Afterlife Afterthoughts

by Derek Hamilton

Growing up saturated in evangelical Christianity, I was always taught that heaven is a place of eternal perfection. I struggled to grasp that concept. I was repeatedly told it’s a place that with no sadness, pain, or fear. A place where all your worries are cast aside, and you simply bask in the glory of God.

I would imagine myself arriving in heaven only to be emotionally lobotomized and left to wander aimlessly through eternity. Meandering the empty streets paved with gold. Mindlessly applauding at the Pearly Gates with a dumb grin glued to my face. Fumbling through my pockets to find the keys to “the house my Father prepared for me” – eyes blank, drool running down my chin. To me, that sounds more like the eternity of torture.

Eventually I realized that it’s not the scenarios that are comforting in the ideology, it’s the false sense of certainty to know what will happen after death that’s so appealing. Over the last fifty years, science and technology has made advancements unlike anything we’ve ever seen in human history. Leaps and bounds. But even if you combine all the knowledge that we’ve accumulated from our entire species, nobody knows what happens on the other side.

I challenge you to devise a more selfish notion than the expectation of an afterlife. At this point, it’s not even an expectation – it’s an entitlement. Even if there is, I don’t think we would appreciate it enough to justify its existence. We take everything in the physical universe for granted, why do we deserve anything after it?

The uncertainty is scary. The emptiness can be overwhelming. But I’ve found that there’s freedom in NOT knowing.

I’ve always felt most human when I make mistakes. When I do something I regret. When I fuck up.

I don’t think we can be fully human without experiencing the negativity that the universe has to offer us at times. We can’t remove half of the emotional spectrum and expect the other half to remain unaffected. Something is lost by erasing deficiency for eternal perfection.

Failure is a universal truth. It’s rooted deep in the subconscious of the human collective. Ask any successful person what they did to succeed, and most of them will answer that they simply persisted.

You’re going to fail. That’s not an option, it’s a given. What matters is what you do in that moment of failure. Manage your mistakes. Learn from them. Turn dead ends into opportunities. Find the solutions in your adversity because it’s always going to be there.

But then again, what the fuck do I know?


Derek Hamilton is a writer, musician, voiceover talent, and self-proclaimed nerd from Northeast Ohio. He’s a Columbia College Chicago alumni, a published poet, and currently works as a streaming media producer. You can find more of his work at derekhamiltonedits.com

Refuge

by Fabrice Poussin

It is hard to catch up with the character she plays
running from word to word, passing a period
down to another paragraph to the end of a chapter
so eager she is to reach the grand finale of her own story.

Always she wants to close the cover and find refuge
within the sheets of the unfinished romance
in a perilous cliff-hanger safe from the rest of us
alone in the dark corner of our unwanted thoughts.

Timid to the outsider she never looks from the page
dark spectacles give shelter to those disturbing gazes
hearing not a sound, she awaits the moment
when she too will commune with her dreams.

Peace is the only aim of this trembling soul
once trapped in the vise of a frenzied mob
life flows in her crimson rivers as in torrents
and all she wanted was an instant with her knight.


Fabrice Poussin teaches French and English at Shorter University. Author of novels and poetry, his work has appeared in Kestrel, Symposium, The Chimes, and many other magazines. His photography has been published in The Front Porch Review, the San Pedro River Review as well as other publications.

I Was Something Then

by Helen Chambers

The face of tomorrow slides away from my grasp, like catching a glass rainbow on a tablecloth. Tuesday? Wednesday? I expect you told me, but the cobwebs in my brain tangle the connections. In bright shafts of sunlight, I recall the hiss and flick of grasses scratching on my boots. We walk and willow trees dip their fingers into the river where the blue sky and our reflections are trapped gazing back at us. I am warm, too warm and I try to take off my shawl, but the others push it back on my shoulders.

I’m singing, with the others, crowded together, too hot. That song – you’ll know its name. You watch us. They say I mustn’t wave. I must pretend I don’t know you. So silly. Just sing. I know all the words. I was something then. I sang solos, proud and alone, with a strong voice. I have to stand behind the others now and I can’t see.

No more singing, that’s sad. I’m too hot. You take off my shawl, tuck my hand under your arm. Perhaps this is where the man’s daughter leaves. He looks old and sad. My daughter went. Lying in her pram watching the sun fluttering through the leaves. Tiny fingers, big round eyes.

You look old and sad. Did your daughter leave too?


