Friday, April 8, 2011

After This (pt. 1)

A young boy dressed in a backwards baseball cap and a red Stanford sweater was standing in the doorway of Charlie Penn’s one bedroom apartment.  The door was open and it appeared to be very late.  Charlie slowly lifted his head off the pillow and then he jumped back.
“Hey,” the boy said.  “You’re dead, dude.”
“Please don’t hurt me!  I don’t have much…”
“No, like, you’re dead.  Already.  You died.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Yeah. Looks like naturally.  And you’re not in your apartment either.”
The boy pointed up.  Charlie followed his finger to find his ceiling was missing, replaced with just a bed of stars that seemed to shine larger and brighter than usual.
“The fuck is…”
“Come on.  I gotta show you around and then split.”
The boy exited.  Dazed, Charlie followed him out to a vacant field save for his apartment complex.  “Where is every…”  in the distance, on a plane, he could have sworn he saw the end of the world.  He fell to his rear, gawking.  
“Yeah, that got me too.  We’re not on anything round.  It’s all flat.  Well, for now.”  
“Where the hell is this?”
“This is whatever it is, dude.  Space.  But Darren said it didn‘t look like ours.”
“…I’m sorry, Darren.”
“My dealer.  And he went to Northwestern, so…”  he trailed off.  
“I’m dead?  I’m dreaming.”
“No, dude. For reals.  I’m dead, too.  I got hit by one of those busses, you know with, like, the accordions?”
“…an accordion bus?”
“Yeah, yeah.”
“Then how did I die?”
“Beats me.  Naturally, it looks.  When Darren came to me - he died a few years back mainlining - it happened right after the accident and I could walk and shit fine.”
“Who are you?” 
“Brad. You, man?”
“Charlie…Why am I not galvanized with terror?” he asked the nothingness.
“Yeah, I know, dude, when I looked around and saw just this and the block I got hit on, I thought I’d freak…I mean, I did for a second then…nothing.”
There was a pause as Brad let Charlie take it in, then he clapped his hands together and started walking.  “Alright,” he said, “I got to explain some things.”
“Are you…God?”
“Naw, man.”
“Who are you?”
“Brad.”
“Yeah but…did I know you or do you know me before…”  There were too many things to ask, and Charlie suddenly felt stupid starting with something so arbitrary.  Brad, for some reason, had the answers to the afterlife and Charlie was fumbling like he might have if he’d met him drunk at a party.
“Oh wait, yeah.  I made you a Sandwhich at Subway the other day.  I saw you just a few minutes ago.  As far as Darren and I and Mr. Traxler figured, we each go through this thing and then we stay on to explain it to the next guy before we go on.”
“Go on? Where?”
“I don’t know, man.  When Darren left he didn’t either.”
“And Mr. Traxler?”
“Darren’s high school football coach.  Who actually was kind of, like, his mentor or whatever so it’s weird I got you.  So we’re dead.  Where ever this is, this is what’s next and I don’t know what’s after that - like, God or whatever.  In a minute this thing we’re on is going to start moving.  And it’s going to have everywhere you’ve ever been in your life on these platforms.  Or almost everywhere.  I saw a lot.  And so, you can visit wherever you want in your life, whenever.  But there are rules, too.  Well, like, not rules, but things you can’t do.”
Charlie slowly got to his feet, uneasy about his new companion.  It seemed like an elaborate fictional conspiracy, made worse and more confounding by it’s narrator.
“Such as?”
“The way Darren put it, it’s like you’re living inside your own head, but you have access to everything.  Like, when you died, it was like this giant USB key of your life clicked on when the last synapse shut down.  So even some things you don’t remember, or didn’t.  You can rehave conversations, but you can also talk to people like you’re imagining talking to them as long as you know them enough to kind of know what they’d say.”
“’Know what they’d say?’  In this situation I don’t think I’d know what anyone-”
“Trust me, man.  You’ll get the hang of it.  So you can only summon people and situations you’ve met and…uh…experienced.  Oh, and you can’t see anyone naked you didn’t already see.  Believe me.”
“Really?  Not even, say, someone on the internet?”
“Oh shit, man.  That would have been a  really good idea.  Fuckin’ Anne Hathaway.  You see Havoc?”
“Back to the…afterlife?”
“Darren said it was like you don’t get any answers you couldn’t have found in your lifetime, but maybe you could get all of those.  And he went to Northwestern, so…”
“I just…I don’t…what does this say about God and…”
“Oh, and the food!  You can eat anything you ever ate, but nothing new.  I went with the stuff I ate when I’d smoke.  Thought I’d never have that again.”
“Can you…die again?”
“Well, you don’t get tired, that’s for sure.”
The thought occurred to Charlie that perhaps this was just the preamble - what people meant they said they saw their life flashing before their eyes - and that perhaps at the end of it there really still was a pearly gate or a firey pit.  He wondered briefly where Brad would go, and if that it would be fair.
“No heaven,” he said.  “No hell.  No correct religious choice.  Your life…again.  Like with footnotes…and even more arbitrary rules.”
“Darren said he met Chuck Klosterman in a bar in Minnesota and he was rambling about a situation like this.  They were both really wasted, though.”
“…you on your way, then?  To-”
“I always figured if there was a God, he’d feel about me like I felt about my third cousins.  We never met, but I heard their names around the house at Christmas and shit.  So every time one of them died, I’d fake being sad for a second but…hey.”
“That’s… very well-put.”
“Oh, totally don’t freak out when you look at yourself in the mirror.  You think you see me like I think I see you, but…we’re not on legs anymore, man.”
“Thanks for that horrifyingly vague description.”
“Darren said he thinks were, like, these celestial things.  Like, we’re the 21 grams people talk about sometimes.  And-”
“-Northwestern, yeah.  So…what was it like?”
Brad scratched his eyes.  “Um…you know.  I died at 21.  Hey, if you want, now that we’ve met and talked, you could go visit your projection of me.  I could make you that sandwich again.”
“I might actually do that.”
“So maybe I’ll see you when you get out of, this thing.”  
The ground started vibrating.
“This is about when Darren faded.”
And with that, Brad started to look like a picture negative before vanishing.

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