In which Katy finds herself in the afterlife, sees a man with a rattail, and makes a choice.
The Beginning of the End: A Grocery Store Horror Story
The first thing I feel when I come to is cold air across my face. Is this Hell? Purgatory? My brain’s reaction to the body shutting down? Whatever it is, it isn’t so bad. I slowly open one eye, and all I see is blue sky. No clouds, planes, birds – just the sun welcoming me to what I can only guess is something akin to the afterlife. My hands grip the ground below and, with a gasp, I sit up quickly. The grass is soft, dark green, and reminds me of home. Not my simplistic apartment; my before-everything home. With the robin’s egg canvas above me and blanket of grass below me, I dare myself to look ahead. Sorrow and happiness grip my chest and throat when I spot the figure leaning against a familiar chain link fence. It can’t be. It just can’t.
“Dad?” My voice cracks. The figure doesn’t turn around. Worn steel-toe boots, Levi jeans, Walmart t-shirt, and a small braid down his back, it couldn’t be anyone else. I scramble to my feet and run towards the fence, but stop before I throw my body into the metal loops. I slowly grip the top of the hurricane fence, take a deep breath, and look up and over to the right at the once constant in my life.
“Katy?” He grins and looks down at me. He isn’t much taller, but it’s enough that I have to tilt my head back a degree. He lifts his aviator sunglasses and plants them on his head of short, curly hair. “What are you doing here?”
“I-” That’s the first thing he says to me? I want to bicker with my father like I did when I was younger. The ugh, you’re so annoyings, the eye rolls, and the sharp words rest on my tongue, but I swallow them. “I don’t know. A lot’s happened.” Where do I even begin?
I tell him everything. Well, not my struggles with suicidal ideation (who knew you could still feel shame after you die?), but the aftermath of his passing, the powers, and Christina are the highlights. He furrows his brow as I recall the Racist but stays quiet throughout my monologue.
“I wanted to hate you, you know?” I look away from him quickly, not wanting to see his reaction. I peek back at him eventually, and I see a knowing, sad half-smile. “It would make missing you so much easier.” I recall his mistakes, the disappointment, and flaws beneath his perfect fatherly exterior, but rather than hide them or rail against them, I allow them to exist in the space between us. It’s easier to see other people as larger-than-life monsters when they do bad things. It’s possible to love someone so much that the thought of their death makes you not want to love them at all. The wall of hatred around my heart I’d been building since the funeral crumbles as I realize the truth: it didn’t help. The man before me is human, plain and simple. He is wonderful and horrible, funny and cruel, kind-hearted and mean, selfless and selfish.
“I felt the same way about Popo.” He chuckles, seemingly lost in a sea of memories about my grandpa. “I’m sorry.” The apology is loud in the crisp air, and the tension drains from my back and head. “I’m sorry about everything. I’m sorry for leaving you.” His grip tightens on the fence, scraping the metal pieces together. “I’m sorry about your mom.”
“Thank you.” I wipe my eyes with the heel of my hand and breathe in. “So, is this heaven?” Since I haven’t seen the Big Man himself, and this whole thing could be a final hallucination before my demise, I still have doubts. I hope I’m wrong.
“It is now.” We stand next to each other for hours. Our hyena-like laughter disturbs the peace around us, but no one else is there to judge. He finally pushes against the fence and turns to face me. “It’s time to go.”
“Where?” I ask in fear and anticipation.
“Not me, you. You have so much left to do.” Hope swells in my chest, but it stutters when I realize what that means. I have to say goodbye again.
“No buts.” He raises his eyebrow. “I’m still your father.” His statement lacks authority, and I know that I could stay if I wanted to. No more Christina, no more job, no more struggling, just peace. And I want that, believe me, I do. But I want to live. I wait for a beat then lunge at him like a child. My hold isn’t careful, small, or half-assed. I grip his shirt tightly, and he returns the embrace. “I’m proud of you, so fucking proud.”
My eyes close, and a moment later, I’m back in the library. My doppelganger stares down at me.
“Thank you.” I choke out my reply. Death’s smile this time is a bit less creepy, but not by much.
“Then my work here is done.” It turns away from me and starts to leave, but I call after it in desperation.
“Wait, what was this all about? What are you? What am I?” Death throws its head back in irritation and turns around.
“Ugh, so annoying.” It claps its hands together. “I’ll provide your answers on one condition.” I nod quickly. “Don’t ever summon me again.”
“Deal.” I look back at my friends, but they’re out for the count.
“You created me, and things sort of,” Death rolls its hands, “spun out of control. You have the power of creation, but I have no idea why.” Not the answer I was looking for, and the thought is clear on my face. “What? I was literally just born.” Death rolls its eyes. “Others like you could exist; it’s a big world after all.”
“So, this is all real? You,” I gesture at my friends, “them, that place you sent me to?” My new frenemy scoffs at me.
“I’m not interested in explaining the intricacies of reality to you. Crack open a book.” Death crosses its arms, and I have a feeling our time together is almost over. “Long story short, just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it isn’t real, and just because you can see something doesn’t mean it is. Your obsession with being right and seeking validation is boring me.” Ouch.
“I think I understand.”
“Oh, and one more thing,” Death says as it walks toward the library doors, “I did all of this because you were rude.”
What. The. Hell.
“I’m not the bad guy. Maybe you’ll think next time before you villainize someone.” Death’s voice echoes past the bookshelves.
I shuffle over to my friends in shock, and with nothing better to do, I lay down next to them. Regina snores like a pig, and I react with a mix of giggle and tears as the sun’s rays finally pierce the long glass windows.
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