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Day Seventeen: Revelations

The light above the camera blinked on, the audience started applauding and the peppy theme music for the Biff Browley Hour faded in. Biff quietly counted to five, ignoring the new assistant producer who was doing exaggerated hand signals as though she was trying to land a plane.

“Thank you,” Biff said as he waved towards the camera. “Thank you, everyone. Thank you.” The music faded, and at a sweeping cue from the assistant producer, the audience let their applause die down. He smiled widely for the audience in studio and at home.

“Welcome to the Biff Browley Hour, everyone, and thank you for coming. We have a lot in store for you today. The story of a young woman’s brave struggle against obsessive-compulsive disorder, a man who survived two tornadoes in the same day, and a family that was brought closer together through video games.”

The audience applauded again. I’m going to have to find a new A.P., Biff thought. That new girl is driving me nuts.

When the studio got quiet again, he put on his Serious Face. “But first, let’s talk to a man whose tragic car accident gave him new insight into life – Scotty Lashier!”

The Exciting and Uplifting Music filled the studio, and the audience was directed to applaud wildly. There were a few whistles, which Biff suspected might be genuine, but he was withholding judgment on them. A slightly overweight young man walked onto the living room set, occasionally waving at the audience. He was wearing a suit, which was a nice change from the jeans and polo shirts he insisted on wearing for his book tours. Biff’s producers had been pretty adamant about that. Other than that, he looked ordinary. The kind of guy you’d see hanging out at Starbucks, probably typing on his Macbook while trying to impress a barista.

Biff shook Lashier’s hand and turned on the smile again with little struggle. They had first met a few weeks ago at a book event, and Biff took an instant dislike to the man. Not for any specific reason – he was polite enough, chummy with the bookstore staff, took time to talk to the customers. He didn’t act like a big shot at the event, but there was still that nagging little worm in Biff’s mind. When his producers said that Lashier wanted to be on the show, Biff reluctantly agreed, but not without making sure he did his research first.

When they were both seated, and the audience had been subdued, Biff turned to Lashier. “Scotty, thank you for coming on our show.”

“It’s a pleasure, Biff. Glad to be here.”

“For those people who may not know about you and what you’re doing, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself.” Biff leaned back and started shuffling the interview cards.

“I’d be glad to, Biff.” Lashier turned to the cameras and sat forward. “About three years ago, I had a pretty good life, Biff. I was married, and I had a job over at a local lighting fixtures company. My wife and I never had kids, but we were happy together. And then…”

He looked out at the audience. Biff checked his cards again. “One night I was driving home from a friend’s house. It was kinda late, and I might have been a little tired.” He smiled sheepishly. “I don’t remember that night very well. What I do remember is my car careening off the road.” A quiet gasp rolled through the audience. “It was terrible, I don’t have to tell you. I rolled, and I flipped, and I just saw my whole life flash before my eyes. My whole life, Biff!” He grabbed Biff’s knee for a moment. Biff tried not to flinch away.

“The next thing I remember clearly was waking up in a hospital. It had been eight months – I was in a coma the whole time.” Another gasp from the audience. “My wife was sitting there next to my bed. The doctors said she hadn’t left my side.” Lashier took a moment to wipe an eye. “When she saw me try to talk, she just got so excited….”

“What did you say to her, Scotty? Your first words – do you remember?”

“I do, Biff. I said, ‘I love you Lorenne.'”

The audience burst into applause again. One guy even stood up.

“So what happened after that,” Biff asked once the excitement died down.

“Well, of course there was the rehabilitation and the physical therapy. I had broken my pelvis and both legs and my back, and lost a lot of feeling in my right arm.” He lifted the arm to show it off. “But that wasn’t the most important thing.”

“No?”

“No. All the problems I had were worth what I gained from the experience, Biff. What was given to me.”

Biff squared the cards on his knee. “And what was that?”

“Insight, Biff. Insight into what it means to be human. I found that I understood things in a new way, I saw things in a different light, Biff. Life had so much more meaning to it.”

“And that’s when you wrote the book?”

“That’s right, Biff. Back from the Shadows is my message to the people of the world about how wonderful human beings really are.”

That got another round of applause from the audience, and the book cover appeared on the background screens. The cover showed a smiling Scotty Lashier surrounded by a group of people so diverse they could only have been put together by a marketing team. Biff had spent a few days flipping through Lashier’s book – it was a bunch of boilerplate aphorisms that seemed to have been lifted from a poor understanding of the Bible and what Lashier probably thought was Ancient Eastern Wisdom. By all rights, this book should have burned itself out within a month or so.

