Wow. With just three left out of medals, it was brutal to decide who those left out would be. This was another very strong week, as I’m pretty sure it usually is when I offer an afterlife prompt.
There was a crushing pain in his head and a sudden totality of emptiness he had never known before.
Then all of the apocryphal urban legends came to life simultaneously.
The impossibly bright light, emanating love and peace. The tunnel. The cherubim and seraphim, the principalities and thrones, harmonizing together in ethereal perfection, dulcet and mellifluous.
In a timespan that seemed paradoxically instantaneous and eternal, he found himself in the presence of a faceless, disembodied intelligence. It was everywhere, anywhere, in him, had always been in him. Rapture wasn’t the word. Every question he had ever silently asked was answered in that instant. “I love you” he said to this being, neither male nor female, nor hither nor yon. He was about to ask what happened next, if this was eternity, if this was a reward. It was more than he could have conceptualized when he was living, walking, trapped in a body.
The presence spoke directly through him, a thunderclap.
“What happens next is you are immediately extinguished. The antithesis of all this- you will simply vanish, forever. There is no “eternal” reward, creature. A moment’s bliss and all is lost. A promise of reward simply keeps you obedient.”
K: Well, this about sums up what I figure the afterlife has to offer. I’m not frightened of this possibility and maybe that means it doesn’t hit as hard as it might, but it’s kick in the pants of the man. The real downside was that the setup made it clear that massive disappointment was on the horizon.
CW: The descriptive phrases here are masterful. I think the ending was a little rushed by necessity and that the whole punchline was a little forced but I really liked the idea here. – SILVER
I bought this house from a Sears catalog in 1916. The Wabash, it was called – model #248. We hauled it from the train station and assembled it with a neighbor who needed some pocket change. We splurged on the plumbing, which made Annie pretty happy. Michael was born in the back bedroom, nearly three months before the factory accident.
Annie died in 1967 in the same room Michael was born in. She was survived by her second husband and their three grown sons. Michael – our only child – had been dead fifteen years by the time. I suppose she missed him more than me.
Annie’s husband sold the house to a young couple shortly after she died. In 1972, the couple sold it to a schoolteacher, who willed it to her niece this year. She’s been living here since April.
She is slight, blonde and jumpy. She is most beautiful at night, when it’s easiest for me to move about. She reminds me of Annie. She’s not aware of me – not that I know of – but I sure wish I could say hello.
It isn’t like the movies, you see? You can’t just make contact.
K: I highly question the necessity of the final sentence, but otherwise, I like the hints dropped, and I like that the narrator doesn’t beat us over the head; it’s a basic timeline, and we make enough sense of it for everything to work. The end could be gratuitous and lame, but the character remains believable This story walked a fine line, and did it well. SILVER
CW: I was expecting a ghost story and got it! Or two. I liked this one though as it started out telling but then started to make sense why it’s not showing. It perhaps does too much with time in a short word count but it was good. – SILVER
Eshal leaned on the handle and adjusted her Al-Amira. The heat of the Extractory had become unbearable since Sweat Reclamation had gone into effect. Clothes were now fully absorbent.
“Get on that stick, girl!” Yoram cackled. She shot him a glance while she loaded the next unit.
“Calm down, missy,” Yoram cooed as he prepped the unit, inserting a hook deep into its trunk. “Don’t get all pissy `cause you’re doing the schlepping.” He pushed a button and the unit was lifted into the air, arms and legs dangling.
Consulting a display to his right, he adjusted the position of a knife in his left hand. Satisfied, he plunged the blade deep in the unit’s thigh. A few precise movements later, he had four inches of femur held together by several screws; the only inorganics in the unit.
Yoram pushed another button. All moisture was swiftly removed from the corpse, a process that might appear humorous if not so ghastly. The unit dropped on the belt where Eshal was waiting with her pitchfork to guide it for further salvaging.
“Can’t wait until I get to stick you with this, old man,” Eshal teased.
“B’Karov Etzlech,” Yoram replied gravely, then chuckled.
K: For a short story, this is a very well-realized world. I like the way the blood drain is related to us; it’s comical, though ghastly, in my head as well. BRONZE
CW: I felt like this tried to world build a bit too much without the proper space for it. I didn’t really understand what was going on and there wasn’t enough time to get a hang of it before it was over.
At that time of year, the sun hardly rose over the horizon. We spent much of our days in darkness, Beatrix and I. The walk to town was long, and the winter air harsh.
She was poorly from the very beginning; I offered up a prayer with her every rasping breath. Jorgen would hardly gaze upon her, and I rarely spoke of her in his presence.
“She can’t take the cold,” I finally told him. “She’s not fit for it.”
