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Since she was young, Addy has always had a knack for twisting her reality to make it bearable. When she broke her arm, and the cast chafed at her skin, she’d pick up a pen and color on the mold, as if the felt tip could reach the scratch. As she watched Sam laugh with Madison Jeffries in the hallway outside English, she didn’t let herself believe it was flirting, but friendliness of the platonic variety—and she was actually right. When her mother snapped and sniped, Addy told herself it was only a few more years and she’d be gone.

But she hadn’t meant gone gone.

Off to college and living on her own—those were the things she was aiming for, not this vast emptiness that she finds herself in now without anything to twist and make sense of it.

She remembers smudges of what brought her here, parts of it clear, but others drawn out of focus and fuzzied. What she can’t forget: The impact that splintered every part of her. The blood slipping down her face like water, slick and somehow sticky. The way Sam’s yells, and murmurs hit her ear drum, bouncing off and never landing. The feeling of not feeling—not everything at least.

In this whatever-land Addy is inhabiting, her senses feel like an amp turned down to two—present, but barely. She can’t see anything but darkness. The most she hears could be described as low-level noise. There’s no pain, no touch.

Is this purgatory?

The true place that lies beyond the door that separates life and what comes next? She isn’t sure. In life, her mind resisted trying to wrap itself around the afterlife. In the dark, she had gained no new answers.

“Do you think there’s a heaven?” Addy had asked Sam as they sat on the rocks surrounding the river that trickled through the park, in their blue Winston Husky t-shirts. The shirts were a show of school spirit—or more accurately, school spirit in memory of the 35 year-old geometry teacher, Mr. Endres, who had died unexpectedly from a heart condition he didn’t know he had. One afternoon, he was teaching his students proofs and the Pythagorean Theorem. A few hours later, he collapsed onto the sidewalk during a run, and no amount of palm presses or electrical shocks to the chest could revive him.

“Yeah,” Sam said. “I don’t think it’s something you can be completely sure in, but I do think there has to be more than this. Or something beyond it.” He waved to the grass, and the trees, and—all the other inhabitants that make up their speck of the world. It’s what he was taught in the pews all the Sundays of his youth—that this life was just the first part in a novel with multiple.

“What do you think?”

She shrugged. “I mean, part of me thinks no, that it’s just something we tell ourselves to make ourselves more comfortable with death.”

“And the other part?”

“The other part.” Addy twists the blades of grass between her fingers to make an almost braid. “The other part looks at the world, and thinks that it would be weird if this is all just an accident.” She rests back on her elbows, her chin pointed towards the cloud cover. “If it wasn’t, maybe whoever’s pulling all of the controls has created another one to enjoy.” And didn’t that have to be right? Someone like Mr. Endres couldn’t just be gone. Life couldn’t be the same as a lightbulb coil burning out to never reignite. The spark had to ignite somewhere else.

But maybe there isn’t, and now she is full proof of that … and maybe Sam is proof of that, too.

Sam. Addy tries to scream his name, but her voice is a stringless guitar.

Again, she’s torn, wanting him with her in this void, so she isn’t groping through on her own. But, being here means not being there, and she never wants him to come close to this, not until he’s old, his skin wrinkled like sand caught in the receding tide. She never wanted to come close to this.

No, she longs for the scratch of plaster encasing her skin. For seeing Sam in the hallway, even if it’s with another girl. For the light of home and all the complexities of its refractions. For safety and the ability to feel something other than this terror.

Addy’s never been a begging person.

She’s always seen it as ineffective in most things except making yourself look pathetic. But screw pride. Pathetic is at least a trait of the living. She’ll grovel, hands and knees to the dirt. Let her go back, or, if not, take her away from this. Bring the light or snuff it out until there are no embers.

The black doesn’t lift. It clings to every inch of her and whatever surrounds her.

But, in the midst, something brushes by her. She can’t see what it is, or hear it, but the sensation alone is enough to set her on her alert, because she can feel it.

At first, it’s quick, almost like a gust through her air, and she wonders if she may have imagined it—until it returns. Warm. And steady. And comforting.

Almost like Sam’s touch.

Sarah Razner

Sarah Razner is a reporter of real-life Wisconsin by day, and a writer of fictional lives throughout the world by night.

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