I don’t really remember much before waking up. The last thing I saw in my mind was the stark blinding light of the pickup’s bulging headlights. The world seemed to go silent and move at a slower pace as it left me with only the sounds of screeching tires and horns blaring, filling my ears and pounding in my brain. Then everything sped up again for a split second before going black. Not only black, but silent. The silence was the worst part. I could no longer hear the crunching of metal or the smashing of glass. I waited for what seemed like an eternity, not daring to move, not daring to think in this crushing blackness, just to listen for anything that might give me hope. There wasn’t much else I could do. I couldn’t feel my arms or legs, I couldn’t move. I was a floating consciousness in an ocean of nothing. That’s when I heard it. A small noise, a clattering of metal on metal. It was the smallest, most insignificant noise, but it flipped a switch inside me and turned on a light in my brain. I opened my eyes and was blinded once again by the headlights of the oncoming vehicle barreling towards me. I immediately shut them again as tightly as I could and willed myself to forget. The picture still burned behind my closed eyelids, and I stayed very still for a while longer before I finally got up the courage to open my eyes again. I looked slightly to the left and blinked, letting my eyes adjust, seeing the fluorescent lights on the ceiling above me. I sat up and tried to survey my surroundings. I had been lying on a black and white checkerboard tiled floor. I was in a room about 20 by 10 feet, a perfect rectangle. There were newly cleaned windows encircling 3 of the 4 walls with red leather upholstered booths rimming around the perimeter underneath. There was a jukebox in the back corner and signed black and white pictures of old movie stars on every wall. Along the back wall was a bar with a line of stools, also upholstered in red leather, and a small open kitchen that I could see behind. I was sitting on the floor directly in the center of a 70s style diner. As I began to regain my senses, I began to recognize certain things. The booth with the torn edge, the vinyl CDs glued on to the front of the bar, even the signed pictures on the walls, all polished and kept as if they were made of pure gold. I knew this place. That’s when I heard the sound again. A clattering of metal, cutlery by the sound of it. A cold tinkling that brought back even more memories of this place, but it carried a much more important message. I was not alone here. I looked around wildly, searching for the source of the sound. I heard it again and whipped around to face the bar. Suddenly remembering that I had legs, I slowly raised myself off the floor. I grabbed the nearest weapon I could find off a table and, holding the dull knife out in front of me, peered over the polished shelf in to the kitchen. I froze, as if my very blood had been turned to ice and every bit of my body had gone solid. There was a woman standing behind the counter, and she was looking directly at me. Something in the way she stared made me lose all sense of nerve I had left. She locked me in a gaze that made my legs go weak and my heart stop. I dropped my weapon and it clattered to the floor as I turned and sprinted for the door. I didn’t care where I was or what I was doing there, I just wanted to get out, find my way home, and leave this whole nightmare behind me. I slammed in to the door and fumbled for the handle. As I tried to wrench it open, the door wouldn’t budge. I stared at my hand jiggling the handle and willed it to move, when suddenly I looked up and stopped. Beyond the glass in front of me, as far as I could see, was a vast desert. Nothing but sand as far as I could see. No plants, no animals, no distant mountains on the horizon. Nothing. I turned around slowly and pressed my back against the door. The woman was still staring at me. I could barely find the words and as they came out, and my voice cracked when I spoke. “Where am I?”
It seemed like the most obvious question at the time, and the sound of my voice seemed to reverberate off the walls. “Come sit down Jason.” She answered, motioning to one of the booths. Her voice was a melodic tune that floated in one ear and out the other as if it was never there. I hadn’t heard it in years. As she moved out of the kitchen I got my first good look at her. She had long, blonde hair that flowed down her back and fell slightly over her face. She was about 2 inches shorter than me, wearing a plain pair of black jeans that hugged her slim waist and a red flannel shirt over a black tank top. She had a straight, slim nose and small thin lips. The thing that struck me most about her though, were her eyes. She had the most dazzling blue eyes I had ever seen. They captured me the second I looked at her, and as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t look away. There was no doubt in my mind. It was definitely Erin.
