I stood on the precipice of my existence peering into an abyss that stretched from inside of me, to the distant horizon. So much emptiness. A full moon hung in the sky. Why did it have to be so beautiful?
I ran a bandaged hand slowly through my scraggly hair, as my lungs began to rattle and jump and kick in my chest, and a wave of guilt swept over my conscience. Perhaps fate was playing a cruel joke, by wrapping a bandage around me, a reminder of the service provided by the darkness.
I blew a kiss to the moon, and stepped into the outstretched arms of death waiting far below.
It is most peculiar to wake up moments after plummeting six stories to your certain demise. To feel the bones crack, and moments later feel them fully formed. Yet I found myself able to wiggle my arms and my legs after my broken body impacted on the cold ground. I was alive again, or perhaps it was a delusion of my freshly separated soul.
“Why must it be so hard to die?” I asked myself, before finally opening my eyes.
“Oh Lord,” I said to myself. Then I wondered if he heard me. I was lying flat on my back inside a small chamber. It was white all around. I seemed to be floating in nothing.
“This way please, sir,” said a voice from behind me. I slowly rotated around, and what seemed to me a poor excuse for a cherubim appeared. He was equipped in a sad looking angel get-up, what you would expect to have been radiant white cloth was nothing more than a thin, fraying robe. Of his features, the most striking were his nose, and his eyes. His nose was long and hinted at some kind of faraway wisdom, and his eyes were timeless gray.
“Why am I alive?” I blurted out.
“Oh dear. Another suicide. See here friend, everybody’s alive. We’re all immortal! Wipe that scowl off your face. We’re not attending a funeral! This is a time for joy!”
“Look, you don’t understand, there has to have been some sort a mistake. I killed myself about ten minutes ago. I don’t want to be alive, I don’t want to be here.” My voice grew louder and louder.
“I always get assigned to the cynical people,” he muttered to himself. “You can’t just ‘opt out’ of immortality. If you’ll please follow me, I’m just trying to do my job here.”
I had absolutely no desire to follow, but I didn’t see any way to off myself in the empty space around me. It did occur to me to attempt to starve. Heck, I didn’t even know if I could starve. Food probably isn’t even required for immortals.
After weighing my limited options I took my guide’s outstretched hand and began to levitate slowly through a vast complex of similarly shaped spaces. I noticed as we went that my clothes had been replaced with long white robes. The bandage, and the wounds it covered, had vanished from my hand.
Whatever process had cured me, had neglected the internal bleeding.
My guide had a few more things to say as he led me along.
“I want you to have a good attitude about this, alright? You need to be an optimist in heaven. It’s against the rules to be negative. I know people like you had hard lives on Earth. We here in heaven understand that it’s quite the ride down there. We designed it after all. I hope you don’t have any sort of grudge because you couldn’t handle your ‘trials’ as well as everybody else.”
At that point I tuned him out. He went on for a little while until we reached the exit. By now we were surrounded by similarly clad, freshly baked immortals. All of us were streaming out of a huge double breasted brass inlaid door. We merged with the stream and eventually were free from the walls of the massive complex. Once we exited, I caught sight of a sprawling metropolis in the distance. Between us and the city was a field of sunflowers miles long and miles wide. All of them were pointing directly at the city.
I came to a strange realization at that point. It made it quite clear that I had escaped Earth’s atmosphere. The light was entirely natural. No sun hung in the sky above us. I was sure there had to be some sort of source, but as I swung my head around none made itself apparent. Light rippled magnificently from nowhere.
“It’s a beautiful sight,” said my escort. “You have eternity to enjoy it, and I’m sure you’ll never tire. Please do come this way.”
To be frank, I was already quite bored with the view. So I turned and he led me through another brass door to a large open forum, crowded with floating spirits. It was brick, inlaid in some fine material with the luster of gold, and the freshly polished glimmer of silver. Amid all the beauty though, there was apparent weathering on some of the bricks. The occasional chip, or crack. Small imperfections, but noticeable to the trained cynic.
“Please keep a tight hold on my hand, friend,” said the angel. “It is time to enter heaven.” A leash seemed more appropriate, but I obliged him for the moment.
A harsh bright white flared in the center of the square, I felt a small tugging sensation in my gut, and suddenly I found myself gazing at the pearly gates. They were flanked by towering figures brandishing flaming swords. Glistening white armor adorned their bristling arms. They were remotely human in shape, though I would go no further in my comparison.
