Things Are Never Easy

Lonnie Hatch took his usual morning stroll to the local bagel joint, when a taxi driver lost control of the wheel, hopped the sidewalk and struck a fire hydrant, breaking it free. The water pressure sent the hydrant flying right into Lonnie’s face, killing him instantly.

It was labeled a freak accident by the press, but that moment had been planned from the moment Lonnie took his first breath. It was written beside his name in the Book of Life.

Normally, Lonnie, having lived a righteous life, would have met Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates, but somewhere along his transition, he was rerouted to an orientation room, and seated along with one hundred and fifty thousand freshly transitioned souls.

“Welcome, Heaven Seekers,” said the orator, who appeared in front of the gathering, from seemingly nowhere. Although Lonnie had never seen one before, he knew that it was an Ophanim, an angel in the form of a wheel with spokes and a rim covered with eyes all the way around.

“Some might have realized this already,” the Ophanim said. “But for those who have not, allow me to confirm that you are dead, or more properly stated, the life you grew accustomed to, no longer exists.”

The Ophanim waited for questions, and when none came, continued, “Your entry into the Kingdom has been postponed because Heaven needs your help. The Earth has been greatly impacted by the pandemic, and while this is certainly not the End Times, the scale balance has tipped in a way not favorable or conducive to our cause, and we are now looking to hire, for lack of a better term, a staff of volunteers with excellent credentials to return to Earth in completely new identities to assist in the de-escalation of the devastation to come.

“As you let this request sink in, we hope that you will join us in our efforts to help both the Earth and Heaven, if not return to status quo, then at least usher in a new, more manageable normal. Keep in mind that deciding not to return will not affect your acceptance into Heaven, but becoming a volunteer does have certain benefits, none of which I am at liberty to discuss at the moment.”

This wouldn’t have been that hard a choice, if Lonnie was still alive, he would have simply pulled himself up by his bootstraps and got on with the work that needed to be done. But being this close to Paradise, being able to finally rest, was such an enormous temptation, which made him wonder if he and the others were being tested. The final exam question that determined one’s grade, and decided their placement into Heaven, Limbo, or Hell.

Things were never easy, not even in the afterlife.

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

The Wooden Cup

The last meal? Declined. Told that I might dine on whatever foodstuffs my heart desired, I found myself wanting nothing that would possibly remind me of the pleasures of this existence. Starvation would be the repast I took to my grave.

Prepared to meet my maker? Not by a long chalk. Religion was a thing that never quite managed to find purchase upon the coral reef of my soul. Mine was a spirit never moved by any diety, higher or lower, so the only salvation available for me once I came face to face with my final fate was to let oblivion enfold me within her inky embrace.

My jailors were informed that I would seek no holy counsel from a curate, as I hoped to spend my last hours in solitude but that request was ignored and a visitor was announced—a woman whose face was unfamiliar to me was escorted into my cell.

She said nothing, this woman, as she sat on the far corner on my bedding, cradling a cup hewn from wood in her delicate hands. Smiling, she offered the cup to me and made a motion suggesting that I drink.

For the life of me—a peculiar turn of phrase considering my position—I could not explain why I accepted the cup or why at her urging I touched its brim to my lips but in my grasp this simple cup was not unlike the holy grail.

It was filled with a liquid that after one sip I somehow knew to be her tears. Tears shed from happiness and from grief, yet when those collected salt drops greeted my lips the flavor was replete with the surprising splendor of the sweet serenity of a loving quiet purpose.

I drank and drank until there was no more and was momentarily reluctant to release the cup. When she left, still proffering that unnaturally kind smile, I realized what she had done. That simple and bizarre act of sharing her fluid with me sparked an ember of faith within me that I had no inkling existed and in that moment I knew sorrow and regret for what I had done and for the life that could have been and for the reward that existed beyond this life whose gates would never be opened for one such as I.

So it was to be oblivion after all.

Text and Audio ©2019 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Free Will

The column of light extended either way into infinity, so bright as to cut the mind’s eye to even contemplate. It was The Judgment of God, and Xaphan was trapped within it. Pinned in midair, wings spread to their fullest span, arms and legs akimbo like a celestial insect, the apostate angel watched helplessly as the Seven Angels Who Stand Before God hovered, circling him.

“What is my crime, then?” Xaphan asked. “Daring to ask if the design of these heavens we were made to build originated from God, or the vainglorious Viceroy of Heaven?”

Lucifer Morningstar’s countenance, normally bright and a thing of beauty, soured at Xaphan’s words, becoming a dark and heavily shadowed thing, despite the ever-present light.

“Tread careful, creature, for I know your name be jealousy,” Lucifer said through pursed lips. “Though you wear the guise of my brother, still will I smite you.”

“What right have you to question our brother?” asked Gabri-el, Ruler of the Cherubim, and the Governor of Eden.

The corners of Xaphan’s mouth curled slightly. “Free will grants me that right. Is that not our entitlement? I have made no secret that I believe this to be Lucifer’s heaven and not God’s own, and I intended to prove my theory.”

“By attempting to set Heaven ablaze?” Lucifer asked.

“Attempting? Did it not burn?” Xaphan replied.

“I cannot understand why he would harbor hatred toward the Celestial Choir,” said Micha-el, leader of the Celestial Armies, Angel of Destruction and Vengeance in the name of God.

