Pammy watched the waves break, wondering about last night, and where she had left her shoes. The broken water was the same colour as lead, for the sun was still to rise; though the blue sparkle on the horizon promised daylight was just moments away.
Last night’s occasion had been quite a ‘do’. Then again, you only ever have one high school graduation party.
Pammy had a blurred recollection of too many illegal drinks, and a sudden desire to swim in the nearby sea. She didn’t actual recall getting out of the ocean after her dip, but all the signs pointed to her following her drunken impulse. Her dress was stiff with salt and sand. Her hair was a soggy, chilly mass, the pretty chignon of last night now a matted knot resting at the base of her neck.
Her mother was going to say some hard things about Pammy ruining such an expensive frock. That is if her mum was still talking to her after Pammy had stayed out all night. Was her purse with her shoes? She needed cash if she wanted to get a taxi to take her home.
“Oh boy! Am I in trouble,” muttered Pammy.
“Yes,” agreed a warm, masculine voice beside her.
The girl didn’t jump at the unexpected comment. She glanced to her right.
Sitting beside her was a boy. He was wearing all black: boots, jeans and cowled sweatshirt. You could see nothing of his face, for the hood of his shirt was pulled up and forward as far as it would go.
Pammy could have sworn she was alone on the beach. Wow, even hangovers caused hallucinations. You learn something new everyday.
“Hi,” said Pammy. It was weird; she wasn’t one bit scared of him. Normally, she would be very nervous of being alone with some youth she didn’t know. She must have met him last night – though she absolutely no idea of when or where. Another black mark for her record, she mentally noted.
“Hi,” replied the boy, “How are you feeling?”
“You know, I feel good. I thought I would be sick this morning. I had a lot of unfamiliar stuff to drink last night.”
“Yes, I know. It wasn’t such a good idea.”
Pammy frowned at the comment. “Hey, who died and made you boss?”
The boy reached up and pulled back his hood. He was black. Not black like in Aboriginal, Indonesian or Polynesian, nor was he African or any other race of man. His skin and hair and eyes were the same colour as the sky between the stars…utterly black. He wasn’t human.
Pammy was still not frightened. It had to be all a dream.
The boy turned to her and said, “You did.”
“You did. Well, you are,” explained the boy, “You see, this beach isn’t real. It’s the delusion your mind has thrown up in the last few moments before you die. Actually, you are out in the surf, drowning.”
“What! Well, why don’t you save me?” cried Pammy. She stared out at the waves, trying to see a struggling body in the water. She went to stand up and run for help, but found she was too heavy to move. And really, her shock was mainly mental. Emotionally, she was quite calm.
“Hah! You had me going for a minute. But if I’m drowning, how can I be talking to you?”
The boy gave her a wistful smile. “I’m Death. I have to be here. When your heart has stopped, and your brain begins to cool, my business here is done.”
Pammy believed him. She could not remember getting out of the water. And, deep down, she could sense some isolated part of herself, screaming and crying and shouting to be rescued. The part that knew she was dying.
And yet, she felt no real sadness or panic. “So, this is it. What happens afterwards?”
“How am I to know? I am just the figment in oxygen-starved cells.”
“You must know. Or why are you here?”
“No one wants to be alone when they die. Remember those nights you couldn’t sleep, wondering about what happens when you die? Remember the ice raking your throat and chest, when you considered the possibility of no afterlife? You want so badly to see something…and here I am.”
Suddenly, Pammy felt a raging surge of real fear. “So, how do I know when the I’ve crossed over? What signs are there that the crisis is over? You must know.”
But Pammy was all alone on the beach, as the sun broke over the horizon and flooded the world with light.
Your heart is the hourglass of your life. Each heartbeat is another grain of sand slipping down into the pit of time.
What happens afterwards? What happens when the clock stops?
I’ve been having trouble going to sleep lately. I hear ‘time’s winged chariots drawing near’ much too loud to rest. Every time you go to sleep, it is a little death – even Shakespeare knew that. If this is it, if this life is the only teeny, tiny portion of eternity that I get to experience, why should I sleep it away?
Even if I live to be a hundred, it’s a pittance when you compare it to eternity. I could happily live for ten times as long. And don’t tell me that if I live my life fully, I will be happy to go to my rest – I won’t.
Already, I ‘rage against the dying of the light’.
What keeps me awake, what frightens me so…one day, I may go to sleep and never wake up. There will be no more me. Okay, I won’t know about it…but it still scares me. I’m the only me I have.
