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Equal In The Eyes Of Death

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: House of Ghosts
What happens when you die? Is there an afterlife? What if you have lingering regrets? That is what John will find out alongside a mysterious companion that seemed very familiar despite never meeting before, as they go through his past to the events leading up to his death. During this journey, John will remember many things he'd forgotten, and uncover the identity of his mysteriously familiar companion.

Submitted: April 07, 2017

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Submitted: April 07, 2017

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At first, there was nothing. And then like the flick of a switch, I found myself in a sea of white.

There was no floor, yet I stood on two feet. There were no walls or ceiling. The place seemed to go up and out forever, white for as far as the eye could see.

“Hello, John.”

I turned about to face a man whom I have not met before, yet seemed vaguely familiar to me.

“How are you feeling?” He asked with a kind smile. His teeth were perfectly white.

“… Where am I?” I asked instead.

The man looked around. “Gosh, I don’t know. But in any case, you should know. You brought us here, after all.” He playfully said.

I frowned. “No, I didn’t. I’ve never been here before.”

“Perhaps, but we are here because of your actions.” He casually replied.

“… My actions?” As I repeated that statement, the corner of my mind tugged as if it were about to reveal a tremendous secret.

He noted my inner conflict. “It’s coming to you, isn’t it? What do you remember?” He gently asked.

Slowly yet surely, the memories began to return.

“I… Died… I was hit by a car.” I whispered in shock.

He nodded. “Do you remember anything else?”

My brows furrowed in concentration, but to no avail. “I…  I don’t remember.” I shook my head and groaned with frustration.

The man smiled sympathetically. “That’s fine. That’s why I’m here, after all.”

The implications of his words made me pause momentarily. “Wait, are you an angel?”

At that statement, he chuckled with mirth. “Hah, I wish!”

“Who are you then?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” He simply replied.

I frowned at the question. “I mean… What are you? What’s your name? And how did you know my name?”

The corners of his mouth lifted. “My name isn’t important. Come, let’s get started.”

I felt a twinge of annoyance at the way which he dismissed my questions. Since I felt that asking again won’t yield any answers, I decided to change the subject. “Get started with what?”

“You’ll see. Close your eyes.” He instructed.

Somehow, I felt that this person did not mean me any harm, so I complied and closed my eyes. Darkness enveloped me once more.

***

“Open your eyes.” My male companion bade, and so I did.

We were standing in a hospital ward that was half-filled with: a nurse on duty, one teenage boy, one little girl, and a man leaning on the bedrail looking at a woman holding a baby wrapped in swaddling cloth.

“This is…” While I recognized everyone except the nurse and the baby, I did not recognize the time and event.

“Thirteen minutes and forty three seconds past two in the afternoon. The fifth of December, nineteen ninety-four.” The man revealed. “Your birth date, and the time you met your immediate family.

I nodded with recognition while staring at the faces of my family. They looked younger than I had ever remembered them. Father’s hairline hadn’t started to recede, and mother’s face was free from stress-induced lines and wrinkles.

“Why are we here?”

“To reveal your origins.” He stated simply before continuing.

“Take a good look, John, and understand. Your birth was met with joy and love by your family. See your mother, holding you close to her heart? See your father, smiling from ear to ear? Watch, as your siblings reach out to touch your cheek. Your birth was more fortunate compared to millions of other children; children whose mothers did not live through their ordeal; whose fathers were not or could not be present; children born without the medical care you had in this place, surrounded by men and women whose life’s purpose is you and your mother’s safely.”

I replied simply by nodding.

“Close your eyes again, John.” The man instructed.

This time, I hesitated. I wanted to remain here a little longer since it was so idyllic and peaceful.

“I know how you feel, John. But we can’t stay. Close your eyes.” He repeated, and so I did.

***

“You can open them now.”

When I did, we were sitting on a wooden bench in a park. Ahead, my five year-old self was playing in the sand pit with my sister, who was now a young teenager. On another bench beside us were my parents.

“Do you remember much about your early childhood, John?”