She held my gaze a moment longer before gesturing towards the booth again. I snapped out of my own subconscious long enough to shakily slide myself down on to the red leather across from her. “Do you remember this diner?” she asked me. “Of course I do.” I replied, her very presence was trying to settle me. “We came here every day when I was in high school, even though the coffee was shit.” I tried to joke, but my voice still cracked. She gave me a slight smile and I immediately felt safer. She looked at me and sighed. “You probably have some questions, don’t you?” I looked at her a bit incredulously. I didn’t really care anymore about being calm and collected. “Erin, what’s going on? Where are we? Why am I here? How do I get home? What are you doing here?” She silenced me with a wave of her hand. “Jason you have to understand, I can’t give you the answers you’re looking for, and the answers I give you may not be what you want to hear.” I nodded slowly in understanding, gesturing for her to go on. “You’re in Hell Jason.” She said simply, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
My brain locked for another moment as I tried to process what my mind refused to take in. I glanced out the window again, seeing the endless sea of sand around me. I was dead. I guess I had expected it; there must have been some explanation for all this. I was surprised how easily I accepted my fate. There wasn’t much I could do, for now at least. “Why?” I asked, trying to prioritize my thousands of questions. I immediately tried looking back, thinking of anything I may have done that would have been bad enough to land me in eternal damnation. I couldn’t remember anything…why couldn’t I remember anything? She sighed again, this time almost a little impatiently. “You are here to serve purgatory. The 5 days before your admission in to heaven that you have to cleanse yourself of all sins. Make right of your mistakes?” I looked away like a guilty schoolboy. Truthfully, I hadn’t even been to church in years. I suddenly grew tense and had thoughts of running for the door again. “But why are you here?” she looked down at the table in response. “I’ve been here for a while Jason” she said slowly, still studying the linoleum tabletop. “I have to answer for what I’ve done too.” I looked at her solemn face, those eyes that had always captivated me, full of sadness.
I hadn’t seen Erin in years, I had only been 17 when she had packed up her belongings, moved out of her house and drove out of town. She had no idea where she was going, but I still remember the night she came to my house with a bag slung over her shoulder and asked me to come with her. I remembered that look of desperation she had then as I looked in to her eyes now, after 10 years of not seeing her face. That had been the last time I had seen her, before my best friend disappeared from my life, and now she was sitting across from me in the same diner we always sat at, looking at me with those same eyes. The memories were almost too much to handle. “How do you know all this? Who told you we have to stay here? And why the hell are we in Mulligan’s diner?” she stopped me again. “Jason, I used to actually go to church remember? This is how it goes. It’s in the Bible. Here, let me make us something to eat and we can talk about it some more.”
That’s how it went. As I watched her get up and move back behind the bar, busying herself with chopping vegetables and putting burgers on a grill, I started remembering all the good times I had with this girl and it made me miss my life so much more. The life I couldn’t remember. Erin was the only part of my living existence that I had any recollection of. More and more questions flooded my mind but were interrupted as a plate was put down in front of me. She sat down across from me again and we began to talk.
We talked about old times, about the things we used to do when we were kids, about our families and other friends. We talked as if we had never spent any time apart, but as I rambled on about our old high school teachers, I knew that there was a void between us that spoke more than anything we actually talked about. It looked like Erin felt it too. She seemed to be holding back on things, and when she laughed, I could tell that she was still reserved, still off in her own little world to some degree. We talked late in to the night, which was odd because I had seen no sun looking out the window, but the sky had grown steadily darker from a light blue to a fiery orange and finally the darkest black. There were no stars that I could see, but there were lights inside the diner and we kept them on as we talked. The low hum of the fluorescent lights the only sound other that that of our voices. I slept in a booth near the door that night, Erin in a different one on the other side of the room.
We continued in the same way day after day to pass the time, just me and her, eating, sleeping and talking. It reminded me of when we were in high school and sometimes I had just wished that we could stay in the same booth forever and just talk endlessly about anything, without having to worry about getting home or going to school or getting in to college or finding a job or living any other life than the one right in front of us. No matter how nice it was to be with Erin again though, something in the back of my mind wouldn’t stop nagging at me. As much as I tried, I couldn’t help thinking about that night. It hurt just to think back to it.
