The Twisted Reality of the Afterlife

Written in response to: Write about someone who needs to face their past in order to move forward.... view prompt

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Contemporary Speculative Inspirational

This story contains sensitive content

CW: suicide, substance abuse, swearing.

I’m dead. You’re probably thinking, Yeah right. You’re just saying that to hook me in. What you’re really going to say is, “Dead because my parents found out that I’ve been sneaking chocolate from their secret stash.” But seriously. I am dead (although I have stolen chocolate from my parents).

I’ll just tell you how I died before you ask. Cocaine overdose. Don’t feel sorry for me. It wasn’t entirely an accident. Remember, kids, don’t do drugs.

On second thought, do feel sorry for me. Because now I’m stuck here, in the afterlife. Or whatever shithole of a place this is. Pitch-black darkness stretches out in all directions around me. I can’t see a thing except for my body, which glows dimly. As far as I can tell, I am exactly the same as before I died, except more translucent. Baggy, dirty clothes. Stringy, greasy hair. Prick marks on my arms.

I think it’s only been a couple of days since I’ve been here. But it’s hard to tell because of the darkness. I also don’t feel the need to sleep, eat, drink, or piss. I’ve just been lying on the ground (if you could call it the ground), staring into the darkness. A joint would be really nice right now. But I don’t think I’ll be running into someone waving around weed anytime soon. If I could even smoke it in this weird ghost form.

I honestly didn’t think heaven existed, let alone like this. I imagined I would wake up on a bed of clouds to the sound of singing angels strumming harps. Then Jesus Christ himself would escort me to the golden gates of heaven and ask if I was worthy of entering. I would look down (faking shame), admit to my crimes (of which there are many), and then Jesus would smile and open the gates to paradise. Ah, wishful thinking. 

If I didn’t end up in heaven, I thought I would at least end up in hell with the demons and raging fires and whatnot. But that obviously didn’t work out. Unless this is hell. In which case it’s a much more effective punishment than eternal heat stroke. I’m starting to go crazy here, sitting with nothing but my wretched thoughts and memories for company.

I decide to start walking. Maybe I will happen upon some weed or the golden gates of heaven. I walk for a long time. And then some because I don’t get tired. The dark is really starting to get to me.

Feeling supremely foolish, I yell, “Oh, great lord! God? Allah? Buddha? Jesus? Anyway, whoever rules this place, please help me! Help me find the gates of heaven. Or at least lead me to some weed.”


“Is anybody here?”


Alright. If that’s how this is going to go. I tried being nice. “Go fuck yourself, higher being! This is a really dumb version of hell, you know!” 

A strange sound, resembling chuckling, reverberates around me, and I nearly jump out of my skin. “This is not hell. Although it’s obviously working on you. Also, if I could fuck myself, I would have done it long ago,” The voice echoes, still chuckling.

Damn. I did not expect God to crack jokes like that. 

As if sensing my thoughts, the voice says, “I like getting down to the level of the newcomers who enter the Realm of Acceptance.” Wow, what an idiotic name. “The Realm of Acceptance is not an idiotic name. And to sate your curiosity, I am neither God nor Allah nor any other deity you know the name of. Religion is only a fabrication of the human mind. A better way to understand the complex world you live in. I am simply the being who created the universe. The being who lit the first spark of life that eventually evolved into you. I am none of the deities you speak of, yet I am all of them. I created the cosmos, yet I am the cosmos.”

Well, that’s confusing. But I’ve never been into discovering the meaning of the universe. I’ll leave that up to the bald dudes with togas in stuffy libraries. 

“Alright, whatever, you’re awesome. You don’t have to do the 'you humans will never understand the complexities of the universe' speech. I get it.”

“I’m glad we’re on the same page. Now to the real reason I decided to speak to you. Don’t think it’s because you insulted me.”

“Wouldn't dream of it.” Man, this guy really has a high opinion of himself (herself?). 

Higher Being ignores my sarcasm (and further insults) and continues, “You are here because you have died.”


“It is one of my many jobs to help you into the Realm of Rest, AKA, the place you call heaven.”

“Is it now?” Another ridiculous name. ‘Land Ruled by a Pompous Higher Being’ sounds much better.

Higher Being continues ignoring me. “However, I can only take you to the Realm of Rest if you face your past and repent your sins.”

“Oh, goody.” Higher Being may think he (she?) is not God. But this is all starting to sound a lot like Bible School. 

“To do this, I will send you back to the Realm of the Living.”

“Question,” I interrupt yet again, and Higher Being seems to sigh, “Can I smoke weed when I return to the Realm of the Living?”

“No. You will not be able to interact with any object or organism in the Realm of the Living because you will be in the In-Between Space.”

Dang it.

“If you do not accept your past and repent within a reasonable amount of time, you will return to the Realm of Acceptance and be stuck here forever. Trust me when I say that the Realm of Acceptance is much worse than your human ideas of hell.”

I gulp. The afterlife is way more twisted than I thought. 