I thought about it for a while. “My sister, Katy, took care of me a lot. We used to play with Legos and doll houses.”

“And what about your older brother?” He inquired.

“He went to a boarding high school, and then left for college. I rarely saw him.” I replied.

My companion hummed thoughtfully. “What about your parents?”

I glanced to the side, where father and mother were idly chatting whilst watching Katy and me as a child playing.

“Father was a lawyer, mother was a school teacher. I only see them in the morning and at night, since they were always busy with work.”

“Mmhmm. Except on most Sundays.”

“Really?” I replied curiously.

“Really.” He affirmed. “The Lord says: for six days you shall labor. But the seventh day is a Sabbath. On it, neither you or your son or your daughter or those in your holdings shall toil, but make it holy, as the Lord willed.”

I huffed. “What does that have to do with this?”

“Why, everything.” He answered as a matter of fact. “What do you think you and your family could do on the Sabbath that would be most pleasing to the Lord, John?”

I shrugged. “Go to church, maybe?”

“Maybe, but no. Would you like to guess again?”

He seemed to like playing games. This time I shook my head.

“Being a family.”

That simple answer stirred something within me.

“Look there.” He nodded towards the trio of teenage girls that were standing outside the park. “Do you recognize them?”

I did. “They were Katy’s friends. I don’t remember their names.”

He hummed with a nod. “Friends, eh? Right now, they are snickering at your sister. Tomorrow at school, they will call her a big baby for playing with a child. A lot of her classmates will be there too.”

I felt anger rising up my throat. It seems that I do remember them. A wild thought went through my mind.

“It’s no use.” My companion bluntly stated. “No one here can see or feel us, and we can’t do anything here except observe.”

“So why did you bring me here?” My voice was tinged with annoyance.

“So that you could remember how easy and carefree your early years were, sheltered and naïve about everything.” He murmured. “Close your eyes, John.”

Despite wanting to ask more questions, I complied anyway.

***

When I opened them, I was standing in the corner of the living room in my parents’ old house. My companion stood at my side.

In the middle of the room, father and mother had their middle teenage daughter, Katy, cornered in the sole armchair of the room. It was a soft and plush piece of furniture filled with cotton, yet Katy looked everything but relaxed.

“You’ve gone too far, Katy!”

“How could you do this!?”

Father and mother were shouting one after another, yet their words seemed to bounce off their daughter like polystyrene arrows.

“Do you remember this, John?” I could clearly hear his voice despite the clamor.

I nodded. “Katy and her friends had skipped school, and were caught smoking by the police.”

“Not only that, they were caught drinking whiskey that your sister’s friend stole from her house.” He continued. “And where was your younger self during now, John?”

After a moment of recollection, my head turned towards the stairs, where a boy was peeking through the gaps in between the railing. “I didn’t understand what was going on then.” I admitted with regret.

“Mmm” Was all he replied with. In the meantime, the scene in the living room took a turn for the worse.

“This is partly your fault. You should have kept a closer eye on her!” Father suddenly turned on mother, whose face twisted in shock, followed by rage.

“Unlike someone who’s busy flirting with all the women in the workplace, I’ve got a class to look after!” Mother retorted venomously.

Father’s face turned beet red. “H-how dare you! I work from sunrise to midnight and you dare accuse me!?”

“YES! You never come home early! You never eat dinner with us! Or spend time with the kids! All you do is watch TV and sleep! And when you wake up you leave without goodbye! No wonder Katy turned out this way, her father was never there for-”

Mother was cut short when father raised his hand and slapped her, hard. Only a moment of silence passed, but it felt like an eternity as both adults realized what had just happened. In that short length of time, mother’s left cheek turned bright red while her eyes watered.

That silence was broken when Katy dashed out of the living room.

“W-wait!” Both adults called, but made no move to stop her.

Katy stormed up the chairs. “Out of the way!” She screeched at a young John, who scrambled to let his sister rush pass.

The expression on young John’s face was similar to the current John, in other words I, was wearing.

“Father normally doesn’t come home early, but I remember them shouting at Katy and at each other a lot.” I numbly stated.

