Reflections

We’re sitting here, our children around us, our baby being so funny.  There have been times in my life when I’ve been inspired by something or other and whatever idea that came to me really stuck in my head.  It’s been a while since I’ve had that kind of inspiration, but I think that’s natural.  I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than sit in the living room with the family and just hang out.  My wife and I had tough times growing up for different reasons, and we are dedicated to keeping our children’s lives filled with love and positivity.  It’s the most important thing to us.

I’d be devastated if something happened that caused a rift.  Relationships aren’t easy.  My wife and I have been together since high school.  That’s a long time to learn and grow.  It’s not always easy to grow over that time without hurting each other.  We’ve hurt each other for sure.  But in the end, we’re best friends, as close as ever, more in love than ever.  There have been hard times, but none of it matters now.  There are a handful of things that do matter.  Our wedding, the births of our children, moments we’ve shared with family.  We’ve left hard times behind us.  It’s all for the better.  Because all of the bad stuff taught us lessons.  Bad stuff is hard, but it causes growth if you embrace the lessons.  When you grow from hard times, you can leave the crappy stuff behind because it means nothing.

I’m sitting here watching my one year old make funny faces and smush her face into the couch cushion because she must think it’s hilarious.  I think of what I missed out because I was preoccupied or we were fighting or I was focused on stuff that never actually meant anything.  Mentally, emotionally, I missed too much.  It’s only been three years since we’ve been parents, but that’s still too much.  I can’t miss anything else, and I won’t. This family is all that’s ever mattered and now we’re both in a mindset to honor that fact.  I can’t believe I didn’t get my mind straight sooner.  It’s a hard thing to do, to completely change yourself.  But when there are things like two little princesses and an incredible wife hanging in the balance, it doesn’t make changing easier, but it gives plain, clear, strong motivation.

I’m glad we are where we are now.  Our life is in the present and the future.  The past is empty.

I like to think I could write stories about this stuff.  Dramas.  Romances.  But I can’t.  Or I don’t.  My mind doesn’t weave stories about real stuff.  It’s impossible for me.  Maybe because it’s too personal.  Characters and stories are influenced by my life, but I could never actually put my life stories into writing.  My life isn’t for other people to read about.  I’ve been enjoying rereading some of my short fiction.  I went down a list of publications to submit to, so rewriting my old work lends itself to this initiative.  Writing has always been an escape for me.  I did it a lot when I needed to escape from bad times.  I don’t need it too much these days.  I’m so happy that I don’t want to escape from anything.  Someday when that perfect story appears in my head, I’ll write something.  But for now, I’m really loving reading and fixing my old stuff.

Short Story Rewrite: The Day the World Ended

This is one of my favorite short stories.  I changed it a little.  I’ve enjoyed going back over my writing and purging the thoughts out of it that I no longer want or need.  It’s satisfying to clear out the crap, the stuff that never meant anything, the stuff that just clogs up the writer in my brain.  There were some things that had gone into little details of this story that needed to go.  I think as a writer, all of my life, all of my thoughts and feelings go into my writing, so sometimes it’s good to go through, do some rewrites, and purge the stuff you don’t need.  So I’ve rewritten this story bc i didn’t need some the original details.  My life is newer now, better now, better than it could have ever been before.  And so I wanted to try to make this story the same.

A lot of my stories have characters that reflect things about myself and people I know.  This story includes nobody.  It was inspired solely by an idea that when the world ends, maybe nothing really happens.  And here it is.

The Day the World Ended

The day the world ended, I was standing on the curb outside the grocery store.  You know those old electricity switches that a mad scientist would use to bring his monster to life?  The big handle, with the two hinged prongs.  That what the end sounded like.  It must have been audible throughout the world, I’m guessing.

The moment wasn’t preceded by anything.  There was no thunderclap or divine announcement.  Angels and demons didn’t begin battling on Earth for dominance.  No, it was quite anticlimactic.  Someone flipped the switch.  That was it.

*KA-CHUNK*

One minute, the world was a bright, colorful landscape, the home of life, of humanity.  And then it was over.  The sky went gray.  The ground and the sun went gray.  Everything everywhere became gray, different shades of gray.  The world had turned into the music video of Ah-ha’s “Take On Me,” only the world didn’t have an awesome 80’s pop song playing in the background.