“You must meet with Father Winstrup. Ask if he might call on us.”
“No need for special favors,” he replied. “Women worry too much is all.”
“I fear for her soul,” I said.
Before the first buds had formed on the trees, my Beatrix was gone. Father Winstrup too.
I joined the women of the church as they dressed the good Father for burial. As we worked, I tucked a small bundle at his feet, beneath his robes.
Tears spring from my eyes, unbidden, as his coffin was placed in the cathedral’s crypt. Mysterious is the Lord. Many are the paths to the Kingdom of Heaven.
K: Early on when I started running games, characters would immediately have their faith shaken and broken in times like these; it drove me crazy wondering if there would be a time at my site when characters would be themselves. I love this narrator, and I love her attempt to get Beatrix into Heaven. GOLD
CW: I didn’t feel like this really told me anything. It was well written with nice imagery but just really didn’t progress past that.
She felt a great pain, a greater dissipation, and then she stumbled forward into the ballroom-like quality of a large-yet-enclosed space. People were standing before her considered her, briefly. All of them assembled in a line, chatting, facing her, but not looking at her. She couldn’t tell where the line ended. Everybody was there.
A few of them shuffled to make room for her (causing a long domino reaction of smaller and smaller movements along the line). She felt compelled to slip into her place, turning to face the same direction as everyone else. The far side of the room was ceiling-to-floor blocked by a lush curtain. Deep red, it spread as wide as the room did. She thought she saw subtle swells of movement along it, but she wasn’t sure. If there was room behind it, she couldn’t tell how much.
She watched it for a long time.
Eventually, the lure of conversation drew her in. Engaging with folks near her, discussing whatever topic floated through the line. Like them, her voice grew tinged with a sense that there was something they weren’t addressing. Inside, unspoken, they were all asking themselves the same question.
K: I like this myth. I think it probably works better as the beginning of a bigger world, but this is pretty fun as well. I very much like that the specifics of the conversations were left out, as it’s much more important what wasn’t being said. GOLD
CW: If it weren’t for the prompt, I wouldn’t have known this related to the afterlife in any way. I certainly like the idea and almost medaled you better but I felt like you took the prompt being known for granted here. BRONZE
The tires of Roger’s car lost their grip on the road. Roger attempted to correct the vehicle’s trajectory, but it was too late. The car snapped the puny guardrail separating him and the sprawling canyon below.
The tires of Roger’s car lost their grip on the road. Roger thought for a moment to steer the car away from the upcoming canyon, but instead tried to apply the car’s brakes. It wasn’t enough to slow his momentum, and soon, he was hurtling into the open air.
The tires of Roger’s car lost their grip on the road. Roger tapped the brakes and down shifted, but it did little to allow the car’s momentum. Seconds later, Roger was plummeting to his death.
The tires of Roger’s car lost their grip on the road. Why was he even on this road? Where was he found in such a hurry? How many times had this happened?
“Hell with it” Roger muttered as he stomped on the accelerator, flying like a bird into thin air.
The tires of Roger’s car lost their grip on the road.
K: Damn. Considering this is a sort of Hell, Roger is actually taking it with good humor. I suppose there are worse deaths to relive over and over. I appreciate the subtle word changes early on, suggesting Roger’s changing thoughts despite the total lack of change in his end. SILVER
CW: I really like this idea of repetition at the time of death. This story just didn’t quite capture any emotions for me though. I wanted more but I’m not quite sure what I wanted more of.
There they are: the Pearly Gates. They shine like, well, like pearls. The light here is brighter. The air is sweeter, and fuller, and smells of… sawdust? I nod my head. Yeah, that makes sense. Who doesn’t like the smell of sawdust?
I’m greeted by an old friend.
“Welcome, my faithful servant,” says Jesus.
I step forward to embrace him.
“Dude. I’m not really a hugger.”
“Right. Sure. No problem.” I play it off, trying to hide my embarrassment.
“So now that you f’ed that up, let me show you around,” says Jesus. As we walk, I hear a familiar sound.
“Is that… country music?”
“We listen while we work. Real big Luke Bryan fans. He’ll be playing here in two weeks. OD.”
I’m still stuck on the first part of his response.
“Right. Gotta build the kingdom of heaven.”
I realize I’m standing in a construction zone. Jesus hands me a nail gun.
“We’ll start you doing framing. Careful though, you have an accident with that,” he shows me his hands, “and OSHA gets on our ass.”
“I don’t understand,” I say.
“No one does,” he answers, walking away, “Even though I came to Earth as a carpenter.”
