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A Story by Ian Reeve

A dying man contemplates what comes after death.

“I’m scared,”
I took his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “I know. I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.”
He looked terrible, but that’s what end stage lung cancer does to you. He lay there in the hospital bed, thin and wasted, tubes coming out of him. The doctors said he only had hours left. What do you say to someone like that? What words of reassurance can you give that don’t sound flat end empty? I had to say something, though, or the silence would be worse than anything. I racked my brain to think of something.
“Aunt Emily’s getting better. Finally getting over the flu.” He laughed harshly, a laugh that sent a shiver up my spine. It was a bad laugh, a laugh that suggested that he was anything but amused, and it shocked me because they’d always been so close, such good friends. Had something happened between them?
“I’m glad,” he said, seeing the look on my face. “I’m sorry. I’m glad she’s on the mend, I really am. It’s this place, it does things to you. Makes you think.”
I didn’t need to ask what it made him think about. The subject hung there between us, as if the Grim Reaper himself was standing beside the bed. I desperately tried to think of something else to say, but I didn’t want to hear that laugh again, I really didn’t. Where words failed, though, maybe simple physical contact would have some effect, so I just squeezed his hand again, trying to ignore how cold and bony it was. It made my skin crawl, but I held on anyway, hoping it would communicate something to him, ease the oppressive atmosphere that filled the room.
“I’ve been thinking,” he said. “About what happens after. After, you know.”
I nodded. “You’ll be with them again. Your family.” I’d never been a religious man, never really believed in all that church stuff, but I was willing to pretend, to say the right words, if it helped him. I wasn’t expecting the look he gave me, though. A look of such utter horror and terror that it took my breath away. “What is it?” I asked. “What’s wrong?”
“Why do we have eyes?” he asked. It was such a non sequitur that it took a moment for my brain to process the words. “What?” I asked.
“Why do we have eyes? I’ve been thinking about that a lot ever since this whole thing began. Why do we have eyes?”
“Well, we have eyes to see with,” I replied hesitantly.
“Exactly!” he exclaimed, sitting up a little in his bed and fixing me with his pale, watery eyes. “We have eyes to see with! But what about after we’re dead?”
“We don’t need eyes after... after.” I said. “You go to heaven, you’re with all your loved ones who went before.”
“You go to heaven, where you’re blind because you need eyes to see and your eyes are rotting in a grave somewhere.”
“Souls don’t need eyes to see,” I replied. I could see where he was going with this now, and it scared me a little.
“Don’t they? Then why do we have eyes? Why do we have eyes if our souls don’t need eyes?”
“Our eyes see while we’re alive,” I said. “Our souls see without them when we’re dead.”
‘But that makes no sense! Don’t you see? If we have souls, and our souls can see without eyes, why do we have eyes? Why don’t our souls see without eyes even while we’re alive?”
“You don’t believe in souls?” I asked. This surprised me. He’d always been a very religious man.
“Of course souls exist!” he said, though. “If souls don’t exist then we’re just collections of atoms. How can a bunch of atoms think? How can they love and hope and suffer? Of course souls exist, and they have to go on existing after we die. That’s what scares me!”
“Because without eyes they’re blind,” I said. “That’s...”
“Blind, deaf, unable to touch or speak or hear. Unable to communicate with each other, unable even to know there are other souls out there, maybe right beside them. Like being locked in a dark box, for all eternity! Slowly going mad...”
“Stop it!” I said harshly. ‘You’re being silly! You go to heaven, where you...”
“How do you know there’s a heaven?”
“Well, of course there’s a heaven! Everyone knows that!”
“How do they know? Because it says so in some book? What if they’re wrong? What if that book was written by someone who’d had the same thoughts as me? Desperate to deny the awful truth. That there’s nothing after death. Nothing but darkness and isolation. Forever.”
“I believe in heaven!” I said, a little more angrily than I’d Intended. “I believe! Now stop being so silly. Of course there’s a heaven, and it’s wonderful. You’ll see soon...” I bit off my words, cursing myself for reminding him how close the end was, and he laughed a little. “Yes, of course, you’re right,” he said, squeezing my hand. “You’re right. It’s just this place. You lie here long enough, your mind goes to dark places. You understand?”
“Of course I do,” I said. ‘I can only imagine...”
“No,” he said, looking away. “You can’t.” Silence hung there between us for a few moments, neither of us knowing how to break it, until he looked back at me again. “So,” he said. “Aunt Emily’s getting better, you say.”
I stayed with him the rest of the day, talking trivialities about members of the family and events in the news, until he grew tired and fell asleep, and I stayed with him until he quietly and peacefully slipped away. After the doctors had left again, telling me I could spend as long as I wanted by his side, I found myself wondering where he was now, what he was experiencing. Was he in the middle of a joyful reunion with his parents and his sister, or...
The nightmare scenario he’d described came back to me, and I imagined his soul floating there in the room. Blind, because his eyes were back in his body, soon to decompose and rot. Deaf, unable to communicate with anyone other anything. Like being locked in a dark box, for all eternity. I imagined all the souls of everyone who’d ever lived and died, all screaming in their isolation. Forever. I shook my head to dispel the awful fantasy, and went home.

© 2017 Ian Reeve

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The accuracy of the emotions in this story is striking. Very deep write, and a very good representation of these sorts of situations. Haunting characters and relevant subject matter.

Posted 9 Months Ago

This is a beautifully sad piece that sharply displays man's fears for death and what comes after. It really made me think and feel things that don't usually come my way. You definitely struck a chord in my soul with this.

Posted 1 Year Ago

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2 Reviews
Added on June 6, 2017
Last Updated on June 6, 2017


Ian Reeve
Ian Reeve

Leigh - on - Sea, United Kingdom

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