Afterlife, a short story by goffer23. Date added: 2007-10-17. Times viewed: 857.
- Please SEND FEEDBACK - Writers love hearing from you. You can view the Authors profile here
- Intro: Thomas woke one night to find his house on fire. But that was the least of his worries....
- Come lovely and soothing death, undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving, in the day, in the night, to all, to each, sooner or later, delicate death. -- Walt Whitman
Death came swift to Montana on the night of July 23, 2004. For Thomas Holden it was the night that everything he knew dear went down in tragic flames.
The flames started a little after one in the morning. Thomas was awakened by the sound of crackling coming from someplace in his house. He sat up in bed, as he was not accustomed to hearing such a sound. His wife Kathy's shallow breathing in the bed beside him edged his uneasiness that he had felt when first awakened. He did not want to wake her, so he quietly climbed out of bed and felt the slightly cold hardwood floor beneath his feet. Kathy stirred, but did not open her eyes.
Through the curtains the night's full moon could not be seen clearly. An ominous glow instead shone through the cloth, casting flickers of white light on the bed sheets and Thomas' clothes as he made his way past the bay window in their bedroom.
Thomas had thought that the noise that disturbed him might be his imagination, but it still sounded. In the dark hallway he crept down the length of it, already knowing something was amiss. The sound he had heard--a crackling, as if a child were crumpling a plastic bag, was not in his mind but rather in the house somewhere. Where was the key that Thomas needed to find out.
The hall dead ended but he turned left and began his descent down the three stairs to enter his living room. The room was even darker than the hallway, as there was only one bay window here, and it was covered with a heavy wool curtain so as to deter any would be intruders that might want to rob them. In Butte, however, such things rarely happened, especially in the secluded suburb where Thomas and Kathy lived.
The sound changed as he made his way through. The crackling was there, yes, but now there was another sound accompanying it. Scratching. Somewhere. He couldn't quite pinpoint the exact source of it. It was not scratching on the floor in one place; rather it was scratching from beneath the floorboards and seemed to be all over. His feet could not feel anything like rattling of the house. But his bare feet sensed something muddled in his home. This disquieted him; he was not used to hearing such sounds.
As Thomas rounded the final corner of his journey to the kitchen, he came face to face with the beginnings of death. At first his groggy mind did not register what he saw. His eyes saw the flames emanating from the stove, the smoke whirling around in circles above the orange death licks and circulating down around the room, and the countertop as it charred black from the heat given off, but it wasn't until his lungs inhaled the smoke that came from the fire that he actually realized that his kitchen was an incendiary oven.
He coughed as the contaminated air entered his body. His eyes were beginning to sting, and he took a step back. Once asleep, he was now wide awake and ready for action. It was not only the flames that burned his mind, it was what they meant. His house was going to burn down. He couldn't stop it in time. His only hope was the firefighters and their pressured hose. But his house!
Thomas Holden worked as a construction worker and it had been his company that built his home. He had done the original plans, supervised the design, and helped along every step of the way until the completed project--a humble abode on the outskirts of Butte, Montana. Since that project, four years ago, he had lived comfortably with Kathy.
Now this. Now everything he knew could be dying in a few minutes. His heart fluttered.
The flames were spreading fast. He could see through the smoke the linoleum floor peeling back and crumpling up from the heat that tore through them.
The phone was his only hope now. He had to call the police and then wake Kathy. Thank God she was on the other side of the house. God, if he hadn't been wakened when he did...
He picked up the closest phone on the hall holder, intending to dial 911. The smoke now circled in the hall, so his vision was impaired more as he fumbled with the phone. His hands felt over the phone. After typing what he thought was the three right numbers, he put the phone to his ear. Nothing. He listened more over the crackling and hissing of the fire. No tone. No ringing. No sound of any kind.
As he examined the phone closer, Thomas was shocked to see the phone cable itself unplugged, if not cleanly ripped, from the wall terminal. He coughed in shock as he inhaled the smoke filled air.
His once calm mind started to betray him. The phone wavered in his hand and dropped. If the phone was dead, how could he get help?
His thoughts fumbled in and around one another. He knew the smart thing to do was calm down and go wake Kathy and then escape through the back door. But his feet did not move when he told them to.