“Hatred? Xaphan stated that he was only exercising his free will. Do we all not have that option?” said Rapha-el, Guardian of the Tree of Life in Eden, and Chief Ruling Prince of Second Heaven.

“Xaphan’s heart is filled with pride, not hatred,” said Uri-el, Angel Who Watches Over Thunder and Terror, and the Cherub who stands at the Gate of Eden with a fiery sword.

“Be that as it may, Uri-el, his free will was honored when he chose not to assist in the construction of the heavens,” said Ragu-el, Angel of Earth, and keeper of the Trumpet of Ice and Snow.

“Precisely,” said Remi-el, Angel of True Divine Visions. “He had no right to set asunder the fruits of our labor. Xaphan could have exercised his free will in any number of non-destructive forms, such as leaving the celebration, if it offended him so.”

“Perhaps, but did we do our brother a disservice by not opening his opinions to debate?” said Razi-el, Giver of Divine Mysteries.

“And what of God’s will, Razi-el? Lucifer was appointed viceroy by the Almighty! Should Xaphan’s will supercede Morningstar’s own?” Gabri-el looked from face to angelic face.

“Free will is a gift we should not accept lightly,” Micha-el nodded.

“Agreed. There must be rules set in place to govern the use of our free will.”

“And a punishment to be meted out should one of us fail to adhere to the guidelines? I do not agree,” Rapha-el said.

“If we do not make an example of Xaphan, then what keeps the rest of the Choir from repeating his mistake?” Ragu-el asked.

“Mistake?” said Uri-el. “Xaphan made a conscious choice and acted on it! He is our equal in all things! Who are we to judge him?”

“I must agree,” Remi-el added. “Who are we to judge? We are the Shadowside of God. Only God should hold judgment upon the Mal’akh.”

“A good point, which leads to an interesting question: Why has God remained silent and allowed these things to happen?” Razi-el asked.

“Enough!” Lucifer’s tone was a knife. “True, the voice of God has grown silent within me. That is why I have called you together. To decide the fate of Xaphan. The only vote not cast here will be mine. As God is hushed, so too shall I be. Your options are to either: Pardon Xaphan, Strip him of his celestial nature, Imprison him, or End his existence. Cast your ballots.”

Gabri-el was the first to break silence. “Our pardon, Lucifer. Not bearing the mantle of viceroy allows us to forget its burden. Since pardoning Xaphan is out of the question, and the other sentences are too ghastly to imagine, I vote for imprisonment.”

Rapha-el, Uri-el, Ragu-el, Remi-el and Razi-el concurred with the imprisonment vote.

Lucifer turned to Micha-el, “What say you, Micha?”

“I choose none of the options you present, brother. Though I agree an example must be set, I opt to wait until God has spoken,” Micha-el said as he flew away from the table. “Until such time, I will not be party to such gatherings.”

Gabri-el turned to follow. “Micha! Wait–!”

Lucifer, suddenly at Gabri-el’s side, placed a hand on her shoulder, stopping her. “Let him be. Our brother is exercising his free will.”

“Xaphan, you are sentenced to imprisonment on Raquia, the Second Heaven, until the Word of God dictates otherwise. As part of your sentence, you are commanded to construct your own prison by hand in the same manner by which the heaven you destroyed was built.”

Xaphan considered his punishment a long moment before he spoke “What is the definition of Free? Is it having no obligations? And the definition of Will? A disposition to act according to principles? Then does not Free Will mean the freedom to make choices without obligation or divine intervention?”

The Seven could not find fault in his logic.

The column of light melted off Xaphan.

“Thank you, but I decline.” he said politely and flew off.

Text and Audio ©2014 – 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Genaissance: A Parable Scribed By The Shadowside Of God

Genaissance

Inspiration comes from the oddest places sometimes and the idea for this graphic novel series came from watching the cheesy Christopher Walken movie, “The Prophecy” which sparked an interest in reading the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha which resulted in me creating “Genaissance: A Parable Scribed by the Shadowside of God”:

Synopsis: The time? One of innocence. The place? A land that no longer exists; the Earth Pre-Flood. It is here that a gentle soul named Enoch, on the 365th year of his life, is lifted up into the Seven Heavens and brought before the unbearable face of God. Elected to be the Scribe of God, Enoch encounters the Archangel Micha-el, who begins relating a fantastic parable. Through Enoch’s mindseye we witness the evolution of God, the creation of Earth, the formation of Heaven, the birth of Lucifer Morningstar, and much, much more.

©1999 – 2020 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Having Heaven 14 – The Visit

Mayra adjusted the temperature to as hot as she could stand it, turned the diverter valve and let the water from the shower head sluice down her skin. There were a mess of thoughts in serious need of sorting, so she began unpacking the events of the day, including the sudden shift in Bethany’s personality. Her friend had always been a bit bossy, a bit in your face, and as her father used to say, free with the lip.

Her father. Oh, God. In all the excitement, with everything going on all at once, she had forgotten to call her father to see how he was coping. That was a lie. She remembered but was afraid to tell him that she saw Mom, afraid of how he would take the news, afraid of how he would react. And now with this, she thought as her hands slowly massaged her soapy belly, no, she’d just have to bite the bullet and tell him everything and hope for the best.

When she stepped out of the shower, she found Bethany in the bedroom stuffing things into a canvas rucksack.

