Chapter Two: Welcomed into the Afterlife
“You’re dead,” she’d said, with the kind of bluntness normally reserved for objects thrown at the back of one’s head. The news gave me pause not in the way of denying that it could be possible, but merely the time I needed to tabulate in my mind an entire life of things half-done, not nearly accomplished, and even failed.
“Huh,” I managed to utter after a minute, sounding unimpressed with myself… to myself.
Her eyes widened a bit in disbelief. “In all my years here, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone react that way to the news.” I looked into her crystal blue eyes, which were gazing up at me – partially confused, partially bemused.
“You know, it’s just… it’s just, um… I…” the thought congealed itself in my head, finally. “I just never thought the Universe would beat me to the punch. You know what I mean?”
“I honestly don’t,” her warm smile revealed not the slightest hint of irony.
I took a deep breath. “During my time, I tried to take my own life – unsuccessfully, I might add – a good three or four times.”
“Oh my,” the concern reflected in those two words seemed genuine, and not at all condescending, judgmental, or offended – like the revelation would’ve been received during my lifetime. Her eyes mirrored a sad remnant of my past life that resonated for a lightning-fast flash with my soul… and I knew in that moment that she somehow understood how difficult I had perceived my life to be. She was not pitying me – she allowed herself to hurt with me.
I instinctively tried a joke to lessen the tension that I was used to being there after I’d said something like that in my life: “I used to think it meant I was invincible… not even I could kill me.” She smiled politely.
“I guess we all have a set fuse after all. Mine just hadn’t burned down all the way, back then.” I returned her smile, feeling more vulnerable than I’d allowed myself to feel in many years. Unlike everyone I’d ever known, she didn’t take advantage of the opening.
“I think I’ve heard it put like that before. I guess the only ones who would know for sure are those that have finished the…” she stopped herself abruptly. Recomposed in a second, she offered, “But where are my manners? You’re our guest, and you’ve not yet even been welcomed inside.” She stepped backward from the door frame, and motioned me inside with a gentle wave of her hand.
As I entered, I questioned, “Our?” My query was answered before I was even done voicing it. What I had thought was merely a two-story cottage was apparently a small inn. There were three round wooden tables with three quaint wooden chairs around each. Scattered among the chairs were four inn patrons, who all raised steel mugs in my direction as I entered. Their warm welcomes and greetings seemed to all gush forth at once.
I was still naked, and I had never felt more at ease in my life.