After a minute, the streets flooded with people.  Obviously, we were all curious as to what was happening.  It didn’t take long for us to figure it out.  Two types of escalators appeared all over the place.  Golden escalators took people up into the gray clouds while other black escalators took more reluctant riders down into the fiery ground.  We all stood in line for the golden steps, each of us hoping to be worthy of bliss eternal.  I stepped up on the stair, and fell straight through to the gray parking lot beneath.

“Shit,” I muttered.  Knowing there would be more rejects behind me, I rolled out of the way and stood up.  I watched the next reject fall through.  He hit the ground hard.  And then he drifted – unwillingly – toward the black escalator.  I felt lucky as I walked away.  The rejected man apparently did not feel lucky, as indicated by his wild screaming.

My house looked the same when I arrived.  Aside from the gray paint job, everything looked the same.  Down the street, a golden escalator had sprouted up, bringing a swarm of hundreds.

I stared indifferently for a moment and went in my house.

Having been judged and deemed unworthy of salvation, I decided just to relax.  Unfortunately, nothing in my fridge had any taste.  All of the soda was flat.  The TV had a special bulletin screen on every channel telling us that Limbo TV would be up and running soon.  All of my clocks had stopped.  All of my lights were off and the curtains were closed, but the gray, dry sunlight still lit up my whole house with an eerie glow.  I did manage to fall asleep on my couch with a pillow pressed against my face.

A sharp knock at my front door woke me an indeterminate amount of time later.  I sat up, realizing that time meant nothing.  If the clocks wouldn’t be working, then what point did they serve?  Was this a lesson to learn?  Time is inconsequential?

I shook my head before answering the door.  My neighbor greeted me with a cute smile.  Her light red hair was a mess, flying every which way, and her fair cheeks were streaked with mascara.  She wore a long, thin, nearly see-through white dress that someone else probably would have slept in.  I had always thought her to be super cute, but her completely disheveled appearance was slightly off-putting.  She reminded me of someone suffering a hangover, but she was completely coherent.

“Hi, Sam,” she said in a perky voice that didn’t match her tear-stained cheeks.

“Hello, Jill,” I replied.

“How’s it going?”

“It’s, um… well, it’s going gray, I guess.  I haven’t been crying though, which seems to be what you’ve been doing.  Is everything okay?  As okay as… it can be, I guess.”

She laughed, slightly off.  “Uh, yeah.  It’s the end of the world.  I’m bound to be a little sad.”

I nodded understandingly.  “So, what’s up?” I asked.

She stared at me.  As if I wasn’t getting the gist of her visit.  We stood in awkward silence.

“I got a postcard from – you know there’s like nobody to talk to around here, right?  Most people have been sent up or down.  There’s just a handful of us left in town.”

“I had no idea.  I’ve been sitting in my house since the gray happened.”

“Oh,” Jill said, set off balance.  She held up a glossy print of a middle-aged couple in Hawaiian shirts waving at the camera.  “Well, I thought I’d come show you this postcard I got from my parents.  Kinda sucks, if you ask me.  They sent it from the Pearly Gates.”

“Wow.  That’s pretty cruel for the rest of us who couldn’t get on the escalators.”

“Yeah, tell me about it.  All three of us got on an escalator, and only I fell through.  I got this like a minute after they disappeared into the clouds.”

“That’s pretty harsh,” I said, arching an eyebrow pensively.

Just then, a man in an all black postal worker’s uniform walked up to my door.  He was distinctly red, and a pointed tail whipped around behind him.

“What are your names?” he asked officiously, producing a clipboard from his bag.

We told him and he scanned his list to find neither of our names.  Then he handed both of us a pamphlet and a postcard.  He handed me two postcards.

“Enjoy Limbo,” he said before moving on down the road.

“Shit.  That sucks,” I said, holding up the postcard of my own parents screaming in dirty oversized white shirts in front of towering flames.  I flipped the picture away.

“Look at this,” Jill said.  “I’ve been invited to a place out in Hershey.”

