Posted in Short Stories

On the Fragility of Life

I heard the incessant tapping on my window. Not again, I groaned internally. I turned over onto my side and grabbed a pillow to squash over my head in hopes of drowning out the noise. Tap, tap, tap. It wasn’t letting up. I peeked at the clock sitting on my dresser a few feet away. 2:06am. Unbelievable, I thought to myself. Same time every night! Frustrated, I whipped my blankets off of me and aggressively drew my curtains. A large, indistinguishable black mass was hovering outside my window. It freaked me out the first time, but I’ve gotten used to it now. I banged on the window in an attempt to scare it off. It just slowly lapped in the air, like small waves. Well, fuck, I thought. I’m not getting rid of this thing. I turned over to sleep.

The office is exceptionally cold, considering it’s a summer day. I sit slumped at my desk, staring at the same excel sheet I had been working on for weeks. My boss hadn’t emailed me about a due date for it, so I wasn’t pressed to finish it. I opened my inbox and found the last email my boss sent me, a few weeks ago, just to make sure.

Alisha,

Attached is the data I need entered into a spreadsheet. I’ll email you with a due date as soon as I have one.

Tracy

I look up and notice my boss walking down the hall towards me. A pang of anxiety echoes in my chest. I should just ask her when she wants this done, I thought. I muster up some bravado.

“H-hey, Tracy,” I am abruptly cut off as my boss keeps walking away from me, not even a glance in my direction. How weird, I thought. She hadn’t paid much mind to me, but lately it was like I wasn’t even in the room. I shook it off.

A pack of frozen green beans and chicken lay on my kitchen counter. I could do a stir-fry, I mumbled to myself. Cooking dinner was becoming exhausting. I could hardly taste anything, no matter how sweet or spicy. Its hard to want to eat when everything tastes like nothing.

Mom-outgoing calls (6). I chewed my tasteless mush as I stared at my phone. My mom was not returning my calls. This had been going on for a few weeks now. It was disheartening, but I assumed she was busy or getting her phone fixed or some other logical reason. Plus, she should’ve been calling me. After all, I was her daughter, right? This is her work to do. I’m 27! I’m a grown woman. I huffed and put my phone down.

I stood above my kitchen sink, eyeing the soapy dishes. The sink faced a window; I always found it to be a nuisance. The sun would glare into my eyes and cause them to water. I looked out at the sunset and immediately grimaced. I abruptly drew my curtains closed. My apartment was dim, the orange glow accentuating the hidden shadows. I started the dishes.

The night moves in a muted fog. It’s 1:56am. I’m slouched on the couch, my hand limp in a bowl of popcorn, half-watching a replay of the news. I shoot upright. I realize the relentless black mass was going to be outside my window in 10 minutes. I was usually sleeping at this time of the night, but I decided in the moment to stay up and see where this thing was coming from. It had been haunting me for the past few weeks, and eerily visiting at the same time every night. It started to become a part of my nightly routine; I began expecting to be jolted awake every night. I didn’t particularly believe in the paranormal, but this was something unexplainable and quite out of the norm for my cardboard life.

I opened my curtains and perched myself on my bed, my knee drawn up under my chin in an almost upright fetal position. I glanced at the clock. 2:04am. Any minute now, I thought. My jaw felt like magnets. My fingertips were ice. I watched the trees sway gently in the summer night air. It was kind of peaceful to be up at such a strange time in the night, no one to answer to. I mean, not that I have anyone to answer to anyway, but to be in charge of that feeling was empowering.

BANG. My window buckles from the impact and I jerk along with it. The black mass was outside. 2:06am. My heart was jumping in my throat. Afraid to get closer to the window, I squinted to try and make out what this thing even was. I had just been ignoring it, like I do everything else, but this time I really tried to get a look at it. It was like trying to see with a blindfold on. No shapes, no eyes, nothing to put into focus. Tense, I get up and press myself against my window to try and make out something, anything, and then I’m on the other side of my window. I can feel the balmy night air on my skin. What the fuck, I thought. Before I could even comprehend how I got through the window, the black mass was in front of me.

It towered a healthy 10 feet above my head. I started to shake and my throat grew a wet lump and I wanted to cry. It started to leech forward and my knees buckled. I hit the grass. The tears just poured out of me as I scrambled to get away from whatever this thing was. Blackness was creeping into my peripherals. I couldn’t move fast enough. I was enveloped by it. Everything around me was black. I couldn’t see my hands. I felt dizzy, my surroundings spinning like a top.  