The flames now jutted into the hall and the heat increased beyond the bearable level. His house was more flammable than he had hoped.
He had to move. The fire was moving too quickly to put out and the phone was dead.
Thomas looked away from the blaze and raced back the way he had come. Time to get Kathy and escape this pit of death.
Only a couple seconds ago the bedroom was close and clear in his mind, but now it seemed a million miles away. He moved around the couch and into the hall towards the bedroom where his wife slept unaware of the approaching death.
Although he was on the other side of the house, Thomas smelled smoke as he hurried through the house. Most likely it was on his clothes. In his clothes. In his skin and in his lungs. The bedroom door was in front of him.
He pushed it in, no longer caring to be quiet. He gasped and froze in his tracks when he saw the lack of his wife in the bed.
She couldn't have been somewhere on the way back here. She hadn't woke up. So where was she? He stormed past the window, billowing out the thin curtain. The moonlight poured in. So tranquil and serine, it remained unchanged from before. It didn't seem fitting for the present situation. His house was on fire, and these rays of white penumbral light seemed to indicate to the world that nothing was wrong. Nothing was amiss in his house.
But things were, and as Thomas searched the bedroom he became increasingly frantic when Kathy remained out of sight.
"Kathy!" he called out. His voice was loud and resounded throughout the bedroom. Though the events had been loud in his mind, the house itself was as of now still quiet. His voice could be heard from many rooms. That was good. "Kathy!"
He stepped in the hall and turned down the hallway. Maybe she was in the bathroom and didn't hear him. His mind was falling behind now. Too much was running through it.
The end of the hall was near, but as he approached it Thomas was once again stopped dead in his tracks. This time not because of the fire, but because of the figure that stepped out from behind the wall and turned to face him. His heart dropped out of his body and his legs followed suit, smashing him down to the ground.
This man-like figure was not normal. The first thing that Thomas noticed was the face. Even in the darkness of the house the thing's abnormal head could be seen clearly. It was missing certain aspects of its face, for starters the skin. The covering that is always there was not on this creature, instead it was covered by flesh--raw, red, jagged, almost glowing flesh. The eyes gave the impression of being popped out, because there were no eyelids or eyelashes on this creature. The eyes were simply there, moving back and forth erratically as if in a state of epileptic fit. They never sat still; instead they constantly jerked in tight circles or directions.
The body was present, human like at first glance, but the moonlight revealed the creature for what it really was. A twirling mass of inhuman substance, forever flowing and churning around and around in frantic circles, red liquid like substances twirling continually and perpetually in and around the clothes that wrapped around the frame. The substance had no end or beginning from what Thomas could see and the masses formed a perfect fit in the shape of the human form. Its head was sort of there, not really hooked or attached to anything; instead it seemed glued on the twirling red mass below it.
It stood in the darkness, over six feet tall and unmoving. Thomas stared agape at this thing, that abomination of nature that could not have possibly existed. And yet it did exist, because he was staring straight at it. He did not know what it was, or if he was hallucinating from the smoke, but whatever the reason this thing was here and although it had arms and legs like a human, it was most certainly not; in fact it was probably the furthest thing from human that there could be.
He backed up on his hands and his bare feet slid from underneath him as the reality of what he was seeing sunk in. The floor, once so hard and steady underneath his feet, failed him as he retreated away from the thing. He slipped six times before he was three feet back from where he started.
The smoke from the fire was in the living room now.
His wife. God, where was she?
The thing in front of him hadn't moved, but nonetheless Thomas felt that it did not want to tell him good things.
A rippling pain shocked Thomas as he backed up. The center of it was on his right arm. Looking down, he saw a cut, a fresh gash, in his forearm. The cut was too clean to be a knife wound or other purposefully made incision, but definitely too precise for an accidental brush with a sharp surface. Which left what? How did it happen? Blood started flowing and he knew it was real.
He coughed. The smoke was now starting to come around and into the hall. He was too occupied by the cut to notice that the being in front of him was moving until it was a foot from him. He yelped, bringing his legs back over his head and somersaulting, landing on his feet facing the creature. The eyes of the beast were still in endless jerky movement, creating harmony with the writhing body beneath it.
Thomas backed up more and more until the hard wall signaled the end of the hallway and the end of his running.
