My thanks very much to those who carefully read and commented on chapter 1. You are some very generous people with your time. I know there are lots of other things you could be doing or reading, and it’s flattering and humbling that you’d choose to read here.
To clear up a few things – contrary to the short stories I’ve written here, you don’t have to ask about wanting the story to continue because you have about 18 more chapters ahead of you. It is written and finished, and I plan to post each subsequent chapter roughly every two days, maybe sooner one some of them. Not sure. Also, after all of the story has been posted, I will very quickly delete it all, but of course not until I have carefully copied down all of your comments.
My plan was to start querying this story now, but I realized that it could use one more revision, and how better to do that revision than with your help? Seriously, you guys are something special, and I’m lucky to have you.
Chris had a feeling of being underwater, struggling to get to the surface but not knowing which way to go. He was swimming to what he thought was up, but something had him by the ankle and was pulling him the other way. He kicked at it, whatever it was, but he couldn’t get free. Wherever he was, it was too dark to be sure if his eyes were open, and the deep breath he had been holding was reaching its limit. He had a decision to make and believed he only had seconds to make it: go where he thought he should or trust whatever was trying to convince him to reverse himself.
There was a voice growing, calling him, but it was muffled as if through a pillow. There was a shock of pain in his right hand as if he had gripped a live wire. He heard his name, or he knew that his name was being called. It was a pleasant voice, but it wasn’t happy.
“Chris!” He knew someone wanted him, but he was resisting for reasons he couldn’t understand. It reminded him of his turn on the rollercoaster, when his friends told him to either get in or be a chicken. He had told himself it would be over in less than a minute, and it had to be easier than being called a chicken for what could be forever, but he never got in the car.
“Chris! Can you hear me? Chris! Look at me! I know you’re alive! Wake up!”
Why would anyone question if I’m alive?
He tried to open his eyes but thought perhaps they were already open because everything was so bright. A hand slapped his face, and then everything was less bright.
“Chris!” He saw a tearful but happy face. “We made it! Wake up! We made it!” Ann tried to hug him, but it was awkward because her left hand was still gripped by his right hand. His eyes slowly focused. It reminded him of being “snow blind” as a kid, going back in the house after hours of playing in the snow and waiting for his pupils to adjust. But this time, his mother was not reminding him to leave his boots on the porch.
He couldn’t remember who she was, but he knew that he had met her before and that she had gotten a new Mustang when she was 18. That confused him, but not as much as other things he saw.
He was sitting in a seat. A minute ago he thought his chest hurt, but now it was fine. He looked down at what used to be a seatbelt but was now tattered nylon strings. His pants were perfectly clean, but the back of the seat in front of him was stained red, and it was broken, forced more forward than it should have been. It leaned so far forward that he could see many other seats, most of them also broken forward, like dominos that might change their minds and stand up again.
He wondered why some of the other seats, even broken ones, had people in them. Some people were moving, standing, and some were not. Some were on the floor. Sounds grew. Muffles became cries. Cries became screams. Some screams softened and then stopped. He tried to stand but wobbled a little, so he sat back down. His chest no longer hurt, but he already knew that, but he still wondered why it had and then hadn’t. Whichever way he moved, a tearful face followed him.
“Ann, right? Ann Camillo?” he asked. She nodded, sniffled, and wiped at her nose with her hand. He noticed her hair was much more perfect than the last time he had seen her, but he had no idea when that could have been or why he knew the name of someone he might have never met but also knew she had gotten a new Mustang when she was 18.
“Yes. Ann.” She smiled. “We have to get up. We have to help.”
“I never told you my name. How do you know my name? How do I know yours?”
She gave him a clueless gaze, head shake, an eyebrow and shoulder shrug. They briefly studied their joined hands and then the others around them. She slowly stood and softly repeated with an extra half-beat between each word, “We. Have. To. Help.”
They saw an elderly couple, the woman trying to lift the man into his seat, but he was wedged too tightly beneath the seat in front of him. His arms were severely twisted, and Chris wondered how they got that way. Nearby was a girl, motionless, also beneath a seat. Ann wanted to move towards her but was still in Chris’s grasp.
“Let me go,” she said. “We have to help.” She took his right hand with her right in order to help free her left hand from him. He watched with distant interest, as if it were someone else’s hand.
She remembered the shocks the other times they touched hands. This time, along with the shock, there was a loud crack that caused all the other sounds to clear up, like when his father would finally, perfectly tune the radio station so they could hear a Phillies baseball game. A few others turned their way. That’s when Chris noted how those other people were different. Some were standing quietly, looking around just as he and Ann were. Some people lay still on the floor, in seats, across seats, or crammed beneath seats. Some seatbelts were ripped apart, like his and Ann’s. Some belts still held people, but most of those people did not look well. Ann’s knees wobbled, and she reached for his arm to steady herself.
“Something’s wrong here,” he said. That’s when he noticed something several rows ahead. It was his same blue sweater, tan pants, and white sneakers stuck between two seats. They were gathered in a pile that looked wrong, legs aimed the wrong way, and pants ripped and stained.
“Look up there,” he pointed. “Look at that. That’s me. That’s me. Why am I up there?” As he looked again at his torn seat belt, she moved up the aisle, stepping over bodies, until she stopped on the other side of the heap. Her hands moved to her face like a child watching a horror movie. She glanced back at him and nodded, but he wasn’t looking at her. He was staring beyond her where there was another heap of things and arms and a black shirt, jeans, and golden hair like hers.
That allowed him to remember when he first saw her in the airport. She had just gone through security, had just put her shoes back on, and was standing up with her back to him. He watched her head pop up, her hair tumble down the back of her black sweater. He remembered feeling guilty for admiring her that way and looked away before she could catch him.
Now, up ahead, he saw her golden hair and black sweater again, but there were two. One was standing, eyes fixed on him. The other was crumpled beneath a seat near where she stood. He didn’t want her to see herself like that.
“Come here!” he yelled. “Now! Come here!”
She obeyed, and as she walked towards him, he wondered why so many people were stepping in a line towards the front of the plane. He noticed more people than before. They were walking calmly up each aisle, left and right of where he stood in the middle row of seats. They were all so clean and happy, but none stopped to help any of the injured.
“Do you always yell at women like that?” she asked. “Maybe that’s why you’re having trouble getting along with your wife.”
“I never told you I was married, and I never told you I was having trouble. How do you know that?”
“Forget it. We have to-”
A hand reached out and tapped Ann. “We have to go,” said a smiling, well-dressed boy of about 13. They turned to see a man and woman who Chris somehow knew were the boy’s parents. They smiled and guided the boy forward while nodding in agreement.
“It’s okay,” said the woman, who seemed to Chris much like the television moms he had seen growing up wearing a string of pearls, white blouse, and a knee-length skirt. The man had a tweed jacket, and Chris thought of college professors in old movies. Chris also remembered seeing the man earlier, but this was not how he was dressed then.
Chris attempted to pull Ann closer to tell her something, but another audible zap bit both of them when he touched her. It was loud enough that some of the others turned their way, then smiled and continued forward. He stepped back slightly and made sure that he had her attention.
“Ok. Not sure how to say this, but we’re dead.” Sirens were calling in the distance. “Those are emergency trucks. Our plane crashed. These people,” he pointed, “walking here? They might not know it, but they’re dead too.”
Ann glanced at the husband, wife, and child who had moved about ten feet away and watched as they patiently stepped forward some more with hopeful smiles. “Where’s everyone going?”
They looked towards the other end of the line. The side and top of the plane were ripped apart. A whiteness bleached the color out of everything and radiated through the remaining windows and through the open side of the fuselage. The line of people was disappearing into the light through the side of the plane.
“Well,” paused Chris, “I think they’re going to something like – an afterlife, if you believe in such things.” He readied himself for a reaction, but she was more accepting than he expected.
“I’m not ready to die yet.”
“No, really. I’m not ready to die yet.”
“Well, neither am I. I have no idea where they’re all going, but I’m not going anywhere without knowing where it leads.”
“I mean it.” She backed away and found his eyes. “I’m not going.”
“Do we have a choice?” Chris asked. They watched the line, and several people nodded for them to follow. They saw an understanding in each other, and Chris leaned close to her ear. “If you’re saying you don’t want to go where they’re going, then I’m good with that.”
She whispered, “What do we do?”
“You should come with us,” said a woman of about 25 who reached a hand to invite Ann to follow. Ann watched the hand as if it were a threat but kept a polite smile as the woman moved further along with the line.
“You don’t have to go,” called an elderly man from the opposite side of the aisle. “If you’re not ready, don’t go. I’m serious.” Chris recognized him as the man with the twisted arms who was being helped by an older woman. She was kneeling on the floor next to the man’s other body, still slumped on the floor, while the much cleaner version of him stood above himself. “I was there once before, dead on the operating table, and I didn’t go. I fought like mad to get back, and I did. And I won’t go until the day they just take me and I don’t have a choice.”
Chris leaned close again. “What do we have to lose?”
Ann shrugged. He nodded and smiled before peering around for another way off the plane other than the line going forward. He locked on something towards the back of the plane and waved for her to follow.
“Should I get my bag?” she asked, more to herself, and then answered herself. “No. Guess not.”
He smiled in a way reminiscent of when she was little and spilled something at the table. While her mother was complaining about paper towels, her father gave her a look that said, “Relax. Just an accident. No big deal.”
There was an explosion nearby that jolted them, even those on their way forward. Screams followed, and then men in yellow were everywhere, lifting bodies, shouting instructions, and barking orders. Ann followed Chris to the back of the plane where he found an emergency door. As he reached for the handles to open it, the door burst off the side of the plane. Two men in yellow suits and oxygen tanks pushed through. Chris looked down into the gray air. He couldn’t see the ground through the smoke but knew it was there. He stepped out of the plane and lightly dropped only a few feet, turned to extend a hand to help Ann down, but withdrew it.
“You want another one of those shocks?” she asked. She took her hands off her hips, held the perimeter of the doorway, and reached a toe down until she found solid ground.
“What do you think that is? That shock thing?” she asked.
“No clue, but I felt it before the crash. Did you notice?”
“Yeah,” she said, “but I thought it was some kind of static thing from the rug or something.”
“In winter that would make sense, but not in the humidity we had back in Philly.”
“Do you have an answer for everything?” she complained.
He looked at her steadily as they walked through a field of trampled weeds.
“Most of the time,” he answered. “Why would you ask?”
She hesitated. “I don’t know. I somehow seem to know things about you. Like your name.” She picked up her pace to keep up with him. “I think it was when we were holding hands.”
“We weren’t holding hands,” he said without conviction.
“You don’t remember holding hands when the plane was going down?”
“I don’t remember anything,” he said. “I remember talking to you a little, and then I fell asleep before takeoff. And that’s about it, until you woke me up.”
More emergency vehicles rumbled past them and two helicopters circled overhead.
“Where are we going?” Ann yelled over the sounds of engines.
“Away from here.”
“Where are we?”
Chris moved his sweater sleeve to check his watch, but it was gone. He patted his pants, rifled through his pockets, but came up with nothing.
“Hold out your hands,” he ordered.
“My rings are gone!”
“So’s my wallet and watch and cell phone.”
“Do you think someone took them? One of the survivors?”
“Possible. Or it’s a death thing. You know, like we’re not going to need them. Something like that.” They continued walking across the soft ground of a misty field.
“Why did you look at your watch when I asked you where we are?” Ann wondered.
“Because I have a compass on my watch. I thought maybe I could use that to figure out where we are.”
Ann shrugged. Then she turned back towards the crash site and stopped.
“Hey. Look,” she said. Chris turned. “They’re walking away from the plane. You think they’re like us?”
“Could be. Let’s keep going.”
“What’s the rush? We should look at this. This is our death. This is what we’ll be remembered for.”
The same thought struck them at the same time. People at home will see the crash on the news. There will be phone calls. There will be a closed casket funeral and sad relatives. Someone will say a eulogy, and maybe children will cry.
They stared back and then staggered a bit before sitting in the weeds.
“I wonder when they’ll find out,” said Chris.
Ann drew her legs up against her chest, hugged her legs, and buried her face in her knees. Chris knelt orderly with his hands on his thighs. He reached out for a small rock to throw, but his hand went through it like a mirage. He didn’t mention it to Ann as her sobs increased.
Chris waited for Ann’s crying to relax a little before speaking again. “We’re in southern California.”
She looked up from hugging herself. “You always say things at the wrong time.” She showed concerned eyes. “How can I possibly know that about you?”
Chris shook his head before answering. “I don’t know, but I hope we eventually find out.”
She wiped at her nose. “Do you know things about me?”
He shrugged one shoulder. “I know you got a new Mustang when you were in high school.” He stood. “We’ll figure it out.” The sun peeked through a morning of mist and smoke. “Let’s get away from here.”
He stuck out an arm so that Ann could grab him by the elbow without touching his skin and avoiding the inexplicable shock. They began to walk quietly for a while until Ann interrupted their steps.
“Why are we walking this way?”
“It’s the direction the trucks came from.”
“How do you know we’re in southern California?”
“Trucks said San Bernadino. It’s near Los Angeles.”
“Do you like being a teacher?”
“Not really.” He squinted.
“What do you teach?”
He fought back tears. “You know I’m a teacher, but you don’t know what I teach? Interesting.”
“Sorry,” she said.
“Why are you sorry?”
“It’s probably annoying. It’s like I’m prying or eavesdropping into your life.”
Chris quietly walked towards a highway crowded with traffic.
“Do you feel like the things you know are things that you’ve always known, like all your life, or does it feel like things you just learned.”
Ann said, “No idea.”
“Do these things just come to you randomly, or can you search your memory and find more?”
“Don’t know,” she said.
Chris walked on and stayed quiet for a while.
“Science. And math. That’s what you teach,” Ann offered.
Chris smiled. He noticed that he was not tired from all the walking.
“We’re dead,” she said. “But we don’t seem upset. We should be hysterical or something. We’ll never see our families again. We should be freaking out, but we’re kind of relaxed about it. Does that make any sense?”
“I don’t know. It’s my first death.”
“That’s funny. You’re not usually funny. And you’re joking instead of being so serious all the time. I guess it’s a peaceful thing.”
“I guess,” he said. “Hey. How do you know I’m not funny?”
“I don’t know. But i know.”
Question 1: Is it evident and/or “believable” that Chris and Ann have experienced some kind of mental/psychic exchange during
Question 2: Naturally, this story requires you to suspend belief, but does it seem as if Chris and Ann have become too friendly too soon?