My 11th hour offering for Week 106 of Miranda Kate’s mid-week flash challenge. This weeks photo prompt is of a bookstore/library in Yangzhou, eastern China, taken by photographer Shao Feng. If you want to join in with mid week flash, The General Guidelines can be found here, or you can join the Facebook group for Mid-Week Flash, if you fancy getting the prompt there.
When you first die, no one explains what has happened. You’re just in a queue, like you’re waiting at a bus stop. No one speaks. No one makes eye contact. So you wait.
Just when you think you can’t shuffle your feet or shift your weight anymore and you’re seriously considering tutting or something, you reach the gates.
Maybe everyone sees it differently, I don’t know. To me, it was a plain, solid, gate, maybe nine feet high, and in front of the gate was an ordinary looking desk.
I couldn’t describe the Being that sat at the desk. Again, maybe everyone sees it differently, I’m not sure. I was a rabbit in its spotlight. Couldn’t speak, couldn’t move, couldn’t even tremble in fear. It stared into my soul, pinning me like a butterfly to card.
And then the memories came.
Ripping out of me in waves, the ecstasies and the agonies, the deeds I had buried, the actions I had deliberately forgotten. The lies I had told myself and others. The little impacts i never realised I had made; the good, the bad and the shameful. All the layers of myself were violently stripped away, as the Being made careful notes in a huge, leather-bound ledger, and flicked almost absentmindedly at an abacus.
After an eternity in a moment, my life was laid out. My heart had been weighed, my soul stripped of its baggage. I stood before the being truly naked, as I hadn’t been since birth, when the world first started to mark me.
“You have been measured.” The words arrive directly into my consciousness.
“Have I measured up?” I ask, but the being just turns and gestures to the gate.
They don’t tell you. They don’t tell anybody. You just go through the gate, not knowing if you’re heading for bliss or torture, and get what you get.
That’s how life works, I suppose.
I was relieved when I opened the gate. I actually thought this was going to be my heaven.
A huge corridor lay beyond, lined with books. Every book I had bought and never got round to reading. Every book I had browsed in a shop and returned to the shelves because my To Be Read pile was already too high. Every book I had ever heard about but never got round to reading. Every book I had pretended to read. Just me, a research desk, a coffee machine, and every book I had ever desired.
Sounds like heaven, doesn’t it? I thought it was heaven.
I don’t know how long I’ve been here, but it feels like a long time. I’ve probably picked up every book at least once, and there are thousands. As soon as I get into one, just as I’m hooked and the story is flying along, the klaxon goes off. And then I have to search for the button to stop it. The klaxon doesn’t seem to warn of anything, or do anything. It just let’s off an invasive bleeping until the button is pushed. And the button is in a different place every time.
When I return to my chair, my book is gone. And it’s never on the same shelf it had been before. At first I used to search for them, but the tunnel doesn’t let me find them. I even tried hanging onto the book until I found the klaxon, but I won’t make that mistake again. More and more alarms went off, a cacophony of noise, assaulting me from all sides until I threw the book down to cover my ears. The alarms instantly stopped, and my book had gone.
Sometimes I will take a break, try to make a coffee. But the machine always reads ‘Decaff only” and has creamer instead of milk. There’s never any sugar either, but there’s sweetner. Maybe one day I will get used to it.
I give up, both on the coffee and the hope of finding my book again, and spend an age choosing a new book, and then the process starts again.
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I’ll spend an eternity trying and failing to get through this to be read pile, I know that now. I wasn’t a bad person in life. I’m sure if I had been, the torture would’ve been worse. But I’m not sure I deserve this.