He wakes up. Or does he? He isn’t quite sure. All he knows is that one moment he wasn’t and now he is. All alone. Sat in the epicentre of an endless desert that stretches as far his eyes can see. Dunes rise and fall like waves with no end in sight. He’s sat on golden sand that slips through his fingers like time itself.
As his senses tune in like an old radio, the disorientating white noise giving way for clear music, he lumbers to his feet and staggers before gaining his composure. He rubs his eyes and looks around. The land is as bare as a piece of paper – daunting as the nothingness holds so much potential. There is nothing. Nothing but the sand. Sand for miles and miles and miles. Shimmering sand that appears to dance and swirl and shine, despite the complete lack of wind. It isn’t cold and it isn’t warm. It’s as if he’s in a void. Another plane altogether. The line on the horizon offers no solace. Gives him no notion of where to go. There isn’t a sun in the violet velvet sky. Or a moon. Not even a single twinkling star. But yet a stark and sobering dry light remains.
He’s dazed, confused and a little scared, but yet he feels as if he was supposed to come here. As if he has escaped. His memory is blurry but piece by piece it returns like bullets being loaded into a chamber.
“Joe” he mutters to himself. “My name is Joe. I’m 22-years old.” He nods. “I work in sales, play the guitar and I’m going West Ham away on Saturday.”
No you’re not
“Arghhh!” cries Joe, jumping out of his skin. “Who was that?” he asks to the air, spinning around with frantic, worried vigour to find where the voice came from.
There is no one.
Just the sand.
“Who spoke? Where am I? Where are you?” The silence is as loud as a car crash. Joe feels his heart sink and his brow dampen. He strains his ears to their limit, concerned that he might be going mad. He can hear the blood rushing to his head and his heart pounding, but not a voice. “This has to be some mad dream or something…”
The hollow voice sends shivers down his spine. Well, at least the voice is real… he thinks.
Of course it’s real
Joe’s eyes roll so far back that they nearly see his brain. “So I’m back to being mad again. Top stuff,” he says aloud. “Not only have I ended up in the middle of nowhere, not only am I talking to a voice in the sky but the voice can also read my mind. I’ve gotta be in a coma or summert.”
Wrong again Joe
Joe slumps to the ground in a heap. He brings his head to his hands and calms himself. Like he’s done so many times before. “You know me, clearly. Who are you?”
You know who I am
Joe shakes his head and groans. “I clearly don’t though, do I?”
The voice is both a bellow and a whisper. Both terrifying and welcoming. It sounds like worms eating a corpse. Like bones splintering. Like a hole you can never climb out of.
It sounds like death.
“What? No, it can’t be. All that stuff is just a load of bollocks and anyway there’s no way that I can be…”
It’s cold. Proper cold. On the grim side of midnight. The type of cold that makes icicles form on the end of your nose. The type of cold that stabs your lungs with a thousand frosty daggers with every intake of breath. The type of cold that nobody should be outside in. He doesn’t care; he likes this walk. Especially on nights like this, when the blanket of stars above holds him close. He looks up at them and tells himself that he really doesn’t matter; he is but a mere speck. The indistinguishable, fading mark of a squashed insect on the window pane of the unrelenting truck that is life. His problems really are insignificant compared to all the ills that ravage this world. He gazes at the raven night, the stars burning bright and tells himself it’ll be alright. Sometimes he nearly believes it.
His fingers are as numb as he wishes his head was. Instead his thoughts swirl like a cyclone ripping through family homes, uncaring for the destruction left in its wake. Anxieties and fears, faults and doubts, all crash about his head like stormy seas – impossible for a lonely sailor in a paper boat to navigate. The water is in and he’s sinking. He doesn’t want this walk to come to its end, but he knows it is. He’s tried, he wishes he was braver, but he just can’t go on anymore. He can no longer cope with the crippling knot in his stomach that weighs him down like a breeze block thrown down the stairs.
His walk as at its end and he’s looking down. His phone rings.
“Hi, Mum… what you doing up at this time?”
“What am I doing up? You just woke me up by leaving. Where have you gone, Joe?”
He fights to stifle the tears.
“Just for a walk, Mam. Couldn’t sleep, I’ll be back soon.”
“Okay love. Don’t be long and make sure you lock the door.”
“I love you. I love you all… so much.”
“Joe, what’s wrong? J…”
He hangs up. He takes off his jacket and puts his vibrating phone in its pocket. He’s taken the password off so they can find his note. He looks up to the stars once more and then down to the gushing waters below. Is there a peace beneath the roar of the bridge? He wonders. He hopes.
Joe is motionless. His face frozen in twisted horror. His hand covers his mouth and his eyes begin to well.
“No, no, no, no, no, no! This can’t be real. No!”
A hand rests on his shoulder. A hand as white as bone. Joe looks behind him and sees a hood covering nothing but impenetrable darkness.
“Take me back! You have to take me back! I didn’t mean this. I didn’t! Please! Please!” he begs on his knees.
My name is Death not Life
Joe leaps to his feet and grabs Death by the collar. Staring headstrong at the place a pair of eyes should be. “So that’s it then, I’ll never see them again? Mum, Dad, Rebecca, James, all my friends?” He screams, through snot and stinging eyes, “I want to go back!”
What did you expect to happen
“I…” he pauses as the tears carve rivers down his cheeks. He lets go and collapses in on himself. “I just wanted it to stop. Why am I still here? Why do I still hurt? Jumping off that bridge was meant to put an end to it all and it turns out the afterlife is actually fucking real!”
You can’t undo what has been done
Because… that’s life
Joe laughs in exasperation, “of course it is.” He wipes his eyes and clears his throat. Death puts a comforting hand on his shoulder once more and pats him gently.
It’s a difficult thing dying
But it’s not the end
You’ll see them all again one day
“I’m not saying I ever expected any of this, but I sure as shit didn’t imagine the Grim Reaper would actually be nice.”
I have an unjustly bad reputation
“How are they? My family and that?”
They all blame themselves for not spotting the signs for not being there
His legs buckle and his head falls into his hands, but his eyes are dry.
“I should have just talked to someone. I don’t know why I’m… well… was, I guess, sad. Which was the frustrating thing. I didn’t really have a reason to be. Sure my job is dull but I have good pals, a loving family, good times. I guess there was just something wrong with me. Something broken. Something I couldn’t ever grasp,” Joe takes a deep breath. “I suppose you’re taking me off to hell then?”
Why would you think that
“I’m not religious but… I’m sure I read somewhere that suicides… well, that they go straight to hell… So? Am I?
That would be ridiculous
Anyway Hell isn’t all bad
It has better music
“So what now then?”
Death takes his hand away from Joe’s shoulder and presents the endless sands of time before him.
Now you walk
The sand holds every moment of your life
An endless desert of choices and memories
“And who’s going to judge me?”
The sand glistens and glows. With reflection and regret – Joe takes his first step.