When I died, there was no white light at the end of a tunnel, no gathering of the spirits of late friends and family members—it wasn’t even nothingness. Since my death and crossing into the after-realm, I’ve heard from others that it’s different for everyone, but at first we all experienced the same thing.
From what I could gather, there was one general consensus. Death is both painful and painless. Some spirits hypothesize that it’s the disconnection of the soul from the body, like snapping a rubber band so hard that it breaks. There was an immediate flash of crippling pain, and then a complete lack of feeling or body. Following that was some form of nausea, possibly the last physical feeling a soul experiences before arriving in the afterlife. I think it’s some form of spiritual whiplash; the shock from the pain of dying versus the immediate numbness almost creates its own feeling.
Scientists say that a brain can function up to a few minutes after the heart stops. I think that’s where the pain comes from, like some kind of echo. There’s also a hypothesis that says the brain releases every bit of DMT it has stored up in the brain, all at once. That would explain the following experience.
When I died, I saw every color. I saw colors that my living eyes wouldn’t have been able to process. Shapes split and spun across my vision like I was inside a kaleidoscope; when I tried to focus on just one shard of rainbow, I could see a memory. Some were blurred, some shot past me too fast for me to focus on, while others danced around me like fat snowflakes. I experienced every memory at once in psychedelic color bursts—I saw my mother holding me after I was born; I saw myself playing with my first dog; I saw myself skin my knee after falling off my skateboard. I saw myself graduate high school, saw myself fall in love with a beautiful girl—what was her name? I married her, what was her name—but then the memories disappeared, and I saw myself in the car. Suddenly everything slowed into bullet time, and I watched the driver look back at me—the driver? My brother—and then a pair of headlights flooded my vision… and then it stopped.
It only felt like a split second before I opened my eyes and found myself in a void. I wasn’t floating, but I wasn’t standing either. I was completely weightless; I could hardly register my own mass. Was I standing or was I upside down? Which way was I facing?
At the time I still had no idea what was going on; the kaleidoscope of my life was just a fading blip in my current memory. As I began to panic and grope for some kind of feeling or sense of directional equilibrium, I didn’t even notice my old dog walk out of the darkness.
He sat a few feet away and then barked at me.
I looked down, taken aback. “Ah, Bandit, I didn’t even see you there.”
Before I could process how strange of a statement that should’ve been, Bandit turned and started walking away. His white pelt almost seemed to glow in the void.
“Hey! C’mere boy,” I called. Without thinking, I started following him. “You can’t run away, that’s how you—”
I blinked, and suddenly I was chasing him through a field. I stumbled to a halt and my sentence trailed off as I tilted my head in confusion. The golden grass came to my hips, rolling softly with the wind that blew the sweet smell of summer to my nose. Giant marshmallow clouds dotted the bluebird sky, and in the distance, I could see my childhood home.
Bandit bounded through the grass, his pink tongue lolling as he jumped towards me. I laughed and collapsed on the ground while he attacked me with dog kisses, his tail wagging furiously. Then he jumped off and sprinted away. I stood up and chased him, laughing and screaming like a kid while we played tag.
I found him lying in the grass and panting, though his tail began to wag again as I approached and laid down next to him.
“Good boy,” I crooned. “Man, we haven’t been here since we were both kids, huh?”
He gave a small woof, his dark nose cold as he pressed it against my cheek.
An odd feeling overcame me, and I sat up, looking at the house. I looked back down at him and he wagged his tail.
“Let’s… let’s go inside,” I said, suddenly uneasy.
By the time I reached the door, the sky had begun to darken. Before my hand could touch the doorknob, I peered over my shoulder at the field. A figure was standing completely still where Bandit and I had been playing not but ten minutes before.
Unnerved, I quickly turned the handle and went inside. Bandit put his paws on the windowpane and peered out the window at the figure, his ears perked and tail stiff.
I, however, was staring at the interior of my current home in Seattle. I shook my head.
The farmhouse should’ve been three stories tall, with a large curved staircase to the left and the living room to the right, which should have then lead into the kitchen. Instead, it was like I’d just walked into home. There was a small living room and open kitchen to the left, a door to the bathroom on the right, and straight ahead were two doors to bedrooms. Suddenly I could smell homemade biscuits, just like my wife made—Isabelle! Isa, that was her name.
Bandit bounded over to the kitchen and put his paws on the counter—something that used to get him in trouble with my mom when I was a kid. He sniffed the biscuits with wide honeydew eyes, licking his chops as his entire body wiggled with excitement.
“No, Bandit, no,” I said, but I was distracted by the photos on the wall by the door.
I stared at the photos from my wedding and began to tear up. How could I have forgotten Isa? What was I doing?
Suddenly Bandit turned towards the door and he uttered a soft growl. He raced over and sniffed it, hackles up. There was a knock at the door. His ears perked again and he tilted his head, and then began to wag his tail.
I grabbed his collar and opened the door, peering out. My eyes widened; no longer was there a field, and no longer did the house look like my childhood house. Instead, the exterior matched the interior. I was home, back on my street in Seattle.
On the other side of the door, standing on the porch, was Isa. She smiled apologetically. I stared with wide eyes, trying to comprehend what exactly the fuck was going on.
“Sorry babe, I think I left my house key at Jason’s last night.” She leaned down to pet Bandit. “You can let him go, I won’t let him out.”
I released his collar and opened the door for her to come inside, my brain trying to piece together this odd reality.
“Sorry, it’s just that when he died it was because he slipped past me when I was coming inside,” I said, unaware of how strange my words sounded. “He got hit by a car, I guess I was just nervous of it happening again.”