K: I actually wrote a short script once where demons did work release to build the kingdom of Heaven. I wonder where that is. Anyway, the “I’m so not a hugger” line was a bit lazy sitcom, but the payoff was interesting and I like Jesus’s last words.
CW: I enjoyed this humorous take on Jesus the Carpenter. The idea that I’ll be put into manual labor after death, however, makes me think hell could be a better option. – SILVER
“How many years logged this session?”
I shielded my eyes. “72.” The bright lights here always caught me by surprise.
“With your previous credits, you are more than halfway there!” Blue eyes beamed at me approvingly.
I braced myself. “Please. May I have a sabbatical? This was very stressful.”
“Don’t you want to just power through? You’re making such good progress!”
“I need to decompress. Just one cycle as a tree. Maybe not even a long-lived one; an alder or aspen?” I let the pain into my eyes. “I had a child who was a drug addict. I learned a lot but I am so tired.”
A ballpoint tapped on a clipboard. “Hmmm, very few credits for trees. What about a sea turtle? Not many credits but more than a tree, and there are danger credits, which you are lacking.”
“Yes. Oh yes, please.” My very essence felt bruised and battered. I envisioned green seas and blue skies; silence and solace.
My tiny flippers slipped in the sand. A cormorant swooped in on my left, scooping up a sibling. My chances of making it were slim, but I would just start again in another egg. The struggle to the sea was worth several credits.
K: This is another neatly realized afterlife, and I found it interesting that the character was making so much progress but was willing to slow it down for an easier existence. How the hell do I separate all these engaging ideas? BRONZE
CW: I like the lighter take on reincarnation here being some method of scoring in the great game of the afterlife. – GOLD
Bruce moved his awareness to his ajna chakra, opening his third eye to a light so bright it obscured all things, much like the dark had.
Enlightenment. He had attained it!
He floated away and saw his body sitting in perfect asana, thumbs and forefingers pressed in the eternal circle of gyana mudra.
The light was transcendent, a thick morning fog illuminated by the headlights of his truck.
Shit! Must banish worldly thoughts!
He felt himself falling, colorful tendrils of reality pulling him downward.
He was sitting on the rocky shore of a lake. Mist gathered on its surface, reflecting the bright morning sun. The water lapped at his crossed legs, slipping cool under his thighs, pooling warm around his balls.
A familiar discomfort broke through his internal locks. He had to pee.
He stretched and flexed his legs, jumping onto a nearby lotus, landing in bakasana at the center of a broad leaf. A bubble of air croaked in his throat as he released a long stream of urine. He cocked his head toward the sound of a buzzing dragonfly, his lightning tongue at the ready.
K: I know I just mentioned this a few weeks ago, but I love stories that bury me under jargon and specifics only to tell me about balls out of nowhere. This was a welcome reprieve from the dark, as good as all of it has been. SILVER
CW: Awesome. I don’t know what half of these words mean but I felt like it didn’t really matter. Either you made them up and I applaud you for it or they’re real terms that I just don’t know. Regardless I loved the transition in death to the frog. Great take. – GOLD
I see no tunnel. No dead family beckons me. I’m in a hospital room now. The TV is on. I can’t hear it through the jumble of thoughts in my head.
My left hand rises, but it’s trapped in IV tubing. My right hand pushes it down. Both hands feel different. They look old. These are my arms, though. They remember the weight of babies.
My brain isn’t as sure about the babies.
The right hand touches my head, feels gauze. A car accident. I remember the screaming, the explosion of sound and light–
–the tumor in my left temporal lobe. It was huge. I required a transplant of the whole left hemisphere, the doctors said. The first surgery of its kind. If I lived, I’d be a miracle. I lived.
No. We lived.
To the left is a picture on the table. Though it hurts, we pick it up. It shows a young girl, familiar and not. I flip it over. “Lana”, it reads. Um anjo.
I don’t speak Portuguese, but we do. Angel, it means. Lana is the angel nestled in my head. Safe in my body. We’re alive together.
We smile. We close our eyes.
K: Wow. If I ignore the science that wouldn’t hold up, that’s a pretty fun idea. I figure it has to be a movie or some such, but their new life together could spawn a lot of interesting stories. I regret that I can’t read a few, but this does nicely for now. BRONZE
CW: Perfect 10. Brilliant way to utilize the prompt and I love it. A lot. You win the platinum medal. – GOLD
Crash! Metal strikes metal, churning. Falling. Screams around me.
“Hold on, they say. We’re coming. We’re coming.”
Open my mouth. Whisper. “I’m trying”
The noise is all around. Whispering. Over and over.
Hands reaching out. A thousand hands. Pulling away. Roughness as they grasp at skin and clothes. Sitting in a car. I remember this. I remember this car, this street, this seat. The strike hurts. Agony. Flames. Wait. What is this. What…why. why again. Why am I here again.
