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An Afterlife by Stephen V. Ramey

In his dream, Patrick became a blur of motion against the backdrop of cemetery tombstones. He sought her, the dead girl he had seen as a child, a girl with blonde hair and blue eyes, a girl with raspberry lips. He didn’t know her name, only the sound of her voice in his ear.

There it was again, cutting through the wind created by his incessant running: “I don’t believe in afterlife.” The tone was neutral, devoid of passion. She had given up. He changed direction, cutting crosswise across the lumpy, sunken yard, unmown grass and wilted flowers bound by green wire ties.

He had to prove her wrong, that her afterlife was true; if he had seen her, heard her, how could it not be true? This was the purpose of his dream, the driving force for his being. He had to find her grave, had to read her headstone before the sunset robbed his eyes.

A momentary hopelessness stopped him cold. He didn’t know her name or the date of her death.

He glimpsed movement. At the end of the row of headstones, a girl knelt beside a freshly dug grave. He wanted to call out to her, but
what could he say? Breath wheezed from his lips. Suddenly he was exhausted; it felt as if he could not run another step.

He stumbled headfirst, and he was there, lying by her knees. The grave must have been closer than it seemed.

“You,” Patrick gasped. “You have to… to believe.”

She did not turn, but continued to gaze into the open pit. Dirt trickled down, making a muffled staccato.

“You have to believe,” he said, pushing to his hands and knees. He found himself staring into an abyss, grainy loam at its surface
transitioning to deep black clay at the bottom–was there a bottom?

His wobbling arms collapsed, dumping him face first into the hole. The girl’s voice sang after him, a Rudyard Kipling rhyme: “Down to Gehenna or up to the Throne. He travels the fastest who travels alone.”

Sputtering, Patrick woke to darkness, the taste of dirt gritty upon his tongue. He panicked, then fought it down. It’s a dream, he
thought. A dream. Breath came with difficulty; the blankets upon his back and shoulders seemed unnaturally weighted.

He scrabbled, attempting to turn over. Instead, the mattress seemed to split and he sank deeper. Gasping, he flailed and tore, trying to swim his way out.

Light appeared, hazy at first, then brighter. He dug harder; a fingernail pulled away. He flinched, but no pain came.

Then he was through, suspended in sky, looking down upon a playground surrounding a blocky school. It was his childhood school. He’d never seen it from this perspective, but the landmarks were clear, the monkey bar dome, the rubber-seat swing set and basketball court where he had played four square; the silver slide.

Directly below, a girl climbed the slide ladder, a girl with blonde hair and blue eyes and skin so pallid she seemed to glow. She reached
the top and turned as if talking to someone a rung down. Her hands slipped; she fell. She landed on her back, eyes staring up.

Recognition flashed through Patrick. He had watched this girl die. It had impacted him throughout his life, made him wonder what had
happened to her soul, what would happen to his soul when he… died?

“You have to believe,” Patrick tried to shout. Dirt rained from his mouth. Their gazes met. Raspberry lips parted. Her voice sounded, the
words buffeting.

“I don’t believe in afterlife.”

And then he was gone.

———————

Stephen V. Ramey lives in New Castle, Pennsylvania with his novelist wife and a herd of reformed feral cats. His work appears most recently in Foliate Oak, Bartleby Snopes, Berg Gasse 19,and Eschatology.

An Afterlife was the happy product of a prompt at Show Me Your Lits, a web site devoted to writers of literary flash fiction. The photo showed a blurred image of a man running past a graveyard. He quickly coalesced into Patrick running from his own mortality, desperately seeking the girl he had seen die as a child. Surely if he can convince her of her afterlife, he will have convinced himself too. Little does he know that ghosts have a voice too, and they can be quite stubborn.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Julie Jansen permalink
    04/02/2011 01:07

    This is a beautiful story!

  2. 04/02/2011 01:20

    This is so powerful and evocative. It will stay with me.

  3. 04/02/2011 07:36

    Wonderful. I love the details of his escape from the grave.

  4. Liz Haigh permalink
    04/02/2011 08:05

    Powerful and haunting.

    The ending will stay with me.

  5. Cezarija Abartis permalink
    04/03/2011 01:12

    I loved the senses in this. So visceral!

  6. G. K. Adams permalink
    04/04/2011 13:31

    Gripping. You put me there with him.

  7. Sue Ann permalink
    04/04/2011 23:13

    This gave me the chills, well-done.

  8. 04/19/2011 05:56

    Thanks everyone!

  9. 05/26/2011 02:14

    Well-written, Steve; very nice work.

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