“Close your eyes, John.” He murmured, as if in consolation.

“Where are we going this time?”

“… You’ll see.”

Those words ran in circles behind my eyes as they closed.

***

When they opened, we were outside with dozens of people dressed in dark suits and dresses. It was a dull afternoon day with thick clouds and no breeze. Everyone was silent, save for a spokesman who was saying the final rites of a fallen soldier.

My breath caught when I saw the dark coffin, closed and containing the lifeless body of my older brother.

“You remember this day.” He stated.

“I had forgotten about it, until now.” I admitted.

He smiled bitterly and turned his head. “And yet, even on this day of loss and mourning, the family stands divided.”

I followed his gaze to my family, who stood closest to the coffin.

Father and mother stood separate, flanking their two remaining children who stood in between them. Mother was stifling her sobs while father stood stoically, his expression inscrutable.

My sister, Katy, had a troubled expression, as if unsure how to act. As for my younger self, he looked confused and lost, staring at the coffin as if wondering when his brother will decide to come out.

“They never told you how he died, did they?”

“They didn’t.” I answered softly. “I worked it out years later.”

“Do you remember much about your brother?”

I shook my head. “Not much. He did a lot of sports in college. After graduating, he enlisted in the marines to do a tour to help pay his university fees.”

“And only four months after being sent, he paid the ultimate price for his country.” My companion added. I couldn’t tell whether he was being sarcastic or just sounded bitter.

I noticed someone else standing close to the coffin. Closer than even my deceased brother’s own family. I searched through my memories, but could not put a name to that face.

“Aah, so you’ve noticed him.” He noted, following my gaze.

“Who is he, do you know him?”

“Hmm, in a way, yes. But really, no.”

I scowled at his vagueness.

“I’m telling the truth. But if you really must know, I guess the best description is that we are… Colleagues.”

I thought about his particular choice of words and came to a quick conclusion. That man must be similar to the person beside me.

“Will I see him soon?”

“Who?”

“My brother.”

“Ah. Well, I can’t say whether it would be soon or not, but yes, you could meet your brother again. Why do you ask?”

I was silent for a while. “I don’t know. It just felt natural to ask.”

He nodded in comprehension. “We should move on. Close your eyes.”

I nodded and closed them just as the coffin began to sink into the ground, and mother’s sobs became louder.

***

“Here we are.”

I couldn’t help but flinch when I realized we were in my high school. We were standing at the edge of a pitch, facing the football team who was having a training session.

“Recalling those fun high school days?” He asked sarcastically.

“If you count being pushed around by jocks fun, then yeah.”

He chuckled lightly. “Come.” He bade and led the way.

We went to the side of the football pitch where the stands were sparsely populated by friends of the footballers. Upon turning a corner, we were greeted by the sight of a seventeen year old me, three male high schoolers, and a doppelgänger of my companion.

“Hei Dan, lend us a light.” One of the guys grumbled whilst pulling out a pack of cigarettes. He offered the pack to each person, who took a stick each, before offering it last to younger John.

“You shouldn’t take that.” My companion’s doppelgänger said.

“I… I’m fine, thanks.” Younger John replied.

The high schooler scoffed. “Come on, don’t be such a tight ass. Just try one. If you don’t like it, I won’t offer it again.” He promised, offering it once more. The others were watching intently like coyotes.

“Your sister must have thought the same thing. It was only one. One became two, then three, four, and now, half a pack a day. Don’t fool yourself, John.” My companion’s doppelgänger warned.

It was obvious that younger John was hesitating. Then finally, his decision was to reach out to take a cigarette.

My companion, his doppelgänger and I all sighed deeply.

Once their cigarettes were lit, the four high school boys wandered off. My companion’s doppelgänger followed after younger John.

“You were around me since then?” I asked.

“Mmhmm.” He hummed in reply. “They say that the whispers you hear in your head are the voices of the spirits around you. Looks like that wasn’t just a myth.”

“Are you my guardian angel, then?”

