Darren Cole – Deakin University
Ryan was jolted awake as the bus came to a sudden halt, throwing him forward in his seat. Rubbing the tiredness from his eyes, he took a look out of the window to find they had stopped in front of a large, ornate looking house. Confused, he got to his feet and made his way down the aisle to the driver, who was simply staring out of the windscreen with an emotionless expression on his face.
“Uh, hello? I thought this was the number 16? The downtown route?” he asked, becoming worried that he had slept through his stop.
“End of the line, please exit the bus,” said the bus driver in a monotone voice. Ryan gave him a confused look, shooting a look through the empty bus for someone to back him up.
“End of the Line, please exit the bus,” the driver repeated, pulling the lever that controlled the door. Still confused, he climbed down the steps, shivering as a sudden icy breeze overtook him. With a loud growl from the engine the bus took off down the street, disappearing into a cloud of white fog that seemed to surround the area. Letting out a frustrated sigh, Ryan pulled his phone from his pocket, scrolling down his contacts list till he found the number for the local taxi service. But as soon as he pressed the call button, his screen blacked out, flashing the ‘low battery’ symbol once before it became unresponsive.
“Well fuck,” he groaned, giving his phone a squeeze in anger. Realising he had no real choice but to try and ask the people in the house to use their phone, Ryan made his way up the dirt path toward the house, a tight feeling finding its way into his chest as he got closer to the door.
The maroon-painted weatherboard house creaked in the wind as Ryan climbed the steps of the wooden porch, raising an eyebrow at the sight of a swinging porch seat.
“Oh fantastic, old people,” he thought, not looking forward to the obvious difficulties he would be having in convincing them to help him, knowing from previous experience as an electrician that elderly people are suspicious with strangers coming to their door, even if they are expecting them.
Reaching for the knocker, he pulled his hand away at the burning cold that met his skin.
“Ah! What the hell?” Ryan exclaimed, tucking his hand in his armpit to nurse it from the pain. The heavy door suddenly flew open, revealing a young man in a black suit. He was taller than Ryan, and much skinnier, but he had a warm smile on his face.
“Oh hello! I’m so glad you’re here, we’ve been expecting you,” he said happily, stepping aside and waving Ryan into the house.
“Uh, I’m sorry, I think there’s been a mistake, I’m just here to see if I could borrow your phone,” Ryan told him, smiling awkwardly as the man frowned, before reaching into his jacket and retrieving a small black leather-bound notebook.
“I don’t think there’s been a mistake, you are Ryan Luna right?” he asked, turning the notebook to Ryan and showing him that, sure enough, his name, as well a small photo of him rested on the page.
“Yeah, that’s me, but I don’t…” he said, his voice trailing off as he noticed the small smile on the man’s face.
“Now now, there is no need to worry, just come on in and I’ll get you all sorted out,” he said, putting a hand onto Ryan’s shoulder. Ryan looked behind him, wondering if he would be able to outrun the lanky man through the fog. The hand on his shoulder tightened, as though the man had read his mind and was making sure he couldn’t get away. “Just relax; my name is Derrick, Derrick Eath.”
Derrick led Ryan through the labyrinthine house, walking through innumerable amounts of heavy, ornate doors. Finally, after what seemed like an hour of walking and Derrick regaling Ryan with the history of his house and the meanings of the many paintings that lined the halls, they found themselves in a large dining room, where three other people sat at an impossibly long dining table.
Ryan was sat at the table across from a teenaged girl dressed in McDonald’s uniform, who was in the process of tearing into a large turkey drumstick. Next to him sat an old man wearing a blue pinstripe suit, who was quietly sipping at a glass of some amber coloured liquid, all the while stroking a black and white photo of an elderly woman, and finally, across from him was a young girl who Ryan could only assume was six or seven years old, but completely bald. She was shovelling large spoonfuls of ice cream into her mouth.
“Welcome everyone!” Derrick exclaimed as he took a seat at the head of the table, a large smile on his face. “Now that our last guest is here, I can finally tell you all why I have gathered you in my humble abode.”
“And why is that?” Ryan asked accusingly, his hands shaking in fear. Derrick smirked, pausing for a moment to take a long drink from a wine glass.
“It’s quite simple; you’re all dead!” Derrick told them happily, causing the entire group to pause. The girl across from Ryan dropped her drumstick, causing it to thud onto the table, breaking the silence.
“What?” screamed the girl as she kicked her chair away from the table.
“There’s no need to panic, it’s done now and I’m here to help you move on,” Derrick explained calmly, taking another drink from his wine glass.
“I do not understand, we are … dead? How?” said the older man, his thick German accent making his speech slow.
“Well you all died in different ways, my dear Fredric. You were lucky enough to pass in your sleep,” Derrick replied, before gesturing to the young girl. “And Claire here, she passed away from her cancer. Jean in the back was shot by a robber while at work and Ryan; he had a metal fence post fly through his heart when the bus he always takes to work crashed into the back of a farmer’s ute.”
Silence fell on all of them once again, and Ryan and Jean looked at each other, before she unbuttoned the top few buttons of her work shirt and peeled it back to reveal a clean hole in her chest. Ryan’s eyes went wide and he tore his jacket off, franticly pulling up his shirt and screaming as he saw the giant hole exactly where his heart would have been.
“Calm down Ryan, this is a good thing, at least potentially,” said Derrick, gesturing for them all to sit once again, and they did, with Ryan flopping into his chair.
“W-What do you mean, potentially?” Fredric asked, seemingly calm about the whole affair.
“I’m glad you asked! Well you see, death is a gift that we give to mankind, but it does come with rules. We have to give you a choice. You can either move on to our realm, and live in peace, or you can stay here on this planet, unable to interact with anyone or anything, but alive … in a sense.”
“How is that a gift!” Ryan shouted, slamming his fists onto the table.
“It is a gift because you’re able to move on to something better and not be constrained by the limits of your meaty shells. That’s the first gift. The second is the fact that your death will help your loved ones grow. Your sacrifice will make them stronger people,” Derrick told them, taking on a compassionate tone.
“So what happens now?” Jean asked, her face was pale and her whole body was shaking.
“Well it’s time that you all make a choice; to come with me and be happy for the rest of time, or stay here, and be with your family, even though they will never know you are there.”
“Well I for one, am ready to go, as long as you can assure that my family will indeed grow stronger,” said Fredric almost immediately as he picked up his photo and tucked it into the pocket of his suit jacket.
“I can assure that. My father has made that certain. Is there anyone else?”
“I’m staying! And you better not try to stop me!” Jean exclaimed, crossing her arms in a huff.
“I’m not allowed to do that. I hope you make peace. But please remember, you cannot change your mind for another one hundred years. Do you understand?” Derrick asked and Jean nodded once. He turned to Claire, who had not said anything the entire time. “How about you, little one? I can make sure you will be able to talk again.”
Claire hesitated for a moment, looking around at the adults as though wanting permission. When no one reacted she nodded sheepishly. All eyes then fell on Ryan, and he could feel them boring into him. He closed his eyes, weighing up every pro and con that he could possibly think of. Finally, he gave Derrick a long look and nodded once.
“I’ll go, but please make sure my sister can provide for herself with me gone?” Ryan asked, pleading with him.
“I’ll see what I can do, but in the end, it is up to my father. Now come, your afterlife awaits.”
Darren Cole is a twenty-year-old Geelong writer who hopes to one day work in the film/television industry, or work in comics. Usually a genre writer, Darren likes to branch out and try other styles whenever possible.