“Alright, Derek. Time to go,” Higher Being announces. I don’t have time to contemplate the fact that Higher Being knows my name because suddenly, the darkness explodes with white light.


When I open my eyes, I see I’m in a graveyard. Fitting. A sign nearby confirms this is Maple Cemetery, the graveyard of my hometown. I study the gravestones around me. With a jolt, I realize I’m standing next to my grave. I bend down and read the inscription:

Derek Jesse Dawson. 

Born January 13, 2004. Died March 11, 2022.

Loving son and brother.

Some loving son I was. Even as I think it, I shake with sadness and stand up, only to see a woman and a little girl coming in my direction. They are holding hands and both are dressed in black. The woman looks right at me–or rather, through me–to my grave. No, no, no, nononono. It’s Mom. And Lizzy.

I want to move but I’m frozen. Mom and Lizzy kneel next to my grave, right next to me, and replace the wilted camellia flowers with fresh ones. They stay there, heads bowed for a moment.

Then Mom says, “Would you mind going back to the car, Lizzy? I-I need…”

Lizzy nods and wordlessly walks away. I want to run after my little sister, hug her tight, and tell her we’ll play Legos later. But I can’t. 

“Hi, Derek. I-I… haven’t been here since your…f-funeral,” Mom’s voice cracks over the word. “I just wanted…to say that I miss you. So h-hard. And to say…that I’m sorry. S-sorry for not realizing something was…wrong. Sorry for not taking care of you better. Sorry…for not being the mother you needed me to b-be.” Mom leans forward and lets out a strangled sob. I want to cry but I don’t have tear ducts. I move to wrap my arm around Mom’s shoulders but my hand passes right through her. I come away, feeling more hollow than ever.

You are the best mother in the world, Mom, I want to say. I was just too stupid and selfish to realize it.

“You were always your s-same, sarcastic self at h-home. I sh-should have asked…what y-you were really feeling. M-maybe if I…had found your…n-needles and helped y-you get through…it, things would be d-different. But I was t-too ignorant. Th-this is all my fault.”

Mom collapses to the ground, her body wracked with sobs. I want to scream. This isn’t your fault, Mom! You never would have found my needles. Nothing could have saved me. My death is nobody’s fault but mine. Forget about me, move on. I’m not worth this. 

Mom picks herself up and runs a finger over my name etched on the tombstone. “I l-love you, Derek. Even if you think you don’t deserve it. We b-both have to forgive ourselves. Remember that.”

I watch Mom’s hunched figure walk away, the wilted camellias dangling from her right hand. I’m dying of agony. But that’s impossible because I’m already dead. 

I try to lean against my tombstone to process what just happened, but I pass through it and fall to the ground. The sight of a rock poking through my stomach is so weird I jump up and start walking. I have to get out of this place.

I start strolling the streets of my hometown, a small, quaint, postcard-worthy town by the name of Dummest. I wish I were kidding. You’ll see plenty of signs around here like “Welcome to the Dummest Coffee Shop” or “Turn Left for the Dummest Community Center”. The person who named this town must have been the dumbest person ever. Get it? I mean, it’s pretty bad, but that’s what happens when you grow up in the Dummest town ever.

A glance at the day's paper tells me that it's been two weeks since my death. As I stroll, I discover that I can walk through anything. Cars, buildings, trees, people. I walk through supermarkets, office buildings, and clothing stores. It’s awesome. Until I walk through one wall and end up in a bathroom stall. Occupied by an old man. Suffering from diarrhea. I let out an embarrassingly girlish scream and am out of there in seconds. 

I wonder what else I can do in this strange ghostly state. I jump into the air as high as I can and am utterly floored when I don't drop to the ground. I stay hovering in mid-air. With a few kicks of my feet, I sail upward, stopping when I stop kicking. Woo hoo! It feels like I'm moving through jelly; the air holds me in place but I can still move.

Pretty soon I've mastered flying/air swimming. I fly around Dummest, marveling at the perspective being so high off the ground gives. I feel so small. So insignificant. So worthless. I felt this way the first time I decided to try cocaine. If only... No, I tell myself, don't go down that path.

Time to go. Maybe I can teleport. I think about Greece. I've always wanted to go there. A second later, I'm floating above the Parthenon. I smile. Why are people so afraid of death? You can leave behind all the shit that happened in life. 

With my newfound flying and teleporting skills, I travel to Rome, London, Berlin, Beijing, Sydney, Lima, Madrid, Moscow, Istanbul, Cairo, all the places I've only dreamed of visiting. My mouth hangs permanently open at the beauty of it all.

I'm lounging on a beach in Dubai when suddenly, everything explodes with white light and I'm plunged into darkness. 

Yay. I'm back in the Realm of Frickin Acceptance. 

"Derek," Higher Being's echoing voice sounds admonishing, "It's been a month."

"Oh, really? I hadn't noticed. I've been having the time of my life…er, time of my death." Hmm. I hadn’t really thought about how that expression doesn’t apply to me anymore.