“I have too,” I said, examining my own postcard.  “It says it’s been established by the Divine Limbo Association.  It’s a place for the unplaced to live.”

She looked at me with pale green eyes.  “Want to go?”

“Sure,” I shrugged.  “Let’s leave tomorrow.”

“Okay.”

“I’m going to pack some clothes and stuff.  Do you need anything from your house?”

“I don’t think so,” she replied airily.

“Okay, then.  Come in.  We can read through these pamphlets.”

Jill and I spent the evening browsing the TV stations of Limbo.  Apparently, Limbo TV only showed reruns.  That was lucky, because I could watch Seinfeld for all eternity.  We snacked on tasteless food and drinks.  We skimmed sections of the welcome pamphlet now and then.  At one point, Jill straddled me and began kissing me.  We had sex as if we were playing checkers, a common activity.  Then we sat together once more.

“I wonder if there are sports in Limbo,” I said as I clicked through the channels.  With the turn of evening, the TV bathed us in pale gray light, little flecks of gray dust floating in the purgatorial beam.

Jill fell asleep while I watched a rerun of Grazio Castellano bowling a perfect game in 1953.

The next gray morning, I awoke on the couch, still sitting, but with Jill and her tousled head lying in my lap.  I shook her awake.  Gently.

“Want to try to eat some breakfast before we leave?” I asked, hoping the lack of taste from yesterday had been temporary.

Jill blinked the sleep from her cloudy green eyes and then laid a deep, passionate kiss on me.  She proceeded afterward to stand up casually and go straight to sit down at my kitchen table.

“Yeah, I’ll have some breakfast,” she said, yawning.

I made us eggs over easy and some turkey sausage.  A flap of egg tumbled from my mouth as I licked my lips unhappily.

“That’s gross,” I grumped.  “Food was gross yesterday, and it still is today.”

“It’s like the airport food in ‘The Langoliers,’” Jill commented, pushing her plate away.

“This sucks.  I guess there’s no good food in Limbo.  At least sex is just as good.”

“I’d say it’s better.  Considering there’s no disease, no STDs, no UTIs, not even conception in Limbo.  We could fool around all day with whoever we wanted with no consequence.”

“Oh, that’s right.  I forgot you read that in the pamphlet.  No birth or death.  No sickness or bodily damage.  Just pain and physics.  I suppose if we stick around until the New World, we’ll have to be careful then.  Plenty of diseases in the New World I’m assuming.  I’d still like a milkshake or a cheesesteak or something.  Some damn tasty pizza would be nice.”

“Maybe the DLA has food in Hershey.”

I shrugged.  “Let’s go then.  I Googled directions and made reservations at the DLA hotel last night before I fell asleep.”

“Yeah, let’s get going.  But come to bed again first.”

An hour later, my car started almost soundlessly.  It was odd.  The car functioned as normal, but with a severely dampened sound.  Navigating through the lawless streets of Limbo was somewhat time-consuming.  There weren’t mobs of anarchists or stampedes of farm animals.  The world was like Woodstock.  Roving gangs of half-naked hippies wandered aimlessly within drifting clouds of fragrant smoke.  On one corner of my neighborhood, a group of string musicians faced-off against a group of woodwinds.  The sound of the music was sweet, palpable.  Unlike the sound of the car which had been muffled to near nonexistence.  I stopped the car to listen for a while.  Jill even got out and danced around a little.

She came up to my car door and kissed me.  “Don’t forget they say there’s no telling when this ends.  It’ll just be the New World one day, no alarms.  So get out here and Limbo it up, please.”

I smiled.  “All right.”

We danced for hours.  The music wrapped us in something thick and comforting.  The sun shined, but didn’t.  It rose up to noon and down into the evening, but the light never changed.  We didn’t get tired either.  Eventually, we made our way back to the car and drove off.

We passed a large hill normally used for sledders in the winter.  It had been transformed into a massive mudslide, and tons of people of all clothed levels were enjoying the slide down.

I parked the car and we climbed out, stripping to our skin.  Being in Limbo seemed to have eliminated my inhibitions.  We slid down several times and splashed around in the puddles at the bottom.  Somewhere, a sound system blasted Pink Floyd.  Jill tackled me at one point, smacking into me like an NFL linebacker.  We slid several feet and rolled around before she planted a muddy kiss on me.

