Back North again, this week’s piece was sent by Jennifer Gossoo from British Columbia, Canada. This piece is haunting and draws you through it with an excellent and mind-bending premise.
I was going to do it. It was a Sunday. They would just have to miss me at work tomorrow, and for the foreseeable future. I had hoarded all of the pentobarbital that my doctor had been prescribing me as a sleep agent since February. I was now up to two bottles full. One was plenty, but I had never been one to take risks. Pentobarbital was kind of the go-to drug for ODing. I’d done my research. It didn’t have to be original; it just had to do the trick.
Somewhere in New York City, my parents were sequestered in their upscale Hampton-esque apartment. They wouldn’t think to call and check up on their youngest for at least another month. I was a big boy; I was, by societal dictation, adequately equipped to manage the daily struggles of menial employment and single life. Only I wasn’t.
I leave an open can of tuna on the fire escape for the homeless tabby which frequents my floor. He won’t even notice I’m gone.
The vial is waiting for me on my nightstand. In the otherworldly glow of my digital clock, it looks like a vodka commercial. Cold and clear and pure. I seat myself beside it and wait for the shivering green digits to change. It is 11:59.
At midnight on the dot, I uncork the stout glass vial.
“Bottoms up,” I mutter to myself and the dark room. And then I tip the contents back.
The bitter poison swirls away down the black drain of my throat. Even though I know that this is completely voluntary and was completely optional, I’m nervous. I shake the last drop onto my tongue, just to be thorough. A botched suicide would be one failure I couldn’t live with, ironically. With the vial empty, I place it next to my clock, which now reads 12:02, and lie back on my bed. Deathbed, I suppose. Nothing’s happening yet.
“Calm down, Carter,” I chastise myself out loud. My final moments should be spent in blissful reminiscence, not panicked anticipation. It’s finally hit me that I’m waiting to die, I guess. I don’t know why I thought that would be some cakewalk. But come to think of it, I’m not nearly as nervous as I was a couple of minutes ago. The clock reads 12:07 now. The numbers shiver more than usual when I glance over. In fact, the whole room’s shivering. So are the lights which sprout up as I look on. I smile, and my eyelids flutter. As the firework show begins, I slip into darkness.
Huh. Death isn’t so bad.
I am in my room. There is my body where I left it, eyes rolling behind the translucent lids. So I’m not dead yet. The light show is non-existent here, but I’m sure it’s still playing in my head. My real head. I grimace at my prone figure and turn to the window. There is the tabby, chowing down on my last can of tuna. She doesn’t look up when I tap on the glass. I’d thought animals could see ghosts. Maybe not.
Presently, I saunter out of my room. My apartment is in the same state that I left it, only more monochrome. Also, there is a hazy quality to everything. Not gloomy, per se. But not quite tangible. This must be what the afterlife looks like. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do, so I keep wandering; out the door and onto the street, where everything is the same, only void of life. A choking mist lies heavy on my street.
“Hello?” I call into it. There is no echo; my voice bounces back at me, flat and hard in my ears. I frown. And then – or am I imagining it? No, someone is approaching. Or something. It doesn’t sound like any human I’d ever heard. Pit pat, pit pat. And then every so often a metallic clink, like keys on a ring. My eyes gradually drift downwards, to the source of the sound. And then all at once, I am gazing into a pair of doleful brown eyes. The dog blinks.
“Hi boy,” I breathe in relief. When the dog makes no move to advance any further, I squat down and pat my knees invitingly. The disdain in his eyes almost makes me blush. And then he turns and melts back into the fog.
“Wait!” I wail, plunging in after him. Once I’m inside, I could be anywhere. The fog is so opaque that I have to hold my hand in front of my nose before I can see it. He’ll never hear me in this.
“Dog, sir?” I have no idea what to call him. But it works. I take one more step before my knee collides with his massive side. He is staring up at me solemnly.
“Where are we going?” I ask him. He swings his nose round, to an empty patch of fog.
“Lead on then,” I insist, and so he does. I follow so closely that his tail never leaves my sight. And then suddenly we are no longer traveling over pavement but earth, and the fog has dropped away like a curtain. I have no idea where I am. The only word that comes to mind is Paradise.
A waterfall, clear as quartz, thunders into a vast blue pond. Dark shapes dart about beneath its multifaceted surface. I gape. Trees, tall as redwoods but crowned with springy fronds, adorn the landscape. And everywhere I look there is green, green, green. The red mulch beneath my feet ebbs into grass a few feet in front of me. My mind can’t keep up with the transition, but when I turn around to remind myself of it, the fog has given way to more of this landscape, for as far as the eye can see. If this is death, I don’t think I mind.
“What is this place?” I wonder aloud, not really expecting an answer.
“It’s wherever you want it to be,” a smiling voice replies. I whirl around so sharply that the world is a blur of green, and then my eyes alight on a face. A human face. She is fondling the ears of the great black dog, whose tail is thumping happily.
“Who are you?” I ask.
The girl smiles, her grey eyes crinkling.
“You can call me whatever you want. When you were younger, you used to call me Pippy.”
“Yes. You said it was the name of a girl from your world.”
Of course, Pippy Longstocking. My sister and I used to watch it every night before bed.
“I’m sorry, have we met before?” I am beyond lost. I have never seen this girl before in my life. Wild ochre hair. A face dipped in freckles. No bells.
“Yes, but that was long ago. I don’t blame you for not remembering me.”
She stands, and from her waist flows skirts in every shade of green imaginable: jade, emerald, forest, spring. She approaches, and there is no sound but for the swishing of the fabric.
“Hello again Carter.” She extends a hand, palm-forwards, and at first I am at a loss for what to do. But as I stare at the slender fingers and the chunky gold ring there, the pieces began to slide back into place, and I flatten my hand against hers.
She giggles, and then she twirls away. Her skirts flash in my eyes like gemstones falling from an appraiser’s hand. And then she stops.
“I’m so happy you’re finally here!”
“Have you been waiting for me?” Apparently flattery is still something you experience after you’re dead.
“Of course! I mean, it’s not like I’ve been bored or anything. There are countless things to do here. But it does get rather dull when it’s just you by yourself after a while. Of course, I had Huey here.” She grins at the black dog fondly, and he barks.
“Huey. Where’d you come up with that?”
“I didn’t, silly, you did.” She rolls her eyes, as though nothing could be more obvious, and dances away again.
“Wait. Wait a minute. I’m here because… well, you know why. Is that why you’re here too?”
She stops spinning to gawp at me like I’m a madman.
“Don’t be daft, Carter. You’re only dreaming; you know that. This time, you feel more real to me though. Do I feel real to you? Will you stay longer this time?”
Her voice had risen several octaves with excitement.
“Wait, real? What do you mean?”
“Well, you never stay long. You always go back, and leave me here alone. Last time you said you wouldn’t but you did anyways.”
Carter thought for several long moments. He wasn’t dead. But he wasn’t alive, either. He was somewhere in between. This was like the astral travel he had done as a kid.
“I’ll stay,” he promised. “This time I’ll stay.”
Jennifer does an incredible job hooking us into the story with an emotional grab, and then gently leading us into an other worldly premise. Her interesting take on the human mind keeps you guessing and curious for more.
Next week will be full of more new and exciting work, don’t forget to look it up!