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If John hadn't changed during the past 15 years, he had at least moved forward, into a territory that nearly killed him.

One sunny morning ten years before, he received a call at work from a faltering Austin police officer: his wife and child had been in an accident; an SUV had sped through an intersection and hit them. John reacted angrily to what he thought was a cruel prank played by one of his coworkers with whom he had recently discussed a hypertext short story that portrayed a similar trauma. But, after John cursed his displeasure, he vertiginously realized that his coworker wouldn't pull such a prank, and the officer deferently continued and revealed their piteous deaths. In response to John's choked-up question, the officer said, �No. No, sir. They didn't. They didn't suffer.�

John went through a long period �- he couldn't define it by months or years, it was such a timeless miasma �- where he was numb most of the time. But he maintained his professional competency and remained employed, though much like a subroutine that is called by the main program to complete a task. It was probably his job which kept him alive; he buried himself in his work. There was that, and his wife would not have wanted him to kill his despondent self.

Eventually, the pain dulled and dissipated to a gray haze that settled over his spirit the second he awakened each morning. It helped to sell the haunted suburban house the three of them had shared and lease a two-bedroom condo; the constant memories became less frequent.

After a while, he returned to himself, and noticed that:

But, he also noticed the sensation that his early adulthood had died and been cremated with his wife and son. And always beneath the surface of his daily life was the fact of their death. The oddest comment could suddenly reveal it and make his heart ache, as in the following situations:

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