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I actually wrote a version of this story, under a female pseudonym, back in the mid-1960s for the only issue of an “all-women’s tabloid.” I never kept a copy, so this isn’t an exact duplicate, and I’d like to think I’m half a century better, so when an anthology where the theme fit opened up, I took another shot at it.

The Revealed Truth

Her first name was Helen. No one knew her last name.

She wasn’t a local resident, that much was certain, since everyone in town knew everyone else. She had been passing through, on her way from somewhere to somewhere, probably driving a little too fast, especially on the fatal turn, and a tire had blown out while she was heading south on River Road. Her car plunged right into the river.

It was only eight or nine feet deep, but her door was locked and her window open. She banged her head pretty hard on the dashboard, and before a pair of startled fisherman could drag her out of the car she’d drowned. They carted her off to the hospital, dead on—well, before—arrival.

Her purse had the name “Helen” embroidered on it. It didn’t seem likely that her wallet and registration had floated away, but they weren’t in her purse or her car, and a whole troop of Boy Scouts volunteered to look for them, or some other ID, in the water and along the shore.

Turned out they only spent about four hours searching. No, they didn’t find it, but word reached them that she’d been miraculously revived, and they concluded that she could probably tell the authorities her name.

I heard about it while I was working on my next Sunday sermon, something about gluttony being a worse sin than most people thought, and I was hunting up government figures on our increased national obesity problem when word of the miracle came through.

You know how people are always asking “Where were you when …?” When JFK died, when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Well, to tell you the truth, I was two years old when Oswald killed Kennedy, and I was still in single digits when Armstrong walked on the moon, but I will always remember sitting at my desk in the alcove just to the left of the main altar when news of the Miracle at Miller’s Landing came to me. Initially I was thrilled, as we all were, and I praised God for His power and His compassion.

Oh, I suppose we’d all read and heard about such things happening, but never in or even near our Miller’s Landing. Helen had been officially dead for two hours and seventeen minutes. Usually, when someone’s revived after that long, their brain is gone because it’s been starved of oxygen, but every now and then they come back just fine, more often from freezing or drowning than any other kind of fatal (or should I say temporarily fatal?) accident.

Since no one knew anything about Helen, we didn’t know what religion she belonged to, but everyone seemed sure she’d want to thank God for reviving her, and maybe get some counseling from a member of her church, so the word went out to me—I’m the local Baptist minister—as well as to Father Patrick McNamara and Rabbi Milt Weiss, my friendly rivals for our citizens’ souls. I couldn’t find any record of her, not only in Miller’s Landing, but any nearby communities. I wondered if Patrick or Milt were having any better luck.

I remember that I was having lunch over at Irma’s, like I always do on Tuesdays, when she serves up that wonderful tomato soup, and in came Patrick McNamara. He spotted me and walked over.

“Hi, Pete,” he said. “Mind if I sit down?”

“It’s a free country. Until Irma brings the check, anyway.”

He chuckled at that. “We missed you on the links yesterday morning.”

“Wedding arrangements. Billy Forrest and Lois O’Grady.”

“Hey,” he said with a smile. “That’s half mine.”

“You’re too late,” I said, returning his smile. “She’s converting.”

“Okay, you win this one,” he said. “But I’ll get mine back.” And I knew he meant next month’s Cain-Connors wedding. “By the way, have you heard about this drowned woman, this Helen someone-or-other?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I thought I’d stop by after lunch and see if I could do anything for her.”

“Oh. She’s a Baptist?”

I shrugged. “I have no idea what she is, but I thought at least I’d make myself available to her.”

“I was thinking the same thing. And just in case she is a Catholic, I’ll make arrangements to take her confession right there.”

“It’s got to be more meaningful when you’re mostly dead than when you’re mostly not.”

He chuckled. “Precisely.”

I looked out the window. “I wonder where Milt is?”

“Are you supposed to be having lunch with him?”

“No, we usually meet over at Herbie’s fish place on Thursdays,” I answered. “But he’s got a smaller congregation than you or me, so I figured he’d be Johnny-on-the-Spot to pick up another member.”

Patrick laughed. “He won’t find one here. If Lois O’Grady changes her mind, she’s mine.”

“No,” I agreed. “I meant that if he’s off to see Helen Somebody, he’s got to walk right past Irma’s front window to get to the hospital.”

I finished my pie and coffee, treated Patrick to a coffee as well, and after I had paid Irma we got up, walked out into the sunlight, and strolled the two blocks to the hospital.

“Well, son of a gun!” said Patrick. “Look who’s here. What a surprise!”

“I love you, too, Patrick,” laughed Milt Weiss, who stood at the registration desk. “Hi, Pete.”

