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When a traffic accident takes the life of Joe Grant and his young daughter Elizabeth, it puts them into a twilight world. Neither dead nor alive, they join a community of thousands of other “souls” who, like them, pass the days trying to understand what has happened to them, and—even more important—what is to become of them. They discover that many people remain trapped in this existence for a long time, but some do “leave”. How and why is a mystery.
People from every period of human history live in this town without a name. A Pilgrim from the 1600s, frontiersmen and settlers from the nineteenth century, an Indian warrior and a used car salesmen all co-exist together—at times uneasily. Each bides his time, carrying on relationships, building homes, and trying to conduct a normal every-day life under extraordinary circumstances.
Joe discovers that this new world, although mimicking the features of the one he left, is very, very different. Although everyone keeps the form they had at the time of their death, they are all physically equal. A frail looking grandmother is just as strong and just as agile as a burly dockworker. Also, even though they are dead, people still suffer and feel pain. They must eat, sleep and seek shelter from the elements.
Normal emotions like love and happiness exist but are muted. Only those who have a connection to someone alive, like Joe has with his wife Sally, can experience snippets of real emotion, real life. But this comes at a price. As long as he is still connected to Sally she can never put his death behind her and move on with her own life.
As he goes through this world Joe meets Edrey Sikes, a woman from the late 1800s. He is introduced to her friend Amanda Scabbard who died in childbirth at age sixteen, Amanda’s husband Will who died in his fifties, and their son Edmund, eighty, who live together again as a family. He also meets Ezra Potts, a cantankerous old hermit who thinks he has “figured a way out.” In a world without machines, Ezra has managed to build a functioning airplane. If only he can get it to work right, he believes he will fulfill his personal destiny and “transition” to a better life.
Ezra is partially right. This world is a place where people go who haven’t learned all they needed to know in life, or done all the things they needed to do when they were alive to earn the right to eternal happiness. Some of these people are basically good, others tend toward evil, and this world is their second chance. If the good become complacent, or the evil succumb to the temptation to “feel” again by giving into base human passions, they are lost forever.
Figuring this out is only the first challenge. Without truly understanding the connection Joe, Ezra and Edrey are all called upon to make individual sacrifices to help their fellow man. Some of those who have given up all hope decide to terrorize the town, feeding off the intense emotions their agony produces. Although able to flee Joe, Ezra and Edrey return to fight against all odds to save their friends who are imprisoned by these “lost souls”.