It was an instinct really, the reaching out to touch her mother’s face as she had done so many times as a child and Mayra had not expected to make physical contact but hoped she could feel something, a vibration perhaps or a tingle of static electricity, anything to confirm that her mother was actually standing in front of her. Unexpected was the resistance her palm encountered upon making contact with her mother’s intangible cheek, only for an instant, before it passed through and the café went dark.
When Mayra awoke, or rather, when she was finally able to piece herself back together to the extent she realized she had eyes to open, she found herself curled into a fetal ball, shivering within the enormous palm of God. No one told her the hand belonged to God, she simply knew it to be so. With no effort at all, for her body seemed to have no discernable weight, she lifted herself first to her knees then to her feet where she was able to perfectly balance herself on the tips of her toes like a ballerina en pointe in a ballet performed in zero gravity.
Beyond the palm, all of existence was a white devoid of heat in every direction she cast a glance. She opened her quivering mouth to speak, to question, to beg for clarity, understanding but her voice issued forth like song. Not lyrics but actual music and each of her emotions were represented by a different instrument, rising to a crescendo, filling the vast whiteness, crowding it with vibrations until…her voice cracked.
The music ceased instantly. She clutched her throat and forced herself to make a sound that would not come. Gravity returned and she crumpled onto the palm creating an impact crater that sent hairline fractures spiderwebbing out from the palm that ran up along each of the fingers. The hand shook under the force of a great tremor and began to segment and divide and fall away like so much debris. She hopped from the bits that fell away onto safer purchase until there was nowhere else to go. The hand disintegrated and Mayra, no longer weightless, began falling into the white void and she was covered by a slimy coldness that slowly took over her entire body, a bitter frost that shot straight through to her marrow and filled her mind with an image of being buried in the cold damp ground in a coffin-less grave as her body slowly succumbed to lifelessness.
Then she was no longer falling and eventually the glacial pearl environment dissipated in cloudlike swirls revealing the café beneath like an underpainting brushed onto canvas by an expert hand. At first, the interior and the people who surrounded Mayra were merely shapes, two-dimensional. Then details were added and the shapes took on definition and depth of field separated near from far but her perception was off. She realized she must have fallen to the floor because the shape she was now able to make out as Bethany hovered over her, mouth opening and closing rapidly. Her best friend was talking to her, obviously trying to revive her, but the words sounded odd and the café itself no longer smelled right.
Adina’s ghostly face registered a look of concern. She reached down to help her daughter up but Mayra shied away from her touch. As much as she loved her mother, if coming into contact with her brought about this feeling, she promised herself she would never do it again.
“Bethy, get me out of here, please,” Mayra said, teeth chattering.
“Are you sure you’re all—”
“Please!” Mayra demanded.
“All right,” Bethany said, helping her friend to her feet and wrapping her own coat over Mayra’s in an effort to warm her.
At the café door, Mayra turned, saw her mother’s confused expression and said, “Sorry, Mom. I just can’t,” before exiting the café.
Outside, the spirits of the dead were everywhere, crowding, overcrowding, the streets. They had come in their thousands and moved past scared witless pedestrians in lock-step like a multi-headed beast or a shoal of fish to some unknown destination. The only sounds to be heard were the shoes on pavement as people scrambled to get out of the dead’s way and the distance screech of car tires.
“I can’t tell you how much I don’t like this,” Bethany said, trying to mask the fear in her voice as they made their way quickly to the nearest subway station.
“There are more dead people wandering around than the living,” Mayra said, carefully avoiding coming into contact with any of the spirits.
“Makes perfect sense if you think about. Heaven is real, was real, which means reincarnation is a load of bullshit, so all the righteous livers spend the rest of eternity in paradise and now that paradise has gone poof on us, where else would those souls go except the place they originated from?”
Apparently, word of mouth spread not to get too close to the dead because on the subway, people were doing their level best to avoid touching the spirits who were taking up seats and pole spaces, which meant the living had to squash together to make enough space for them all. The air in the train car was filled nervous tension but that had not stopped people from pulling out their smartphones and filming the ghosts but the dead were not bothered one bit. They seemed like they were going through the motions of trying to live the life they’d had before they died.
Mayra wasn’t ready to go home to deal with Gavin so Bethany suggested they go to her apartment. Fortunately, there were no spirits wandering around in her place.
“Small miracles, eh?” Bethany said after checking the entire apartment. “Now let’s see if we can get something into you to warm you up.”
“That would be nice, thanks,” Mayra followed her friend into the kitchen and took the seat nearest the radiator.
