Whatever’s After

I was given a prompt to write about my perception of any kind of afterlife. This is probably a meandering mess of a thing, but I came up with this:

A golden city with jasper walls. Agates and sapphires, onyx and chrysolite, and whatever jacinth is.

I remember my first taste of Heaven, from under a down comforter in the middle of winter, snowflakes falling through my window with a backdrop sky so black it rang blue. I was young, borderline manic with an active mind, and so I had trouble sleeping. I’d rest my back against a cabinet set up at the head of my bed, one side of a sliding set of doors moved aside where rested a cassette player.

Classical music. That’s what helped me drift off at night. Elegant birds swimming through my mind to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Two lonesome lovers dancing in a dark, empty ballroom to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. A yearlong journey of whimsy and growth through Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The music played at my back, behind my head, through my ears, so gracefully behind the lids of my eyes.

Because of that,because I was such an imaginative child that I pulled things into my dreams, I often found myself also being affected by the books I read. Creepy crawlers terrifying me after the latest Goosebumps novel saw me to bedtime. Magic spells lighting up the sky like fireworks after tearing through whatever fantasy novel I ordered from the school book drive.

So yes, I remember my first taste of Heaven.

Twelve gates of pearl, and streets of gold so clear they may as well be glass. Eternal day that lights the paths of the pure.

My grandmother was a woman of God and wanted to bring me up on a path of righteousness, or – at the very least – general goodness. I was no stranger to prayer, though I struggled at keeping still with closed eyes while someone used their words to speak for me. I worked as a deacon in the church, collecting, counting and cataloging the weekly tithe. Most importantly (to me), I read the Bible nightly. No particular passages, but rather cover to cover (though I would regularly reread the stories that meant the most to me, or that I found particularly compelling). So I remember the winter night I first found myself in the book of Revelations, reading about this New Jerusalem, this city for the chosen loved of God while elsewhere burned a pit of fire. For the unrighteous. For the generally bad.

But in the city, there was no death, no sorrow.  No crying, nor any pain. I dreamed of these things, and this mountain city that was itself a divine temple. I dreamed of the crisp and clear air, and the laughter from within bejeweled walls.

But my fitful sleeping mind would take it further. I dreamed of walking to the cliffside, a dirt path laid out before me, surrounded on either side by snow that gave off no cold. I dreamed of looking down into a deep, green valley, one hand on a singular, twisting tree the rich brown of polished mahogany, capped with leaves of all different colors.

I dreamed that somewhere back behind one of those pearl gates, my always-absent parents were finally always-present and always-patient, waiting for me to return so that we could share just one meal together that didn’t end in yelling.

But I am not dead. And so that taste of Heaven, be it a true and wholesome thing, has yet to reach past the tip of my tongue.

And, undead, I have traveled through these years dipping my fingers into the afterlife whipped cream and licking celestial inevitability from them. I have sampled Sheol and its dead earth, feared the heat of Gehinnom. I have longed for the pleasures awaiting me after my second life and my second death, in olam haba. Or perhaps it would be a seat in the presence of Our Lord and alternatively a great nothingness should I not find the greatness necessary to fill my place beside Him.

In times of pain and anger, I’ve wondered if my struggles would qualify me for a seat in Valhalla should my eternal battle with depression finally trigger an aneurysm. I wondered how lonely the realm of Hel might be if not. Or perhaps it would be the realm of Hades, neglected and unfairly judged brother of Poseidon and Zeus. And after I take that journey across Styx, likely infuriating Charon with questions and observations, would Hades at least allow me the company of Persephone during the long winter months? Not for anything untoward. Just to talk for a while. Just to compare tastes in music. Would Handel be held favorably up to Amphion? Would Chopin be as admired as Orpheus?

These tastes of Heaven and Hell, of Eden and oblivion, of spectral realms and mead-filled halls, these tastes are exotic, they are ancient, they are unclear.

But I am not dead. And so these tastes leave my throat dry and my stomach uncertain of a meal.

Because maybe there is nothing. Maybe my good deeds and my mistakes and my pleasures and my sins will not be held accountable against a feather at the end of my life. Perhaps my heart is in no danger of being consumed by Ammit, forever damning me and barring my escape into the sun-lit fields of Aaru. Maybe my heart is destined only to be consumed by worms and I’m left leaving only memories for those still living behind me.

That would be a shame. That would be a shame, because it means I would have no chance to connect again with you. To see the way your right cheek dimples when you smile, and the way your eyes dart that same direction when you laugh. It would mean I never get to say sorry. It would mean I never get to tell you I love you every day until the very last star shudders one last flicker of light and the very last molecule stops its steady movement, freezing us in a picture we never got to take. One last still-frame before turning the lights off on the universe.

Or maybe we’ll resurrect. Resurrection is an option, too. And I feel I’d be a dung beetle, but maybe I’d turn into a caterpillar and you would be one too, and we could make a cocoon somewhere nice and safe and warm, melt ourselves down into a gooey pile of memories and love, reinvent ourselves as two beautiful butterflies and find each other again. Somewhere without nets. Somewhere without birds.

Maybe that will be our heaven, our Heaven, our Nevaeh (because after reading that Bible cover to cover, I read it back again): a cyclical chance to love and be loved again.

Because I can tell you one thing for sure: I don’t need to have died to know that life here without you is already Hell.