After an hour, a guy rinsed us off with a fire hose attached to a hydrant.  We dried off, clothed ourselves, and continued on.

Our town dropped away around us as we made our way toward Hershey.

Aside from the carefree people and the gray filter on my eyes, the world was pretty much the same.  I flipped on the radio.

“I wonder how much radio has changed,” Jill said.  Her pale red hair still stuck up in all directions in a manner much cuter than I had considered before.  I thought for a moment about beginning a study about how quickly a person’s attractiveness increases if they are as aggressively affectionate as Jill had been.

“Hmm, Elvis Duran is still on,” I noted as Q102 resounded through my car.  “Let’s listen to the news.”

Welcome to Limbo Headlines, the announcer said in a deep, melodious voice.  As we’ve said before, this passed moment of reckoning had been set 80 years ago by the Institution for Earthly Replanning.  Once the planet has been replanned, those in Limbo will have a chance to return to Earth as one of the First.  Those returning will keep their current ages, but will begin aging as normal. 

You may have noticed a lack of organization in Limbo.  Do not be alarmed.  You are permitted to do as you please, but remember that you will be judged the moment you qualify to enter Hell.  There is no return from Hell. 

“That’s scary,” Jill cried.  “I hope I don’t qualify!”  Her voice dropped to a whisper.  “I’ve been thinking about sex since the color went away!”

“Whoa.  Calm down,” I said.  “They would have gotten you already.  Didn’t you see the hippies back at home?  Sex and drugs didn’t send them down.  And I’m pretty sure some people were getting it on in that mud pit.  You’d probably have to kill someone or something to go to Hell.”

She let out a deep sigh.  “Okay, good.  Wow, that freaked me out.”

“I’m glad you’ve calmed down.”

“Oh!  Listen!”

This is a serious announcement.  Religious group, who uselessly predict the world’s end and discriminate against others are the reason for the current Earthly replanning.  The replanning is being used to evolve the human race.  The IER hopes to repopulate the planet with minds disinterested in any type of religious uprising or discrimination. 

A representative for the GOD organization released a statement this morning, saying, “All religious groups causing more trouble than good in the world will be relegated to Limbo for all eternity.  The point of life is to love and prosper.  The Word of GOD is meant to be interpreted as the interpreter sees fit for the good of self and other without pressure.  Only those understand of this universal standard will populate the New World.”  The GOD organization obviously has plans for the human race. However, they declined to comment further when questioned about this initiative. 

“That…is crazy!” Jill blurted.  “Don’t foment insurrection, I guess.”

“Define foment.”

“You define foment.”

We laughed raucously.

“I hope they have the Blu-ray collection of The Office in Hershey,” Jill laughed.

One more announcement before we get to the debate hour.  The laws of physics are absolute.  If you try to fly off of a building or into a canyon, you will not die since Limbo contains neither birth nor death.  But you will experience a lot of pain.  Pain and physics still exist in Limbo. 

Now to the debates.  Today we will be discussing overindulgence.  It wasn’t healthy before.  Is it now?

Jill chuckled, a tinkling little laugh that charmed me to the core.  “This is exciting.  I never thought The End could hold so much possibility.  I mean, what if we get chosen to be the First?  Can you imagine being one of the first New People?”

“That is a pretty interesting thought,” I admitted.  “I wonder if the IER is resetting the planet too, like getting rid of the buildings and stuff.  We’d get to start fresh, like back at the beginning of the universe.”

“Mmhmm.”  Jill settled deep into her seat and stared out the window.

We drove through the hilly farmland of central Pennsylvania, past abandoned road work, frolicking cows at pasture, and more roving gangs of nudity and smoke.  Most of the gangs out this way looked Amish.  It didn’t surprise me.  Not that Amish folk didn’t deserve to go to Heaven, but unassuming, hardworking, pious people seem like the exact type of people the GOD organization would want to repopulate the Earth with.  Most of the golden escalators had disappeared at this point, but this small snapshot of Amish country still had a few remaining.  Maybe the Amish had an open invitation to Heaven to take whenever they desired.

