This post is a response to March 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.
After the darkness ended, I was greeted by a light. It wasn’t the kind of light I was expecting, as this pale chartreuse aura did not match the splendor of the spring sunlight I had woken up to yesterday morning. I remember groggily climbing into my car, turning up the heat to defog my windshield, pulling out of my drive way, and getting on the highway. From that moment until now, all I have is darkness.
Beneath my feet, the ground moved slowly and purposefully. Silver and gold handrails adorned either side of my path. I couldn’t see the ground itself, as the yellow-green aura kept me from seeing beneath my knees. But I felt it moving steadily forward. I couldn’t turn back.
Through the misty surroundings, a small island began to appear. Atop the island sat a large gazebo made from cherry wood. The gazebo was flanked by six dogwood trees, one for each of the structure’s six sides. The flowers of the trees were in full bloom, with the occasional petal falling to the ground below. The closer I got to the island, the more the aura faded away, allowing me to see that the ground was nothing more than a transparent walkway carrying me above a pristine lake. Beneath the walkway, dozens of fish swam happily along, darting to and fro within their schools.
When I was a few feet from the island, two women in simple silk robes exited the gazebo and began walking toward the edge of the land. The first woman was tall, lanky, and pale, with her flaxen hair tied up in a tight bun atop her head. She wore an indigo robe, while her counterpart wore a bright yellow one. The second woman also appeared to be taller than me, though shorter than the first woman. Her skin was much darker, with her own ebony locks also tightly and carefully positioned against the top of her head. As the walkway deposited me on the island, the woman in the yellow robe spoke to me.
“Welcome to the Isle Charon,” she began. “Do you know why you’re here?”
“No, I don’t,” I replied.
“Your name is David Jennett,” continued the woman in the yellow robe. “You were involved in an automobile accident. You fell asleep at the wheel and careened off of a bridge into a gorge below. You died instantly.”
“And who are you?” I asked.
“We’re known by many names,” said the woman in the yellow robe. “I am Elu, the keeper of what humans consider life. This is my sister, Eterna, the keeper of what humans consider afterlife.”
“What do you mean, consider life and afterlife?” I questioned.
“To Elu and I, life is one continuous line,” replied Eterna. “Humans see life and the afterlife as two separate things because your consciousness can’t handle the experience of death that occurs between the two.”
“We are the guardians of this passage,” continued Eterna. “We are responsible for the existence you experienced before arriving here, as well as that which you’re about to undergo after leaving Isle Charon. All experiences on Earth, be they good, bad, or indifferent, are through Elu’s creation. I am the creator of all things in the world to which you’ll be venturing after this visit. All experience in the afterworld, be they good, bad, or indifferent, are through my creation.”
“I’m sure you have many questions of us,” interjected Elu.
“So many. So very many.”
Elu chuckled to herself.
“Humans always do,” she stated. “There’ll be someone in the world created by Eterna that will help you adjust to your new life. I assure you that most of your questions will be answered there.”
“So what is this place then?” I asked.
“The Isle Charon is where every recently deceased soul comes to handle the complexities of their unfinished business,” replied Eterna. “For some people, they never got to say goodbye to their family. For others, there’s a feeling of not having accomplished everything you could have while on Earth. Elu and I will help you work through those feelings so that you can be at peace once you leave here.”
I stood there staring at Elu and Eterna, combing through every place in my brain I imagined unfinished business to be stored. Nothing. Not just unfinished business, but no memories. The mental block I’d hit was overwhelming. I could feel that I was me. Beyond that, there was just emptiness.
“What were those pieces of unfinished business I had on Earth?” I asked.
“Let’s have a seat and talk you through them,” said Elu.
“Coffee? Tea? Cocoa?” asked Eterna.
“Those things exist after death?” I inquired.
“Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you have to suffer through not having coffee,” replied Eterna.
“Coffee sounds nice,” I answered. I wonder what happened to the coffee I’d brought with me in my car. It probably exploded all over my windshield during the crash.
Eterna walked over to a cabinet on the far size of the gazebo. She reached opened the door and reached inside, producing a piping hot mug of coffee. She walked back over and sat it back down in front of me. Despite me giving no question nor command, Elu answered the question that was on my mind.
“Don’t think about it too hard,” she said. “The rules of this world don’t work the same as yours. We keep our coffee out of sight, be beyond that, we can get it whenever we want.”
“Huh,” I said, still surprised that a wooden door held steaming coffee behind it.
“You’re an uncommon one, David,” Eterna stated. “When many people come to the Isle Charon, we talk with them about their family and friends. Sometimes there’s a moment of disappointment of not achieving fulfillment with someone’s career.”
“We even had a gentleman the other day that just needed to see his rare ornamental bulbous plants bloom,” interrupted Elu.
“But your mental block that’s keeping you from moving into the afterworld is not what you had in life. It’s what you didn’t have.”
“I don’t follow,” I said.
“Let me give you an example,” stated Elu. “A few months ago, your girlfriend moved in with you. Things by and large were going fairly well for you, but you two fight a lot. When you fight at night, what do you go to sleep thinking about?”
