People go on about how material things don't matter. About how it's the important things like family and connections that make a life worth living. But the people who say that normally tend to have such blessings. The old woman had nothing of the sort.
She had more than enough objects of course she thought absently as she eyed the pictures on her piano. An old relic that had dominated her small living room for what felt like ages though no one had played it in far too many years. Instead it stood as a monument of days gone past now topped with dozens of framed faces and yellowing crocheted doilies instead of dancing fingers atop the chipped ivory keys.
The coffee table in the middle of the room had once been covered with fashion magazines piled precariously high as her grandchildren had browsed through the glossy pages but those were long gone replaced by a wicker basket of knitting supplies. Yarn of all shades poured out the side like a multi-hued waterfall and collected in a rainbow pool on the undusted wood of the table. Like the piano the yarn and basket had remained untouched for far too long as rheumatoid arthritis had long since taken over her once nimble fingers. As a testament of her stolen talent a ball of lace lay perched at the top of the basket, an unfinished project gathering dust.
There had been a time when she would spend hours bent over her work, the fabric coming to life under her skilled hands as the various blankets draped on chairs and couches throughout the house could attest.
Every available surface was adorned with carefully constructed plastic butterflies, small caricatures of their real life counterparts. Those too she had spent hours working on and each one was meticulously painted its own vibrant pattern, their kaleidoscopic configurations lending light to the darkened house.
Placed in between the perched wings were pictures. Each one keeper of a memory that had since sought to slip away. It had been too many years since she had been in the company of any of the smiling faces that beamed from their glass confines but she talked to them on occasion nonetheless.
Just as the chairs were embellished with their handcrafted blankets and every available solid surfaced covered in mismatched frames and plastic butterflies, the walls too had come to life. The Last Supper proudly hung above the couch, and a large wooden cross kept vigil by the door. She considered herself deeply religious and her open bible which lay on the couch demonstrated that. It was her most prized possession and she had spent more time with that in her lap than anything else.
She had always been preaching of it to anyone who would listen. Even to those who hadn't been all that attentive had received her lectures. She remembered a time when several missionaries of another religion had come knocking on her door and she had chased them off screaming about how they were corrupted liars.
None of her three husbands had understood her fervor and so now that was all she had in her old age. An empty house filled with pictures of the family that seemed to no longer care and butterflies that couldn't fly away.
The worst blow it seems had come soon after the death of her nineteen year old granddaughter. Maison had lived with her for most of her life and had always rebelled against the strict rules and enforced bible study sessions that reigned over the weekends. As the old woman saw it the stringent directions had been an attempt to guide her young granddaughter to become the person the old woman thought she should be. A little over a year ago Maison had locked herself in her room with a collection of pills. When they found her she was silent and pale, a phantom now that flew away from the world in what the others seemed to firmly believe was an attempt to escape her punishing ways and rigid commands.
None of that mattered now as the old lady sat, as she had for the past few days, alone in her room. She wore a long pale pink nightgown, faded white slippers and had a rainbow hued blanket she had crocheted in the days before arthritis took hold draped loosely around her frail shoulders. Slowly she rocked the familiar chair she was in, the used wood creaking obediently as it glided along its curved supports.
For three days the lady had sat alone in this room. Alone in the whole empty house even, and not a soul had noticed her missing. She hadn't left for food or water, she hadn't left for comfort of friends or entertainment, and she felt a bone deep weariness that surely indicated soon she wouldn't leave at all.
Surrounded by her tangible treasure she began to mourn her spent life. "Why do they not come to visit me?" She whispered, a tear traversing through the deep wrinkles of her forlorn face. She was, of course, referring to her family; her children, her grandchildren, her…who else was there? She had no other family. Everyone else was gone. Gone to rest already or lost in years of petty feuds; all their fault of course. She never once believed it could ever be her fault. How could it be? She was a good Christian woman. Had always been devout and everything she ever did was with His name on her lips and in her heart. If those people were driven away, well then they must not be right. Sinners the lot of them.
Except now here she is, slipping quietly away with not a soul in sight to comfort her. Or it was you all along. There was that nagging voice, the one she had been squashing her whole life. The one that never left no matter how hard she had tried and now with her strength waning she could do nothing but let it be heard at last. Maybe you drove them off. Crazy overzealous freak. If everyone else is crazy maybe it's just you.
"HUSH!" she croaked suddenly, louder than anything she had uttered in days. She closed her eyes and swallowed the lump in her tired parched throat. "Why do they not come?" She whispered again after the silence threatened to deafen her. Maybe it's all the times you cut them off. Maybe they're done with your lies. Maybe they've decided the years of crying themselves to sleep after your wicked words, the hours bent over your bible forced to read of God's wrath as children while you condemned them night after night made them decide no more. Maybe you did this to yourself.
