Mark took the stagecoach out from Recovery Ranch the very next morning. He said he could no longer be deterred from trying to find hell where he felt he belonged, for at least a while. Two people got off the stage coach to check out Recovery Ranch, the pilot who was killed along with Mark when his private plane crashed and my sister Coral. Coral had apparently been talking to the pilot, who was close to forty, all the way out to the ranch. His name was Trevor and he was still in a terrible state of mind because as he told me later, he had left a wife and three small children behind. Mark immediately burst into tears when he saw him, and told him he was on his way to hell for being responsible for killing him, too. Trevor tried to tell him that it was just an accident, he was after all responsible for the upkeep of the plane, not Mark, but Mark said no, he would not be dead if it were not for him and his greedy determination to own his own plane. Still crying, he got on the stagecoach and I heard him ask the driver, if he knew the way to hell. I did not hear the driver's answer.
After Trevor and Coral came into the ranch house, Trevor said, "Poor old sod. He is taking my death worse than I am. What sort of hell is he talking about?"
Coral said that there were all kinds of hells in the hereafter, and that it was a very common thing for people to ask for directions to hell. Trevor just shook his head. I told him that Earl had gone on a trail ride with his granddaughter, Solange, and probably would not return until evening.
"I am still in good company," smiled Trevor. "I talked to this lady who says she is your sister all the way. I think she is the most informative person I have met here so far."
"She has been in the hereafter a long time," I said. "How long has it been, Coral? Let me see, I was thirteen when you died and I am eighty-two now."
"I have been gone sixty nine years," said Coral promptly. "I have often visited my family on earth as you will be able to visit yours as soon as you have recovered some, Trevor."
"I don't even know the meaning of the word recovery," said Trevor. "I doubt I ever recover from this untimely departure just when my children needed me the most. But we pilots keep on flying even when we know that a plane crash at some point in our careers is likely to happen. It was a good paying job. Mark paid me well to get me. Why does he feel so guilty now? I can't see what good burning in hell's fires will do him."
"That's what I told him," I said.
"Oh no, hell is just what some people need," said Coral. "He is probably right about being a selfish multi-millionaire who did not need his own plane and personal pilot. You were bound to be at a greater risk than if you had been flying a commercial airliner."
"But he paid me better," protested Trevor, looking troubled.
"How are you doing, Shadra?" asked Coral, changing the subject. "Do you feel you have recovered?"
"I wasn't sure, yesterday," I said. "I became so troubled I almost left to look for you. Mark and Earl were quarreling. I suddenly didn't think I belonged here either, but then Earl became excited about taking his grand daughter out for a trail ride, so I decided to stay. They are going out to look for a pack of wolves that roams around out there."
"Oh, wolves," said Coral. "You know the animals are different here after they have passed over. They are much bolder, having less to fear from man. I spent the rest of my childhood on a recovery ranch myself. Most of the horses were beloved cow ponies who had gone to green pastures. I was once again able to explore the relationship between man and animals as you were still doing on the ranch where we were born and raised. In fact, I rode old Fremont, Grandpa Riley's favorite mount, after he died and came here. He seemed to recognize me and we enjoyed a long companionship together."'
"I have not given a whole lot of thought as to what happens to the animals after they die, but I dreamed several times I was riding Old Star, Daddy's favorite horse. It was usually when I was very ill or having surgery. I would dream I was riding Star and it was always very comforting," I said.
"I have ridden Star," said Coral. "The animals show up. They find us, if there has been a connection."
"Solange, Earl's granddaughter, thinks she has a connection to wolves."
"The wild animals?" asked Coral, thoughtfully. Trevor broke in, "You mean Earl has taken his granddaughter Solange out for a meeting with wolves? Really?" He laughed, "How about him taking me to meet with the eagles? I have always thought I must have been an eagle in some preexistence."
We all started laughing. I was quite sure Earl would take such a request from Trevor very seriously and probably knew where some giant eagle's nest was.
"Oh, I don't think I am quite ready to go fly with the eagles again," said Trevor, "although oddly I had flying dreams all during my childhood."
"So did I," I said, "but I lacked the courage to ever become a pilot. I thought it was because I wanted to get out of my body. I always thought bodies were too slow and I would get there faster if I could exercise the ability to fly."
"That is the whole reason people invented airplanes," said Trevor, "in order to get there faster. And what better way than to be flying above the earth, unimpeded, to some far away destination."
"Now you won't need a plane in order to fly," said Coral. "You should be able to fly again wherever you go just as you did in your dreams."
Trevor showed some small glimmer of interest. "Indeed? I have not thought of flying. Besides, where would I want to go except back to earth?"
"But earth is so close. We live in an alternate reality."
"Yes, Trevor," I said, "I found out that this was really Earl's ranch, but he still lives here in an alternate reality. The new owners also live here, probably a much more mundane existence than Earl lives. They don't see us and we don't see them, but we all live together here. Earl probably really will take you out to fly with the eagles, if you ask him. Wouldn't that be something?"
Trevor laughed. "You were a flyer, too? I have found out that not everyone has flying dreams. You might be able to fly with the eagles, too. A childhood dream of mine. I hope my children still have flying dreams. The insurance was generous. My wife will be able to live comfortably, but I don't think anything can really take a father's place. I should have realized that. I ignored my instincts that told me this private pilot's job would prove to be very dangerous. I thought how dangerous could it be? Bad decision on my part."
"It's hard to go by an instinct."
Coral said, "I knew I should not have gone over to Mamie Ransom's house to play because she told me half the family was deathly sick, and didn't know what it was. I went anyway and caught it. Life is full of I shudda's and I shudnota's. You just have to accept what happens."
"I know, I know," said Trevor. "But it's hard not to look back and picture how things could have been different. Man is made to do that, you know. It is part of the dying process. I started thinking when we were crashing, 'Oh, God, how could I have prevented this from happening?'"
Coral nodded. And oddly enough we looked out and night was starting to fall. I looked down to the corrals and saw Earl and Solange riding in to dismount. I could hardly wait to hear how their day had gone. I was sure it had been very exciting. And now maybe Earl could help Trevor to start his recovery. I could hardly wait. And Coral and I could go for a walk. I needed to exercise some life back into my old legs. Otherwise how could I recover enough strength to do anything?