At last. The voice is deep and booming, yet monotone. There was no inflection or feeling, like it didn’t belong to a human. I wept silently, swallowing my hiccups with every breath.

You have been avoiding me, the voice bellows. I wasn’t sure if I should answer. I hugged my knees to my chest.

 You have been avoiding me, it repeats.

“U-um, I mean…” I stammered. I couldn’t tell where the voice was coming from and I didn’t know how to answer to it.

It is your time. It is a shame you said no proper goodbyes, but life is not merciful. I almost want to pity you.

I was utterly confused. My time? I thought. Was I…dead? I started to feel a pull coming from my core, and I felt myself moving without wanting to. Panic began to settle into my system. I thrashed around and sobbed, my mind racing, yet with no coherent thoughts. The tension stopped immediately.

“Please, what is going on?” I cried out. My face was wet from tears. My breathing was shallow and raspy.

Don’t you understand? You’re gone now. You were watching the news of your own death and you didn’t even pay any mind to it. it is humans like you who squander their lives that remind me of how their own mortality is not an awareness to them.

I sat with my confusion. How was I living my life if I was dead? I still went to my job, I cooked dinner every night. I couldn’t be dead.

Suddenly, a news program is in front of my face. A dark road lined with orange streetlamps is on the screen. A woman crosses an intersection and a car comes speeding towards her. The woman stops dead in the middle of the road, and the car has no intention of slowing down. A dense thud echoes around my ears. The woman rolls over the hood of the car and flops behind it. I close my eyes, slightly traumatized watching this woman take her last steps. I tune my ears to the newscaster speaking.

“At 2:06am, a car speeding down Melvin Boulevard hit a pedestrian. The pedestrian was identified as Alisha Patay, a 27-year-old woman living a few blocks down. She was pronounced dead on the scene. More to come as the story unfolds. Back to you, John.”

Do you see now? The voice echoes above me. I couldn’t make a sound.

Death is but a transformation. Most feel a stark difference when their physical form expires. You prepared yourself for it so well, it felt no different once you passed. Your denial of your death made it even easier for you to just keep living your life. It is clear you wanted your life but were too afraid to live it. I can see your soul refuses to cross over. Alas, we get only one human construct. It is reproachful you didn’t use yours to its full potential.

I was now sobbing uncontrollably. Whatever this fucking thing was, it was right. Every lonely day in the office, tasteless dinner, and unreturned phone call suddenly all made sense. I was dead, without even realizing it. I waited so long to get ready to live, but the living was happening all along. I felt the entirety of my wasted life pressing on my insides. I wanted to burst, to let all this contempt pour out of me. I spent so long feeling nothing and now every feeling was demanding my attention.

Your mortal body is gone. Your soul must move forward. Keeping yourself in the human realm is doing nothing but hurting you. I have tried to get your attention, but you ignore things well. There is no escaping this. Please follow my voice. You can take time to grieve your human life once we cross over. I know you’ll need it.

I wanted to say goodbye-to my mom, to my life, to whatever this was. I felt frazzled and unprepared.

A deep sense of loss filled my bones. I had a fleeting moment of the life I missed. I had never felt more alive then when I fell through my window and met God, the universe, whoever it was. The night air was soft on my neck. The grass was cool and earthy. I could feel my physicality in full. I had never felt a thing until that moment.

I missed everything good about this mortal life. I was too late to enjoy my body, to enjoy the way food caressed my tastebuds, to enjoy the wind on my skin and the sun in my eyes. I wanted once more to watch a sunset from my kitchen window, to eat a dinner bursting with flavour, to hear my mother’s cheerful voice. I spent my earth days pent up in my head. I never noticed the things that were meant to be noticed in this lifetime. How was I supposed to know to enjoy these things? They seemed like white noise while I was alive, but I was hit with the simple realization that life is nothing but these moments. I did need time to grieve.

With a deep breath, I decided I couldn’t do anything but succumb to this. My tears were crisp on my cheeks and my forehead felt tight. Like a newborn fawn, I wobbled towards the voice. I felt the strain of my knees against my skin. My face was pulsating with warmth. I drew a shaky breath in. I felt renewed. I felt new. I felt sad. I felt useless. I felt giddy. For the first time, I felt.

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