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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

Blood

by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Her mother raised her Catholic, but somewhere along the way, between inspecting U.S. Navy aircraft (her softness inside their hardness) and teaching Montessori students (her hardness inside their softness), Latilda joined a cult, lived in a fallout shelter forty feet underground, scrubbed black mold from the walls at the leader’s command, with no protective gear. She began believing in archangels who shared their karma with those who worshiped them.

When her father died, age 90, her mother intended to plant him in St. Anthony’s graveyard, but Latilda’s religion specified that he be cremated, that the smoke should rise up to heaven where the archangels could fan it to the four quadrants.

Conflict between mother and daughter, conflict unbroken by death, their lifelong pattern, but now more at stake, her husband’s/ her father’s soul. Finally the funeral director forced their hand. He owned an ulcer and didn’t have the stomach for their argumentative impasse.

They compromised: his body would be buried, but only after his blood was cremated. The funeral director placed the blood in an urn, as if it were a sacrifice to the goddess Isis or the Minotaur. He wondered: “When this blood boils, will the dead man’s spirit boil with anger? Will he lash out in an inarticulate, occult manner that might harm me?”

The blood quickly came to a rolling boil, like a pot on the stove waiting for eggs, then burst into flame. Latilda, watching through the crematorium’s small window, saw the smoke get inhaled by an archangel who had suddenly appeared. To her sharp and penetrating chagrin, the archangel had the appearance of her high school boyfriend. He’d been stoned all the time, always ready to inhale something, cigarettes, gasoline, glue, pot if he could afford it.

But then the archangel blew the smoke through the walls, to the four corners of the Earth. Latilda ran outside to see the smoke (her father’s iron poor blood transformed) get swept away by the wild wind, which blew in all directions at once. She knew that now it didn’t matter, what happened to her father’s earthly body.


Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois has had over fourteen-hundred of his works of poetry and fiction appear in literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad. He has been nominated for numerous prizes, and was awarded the 2017 Booranga Writers’ Centre (Australia) Prize for Fiction. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available for Kindle and Nook, or as a print edition. To read more of his work, Google Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois. He lives in Denver, Colorado, USA.

Dinner Stains

by River Rivers

$7.25 an hour doesn’t pay the bills.

At least it couldn’t when Tully was a school Janitor. Years passed since those days. He had since moved up in the world, finding respectable work in his trade. His current employer, Immaculate Worship Church, hired him $15.00 at full time with all the included benefits. It was dirty, repetitive, thankless work, but it allowed him to support a large family and spend time with them too.

This morning Tully and his trainee Henry weren’t upkeeping the church grounds, they would be taking the company van out to the worship’s privately owned warehouse. Tully was surprised the boy was ever hired. Henry was a self-proclaimed Protestant, who believed Mary wasn’t an eternal virgin and had natural born children before Christ. Tully reminded Henry when he began to keep his beliefs private. The Immaculate Worship didn’t tolerate such hearsay among its affiliates. Tully learned fast to keep his thoughts to himself. He’d be fired if he told the Elders that the idea of virginity is sexist and promotes slut shaming.

“Be respectful when entering this place,” Tully warned Henry upon arrival. “It’s on these site grounds that the Vestal apprentices who failed to keep their hymens intact before they age to thirty are buried alive under stones to preserve the order’s sanctity.” The Vestals, also called the Roman Women, were virgin priestesses honored among the Immaculate Elders. They attended to the many properties and practices of the church.

The boy nodded his head as he listened, reassuring him with an, “I will, I will.”

They gathered their cleaning supplies into a cart. When allowed inside the warehouse the two Janitors were made welcome by several Vestals. Practicing nudists, the vestals saw the naked form as a non-sexual entity. They were permitted no clothing when performing duties. The common vestal was known for their white cotton masks and pearl jewelry. Their nakedness made Henry uncomfortable. Tully, a married man, took no issue with this and was used to their eerie presence. Only a Lead Mary was allowed to speak on the group’s behalf. Any other Vestals were wraiths that waited in silence, otherwise, they moved about their tasks almost unseen.

The Lead Mary, a tall woman who Tully recognized, greeted them with standard prayers and asked them to drink from the cups her apprentices offered. It was ‘Elders Brew’ a blisteringly hot and bitter tasting liquid which was custom for church hosts to offer their guests. Tully always had to pee minutes after drinking it and would need to use the restroom before getting to work. Henry didn’t feel the need and waited. Upon return he noticed the Lead Mary was carrying a strainer with water miraculously held within, not a single drop had fallen through the mesh holes. She said nothing of it and led them where they needed to be.

The main room was locked and it took an elder’s own key for the Lead Mary to open it. She blessed them with a bow and left. “Is it true that come Armageddon the Elders will sell the Vestals to powerful men in order to secure assets? Virgins go for a high bride price.” The Trainee asked him the moment she was out of earshot.

“What did I say about respect, boy? The Elders could be listening.”

They opened the door to a warm blast of stinking air. Enough to make any man vomit. A poor ventilation system and smoke coming from a recently abandoned fire pit worsened the smell. The scene was pure gore. They walked to the table over lily flowers that covered the floor from corner to corner. By the bust of Athena displayed in the center, he determined this warehouse room was set up to mimic the Parthenon Dining Hall of the main church building. He pictured the Elders in here during the twilight hours clinking their dinnerware and casting spells.

We are cleaning after a Conception Feast. Henry is not ready to see this, thought Tully.

The sins of the cult needed to be washed away. The dinner remains were left a bloody mess as if a giant had spilled a cup of deep red wine onto the room’s contents. Blood didn’t simply stain the symbolic marriage-bed-sheets hung up like tapestries. It stuck to the dinner plates, congealed together in pools on the tablecloth, splattered onto silverware, filled bowls to the brim, even the glasses contained foggy fingerprints. There were too many knives to count and a tattered white dress tossed aside to be forgotten. Strange symbols and words spread out and written in a language he could not read. The evidence of virginal sacrifice and spiritual consumption were obvious. Nothing Tully hadn’t seen or cleaned after before.

However, the boy wasn’t expecting this, he was in shock and trying to process the scene before him. Tully informed Henry they would need more than what was brought in the cart if the task was to be completed in time. Sending him to the van for supplies would save him from viewing the nearby body. Henry would have no idea that the girl’s sacrifice would allow a Vestal, most like the Lead Mary, to become pregnant with a future Master and Elder. That a Vestal was prophesied this century to give birth to the next Prophet, the next Saviour.

Tully then remembered that Conception Feasts came in pairs and a male virgin was more valuable than a female in the eyes of the Immaculate. This sin was forgiven, but soon another will be committed. Suddenly he feared for his trainee Henry. That was a stain he didn’t want to scrub out.


River Rivers is a writer lost in the Cascadian mountain lands of Oregon. He spends his time with his two adopted Pitbulls, Gemma and Murphy. Somehow in between their chaos, he finds a time for work and fiction.