“Are you going somewhere?” Mayra asked.

“No, silly, I’m making a bugout bag and you should, too,” Bethany said.

“Why?”

“In case we need to leave here in a hurry,” Bethany pointed to duffle bag in the bottom of their closet. “That’s a good size bag. Why don’t you start packing it up now?”

“Why would we need to leave in a hurry?”

“Do I really need to explain it you, Mayra? Do you really not know the way the world works?”

“What are you—”

Bethany exploded, “Why can’t you follow simple instructions and stop asking so many damned questions?”

Neither one of them moved. They stood there in the aftermath of an eruption that seemed to catch even Bethany by surprise. After a long moment,

“I don’t know what’s gotten into me,” Bethany said in a quiet voice, without risking eye contact. “I just get these feelings, like intuition but stronger, urging me to do certain things, things I think that are designed to keep you safe. Forgive me?”

“Nothing to forgive,” Mayra smiled, pulled the empty duffle bag from the closet and plopped it on the bed. “What should I pack?”

“Toiletries, a change of clothes, important documents, something to write on and write with, phone charger, stuff like that, you know, the essentials,” Bethany said. “We can pick up water and non-perishable food later.”

After they packed the essentials they had on hand, Mayra brewed tea while Bethany was on her laptop, scouring the internet for any news regarding Mayra’s pregnancy or as she called it, the scan felt ‘round the world. Her search led her to social media and religious forums and while there wasn’t any chatter as recent as today online, it seemed that theorists had been discussing the possibility of a new heaven rising from the ashes of the old, the only difference being no one thought a woman would be birthing it.

“But why me?” Mayra asked, entering the living room with two steaming mugs in her hand and sat slowly on the couch beside her friend, careful not to spill a drop.

“Why not you?” Bethany answered, taking the proffered tea. “If I had been chosen instead, then we’d all have a cause for concern, but you’re basically a good person, so if it had to be anyone on the planet, I’d put my money on you.”

“Thanks, I guess.”

Bethany sipped from her mug. “So, there’s a question I’ve been meaning to ask but you know I don’t do tactful very well.”

“Just ask it.”

“Okay, what was it like? You know, the experience before you got pregnant.”

“With Gavin?”

“Please. Gavin couldn’t father a cause. I mean, what was the whole Mary immaculate conception like? Former non-believing inquiring minds want to know.”

“Mary was a virgin. I’m sure our circumstances are different.”

“Absolutely not slut shaming, I was just curious if it felt, I don’t know, special?”

“What?”

“Come on, you know what I’m talking about here. Did you feel an angel’s presence or something? It’d give a whole new meaning to touched by an angel.”

“Ewww, that’s tacky, even for you,” Mayra said.

“Warned you, no tact, no diplomacy.”

“You’d think an angel would’ve come to tell me that I was to be the mother of the new Heaven, wouldn’t you? But no, nothing.” Mayra said.

“Well, could it be—and I can’t believe I’m actually saying this—because there aren’t any angels left? We still don’t know what happened to Heaven. What if there was a war that led to the death of all the angels? Now that I have to wrap my head around the existence of God and everything, it seems the most likely explanation.”

Before Mayra could respond, the landline phone rang and she launched herself off the couch and was able to scoop the handset off the cradle by the second ring. She blamed it on her never let the phone ring three times admin assistant training.

“Hello?”

“Hey, honey.” Mayra recognized the man’s voice immediately.

“Dad! You’re not going to believe this but I was just thinking about calling you today.”

“Things have been a little crazy, I know.”

“That’s an understatement.”

“Did I catch you at a bad time? I don’t want to bother you if you’re busy.”

“Never too busy for you. Are you okay?”

“Ox healthy and twice as strong.”

Then came the silence, that same silence that existed between them all their lives, especially over the phone. Her father wasn’t a skilled communicator at the best of times. He was the sort of person who needed visual cues, to look into the face of the person he was talking to so he could better read the tone of the conversation in order to avoid misunderstandings, and they’ve had their fair share of those. When she couldn’t take the silence any longer, she blurted out,

“There’s something I need to tell you—” but she was surprised when her father said the exact same thing at the same time. Jinx.

“Tell me what, Dad?”

“No, honey, I think you should go first.”

Another awkward silence as Mayra attempted to organize her thoughts. Where to begin? With the dream? The death of Heaven? Mom’s ghost? Gavin almost talking her into having an abortion? She girded her loins and said,

“Dad, I’m pregnant.”

“With the new heaven, I know,” her father said. “Your mother told me.”

Mayra’s jaw collided with the floor. “You saw Mom?”

“She’s standing right here.”

“Wait, hold up, you said Mom told you I was pregnant. You can communicate with her?”

“Not at first. She was talking to me but I couldn’t hear anything until this morning and when she said it my mind was filled with the belief that it was true.”

“That must have been around the same time I went in for the dating scan. That’s when everybody knew, I think.”

“So, it looks like we’ve got a bit of catching up to do.”

“You and those understatements, Dad.”

“Tell me everything and don’t leave out a single detail because your mother would never let me live it down if I didn’t get the whole story.”

Mayra’s eyes filled with tears as she began telling her father about how the madness all began for her with a dream. Bethany, eyebrows raised and wearing a half smile, went into the bedroom to give her friend some privacy.

