This is chapter five of my forthcoming novel, Scotch-hoppers. Don't miss the Hopscotch Song, Chapter One: Hopscotch, and Chapter Three: The Quiet Room.
Interlude in the Afterworld I
Debbie watched her killer slip away through the window and into the night. Then her attention fixed on the defiled body that she had forever known as herself. The Debbie she had seen the whole of existence through and grown in and felt through. That was all simple past now, she saw, and she drifted away from the scene of her death into her deeper past.
She passed through everything that she had ever known. Even her dreams were bare for her to examine in fibrous detail. They were big as a mountain range, strange and fascinating, yet nothing but particles of dust on closer examination. And the episodes of her days were in motion. Her whole life was a movie. It played forward and backward. And the film of her life was interwoven with music like none she’d ever heard. It was a pattern of sound as complex as helix rivers marching through history and yet as simple as yes or no, one or zero. Then the film and its soundtrack became a corpse in the blue shadows of her bedroom.
Debbie found herself conscious of being far away from the blue light and her corpse and everything else. She was in vast, empty space, and she was aware of her own consciousness as an opaque globe of light encased in the starless darkness. Then she was moving towards a tunnel of light.
She became aware of another presence. A cold, gnawing emptiness moved toward her from the corner of her vision. She turned her gaze toward it. It was an unpitying, devouring hollow of hunger and hate. She felt icy pain radiate from it. It hated her and ached for at the same time.
Debbie was afraid. The hungering hatred seemed to ache for her inside herself. She could feel its immense gravity tug at her from the inside. “Please, God,” she said. Then the tunnel of light pulled her inside its warmth and peace and enveloped her.
Debbie Cole stood, yes, stood on her own two legs, on the white sandy shore of a calm, peaceful sea. Instinctively she reached up and touched her face and her hair. She was whole again. In fact, she couldn’t remember feeling more whole and healthy. Had her murder been a dream? Was she dreaming now?
White sands spread out to the horizon and met a cloudless blue sky. The placid sea spread as far as she could see. The golden light of an unseen sun danced on the water, and yet Debbie could feel little drops rain sprinkle her skin from the clear blue above. That was odd. But the thing that perplexed her was that she was completely alone. Nothing existed but her, the sand, the sea, the light, the sky, and the rain from nowhere.
Then Debbie felt a familiar presence right behind her. Debbie recognized the vanilla perfume and the almost sunny scent of hairspray. She turned around. Her favorite aunt greeted her with a warm smile. Aunt Lucy wore the same blue and white floral apron that she had always worn in life. She had a twinkle in her eyes as she took Debbie’s hands.
Aunt Lucy’s hands felt frail and a little cold, just as they always had, but they were also soft and comforting. Debbie pulled her close and embraced her. “Oh, my poor, poor Deb,” Aunt Lucy said. Debbie rested her head on her aunt’s shoulder and began to sob. “I’m so sorry, dear,” Aunt Lucy said, stroking Debbie’s soft hair.
“He killed me,” Debbie whispered. “He desecrated me.” Debbie wiped her eyes and looked at Aunt Lucy. “So I’m dead now, right? Is this Heaven?”
Aunt Lucy smiled. “No Deb, honey, this isn’t Heaven, and it isn’t Hell, of course. You’ve come to the shore of the Afterworld.” Lucy motioned with her eyes at the placid water. “And that is the Sea of Love, darling.”
Debbie shook her head. “I don’t understand. Why am I here? Where do I go?”
“You were murdered before your time,” Aunt Lucy said. “But that evil man changed things. Yet there is so much love in you for someone there, in your past life, that God won’t let you come home to Him before you’ve had a chance to express that love. He won’t let that evil man win over your love. You’re here, my darling girl, because you have so much love left to give to someone who was left behind.”
“But how?” Debbie asked. “Am I really dead?”
“I know you don’t understand it all right now, Deb, but that is part of every journey, isn’t it? I will show you how to use your will to do some things that can help influence things when you get back. I’ve a feeling things are about to happen down there that you’ll wish you could change.”
“But how do you know all of this?”
“I had to influence things back there too when I died. You only come here, my darling, if there’s a reason. My mommy, your great grandmother Edna, helped me when it was my time. I used the Sea of Love to return back to my old home below and try to help my poor Franklin.”
“You were a ghost!” Debbie said. “Uncle Frank swore he saw you.” The memories all came back to Debbie now. “No one believed him, but he swore and swore that you would walk the stairs every night and disappear behind the door to the attic.”
“That’s right dear, and I used this sea, the Sea of Love, to do that.”
“But why? What did it accomplish? Everyone thought he had gone mad with grief.”
“I doubt Frank ever told anyone what he found because of my visits. That was his way when it came to that sort of thing, but there was something of great value in the attic that Frank never knew about. Something I wanted him to have.”
Aunt Lucy was right: Debbie didn’t remember Uncle Franklin ever mentioning that he found anything of value in the attic. He really must have kept it a secret. Was he secretly rich? He always seemed like such a miser that he could be rich and no one would ever know. He never bought a lot of things, especially big things – no boats or even a big television or a new recliner to replace the ratty old one he used for years. “What was it, Aunt Lucy – a treasure of some kind?”
Lucy gave Debbie a familiar, warm smile; her eyes twinkled with mischief. “A real treasure. Maybe he can tell you sometime, darling. Right now, I only have time to show you the little I know about the Sea before I have to go.”
“Back to Heaven?”
“Yes, darling, it’s something like that – though not what you probably imagined when you were a little girl going to Sunday school. Come on now.” Suddenly, Aunt Lucy stood far away along the line of the shore. “Just think yourself here, Deb. That’s the first lesson: You have to think your way around.”
“I already tried that. After he killed me, I tried to think my way down to see who he was, but I couldn’t move. I was paralyzed.”
“You need the Sea of Life to do these things, dear. Feel its rain? You can do it now. Just think your way here.”
Debbie thought about standing next to her Aunt Lucy on the line of the gently breaking surf. A sudden rush of energy moved her, and she stood right beside Lucy, right where she wanted to be. “OK, that definitely works. But if I’m dead, how do I think?”
“Your brain may be dead, but that’s just part of your body, like a computer that tells it what to do. Your mind is where your will lives, your soul, and that never dies, dear. You understand that now. There is no real death, no nonexistence.”
Debbie nodded her head. “I always wanted to believe, but I couldn’t really,” she whispered.
“I know you,” Aunt Lucy said. “But wanting to believe is a kind of belief of its own, a kind of hope, and love and hope are all that matter. Now, let me tell you the second lesson; it’s the last one I know. To get back to the world of the living, you must swim down into the Sea of Life. Just keep swimming down and breathe the water in, and you’ll get to the person or the place you are thinking of, the person or place in your heart, so to speak. But being there will make you tired, and you’ll only have so much energy to use before you’ll have to come back. You’ll have to be careful with your energy. Oh, I should tell you: It’s easier to be seen when you’re in your own house, like when I helped Frank. Also, you can only go back from here three times. Don’t ask me why. When you need to come back here, just look for the light, and it will bring you back.” Aunt Lucy smiled. “Now, goodbye dear. I’ll see you soon enough.”
“Wait,” Debbie said, but Lucy had already disappeared.