Chapter 1

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Death has odd visiting hours.

Most people die in a hospital, a long-term care facility, or at home. Most deaths are expected.

But sometimes the reaper comes at unexpected moments. Accidents, murders, random acts of violence. This is when ol' Grim likes to make an uninvited grand entrance. I was one of the rare few who happen to hit the unlucky percentages for a violent, non-accidental death.

It wasn't an average day when my twenty-three-year-old body abruptly ceased to exist in this reality. It was completely unexpected and altogether unnatural. I was really angry about this.

But death isn't the end. It's a one-way door that bars your return. It's an entrance into a new life. A wondrous existence of everlasting peace and tranquility and all those heavenly things you've ever envisioned. It's all true.

For most people.

It's different if you do something truly terrible - or incredibly virtuous - moments before death. In those cases, one of two alternate doors might unlock depending on your deeds in those final moments of life.

Most likely, neither of these doors will open. Most likely, you'll be whisked through the central door upon death and be reunited with friends and family on a perfectly green lawn or on white sands by rolling blue waters, depending on your personal preferences, of course.

If you did something truly noble right before death, the first of the other two doors might open. It's a rare event, but it's been known to happen. You may even have an escort bring you through, as I did.

The second of the two doors is revealed if you committed an act of evil before you died. This dark and frightening portal of shadow is opened far too often.

If you're pulled through either of these alternate doors, you won't have any friends to greet you, no family, no loved ones. No great green lawn, no lulling blue waves. In both cases, you go to hell. Figuratively, anyhow.

Whichever door opens for you is the only one you're going to get. It's your eternity and you have no choice but to enter. You'll be pulled through before you even know what's happening.

The day I died, my mother asked me to pick up the lilies from the florist. It was her signature arrangement ordered for funerals. A basket of white lilies with a red rose in the center. It seems fitting that this was my last task before dying.

I never realized that she ordered the same bouquet for funerals until a year earlier when Mrs. Atkinson, the town clerk and quite possibly the oldest living person in Derrymont, placed a tiny milk-white hand on my shoulder, pointed to the flowers behind me, and said, "I knew that bouquet was from your mother before I even read the inscription card. I read all the cards, you know. At every funeral. Your mother sends the same bouquet, all white, with a single red rose right in the middle. I don't know why, but recognizing that bouquet always brings me comfort. Maybe it's the familiarity that consoles me. To recognize a simple floral arrangement and know exactly who sent it."

That was only last year when Jerry Milleau, one of the last remaining World War II veterans in Derrymont, passed away from kidney failure.

Mom grew up in Derrymont and was what you would call a "pillar of society", though she would scoff at the idea. My mother gave of herself to people and her community daily, but would never once draw attention to her actions.

For twenty years, I never even knew she ordered the same bouquet for every funeral and when I thought about this little fact, I was amused and warmed. That's just like her, I thought.

If there was anyone in the world I wanted to be like, it was my mother.

We weren't the richest family in town, not by a longshot, but everyone was always angling to be in my mother's inner circle. It wasn't because she was the town gossip or because she held any kind of power, but because she was a genuinely kind person. She made everyone feel good, important. That made everyone want to be around her. But she had her close-knit circle, and few were lucky enough to penetrate it. Most of her best friends were old friends. The new ones who came around had the same type of gravitational force. Souls without agendas, people with a genuine kindness that attracted others. And Mom was at the center of them all.

And yet, she wasn't aware of it. She just was. She was Mom. She was the person I wanted to be but fell short of any semblance. Except for our appearances. We're both a little on the short side with blue eyes and a pile of blond curls. She cut hers short years ago, but my unruly whitish spirals and frizz spilled to the middle of my back.

My father hung out with the same four guys he'd been friends with since high school. He never really left the nest, so to speak. He was a blue-collar mechanic with black fingers and a golden heart, and he didn't want you to see either.

He was easily the tallest guy in town, the one you couldn't stop staring at because he was a foot taller than the crowd at downtown sidewalk rush hour. A meat-and-potatoes guy who would eat my mother's herb-crusted salmon without complaint, but whoop with honest tears when he came home to the smell of Mom's old-fashioned New England pot roast with carrots, taters, and onions. He could've had the worst day of his life, but if he came home to that, the simple man was in heaven. Yeah, he was that guy.

He made me feel safe because he was the guy you didn't mess with. It's probably why no one would date me in high school. They all knew my dad.

I was a lucky girl. I had a mother I worshipped along with the town. And a father who always had one eye on my back. I lived in a small house, but I had food and a warm bed. I had people who loved me and I had faith in the world.

Then I was killed.

Then I was killed

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