Thoughts like poison burst through her brain. An enemy cavalry burning her mind with words she didn't want to accept as truth. "No, no, no" she murmured, head shaking weakly as she began to sag in her old wooden chair. Yes, the serpent whispered breaking free after a lifetime's imprisonment. You're alone because that's the way you made it. You're alone now because they're done caring. "No, no, no." She clenched her fists and released them. Unwanted truths swirled in her dying mind but there was no one there to witness her final struggle. "No, no, no." She whispered her mantra over and over until the last syllable slipped from her still mouth, finally the struggle ceased and she sank into eternity.
An old woman sat alone in a room. She had no one to hold her hand as she left. No one to comfort her and sit by her side but maybe that was her fault. There's no one here to know or care about the last bitter feelings she fought. No one to care about the sort of things that would be meaningful. But that's all a life is really composed of in the end; Death himself would agree. Just a handful of moments, relayed over and over. Memories, skirmishes, and a desperate dying wish (for the old woman at least). A handful of moments shining like pieces of broken glass, all too ready to drift away into oblivion.
Darkness surrounded her. Like midnight in a cave. A darkness so strong it seemed to crush her, pressing in on all sides, a near physical weight that was almost painful. And silence so loud it deafened her. Suddenly a light pierced through the black and grew. It spread outward until all race of the surrounding night was gone and a thunderous ringing took over the silence until that too stopped and she found herself in a room.
A white room that seemed to have no borders. No walls, no ceiling. No start or finish just endless white. In front of her stood a man. "Do you know where you are?" The man asked his deep timbre smooth and booming in the stillness. She shook her head, not quite trusting her voice in the face of all this madness. "You're dead," He told her, his voice filling the nothingness.
Like a flash it came back to her. The empty house with its suffocating loneliness. Her family oblivious to her desperate pleading. And finally slipping away. "Oh," she started as tears pricked her eyes, an aching pain filling her chest. "And who are you?" She inquired, an answer already forming in the back of her mind.
"I go by many names," He told her smiling softly. "I am someone different to everyone. It's how you picture me. That's how I appear. I'm here to make the most important decision of your spirits journey." His voice was thunder and echoed through the white expanse rolling over the old woman like a tidal wave. "Up or down?"
As his words faded she realized he was waiting for her answer. "Are you saying I get to choose?" She asked as understanding finally dawned. "Up of course!" She could hardly believe the ease of her judgment. He began to laugh, a slow deep chuckle at first that exploded into a full bellied rumbling that sounded like rocks crashing down a mountainside.
"You don't get to choose!" He exclaimed the laughter disappearing as quickly as it had come. "I meant for you to consider where you deserve to go?" He eyed her critically all traces of humor obliterated.
"Up without a doubt," She responded earnestly. "Still up. I dedicated my life to you. I-"
"Stop!" He yelled silencing her with a vague swipe of his hand. "It was my name on your lips but not my words that came out. My name in your heart but not my actions that ruled your ruined life." The room seemed to darken, a pressing shadow overtaking the pristine white as the man grew taller, or perhaps the old woman was shrinking she thought helplessly as she cowered in front of the man whose dark face was lit by a flash of exploding light. A resounding crack jolted through her frightened body.
"You used my name as a shield to hide your wicked schemes. As a raft to save your doomed soul. It may have been my name you were calling to all these years but it is not my name that will save you now."
Her heart sank with his words as desperate tears filled her eyes. She clasped her hands and fell to he age knees. "I made mistakes in my life," she pleaded, "I made many mistakes." She thought back through her muddied memories as they cleared and she saw them through the eyes of another for the first time.
She saw clearly finally her life and it was like a blow to her already wounded heart. Like a movie in fast forward scenes flashed before her eyes. She saw finally how she had hidden behind her beliefs; used them to inflict her overpowering opinions on all that would listen and even those who didn't want to. She saw from the eyes of the people that had formerly surrounded her exactly how manipulative, controlling and severe she had been in her supposed mission from above as she drove away everyone around her in uncontained fits of rage. Midnight fights, the times she had thrown her kin on the street and even changed the locks to keep them out in a fit of anger and told them as children they were damned because they didn't obey her to the letter. Worst of all she was able to witness from another's view how she was indeed the cause of her granddaughter's fatal misery. How her rants and unconventional methods and the accusations and constant stream of abuse had driven her to seek refuge on another realm.
"I'm sorry," He told her returning to his gentle demeanor as he witnessed her agony and reaching an arm out to caress her tenderly as she wept, not bothering to try and mask the wave of pain that swept through her as she witnessed the truth. The darkness receded ad as she opened her eyes she saw that her and the man were again relatively the same height. "I am truly sorry," he murmured as he closed his arms around her. "But you are headed down for all eternity." With that he let her go and pushed her slightly. She fell back but instead of hitting the solid floor of the room passed through it.
She expected it to be longer, the fall, but as soon as she lost her balance and tipped backwards she was standing straight again, tears now falling absently as she took in her new surroundings. She was in her house again, but everything was just a shade different. The colors seemed muted like she was viewing her familiar surroundings through a filter. A distorted vision of what should have been so familiar otherwise.