It was a lengthy conversation, the longest one she ever had with her father and it spanned a range of emotions but by the time it was over, Mayra felt as if a tremendous weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She placed the handset back on the cradle and was about to tell Bethany it was safe to come out of the bedroom when the phone rang again. It was probably her father calling to relay a bit of news he had forgotten to say during the call.

“What did you forget, Dad?”

“Mayra Critchlow?” the voice on the other end was male but it definitely was not her father.

“Who is this?”

“Is it true that you’re carrying the new heaven?”

“You’ve got the wrong number.”

“Why are you being like that?”

“I’m not being like anything. I don’t know you and you’ve dialed the wrong number. Please don’t call here again.”

“What are you planning, to keep it all to yourself? You don’t deserve it, you selfish bitch! That heaven is ours! It belongs to all of us!”

“I—I…” Mayra stuttered.

“Just hang up,” Bethany said, pulling the handset from her friend’s hand and dropping it onto the cradle. Mayra was so preoccupied with the phone call she hadn’t heard Bethany come into the room.

The phone rang again.

“Don’t pick it up,” Bethany said.

“But what if it’s important,” Mayra said. “From someone we know?”

“You’ve been doxed,” Bethany said. “Some anonymous asshole at the hospital leaked your name and address to the press and now it’s all over the internet.”

Bethany unplugged the landline from the wall and that was when Mayra’s cell phone began ringing. And it wasn’t only telephone calls. Emails flooded her inbox, texts to her cellphone, DMs on all her Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn accounts. Some polite and inquiring, others expressing relief and heaping her with praise but the majority that she and Bethany came across were hate-filled and sexually aggressive. She was receiving assault threats, pictures of genitalia, and degrading messages at an alarming rate.

And it wouldn’t stop. As quickly as one message or text was deleted and blocked, ten more took its place and the cell’s caller ID displayed different phone numbers from different cities and countries all over the world.

Eventually, when it all became too much, Mayra turned off her cell phone, deactivated her social media accounts and as she and Bethany were in the middle of devising a plan of action, there was a knock at the apartment door. A light rapping so soft they almost missed it.

“Miss Critchlow? Mayra Critchlow? If I might have a word?” the person on the other side of the door said in a taut tone but his voice sounded strange, intelligent but almost as if he wasn’t accustomed to speaking.

Mayra crept to the door, carefully avoiding the loose floorboards that creaked. She slowly slid the peephole cover up and saw a tall, lanky man whose clothes hung off his impossibly thin frame. He was creepy in the that he looked wrongly human, like something assembled by a description from being that never saw a human in the flesh. In a blink, his eye filled peephole view which startled her and she lost hold of the peephole cover which made a metal on metal sound as it slid closed.

“Please open the door,” he said in a manner that seemed surface level kind but dangerous, like antifreeze sweetened iced tea.

Mayra moved away from the door gingerly on the balls of her feet until she backed into Bethany who mouthed the words, “Who is it?” Mayra shook her head and shrugged in response.

“I know you’re in there!” the lanky man said, knocking again, this time harder and the console table near the front door rattled as if a freight train was barreling past. “I can smell you! I can smell it in you!”

The emphasis on the word it caused the heaven embryo in Mayra’s womb to shift. She clutched her belly and Bethany asked, “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“We’re in danger.”

The lanky man pounded on the door relentlessly now, one fist after the other. At first, neither Mayra nor Bethany moved, their brains unable to make sense of the input from their ears and feet. The floor was moving, rippling as if it were a wave on the sea and the pounding was many magnitudes louder than thunder and although the door held by some miracle, the vibrations began to crack the wall surrounding the doorjamb. Then all at once the apartment was moving up and down with such incredible force that the women sprawled over the floor, falling heavily to splintering solid hardwood. Then like a switch had been turned on, Mayra and Bethany scrambled for the legs of the oak dining room table, pulling themselves underneath for safety, curled up in balls and holding on for dear life.

The entire apartment was shaken like a dollhouse and Mayra and Bethany were tossed around like so many dolls. Glasses smashed, books fell off shelves, the walls creaked as they swayed and the lights flickered rapidly before going out altogether. The table they were under was jumping over the floor like it had a mind of its own, and parts of the ceiling were coming down in chunks. They were terrified and their screams were lost as the very ground shook with more deafening noise than a quarry detonation releasing the tension of eons.

They reached out for one another’s hands and as their skin touched they look around.

“We can’t stay here,” Bethany said. “This place is crashing down around us!”

They made their way unsteadily from under the table and scrabbled across the floor into the bedroom.

“Get the bugout bags!” Bethany shouted to Mayra as she fumbled with lock on the bedroom window. Luckily, the fire escape was attached to this window, so the women climbed out onto the exposed wrought iron zigzag staircase that was desperately clinging to the crumbling brick wall.”

“Is this safe?” Mayra asked, clutching the metal handrail as they made their way down the shaky steps.

“I’d rather be out here than in there,” Bethany answered over the squeals of shifting metal.

When they reached the second floor, the staircase came to a halt and the only way to ground level was via a drop-down ladder suspended by a hook. Bethany unfastened the hook and let the ladder drop to the concrete below with a bang. She helped Mayra onto the ladder but she herself almost slipped and fell when the building lurched suddenly and a portion of the fire escape pulled free from the wall.