“How much I wish we hadn’t fought?” I questioned.
“More specific than that.”
“How I wouldn’t be fighting if I was with someone else.”
“Exactly,” answered Eterna.
“Here’s the thing, David,” continued Elu. “It’s not true. No matter who you would have been with, you would have fought with them.”
“But what about that soulmate that’s out there for everyone?” I asked. “That one person that changes your world and makes love perfect.”
Elu sighed heavily.
“We both hate that concept,” Eterna replied. “It’s flawed in so many ways, not the least of which is that the idea that a perfect love exists without any frustration or anger is unrealistic.”
“Let’s try this,” said Elu. “Your relationship with your girlfriend, Arryn, is one that grew out of a friendship, right?”
“Yes,” I responded.
“Alright,” Elu continued, “now of all of the women you ever wanted to be with — regardless of whether you dated them or not — who was the most perfect person for you in your mind?”
Without skipping a beat, I blurted out the name of the only woman I never failed to fumble over my words in front of.
“Julie Soria,” I replied. “We were friends in college. She’s pretty much the only reason I stuck with my history minor.’
“And what made her so perfect in your mind?” Elu inquired.
“She was kind and caring. She had this very open mind, to the point where she took being humbled when she was wrong as a learning experience. Julie had these gorgeous green eyes that she always wore blue contacts over, making it look like she had either cyan or teal irises, depending on how the light hit them. And she always had the most wonderful smelling something for her hair. No idea if it was shampoo or what, but it made her lovely red hair that much better.”
“And why didn’t you guys date?” Eterna asked.
“We hung out here and there, even alone at times,” I replied. “She always invited me to church, but I never saw the appeal. After a while, she just stopped talking to me.”
“That church she went to was a cult,” Elu said. “Forty-six people, including Julie, killed themselves as part of a ‘religious experience’ or something.” Elu make giant air quotes as she said religious experience. “Had you gone with her to that church more than a couple of times, the two of you would have dated, but it would have ended with you bring brainwashed and being another death.”
“Holy fuck!” I exclaimed. “How do you know that?”
“This is literally what we do,” answered Eterna. “We know all, we see all, we help people move on from every possible permutation of their lives.”
“Okay,” I responded, “but what if I would have stayed with my high school girlfriend?”
“You two would have divorced six months into your marriage and you would have committed suicide,” replied Elu dryly.
“Do I always die young?” I asked.
“You always arrive in the afterworld young, regardless of the choices you made on Earth,” said Eterna. “But I promise it’s better there.”
“How do you know?” I shouted. “You’re not even there.”
“Because we created both worlds,” answered Eterna.
“And what if I don’t want to go there?” I asked.
“That’s not a choice you have,” answered Elu. “You have notahtame haeave to go farem.”
“What”?” I asked.
“I said it’s noth yarr cohiecth. Yoafa have moatame haeave feam.”
The chartreuse mist was beginning to engulf the gazebo and everything in my sight. Eterna and Elu faded into the distance, but I could still hear Elu talking to me, though I couldn’t understand what she said. As the mist grew stronger, I felt a searing pain in my legs, along with a massive headache forming around my eyes. The mist shifted into darkness, leaving me with nothing but pain and the echos of Elu and Eterna’s voices.
I woke up atop a hospital bed in a dimly lit room. I looked around, slowly moving my head as the painful headache was still there. It took me much longer to scan my surroundings than normal, but I found that I was alone. Outside my room, I could see a coffee cart. From my angle, I could see the elbow of the person behind the cart, but not much else.
“Hey!” I yelled, my voice straining as I did so. “Can you hear me?”
The merchant from the coffee cart peeked into my room and smiled at me.
“I don’t think you can have any coffee, man” he said. “I can flag down a nurse for you.”
“Nah, I’m good,” I replied. “Have I been here long?”
“At least since I got here Tuesday morning. It’s Friday now.”
“Shit. Any chance I can use your phone?”
The coffee cart man walked over and handed me his phone.
“Just don’t take more than a half hour,” he said. “I’ve got to head upstairs at 6:30.”
The coffee cart man unlocked his phone and left the room. I opened the keypad on his phone, only to realize I didn’t know Arryn’s number. It was always in my phone, so I never had to memorize it. I dialed the only number I could remember — my dad’s work phone. It rang multiple times before the voicemail picked up.
“Hey dad,” I said. “It’s me. I think I got in a car wreck. I’m at…where am I?”
“Cedar North Hospital,” the coffee cart man shouted.
“Cedar North Hospital apparently. When you and mom can, come see me. And if you could call Arryn and tell her…I don’t know where my phone is. I love you. Bye.”
I sat the coffee cart man’s phone down on my chest and closed my eyes. All I wanted was to go back to sleep. As I began to drift off, I could see the chartreuse mist in the distance, beckoning back to the Isle Charon. I didn’t want to go back, even though I knew I’d see Elu and Eterna again eventually. With any luck, I’d wake up to see my parents or Arryn, even if it was only for a few minutes before I had to go back to the island.