Turning on the television was almost always a bad idea. The one sure thing in all this madness was that every channel with a news outlet, syndicated and cable alike, provided twenty-four hour a day updates of variations on the same stories: people dealing with the spirits of loved ones. The sad fact of the matter was daily life seemed to stop the moment the dead returned to Earth. And that was the good news.
Interspersed between dramatic reenactments of tearful afterlife family reunions was the blowback religion was suffering due to its failure to provide answers for the reason Heaven was destroyed, the purpose of dead spirits returning to Earth and the overcrowding it was causing, and why anyone should continue worshipping if they were no longer a reward for living a righteous life. The suicide rate continued to climb but not all of the disillusioned practitioners were taking their own lives. Some took it upon themselves to express their anger in the form of the vandalization of churches, mosques and religious community centers which quickly escalated to bomb threats, physical attacks on parishioners, then to mass shootings and bombings. In order to minimize the death toll in America, the President passed an executive order to close places of worship and urged other countries to follow suit but failed to gain any traction as religious congregations across the states defied the ban.
Experts assembled comprehensive databases of bombers and mass shooters who aimed their attacks on religious groups or places of worship to try to better understand and help prevent future violence of this kind. They stated, normally the statistics would have indicated the perpetrators being men, mostly Caucasian, single and unemployed, ages ranging from twenty to forty, with histories of mental illness, substance abuse, and victims of serious childhood trauma. Worship murderers also typically fell into one of two distinct categories: ethno-religious hate groups who target a specific group of people to blame for their grievances; or angry individuals in crisis motivated by domestic issues. But new studies showed no gender, ethnicity or age correlation among the offenders. In fact, the common thread seemed to be people prepared to commit suicide who were afraid of dying alone. If they had to exist in void, they wanted to be surrounded by their family and friends.
To combat the escalating tension, celebrities formed organizations to hold Death of Heaven vigil simulcast on tv, radio, podcast and across all the social media platforms around the world to offer support for those suffering as a result of the loss, as well as counseling for those having difficulty adjusting to having dead abusive spouses and family members return into their lives.
Mayra shut the tv off. She couldn’t be bothered flicking through the channels to find something to momentarily distract her. Even the soaps had been forced to add current events into their storylines, thanks to deceased actors appearing on set and going through their former character motions.
Stretching out on the sofa, her hand reflexively reached out for her smartphone.
“There’ll come a time when you’ll have to face facts,” Bethany said as she crossed from the bedroom, heading for the kitchen. “In your own time, of course, but sooner would be better for your mental state and the baby’s health.”
Damn. She had been busted by her friend once again and though Bethany tried not to sound too judgmental, Mayra felt a sense of shame that she wasn’t strong enough to admit the truth and move on with her life.
“Yeah, I know,” Mayra said, thumb hovering over the number keypad. “I keep going over it in my head, but our lives are too entwined. Gavin hasn’t touched the bank account, not that there’s a lot in there to begin with, so that means he doesn’t have a lot of money. He has to either be crashing with a friend or maybe he moved back to his parents’ house.”
“And you’ve already dialed all those numbers a dozen times. Sure, maybe if you pester them enough someone will eventually break and fess up, but you don’t know what story he spun to them and you could wind up looking like the psycho stalker ex-girlfriend.”
“I don’t care what people think. I just need to talk to him. I need that, Bethy, I need it.”
“Sweetie, I’m not telling you not to call, not to try. All I want is for you to be happy and if happy isn’t possible right now then I want you to feel comfortable moving forward without that dead weight hanging around your neck. From what you’ve told me the two of you were more like house mates for a while now. If that’s what you want out of life then go for it and I’ll support you the best way possible, but if you want someone to love you the way you deserve to be loved I think you need to accept the reality that you kissed a frog and instead of getting a prince, you got warts.”
“I know calling him probably isn’t the smartest thing to do, but I need to hear his voice. Don’t hate me.”
“Never,” Bethany said, continuing to the kitchen. “I’ll leave you to it.”
Mayra dialed Gavin’s cell, cursing herself for being a weak-willed idiot.
“The number you have dialed is not in service, please check the number and try again.” The automated voice wasn’t what she expected to hear. She hung up and tried again. “The number you have dialed—” She disconnected and carefully redialed his phone number one more time. “The number you have dialed—” Mayra hurled the phone across the room and screamed, “Fuck!”
Bethany ran into the living room. “What is it? What happened?”
“That bastard changed his number,” Mayra said and suddenly the floodgates opened. Everything she kept bottled up came spilling out. Gavin hadn’t left a note or emailed her or even sent a text message. The very least he could have done if he was at his parents’ house was to have his mother or father call her to let her know he was safe. But no, all she got after five years of dating was an apartment full of the empty spaces he used to inhabit. She ended with, “He’s gone,” before breaking down into uncontrollable tears.
“Yes, he is, sweetie,” Bethany pulled her friend into her arms and gently rocked her. “But you’re not alone.”
Bethany had done more than Mayra could ever have asked. She worked out the apartment lease with the landlord, removing Gavin’s name and replaced it with her own, as well as smoothing things over with Mayra’s boss so she could take a few days off and still keep her job. At times Mayra had been overwhelmed by it all, and the complicated emotions that came with accepting her relationship with Gavin was well and truly over came and went like the tides. There were days when she hated her ex-boyfriend—and it had taken a while to adjust to thinking of him as an ex—for what he’d done and the only thing she really wanted to do was to hurt him the way he hurt her. Then there were days when she accepted the way things were, realizing there was nothing she could have done to change what was.
One of the best reasons for having Bethany so close was that Mayra could open the release valve when her brain became too cluttered with random, disturbing thoughts and voice things she ordinarily wouldn’t have been able to speak with Gavin about.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about miscarriages,” Mayra let slip while she and Bethany were working on a jigsaw together. It was a three thousand piece Educa Amsterdam with Red Bike Puzzle. Challenging enough to focus her concentration on since besides the red bike, the rest of the puzzle was in black and white with reflective surfaces. Still, idle thoughts had a way of creeping in.
“What?” Bethany gave her a look she’d grown accustomed to since moving in together, the look of being blindsided. “You shouldn’t be worrying about things like that. Stay positive. Everything’s going to be all right because there’s no reason they shouldn’t be.”
“You don’t understand. I’m not worrying about miscarrying, not yet at least, I was just wondering when life begins. Is it at conception?”
“I—I’m no expert but I’d say, sure, why not?”
“Then why haven’t we seen the souls of any aborted children? Or still births? Is it because their souls hadn’t properly developed?”
“Okay, that’s disturbing on a number of levels. Have you actually been looking for them? I wouldn’t even know what that would look like and I don’t think I’d want to know.”
“You’ve got a point there,” Mayra admitted. “But what about kids? Of all the people who’ve died and returned, why hasn’t anyone reported spotting children?”
“Oh man,” Bethany said. “With all the confusion going on, I never realized all we’ve been encountering are adults. What happened to all the kids? And people are tripping over ghosts outside but I haven’t seen one in our apartment yet. Have you?”
“I—” Mayra began, then thought about it. “No, I haven’t.”
“Somebody must have died here.”
“This isn’t a new building, is what I’m saying. What are the odds this is one of the few places on Earth where no deaths have ever occurred?”
To Be Continued…
©2017-2020 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys