It’s Not Life or Death

Submitted into Contest #99 in response to: Begin your story with somebody watching the sunrise, or sunset.... view prompt

20 comments

Kids Middle School Teens & Young Adult

Jenny was dead. Even though she was only 11 she had hoped to go out with a bit more style than just in her sleep. She’d spent a long time getting a reputation amongst her friends as someone who could look after herself and also defend them if they were being bullied.  “Big Bad Jen” they called her – no bully too big for her despite being slim and petite. Her dad didn’t like this as would always lead to him having to come into school to have difficult conversations about her behaviour and how it could impact her future prospects blah, blah, blah. Jenny thought they were overreacting – she wasn’t even at comprehensive school yet so a bit of fun and games at this age was only going to get her ready for the big league. That was until now - just when you least expect it – poof! That’s your lot!

Up to that point she’d had a good day. Any day not at school was a good day. Jenny had her usual weekend lie-in as the sun rose to 10am. Then she had a shower, put some light make-up on and threw all the clothes out of her wardrobe to find the outfit that she wanted was on the landing all along. Spent 10 minutes putting her hair up, down, up, half up and then fully down again and then downstairs for the first breakfast of the day. 

Jenny loved her house a lot, even though her dad Kenny wasn't the tidiest of parents so there was always something to clean up. Although he was trying to improve recently as there was a new woman on the scene. Jenny liked Vanessa, or at least she liked her more than some of the other “randoms” her Dad had hooked up with. She could at least have a civil conversation with this one and she wasn't too judgmental compared to the others. In fact, Jenny would almost admit that Vanessa was her biggest ally in keeping her Dad on side, although she would never admit that to another soul. Vanessa was never going to replace her mum but at least, unlike the others, she had had a frank conversation about that early doors to avoid any misunderstandings. 

On this fateful day Kenny left Vanessa at home to take Jenny to the cinema to watch the latest Superhero Sequel Explosion Punch Redemption Setup For Next Sequel Extravaganza. Jenny enjoyed her popcorn and milkshake more than the movie but any time hanging with her Dad was still something she liked to do, knowing that in a few years it would be the last thing her hormones would allow. On the way to getting pizza Kenny saw an opportunity to try and engage his daughter in a topic he had wanted to do for weeks now:

“Listen Jen, I know you’ve had to hang in there whilst I’ve tried to move on and you’ve been very vocal about it but...” He almost walked into oncoming traffic to get to the pizza place quicker. Kenny had realised that trying to have this conversation whilst on the move was a bad idea so he paused - which got Jenny smelling a trap. If she didn’t want a four-cheese pizza with unlimited Coke refills she would have walked away instantly.

Arriving at “Pizza Slice” they were seated quickly, it was only when they had grabbed some buffet that Kenny could continue, knowing his window of opportunity was closing with every second that passed. He took a swig of Coke, sucked in enough air to cause minor hiccups and went for it:

“As I was saying, you’ve been very patient with me whilst I’ve tried to move on and I know you’d prefer it if I didn’t as it’s gross etc etc BUT I really like Vanessa.” Kenny squirmed in his squeaky booth seat.

“I like Vanessa too, Dad!” admitted Jenny, surprising herself at how positive she was. Kenny wasn't sure if his daughter was keeping up.

“I mean really like!” 

Jenny stared into her Dad’s widened eyes slowly realising what he meant.

“Ohhhh! Ewwww! Dad, like what do you want me to say? I can’t stop you doing anything. I can make it difficult but if you are saying what I think you’re saying then... cool... I think?!” Kenny breathed a sigh of relief. as Jenny continued

“I mean she’ll never be Mum as I have said A LOT! But... she’ll do... and I do love to see you smile again.” A tear welled in Kenny’s left eye as he got up out of his squeaky seat to hug his daughter with all his love knowing it had not been easy.

“DAD, GET OFF!!” Jenny pushed her dad away, well aware some kids from school were on the other side of the restaurant. She made a mental note of their faces in case any of this last 5-10 minutes started to spread across the playground on Monday.

“Sorry love!” Kenny smiled at his daughter, the best thing to ever happen in his life, and felt relieved that he could finally start to build up to asking Vanessa that big question.

Later that night Jenny lay on her bed surrounded by posters of the cool and not so cool of the worlds of social media, gaming, music, films, TV and podcasts, trying to make sense of all the emotions she was feeling about the idea her dad and Vanessa were going to be permanent. It’s all great for her dad but in the end, it was still really inconvenient for her and would take time to be less selfish about it. She said what she needed to say earlier but in reality, she was pretty far from being pleased about it. Her Mum was still her world and she missed her every day. Jenny’s true wish was for the world to rewind and for her parents to be together again but she knew that was completely impossible. Thinking all these thoughts she drifted slowly and quietly off to sleep.

---

Jenny heard the waves sloshing back and forth under her lounger as she opened her eyes. She was sat on a deserted beach with palm trees behind her and no clear path off the sand. Next to her was a table for her drink and another two loungers but they were empty. She was wearing her favourite swimsuit although she had not worn it for over a year as they hadn't gone anywhere on holiday for a while. Jenny noticed a smoothie had magically appeared on the table next to her, picked it up and placed the small cocktail umbrella on the table and started to drink. If she was dreaming, this was the best dream drink she’d ever had.

Feeling relaxed watching the sea go in and then out again, the sounds of more footsteps on the sand grew louder behind her. Before Jenny could turn around she saw the two loungers next to her were now occupied with her Dad and more surprisingly her Mum. Jenny leapt off her lounger sloshing some smoothie out of her glass before putting it down. She grabbed her Mum and hugged her as hard and for as long as she could.

“It’s okay honey, I wasn't gone long!” said her Mum starting to hug her back.

“I know, I just love you so much!” Jenny started to weep as she put everything into giving her Mum the greatest hug of all time. After another 10 seconds Jenny let go and sat down again.

“Nothing for me?” said Kenny

“Sorry Dad, I promise you’ll get more hugs next time!” Jenny giggled whilst winking at her Mum.

All three of them lay in the sun, no-one else around and Jenny felt so happy, together again at last, even though she knew this was the same as every other one of these dreams that had helped her come to terms with reality. Like in life, this was a fleeting vision of what once was, but god it felt good. Out of nowhere, Jenny had an idea, this was something she hadn’t tried in this dream before.

“I know! Let’s make a sand sculpture!” A bucket and spade appeared in her hands and she started to dig the largest hole she could, enough to house an 11-year-old girl anyway. Within minutes there was a huge pile of sand next to a medium sized hole for Jenny. She sat down in the grainy grave with her head cushioned against the side so it would be above the sand.

“Right, Dad start putting the sand back and then I’ll instruct you and Mum on what to do for my body.” Kenny started to scoop up the sand from the pile and throw it back into the hole that now contained Jenny. Within a minute most of her body was already covered with a single layer and 5 minutes later her entire body minus her head was covered in the entire pile of sand. Her dad patted down the sand with the back of the spade and stood back and inspected his handy work. Jenny felt the weight of the sand on her body as she instructed her Dad on part 2. 

Before Jenny could say another word the idyllic blue skies instantly became grey and a torrential shower of rain started to fall. Her mum and dad ran off the beach to take cover leaving her on her own.

“Wait! Mum! Dad! Help me!!” Jenny could not move and the rain had made the sand even heavier. She tried with all her strength to wrestle out of the sandy parcel she was in but nothing worked. As she was trying to come up with more ways to break free, she noticed the sand beneath her entire body started to... sink!! It had become some kind of quicksand.

“AGGGHHH! MUM, DAD HELP ME!!!” were Jenny’s last words as her head sank with the rest of her into the sandy grave of her own making. She could not breathe as sand filled up her lungs except rather than wake up with a shock, this dream was much more permanent. Jenny panicked even more coming to terms with the fact she was dying. As she sank lower and lower into the sandy water below Jenny heard the muffled rumblings of something overhead, multiple raised voices, flashes of blue and white and then a series of loud bangs. The muffled sounds were gone, as was she, sailing into a watery grave. Jenny reflected one last time on her life, depressingly short yes but at least she got to tell her Mum how much she loved her one last time.

As Jenny was settling into this long sleep, she had noticed how peaceful death was. I mean she had seen enough movies and TV shows to figure it out but the lack of any sound was so unnerving. It was at this point she confused herself with the thought – why is she still thinking anything? Her brain should be on permanent standby – forever! That’s when she realized she could hear the humming of something else in her ears as her death was rudely interrupted by a voice she’d never heard before.

“Wakey wakey sleepy head!”

June 18, 2021 17:31

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

20 comments

Francis Daisy
01:46 Aug 15, 2021

This is a love story, but through the eyes of the child stuck in the middle...I enjoyed reading this! -A:)

Reply

Pj Aitken
05:22 Aug 15, 2021

Thank you Amy. Glad you could see that side of the narrative as the love story is definitely a strong theme that echoes through the rest of the book.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
N K
03:08 Jul 04, 2021

This was so so good! I was drawn in from the very beginning and how could I not be with those brilliant opening lines? I loved your characterisation of Jenny and the relationship between father and daughter. I think you did a brilliant job of encapsulating Jenny's internal struggle between missing her mum and trying to be happy for her dad. And the way you depicted her dying in her sleep through the dream was so so interesting. So looking forward to reading more about Jenny! Great job!

Reply

Pj Aitken
04:25 Jul 04, 2021

Glad you enjoyed it Natania. I’m sure Jenny’s full story, which I think will surprise and enthral, will get published one day.

Reply

N K
07:04 Jul 05, 2021

Ooh yay, I know it'll be amazing!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Pj Aitken
15:02 Jul 02, 2021

Those judges really don’t like me as much as my peers🤷🏻‍♂️

Reply

Show 0 replies
Kanika G
10:06 Jul 02, 2021

That was a cliffhanger of an ending! At first I thought she probably survived (and I wanted her to), but reading the comments I realize she woke up someplace else. Interesting story and well-written. Good job!

Reply

Pj Aitken
11:02 Jul 02, 2021

Thank you so much! Yes, Jenny’s about to discover something that will change her life or should that be after life forever.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Esha Mahmood
21:01 Jun 30, 2021

Great story but how did jenny die? I mean if it was a dream then?

Reply

Pj Aitken
21:48 Jun 30, 2021

Thanks Esha. I could tell you but you will have to wait until the full novel is published in the future.

Reply

Esha Mahmood
00:48 Jul 01, 2021

Great i'll definitely buy that novel.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
09:28 Jun 30, 2021

Loved it. The story was unique and Jenny is an interesting character. The relationship between her father and herself is nicely depicted. I am curious about this unknown character in the end. Keep writing!

Reply

Pj Aitken
09:49 Jun 30, 2021

Thank you Madhuparna! Jenny is about to wake up in a world that will take a while to get used to. Hopefully the entire story will be seen at some point in the future.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Devi Anil
07:46 Jun 28, 2021

Hello Aitken wonderful story.can you let me know how to make our story public.I have submitted my story but it is not displayed as yours and others in the list of stories, that is to make others read what option i have to enable? Let me know if u can.

Reply

Pj Aitken
08:49 Jun 28, 2021

Thanks Devi. I think they will get to your story soon but with over 1000 entries it takes time to approve them all. You can also message the Reedsy admin guys in the Help section who will look into it for you.

Reply

Devi Anil
08:34 Jun 29, 2021

Thank you so much for the information...Have a nice day!!!!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Lynn Penny
14:38 Jun 26, 2021

This was quite interesting. I liked the leading description of Jenny, and the small details you added around the dialogue really helped to create a beautiful relationship between her and her father. Now I'm quite curious of who this unknown character is. Great job!

Reply

Pj Aitken
14:45 Jun 26, 2021

Thanks Lynn - I like Jenny a lot and her fantastic journey has just begun.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Cynthia Langley
20:54 Jun 25, 2021

Well done!

Reply

Pj Aitken
06:01 Jun 26, 2021

Thanks Cynthia!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply