No one seriously believed Billy Ray Carson was dying. Most everyone around here knew the
old man was faking it – his ‘terminal’ condition nothing more than a clever device to get a cute
hospice nurse to visit his small cabin along the river. By all appearances, the deception was
going well, but not even Billy Ray expected the extraordinary events that followed.
This story began when Billy was admitted to the Dry Springs Medical Center one summer
where Doc Lucas treated him for a snake bite.
There was nothing unusual in Billy’s encounters with venomous snakes, as he often walked
bare-foot in the garden, even into the woods beyond his small cabin. In fact, he had the
distinction of being bitten on multiple occasions by the same snake, but having never taken the
trouble to capture the snake, it could never be determined which of them needed treatment most
Following his recovery, the doctor advised Billy that he’d reached the age when a full-body CT
scan might be a good idea, with particular attention given to Billy’s ‘uppermost organ’. An
appointment was scheduled for the following week, and Thursdays were good for Billy. That
was the day he most often came to town with his list for Walmart, the Smoke Shop and the liquor
Nearly all of the chairs at the Dry Springs Imaging Clinic were taken on the morning Billy
arrived, and there were no copies of Field and Stream magazine left in the racks. The one
remaining tabloid promised to transform his looks with a new hair style or to reveal the secrets of
preparing an Oriental stir fry in less than ten minutes, so when no one was looking, Billy grabbed
it. For a moment, he wondered if by learning to cook he might find that someone he’d been
missing for so many years.
Sitting in a chair next to the window, and using its reflection, he attempted to straighten his
thin, gray hair. The image he saw shocked him, as he hadn’t looked into a mirror for years.
With the nervous moments passing slowly to the drone of a television tuned to the Weather
Station, Billy soon required a bathroom break.
Replacing his copy of Better Homes and Gardens, he quietly walked to the restroom. While he
was gone, the nurse opened the door to the waiting room and asked for Billy Ray. No less than
three elderly men stood up, but only one of them could see well enough to find his name on the
sign-in sheet. An attractive young nurse helped the old man through the door.
Returning from the restroom, Billy found his magazine missing, but a copy of Popular
Mechanics lay in its place. It contained just enough quirky ideas to keep Billy occupied until his
time to be led to the exam room.
The following week, Doc Lucas reviewed the images of Billy’s lungs, heart and brain, and the
best news he could provide was that some organs didn’t appear to be as damaged as others, but it
was the large mass in Billy’s right lung that was of most concern. It had grown too large for
surgery, and Billy had grown too old to survive removal of the entire lung. There was a long
moment of silence before Billy responded.
“What are my options, Doc?”
Having known Billy from high school, Doc Lucas knew any recommendations for
conventional chemo and radiation would be rejected. After all, there was nothing conventional
about Billy, and chances for recovery weren’t good, regardless of the treatment. The visit ended
with a call to hospice, and Billy was told he had less than six months to live.
Word quickly spread that he’d been assigned three nurses. Obviously, the doctor knew Billy
well enough to know that one nurse alone would not possess the stamina to endure his rambling
stories, but three of them just might be able to handle it.
A mature, but attractive RN would visit on Monday mornings, while two younger LVN’s were
scheduled for Thursdays. All of them possessed the necessary patience for sitting on the front
porch next to Billy, dressed only in his tattered bath robe, cigarette smoke and alcoholic fumes
swirling around him, while three old dogs made their rounds for a scratch.
Most of the men in Dry Springs knew the schedule and found some excuse to pull into Billy’s
driveway on Thursdays to get a closer look at those young nurses. After leaving, they hurried
home to search the Web for some dread illness that might qualify them for hospice. One by one,
each came-down with various symptoms of everything from heart disease to Alzheimer’s. The
phone at the local clinic rang ‘off the wall’ as they made their appointments.
In preparation for Monday’s visit, Billy always showered and dressed in clean over-all’s, a
brightly colored shirt and polished boots. Spending extra moments in front of the bathroom
mirror, he checked for any visible nose hairs, tweaked the trim of his mustache, and daubed just
a hint of cologne around his collar.
On the front porch, a vase of wildflowers adorned the small table where he sat, an arrangement
picked from the front yard just moments before the arrival of Hilda Larsson, the spunky Swedish
RN who’d taken charge of Billy’s case. Within clear view, he placed his bottles of pain meds
and nitro glycerin to support the illusion that he stood at death’s door. In truth, he’d never taken
a single one of them, although he routinely placed one of the tiny nitro tablets in the bottom of a
Mason jar vase before adding the flowers and filling it with water.
Billy had already decided Hilda was young enough to marry, and old enough to require
minimal training in her tolerance of his ways. From his review of her Facebook page, he knew
she was widowed with over forty years of experience of tolerating a hard-headed old man.
“Billy Ray, are you sure you’re dying, we’d ask upon returning from our weekly surveillance
on a near-by hill. You’ve got a glint in your eye, old man! What are you trying to pull?”
The question had become familiar to him, and his answer all too familiar to us, but Billy was
four months into hospice and had shown no obvious signs of decline.
“We’re all dying,” he’d always respond. I’m just doing it at my own pace,” he added with a
grin that defied description.
Several people began reporting on Billy’s activities on all other days of the week. From a
distance, he was observed preparing the garden for next year’s crops, cooking-off another batch
of ‘shine’ and adopting two more dogs from the Paws for Life rescue center. His trips to town
became more frequent, and his old truck was often seen in the parking lot of the hospice office.
On one occasion, he was observed entering with his hands clutching an arrangement of wild
flowers and a box of chocolates. Rumors abounded that Billy Ray had not only beat cancer, but
against all odds, he’d whipped an old heart-ache that had weakened him for years. His spirit and
health began to return.
Billy Ray’s last years were more fulfilling than anyone expected, but that’s not to say he didn’t
suffer the usual pains of human existence. His beloved Australian Shepherd, Roy Bob passed
away, and he lost touch with Hilda. In the other rooms of Billy’s memory, there were more than
enough stories of love and loss to fill the life of any old man, but eventually, the destiny of all
men stood before him.
On New Year’s Eve, ten years from the end of hospice, ten years beyond medical expectations,
Billy Ray stood at the gates of Heaven – just another soul, just another victim of another car
accident. Upon his arrival, Billy was asked to sign-in, and given the busy night of his death, a
long line stood before him, while an aging, under-staffed admissions office reviewed the names
of new arrivals.
In the distance, Billy could see his cousin who’d passed during his teens. Standing nearby
were Billy’s mother and father holding a large sign that read, “Welcome Home Billy!” A
beautiful sister he never knew he had moved closer to the gate for a better look, and farther into
the mist of eternity, near a beautiful pond, an old Australian Shepherd was barking wildly.
Standing behind Billy was a woman whose statuesque beauty captivated him with a strange
sense of familiarity – a Scandinavian Princess from another life, another time? Strangely, he
couldn’t remove his eyes from her, his attention diverted only briefly by a slight parting of the
A much older woman wearing thick eye glasses stepped forward, a disheveled clip board in her
hands. Billy vaguely remembered her from the Dry Springs Imaging Clinic.
“Billy Ray”, she called out.
Billy didn’t answer, but instead turned his eyes again to the beautiful siren Princess who stood
behind him. For a Heavenly moment, they looked deeply into each other’s eyes, and he offered
his place in line. A sudden earthly sensation had returned to him, and Billy had to find the
Returning his copy of ‘Heaven for Dummies’ he quietly walked toward the sign of an angel
wearing pants which appeared on the door to his left. As he closed the door, he turned and
smiled at the young Princess. She blew him a kiss and smiled in return. Their eyes remained
locked until Billy closed the door.
“Billy, the aging gate attendant repeated more sternly. Billy Ray Carson! Are you here?”
Her strident voice faded into an unsettling silence as Billy searched for the toilet paper that was
missing from its dispenser.
During the moments that followed, things became blurred in Billy’s mind, a condition not
unfamiliar to him, but this time it was different. Something seemed strange to him. Distant
sounds, lights and voices filled his head. Suddenly, he felt caught between two worlds.
The emergency staff at Dry Springs Medical Center rushed to Billy’s bedside as the EKG
monitor loudly beeped the alarm of a ‘flat line’.
Preparations were hurriedly made for a cardiac shock, while Doc Lucas peered into the old
man’s eyes with a small flashlight. As always, finding any presence of neural activity in Billy
was inconclusive, so he took the electrodes in his own hands and sternly ordered the nurse to set
the machine to 500 Volts.
Billy’s lifeless body jerked from the stimulation, but the EKG did not respond.
“More voltage!” the doctor shouted, and the procedure was repeated.
This time, a small ‘blip’ was recorded on the monitor, and with one more application, a
sustainable heart beat returned. Meanwhile, the surgeons took advantage of Billy’s comatose
state to repair and bandage the injuries he suffered in the grinding car crash that New Year’s Eve.
Billy remained in ICU for another two weeks before fully regaining consciousness. On the
morning of that day, he felt the hand of a young intern who had brought a box of chocolates and
flowers to his bedside. She couldn’t stay, but she left a note taped to the bed rail.
You once gave-up your place in line for me. Do you remember? My name was called, and I
entered the Gates hoping to find you there. Do you remember me?
I met your family, Billy. They love you in all the ways you wanted them to love you. I met
Roy Bob too, the sweetest Australian Shepheard I’ve ever seen up here! I mentioned your name,
and he furiously wagged his tail. We’re waiting for you by the pond.
Oh, and one last thing, Billy… When you’re feeling up to it, call your son. He’s been praying
Billy Ray was never the same after his recovery, but that familiar gleam in his eye remained
for another few years – far beyond the expectations of all who knew him – or thought they knew
They didn’t know what Billy had seen.
As always, your comments are welcome.
Dave from Texas