"Welcome home," his voice was agonizing to hear, like the moment before a car crash, the still before the inevitable destruction full of gravel and deep reverberation. She turned quickly to face the new speaker, the new stranger in her apparent afterlife. "Well not quite home," he continued walking over to the piano and lifting up one of the carefully constructed plastic butterflies. "But close enough I suppose."
He moved with a liquid sort of grace but there was something about him, a ruthless essence that disturbed the air around him. As soon as he touched the stiff plastic of the butterfly's wing blackness spread outward from his thin fingers until the figure looked like it had been dipped in tar. Smirking at the darkened craft he set it down again and turned to face her full on for the first time. His face was sharp and pale, all strange angles and hollows and unearthly pallor with coal black eyes lacking in pupil and iris. He was tall and thin wearing an impeccably tailored black all black suit ensemble except for an intricately wrought silver and white ring in the shape of skull on his left hand where others would have a wedding band.
"Now, let's get to it then." He walked around the coffee table and walked past her up the stairs to her bedroom. "I don't have all day to wait around for you," he said stopping three stairs up as the old woman still hadn't moved. "Well technically I have eternity," he amended rolling his onyx colored orbs upward in a show of mocking impatience. "But I have deals to make, souls to collect. I am not omnipresent like people seem to believe."
"Son of perdition," She whispered unmoving from her spot in the middle of the murky living room as events caught up to her. He said nothing but smiled down at her, a cold leer that exaggerated the bizarre lines and slants of his hollow expression and gave all the answer she needed. "I made mistakes," she pleaded rushing over to the bannister he was leaning on, "I made mistakes but I didn't know!"
"Follow me," he told her turning up the stairs. She followed as the tears started up again. At the top of the stairs they twisted to face the solid wood of her shut bedroom door.
"What do you want me to do?"
"Everything one does in life has consequences whether we are aware of it or not. Those don't die with the body; they follow you into the ether. It's time you realized what exactly you're consequences are. Go ahead." He nodded toward the door for her to walk through but she felt rooted to the spot. A cold fear had been creeping at the base of her spine since she had landed in her living room and it had steadily blossomed outward to the point where she now found herself fixed with fear that she couldn't overcome as a deep pit in her chest that was yawning wide and hollow felt as if in a minute it was going to open up and swallow her. She wanted to run away but he was like a celestial body with his own gravity, trapping her in his orbit.
"What you witnessed in your judgment that was but a merest glimpse of the pain that is in store for you later. You know what you are in for. That is what lies beyond this door."
"Why are you telling me this?" She begged her throat pinhole-thin as her heart turned to ice and her stomach dropped.
"I'm not telling you to offer you comfort or reprieve. Rather I am making you aware of the consequences." His cold detachment suffered no break as he informed her of her own damnation. "You cannot linger outside for long, so what is the point of delay?"
"The point? I don't know, just-I'm not ready. I'm scared. What's in there?" She looked up to him, his black eyes bored into her but he made no move to alleviate her fears. With a snap of his slender fingers the door grated open. He placed a cold hand on her back to nudge her in, the chill of the appendage burning through her thin night gown. Reluctantly she stepped forward, one step, and then two until she was within the confines of what used to be her bedroom.
Like the living room the bedroom was distorted as well, like she was viewing everything half-squinting with the color all drained away leaving a pale imprint of the real thing. Inside the room was her granddaughter, the bottle of pills still in her colorless fist. "Maison," the old woman rasped openly weeping. "Maison honey, I'm so sorry." She rushed forward to embrace her granddaughter but just as she reached the specter the ghost flickered out appearing on the other side of the room.
"You killed me," She said red-rimmed eyes soaked with the anger she had been harboring her whole life.
"You killed yourself," The old woman attempted to reason knowing after what she had been shown her logic was flawed.
"You killed me," Maison repeated flickering insubstantially as her incorporeal form struggled to remain in sight. "You are the reason I felt the need to die. You killed me!"
The woman was sobbing now. "Beelzebub I can't stay here!" She turned to the door in time to watch him walk out, a flick of his fingers bringing the crashing shut behind him. "No!" She screamed hastening to the door and pulling at the handle but despite her efforts the door remained firmly closed, the handle sliding through her hands.
"He's gone, there's no one here but us." Maison whispered in the old woman's ear causing her to jump and spin to face her dead granddaughter. "'Lonely is the night when you find yourself alone," she sang in a harshly shaking the pills to the beat of the song in her head. "'Your demons come to light and your mind is not your own.'" She spun in mad circles and sang louder as the old woman sank to her knees in front of the door with her hands over her ears in a vain attempt to block out the demented music. "'Lonely is the night when there's no one left to call. You feel the time is right, the writings on the wall.' Look grandma, there really is writing on the wall." Maison stopped her song and traced her message on the wall. 'You killed me'.
"I'm sorry," the old woman whispered again knowing it would do nothing to end her torment. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry…"