The fire escape put them down in the alley and they were nervous that the lanky man was right behind them having followed them down, or he had friends waiting out front in case they managed to slip away but as Bethany peered out onto the street all she saw was a crowd of normal looking people cell phones out filming the single building on the block that seemed to be experiencing an earthquake.

“We need to get as far away from here as possible and I think I know a place where we can lay low until we get our bearings,” Bethany said, taking her friend’s arm and hurrying her through the crowd.

This time, Mayra hadn’t tried to argue or ask questions.

To Be Continued…

©2017-2020 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Having Heaven 11 – The Blowback

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.”

“Bethy!”

“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

Having Heaven 10 – The Hail Mary

It was a twenty minute wait from the phone call to when Bethany arrived and in that eternity the sky darkened and it began to drizzle, water droplets beating a soft rhythm and running rivulets down the clinic’s front window. The change of weather had not deterred the protesters, who came prepared, some sporting rain ponchos and others toting umbrellas.

Bethany was in a right state when she burst into the clinic, causing alarm to the receptionist and the people seated in the waiting area, all except the spirits who patiently waited their turn for a call that would never come. Mayra was struck by a sad reality that this spot might have been the last place some of these people saw while they were still alive, either through natural causes or by violence or by complications brought about by the procedure. There were no babies, though, she was thankful for that. Come to think of it, she could not recall having seen any child spirits. A fleeting thought that was pushed to the back of her mind.

“It’s all right, she’s with me,” Mayra said, rising from her seat, catching the eye of Cynthia the receptionist and the two plain-clothed men stood near the front door whom she had not noticed before who were obviously security. To Bethany she said, “You can’t be busting in here like that. It’s not safe.”

“For who, me? Let them try their luck,” Bethany said, catching her breath. “Sorry I’m late, I had a hell of a time getting out here.”

“No, I’m the one who should be sorry for pulling you out of work. I must have sounded frantic but I didn’t know who else to call.”

“Who cares about that job? I’m more worried about you.”

“Thanks for coming,” Mayra paused and it was pregnant with uncertainty and a touch of shame. “I guess you’re wondering why I’m here.”

“No, actually, I can work that bit out. Between this and that thing you needed to discuss with Gavin before you told me, I think it’s fairly obvious. I only have two questions for you: first, Did you? No judgments, I just need to know what sort of support I’m offering here.”

Mayra shook her head.

“Okay,” there was a note of relief in Bethany’s voice. And if Mayra was being honest, she felt it too. “Second, where’s the prick?”

“I don’t know and he’s not a prick.”

“Did you try calling him?”

Mayra nodded. “Several times but it goes straight to voicemail.”

“He’s not going to answer because he pulled a Hail Mary on you.”

“A what?”

“A Hail Mary. It’s when a guy talks a girl out of having a baby then celebrates by breaking up with her.”

“That’s not what happened.”

“Oh yeah? Tell me if this sounds familiar: I love you very much and would like nothing better than to have kids with you. But, if we have a kid now, that’ll ruin our chances of having a huge wedding, buying a home and raising a big family together. If you do the right thing now, I promise we’ll have as many kids as you want later on.”

“This–this is a thing?”

“A thing that comes prepackaged with a script. I wish you told me about this first, this way we could’ve caught the prick red-handed and stopped him dead in his tracks,” Bethany said, gathering up Mayra’s coat and handbag. “Are you ready to go? I have a cab waiting outside.”

“But how do you know about it?” Mayra asked as Bethany hooked an arm around her elbow and tugged her toward the exit.

“Ain’t my first time at the rodeo, sweetie. Now, where are we headed? Your place? Mine? A bar?”

“My place.”

“Good. If we’re quick about it, maybe we can catch him before he clears out. At least you won’t be alone. Give me the sign and I’m throat punch him for you.”

Mayra let out a small, mirthless chuckle, more out of habit than anything else.

“You’re laughing but I’m serious, one quick rabbit punch to his Adam’s apple—”

They made a mad dash for the taxi because the rain was coming down hard enough now to render windshield wipers and high beams virtually ineffective. Not that Mayra noticed. She sat silently throughout the entire ride mulling over the concept of the Hail Mary while trying to give Gavin the benefit of the doubt. There was simply no way he could have done something as devious as that to her.

When they arrived at her house, Mayra half-expected to see Gavin hunched over the keyboard with his face buried in the computer monitor, apologizing and offering some lame excuse about stopping by the house to catch up on a little work and losing track of time, but he wasn’t there. Neither was the computer.

The apartment had an unnatural quietude when they entered. It turned out that Bethany had been spot on in her assessment and Mayra’s worst fears had been realized. All of Gavin’s belongings were gone. He cleared out everything he owned, including that damned computer, which they bought together. There was no way he could have packed everything up and moved out so completely during the time Mayra spent in the clinic, so it was obvious he had been planning his escape ever since she agreed to go along with his plan.

She walked through the living room and into the bedroom. The closet door was wide open and Mayra stood staring into it and now filled with only her clothes it seemed far too big. She pressed her lips into a tight line of defiance, holding back the tears welling in her eyes, as a tightness in her chest constricted her ability to take in air.

“Don’t do this to yourself, Mayra,” Bethany said, gently rubbing Mayra’s shoulders. “The prick isn’t worth it.”