But it hadn’t. For some reason, it kept selling. It kept landing on bestseller lists and being touted by other talk show hosts. Biff had resisted as long as he could, until his producers finally laid it out for him: Everyone else is doing it. So should we.

He asked if they would jump off the Brooklyn Bridge because everyone was doing it. The network rep said that they would be the first ones off the bridge.

Biff refocused his attention. “So tell us, Scotty. What kind of insights did you gain from your time in a coma?”

“Well, Biff, it’s like this – every human life is precious. If we all treasured our lives the same way we treasured our, I dunno, cell phones, we would all be a lot happier.” More scattered applause.

“You say in your book that you now find humanity fascinating. What do you mean by that?”

“Well, Biff, I just look around at people – like the fine people here in your audience – and I see all the stories they have. I see the triumphs and tragedies, all the hopes and dreams that make each individual person a precious jewel!” Lashier’s eyes were getting shiny again as the audience started clapping.

Biff glanced down at a card. “Now you say you’re selling some motivational products? DVDs and the like?”

“That’s right, Biff.” Lashier turned back to the audience. “For only $49.95, you can get my book, my DVDs, and a one year subscription to my website – backfromtheshadows.com – where you can get my Daily Wonder by email, take quizzes, and meet new friends in the forums.”

The audience again.

Biff nodded and tapped the cards on his leg. This guy had them eating out of his hand. After this show, he would probably go on to sell a thousand more copies, get a hundred more suckers to sign up for his DVDs and his website and his Daily Wonder nonsense. It made Biff want to grind his teeth, no matter how bad it would be for the caps.

“And Biff, this is special for you.”

Biff snapped back to attention and raised an eyebrow. “Oh, I can’t wait to hear this, Scotty. What do you have for us?”

Lashier was full of barely held-back enthusiasm. Or he looked like someone who was trying to act like it. “Starting in December, I’m opening the Scott Lashier Living Center – a retreat and educational experience for anyone who wants to expand their perceptions of what it means to be human.”

The audience applauded again. Biff ignored them. “Is that so, Scotty? You’re opening, what – a campground?”

“Oh, it’s so much more than that, Biff.” Scotty stood up. Biff itched to get up with him, just to keep their levels equal. “It’ll be a place where we can share ideas, where we can share our vision of a better world.” He walked to the front of the living room stage, and the cameramen swung out to follow him. “A world where all humans can live in harmony and love, where we can share what we have instead of hoarding things we don’t want. Where we can live our lives in truth instead of lies! Where we can surround ourselves with the light and the love that each and every one of us is born to have!”

This got the audience on its feet, and Lashier was basking in it. Biff, in his chair, was off-camera and out of mind. His pleasant interviewer’s face had fallen off and was replaced by the look of angry intensity that he got when he knew someone was lying to him, but couldn’t quite figure out how. It’s the look that he used to bluff car salesmen and city officials.

But right now, no one was looking. No one at all.

He got up, checked his interview cards one more time, and re-set his talk show face. With the audience still thundering for Lashier’s speech, Biff put his arm around the man’s shoulder and smiled widely. “That’s great, Scotty, just great,” he said. He tried to wave the audience down. It took a couple of tries.

“Those are some wonderful ideas,” he said, leading Lashier back to the chairs. Lashier kept turning back to the audience, hoping for one more round of adulation from them. “Really wonderful,” Biff said again as they sat. He crossed one leg over the other, put the top card to the back of the pile, and said, “I was wondering something else, if I may.”

Lashier leaned back in his chair. The suit jacket was unbuttoned, and somewhere during his sermon-slash-sales pitch he had managed to undo his tie. He ran a hand through his already mussed hair and breathed deeply, a man who knew he had guaranteed his own success once again. “Sure, Biff. Anything for you.”

“Who’s Jamel Vaughn?”

The transformation was slow, horrifying, and unstoppable. Lashier’s relaxed breathing stopped for a moment, and then sped up. His face lost its flush and went through pale straight to ashen. Beads of sweat started to form on his forehead and his lip and he wiped his hands on his slacks before he gripped the arms of the chair like he was trying to keep from floating away. He looked like he wanted to run away. Or throw up. Or both.

“I… I don’t know what you mean,” he said.

Biff’s smile widened slowly, and he flipped to the next card.

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