Isa kissed me on the cheek. “It’s alright, I remember. You okay today? You look a little off.” She set her things down on the counter and assessed the muddy pawprints near the biscuits with a laugh.
“I… yeah,” I said. I shook my head and sat down on a stool at the counter. “I had a really weird dream last night, and I guess it’s still taking me a bit to realize it was just a dream.”
“What did you dream about?”
“I… I had a dream that I died,” I said.
Suddenly it felt like time slowed to a halt. Cars stopped moving outside and the din of the city fell silent. Bandit tilted his head and looked at me. Isa gave me a soft smile and put her hand over mine.
“Lana… you did die. You passed away two months ago.”
I blinked. Two… “Two months?” Tears pricked my eyes. “Did we both die?”
Isa tucked her hair behind one ear as she thought. “No,” she said carefully. “Isa is alive. She wasn’t in the car with you when… well. Do you remember?”
I saw the headlights blind me again in my mind’s eye. “Y… yes. I do now.” I narrowed my eyes at her. “So who the hell are you?”
She sat up a little straighter and said, “Ah, yes. Well, I’m… I guess you would refer to me as a Grim Reaper.”
I stood up and took a step back. “So, what, you’re here to take my soul then?”
She laughed. “Oh, hon, don’t be silly. You’re already very, very dead. You died instantly.”
“So this is the afterlife? Just weird memories all smashed into one?” My anger flared and I snapped, “Is this what you do? Masquerade as someone’s loved one to fuck with them?”
Her eyes widened. “Oh, Lana, you’ve completely got the wrong idea. No, no, you created this little world yourself.”
She daintily picked up one of the biscuits and began to pull it apart, steam rising from the fluffy bread. The buttery smell reached my nose and suddenly I felt very homesick.
“See, death is different for everyone. Not to begin with, everyone gets the whole psychedelic memories experience thanks to the DMT released from the brain, but how their soul copes with it is different.” She took a bite of the biscuit and squinted her eyes in thought. “Some people need more time to cope, whether that means living out some of their favorite memories or just… not experiencing anything and staying in a suspended state of nothingness. A handful do manage to make it back to the living plane because they feel that they have more to be done, or something is actually keeping them there. All of this is where I and other reapers come in.”
I frowned. “Why do you look like my wife?”
She raised her eyebrows. “Well, that should be obvious. I need to be able to get close to you, and you will listen to someone who you care about over some terrifying massless power.”
“So you… you can’t look like someone I don’t know?”
“Is this image upsetting you?”
I blinked away tears. “A little.”
“Ah, well my apologies. I thought it would be more comforting.” Her image wavered for a moment, and then she was a plain young woman with a gentle smile. “Is this sufficient?”
“It’s no one I recognize, so yes. Thank you.” I chewed my lower lip, looking down at Bandit. “Is he fake too?”
“Oh, no, that is the ghost of your actual dog. He was very excited to see you, actually.”
I fidgeted with my hands. “So I’m really dead. There’s no going back.”
The woman in front of me sighed and nodded. “Yes, I’m sorry.”
Bandit leaned into my leg and thumped his tail on the floor, and the woman watched us silently for a few moments.
“There’s others, you know. People who you love who are eager to see you again.”
“What if I’m not ready?”
She nodded and chewed on another piece of the biscuit. “That’s indeed a good question. However, you have been here longer than usual. I typically give a spirit some time to figure it out for themself, sometimes that’s easier for them. However, know this: If you don’t come with me now, I won’t come back for you. I’ve got lots to do.”
“So I’ll be stuck here forever?”
“Not necessarily. You’d be able to find your way to the after-realm, but it wouldn’t be easy, and it would take quite a while.” She shrugged. “You don’t have to see people, you know. You could be in the after-realm and continue to do what you’re doing now. That’s the incredible thing about death, it can be whatever you want it to be, and then it can even change later.” She smiled warmly.
I looked down at Bandit, who was glancing between me and the door, and then wagged his tail. I looked up at the reaper and said, “Okay.”
Her smile grew wider. “Oh, excellent. You’ve just made my job rather easy. You’d be surprised at how many people try to fight me to get back into the living world.” She picked up another biscuit and handed it to me. “Here, this might make you feel a bit better.”
I took it and she made her way towards the door. The biscuit was warm, and I could see the steam rising off of it as I tore off a piece and popped it into my mouth. It tasted exactly like Isa’s. Large tears began to fall down my cheeks as I turned to face the grim reaper.
I took one last look at my home. I didn’t plan on returning there in the afterlife; it would’ve been too painful. There were too many memories, and too many reminders of things that I would never get to experience with Isa and my family. The reaper waited for me with a patient smile.
Bandit touched his cold nose to my hand and I snapped out of my reverie. I took one more bite of the biscuit and handed the other half to him before I walked towards the door and accepted the reaper’s outstretched hand.
She opened the door, and a bright white light flowed into the house. I could hear a soft music coming from it, and it brought me to tears. With one hand on my dog, I closed my eyes and gave a stiff nod. The reaper stepped forward, and I left my life behind.
My name is Mason, and thanks for reading!
I’m a 20 year old asexual/biromantic girl who has self-published an anthology of works and is working on two different book series. I live with my cat, Hedge (as in hedge witch), as a freelance artist and writer. I enjoy topics such as the paranormal, witches, limbo, death, and angel and demon mythologies.
If you liked what you read, please consider checking out my short anthology, The Mera Triptych.
You can see my artwork on my art tumblr!
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