Satori and the Key

I have often used art as inspiration to write stories. Whether it’s a picture of an abandoned warehouse or a character design that warrants exploration or a battle that needs to be expounded on, I’ve often looked to visual mediums for ideas.

Then, while I write, I often have headphones plugged in to drown out the surrounding world and to keep people – usually co-workers – from bothering me while I work. The music tends to be without lyrics. If I were listening to lyrics, those words tend to get jumbled up with the ones in my mind that I’m attempting to put on paper. Instrumentals, however, flow sweetly, encouraging without undercutting. It keeps my mind focused without loading a bunch of extra shit on.

Something I haven’t done before, though, is writing for music. Alongside it. I stumbled across a writing prompt last night that said, “Write the final scene in a story set to this song.” I have never used the rhythm or melody of a song as a score to the things I’ve written. It’s an interesting thing, to create that partnership, to have a soundtrack to the words you’re reading and the pictures you’re visualizing in your mind.

I wanted to try it. The song in question is The Aviators by Helen Jane Long. I wanted to give the story an animated film feel to it. So here we go.

****

A trickling sound roused Satori from what felt like a deep sleep. She was on her back, laying on a firm substance, but she wasn’t uncomfortable. Her eyes moved behind heavy lids for several seconds before she opened them.

She was in a cavern. The memory of it gradually came back to her, but she recalled the interior being dark and bare. Terror had filled her as she struggled to escape Moko and dread coursed through her veins once she realized the cave had been a dead end.

But that was all. Those were the only things she remembered before waking up.

Now the cavern was bright, every wall and most of the ground covered in ice blue crystals. She lay on a mossy bank next to a clear pool. A thin shaft of light shone through a hole in the rocky ceiling and a stream of water tumbled down into the natural lake. Like snow, tiny amethyst lights drifted lazily down around her, fading as they hit the surface of anything.

Where Moko had stood, arms stretching upwards with a sword clenched tightly in his hands, there was only a tower of crystal the color of lilacs. Satori cautiously climbed to her feet and approached it. There was no resemblance to the man who once stood there, but when she pressed her fingers to the center she swore a faint orange glow radiated outwards.

She cast one more glance around and then made for the exit. It all felt so surreal, that the last few days could end in such a manner. Had it been real? Had she imagined it? The crystal cave was too fantastic to have gone undiscovered for so long otherwise, right?

The path wound out to one of the three cliffsides overlooking her village. The sun was still climbing as morning yawned, casting rubies and citrines over Fairweather Harbor in the distance. The windmills were churning slowly. Smoke was already billowing from the chimney of Old Han’s restaurant.

Satori cast a glance back at the mouth of the cavern. She fished around in her pocket and came out with a boring, slightly bent, little brass key. The key that started it all. She kissed it and then thrust it back into her pocket. With careful steps, she started descending the bluff towards her village.

If she hurried, and if her mother forgave her absence, she may just make it down in time for a late brunch.

A Nice, Slow Day

I’m recovering from the delightfully hilarious comedy set I got to experience last night as well as the copious amounts of drinking that followed after. I’m two weeks behind on new comic books, so I’ve spent the bulk of my day rectifying that. A guy needs his comic fix, y’heard?

But I don’t want to leave you with nothing! Only almost nothing. I was browsing around online earlier and stumbled across this image:

image

That piece is by Michael Heath (you can find his gallery here and I recommend checking it out), and it won an award as the cover for Mark Walden’s Earthfall. I haven’t read the book but I do like the image, and sometimes I’ll see a picture that makes me want to whip out something nice and quick. So here is this:

David sat behind his desk in the loft he rented for far too much money. It rested at the top of a former cathedral that had been converted into a series of odd living quarters in an effort to provide more homes for the rapidly growing populace as well as wrest some control away from the religious leaders in the community. He didn’t particularly care either way; it was quiet and it was roomy. Exactly what he wanted out of a bachelor pad.

It wasn’t a bad office space, either, and he tapped a penical against his right ear while looking over the designs for his latest building project. He had been commissioned by the Minister of Commerce to come up with a new Justice Center that would be worthy of the duties carried out inside. It took a few months, but he was almost finished.

He put lead to paper and moved it in its final line. A loud and sudden THRUM blasted through his ceiling and sent him sprawling from his chair to the floor. The start caused the pencil to drag off course and tear through the picture. David swore loudly and climbed shakily to his feet.

The sound hadn’t stopped. It vibrated the entire cathedral, rumbling at a decibel he couldn’t hear himself over. He hurried over to the window to attempt to get a glimpse of what was causing it, trying not to worry about what kind of damage it was doing to his ears. All he could make out was a long shadow covering part of the city.

Wait. A shadow? What could…cause a shadow that big…

Swallowing hard, David pushed open his window. Carefully, he climbed out onto the terrace and then pulled himself up on the jutting pieces of tje roof. It was dangerous, a long and fatal fall if he slipped, but it wasn’t his first time. Nights spent on the roof staring at the starry skies was a peace he had never previously known.

It wasn’t night now, though, and instead of serenity, a sense of dread took root in his belly. He stared with an open jaw at the cause of the shadow.

A massive circular ship of some kind crawled across the sky, clouds gathering around it like a storm. The center of its bottom opened up in a hole that, despite its immense size, could not be peered deeply into. There were no companion craft, no colors to indicate what country it may have originated from. It merely moved until it was directly over the old Justice Center. It stopped there and hovered.

The thrumming stopped.