I was alive!
I gingerly wiggled my toes before stirring gently. My body felt bruised but unbroken.
“I think he’s waking up.” Somewhere in the distance a familiar voice announced my return to the land of the living.
“Good morning, Harry.”
I blinked twice before my eyes focused on the beaming face of our parish priest.
“How do you feel, lad?”
I carefully lifted myself into a sitting position and took a deep breath.
“Nothing seems to be broken, Father.”
Father Kelly had been our priest for as long as I could remember. The big man was a legend. Even the Baptists loved him.
“You made the front page,” he said, tossing the paper onto the bed.
The Lurgan Mail carried a photo of the accident. My brakes had failed. After crashing into a stone wall, the truck I was driving had somersaulted. Somehow I had survived, despite being trapped under seven tons of bricks.
“I should be dead.” The realization made me nauseous.
“Well, fortunately you landed on your head.” Father Kelly’s eyes sparkled with humour.
“The boss is going to kill me.” I covered my face with embarrassment.
“Not if your mother finds him first.”
The mental image of Ma giving Northern Ireland’s most successful builder a tongue lashing made me laugh.
Suddenly a strange idea interrupted my revelry. “Why am I still here, Father?”
The priest considered the question carefully before answering.
“Did I ever tell you about the time my great Uncle Roy met Death?”
We had all grown up with Father Kelly’s stories. “No, Father. You haven’t.”
Father Kelly pulled up a chair and made himself comfortable.
“Well my great uncle, Roy Kelly, loved his drink.”
It must run in the family, I mused.
“One night he came out of the pub and he saw Death standing across the road.”
“Without a word of a lie, lad,” he said looking very sincere. “Suddenly Death raised a bony hand and waved for him to cross the road.”
“That’s what Uncle Roy said.”
“What did he do?” I asked.
“Well, he jumped on his bike and rode through the night. He pedaled as hard as his legs could take him.”
“Where was he going?”
“Well, old Roy had a sister in Belfast who was a God fearing woman. He reckoned if he could make it there he might be safe.”
“That’s 25 miles.”
“Unfortunately for Roy, Death was waiting for him when he reached his sister’s house.”
“That’s what Roy said.” The priest was very solemn. “’How? How did you find me’, he asked Death?”
Father Kelly made one of his dramatic pauses.
“’Aye, it wasn’t hard’, Death replied,’I tried to warn you last night.’” Father Kelly gripped his chest. “’What do you mean?’ Uncle Roy cried with his last breath.”
The priest leaned in to whisper. “'I called you over so I could remind you not to be late for our appointment in Belfast.'”
Father Kelly nodded seriously. But tears of laughter were forming in his eyes.
“That’s what Uncle Roy said,” replied the priest.
I tried to understand Father Kelly’s encouragement but a lump on my forehead was starting to ache.
“So you see, young Harry.” Father Kelly stood to leave. “Don’t worry yourself about Death. He can’t touch you until it’s time.”
He took my hand and shook it gently.
“Just find out what the good Lord wants for you and live a good and holy life.”
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