Heaven And Hell

When Laura, aged 15, dies by falling off a cliff, she thinks she will be safe in Heaven. But Heaven isn't what it seems like, and Hell's just as bad.

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1. "The Adrenaline is Something Amazing..."

Standing on the edge of a cliff makes you see the world so much clearer.

But not crystal clear. Crystal isn't clear anyway, it's fragmented into a million icy shards of cold and heartless glass that distort your vision. Instead, the storm raging inside my head for so long has calmed into tranquil waters. A frenzy of vicious, fretful questions and infuriating answers that used to occupy my head are now settled and understood.

"C'mon, Laura!" shouts Melanie, who is sprawled on the dilapidated bench behind me. Billows of gray smoke are unfurling from her open mouth, stained a sallow, clammy color from the amount of cigarettes she lights up per day. Her eyes are bright and unfocused. 

"One minute," I mutter, turning back to stare down at the raging sea below me. It's a tantalizing mess of bruise-like purples and rich greens that obscure the sultry, confusing depths below. The chaos is divine and it soothes me, just as the salty tang of the sea breeze tickles my tongue and lures tears to my eyes. The sharp, bitter wind howls all around me, raking its rough fingers through my hair and whipping my pallid face. I must look wild. Feral. Matted hair and a cold complexion.

"Laura!" Melanie rasps, coughing and spluttering from the ash that is lodging itself in her young throat. I sigh and turn back round to face her. One leg is hanging off the edge of the bench, the other draped across the top of the flaking, green plaster and graffiti that has accumulated from teenagers like us sneaking up here for adrenaline kicks. 

But it was only because of Mel that I'm even up here, doubting if we should be doing this. Mel looks hammered and is slurring her words, her spindly fingers still locked tightly around the bottle of beer leaking onto the overgrown grass. Her hair is just as tangled as mine but it is swept up into a messy ponytail. Her makeup is running from the tears of laughter she had been crying earlier. This was all her idea. Her fault.

"Laura, if you bail on me ..." Melanie warns, seeing the flickers of doubt that are seeping to the surface of my emotions. The last dregs of courage that remain in my body are pulled into a small clump so that I can reply, "Okay. Let's get this over with."

Mel giggles in a satisfied way, swings surprisingly smoothly up from the bench for someone who has just swigged a bottle of wine over the past hour. She totters towards me, places her hands on my shoulders, and croaks, "Thank you!"

Giggling still, she sways towards the edge of a cliff, not even hesitating when I fretfully grab her hand. She's dangerously close to the edge and intoxicated. I can taste the printer's press ink as the front page of the news tomorrow reads, "DRUNKEN TEEN  DEAD IN CLIFF ACCIDENT." I pull her further from the age but she swings her arm forward in protest, sending me reeling towards the last centimeters of hardened rock that remain before a sheer and excruciating fall to the malicious jaws of the sea below. 

"Stop ruining the fun," Melanie giggles, pushing me further to the edge, ignoring the rigidness in my joints that refuse to let me relax. 

"I'm not ruining the fun," I say, tracing a line in the cracked mud with my foot, "I was saving your life."

"Thanks," Mel muttered, glancing out at the view from this place. The coast is curved in a jagged, wicked smile, the hungry waves of the ocean battering and beating the sunken sand cascading in all directions. The irregular houses stacked like broken teeth on the nearby hills and along the pier, dotted with arcades and streams of hysterically happy children like a line of ants from afar. 

"Come on!" Mel brightened up, tearing her gaze away from the poisonous view. "Cliff dive with me! The adrenaline is something amazing." 

"I know what your kind of amazing is," I retorted. "Getting drunk and having one-night stands with teaching assistants, taking pot until your pupils are the size of saucers. Making an idiot out of yourself in front of friends and family."

Mel's eyes narrow as each word I bark out lashes into her skin like a whip. 

"Don't be such a bitch!" she seethes, and storms back to pick up her broken wine bottle. She raises it above her head and looks about ready to slash my face with the uneven glass until her eyes focus again. We stare at each other for a long time. 

"I'm sorry for saying what I said," I hang my head to hide the flaming patches of shame marking me out as guilty on my cheeks. I really don't want to fight with Mel, but she leaves me no choice. As her only friend - apart from the phonies at school who cling to her  because of her father's wealth and her mother's fame - I shouldn't do this to her.

"Let's cliff dive!" Mel resolves, lurching forward and jumping happily.

For one life-altering moment, I forget that I'm standing on the edge of a weak and disused cliff with a perilous drop to the writhing sea below. I take a step backwards, laughing at Mel's happiness, and take a gut-wrenching topple backwards.

For a second it's as if I'm suspended in my thoughts but my body is hurtling towards the sea. My hair is in my face, eyes, mouth and ears, and my blood is pounding like a ghostly rhythm as the wind erupts around me, encasing me in its bitter hands. I feel a hand grapple at the hood of my jumper and someone else's screams too - screams that could wake up half of our sleepy seaside, screams to curdle your blood. My heart is hammering like it has never hammered before and tears aren't even given a chance to spring to my eyes before the hand grasping my hood gives way and I intake my breath. 

My first thoughts go to my mother, sat at home, watching television, not knowing that at this minute her one and only child is submerged in the icy depths of the ragged sea, pummeling my eardrums and blocking out all sound apart from the horribly comical noises coming from my mouth. A glimmer of hope is put forward in my mind, that I can swim to the surface, before my head comes into contact with something sharp and unyielding and lights pop in front of my eyes. Will there be a Heaven for me if I die?

Then nothing.

 

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