Updated: Mar 4, 2021
Tears fell from her eyes as water cascades from a waterfall. If anyone had been there to ask she would not have been able to say nor even give a clue as to why her eyes were red with misery. She longed to turn away and return to her bed where it was warm and dry and her face was not stained with black tears. If it had not been the dead of night or if she had been alone in the large house she would have knocked everything off of the counter and laughed with a scream as it all smashed on the floor. The mascara, the eyeshadow, the lipstick, the foundation, the blush, the bronzer, the highlighter, the concealer, everything that outlined her exquisite features. She couldn’t lie to herself even with the tears she forced herself to cry. She was beautiful. She was like an angel in a broken world, a source of light to those that had only darkness. She looked as if she had been made of stone, carved so perfectly and eloquently that not a feature of her body was askew. She could not say that her nose was too big or her eyes too far apart or her fingers too fat, because it wasn’t true. When most girls say such things it isn’t true, but for her it was impossible to even think such things, for she was perfect. As to that she was rich, popular, and had everything she could ask for. All the boys swooned as she walked by, but she had no interest in them or any love that they could give her. She loved herself and perhaps her parents, but that was all. She was perfect and she knew it. She made all the other girls and even grown women jealous, but of this she was not ashamed or even embarrassed.
She was not crying because her life was bad. She was crying because she had poked herself in the eye with the mascara and had forced the tears to come. She couldn’t pity herself.
But she wanted to.
When she was finally able to look away from the mirror she washed the makeup off her face, put everything away and turned off the light. She crawled into her bed, once again perfectly happy with her perfect life.
Morning came and everything of the night was forgotten, or at least pushed aside. At school she was complemented and adored as was usual, and she was neither kind nor mean but simply indifferent. She was very smart and believed that a woman was ten times as intelligent as a man. She did not know, or rather knew and ignored, the fact that many people hated her. Many burned with jealousy because she was perfect. She was the ideal image of perfection. Many felt that she ignored them when she did not respond to them, but she would say that she did not ignore them, she had just not responded. She did not do anything to make herself anymore unordinary than she was, as she believed in only living ordinarily. When there was a fight she did not get involved, when someone asked for help she neither helped them nor refused to help them. She had nothing special but her beauty and perfection. Perfection which should not exist, but because people create an image of perfection in their minds it does. To them, she was perfection and they hated her for that. She was not haughty, but she was not embarrassed by her beauty. She was neither proud nor ashamed. She knew she was perfect and she was indifferent about it. But while she had everything, she had nothing. She did not know love or beauty aside from her own, she did not have close friends and while she cared for none of it, as she got older she began to feel empty. She would force herself to cry because it would help her forget the gaping hole she felt growing inside of her.
No matter how much it hurt, she stuck to her regime.
Yet she would find herself watching couples hug and kiss and laugh and best friends share secrets and giggle or scream together at exciting news, and she missed it all. She had her beauty and intelligence and her money, but she had nothing more.
She fought to maintain the steady, simple life she had always lived.
“What are your plans for the break?” Laura asked her as they walked out of the building after the final bell.
“I’m going to visit my grandparents in London,” was all she said. Some said she was selfish because she did not ask about other people, but she was neither selfish nor selfless.
“Which side of the family?”
“My mother’s.” She did not like lengthy conversation and preferred to keep information to herself.
“And are you taking the train out of Newport?”
“Yes, of course.” At this point their conversation ended and they parted ways.
She boarded the train as night was falling over the city and found her seat. She did not sit in first class for she didn’t want to have to talk to people if she could avoid it. She sat reading for a while, ignoring the rain drumming against the window and the people around her talking. After a while she became hungry and stood. That was when she saw him. She had never noticed a boy as she noticed him, and he was staring at her. This she was accustomed to, and she stepped into the aisle as he approached her.
He simply said, “Hello.”
And she said, “Hello.” There was a slight pause and she spoke first, which was strange for her. “I was just going to get something from the trolley.”