After about an hour of driving, Jill sat up, wiping the nap from her eyes with the back of her hand.

“I’m getting a little antsy,” she declared.  “Let’s get out and walk around a little.  There!  Let’s explore that farm.”

I pulled over onto the shoulder and we got out.  Jill trotted off with me in tow.

“This looks fun,” she commented airily.  “And maybe we’ll find a barn with hay nice enough to fool around in!”

We walked through all the buildings, the barns, the stables, the sheds, and the farmhouse.  As we walked, Jill’s hand found mine.  We visited all the animals, cows, horses and goats.  We tasted the food in the farmhouse to find it was as tasteless as all the rest.  We used the master bedroom.  After all, that king bed needed to be used properly with the farmers having gone up or down or anywhere else.

At one point, Jill squealed and took off toward a water tower.  We climbed the ladder to the catwalk, and then we climbed small rungs on the tank to sit at the very top.  We sat close together, the gray midday sun lighting up the gray world around us.  Hills and farms and trees stretched out in all directions.  From the top of the water tower we could even see the skyline of Philadelphia behind us, and the Kissing Tower in Hershey in front of us.

The sky looked like it was perpetually preparing a rainstorm, though nothing fell on us.  A large group of revelers had congregated in a field around a five-piece band.  Somehow, this Limbo, this world we were a part of, was the most peaceful place I could imagine.  And the strange relationship between Jill and me filled me with satisfaction.

We sat close together, our arms and legs pressed against one another.  I felt her relax next to me.  She wrapped her arms around my body.

“This is nice,” she breathed.  “This is peaceful.”

“It is,” I whispered.

We remained there for hours, just enjoying each other’s company.  The colorless sun drifted toward the west, and we looked at each other.

My cell phone startled me when it rang.  I’d forgotten about it completely.  “Hello?” I said confusedly.  I didn’t recognize the number.

“Sam Larson?”

“Yes.”

“I’m calling from the DLA Hotel in Hershey.  I’m confirming your reservation with Jill Handley.”

“Um…okay.”

“Just so you know, the two of you are our first guests this Eternity, so I’d like to congratulate both of you on being our very First humans.  You’ve been guaranteed replacement on the replanned Earth!”

“Oh…awesome!  Thank you.”

I hung up.  Jill looked at me expectantly.

“It looks like we’re the first to reserve a room at the Limbo hotel.  Since we were…first, we get to be Firsts.”

Her pale green eyes went wide.  “Really?  That’s incredible!”  She settled in even more next to me.  “I wonder how long we’ll have to wait.”

“I don’t know.”  I took a deliberate breath.  “Your eyes remind me of a song.  A Mountain Goats song.  ‘Pale Green Things.’  It’s a good one.”

“Mmm.  I know it.”

“It makes me think of the song before that on that album.  ‘Love, Love, Love.’”

“I know that one too.  Had it on vinyl back home.”

“Oh nice.  I thought of it because of your eyes and because of what the radio had said.  It’s like the Mountain Goats had the formula all along.”

“What, love?”

“I think it’s that one line: ‘Some things you’ll do for money, and some you’ll do for fun.  But the things you do for love are gonna come back to you one by one.’”

“I love that song.  And that album.”

“Me too.  I wonder if the GOD organization will make things different this time or if humans are just destined to misunderstand.”

“Like, you think GOD might have replanned Earth some other time, but the messages they tried to get across didn’t work out?  Like humans just naturally drift away from love and toward greed and shit?”

“Seems that way, doesn’t it?”

“Hmm.  Yeah.  Kinda sad.”

“It is sad.  Makes me want to make a difference.  We’re the first ones who get to make the New World better.  Maybe we should start by starting some kind of group.  Like a love group.”

“Like an orgy?  Or a meetup where everyone puts love first.”

“Yeah.  Not an orgy.”

“Yeah,” Jill breathed sleepily.  She laughed a peaceful little laugh.  The air around her face became colored, like someone had painted in all the colors around her for the moment that her laugh lingered in the air.

“Wow, look at that,” I said, though Jill had fallen asleep.  “Maybe we’re making a difference already.”