The schoolboy stood precariously perched on a rocky precipice, mesmerized by the white water rapids of the raging river that snaked along the south end of the schoolyard. The torrential rains that fell in the spring of 1895 in the Austrian village of Fischlham had swollen the river to bursting, and it would not have been until the school bell rang out, signalling the children to return to class, that the boy would have been missed, and by then, it would be too late.
Forty-five years later, Clarence, the spirit guide whointervened, saving the life of the six-year-old Adolph Hitler, retreated from his calling, swearing never again to interactwith mortal affairs.
Chapter 1 - Friday, April 26, 2002, 6:01 p.m.
Hope stirred, her ears filled with the buzzing of a thousandbees, her eyelids squeezed tight against the blinding light. A shadow crossed her face as the noise morphed into language, and she opened her eyes hesitantly to discover that she was lying flat on her back.
She inhaled the flinty fumes of the warm asphalt and saw the outline of the clouds as they drifted lazily in a faded blue sky. Her head jerked in reflex when a pair of extremelyworried and vaguely familiar ice-blue eyes came into sharp focus less than two inches from her own.
“Lie still dear; you’ve been hit by a truck. There’s an ambulance on the way.”
Hope thought being run over by a truck should hurt more, and although she felt no serious pain, the depth of concern in the stranger’s voice caused her a flicker of panic. Shifting her full attention to her body and feeling no discomfort greater than the usual sensations associated with a fall from a bike, her calm returned.
A crowd had gathered off to the right, and a little further along she could see her Schwinn, lying on its side with its pedal bent at an impossible angle. Now, that hurts! When she attempted to sit upright, a sharp ache shot through her left arm. She lay back down, not wanting to take the chance again. Looking to the woman who hovered above her, Hope smiled faintly and said, “Thanks for stopping to help.”
The Good Samaritan appeared to be well into her seventies, with a bun of steel-grey hair perched high on top of her head. The old woman’s strength surprised Hope when she took her by the hand and helped her into a sitting position as if she were no more substantial than a rag doll. “Sit still,” the old woman said. “Wait until the paramedics arrive before you try to move.”
“I’m fine,” Hope assured her, “I have a bit of a headache,and I’m a little scraped, but I don’t think anything’s broken.” Looking down, Hope could see that her heavily padded jacket and gloves had borne the brunt of the accident. She removed her helmet and stared at the large dent creasing its entire length. Both knees of her pants were torn, and she could see chunks of gravel embedded in them. Peeling off her jacket, she found a couple of bumps on her arms that were already blooming flowery bruises, but nothing appeared to require hospital attention.
“An ambulance won’t be necessary.” Hope stifled another wince as she rose to her feet. Motioning vaguely off to theeast, she said, “I live nearby.”
“All right then, if you’re sure you don’t need my help.” The woman seemed suddenly pressed for time. She scribbled something on the back of a business card and handed it to Hope. “My name is Emma Lowen, and this is my telephone number in case you need a witness to the accident.”
Pocketing the card, Hope turned to face the small crowd gathered around. She took a tentative step toward her bikeand heard the clack of a flip phone opening. She waggled her fingers and stepped from side to side to demonstrate that shehad no serious injuries. The cell phone clacked shut, and the crowd began to disperse.
It wasn’t difficult to figure out who was the driver of thetruck as only a shaggy-haired young man appeared to be in any degree of distress. She smiled reassuringly to put the traumatized young man out of his misery and said, “I don’t think there’s any permanent damage, just a few scrapes and bruises.”
“Can I take you to the hospital or anything? At least let me take you and your bike home. I can clear out my van,” the young man spoke in earnest.
“Really, I’m fine. My apartment’s only a couple of blocksaway.” She wanted the spectacle she was causing to end and accepted his business card, assuring him she would send along the repair bill for her beloved Schwinn. She turned back to say goodbye to Emma Lowen, only to find that she wasnowhere in sight. Pretty spry for a senior citizen, she mused. An emergency vehicle wailed in the distance as she lifted her bike up onto its wheels and turned for home.