“Yeah, so was I.” They walked together down to the front of the train. They did not speak, but after they purchased their food he said, “you’re beautiful.”
“Thank you,” she blushed, which she had never done before, especially in front of a boy. She was appalled by men and boys and hated the idea of them, but this one seemed to be different. He was gorgeous, but in an ordinary way. He had ordinary brown hair and brown eyes, but something kept her staring at his face. He was very different from her, with her raven black hair and vibrant blue eyes. At her seat in the middle of the train they stopped.
“What’s your name?” he asked, staring into her eyes. “Lily,” she said, captured in his stare.
“That’s a beautiful name.”
She smiled. “What’s your name?”
But before he could answer there was a horrible sound, and then everything went black. She did not know if she was dead, if it simply ended like that, with nothing. All she knew was that she was nowhere, yet she felt that she was everywhere.
After what felt like years in which she could not decipher the events that occurred, she opened her eyes. The world was black and barren, and all she could see was the black sky and blackness all around her like walls closing in. She was not alone. As she stood slowly from her crouching position, others around her were doing the same. They stared at their hands as she did, turning them over and examining the strange gray skin. She reached up to pull her hair back and touched only the hood of a cloak. She pulled it back and watched as the people around her mimicked her movements. She had no idea where she was or if she was even herself any longer. Yet she recognized some of the people around her, though their faces were distorted by a gray mist. Right in front of her, though, the boy pulled back his hood and she gasped silently. It was the boy from the train, she knew only because of his face, though she only saw it for a second before it was covered by the gray mist. She had started forward, but recoiled when she saw that he no longer had brown hair and eyes, but hair black as night and eyes even blacker. His skin was a pale gray as hers was, and she met his eyes before she could no longer see them. In the next few seconds he and all the other people began to fade, until she knew that she was completely alone. She opened her mouth to try to speak, to cry out for help, but she could not speak, nor could she even open her mouth.
‘Where am I?’ she thought desperately, and to her surprise a voice answered her, seeming to echo through the darkness, chilling the bones that no longer reflected the aspect of living.
‘You are in the land of eternal recollection. It is here that those not worthy of the doors of heaven are fated to wander.’
‘Why am I here?’
‘Because in life you lived ordinarily. You were not selfish, yet while you did not care for yourself you did not care for others. You did nothing to make your life different from everyone else’s. You failed to understand the purpose of life. For everyone is given a life, not just to live it, but to live it, to live as no one else lives, to live extraordinarily.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘Don’t you? Because you failed yourself to do what is expected of you, you are now destined to help others do what you could not. While they cannot see or hear you, touch you nor you them, you can influence their thoughts, you can be the one who encourages them when no one else will.’
‘Will I ever escape this land?’
‘No, this is your eternal damnation. You did nothing to deserve hell, yet you did nothing to deserve heaven, you lived ordinarily, as you wanted to, and now you must serve your death where others who lived ordinarily will serve it.’
‘Why can I not speak to anyone else? Why do you speak to me alone?’
At this the strange voice chuckled in a way that could make bones rattle in their cold, dead bodies. ‘Do you think that no one else is asking of me what you ask? There were 150 people
on that train, and only one survived. 149 of them, including you, spent many days in the chambers of destiny, where your dying fate was determined. Only 14 were sent to the gates of heaven to be further evaluated there, while 29 were sent directly to hell. 106 were sent here. You can speak to no one else because you have only one focus, which I have already told you.’
‘Can I do anything to make this place more... livable?’
‘You speak of living? You are dead. But yes, the more people you help successfully the lighter your heart will become, and the darkness will begin to lift. If you are lucky you may be able to see others who have accomplished the same as you.’
‘How do I help the living?’
‘In the daytime, when the sun is high, you will be sent into your old community, but at night you will come back here.’
‘How- how can I do this?’
But the voice answered no more. She would have cried, but in death she could not cry. She would have screamed, but death had stolen her voice. She had only her thoughts. She regretted everything she had done with her life. She now understood why there had been a gaping hole inside of her, it had been a warning as to what was coming. She should have had years to correct it, to make something of her life, but death does not wait for good. Would I ever have changed? She asked herself. She would not give an answer, but she knew it. She was not proud.
At last morning came, and she had merely blinked before she opened her eyes and found herself in her old room. It was the same as she had left it, but when she looked in the mirror she saw herself. Her hair was as black as it had been, but her eyes, instead of their beautiful blue, whereas black as tar and deadened night. A night without stars. There was an air of sorrow in the house, and as she wandered down the hall she saw that her door was draped in black.
She knew of the first act she would do, and she searched the empty halls and rooms until at last she found her mother. Her mother’s eyes were red and in her shaking hands was a picture of the daughter she had lost.
She closed her eyes and thought solely of the one thing which could change her mother’s life for good, and sent into her depressed mind thoughts of the book she had hoped to one day publish, but deterred with thoughts of rejection, her mother had locked it away in a box. She did not stay to discover whether or not her mother took the thoughts into action, and instead she left the house and headed toward the school. There, in her rein of popularity, she had installed the sense that living ordinarily was the only way to live. She knew that she must change that. In the crowded halls, she could hear people talking of her death, but she did not listen to their chatter and instead did her best to put relationships together, make ideas take flight from ideas to reality, grades go from wishes to actuality. As she watched the people, radiant with newfound love and knowledge and hope, she found herself smiling. Yet when she paused to think for herself, she thought of the boy, whose name she would never know. He had just been ordinary. Perhaps if they had lived they would have gotten together and made their lives unordinary, but they did not, and now they were here, made to wander the Earth until no one they loved or knew lived, and perhaps until no one lived at all. In her mind, she christened him Peter, for she felt that the name was elegant and romantic.
In death, time was contorted, but each night as she watched the sun sink she would be whisked back to the land of darkness, recalling the day’s events. If she had been successful, the dead world had a sense of warmth and the darkness seemed to lift ever so slightly. If she had not been successful, though, she sat through the night frozen, the darkness pressing down on her so fiercely that she longed to bury her face in her knees and scream. Often she screamed in her mind, her voice echoing around her dead skull, but it was not the same as being able to truly scream. She hated it, the unchanging pattern day after day and night after night, yet she knew that she had asked for this life. It had been her choice, and she had to live with it. From time to time she would see others, wandering through the darkness with their hoods covering their faces. She did not cover her face, except when the darkness was pressing down upon her. She longed for her blue eyes and bright skin instead of the dark shape she was now. She never saw Peter. Maybe he had lived in London, hours away from her, yet she believed that if it was meant to be they would have found each other even in death. Perhaps that’s not how death worked, though. She often wondered if it was only in fairytales that death did not part the victims of true love. She thought of Peter all the time, picturing him both as the boy she met on the train and the dark figure she had seen before everyone had disappeared. On the days that she did not succeed it was the haunting image of him in this dark death that caused her to fail, for she sent the pain of her broken heart and longing into their minds. On the days that she succeeded it was the image of him as his living self, and she sent her joy and hope into their hearts. She often begged the bodiless voice to let her see him, just for a moment, but it never answered her prayers. This dark land was not the place for prayers. She often wondered if he was thinking of her, but if he was she did not know. When her heart ached the most for him and her family and the friends that she thought she could never love, she longed to cry, but could not, and it seemed to kill her all over again, but in such a torturous way that she wished she had never known she could feel such pain. She often wished that she had learned in life what she had learned in death, but each day the darkness started to lift a little more, and her heart felt lighter. She hoped that one day the
darkness would be gone, perhaps forever. She knew that she would always live her death in this world, but she had learned to accept that. She started to enjoy her death, and when she had made someone’s life better, she could be seen pulling back her hood to reveal a soft, satisfied smile and her eyes black as night shining with stars.