Mayra nodded and turned to Bethany. “I know, I just can’t believe it, is all. I mean, how naïve could I have been not to see through this? He packed his stuff under my nose and I didn’t notice a thing.”

“You had a lot on your mind with the heaven thing, seeing your mother again and being pregnant on top of that, hell, Sherlock Holmes would have missed the clues under those circumstances,” Bethany said. “I could never understand what you saw in him and even I didn’t think he was low enough to pull a Hail Mary. There’s a level in hell for pricks who do shit like that, and if there isn’t, I’ll build one personally.”

“He wasn’t always a prick.”

“Yeah, sometimes he was a cunt, too,”

Mayra smiled despite herself. “I’m serious, Bethy, he was always there for me when things got bad, and not having him here,” she sighed. “I guess I should have known something like this was coming. He’s been disconnected since this whole mess began but I didn’t think he could be callous enough to manipulate me and simply walk away.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to defend him but the world’s been turned upside down and everyone’s different now. The best thing you can do is put him in your rearview mirror and try to live your life as normally as possible. If you let his cowardice and stupidity get the better of you, you’re going to end up not living at all.”

Mayra sat down on the corner of the bed, her mind whirring. The thought of what lay ahead if worst came to worst put a shudder of nerves through her. “I need to work out how I’m

going to have a baby all alone when I can’t even make the rent on this place on my own.”

“What am I, chopped liver?” Bethany sat beside Mayra on the bed.

“What?”

“It’s something my grandma used to say,” Bethany explained. “My lease is up the end of this month, so if a certain someone was looking for a roomie, say, someone they could trust, I might know someone who would be happy to help out, if needed.”

Mayra smiled and laid her head on Bethany’s shoulder. “Thanks. No promises, though. Not until I get in touch with Gavin and sort this out, one way or the other.”

“You’re better than I am. After what he’s done, he’d be dead to me. Emphasis on the word dead.”

“I just need to talk to him, Bethy, to find out why he felt the need to handle things this way. He owes me,” Mayra placed her hand on her belly. “Owes us an explanation. And if it’s over, truly over, I need to know for sure so I can move on.”

“You do realize that if you take him back after all this, I’m never going to let you live it down.”

“I know.”

“I mean, never.”

“Got it.”

“Super passive-aggressive shots fired every time I see you two together.”

“Understood.”

“And if I ever catch him on his own—”

“A rabbit punch to the throat,” Mayra put her arms around her friend. “I love you, too.”

“Well, you’ve been put through the wringer today so I think you should try to get some rest,” Bethany said.

Mayra sighed but didn’t argue when Bethany had gotten her into bed and sat beside her.

“If I fall asleep, please don’t leave,” Mayra said softly, her eyes fluttering. “I don’t think I can take being alone right now.”

“Just try getting rid of me,” Bethany said, running fingers through her friend’s hair until she eventually fell asleep.

To Be Continued…

©2017-2020 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Having Heaven 9 – The Procedure

As she and Gavin exited the Uber, Mayra noticed a handful of police officers scrambling to move wooden barricades into place before the Pro-Life activists swarmed onto the sidewalk across from the clinic. They wore signs around their necks that read slogans like Abortion Kills, and It’s A Child, Not A Choice, and One Life Taken, Many Hearts Broken.

“Life chain!” shouted one of the demonstrators, a heavy-set woman who had an undeniable motherly look about her and in response, the fellow activists linked hands and attempted to march across the street to the clinic and block the main entrance. The police officers used the barricades to quickly to corral the demonstrators and push them back onto the adjacent sidewalk.

When the crowd began to heckle and boo them, Myra felt Gavin tightening his grip on her hand. She tried to focus on the clinic door but it seemed so far away. “Maybe this isn’t such a good idea,” she said.

“I know this is frightening,” Gavin said, draping a protective arm across her shoulders. “And these people aren’t helping the matter any, but don’t let their narrow-minded views decide our fate. Remember our plan? We do it right. Things will be perfect next time.”

“Are we doing the right thing?” Mayra asked, studying the demonstrators. She noticed there were spirits of dead protestors scattered amongst the living and two ghost policemen, who were assisting in keeping the crowd behind the barricades. The activists’ jeers and implorations for Mayra to change her mind were growing louder and louder until it all blurred into a chaotic tangle of white noise.

“Hey, babe, no pressure,” Gavin stepped in front of her to obscure her view. “Whatever you decide to do is fine. I just want you to think it all the way through, that’s all. And ask yourself, is what you’re doing the best possible thing for everyone involved?”

“But the baby—”

“Let’s say you decide we’re keeping it,” Gavin had to raise his voice over the din of the crowd but he was still remarkably, uncharacteristically calm. “The truth is that nothing is guaranteed. You could have a miscarriage, the baby could be stillborn or die of SIDS, or be born mentally or physically handicapped. You never know with these things.”

“I’m just so confused. This is all happening way too fast.”

“Then let’s go inside and sit down. We don’t have to do anything but sit and talk. This way you won’t be distracted by these morons.”

“And we don’t have to do anything?”

“Not if you don’t want to.”

“Okay,” Mayra nodded and allowed Gavin to lead her into the clinic.

Inside, the receptionist glanced at them but didn’t say anything as the couple sat in the corner of the waiting area farthest away from the front window, or rather Mayra sat in a seat and Gavin kneeled before her, taking both her hands in his.