“I didn’t see you walk past Irma’s,” I said.

“I drove. And since I have a direct line to God, let me state, rather than guess, that you’re here to see the remarkable, resurrected Helen.”

“Of course,” I said.

“She’s in Room 314,” announced Milt. “Shall we proceed? No sense doing this in relays.”

We joined him and entered the elevator, which let us out a few seconds later. We walked down the white, antiseptic corridor to 314 and went into the room.

“Good afternoon,” said the nurse. “I’ll go check on some of the other patients while you’re here.”

“How is she?” I asked. “Will she live?”

The nurse nodded.

“Must be in serious condition,” said Patrick.

“Not really, not for what she’s been through.”

“But you look so grim.”

The nurse shuffled uneasily. “She’s not what you expect.”

“What do you mean?” asked Milt.

“You’ll see,” the nurse said, and then she was gone.

We walked over to the bed, Milt on the right side of it, Patrick on the left, me at the foot, and stared down at the women. She seemed fiftyish, but her horrible experience and her weakened condition could have aged her ten or twelve years. Her hair was a dirty gray, her skin wrinkled, and though the blanket covered her loosely, she looked to be about fifteen or twenty pounds overweight.

She opened her eyes.

“Good afternoon, Helen,” said Patrick, taking her hand and holding it gently.

She stared at each of us in turn. I looked for softness, or perhaps gratitude, if not for our presence, then for the simple fact of being alive, but all I saw … well, I couldn’t be sure if it was annoyance or contempt.

“How are you feeling, Helen?” asked Milt.

“I just died. How do you think I feel?”

“Grateful, perhaps?” I suggested. “A merciful God has allowed you to live again.”

“What do you know about God?” she said.

The question took me by surprise.

“I am a minister,” I said. “If there’s any way I can help …”

“And I am a rabbi,” said Milt, “and this gentleman across from me is a priest. No one knows your religion, so we came together to see if any or all of us could bring you spiritual comfort.”

“I don’t need it as much as two of you do,” she said and gave a nasty smile.

I frowned. “I’m afraid I don’t quite follow you, Helen.”

“I remember everything that happened while I was dead, everything I saw and heard, and everything I learned.”

“I’m sure you did,” said Milt soothingly.

“I’m not lying and I’m not crazy! I was there! I saw, and I remembered. Only one religion is true, and when I’m a little stronger, I’m going on television, to tell the people what I experienced. They deserve to know the truth, to know which religion is true and which ones are as phony as a three-dollar bill.” She set her jaw. “And no one is going to stop me.”

“Delusional,” said Patrick sadly.

Milt nodded his head. “Absolutely delusional.”

I sighed deeply. “I agree.”

“What you think doesn’t matter any more. I know. And I’m going to let everyone else know.”

“Get some sleep,” said Milt, backing away and walking to the door.

“We can call the nurse if you want,” added Patrick, also walking to the door.

“I don’t need a nurse. God sent me back with a purpose. I plan to fulfill it.”

“I’m glad to have met you, Helen,” I said, joining them at the door. “And I hope you regain your strength very soon.”

Then we were out in the corridor and walking to the elevator.

“What do you think?” asked Patrick with a worried expression on his face.

“Crazy as a loon,” said Milt.

“I don’t know,” I said. “She sounded pretty sure of herself.”

“Delusional people always do,” replied Milt.

“Let’s hope it doesn’t become a mass delusion,” said Patrick.

I turned to him. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t care what she thinks she knows. But what if she can convince others—like a television audience—that she’s right, that two of us have been living and teaching a lie?”

“More to the point,” I said, “what if she is right?”

I could tell both of them had been thinking the same thing.

“If she is,” said Milt as if trying to make himself believe it, “I expect to see you both in temple next week.”

“Church,” said Patrick. And then he added softly, “I hope.”

The elevator arrived, the doors slid open, but none of us got on. We just stood there, each lost in his own thoughts.

Finally Milt said, “You know, I think perhaps we should see her one more time before we leave.”

“I agree,” I said promptly.

“Me, too,” added Patrick.

We weren’t there long, maybe two or three minutes. Then we signaled for the nurse.

“What happened?” the nurse asked, as we stood back and let her approach Helen’s bed.

“She suddenly moaned and seemed to have trouble breathing,” said Patrick, as the nurse signaled a Code Blue, summoning what I like to call the Resurrection Squad. We stuck around, but it was obvious that this time her death was permanent.

Finally they covered her face, and the three of us walked slowly to the door.

“To come back from drowning, just to die again when she seemed on the road to health,” said Milt to the nurse. “Such a shame.”

“A tragedy,” added Patrick, as the three of us headed back to the elevator.

“A pity,” I agreed.


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