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

Never Again

by John M. Carlson

I really can’t afford to be here! Rick thought, as he sat down at his favorite table in his favorite restaurant.

Indeed, he knew he’d be lucky if he could avoid having to go back onto his college ramen diet. At the same time, though, he wanted to have a nice lunch to celebrate the fact that his divorce was now final. Of course, there was the small matter of alimony (which was why he’d probably be eating a diet dominated by ramen soon). But the miserably unhappy marriage itself was ended, and he was free to move on.

He sat, thinking of the marriage that had just ended. Never again, he thought. I’m done with relationships!

Of course, he’d said “never again” when his last two relationships had ended. But this time he meant “never again” when he said “never again.”

Indeed, he thought, it might be best if no one had relationships. Based on what he saw with his family and friends, relationships more often than not seemed to end badly for all concerned. A bitter divorce if one got married. Or if one was only dating there would be a vitriolic breakup. But maybe he was just cynical.

He now remembered back to when he was 12. Back then, relationships seemed so crazy. Then, he became a teenager…and suddenly the most important thing imaginable was having a girlfriend. Relationships remained hugely important even to the present day, even though he’d learned from bitter experience that today’s relationship was tomorrow’s expensive trip to divorce court.

I understood something at twelve that I think I forgot: how crazy relationships are! he thought.

Oh, well. At least, his last relationship was finished, and he’d never, ever, ever have a relationship again.

***

After lunch, Rick headed back to his apartment. A woman was moving into an apartment down the hall from his. She was, Rick noted, very beautiful.

“Hi!” she said. “I’m Danielle!” She smiled a smile that absolutely glowed.

Rick introduced himself. They chatted a couple of minutes. Rick could sense she was interested in him. Very interested.

A few minutes later, Rick headed down to his apartment. All he could think about was Danielle.


John M. Carlson lives in the Seattle area. His stories have appeared in a variety of online publications. More of his work can be seen on his website.

Wanted

by Don Noel

Jill hadn’t imagined so many choices. In the chalky light, the buses kept coming and going: to Waterbury, New Britain, Boston, New York, Providence, Philadelphia. She wished she had a map.

The backless metal benches were uncomfortable. Probably to discourage homeless people from sleeping here. Never mind; she kept getting up to watch buses load or unload, wondering if someone like her would be noticeable. Not stand out by age: She was fifteen, but was sure she looked eighteen. No, scared: She didn’t want to look scared.

Most arrivals had someone waiting: Stepping down to the pavement, hugging awkwardly, they hurried to waiting cars. Others moved confidently toward the taxi stand or the local bus stop at the end of the platform. No one seemed uncertain. Except her.

Departing buses gave her time to study the passengers. Most, traveling with friends, chatted as they waited in line, shuffling up to where the driver took their tickets. Some had suitcases to be stowed in the holds, which made them seem purposeful. Those alone stared into smartphones, or smiled, rocking to rhythms in their earbuds. None looked indecisive.

It was chilly. It had been warm at the cemetery, an autumn afternoon whose beauty mocked their purpose, but the day’s heat was long gone. Taking off her backpack, she took out her hoodie and pulled it on, trying to avoid mussing her hair. It warmed her, but made her more conspicuous, she thought: People resolutely going somewhere wore real coats. Without the hoodie her bag was almost empty; she should have packed more. She set it at her feet.

Remembering the cemetery brought tears; she dabbed with an already-damp handkerchief. She had not known until this day that Dad was not her real father.

The scene at graveside replayed in her head. “Jill, I don’t know why you’re crying,” Carol whispered acidly. “You’re adopted. I’m his real daughter.”

Eight years older, her sister had always seemed distant; suddenly she had turned cruel. And apparently wasn’t a sister anyway. Good riddance.

On the other hand, Carol would go back to college soon, halfway across the country to get a degree in cybernetics, whatever that was. At that point, if she changed her mind, Jill would be an only child again — adopted or not. It had been special this year, with Carol away: Mom taught her to sew, and helped her make a Father’s Day shirt for Dad.

She made herself concentrate. A girl got off a bus from Albany, looking lost. In the ghostly fluorescence her blonde hair looked frosted. She stood with her little roll-on, people eddying around her. The Travelers Aid booth seemed to catch her eye. It was dark, though, closed at this hour.

Were there Travelers Aid booths in other cities? And what would she ask? “Excuse me, I’m running away. Where can I safely get some sleep?” Not likely.

The blonde girl was being met after all: A couple came up, quick hugs. Parents? No, maybe uncle-aunt hugs. Whatever; she was wanted. The man took her roll-on, leading away.

Maybe she should ask people about the cities they’d left. “Excuse me, how big is Philadelphia?” Or “Excuse me, is Providence a friendly city?” No, that was absurd.

She’d been wrong not to say goodbye. But Mom was already grieving, and unlikely to have time for a spare-wheel daughter. Was Jill her real name, or one given at adoption? And how old had she been? Would Mom know who her real mother was? Or tell her? Must phone or write when she got settled in wherever she was going.

She’d taken a city bus downtown. Local buses must stop running soon. She wandered a half-block to the bus stop, peering at the sign with the schedule for her route. The last bus for the night had already gone.

That settled it: Time to get serious about deciding, buying a ticket. She went inside the terminal to the huge electronic timetable of arrivals and departures. Within the hour buses would leave for New York, Pittsburgh, Albany, Boston, Toronto. Did one need a passport for Toronto? Irresolute, she walked back to where buses came and went.

A man in a uniform cap, with a taxi-driver’s badge on his tunic, startled her. Thick grey hair, bushy moustache. Nice-looking, old enough to be a grandfather. “Excuse me. Aren’t you Jillian Bassett?”

He didn’t seem the kind of predator you read about, but she was wary. “Why does that matter to you?”

“Your mother thought you might be here.”
“Oh, sure.”
“Your sister told her you’d had a fight.”
“That’s not what I’d call it.”
“Your mother wants me to take you home.”
“How do I know you’re for real?”
“I understand. But I’m a licensed taxi man.” He pointed to his badge. “And I saw you at the service.”
“You were there?”
“Couldn’t have kept me away. We went through high school together.”
“You really knew him?”
“We got together over a beer now and then. He was so proud of you!”
“He was?”
“Loved you. And you must have loved him.”
It was more than she could absorb. “Yes, but I’m not his real daughter.”
The taxi man’s eyes widened. “What do you mean?”
“I’m adopted.”
“Why do you say that? He never mentioned it. Your mother didn’t, either.”
“That’s what Carol said today.”
“Oh, that’s what’s going on. Listen, your mother is going crazy worrying.” He stooped to pick up her knapsack.
She snatched it, cradled it in her arms, a defensive barrier. “I don’t know.”
“Running away won’t solve any problems.”

The headlights of an incoming bus raked across them, then blinked off. She turned. It was bound for New York.

“Your mother has enough grief tonight. You shouldn’t add to it.”
People were beginning to board the New York bus.
“Your mother needs you,” the taxi man insisted. “Wants you.”
“What?”
The magic words again. “She wants you.”
“Thank you,” she said. “Let’s go.”


Retired after four decades’ prizewinning print and broadcast journalism in Hartford CT, Don received his MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University in 2013. Don has published more than four dozen short stories and non-fiction pieces, but has two novellas and a novel still looking for publishers.

Roosters of Hawaii

by Hardarshan Singh Valia

Wild roosters
Crowing
On beaches
Around hotels
In parking lots
Amidst lush forests
Majestic mountains
Deep valleys
And plain fields.

Could it be
Cry of the displaced beings
Longing for the lost homes
Or songs of freedom
On finding new homes?

Poet, within tourist,
Trying to discern
Mood and attitude
Of a displaced rooster
While packing bags
For a return flight
To the distant homeland.


Hardarshan Singh Valia is an Earth Scientist. His poems, stories, and essays have appeared in journals such as River babble, Poetic Medicine, Sage-ing, Bitterroot, Urthona, Hub and in books entitled Undeniably Indiana (Indiana University Press), Diamonds-75 Years of Indiana Poetry –An ISFPC Anthology, A Magic Hour Family Christmas, and Hoosier Horizon.

Before

by Sarah Bigham

Before
he was mine
sunshine boy
and running free
he lived
in surf
and sand
and pools
on skis
and boards
and towers
that glow

Before
he was mine
he burned their
eyes in Adonis
glory and ached
their throats
from laughing
and twitched
their lips in
effortless beaming
at the magic
he wrought

Before
he was mine
he was someone
else’s others’
centers and
the friends’
friend a blaze
for moths and
butterflies dowsed
out on a train
on the tarmac
on the ground

Now
he is mine
among the
stars and
clouds and
birds flying
across drenched
sheets on reddened
lazy mornings
as he lies
softly next
to me


Sarah Bigham writes from Maryland where she lives with her kind chemist wife, three independent cats, an unwieldy herb garden, several chronic pain conditions, and near-constant outrage at the general state of the world tempered with love for those doing their best to make a difference. A Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, Sarah’s poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of great places for readers, writers, and listeners. Find her at www.sgbigham.com