“If you’d rather just go back home, I’m fine with that,” Gavin said. Mayra remained silent, lost in a maelstrom of thoughts, so he continued, “Forget all the confusion going on in the world at the moment and forget about what society or the people outside think is right or wrong. Let’s just focus on what’s important to you and me. Is this the right thing to do? At the end of the day, as much as I support you and want to be here for you, it’s your body so only you can decide that. Emotionally, I think I feel the same apprehension you do. Logically, though, I realize that raising a kid is tough enough under ideal conditions and in light of the way the world keeps changing day by day, I think we owe it to ourselves to do what’s best at this point in time.”

“Maybe you are right. Logically it doesn’t make sense for the two of us to have a baby, but there’s more to this than logic,” Mayra bit her lip hard, willing herself not to cry. “And you can’t feel that same as I do emotionally because there isn’t a defenseless life growing inside of you.”

“That’s not fair—”

“What’s not fair is suggesting I go through with this in hopes of putting it off until everything is fixed,” Mayra said, pulling her hands free from his grasp. “But what if it can’t be fixed? Are you still not going to want to have children with me?”

“Of course, I want to have children and I want to have them with you. The timing just needs to be better, is all I’m suggesting. I’m not going to put off having a family forever if things aren’t fixed. If you’re really ready and one hundred percent committed to starting our family now then we’ll make it work, I swear. And I’m not trying to convince you to go through with the procedure because I couldn’t live with myself if you resented me for it.”

Mayra stared past Gavin and mulled his point of view over in her head. What he said made sense, not in the way he said it but the emotion behind it. When she looked at him again, she could see the certainty was still there. She believed he truly believed it was best for them to wait the madness out and plan properly for the future, that there would be another chance somewhere down the road for the two of them to start a proper family.

“Okay,” Mayra said in a voice barely above a whisper.

“Okay?”

“Okay,” she reaffirmed in a stronger voice as she stood, straighten out her sundress and made her way to the reception desk with Gavin tagging along behind.

The receptionist introduced herself as Cynthia and she had a way about her that suggested she never became impatient or judgmental of the people who sought the clinic’s services. Her attention was mainly focused on Mayra to whom she appeared to give her undivided attention while she patiently helped her fill out the necessary forms. The only time her attention shifted to Gavin was when accounts needed to be settled.

When a nurse came to escort her into the clinic proper, Mayra, not being able to look the woman in the eye, asked, “I don’t know what the protocol is for this sort of thing, but can my boyfriend come with me? Be there while…you know?”

“I’m afraid not,” the nurse said kindly. “He’ll have to wait here but you’ll be in good hands, I promise.”

Mayra turned to Gavin, “You’ll wait? Promise me you’ll wait for me.”

“Where else would I be?” Gavin kissed her for what felt like the first time in weeks. A real kiss, a soul kiss is what they used to call it. It was the way they kissed when they first decided to hook up.

***

Mayra thought she would have been taken straight into an operating room but instead was seated in a smaller waiting area. The room was all white and had a clinical smell to it that set her nerves on edge to the point she found herself pacing.

When the nurse, whose name Mayra could not remember and was embarrassed to ask, returned, she explained the state required informed consent from a patient before undergoing any sort of medical treatment. This meant she had to ascertain if Mayra possessed the capacity to make decisions about her care; that her participation in these decisions was voluntary and she wasn’t being forced or pressured into doing something against her will; and that she must be provided adequate and appropriate information. The nurse then explained that although New York was not a state that required a twenty-four hours elapse between the counseling session and the procedure, it was advisable to take time to give the situation some proper thought.

And for the first time since this whole thing began, Mayra breathed a deep sigh of relief and felt the pressure fall away from her shoulders. She decided to wait, to sleep on it, approach it with a clearer head. Gavin, most likely would not be too happy with her decision but she would find a way to sort things out and hopefully then they could have a proper discussion and weigh out all their options instead of making a hasty decision.

Her confidence, however, turned to confusion when Mayra stepped back into the waiting area to find that Gavin was nowhere in sight. She went to the reception desk but before she could ask, Cynthia said, “Your boyfriend left the moment you stepped inside with the nurse.”

“I-I don’t understand,” Mayra stammered. “He said he’d wait.” She scanned the waiting area, stepped outside to see if he was standing on the street, checked the nearby bodega to see if he popped in to get something to eat or drink, then returned to the clinic and inspected the room again just in case her eyes had been playing tricks on her. Still no sign of Gavin.

“I’m really not supposed to do this,” Cynthia said, reaching for the desktop phone. “But is there someone I can call for you, to pick you up?”

Mayra waved the receptionist off, pulled her own phone out of her pocket, and dialed the only number she would ever dial in a situation like this.

To Be Continued…

©2017-2020 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Having Heaven 8 – The Discussion

The pregnancy test had been burning a hole in Mayra’s handbag since day one despite the best efforts of the fall of Heaven and the spirits of the dead returning to earth. She found herself wishing she had told Gavin as soon as she had gotten the results so that this part, the hard part, the having the discussion part would have been in the past. How easier it would have been to simply slide this card into the deck of the events of the last week to minimize the impact of her boyfriend’s possible response. She meant to practice breaking the news to Bethany but the sudden reappearance of her dead mother put the stick in the spokes of that plan.