Helen Chambers is a short story and flash fiction writer from North East Essex, UK, who dreams up ideas whilst out walking by the river. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Essex and she won the Fish Short Story prize in 2018. Helen has several publications, many of which you can read on her blog: https://helenchamberswriter.wordpress.com

Master of Time

by J. Lee Strickland

Steven mastered time travel. He mastered the brutal simplicity of it. There is only one reason to travel into the past, and that is to change it. There is only one reason to travel into the future, and that is to determine it. He started with the past, with his first wife.
He eliminated her.

He didn’t kill her. He simply erased their marriage. To be certain of the effect, he went so far as to remove certain preconditions to that matrimony, like their attendance at the same high school, the senior prom and those embarrassing photos. Sure, there might still be some someone in the world with a past like hers, even a name like hers, but the tangle of their lives together was gone as surely as if it never occurred. It was a much more satisfying separation than divorce had ever been. The residue that had infected his relationships, his life after that divorce, the recursive torment of what might have been, all that was gone.

His second wife was a more delicate operation. He found that there are limits to what one can change when one travels into the past. One cannot recover what fate has erased. Fate had erased his second wife.

He cured her of the horrible blood disease that had debilitated her, that had robbed her of her beautiful smile, that had wasted her voluptuous body, that had finally killed her. He arranged instead for her to die in a shocking, freak accident at the exact day and hour that fate had ordained. At least she didn’t suffer. He could remember her healthy, robust and happy, loving and being loved, until the last instant.

He was tempted to branch out, to correct the difficulties of a few others, but the past is a delicate fabric, and he had already changed much.

He moved his focus to the future, at first a much more simplistic, almost cartoonish landscape populated with vague stick figures who only gained flesh once one gave them close attention. He found a small cottage in a country setting where he would spend his advanced old age. He contrived that he would be fit and engaged. His mind would be sharp and his fingers still nimble. He lined up some neighbors, not too close, who would be helpful, but respectful. He negotiated with Fate to be kind.

He surveyed his work from the wooden chair in the kitchen of his third-floor apartment and felt pleased.

The phone rang.

“Steven, it’s Betty.”
“Betty who?”
“Don’t be an asshole, Steven. Why do you always have to be an asshole? We’re not married anymore, so just cut the shit.”
“You must have the wrong number,” he said.

He replaced the phone in its cradle. As an afterthought, he pulled the wire from the back of the phone. He gazed out the kitchen window, past the rusted fire escape, across the brick-strewn, vacant lot, at a line of stunted vegetation on the far edge. He thought about his cottage, his diffident neighbors.


J. Lee Strickland is a freelance writer living in upstate New York. In addition to fiction, he has written on the subjects of rural living, modern homesteading and voluntary simplicity. He is a member of the Hudson Valley Writers Guild and served as a judge for the 2015 and 2016 storySouth Million Writers Awards. He recently learned that he is short-listed for the Anne LaBastille Memorial Writers Residency, and now spends his time waiting for the other shoe to drop. His sorely neglected website, including a blog and links to some online works, can be found at: https://jleestrickland.wordpress.com/

Time For Reaping

by Tianna G. Hansen

You spend time planting each seed delicately. Cup the earth around each pearl so it flourishes. Nourish and take care until you feel them blossom and burst forth blooms of brilliant color. Saplings respond to the way the moon moves, just as your body sways with tides of dappled waves. Stars drip from the sky like icicles. You are not destroyed; it is time to harvest. Reap what you have taken time to sow. Healing is a solo act. No one can witness the seed spread beneath the ground, only the moment it presses its softness through the surface toward the sun.

Open your mouth wide, consume rays which reach down to touch; feel the curl of grasping fingers. Roots have grown deep in the pit of your belly. Feel them sink deeper, embrace your bones. Climb through your ribcage like ivy in a warm, constricting hug. When it comes time, devour your harvest whole. Weep the juices, flush your system, and cleanse your body’s deepest grottos. Daybreak radiates each eclipse, soil moist and ready for the next planting — your newest cultivation.


Tianna G. Hansen has been writing her whole life. Her fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction have found homes in numerous mags, and she releasing her debut poetry collection ‘undone, still whole’ with APEP Publications this Beltane. She founded and is Editor-in-Chief of Rhythm & Bones Press/Lit Mag. Follow her work on Twitter @tiannag92 / IG @tgghansen24 / FB @tiannaghansen. More at CreativeTianna.com.