He tilted his head in thought. “You could put it that way. But no, that’s not entirely right. I’m not an angel. Do you see any wings on me?”

“No?”

His light-coloured eyes rolled. “It was a rhetorical question, John. Anyway, what else do you remember about your high school years?”

I pulled together the memories before answering. “Getting bullied once in a while; failing tests; saw the principle once.”

“Nice. What about at home?”

“… Mother and father were still together, but they sleep in separate rooms and act like the other doesn’t exist. Katy… Ran away from home to stay with her boyfriend.”

“Boyfriend?” He repeated.

“She… They… I don’t want to explain.” I stated in disgust.

“You don’t have to. How did you feel during those years?”

“At school, nervous most of the time. At home, sad and angry. But most of the time, just tired of everything.”

“Quite a contrast to your early childhood, wasn’t it?”

I nodded. “Are we moving on now?”

“Yes. There’s no more reason to stay here.”

“It’s going to become worse from here on, isn’t it?”

He frowned. “What makes you think that?”

I shrugged. “As far as I recall, things never got better.”

“Oh, if you say so. Close your eyes.”

***

It was the end of high school prom night. We were standing at the same place as before, watching high schoolers leaving with their dates and friends.

“Do you remember this night?” He asked.

“I… I think so.” I slowly replied. “I didn’t have a date, so I came with my friends for the free food and drinks.”

“And the punch packed a punch, as you said.” He added.

I winced at the lame line. “Where is my younger self?”

He nodded towards the pitch. “Drunk on cocktail and punch.”

And so I was. Young John walked with staggering steps, and so did his friends. Only my companion’s doppelgänger was sober, following them from the side.

“Look over there.” My companion bade, directing my attention towards a couple standing a short distance away from my younger self. They seemed to be arguing.

“What are they talking about?”

“The girl wants to be taken home. The boy has other plans.”

Something joggled in my mind. “I’m about to do something.” I stated as a matter of fact, staring at my younger self who in turn was staring at the arguing duo.

“Indeed.”

I observed my companion’s doppelgänger leaning in to whisper something to my younger self.

“What did you say?”

“I said indeed.” He replied.

I turned to scowl at him. “I meant back there.”

After a light chuckle, he answered. “I said: this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Don’t let it slip pass.”

Just after he said that, my younger self stormed towards the duo. The girl seemed to be backing away, while the guy strode after her.

“He’s going to beat me up, isn’t he?” I inquired.

“Oh yes. Your face was blue and black for a week.”

“And all you did was watch?”

“What else could I do? If I throw a punch, it would go right through him without any feeling.”

We observed my younger self confronting the guy. A few seconds later, the guy lashed out and struck younger John on the nose.

“Ouch.” Both of us said simultaneously.

I glanced towards my high school friends, who merely watched before moving on. “Friends, eh?” I repeated what he said before, eliciting a chuckle from him.

“Well, on the plus side you made a new friend that night.”

I turned back to the scene of my younger self curled into a ball, who was getting kicked mercilessly by the guy while the girl screamed at him to stop. I looked so pathetic.

“Do you remember her, John?”

“Of course, she’s Charlotte, my wife.” I proudly declared.

“Not then, she wasn’t. But yes, your future wife. See, things do get better.”

That sentence, coupled with the sight of me getting beaten up, was so ironic that both of us huffed through our noses.

“It’s time. Close your eyes.” He instructed, and so I did.

***

The two of us were at the hospital once again, this time waiting outside the delivery theatre. Only my younger self and my companion’s doppelgänger were there besides us.

My younger self was now a young man. He was still a few years younger than I am, but a man nonetheless.

“My daughter’s birth.” I gasped as the memory returned.

“Yes. It’s five in the morning. You’ve been waiting here silently for four hours.”

 I tried to remember what else had happened, but my memories were shut behind an iron vault with only a little tap to flow from. It was truly vexing.

“Don’t force yourself. It will return little by little.” He assured. “Tell me, what was going on with your family back then?”

I calmed down and turned to examine the tired face of my younger self. “After I married Charlotte, my parents got a divorce. Katy was moving from one place to another, working night shifts at bars.”