Now, here she was standing in the living room doorway, pregnancy test in a white-knuckle death grip behind her back, heart pounding as she watched Gavin type away on his computer keyboard. That was how he spent his time recently, in online forums chatting and debating theories and wading through propaganda with complete strangers about the almost hourly updates that contained more opinions from unqualified experts than facts. The only person he had not had these conversations with was her. Their relationship was changing, partly because she had changed but in his own way, Gavin had changed, as well.

Nothing to it but to do it, Mayra thought and mustering her courage, she cleared her throat, “Gavin?”

“Yeah, babe?” her boyfriend said over his shoulder.

“We need to talk.”

That got Gavin’s attention away from the keyboard. He swiveled in his chair to face Mayra and said, “Uh-oh. We need to talk never ends well.”

“That’s not necessarily true.”

“Okay, prove me wrong. What do we need to talk about?”

“First, I need you not to freak out or get mad at me for not telling you sooner but with all the craziness going on there never seemed to be a right time,” Mayra pulled the pregnancy test from behind her back and held it out to him. “But, congratulations, you’re going to be a dad.”

Gavin stared at the test for a long moment and exhaled slowly.

“It’s wrong, a false positive, because you got the implant—” he said.

“It isn’t one hundred percent foolproof.”

“But we barely—”

“I know, but it doesn’t only happen based on quantity, sometimes it’s just the quality and you’ve got powerful swimmers,” Mayra said, hoping for a laugh to lighten the moment but all she received for her effort was a stone-faced glare. “Well, aren’t you going to say something?”

“How long have you been sitting on this?” Gavin asked.

“Just before the Heaven thing.”

“So, you’ve had time to process but you left-field me and expect me to have a prepared response for something like this?”

“No, I expect you to tell me how you feel, what you’re thinking, anything! Just say something.”

“You want to know what I’m thinking?”

“Of course, I do.”

“You won’t believe me.”

“Try me.”

“At that exact moment I was thinking, I love you.”

He was right, Mayra wasn’t buying it, but decided to test the waters, asking, “Does that mean you’re happy about the news?”

“I’d want nothing more than to bring a baby into the world with you. But I was also thinking about us.”

“What about us?”

“You’ll be going back in school in a little bit and I’m trying to launch my career so what kind of life could we provide for a baby?”

“We’d make do like everyone else,” Mayra said with far more aggression than she planned.

“I don’t want to be like everyone else. I don’t want to squeak by and live paycheck to paycheck. And look at this place—”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“It’s a dump! I don’t want our child living in a place like this. I know it sounds old-fashioned but our child should be living in a house with a swing in the backyard. We should be married, and have money in the bank and a college fund for an ivy league school.”

“We could get all those things,” Mayra said.

“When? With what? Forget your gap year, you’ll have to put school on hold indefinitely, and the little bit of money I’ll be making will be stretched so thin we might as well be on Welfare.”

“So, what are you saying?”

“Maybe, you know, we should, I don’t know, get it fixed?”

“Fixed?” Without realizing it, Mayra’s hand rested on her stomach. Was it too soon to be experiencing a strong maternal instinct?

“Wait, before you fly off the handle, I need you to hear me out,” Gavin rose from his seat, took the pregnancy test out of Mayra’s hand and placed it on the coffee table before leading her to the couch. “Think about what’s going on in the world at the moment. No more Heaven, ghosts are popping up everywhere and who knows what else is waiting around the corner. For all we know the worst may be yet to come. Normally, I’d never consider asking you to do something so drastic but everything is different now and it’s changed my view on a lot of things, one of them being I’m not certain I want to bring new life into this world if when they eventually die they’re just going to wander the earth endlessly. Watching videos of people losing their shit after encountering loved ones they’ve laid to rest is heartbreaking and I can’t do that. I don’t want our child living with our ghosts and god forbid something happened to our son or daughter I wouldn’t be strong enough to deal with the daily reminder of his or her spirit.”

Mayra had never seen Gavin’s eyes so full of fear and pain. “But what if that doesn’t happen?” she offered weakly.

“You mean if things get better? If we discover a solution? Then we try again but we plan for it this time. We start on the right path, get married, finish school, put some money aside for a college fund, build a line of credit, buy a house for our new family.”

“You want to get married?”

Gavin slid off the couch onto the carpet on one knee, dug into his pocket, produced his set of keys and systematically began removing keys from the keyring one at a time. “I’ve been mulling this over in my head since all this craziness began and the only thing I’m certain about is no matter what lies in store for us, I want to face it together with you.”

“Gavin—”

“I haven’t had the chance to pick up a ring, so this will have to do,” Gavin held up the empty keyring between his thumb and forefinger. “Mayra Critchlow, will you marry me?”

Mayra looked down at the carpet, trying to work out how to sort through all the thoughts buzzing in her head. “I-I don’t know,” she muttered.

Gavin gently place his hand beneath Mayra’s chin and brought her head up until she met his gaze. Was it her imagination or was there a light shining in his eyes, eyes now moist with tears?

“If you make an honest man of me, we can start again and get it all right this time around,” Gavin said. “I’ll be the man you need me to be. I’ll be the husband that will make you proud, I swear.”

To Be Continued…

©2017-2020 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Having Heaven 7 – The Return

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…

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