When I had opened the door I could tell that she had been crying. She had a large knapsack over her shoulder and I could see behind her that her dad’s old Dodge Charger was still running in the driveway. She had told me she had to get out of town, away from this place because it was killing her inside. She begged me to come with her, and I still remembered her words. “Jason, please. Don’t you see it? We’re dying here! This small town is suffocating us; we need to get out of here. Isn’t this what you’ve always dreamed of? Let’s get out of here, just the two of us!” She pleaded with me, standing in my doorway with a shocked expression playing across my face. “Jason, please…I love you. Come with me.” I remember being hit with her words like a train, and staggering back in my open doorway, the cool night breeze blowing past me in to the house. She saw my face and stepped off my porch. I could see the tears welling up in her eyes. I watched without saying a single word as she got in her dad’s stolen car, backed out of my driveway, and sped down the street. That was the worst night of my life.
“Erin, tell me what happened.” I finally said. It was our last night in the diner, 5 days had come and gone and tomorrow we were supposed to leave this place. She looked down at her hands in her lap. We were sitting on the floor with our backs against the wall of the bar with a candle out in front of us. The flickering light illuminated her face and gave her a sort of angelic look. Those eyes remained the same though, as blue as ever. “When?” she tried half-heartedly to act innocent. I gave her a serious look in return. She gave a long, drawn-out sigh and began “I was scared. I shouldn’t have come to see you, but you were the only person I could trust. I shouldn’t have said what I did. it was ridiculous. I just wanted to get away so badly Jason, you have to understand that.” I nodded. “I do.” She sighed again, not wanting to continue, but my eyes pleaded with her to finish. “It was dark.” She eventually went on. “I was crying, and that stupid car’s headlights had cut out again. I knew I was going too fast but I just wanted to get as far away from everything as I could. I remember passing the Miller farm and starting up the incline to the mountain pass, I just didn’t see the turn in the road or the barrier. I’m so sorry Jason” she put her head down in her hands. I put my arms around her and held her close to me. “Erin you don’t understand.” I told her quietly. “I’ve loved you since I met you, I just never had the courage to tell you, because I thought you would never feel the same way. I should have told you when I had the chance, and I’ve lived with what happened to you my whole life knowing it was my fault. I’m so sorry.” She brought her head away from my chest. “Thank you Jason.” She said in a calm voice. “Now there’s something I have to tell you.” She stood up and walked around the candle to the middle of the room. “You have to go now.” She said in that same, calm voice. I was a little surprised at her sudden calmness and I suddenly felt uneasy and tense. “We get to leave? Erin what’s going on? How do we get out of here?” I said. She looked at me with such a deep pain on her face that I nearly wept just to look at it.“I can’t go with you Jason. I have to stay here.” My heart dropped. “Erin that’s ridiculous, we’ve paid our dues, now we can get out of this damned place.” She turned away from me. “I’m not who you think I am Jason. I was sent to this place long before you ever came here. I was cast out of heaven and sent here to help make right of everyone’s biggest mistake in their lives. This place is wherever it has to be, and I am whoever each person needs me to be. You are moving on now Jason, and whoever it is that you’re looking for, I hope you find her.” If I had been standing, I would have collapsed on the floor. I suddenly felt crushed and alone, staring up in to the face that I knew and loved, but wasn’t. “I don’t understand.” Was all I was able to choke out. “I’m sorry Jason, I wish I could give you an answer, but you have to go now.” That was the last thing she said to me. With a sudden gust of wind, the candle between us was blown out and I was thrown in to complete darkness. The last thing I saw of her in the fading, flickering light of the candle’s ember was her bright blue eyes, shining as captivatingly as ever.
I will never forget the time I spent in that 20 by 10 foot room, no matter where I go or what I do. Heaven is a white shell of what should have been, with a ruler who sits on his throne and weeps for his own sins, shutting out anything around him. His people are ghosts who walk with no purpose or aim, for Heaven is a hollow, empty, emotionless place, and our hearts are all in Hell.