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On the day we’re born we’re all destined to die. But what lies after? For fifteen–year-old Nick Murray, death is only the beginning.
High School student, Nick Murray's sudden death is no accident. What he thought was his life has been an illusion created by powerful celestial beings. But for what purpose?
Entering the afterlife is like joining a corporation. There are rules, regulations, and beings in positions of great power. The devil craves this power. Nick's soul travels back into the living to stop the devil from creating a hereafter zombie attack force from newly dead war veterans. But when the body Nick occupies is executed, Nick discovers a horrifying secret about his own origins that may destroy everything he's fighting to save.
“Time of death,” said a tall man dressed in surgical attire. He had cotton-colored hair, a snowy white moustache, and a long beard. “1:17 P.M.”
For a moment, I didn’t know where I was. Then it dawned on me. I’m in a hospital emergency room. Something terrible must have happened.
“This doesn’t make sense,” replied a woman, who was also dressed in surgical attire. “I can’t find anything wrong with him. There’s no medical explanation. A fifteen-year-old boy shouldn’t have just died like that.”
The woman leaned over and checked my neck for a pulse. Penlight illuminated my right eye and then my left. A stethoscope pressed against my chest.
She shook her head. “Nothing. No vitals at all.”
Panic hit. I tried with all my might to speak. I tried to move my arms. I tried to get someone’s attention. I tried to scream; I’m alive! I’m alive! I can hear you! I can see you! But no breath passed through my vocal chords. My body wouldn’t respond to my mind’s commands. I lay there helpless, a paralyzed shell.
The woman turned around to look at the heart monitor. Hastily, the tall man withdrew a golf ball-size crystal from his front pocket and circled it above my chest. Blue light flashed from the crystal’s center. The tall man quickly stashed it away. Despite being in a bright, sterile room, snake-like bands of black shadow burst from the walls and dropped to the floor. The woman was busy adjusting the equipment and didn’t notice as the bands whipped up my body and tunneled into my ears, nose, and mouth.
My vision dimmed. My thinking clouded. Scenes of my life suddenly appeared in front of me as if I were standing on the sidelines observing. Everything I’d ever done played like a movie in fast-forward: standing in my crib, learning to walk, to ride my bike, my first day at Whitmore Elementary School, fishing with dad at the pier, my freshman prom with Sarah, getting my learner’s permit last month. The visions ended with me collapsing on the lawn earlier today and Sarah running toward me with a look of horror on her face.
I was suddenly back on the hospital gurney. I felt light, floaty. I lifted upward toward the ceiling, an exact copy of my physical made of cloud. I turned my head and looked down at my body. My mortal eyes were glazed and half-lidded. My face was the color of cream. A luminous cord the width of a shoelace stretched from my human head into the back of my spirit head.
Something popped inside my skull. The connecting cord turned to sparkle. I started to drift away from my body toward the other side of the room.
“I’ll notify those in the visitor’s lounge that the patient passed away,” the tall man said. “The mother, and I believe, the patient’s girlfriend, are in there.”
The woman’s face looked almost as pale as mine on the gurney.
“I don’t understand,” she said, as she peeled off a latex glove. “This boy was in perfect health!”
Sound disappeared. I shot upward through a spinning vortex of stars. I stopped and suddenly my world was bright and filled with pain, as if my skin had caught fire. I found myself standing on the front porch of my house. Shafts of sunlight were beating down from the clear blue sky. I grabbed at the doorknob and in my frenzy the momentum carried me forward through the solid wood and into the foyer. I tripped and nearly fell. Sunlight beamed from the windows like lasers.
Panicked to find relief from the burning, I ran across the hallway through the closed basement door and down the steps into the dark, cool cellar. Filamentous illumination drifted off my spirit body. I scratched my arm and my fingertips raked along what felt like real skin. I patted my chest and thighs, they were solid. All of my memories, dreams, and hopes were intact. I was an identical blueprint of my former self.
Wonder replaced my shock at the full and total realization that I was no longer living.
