The ringing in my ears was deafening as my entire body caved inward, projecting me forward at incredible speed. I tried to cry out. I tried to cover my ears, but I couldn’t move. Wind whipped against my face and the bright light ahead was blinding.
At last the chaos settled. I opened my eyes once again to the sight of a gorgeous blue sky with pure white glittery clouds and rays of sunshine peeking out with a silvery shimmer. I felt grass below me and that familiar euphoric feeling quickly spread across my every limb.
I was back. I was back and I was pissed. Except I wasn’t pissed at all – I felt brutally amazing and that made me really fucking angry. I sat up, but this time I wasn’t in a lonely field surrounded by transcendental mist. Actually, what I saw surrounding me was shocking beyond measure. For the first few moments I could do nothing but stare.
I was wholly besieged by the overwhelming, unabating, piercing light that touched every nook and cranny of the city that surrounded me, accenting the delicate brick buildings of the local shops and piercing the cascading skyline of prominent and boisterous skyscrapers that gleamed like the eyes of a mother holding the baby fucking Jesus. It was incredible; enough to lift the spirit and give hope to the weak. Enough to wish death upon oneself without hesitation. Enough to make me think positive thoughts.
I was laying on the grassy knoll of a small park that cut through the center of three skyscrapers. A huge iron sign extended not far ahead reading, “Paradise Park”.
God, that’s cheesy.
I pulled myself up and spun in a circle to get a better sense of my location. A nearby park bench to my right housed an older lady and her Chihuahua who seemed to be enjoying snapping up the bits of bread she was throwing unsuccessfully to a small group of ducks. Other than her, I seemed to be alone. A very stately tree stood prominently on my left, its leaves a deep green and some very succulent-looking orange fruit hanging temptingly from the branches.
A fruit tree in heaven. That’s fucking hilarious.
Between me and the lady on the bench ran a small side sidewalk that wound through the center of the park and ended at the patio of the largest building straight ahead of me. There was another building on the right behind the lady on the bench, and yet another to my left behind the tree, completing a perfect little half-circle for the park to snuggle up in.
I turned around to face the street and decided it was a good time to do some exploring. I stepped out from the shade of the buildings and the sunshine hit my skin sending a thrilling sensation from my head to my toes. I had to stop momentarily, the rapture causing me to forget how to walk. In a few moments – or hours or days, I don’t know – I became more accustomed to the feeling and advanced to the sidewalk. There were far more people busying about up and down what looked like the main thoroughfare. I turned to my left, unsure where I was headed, but fairly unconcerned.
I strolled by several people, none of which seemed to be very friendly. That wasn’t quite what I had expected from perfect people, but whatever. I passed several shops – all of which were manned by angelic-looking men and women – and poked my head into a few alleyways. The alleyways were amazing. Each one was paved in gold stone, the walls gleaming with some crystalline material I couldn’t identify. I reached into one of them and ran my hands across the glittery surface. The shards of light seemed to activate upon my touch, foxtrotting in circles around my fingers and sending ripples of purple gloss across the wall in all directions. I caught myself grinning ear to ear and immediately glowered. I’d never given a flying fuck for shiny things; this was certainly no time to start.
After what seemed like hours of nonstop tireless meandering down a straight and neverending sidewalk, I began to notice something strange. I passed a lot of people on that path – a lot of people. Sure, they weren’t very friendly, but there was something else. While I felt like I was floating on Cloud 9, everyone else seemed…disheartened? Sad? Maybe even depressed? It was hard to put my finger on it. They all glowed with the light of a million stars, but yet their faces did not carry the wide smile I had to keep slapping from my own. The only exception seemed to be the angels that I occasionally passed – they appeared to be as motivated and rambunctious as any idiot fitness trainer I’d ever met. I half expected them to stop me, question me about my personal goals, and ask me if they could set me up on a payment plan. But all the normal people – the ones like me – no happiness was reflected in their eyes.
The road I had travelled eventually came to a T, a large and open park with a lake inhabiting the opposite side of the crossroad. I walked across, relieved to see that there appeared to be no vehicles in heaven, and spotted a deep brown wooden bridge extending judiciously across the lake. I was drawn to it immediately as it appeared to be the only feature of the city that didn’t sparkle like my gay friend’s personality. It had a somewhat haunting look to it as if its purpose in this backdrop were entirely unique. The wood was thick and splintered, but strong sheets of metal held the wooden balustrades in place giving it a look of prominence and certainty. The banisters extending across each side contained no fancy woodworking or design – they were plain as can be but uncommonly stunning at the same time.
I walked closer, already anxiously anticipating the enjoyment of feeling my bare feet on the cold hard wood. I stopped a few feet short when I realized there was a man sitting just off the side of the bridge. He was slumped ungracefully against an intricately designed stone architecture built just adjacent to the bridge. He wore tailored slacks, a fine silk shirt, leather shoes…and I realized why he had struck me so forcefully: the dichotomy between his appearance and the lifelessness in his eyes was astounding.
I had to look away. Something about the sorrow in his eyes was vaguely familiar and I felt that, just for a moment, the eternal bliss I felt in this place faltered. Losing just that short moment of ecstasy felt like being cracked in the head with a tire iron – I turned away completely, afraid to experience that sense of loss again.
I walked to the other side of the bridge, prepared to make my ascent. I took a few steps up and then peered over the side. My eyes opened wide as I realized this side of the bridge contained no lake at all – instead there appeared to be a deep dark pit; an endless pit as far as I could tell. It was terrifying and I staggered off the bridge and back to the grass, falling on my behind and grasping my knees with my arms.
Is this what they meant? Is this where heaven is being attacked?
I could only imagine it was a passageway to hell, but I didn’t really know. I didn’t know anything at all. And the feelings of elation I’d felt upon waking up in the place started to feel strange – they become unsure and insecure. I buried my face in my arms for a few moments, trying to pull my head back together. I looked back up at the bridge when I heard several pairs of footsteps pass by me on the pathway.
Three people walked by – all adorned in beautiful trendy clothing, all shining with a light that would normally have made my eyeballs cringe. But their faces…their faces were even more dejected than that of the man by the stone precipice. My heart wanted to ache for them. I tried to, but the senses wouldn’t come. It was an awful, terrible feeling. I had always been one to feel things to an impossible extent – to have that ability whipped from me to patronize feelings of eternal happiness was almost paralyzing.
They walked onto the bridge without flinching, making their way across and then stopping at the halfway point. They seemed to be grouped together as if they had come here as friends or something, but they didn’t even look at each other. Slowly, the woman at the front started climbing the wooden rails of the bridge. My breath caught in my throat. She pulled herself to the top rail and stood tall, raising her arms out to the side. I stood as well, suddenly desperate to reach her before she did that which I feared. I ran to her in a frenzy, my arms outstretched and my voice attempting to scream, but not a sound left my lips. She leaned forward and her body caught the air, tumbling down towards the black. I threw myself up against the wood of the railing, reaching my arms through as if there were any chance of reaching her. I watched her small glow descend deeper and deeper until, like the mouth of a beast, the black abyss opened its fiery jaws, inviting the woman into a chaotic charring inferno. Her light fizzled, a roar extended from the chasm, and everything returned to black.
I stared. And stared. And stared. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even feel afraid. The feelings of euphoria were even more confusing than before, but the sensation of terror I expected to feel running through my blood was nowhere to be found. I wanted to cry; I wanted to mourn. I wanted to feel something…but all that existed was this disconcerting sense of jubilation – an emotion I definitely should not have been feeling under such circumstances.
I suddenly realized another heavenly body was falling across my view into the black. Then another. Then another. Each time, those devilish jaws opened and swallowed them whole. I turned around a looked in both directions, trying to understand where these people were coming from. I couldn’t understand what they were doing. Or why they were doing it. Why would they choose such a terrifying fall? Why would they leave such a beautiful place? And worst of all: where were they going?
A hand gripped my arm and pulled me off the bridge and back towards the city. “It’s time to go back.”
I looked up to see a man dragging me along, a look of determination on his face. It took a moment for it to register that this was Blaine. He looked completely different – his entire face was shaved clean, his deep brown hair cut down to an inch or two and sitting in small curls atop his head. He shined just like everyone else, causing me to stare in awe.
“Stop it. It’s what we always look like here. I’ll be back to my shaggy self when we get back.”
“Wait, get back?” I asked. “What do you mean? How do we get back?”
“I have to take you.”
His grip tightened and I was struggling to keep up with his swift pace. “Wait, Jesus…let go of me, you’re walking too fast!”
“I have to. I’m not supposed to be here. They’ll find me soon enough.”
He pointed up at the sky where I noticed the shimmering rays of sun were rotating methodically, almost like a search and rescue spotlight. “I’ve managed to duck them long enough to find you, but it won’t last long.”
I suddenly stopped and ripped my arm from his grasp. “What if I don’t want to go back?”
He regarded me with irritation. “You really want to stay here after what you saw? I felt everything you felt, Emma – your sense of bliss here has been compromised. You’re confused.”
I considered that. “Yeah, maybe. But it’s still better than that awful pain I felt waking up in the hospital last time. It was fucking unbearable.”
He winced in surprise. “Seriously? You can say those words here?” He ran his hand through his perfect hair. “Geez, you really are one of a kind.”
Our heads jerked towards the bridge as we noticed one of the rays of sunshine making its way in our direction. He grabbed my hand. “We have to go. Now.”
I resisted. “Maybe I’ll just let that ray of sunshine catch you and then you’ll leave me the fuck alone.”
“Will you please stop cussing. You’re attracting them like a moth to a flame.”
I turned back to the sunray. “Is that so?” I crossed my arms over my chest. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, shitbag, douchenozzle, dickwad…”
The ray stopped in its tracks as if attempting to determine which direction to go, then blazrd towards us with incredible speed.
“Now you’ve done it!”
Blaine grabbed my hand and flew away from the sunshine. And I mean literally – he was flying just feet off the ground at Star Trek-level velocity and I was hanging on for dear life. He appeared to have an edge on the sunray and swooped behind one of the skyscrapers, pulling me into a small wedge of space under an overhang.
“We have to go back. Now. Think about how much you want to leave.”
“What? Are you serious? How in the hell – heck – am I going to do that? These ridiculous feelings of awesomeness are pretty stubborn.”
He turned to me with urgency in his eyes. “Think back. Think back to the day we had you at the warehouse. You told us you didn’t want to come back here, remember. You had reasons. What were they? You have to find them and concentrate on them.” He turned around rapidly as a ray passed just yards from us. “If I have to go back without you, I don’t know how soon I can come back here to bring you home.”
I tried to think but my brain wouldn’t work properly. Blaine grabbed my shoulders and shook me. “Tell me! Tell me the reasons you didn’t want to come back. Say it – it will make it more real.”
“I – I….shit…I mean shoot. See? I don’t belong here, I can’t even go five seconds without cussing!”
“Good, good, that’s good, stay on that train of thought.” His deep green eyes were boring into me in a most unsettling way.
“I-I’m not a good person, they shouldn’t even let me in this place.” I stuttered – I knew what he wanted me to say and I wanted to find the words, but rational thought was evading me. It was hard to see through the fog of ecstasy still clouding my head.
“You said something last time,” he shoved me up against the wall, flattening his body against me as another ray passed two feet behind, “– something about not wanting to go back to that. About how you’d rather live in misery than be enslaved by these feelings.”
Suddenly a tiny pin of darkness broke through the light in my mind. I lurched for it, trying to fit in, dive into it, stretch it. The word ‘enslavement’ hit a chord and I dug deeper. I let my mind race back to the days of sitting on church pews, singing songs about God and Jesus, reveling in the feelings of comfort and absolution I could only find at certain places and in certain indefinable moments. My anger built as I remembered how fleeting those moments were – how addicting they were, how unfair they were. I once again felt the demoralization of the guilt that would seep in the moment those sensations of perfection faded and the torment would come, determined to incapacitate me until some heavenly being felt I deserved to be graced with happiness and confidence again.
I felt Blaine stroke my cheek and move one of my hairs from my face. “There you go. You’ve got this, Tigerlilly.”
“I can’t stay here,” I muttered.