Another jab of pain, and this time it was on his left arm. Thomas cried out and looked only to see another cut of the same length and precision on the same forearm. It was now that he realized the creature must be doing this to him. There was no other explanation. He didn't bump into anything, and besides, the way the cut had been drawn into him was extremely accurate. This thing in front of him had to be doing it, somehow. With its mind, perhaps. But he couldn't be sure.
While the sources of the cut were shrouded, the pain that elicited from them was real and raw. He felt the blood run down his arm and the smoke circle around his body.
His heart was thumping and he knew he had to do something fast. The creature was, as he looked at it, slowing moving towards him. Not by walking or by any visible, logical means. It simply glided along the floor, not moving its fake legs or any part of itself but still moving forward. The soles of the wriggling feet slid smoothly along the hardwood; the pace was a slow speed, like a slow walk.
Thomas thought fast, and ducked to the right of the creature as it approached him. The hall was wide enough to allow movement through both ways and he took advantage of the creature's seemingly slow movements. His bare feet slapped the ground with a thud each time he put it down, and as he was beside the creature he smelled it.
The odor was strong enough to gag him more than the smoke. A mixture of rotten bananas, fresh horse droppings, throw-up, and stale milk didn't come close to describing the smell of this thing. Something must have happened to it for it to be this putrid. Or, Thomas thought, it might be normal to smell like that where it came from, wherever that might be.
He was past the creature and past the smell before he could take a full two breaths. He immediately flipped around to face the creature and his eyes widened.
Instead of turning to face him, the creature molded to face him. The back became the front, the face became the hair, the palms became the forehands. The process was mind boggling to watch, and the smoke circling around the two didn't make it any easier. The moving mass folded in on itself and molded around. The cloak split, making way for the entity's entrails to come forth.
The process was complete within a few seconds. Thomas coughed harder and backed up in disbelief. What was he dealing with?
The creature moved forward again, and Thomas began to back up now, this time with the living room as a backdrop. He felt his skin slice open on his left arm again; he cringed. It came again, on his right arm, then again on his leg, and then the other, and one more on his arm. His face contorted in pain as the flesh was cleanly ripped apart from the creature's thought waves of some kind.
He was suddenly hot, and realized that the fire had spread quite rapidly through the kitchen and was now working on the entrance to the living room.
And he remembered Kathy. Jesus, was she all right? Had she gotten out before the flames spread? Was she dead from the creature's wrath? Where in God's name was she!?
The creature didn't wait for him to search for his wife, instead followed him into the living room, attempting to corner him.
Bleeding from numerous cuts, Thomas ran around the flames and jumped behind the sofa.
If it was possible, though anything was possible now it seemed, the flames came for him. They jumped past the doorway and crawled on the wall towards him. Beads of sweat started from him as the flames came for him quickly and deadly.
The room was filling with smoke faster and faster. The creature, only ten feet away, was obscured in the haze and could only be vaguely seen. What was once a small fire in the kitchen had roared out of control faster than any normal fire should. It was spreading by the second and Thomas knew that whatever was happening was about to come to an end soon.
And he had to come out alive.
He ran for the opposite wall and huddled up against the table there. He had to act. Groping in the smoke, he ran his hands along the tabletop and pulled towards him a lamp. The lamp was a family heirloom, but it still got hurled at the beast across the way.
Thomas watched in horror as, through the dark smoke, the creature sidestepped the lamp altogether. The porcelain and glass shattered on the other wall, spraying shards everywhere.
Sweat was rolling down his face, his arms, his legs, even his feet, and mixing with the blood. He was growing weak from the smog in the room and the loss of blood from the well-placed cuts.
He tried to get up, but his legs failed him and he fell on the carpet, now hot from the radiant heat of the fire.
The flames seemed to crackle, pop, and snap with a sound louder than anything he had ever heard from a fire before. The flames seemed to speak to him, or the creature, in a language of hissing and whistling.
Thomas looked up. The fire had engulfed the creature completely on the other side, but miraculously it was still standing stock still, and not on fire. The wallpaper behind it was wrinkling and melting away; the sofa in front of it was burning with a colored smoke, and yet this creature, this being, stood in the middle of it not moving and not burning.
