
“What about…I thought there would be people here to greet me.” He shuffled his feet a little, looking down. His mind flashed through images of people he had lost—his mother, uncles and aunts, old friends—and settled on the image of a certain person. “You know, pearly gates and all.”
The dog looked at him kindly.
“You’ll see her soon enough,” he said as if he could read David’s mind. “Her and everyone else.”
“What about God?” David blurted out. If a dog could smile, Barney did.
“He’ll be there, too,” he said.
“So what do I need to do to see them?” David asked. He suddenly felt rushed and anxious. Barney seemed to sense his anxiety.
“It took you a long time to adjust to your life on earth,” he said gently. “Think about it. Nine months in the womb, and years of guidance from your parents. Think of me as your guide to heaven. I’ll show you the ropes before I send you off on your own.”
“But what do I have to do?” David repeated.
“You need to say goodbye to your old life,” Barney said. “It’s imperative for everyone, but especially those like you—who leave unexpected and suddenly.” David thought back to the Billy Joel song. Without realizing it, he sank into the rocking chair and started to sing to himself. “And the piano, it sounds like a carnival, and the microphone smells like a beer…” He paused, and looked up at Barney.
“It was a car accident,” he said. The dog nodded. For the first time since the he got to heaven, David felt sad. Then he realized sad wasn’t even the word for it. An overwhelming, pressing emotion crushed him as he remembered the song, reaching down to turn it up, and looking up just in time to the see lights of the other car swerving into his lane before hitting him head on. He saw himself slumped over in his seat, heard the sirens. Saw the young girl who drove the other car get out, hysterical, on her phone. But David could only think of one thing.
“Gracie,” He whispered. He met the dog’s eyes, and saw his own pain reflected in them.
“You have to let me go back,” David said, jumping up. “You have to let me. I have to see my daughter. I have to say goodbye.” The thought of Grace getting that phone call—it crushed him. The room spun around.
“If this is heaven,” David demanded bitterly, “then why am I so sad?”
“Because you haven’t said goodbye,” Barney said. David didn’t move, his head buried in his hands.
“How am I going to say goodbye?” David asked. “I’m dead.”
“Think back to a time someone you love died,” Barney said. “Like her.” Her face swam in front of his eyes. His Elisabeth. Her big green eyes, hair the color of honey. The first time she laughed, David had been delighted by the huge sound that came out of such a petite woman. He always thought that first, fantastic belly laugh was the moment he decided to marry her. Grace looked like her mother. It stopped David in his tracks sometimes when she walked into the room.
She had barely been two when Elisabeth died—she’d be 35 this year, the same age her mother was when the cancer took her.
“Of course you never get over the death of your wife,” said Barney. “”But it got easier, right?”
“Do you know why?”
“Time heals all wounds?” David quipped.
“There’s a little more to it than that,” Barney said. “Leaving the only world you’ve ever known isn’t easy. There is a journey everyone has to take, to say goodbye and make peace with the people they leave behind.”
David thought of Grace and looked up. “Will they know I’ve said goodbye to them?”
“I asked you earlier and you said it got easier, right? That’s because Elisabeth left you a Golden.”
“You can help the people you left behind find their peace with your passing. I can show you how. How you’ll get to give those final goodbyes, conversations, things you needed to say. So that when you do enter your ‘pearly gates’, you’ll have no regrets.”
“But will they know?” David pressed.
“Eventually, yes. In their own way. Some people will know right off, depending on the connection they had with you. Most won’t. These moments will get filed away for one day when your loved ones are ready. Maybe it will be something they find, a song they hear on the radio, a prayer, or a dream. But they’ll know.”
“When can I start?”
“Now, if you like.”
“What do I do?”
“Just go through that door.”
“Door?” David looked up and saw a door where a solid wall had stood a moment before. He felt like she should be surprised, but he wasn’t. He glanced back at Barney, who gave him a reassuring nod of the head and settled down on the foot of the bed. David took a deep breath, turned to face the door, and thought of his daughter. —