I went back up the steps and pushed my head through the closed door. The sun had set and the house was dark, except for the kitchen. The wall clock showed 8:45 P.M. Hours had passed in what I perceived as seconds.
I stepped all the way through the door, looked for my reflection in the windows, and saw none. The curtains didn’t stir as I reached to brush them. The carpet didn’t scrunch under my feet.
I headed into the kitchen. Glow cast by the overhead fluorescents heated my spirit flesh, but the discomfort was bearable. Ma sat at the table wearing her ratty blue robe. Her face looked chalky and devastated. Bone-white fingers gripped her coffee mug.
“Ma,” I said.
She didn’t respond, just stared ahead in a stupor.
Her lips contorted with grief.
“My husband and my son,” she muttered to the silence. “Both gone on the same day. Why? Why has this happened?”
She started to sob.
I stood in absolute shock. It had been two years since a stroke had left my father in a coma and needing constant care at Pine Brook Nursing Home. Ma and I did our best to keep him cared for and comfortable. I even got a before-school job at Pine Brook cooking breakfast three mornings a week so I could spend time with him, arriving early and talking to him before my shift started, hoping by some miracle that he’d respond. Say something to me. Anything. He never did.
Ma dabbed at her eyes, raised the mug, sipped, and then set it, hands trembling, back onto the table. I reached around to hug her, but my arms passed through her body. I felt so alive… I momentarily forgot that I wasn’t.
“I’ll be right back,” I said into her ear.
I turned and walked through the drywall, through the insulation and vinyl siding, and into the night. Moonshine silvered the neighborhood. Crickets chirped. Moths fluttered dizzyingly and bumped the back porch light. A car droned down the street.
The world was as it should be.
When I stepped back through the wall, 10:30 P.M. beamed from the stove’s clock and Ma’s sobs emanated from upstairs.
“You’re coming with me,” said a gravelly voice. “Your time on the Earthlevel is completed.”
I spun around. A cloudy essence of purple ectoplasm materialized in front of me. The shape fluctuated and then solidified into a gargoyle-like creature about the size of a man, with pointed ears, two horns on its head and one on its chin, and a wild mop of dirt and bug infested black hair. Hawk-like talons replaced hands and feet, and a long, serpentine tail coiled around one of its two antelope-like legs. Leathery wings were folded against its back. It wore a green tunic.
I backpedaled in bewilderment, stumbled over my own feather-light feet, and fell through the linoleum floor, catching between the levels of the house. When I pushed down to get unstuck, my hands passed through leaving me dangling from the basement ceiling like a person clamped in a stockade. Currents of prickly energy fizzled through my muscles.
The creature grabbed the back of my neck and lifted me up. The tingling feeling increased. My extremities numbed. Fear stabbed at my gut.
“What’s happening to me?” I screamed.
“Your soul exists at a certain frequency which allows you to bond with a flesh-and-blood mechanism,” the creature replied calmly. “Death is no more than a changing of that frequency, a shifting to a higher wavelength, one that no longer adheres to mortality. The rapid playback of your life was to imprint your identity upon your consciousness, to etch your human experiences into your reasoning so you won’t enter the Realmlevels in a state of confusion. The full realization of being dead can sometimes shock a soul into nothingness.”
My thoughts turned somersaults. “Who are you?”
“I am Methusula, your guide into the Realmlevels.”
Tingling faded and with its departure came lightheadedness. I turned to look up the stairs toward Ma’s bedroom, feeling the need to somehow protect her from this monster.
“Unfortunately, human emotions and attachments don’t die along with the body,” the creature said. “A grieving loved one often makes it difficult to move forward. The transition into the Realmlevels will be easier if you give yourself emotional permission to leave.”
I looked briefly at a framed photograph of Dad standing at the end of pier 16 and pulling against a strained fishing rod. Memories of that trip bobbed into my mind. It had been a perfect day; perfect weather. The fishing was great. It was also the first time I ever saw Sarah and fell immediately and hopelessly in love with her.
Methusula clamped my arm, flapped his wings, and pulled me up through the ceiling, passed my bedroom on the second floor, and onto the roof. It felt as if we’d flown through air.