He hummed. “Did you see them often?”

I shook my head. “No.”

“Why?”

“Why? I… I think it’s because I didn’t want to see them.”

“Because you had Charlotte?”

I nodded. “I was busy with work on most days, so whenever I am off work I was with Charlotte.”

“And not a single time did you invite your parents or your sole living sister around. How do you feel about that?”

“… Regret, I guess.”

“Hmm. More often than not, it’s the things left undone that causes the most regrets.” He stated gruffly. “Oh, it’s over.”

As he said that, the theatre doors opened and a female doctor exited. My younger self immediately got to his feet.

“How is she, doctor? How is the baby?”

The doctor’s gentle smile was answer enough. “Come see your daughter, Mr. Hansen.” She said and brought him into the theatre. The doppelgänger followed behind them silently.

“Come, let’s follow.” My companion called and led us inside.

The delivery room was so clean that every surface seemed to sparkle. Or perhaps that was due to the bright light. In the middle of the room was a bed, where Charlotte held a tiny little baby wrapped in swaddling cloth.

I couldn’t help but gasp with emotion. “She’s so small…” My younger self gasped the same thing moments later as he approached the bed.

“Doesn’t this scene remind you of something?” My companion asked.

It did. “My own birth.”

“Indeed. It was similar, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah…”

We watched as my younger self held Charlotte’ palm with one hand while the other gently caressed their newborn daughter.

“Can we decide on a name now?” Charlotte teased.

“Yeah. You already know my choice, what’s yours?” My younger self inquired.

“I think… Mine would be Helene.”

“Hmm… So it’s either Helene or Fiona.” My younger self frowned deeply, as if it were a matter of dire importance.

“Did you know that you were nearly named Joshua?” Both my companion and his doppelgänger commented within moments of each other. It was rather strange hearing it twice.

“No, I didn’t.” I replied, while my younger self did not respond because, obviously, he could not hear them. The two of us watched for a while longer until the young couple finally decided to go with Helene.

“We should move on, John. Close your eyes.”

“I want to stay here longer.” I protested.

My companion shook his head. “You can’t. Now close your eyes.”

I did, begrudgingly.

***

We were in the park once again. Like before, the two of us were sitting on a bench. Beside us was another bench, where my not-so-younger self sat with Charlotte. Unsurprisingly, my companion’s doppelgänger was there too. All five of us were watching Helene playing with other children on the slides and swings.

“Some things don’t change, do they?” My companion commented.

I nodded in affirmation as a gentle smile spread across my face.

“You are misinterpreting what I just said. Listen.” His severe tone made me pause, just in time to catch what Charlotte was saying.

“I understand she is your sister, but still, giving her three thousand dollars?” My younger wife exclaimed with disbelief.

“She said it’s for her studies! She’s trying to make it into a hairdressing school!” My not-so-younger self quietly explained.

“That’s what she said the last time when she asked for five hundred dollars! She squandered it on gambling instead!”

At that, my not-so-younger self’s mouth clamped shut.

“What was going through your mind back then?” My companion asked.

“I… I’m not sure. I wanted to believe that Katy had changed. At least, that’s what I think. What did you think?”

He was a little surprise when I asked that question. “Me? I don’t know. I wasn’t following Katy around.” He evaded the question.

“Were you against me giving her money, then? Or did you support what I did?” I pressed on.

At that, he grinned. “What do you think, John?”

Despite feeling annoyed at getting no answers out of him, I came to a quick conclusion. “You supported what I did.”

“As you said.” He concluded. “By the way, how was work then?”

“Busy. I got transferred to a new branch, so at times I couldn’t return home for a few days.” I immediately responded. I was surprised at the rapidness at which my memory of work returned. I was a financial accountant for a medium sized corporation. My job involved working through stacks of forms, and updating online catalogues.

“Mmhmm. Doesn’t that remind you of something?”

I did, but refused to answer.

“We are done here. Close your eyes, John.”

This time, something within me clenched. It was a premonition. “No, I don’t want to.”

“I know, but you must.” He replied sternly but not unkindly.

As I did, a heavy weight fell down my stomach.

***

“Who was that woman, John!?” Charlotte screeched at a doppelgänger of myself in the living room of our house.

My companion and I were standing at the doorway into the living room. This was my house, the house Charlotte and I bought when Helene was born. And now, my wife and my doppelgänger were arguing. My companion’s doppelgänger was there too, looking rather worried.

“She is a colleague! I’ve told you this before!” My doppelgänger exclaimed loudly with exasperation.

“Really!? If I didn’t know better, I’d say you two are up to something! Are you hiding something from me, John?” She demanded in a quietly dangerous tone that was ready to explode given a spark.

“Don’t lie, John.” Both my companion and his doppelgänger warned at the same time. One of them said it urgently, the other, dully.

“N-no! Of course not!” My doppelgänger lied, but failed.

Charlotte’s expression went beyond rage. You could almost hear her heart shattering. For what seemed like an eternity, the two who were once one stared at each other.

“Get out…” She whispered.

“Char-”

“GET OUT!” She screamed, shutting her eyes just as the tears began to flow.

That verbal command was like an explosion that swept through the room, burning everyone who heard it. Despite that, my doppelgänger reached out for her. If only he could hold her, and explain everything to her, he was sure they could overcome this together.

“Charlotte…” He whispered, his hand just inches from her.

That was a mistake. Her eyes opened and she flinched back from him. Without a word, she ran towards us.

I reached out, hoping against hope that I could stop her. But she merely ran through me as if I was made of smoke, and went upstairs. That was soon followed by the sound of a door being slammed.

“What did you want to tell her, John?” My companion asked, while my doppelgänger sat down on the couch at a loss.

“Why do you ask when you already know?” I spat back.

“What did you want to tell her, John?” He calmly repeated.

I glared at him for a while, before guilt and self-pity humbled me. “I wanted to tell her it was a misunderstanding. I wanted to tell her that I love her, and only her.”

“So why didn’t you?” He asked. At the same time, his doppelgänger left the living room to go up the stairs. “Why didn’t you stop her?”

I did not respond for a long time. “I wanted to, but I was shocked. I was weak.”

“She had called her mother while you were downstairs. She asked if she and her daughter could stay at her parent’s place.”

I nodded mutely.

Just then, a door upstairs opened and Charlotte ran back down and out of the house. My doppelgänger got up and rushed after her.

“It is time, John.” My companion said quietly while walking.

“Time?” I echoed, and followed him outside without thinking.

“It is time you learned how you died.”

***

 The moment we stepped out of the front door, we suddenly appeared on the house’s lawn facing the road. Somehow, everything seemed whiter, as if someone had turned up the contrast.

“This is my memory, John, since you didn’t have enough time to remember this part.” He explained.

“What?”

“A person’s memory isn’t memory until some time has passed. Part of my job is to remind you how you died, and the only way I can do that is using my memories. But enough about that. Look.”

We were facing my doppelgänger and Charlotte, who were facing each other with three strides separating them. A short distance away, Helene was playing with wooden cube blocks on a mat.

“Charlotte, I…” My doppelgänger said, but his voice trailed away.

It was a misunderstanding! Please, believe me! My own voice echoed in my head, startling me.

“You will not only hear what they say, but also hear what is in their hearts.” My companion explained.

“What do you want, John?” Charlotte demanded, yet the fury in her eyes wavered.

Please tell me it was all a misunderstanding, John, please! Her thoughts cried inside of me.

“I… I’m sorry, Charlotte.” My doppelgänger apologized.

I winced at that pathetic attempt to win her sympathy. As for Charlotte, it had the opposite effect. The very last bit of restraint within her snapped as her thoughts echoed through my mind.

I see… So I’m not the person in your heart anymore.

She looked down, where one of Helene’s toy trucks had been left on the grass. She picked it up and hurled it at her husband, who instinctively dodged, but her aim was too wide and it ended up smashing onto the middle of the road in several pieces.

“I’m going to my mother’s. You can live with that woman from now on!” Charlotte declared, her voice cracking with grief.

The unspoken thoughts from both Charlotte and her husband were too much to bear, yet at the core it was the same thing: I love you so much, yet why is this happening?

That was when I noticed someone small in the corner of my eye walking onto the road with tiny steps. I turned and gasped, it was Helene, who was only four years old.

Something else tugged at my consciousness. I glanced the other way. Less than a hundred meters away, a car was speeding through the neighborhood at more than triple the speed limit.

“No!”

Both me and my doppelgänger shouted at the same time, but I was the first to act. I ran. Instead of going around, I intended to run through him. Just as I warped pass his body, he too started running. The next thing I knew, we were one.

Maybe that explained the strange sensation of being possessed that I felt as I rushed towards my daughter. That revelation did not make me pause. I ran faster than I had ever done in my life. The car had started to break, but there was not enough time.

I hurled myself the last few meters towards Helene. The car was close enough for me to spit on. Time slowed down excruciatingly to the point I drifted horizontally in the air, fingers inches away from my daughter.

“That was a spectacular jump, John. If only you could see yourself.” His voice echoed in my head. Or was it my voice?

“Can I make it in time?” I begged.

“You’ll see.” He replied.

My outstretched hands made contact with Helen’s small body, and pushed her out of the way. As for myself, time was up.

***

The next thing I knew, I was staring up at Charlotte’s lovely face that was ravaged by sobs and tears. Above her, the blue sky was so beautiful that it hurt to look at it.

I blinked once, and realized that I am still alive. That said, I couldn’t feel my body at all. Was I even breathing?

“Oh, John…” My wife wept, cradling my head in her hands as if I was a babe. I noticed something wet staining her arms and shirt. I quickly realized that it was my blood.

A familiar face appeared behind hers, smiling sympathetically at me. “You don’t have much time left, John. This is all I can give you.”

I did not bother with replying to him, and focused on Charlotte.

“Is Helene alright?” I whispered.

My wife nodded. “Yes…! You saved her John! Don’t worry, an ambulance is on its way, you’ll be alright!”

I didn’t have to hear her thoughts to know that was a lie.

“I love you, Charlotte… You and only you.” I breathed as the edges of my vision began to darken.

“And I love you.” She immediately replied, staring deep into my eyes as she said that. Her normally brown eyes were now the color of amber due to the bright afternoon sun, and so close that I could see the individual fibers of her iris.

So beautiful. Like precious gemstones, they were. I thought to myself as my vision narrowed, then blinked into darkness.

***

At first, there was nothing. And then like the flick of a switch, I found myself in a sea of white.

There was no floor, yet I stood on two feet. There were no walls or ceiling. The place seemed to go up and out forever, white for as far as the eye could see.

“Hello again, John.”

I turned around to face a man whom I have definitely met before, and who seemed very familiar.

“How are you feeling?” He asked with a kind smile. His teeth were perfectly white.

“Like I was hit by a car.”

His face split into a wide grin and he laughed mirthfully. Despite the vastness of the place, his laugher echoed back.

“That was a good one, John.” He praised, still chuckling.

I smiled back before stating the obvious. “I’m dead.”

He nodded once. “Yes, you are.”

“Then… All of the memories you showed me…”

“Remember how they say that in the moments before death, you experience your entire life flashing past?”

I hummed in comprehension. “I know who you are, now.”

“Oh?” The man asked, tilting his head slightly as if to say ‘do tell’.

“You are Michael, my older brother.”

Another bright smile split through his face. “It has been a while, John.” He greeted.

I huffed whilst shaking my head. “You were always so fond of playing mind games, even though I rarely saw you.”

“Well, old habits do die hard.” He joked, and both of us chuckled. “Close your eyes, there’s one last place I have to bring you.”

I closed my eyes and asked. “Another of my memories?”

I could imagine him shaking his head. “Nope. This time, it’s one of the present.”

***

We were at the graveyard once again. This time, only a handful of people had gathered around a single gravestone, dressed in casual clothes. Judging by the state of the grave and the expressions of the people present, at least a year had passed.

“Though it may not be a nice thought initially, your death brought the family together.” Michael stated lightly.

I looked at the faces of my wife Charlotte; my daughter Helene; mother and father who stood side by side, a sight I have not seen in over ten years; and our sister Katy, standing together with the family.

“You can listen to their thoughts if you focus on them, John, if you wish to hear what they are saying to you.” Michael instructed.

I focused first on Charlotte and Helene.

“I hope you are ok in heaven, daddy. Don’t worry about me, I have many friends in school, and mommy and I visit grandpa, grandma, and aunty Katy every Saturday and Sunday.”

“John, I stopped crying myself to sleep now, even though I still miss you so much. Sometimes, whenever I am feeling down, or when I start remembering our past, I feel like you are right beside me. I know it’s just my fantasies, but it makes me feel a little better. Thank you for putting up with me all these years, when all I do is complain and doubt you. John… I love you so much.”

When their thoughts turned to a contemplative silence, I focused on the rest of my family.

“Johnny… When you were born, Michael always wanted to carry you. Whenever he comes back for summer, the first thing he’d do was to find you. After your brother passed away… Your father and I couldn’t move on, and we took it out on each other…”

“Son, your mother and I made a lot of mistakes bringing you up. I made a lot of mistakes. I had forgotten how important my family was to me, and it wasn’t until your death that I realized that. I’m so sorry for everything I’ve done against your mother. But, believe me, even after we divorced, I never forgot about her. After all, it’s hard to forget someone who gave you so much to remember…”

“I still can’t thank you enough for loaning me the money, John. Mom and dad wouldn’t listen to me, and all my ‘friends’ turned me away. I don’t blame them. All I ever did was took people for granted. But you trusted me, John, thank you so much. It doesn’t sound like much, but Charlotte and Helene will get free services from me, forever!”

A little while later, my family finished and went home, together.

“It’s like a miracle.” I whispered, filled with emotion.

“It was.” Michael agreed. “Without intending to, your death fixed our broken family. For that, I cannot thank you enough.”

I replied welcome. “So… What now?” I asked.

Michael smiled. “Well, that is up to you.”

“And what do you mean by that?” I replied, used to this by now.

“Let’s see. You could say… that it’s time to move on.” He stated.

“Move on to where?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. You will know when you get there.”

“What about you?”

“What about me?” He repeated.

“Aren’t you moving on?”

Michael shook his head. “No. I have to remain here.”

“Why?”

“Because… Because I’ve killed people.” He admitted.

That made sense. He was in the army, after all. “How long do you have to stay?”

“I don’t know. I will know when it’s time.” He answered with a nonchalant smile.

“Ooh…” I paused, trying to find something to say.

“Don’t worry about me.” Michael said whilst clapping my shoulder. “My time will come, so until then I do what I have to do.”

“And what do you do?” I inquired.

For a moment he was contemplative, as if wondering whether he should actually answer it or not. “I am the little ‘goodly’ voice in a person’s heart. Sort of like an advisor, if you will.” He explained.

“I see… So when you passed away, you chose this role?”

“I didn’t have a choice, really, though I did choose to watch over you. Between mother, father and Katy, I just couldn’t leave my little brother all alone.” He grinned good-naturedly.

“And what will you do now, since I am dead?”

His shoulders shrugged. “Find someone else, or just wander around between people. I haven’t decided yet.”

“Then, can I do the same?”

Michael smiled sadly and shook his head. “Sadly, no, younger brother. Look, it’s already starting.”

As he said that, I looked down and saw my body starting to fade away. At first I felt scared, but the feeling soon passed.

“Will all of us meet again one day?”

“Of course. I can’t tell when or how, but we will, eventually.” He promised. “Remember, it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, saint or sinner, human or not. In the end, we are all equal in the eyes of death.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?” I asked, curious.

He shrugged with a playful smile. “Just that. See you later, Johnny.”

And so, I faded away until there was nothing but darkness.

And then, like the flick of a switch, I opened my eyes.

 


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