He willed himself to get to his knees. He had to get to the hallway and the safe parts of the house.
His mind was going. His face and arms and legs were bleeding and his skin was reaching a point of hotness that bordered on some degree of burns. He felt his hair bristle and singe off as the orange death leaped at him.
He had long ago forgotten the coughing fits that now racked his body. He could not control his lungs as they tried to expel the unnatural soot from their interior.
He crawled towards the hallway which he had just fled, but suddenly the creature was right on him. He was shocked and fell down once more as the thing appeared right in front of him.
In the light of the fire, through all the smoke that whirled around the room, Thomas could see the creature glowing. Actually glowing, a mix of yellow and green that radiated off the moving parts of its body.
He found his mouth agape as the creature seemed to grow bigger, rise higher and glow brighter.
The fire seemed to slow now, and the smoke to clear a bit. Thomas' mind began to work slightly more advanced. The pain from his cuts subsided; he thought he could see them bleeding but couldn't feel the sting. All he could focus on was the glowing creature, its eyes and intricate features. He was dimly aware of the fire around him as it ate up his furniture, but strangely he couldn't feel its heat any longer. He was on his feet without realizing it. The creature was right in front of him, inches away. Its features no longer seemed grotesque but in a way rather tantalizing. Its glowing eyes radiated outward and seemed to calm the fire around them. It was as if they were in another place--here physically, but on the other planes, the higher planes so to speak, they were somewhere else, somewhere alone where he and this creature could see each other for the first time without interruption. So bright was the light now coming from the entity that Thomas almost had to squint, but he couldn't. He didn't want to. The creature now held him in a tranced gaze, far from the smoke and ashes of his house.
"What-What are you?" Thomas asked in a hoarse whisper. His voice was barely audible to him and he felt that no one had heard him, but from somewhere inside the creature came a voice, soothing and calming, to greet his.
"You do not belong here." The voice was neither man nor woman, but simply a tone with no features either direction.
The fire, the flames, the smoke, the pain, everything began to fade away. The creature was still in his view, still there, but he felt his eyes closing. He fought to keep them open and yet an unseen force pushed them down again. He was spiraling downward away from everything around him. Before he could decipher what was actually going on his eyelids complied with the will of gravity and closed, leaving him to stare at a forever twisting mass of constantly changing colors.
When his eyes opened again he was in his bedroom. He felt rested, complete in a way he had never felt before. He looked over and saw Kathy sleeping soundly next to him. Her chest rose and fell with her breathing and the calmness about her face made the feeling of security Thomas felt even more intense. He vividly remembered what happened, but it scared him no longer. The voice that had spoken to him was, at the time, so mystifying. Now he understood. Whether it had been angel or a demon, and he was leaning towards the latter, it had spoken to him the truth. What happened to him had not been a dream. It had been real and he did not belong in that world any longer. This was his afterlife.
His house had burned down and he with it. Kathy as well.
He knew this without knowing how.
The creature, a grim reaper of some kind, had transferred him from his existence below to the existence now.
He was dead.
He was being given a chance of some kind, a way to keep on living his life. The creature was a guardian of sorts, guarding the two worlds--the one in which he was now and the one he had awoke into previously. This wasn't so much another reality as it was, Thomas guessed, a different plane of living. One where he was now supposed to be. The creature had seen to it that he was put here when his life on the other world had ended. Its methods he did not understand and the cuts on his body were a mystery to him, but he was thankful that he was here, somewhere other than any pits of any sort of hell.
His life would go on. Normality would be restored. He knew this. He felt it. He also knew that once he went to sleep he would awake none the wiser to what happened and go on living.
He had no idea how he could possible fathom all this but guessed the creature had implanted some knowledge in him. Kathy would never know, and he would forget it soon. He guessed it was the creature's way of saying ignorance is bliss.
Thomas rose from the bed. Kathy murmured something but stayed in her dream world.
He went down the hall. No smoke greeted him. Into the kitchen. No fire. No creature. Just the dark silhouettes of pots, pans, and silverware resting in peace, enjoying each other's company.
Everything here was as it should be.
- Use for below to send feedback to author - View the Authors profile here
- The following form will send feedback to the author about this short story, please enter your e-mail if you wish a reply (which is obviously at the authors own discretion)