"You're not supposed to be having the time of your death. You are supposed to be repenting and moving on."

I cross my arms, "I don't know what you're talking about. I have moved on. See? I'm here for heaven's sake."

"You haven't moved on mentally. You stole money, Derek. You harmed your father. He's still recovering from the knife wound you gave him. Those aren't minor crimes. You have to acknowledge that and forgive yourself."

"I can't forgive myself," I snap.

"I will give you one more chance. Or otherwise, the Realm of Acceptance is all you will know for the rest of eternity."


This time, Higher Being sends me to my old room, in my parent's house. It looks the same as the last time I saw it, two months ago. The bed is unmade, the sheets rumpled. My biology textbook is on the floor, still open to the photosynthesis chapter. The trash can is half full of candy wrappers. Two letters from the community colleges I applied to lay on my desk, unopened. I never go a chance to open them after…stuff went down. I guess I’ll never know whether I got accepted or not since I can’t pick up the letters. 

I wish I could flop on my bed right now, but I know I’ll just pass through and land on the floor (painlessly of course). What is the point of all of this? I injected the extra cocaine to get away from my crappy life, not to come back as a ghost and see the damage I've done. 

The front door opens and I walk down the stairs slowly, dread building in my gut. Mom is helping a limping Dad through the front door. Lizzy is bouncing on her heels behind them. Dad winces when Mom helps him sit on the living room couch.

“Are you okay, honey? Does it still hurt?” Mom asks, concern written all over her face. She lifts his shirt to check the bandage on his stomach.

“Yeah, it hurts a little when I sit or get up. But I’m fine, now that I’m not in the hospital anymore,” Dad replies.

“I’m so happy you’re home, Daddy!” Lizzy chirps, “I’m gonna get some lemonade.” She skips away. 

I didn’t mean to stab my father. He caught me stealing cash from the safe. He confronted me, I freaked out, and it just…happened. I know it’s no excuse. I ran away after that, living on the streets and using the stolen money to buy cocaine and junk food. And then…I think you get the rest. 

How does Higher Being think I’m going to forgive myself after seeing my Dad in pain? Really great plan, you know, I want to shout, flawless plan. I mean–

“Are you angry at him, Dave?” Mom asks quietly.

Dad looks up at the ceiling. “I was. Very angry at him. Because of the drugs, because of the lies, because of the grief he caused our family. But not anymore. Not after the funeral. It wasn’t his fault. And it wasn’t our fault. It took a while for me to admit that. I just wish I had known something was up so we could have helped him. Derek deserved a happy life.”

I reel backward. Dad’s words would feel like a punch to the stomach, but I don’t have any physical sensation. 

Mom and Dad twine their fingers together, and sit like that, united in their love and grief until Lizzy comes back with lemonade. They drink lemonade and watch America’s Funniest Home Videos. Lizzy laughs so hard at a video of a scared cat that lemonade spurts out her nose and then everyone laughs harder. I sit apart, an incompatible piece of the puzzle that is my family. 


For the rest of the week, I trail my family everywhere. I follow Lizzy to school and smile with pride when she gets an A+ on her math test. I watch Dad as he teaches freshmen history. I stand by Mom while she cooks dish after dish at Restaurant Italiano. I even visit Grammy and Pop, although all they do is watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. It’s great to see everyone regaining their sense of normalcy, even if I’m not part of it.

The following Sunday, Mom says to Dad, “Do you want to visit Derek’s grave, honey? You haven’t been there since the…funeral.”

Dad smiles tentatively, “Yeah, Amy. That would be really nice. Let’s get some flowers on the way.”

I’m already at the graveyard when my family comes. They replace the wilted camellias with fresh ones and stand in a row together, hands held tightly. 

Suddenly, I’m overcome with love and joy, seeing my family here. I move in front of Dad and look him in the eyes.

“I’m sorry I lied and stole from you Dad. I’m sorry I ever tried drugs in the first place. I’m sorry I stabbed you.”

I move on to Lizzy. “I’m sorry I left you behind, little sister. I’m sorry I wasn’t kind to you. I’m sorry I didn’t pay much attention to you. I know you’ll do amazing things one day.”

And finally, Mom. “I’m sorry I caused you so much grief. I’m sorry I didn’t let you help me. I’m sorry I wasn’t the son you wanted and needed me to be.”

I take a step back. “I love you all. I just hope that you have forgiven yourselves. And me too.”

I look up at the bright blue sky. “I should never have tried weed, or meth, or cocaine. That was my fault. But I acknowledge that everything after stemmed from my addiction, not from a desire to hurt my family. I think I’m finally ready to move on,” I take a deep breath. “I…forgive myself.”

Everything around me lightens as I begin to fade away. I smile.

“That good enough for you, Higher Being?”

I swear I hear chuckling as I close one chapter of my life and open a new one. 

August 30, 2022 01:54

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1 comment

Laura G.
16:49 Sep 03, 2022

Interesting how you incorporated death, and comedy together into one story. (:


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