Saturday, 18 April 2015

Remembering My Death

Chuck had us working on first sentences last week.  This week, we have to work on another person's first sentence and turn it into a 2,000 word story.  I picked out Ashlee Jayde's first sentence. 


There was something not quite right about the headstone.  I stood there in the boneyard looking at it as the hearse drove away, as night drew near, as the cold closed its arms around me.

I still couldn’t see what was wrong with it.

So I went home.

But where was home?  I stopped walking at the gates of the cemetery and tried to remember where I lived, but failed to get my head around exactly where that was.
“You can’t remember where you live, can ya?” a voice said behind me.
My eyes snapped open and I turned at the sound to take in an old man in a suit, “Sure I can.” I lied.
“Leave me alone.”
“I saw you at the grave site.” He said walking up to me, “And you’re trying to figure out something; something you haven’t gotten your head around yet.”
I looked at him, noticing he had a slight Southern accent.  It was nice, kind of comforting.  I shook my head, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I’m Jet.” He stuck his hand out and I noticed a large Class Ring on his right hand.  This was an old-fashioned thing to have in his day, so I knew I was dealing with somebody who had been here for a long time, “Short for Jethro.”
“Nice to meet you.” I shook his hand, finding he took my fingers gently and kissed my hand; another older custom I’d known of, “I’m…”
“Angelina.” He smiled, “We have been expecting you for some time.”
“Yes.” His smile was constant, friendly and comforting; like his accent.
“Who is ‘we’?”
He turned and glanced behind him, “The rest of the stiffs, that’s who we are.” He waited to see if I got his meaning, his drift, what he was talking about.
But I didn’t.
It was impossible.
I couldn’t be!
He saw it happen… the penny actually dropped in my head.
“I’m dead?” I asked.
He nodded, “Yes.  Now, you have to accept your fate and let go of the living world.”
“What happens if I don’t?”
Jethro dropped his eyes and his smile faded from his face, “You end up like us.  You end up stuck here at the boneyard.”
“But that’s not so bad, is it?”
He looked back at me, “What?  Are you kidding?  I thought it would be great to stay here, to see my family come and join me… but it’s not. It’s horrendous.  A lot of them accepted their fate well before coming here. So, you have to ask yourself:  what is keeping you here?” he stepped forward and took my shoulder, “And then, you have to ask yourself: is it worth it?”
I looked into his desperate eyes and realised I really had some thinking to do; serious thinking, “Okay. But I’d like to go back to my house, my family to see them for a little bit before I leave.”
“You need a guide to do that so you don’t interfere with any of them.” He said, “In particular, you need your own personal guide.”
“Well, I never saw anyone on the day I died… so who would that be?” I said.
Raising his eyebrows, Jethro looked down his nose at me, “Well, we’re in a right pickle, aren’t we?  It looks like you are in the need of serious assistance.  Come with me.”
We walked to a tall headstone where there was an Angel carved from marble posed, praying into a book.  He looked up at it, pulled out a fob-watch and then waited for a moment, closed his watch and put it away, “Come on, I know you’re just reading.”
Her eyes moved from the book as her mouth dipped down at the edges, impatience drew its lines on her face, “Jethro.” Her voice was a hymn I had heard in church as a child, “What do you need now?” she looked over at me and her mouth dropped as she lowered her book, “Oh, child, you never received a guide?”
I looked down at myself, “How did you know?”
Climbing down from her headstone, she placed her book on top of where she had sat and walked to me, “I can see it within you.  Your death happened so fast, there was no guide available to be by your side to walk you through the Valley of Death.”
My gut cooled at the thought that my death had occurred so quick, “My death… exactly how had that occurred?”
Jethro looked from me to the Angel, “You don’t remember?”
“No, this is why I want to go home.”
The Angel looked at him, “She tried to leave the cemetery?”
“Yes.  I found her at her own grave site staring at her headstone, not knowing whose name it was on there.” He shook his head, “I followed her to the gates and then brought her here to you.”
“I see.” She whispered, “Your soul needs to go to Heaven, Angelina.  You do not belong here on Earth, and you do not belong in Hell.”
“So, who are you?”
“I’m an Earth Angel who was summoned to look after this cemetery.  It’s not a boring job, but I do come across souls like your own who need a helping hand once in a while.” She smiled, and her kindly face brought my panicking mind to peace immediately, “I will help you Angelina.  And thank you Jethro for helping her; I will put in a good word for you to see if they will let you in where you belong.”
He removed his hat, smiling bashfully, “Oh, thank you so much.”

The next place we found ourselves was a very sterile-looking waiting room.  The Angel hadn’t changed form much, only that it had turned into grey fabric, so she was more of life form than anything else.  She told me to take a seat while she tended to the lady at the desk.
“What do you mean there wasn’t enough time?” her voice sounded tense as I took a seat next to an old man in a hospital gown.
He leaned over and whispered, “How did you die?”
“I don’t know.” I said.
“Neither do I.” he said, “But I’ve been waiting here for ages.”
“That’s not very encouraging.”
The Angel turned looking at me.  She couldn’t hide the disappointment on her face of how much she hated doing this.  Then she turned back, “Listen, this room wouldn’t be here if you people did your jobs right.”
“Hey, you’re only an Earth Angel, and your only job is to look after that cemetery, okay?” the lady at the desk snapped.
“I wouldn’t have to bring some of the souls here and fight for their rights if you sent their guides at the right times.  And you watch your mouth, I still have the powers to smite you, then they’ll have to replace you!”
The woman looked at her smiling, “Yes, with you.”
“Just fix this.  Jethro has been waiting for over a century to enter Heaven, and he’s done right by every soul in that cemetery; especially this one.”
The buzzer on the counter turned red and the lady at the desk turned it off, gave her a smart-ass look, “You can go in now.”
I rose and followed the Earth Angel into the next room, a cramped office with a desk just inside the door and filing cabinets lining the rest of the room.  There was just enough room for us to stand and tiny path to get around the desk to where a little man dressed in a cheap suit sat in an old, cracked, leather high-backed chair. Looking up, he knew exactly who I was, “Ahh, Angelina Stirling… where have you been?”
I looked up at the Earth Angel, “You tell me, one minute I’m at home and watching television, laughing at a comedy show… the next I’m staring at my own grave site.”
His face dropped, “You mean to say, you don’t remember anything from your death?  Your guide didn’t tell you anything?”
The Earth Angel leaned on the desk.  It creaked under her weight, “Angelina didn’t get a guide.  She had no idea what happened to her, so nobody to walk her through the Valley.”
The little man looked up at the Angel, “Okay, then, it looks like you died so quickly that a guide couldn’t get to you fast enough.”
“So, what’s going to happen? How long has it been?” I looked around for place to sit down but there wasn’t any chair, so I leaned on his desk, shoving a pile of paper in his direction to make room.
He spotted me doing that and paused, “You know, I could get you a guide right now.  It’s only been a few weeks… and you really do need help.”
“What about Jethro?” the Earth Angel asked.
“No.” he said.
“Why not?” I asked.
He looked at me, “You don’t know who he was in life, Angelina, so no.” he turned to the Angel, “And you damned Angels always see just the good in people… never ever the bad.  You’re so naive.” He opened a large book and thumbed through the pages until he came to the back of the book, read the last few paragraphs and looked up, “You really don’t remember the last week of your life, do you?”
“No. I don’t, how many times I do have to say this?” this was really getting on my nerves.
The little man paused as he frowned, “And Jethro didn’t just show up by chance, Angelina.  He wanted to see you for a reason.  Go back and find out why, and your guide will show up.”

We showed up at the cemetery as the blooms of Spring were about to burst open.  The Earth Angel looked around, “We’ve been gone longer than I thought.”
“So, how did it go?” Jethro’s voice called from another headstone.
“Well, you better tell me.” I said, “And this time, tell me the truth of why you approached me.  Because they’re not letting you anywhere near Heaven, no matter how good you are here.”
His face dropped as the Earth Angel watched him carefully, “And Jethro, you better tell us both what is going on.  You’re the one blocking Angelina’s guide from her.”
“Okay!” he snapped, “I’m here to see you because I was an old gunslinger from the Wild West… not very well-known, but I did kill twenty-five people, held up three coaches and robbed four saloons and six banks in my life.  And I was killed by a sheriff of California while I was on the last bank robbery; he knew who I was and planned the whole thing just to corner me.” He shook his head, “I’m stuck here for my crimes; Heaven won’t take me.  Lucifer was one of the bank managers I robbed, so he won’t accept me either.” He blushed a little, “But I was a man who got around with the ladies, and so I had a few children out there.”
“Man, I don’t want to know your sex life.” I groaned.
“This has to do with you.” He said, “My Great-great-great-grandson shot you in bank hold-up in California.  He fell into the same damned trap I did – it was heist put on by the sheriff of the state, who was the Great-great-great-grandson of the man who caught me.” He leaned against the neighbouring headstone, “Now you know, I’ll let your guide through.”
From down the path walked a young lady.  She looked at the old man, “Jethro, you again.” She snapped, “I told you to stop doing this to people.”
“Stop hiding their guides.” She said, “It’s confusing for them.”
He looked at me as the Earth Angel climbed back onto her headstone, picked up her book and started reading again.  Before she turned back into marble, she whispered, “You wouldn’t think those two were related, would you?”
I looked between them, “How?”
Jethro sulked, “We were married.”