Disclaimer: I do not intend to pocket any money for this piece of fluff floating around in the washing machine upstairs. The tumble dryer had thrown a rod a while ago.
This story takes place after the car Hardcastle was trapped in, had tumbled from the cliff and crashed into the reservoir in the episode called The Homecoming part 1.
He was trapped - hopelessly, like a rabbit caught in a snare. The blow against his head wasn't hard enough to keep him under for long. Hardcase Hardcastle had a hard head. The moment the car became airborne, the sun hit the windshield. It shattered into a starburst of blinding light. Hardcastle's entire life played out before him in that second – in stuttering flashes. So this is how it ends – man, what a way to go! he thought in a detached sort of way. Gravity was tugging at the car, and Hardcastle was thrown forward like a rag doll. His head hit the windshield, and more stars were added to the crazy kaleidoscope of light already filling his vision and hurting his eyes. Bright pain shot through his head, making his senses reel. Suddenly everything came to a halt; and the car hung frozen in mid – air; as if it had been stopped by an invisible barrier. A blinding white light started to fill the car, hurting Hardcastle's tortured eyes even further. Before his mind could wrap itself around this new, terrifyingly unearthly event, he suddenly found himself outside the car. The white light was everywhere now, and everything else came to a complete standstill; it was frozen in time. Hardcastle brought his hands up to shield his eyes from this extraordinary light. As if being forced by an invisible hand, his head was turned towards the source of the light. Whoever it was he saw, or thought he saw, made his jaw drop almost to his chest. The brilliance shining from the being that seemed to hold him in his arms, was mind-boggling. He looked right into the face of someone terrifyingly beautiful; someone that couldn't have been from this life or even this earth. He couldn't utter a sound, he thought he'd lost his voice as well as his mind.
"Don't be afraid, you'll be safe," the being (an angel, maybe?) said in a calm, soothing voice.
All Hardcastle could do was stare, he was unable to even blink his eyes. The face of his wondrous rescuer looked vaguely familiar, but it was absolutely perfect. The luminous eyes were more vivid than blue fire. The wavy hair was spun gold. He was wearing a garment of pure white silky material, also not from this earth.
"You're something else, you know, you're a twenty-four-hour-a-day job!" the being said, smiling gently. "But never mind that, you do have someone around who makes our job a lot easier," he said with laugh. His voice was like a powerful waterfall and fragile crystal at the same time.
"Wha-" Hardcastle tried to say, but this infinitely long and marvelous split second came to an abrupt halt. The moment shattered like a falling mirror, crashing onto the ground in a million shards. The falling car smashed headfirst into the reservoir with a terrific splash, sending up huge sprays of water.
Hardcastle found himself sitting in about five inches of water. His head pounded in sync with his racing heart. He touched the side of his head with a trembling hand. He looked at the blood that stained it.
"What in the blue heck happened to me?" he asked himself in a cracked voice. "Where the hell am I?"
He tried to get up, but fell back on his butt in the icy water. His legs felt like spaghetti. His head was spinning. He had absolutely no idea how he got there. The last thing he remembered was that he was hurtling like a spudnik rocket towards the reservoir below.
"Holy crap, I am dead!" he said aloud, clasping his aching face in his hands. Then he shook his head, trying to clear it.
"Is this Heaven, or is it … naw, it can't be. Aint no water down there, or so I was told," he mused, taking in the scenery around him.
At that moment he heard voices in the distance. He thought he heard a man call out his name. Strange, whoever it was, sounded so sad, and so incredibly angry at the same time. He also sounded very lost.
"What you lost is your mind, you old crock!" Hardcastle growled at himself, trying to get up again.
His traitorous legs just buckled underneath his weight again, and he plopped back into the water, face first this time.
"P-f-f-f-f-f-w-w-t!" Hardcastle spat, rubbing the stinging water from his eyes. "What the hell is wrong with my stupid legs?"
The shock of his harrowing experience had robbed his legs from all of their strength. His body was shaking like a leaf in midwinter. His head was swimming, and he felt like passing out, right there in the icy water.
"Well, if Moses doesn't wanna go to the mountain, the – the mountain must walk or cuh-crawl towards Muh-Moses," Hardcastle stuttered from the cold that was creeping into every fibre of his being. It was numbing his brain as well.
Hardcastle started crawling like a fish out of water, until he reached dry ground. He fell over onto his side, and tore painful breaths from the air. The realization that he wasn't dead after all, crept into his muddled head. The memory that he was in danger and in the process of trying to escape from a gang of killers suddenly hit him between the eyes. That gave him the strength to try and get back onto all fours again. Slowly and painfully he crawled into the bushes, towards safety. He came to a stop under thick shrubbery, collapsing into a heap. A dark curtain was pulled over his eyes, and he knew no more.
All of these strange events during the past few days had taken its toll on Hardcastle. Worry tugged at McCormick's heart. Hardcastle was hurt and had suffered the loss of his childhood friends – a sore blow. As they were heading home from Clarens, Hardcastle was taking a nap in the car. He looked very tired and run down, and his face had an unhealthy pallor. McCormick looked at him with fondness in his eyes – after having nearly lost him, he loved the older man even more.
"Don't ever do that to me again, you old donkey," McCormick said to Hardcastle, smiling gently.
An hour later, Hardcastle woke from his nap. He rubbed his face, and sighed wearily.
"You all right?" McCormick asked, concerned.
"Uh huh. Guess I really needed that nap, I don't usually sleep in a car, especially sardine cans like this one," Hardcastle answered, rubbing the kinks from his neck. He still had a dinosaur of a headache.
They drove on in silence for some time, when the question McCormick had wanted to ask, but never got the chance to, popped into his head.
"So, how did you really do it?" McCormick asked, looking at Hardcastle again.
"Do what?" Hardcastle asked.
"You know, getting out of that car on time after it hit the water. I know you said you had strong lungs and all, but I don't buy that," McCormick said, shaking his head.
"Well, I must've gotten out somehow or I wouldn't be talking to you right now. I don't really remember much after those madmen stuffed me into the car; everything before I reached ol' Albie's house, you know, is a blur. So I guess I really must have strong lungs," Hardcastle said, rubbing his chin.
"You lucky fi-e-e-e-sh!" McCormick joked, shaking his head. "Your guardian angel really has a twenty-four-hour-a-day job keeping your butt outta trouble, doesn't he? Man, he should get danger pay looking after you."
At that moment the sun was in McCormick's hair, and it lit his arresting eyes. Hardcastle looked at him sharply when those words were spoken, and saw something vaguely familiar about him. Something about a bright light and something from another world danced at the fringes of Hardcastle's memory.
"What's wrong?" McCormick asked, as he caught Hardcastle staring at him.
"I think … never mind, I've forgotten what I wanted to say," Hardcastle said, unable to grasp what had just gone through his mind. He was at a loss for words. Maybe he really had suffered a severe concussion, and ought to see a doctor.
"Whoa, there, I think you hit your head harder than you let on," McCormick said with a smile.
"It's just that … I wanted to say something else, then you were mumbling some crazy stuff about angels. There's nothing wrong with my head. It's very hard!" Hardcastle answered, trying to grasp at memories of a white light that kept evading him. All that was left of those evasive memories, was white noise.
"Now isn't that the understatement of the year!" McCormick said, laughing. "No matter how you did it, I sure am damn glad you're not – you know…"
"Yeah, so am I. If I weren't such a lucky fish, who'd be looking after you and keep your butt outta trouble?"