Despite the splendor of their figures, I could not help but notice that here too were signs of wear. A small patch of gleaming shell had been scraped from the left heel of one of the giants, exposing a dull iron-like metallic patch underneath. I glanced around at the stream of consciousness floating by. Nobody even bothered to look in the direction of the error. Their gaze was held by the glistening city and its shimmering gate far above.
God only knows what they need skyscrapers for in heaven. Really, God is the only one who knows. I’m assuming he designed the place. Thus far Heaven was full of nice surprises, the sort you might find browsing an antique shop.
“It’s so perfect,” I heard someone whisper. Awe written in his intonation. I rolled my eyes.
All I could think was a question: where do you go if you die in heaven?
We got to the gate, and my companion turned to say goodbye.
“I wish you the best of luck.”
“I won’t be staying long, but thank you!” I muttered under my breath.
I had to shove my way through a crowd of groggy immortals wandering around aimlessly, and chatting. It was a bit like a high school reunion for dead people. They would pause next to a stranger and explain exactly how it was that they had perished, how excited they were to finally be “on the other side,” and “isn’t this amazing.” I got in line, ignoring everybody’s questions. For me, living forever wasn’t a promotion.
The line crawled forward at a snail’s pace, but I eventually made it to the front. Sitting behind the counter was an overweight angel. I suppose he’s the sort of mom’s basement, red-vines, video games, and e-cigs, “I’ll diet someday” kind of guy back on Earth. Here he looked distinctly out of place. His name tag read “Ivan.”
The first words out of my mouth when I stepped up to the pearl-inlaid kiosk was to jokingly ask for a combo meal with a large coke, Ivan was having none of that.
“Name please.” This in a tone that reminded me of the photographer at the DMV.
“Big. Mac.” I enunciated clearly and loudly so that he would understand.
He looked at me then, with a sort of loathing mixed with half-pity that I didn’t expect. His chubby head cocked sideways, and his piggish eyes gazed straight into my blackened heart. I had to look away. He wrote some things on a little card, and then said
“Look Pal, it’s gonna be easier on everyone if you just go with it.”
I avoided his gaze, took the card, and floated through into heaven.
My little card read two things. “Big Mac,” and “ADMITTED.” It was surprising that heaven hadn’t gone digital. They seemed a little behind. Maybe this was more sustainable.
Everything in heaven was white, and it shone purely, sparkling in the source- less light. I wondered how they did it. How they managed to make everything so clean, so beautiful. I could not deny that the architect of heaven knew what he was doing. Indescribable wonders that defied all the laws of physics soared above me. An enormous pearl hung in the sky, suspended by nothingness, floating above the spirits and reflecting the goings on below.
The whole city was connected by an enormous main street. Along which traveled pure white horses carrying gleaming angels. White bears, and lions, and all manner of animals danced along the center and millions of human spirits stretched into the distance as far as I could see. There were vendors handing out clear fruit, as if someone had wrapped a mirror around an apple, and then made it pliable and chewy.
I floated slowly down into the crowd. It was strange, to be among all of these people. I wasn’t sure what they were. Or what I was. They still seemed human, that is to say the humans seemed human. I was shocked to see so much wildlife prancing about playfully. Dogs sniffing around, cats slinking, and birds flying through the empty sky.
It seemed to be perfect, it seemed as if heaven lived up to it’s reputation. Except here I was. A skid mark on an otherwise spotless infinity. Guilt began to creep over me. How is it that I was allowed in? I… I certainly don’t deserve all of this majesty.
There must be a way to escape…
“Excuse me, sir!” I yelled to a passing angel
“Yes?” He turned, looking at me quizzically
“Do you have any idea where I might find a gun?” I asked.
“What on Earth–I mean what in heaven– do you need one of those for?”
“I spent a great deal of time in the army in my Earth-life. I should like to go target shooting. Nostalgia is quite the thing, isn’t it?”
“Well, yes, I suppose it is. I should say you’ll find one out at the Earth Contra store. It’s just along here a little ways. I’ll take you to it.”
I was surprised at his generosity, until I realized where I was. All of the mean people were elsewhere.
“Earthly contraband,” my guide explained as we floated along “is a phenomenon where mortals carry things with them into immortality. Tables, chairs, weapons, phones, the occasional child. It’s a pretty rare occurrence, so it’s hard to find people who have good stuff. They started to filter out the items recently, in the hopes that shops like this one would lose their appeal due to lack of inventory. They’re too nice to ban this sort of thing. “
We arrived, and I thanked him for his help. He floated off, and I was left once more to myself.