“So, your mom…that was weird, right?” Bethany said, rummaging through the cupboards. “What was the like, I mean, if you’re okay talking about it? You nearly scared me half to death, passing out like that.”
Mayra exhaled slowly and tried to explain as much as she could, avoiding the dream or delusion or whatever it was. It, along with the initial dream seemed personal, private, something meant for her alone.
Mayra took the tablet from her bag and over hot bowls of soup and coffee that still couldn’t chase the cold from her bones, they several live streaming news broadcasts. Unlike the news reporting delay of The Knowing, the dead returning made the headlines instantly.
Reporters were made of questions, but none of the hastily gathered experts had answers. They discussed what they believed had happened, which coincided with the assumption Bethany came up with. When a psychic was brought into one station to try to communicate with a spirit roaming the news studio and concocted some phony message about the dead returning to restore peace but who ran away in sheer terror the moment the spirit attempted to touch her, the tablet was turned off.
They sat there digesting the events of the day in silence for a while the way people who have known each other for a long while can be in each other’s company without the need to fill the air with random babbling, when Mayra broke the silence:
“Oh my God, I am the shittiest friend in the world!”
“What are you on about?”
“I never considered what you must be feeling, being an atheist and all.”
“First, not an atheist,” Bethany clarified. “Or an agnostic. I know religion is a touchy subject for you, which is why we don’t do spiritual talk. Unlike people who need to label themselves as a nonbeliever and pass judgment on people’s religious beliefs, I’m cool with you believing in what you believe in as long as it leads you to do no harm.”
“Bethy, I don’t want you to think I judge you for not having a—”
“Belief system? I do have one. I believe we aren’t smart enough to know our origins and this includes Big Bang and evolution, but we’re arrogant enough to assume we do with authority. Sometimes I wish I could just conform and go along with the flow. You’d figure it wouldn’t be that difficult. You know how super religious my family is, forcing me to go to church every Sunday when I was small. Sometimes we’d spend the entire day worshipping if our church visited another church for evening services and I’d be furious that one of my two-day freedom from the drudgery of school had be wasted this way. I tried to believe, tried really hard to feel the holy spirit but it just wasn’t in the cards for me. Then I hit my teens and made a bold stand to stop going to church by pretending to be sick, too sleepy, or what have you, which was initially ignored but eventually I wore my folks down and they allowed me to skip church. The trade-off? I was given a host of choirs that needed to be completed before I could go outside to play. They meant it to be a punishment, they wanted to break me, make me relent, but to me it was the ultimate get out of church free card. I even tried to lessen the blow by telling them I was a practicing Deist who accepted the existence of a creator on the basis of reason but rejected belief in a supernatural deity who interacts with humankind. And they tested me on it by making me write several essays describing my belief system and worship methods. But I still hadn’t felt a connection to a higher power so I tried agnosticism on for size and eventually gave up trying to force myself to believe in something just because everyone else does. Turns out I’m not a joiner.”
“But you’ve acknowledged that Heaven is gone so you must feel something,” Mayra realized her words came out stronger than she meant and hoped her friend had not felt attacked.
If Bethany was bothered, it did not show. She answered, “Sure, I feel something just not what you think. I don’t automatically assume that heaven not existing is the cause of what I’m feeling because it’s a place that doesn’t exist for me. It didn’t exist before all this and it still doesn’t now. What I feel is that something is different, the same way you feel when you move to a new neighborhood or start a new job or enter into a relationship with someone new. You suddenly become aware of space within your existence and that space is new and because it’s new, it’s a void. Picture the space as an empty glass and everything you do in the new job, neighborhood or relationship adds something to the glass, knowledge, familiarity, routines, skillsets, whatever. Each day, a drop gets added to the glass. It ceases to be empty the moment the first drop lands but it isn’t by any stretch of the imagination full, either. I’m not explaining it right because I still haven’t figured it out myself, so I know it doesn’t make sense to you, but that’s how I feel. I discovered an empty glass and it’s slowly, very slowly, filling up with something new.”
“I sort of understand but I don’t understand,” Mayra said. “Does that make any sense?”
“Completely,” Bethany smiled. “Now, why don’t we talk about what’s eating you?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve got your own life, I’ve got mine. When we catch-up, we usually do it by text or phone but you needed to see me in person, which indicates something serious, and not at your place or at mine, which means you’re trying to avoid getting emotional, so what is it?”Wow, Mayra wondered, Am I really that obvious? “Bethy, you’re going to hate because there is something I want to tell you…but I think I owe it to Gavin to speak to him first.”
To Be Continued…
©2017-2020 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys