Writing Prompt: You Died and Awoke in the Afterlife…

Earlier this month, Reddit user u/Kitty_Fuchs posted the writing prompt below, inviting readers to write a short story about a man (or a woman), who arrives in a place that seems like Heaven, but is actually Hell. u/turnaround0101 had quite the beautiful story to tell about this prompt. Keep on reading.

Death was a diminutive woman in an oversized band tee, a battered leather jacket over the plush arm of her chair. She had a cup of coffee in her hands, and the steam wreathed her pale face like the fog that coiled over the river. Death had piercings and gauged ears, fake freckles scattered across high cheekbones. She was smiling sadly and I thought, for a moment, that she might reach out and take my hand. Around us was a coffee shop half overrun with vines and flowers, faceless people living out the small contusions of their lives. I felt at ease, but somehow I knew I shouldn’t.

“Oh no, honey,” Death said. “This is just the worst part of the job, but hey, at least you’re already sitting down. I’ll say it: this isn’t heaven, this is hell.”

I nodded. A specter floated by and handed me a London Fog. The tea was excellent, just sweet enough. I nodded again, her words sinking in.

“I guess I wasn’t as good as I thought.”

“Most people aren’t,” she said. “But don’t worry, this isn’t forever. Just for a little while, until you figure out what you did and feel properly contrite. Though I must say, even down here this is a little…unusual.”

She sipped her coffee, I sipped my tea. A couple blustered in out of the cold and I saw the river framed behind them, that lazy flow. The couple were both wearing Christmas sweaters and big colorful socks, matching pairs, and they shivered against each other for a moment as they took in their surroundings. Their faces were completely blank, two beige discs moving this way and that, before settling on each other.

“Unusual how?” I asked.

Death considered me. “Well, you know that cliché about beauty being in the eye of the beholder? Pain is that way too. Most things are, but pain is singular. Hit me and I’ll cry, hit a boxer and they’ll blink. Get used to a specific brand of pain and it becomes an echo. And yet, everyone has, at their core, something that hurts them the most.”

She gestured to the door. “If you could go out there and walk down the river for a while, you’d find a billion variations of this cell. Oh, you have all the classical imagery, torturers and whatnot, others that are simple isolation, simulated drownings, a breakup frozen in time forever–or until the lesson starts to sink in. But regardless of their differences there’s a person in each one, trapped in their own individual hell.”

Death sipped her coffee again. Giggled into the steam. “Yours is the only Hell I’ve ever seen with flowers.”

“Ah,” I said. I looked down into my teacup and found it empty. Cold. I told her that I understood.

“Then explain it to me,” Death said. “What could be so bad about a coffee shop?”

Another specter drifted forward, drifted back. I cradled fresh warmth in my hands and cleared my throat. In life, I had never been very used to speaking.

“It exists,” I said. “It’s normal. All these people with all these lives, taking so much pleasure in something so simple as a cup of coffee.”

“And then there’s you with your tea,” she said.

“Exactly. It’s all the things I never understood. I used to come here sometimes, just to remind myself of that. Sit in this chair and watch the world go by.”

There was Death’s sad smile again. No teeth, just a gesture of the lips and a painful warmth behind her eyes.

“And me?” she asked. “I look different to every person. Who’s this girl to you?”

“No one,” I said.

“Bullshit,” Death said.

I drank my tea. Watched the doors open and close. Shapes moved along the river, came up out of the fog. From time to time a scream cut through the cafe’s quiet murmur, but that was all, and that was all there ever would be.

“Who am I?” Death asked again.

And I shrugged. “One of the baristas. Just someone who was kind.”

When I looked back Death was gone, and in her place sat a faceless girl. The same band tee and leather jacket, the same vanilla latte steaming in her lap. Like a charcoal sketch brushed out.

I took her hand, and we passed a thousand years.

Posted with permission from u/turnaround0101. Image generated with Stable Diffusion.

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