The contraband shop had a large sign fashioned from simple plastic and paint.
“EARTH CONTRA” it read.
There were broken lawn chairs, rusty cars, and dead grass littering the space in front, and accompanying sidewalk. I picked my way up to the door, and went inside.
It was essentially a pawn shop, consisting entirely of old junk adorning rickety metal shelves.
The glass counter near the back housed several thousand bits and pieces of jewelry. Wedding rings, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and assorted other vanity items. There was a bit of paper taped to the case that said
“JEWELRY, TWO FOR SIX”
Standing behind the counter was a man I shall never forget. At least as long as I live for the next hour or so. He was turned the other way at first, but when the little bell clanged on the door, he shifted around to face me. My first impression said that he was the sort of man who could convince an eskimo that he needed to purchase a refrigerator.
Everyone in heaven, that I had seen so far, was clothed exclusively in white, from head to foot. The “EARTH CONTRA” clerk was definitely the exception. He was wearing a top hat, but it wasn’t classy. It reminded me of an amateur magician who visited my elementary school once, astounding us all with simple sleight of hand.
In addition to the hat he had on a black NASCAR racing uniform. Stamped with various advertisements for motor oil and a large picture of the michelin man. There was one part of him that was almost white, his hair. At least it was probably white at one point or another. Now it was smudged and clumped. Like an animal hide left out in the sun shortly after being skinned from a polar bear. I had to settle my stomach a bit before getting any closer.
“How can we help you today?” Throwing his arms wide, and brandishing his hat. I expected everything to disappear in a puff of purple smoke.
“I need a gun and some ammunition.”
“I see…” He eyed me suspiciously. As if I was the suspicious one. I don’t own a contraband shop in heaven, and I don’t have a charred polar bear skin glued to my head, and I’m definitely not wearing the Michelin man.
A few more moments of silence passed between us.
“So can you help me?” I repeated, since he wasn’t really moving. He was just standing there staring at me.
“Of course, of course.”
“Thank heavens,” I joked. He didn’t get it. If he did, he didn’t laugh.
“I’ll be back in a moment.”
He ducked through a door covered in gypsy style beads and emerged a moment later with an ancient blunderbuss. An enormous, medieval-looking colonial death-bringer. The likes of which once freed the Americas from the British tyranny.
“Money doesn’t exist in heaven.”
“So? How do I get the gun?”
The kindness of those people never ceased to amaze me.
With that, he handed me the weapon, along with the necessary components for firing it. I walked out wondering why he needed a 2 for 6 sign on his jewelry case. Two for six of what?
I made my way back out the front gate. Attracting only a few odd stares, people who are in rapture don’t pay much attention. I walked up a hill, and stopped just out of sight on the other side, dropping to my knees.
I was alone at last. I traced my fingers up the line where the gunmetal fit snugly against the walnut, and grasped the hammer. It was a little stiff, but I managed to force it back halfway.
I opened a capsule of gunpowder, and tore the cap off with my teeth. Then poured some carefully into the tiny opening exposed by the cocked hammer. I snapped the hammer back into place, and poured the rest of the powder into the barrel. Just to make sure that it would go off. The pellets followed the gunpowder down into the chamber.
I rammed them in with a long piece of iron, and cocked the hammer all the way back. I was ready to die again.
I looked around once more to be sure that nobody could stop me. My nose had begun to bleed, and I let the blood flow freely. Blood in heaven is white.
I turned the gun on myself.
When I pulled the trigger, the world exploded in a kaleidoscope of color, and then everything was dark.
Goddamnit. How many times does a man need to kill himself before it actually works.
I was lying on smooth rock this time. Face down. I could smell the Earth.
I leapt to my feet and looked around, and there was good old beautiful Earth all around. There was my car where I had parked it illegally against the fence. There was the cliff where I had flung my tired soul. My nose was no longer bleeding, and the bandage was back around my hand. I felt in my pocket for my car keys, and there they were.
I took one long last look at the cliff, and smiled to myself.
Then I glanced at the sun, turned toward my car, and decided that maybe it could wait.
Ethan Trunnell is an undergraduate freshman at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. He was raised in Springville, Utah to two loving parents, and has four younger siblings. He is currently unsure which direction to take his education, but his interests and passions include classic literature, philosophy, minimalism, graphic design, typography, short fiction, and poetry. He dreams of one day making a living with his words, and hopes that those who read them consider the experience to be a memorable, thought provoking adventure.