“We must transition before the sun rises,” Methusula said, gazing toward the eastern horizon. “Earthlevel light interacts harshly with the soul.”
He faced me and his sight roved up and down. “The soul possesses the ability to create accessories it desires for the body.”
I looked down. With all the transition I’d been through I hadn’t even realized I was naked.
For some reason, my first thought was my blue school gym shorts and white t-shirt. They immediately materialized on me. Then I thought about my gray sweat suit. That materialized. Then I thought about blue jeans and my tie-dye T-shirt. They appeared. I decided to stay with that.
“Prepare yourself,” Methusula said, and raised his arms. “Your eternal journey begins now!”
There was no time to be afraid or question what was happening. Air exploded in a rainbow hue of arcs. Structures of the world blended into each other. Pressure soared in my head. White sparks burst from my pores and spun around me.
Suddenly, I was immersed in chilly water being pulled along with a strong, silty current. The liquid was silent and dark; a deep, empty, obscurity that conveyed feelings of infinite space and distance. I didn’t need to breath.
A hole opened beneath me and I fell from the bottom of the sea through the dirt-colored sky of another world.
Before I could think clearly, I smacked hard onto parched earth, but felt no pain from the impact. I got up slowly, a little scared and fully confused. Deep, ancient rifts cut around serrated rock. Methusula stood a few feet away.
“Where…” I gasped. Heat was dry and foul and beat against my face like flame. “Where am I?”
“Realmlevel One,” Methusula replied. “I will escort you to your section where you will begin punishment and serve your sentence of torture.”
“Whoa!” I held up my hands and backed away. “Did you say torture? Have I done something wrong?”
“You know your crimes against the Rules of the Source.”
“Every detail of your mortal life is listed in the Accounts book. Credit Keepers have assigned your rank and position. Your fate is sealed. Your credits assessed. The punishment fitting.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Each soul is born with an equal amount of good and evil inside them. Based upon the evil deeds they had done in their mortal lives, divided by how long they were mortal, and then subtracted by the number of good deeds they partook in, that quantity then grades placement among the Realmlevels. The soul is classified and assigned a position according to how well it lived by the Rules of the Source while mortal. You must serve a minimum of one thousand years of torture before a review of your circumstance is possible.”
“You’ve got it wrong!” Fear fully encompassed me as I realized the seriousness of the situation. “I’m only seventeen! What could I have done?”
“It makes no difference. I have my assignment from the Credit Keepers. That is all I am concern with.”
“This is a mistake!” I stated.
Methusula flicked his tail. “There are no mistakes here.”
“I won’t go with you!”
“Then you will end.”
“Check that Accounts book! I know it’s wrong! I know who I am! I deserve a chance!”
“You deserve nothing!”
“Please! Check the book!”
Steam ejected from Methusula’s nostrils. He stepped close and growled. “If this is some sort of trick for better placement, I will personally oversee your torture.”
He cupped his talons over my ears. Energy surged through my skull as if I’d stuck my finger into an electrical socket. My entire life flashed before me again, but with one difference. The last image is of me on my back with my eyes closed in the hospital morgue.
Methusula lowered his talons and crinkled his already crinkly brow. He appeared perplexed.
“Your soul is not listed in the accounts book. Yet, someone has severed your astral cord? This is not possible. Who could have done such a thing without Credit Keeper knowledge and clearance?”
“What does this mean?”
“It means…” Methusula scratched the horn at the end of his chin. “You are not supposed to be here.”
I went dizzy with relief at the sudden hope of being reunited with my body.
“I knew this was a mistake!” I stated. “I knew I was right! How soon do I get my life back?”
Methusula stood looking stunned. “It is not that simple. The astral cord is the umbilical that connects a soul to its human mechanism. Once severed, all that was your former mortality is gone. Only the Source can repair such damage.”
“Then contact the Source!”
Methusula’s tail coiled around his leg. “No soul may ever meet with the Source. Its power is too great. If you even stood near the Source your feeble mind would short circuit and you would end. We will ask for council with Realmlevel ruler Demiana. She will decide your fate.”