All the words I write aren’t me. My children aren’t me. Me is the voice I hear in my head.
I’m so scared; I’m even contemplating having my head frozen. Only problem is, I know that the brain is truly gone in minutes – and by the time you have some dumb doctor declare you dead – kiss the real you goodbye. And, if by chance I can arrange to be frozen when I’m only just gone…will my still functioning brain feel itself freezing? What if they never find a way to revive me? I’m still no better off.
Religion is no help. My faith died with my ectopic pregnancy. Why should a baby die before it even had a chance to live? Why should I have fallen pregnant by accident, get over the shock and get excited by the opportunity of a third child – only to have that baby ripped out my reluctant womb. Why? Why would God be so cruel?
Religion is the wall you build to put between you and death. The wall can seem so strong, but death is the earthquake that throws the illusion to the ground.
Life is just a chemical process. Intelligence was a fortuitous accident. When you are dead, you are dead.
And I so don’t want to die.
I’m afraid of the dark.
Jenny and Sarah were gardening. It was Jenny’s first house, after years of rentals, and she loved to potter in her yard. Okay, her husband did the mowing and other heavy jobs, like digging new flower plots – but she did the rest.
Sarah was making mud pies with dirt. At eighteen months of age, her input into the process of planting, weeding and cultivating was confined to the appreciation of good garden soil. Still, she liked being outside and allowed to get filthy.
Jennifer watched her fondly. Sarah was a handful at times, but generally she was a sweet-natured toddler with a busy set of hands. Then, out of the blue, the contemplation of her daughter was ruined by the intrusion of an overpowering smell of smoke and burning hair.
Jenny looked around, worried. Was someone burning off? She was quite cranky at the thought. There was a total fire ban on, as there was a risk of bushfires burning out of control if one was started. The area was infamous for fires; several families had perished in the past couple of years.
She would have to get her clothes off the line before they were tainted with the scent.
Another young mother, with a tiny baby cuddled in her arms, popped her head over the fence.
“Hello! My name is Lisa, and this is Sharon.” she said, smiling, “That looks like fun.”
Jenny grinned up at the other woman, and stood up. She was still too new to the neighbourhood to recognise anyone on her street. It was lovely to have someone approach her in such a friendly manner.
“Gidday. Yes, it is fun. Do you like to garden?”
“Oh, I used to. But I can never find the time these days.”
“I do know what you mean. Children make a lot of work,” said Jenny, nodding with sympathy, “But you get used to it. Do you live close?”
“Oh, I used to live in the area. Really, I’m only visiting today. My husband, Bob, and I used to live in a farmhouse where the new estate is now.”
Jenny felt a pang of disappointment. Lisa looked just like the sort of person she wanted for a friend. Oh well. It was still nice to have a chat with another woman. Particularly a woman with a baby, as Jenny loved babies. She took a closer look at the sleeping infant.
“Sharon looks like she is a good girl,” said Jenny. The child regarded her with a passive, sleepy expression.
Lisa gave her baby a cuddle. “Yes, she is. I would do anything for her. I’d walk through flames for her. So would her daddy.”
Jenny got a whiff of smoke again. Someone was definitely burning off.
“Hey, where has your little girl got to?” asked Lisa.
Jenny looked around. Sarah was not in sight. “Excuse me for a moment,” said Jenny.
Sarah was not inside the house. She didn’t answer Jenny’s calls. With an increasing feeling of panic, Jenny ran out into the back yard.
There was a neglected fishpond near the shed, home to lots of waterweed, uncountable snails and several overfed goldfish. It was a remnant of the garden of the former residents, and Jenny had planned to turn it into a rock garden.
Sarah was kneeling over the pond. As Jenny watched, she fell forward, hitting her head as she slipped into the water.
“Sarah!” screamed her mother.
Jenny ran for all she was worth. Sarah was coughing and spluttering, as she struggled to crawl out of the pool. She kept slipping back into the water, as the cement sides were slippery with green algae.
Her mother dragged her out of danger.
“Oh my darling, my darling,” sobbed Jenny, holding her daughter tight. Sarah had been so close to drowning! What if Lisa hadn’t asked after her! Two minutes, two short minutes, and Sarah might have died.
Jenny walked back into her front yard, to tell Lisa what had happened. The other mother and her baby were gone.
All that was left was the overwhelming, choking odour of smoke.
These stories are over ten years old now. Two of them were included in an anthology of flash fiction. I was mentioned by name in two reviews of the anthology, one very positively and one negatively. You have to learn to accept both types of criticism.