I understand it now. I am here. It repeats, every day the agony of the accident. Every day I lose again.
I see it. News headlines:
Car hit by bus. Two killed. Date: 5/7/15. A bank sign. The date. 5/7/15
How…how can this be. This didn’t happen. How can the news know what will happen in the future that isn’t the future. Is it? Is this…not the same day? It has to be. How can something like this happen if it isn’t.
I…I have read the paper. I am gone…how am I here. Why do I feel this. Tears falling. How is this….here. if the hands are there again. I think….I will take them. Mandy.
K: Hey, another reliving of a car crash! What are the odds? This one does a little too much to explain the story; show us – don’t tell us – what’s going on. A diary can certainly work, but not if it’s a crutch to keep us from reading the action.
CW: The formatting didn’t come through so great but I appreciated what you were trying to accomplish with this disjointed approach. The idea of reliving your last day and last mistake over and over truly defines hell for me.
I see your eyes in the churning, murky river, a swirl of blue, green, and gray. Cold water twists around rocks and rushes past my feet. I understand the cruelness twisting inside you.
I sit in the wheat fields. The wind blows through them like the strands of my hair and I sigh because I’d never be there.
I imagine myself nestled on a mound of sand so soft and crumbly. I’m almost there, but you move me into hiding.
I am in the wall behind the second floor toilet. Sometimes I watch you masturbate in the shower. I hear you curse my name. I smell urine and disdain.
I think of a thousand places to go–hoping your fear slices me into a thousand pieces. But I remain.
One day, I watch you pull the trigger. Two days later, I watch your body get carted away.
In the wall, I wait.
I smell new paint. Newlyweds laugh at the hollow sound the bathroom wall makes. Their paint splattered fingers loosen each tile.
When the dust settles he coughs and she screams.
I feel the soft sand crumble around me. I taste the ocean. Sometimes I still smell paint.
K: This grows darker and more beautiful each time I read it. An angry, bitter narrator would be so dull and predictable here; his calmness surrounding the wait for his body to be discovered made him an effective tragic figure. I love the mini-story of his former wife(?) and I love the reveal to the new homeowners. GOLD
CW: This was more of the creepy ghost story variety but done in a good way. I liked the presence given to the ghost and I definitely found myself wanting to read more. – BRONZE
Jack passed a sign: ONE QUESTION
Most everyone was wondering about the meaning of life. Jack wanted an answer far more interesting. He reached the front of the line.
What is your question?
Jack smiled. “What’s the worst movie about the afterlife?”
What Dreams May Come
Jack nodded. “Because of the garish colors and overwrought script?”
One Question Only!
“I’m sorry,” said Jack.
No one has asked me about cinema. I like you. I show you my reasoning.
Robin Williams appeared before Jack, grinning from ear to ear.
“Um…hi?” Jack mumbled.
“Hi, Jack!” Robin gave him an exaggerated handshake. “How do you like it here? It’s so peaceful you’d think it was run by the Amish! It’s so heavenly I half expect John Denver to come by and shout ‘Oh God!” Robin’s arms were gesticulating wildly. “The clouds are so fluffy, I feel like the Snuggle Bear is sitting in my ass! I just gotta show you the place man. It’s such the bomb they should rename it Manhattan Project!”
Jack turned back. “I’m in hell, aren’t I?”
“And Robin Williams is here?”
Most of him is in heaven. We just got this part.
K: Ha. This gets a little darker even than our usual stuff, and much like Williams itself, it can be mildly funny but it’s also sad and disturbing to watch in a way. It’s a very tough thing, writing drama like this that reads like comedy on the page. I mean, the stinger is obviously a punchline, but this has its own poignance, too, and not manipulative trash like, say, Patch Adams.
CW: I feel like humor makes the afterlife way better. It certainly made these more fun for me. I’m pretty sure Robin Williams’ family wouldn’t appreciate this but you’re in luck! I’m not related! – BRONZE
There you go, Prosers. Since this went irritatingly late and you all want to see results, let me get right to the next one.
Annette Barron pointed out that cooking is an element of a lot of her stories. Now that she mentions it, I can see it, but I’ll be damned if that’s something I had ever noticed as a through-line. So cooking must be at the heart of your story. Uh-oh…could this be a samey week? I hope not. Anyway, we’ll give it a shot, because risks are the lifeblood of the site.
Thursday. 200 words. Then we have ONE!!!! more big challenge next Thursday before I head out to Minnesota and we begin the playoffs, where eight of you will hopefully have challenges to do, assuming I think of some.