Thereafter

*Movellas Advent Calendar 2014!* *NaNoWriMo 2014* *First Draft* ©Molly Looby There are always a host of flowers on the side of the road, whether brand new or shrivelled from weeks of rest. Their appearance, though sad, was never odd. So when another wave of flowers showed up on the outskirts of my home town, I didn't pay much attention apart from a deep aching sadness within. It was only upon mentioning it in passing I realised something was wrong. I spoke to everyone but to no avail. Maybe I was going crazy but . . . I was the only one who could see the flowers.

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20. Twenty

I swallowed, letting that sink in. I knew death was inevitable, that was a fact of life. It was a given, something unavoidable. You had to come to peace with it and forget about it. Until today I thought I was comfortable in the knowledge that my life wasn’t going to last forever. Now that I knew that my life wasn’t going to last more than a year, maybe even a month or less, I wasn’t so at ease. I was petrified.

I cleared my throat, feeling the heat stinging my cheeks with the back of my hand, trying to cool them. “When?” I sniffed. “When is this happening to me?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know exactly. It’s not really to do with me.”

“I crash my car don’t I?” My lip wobbled. “My beautiful horrible little car.”

He gave a chuckle. “Don’t worry about the car.”

“You don’t know anything? Any details at all?”

“Apart from where you crash the car, no.”

“By that sign? Where all the flowers are?”

He nodded. “But do you really wanna know when it’s gonna happen? You just said you didn’t like that you knew it was gonna happen.”

“Yes because it’s going to happen soon. Knowing when exactly couldn’t possibly be worse than this.”

“I’m sorry, Amelia, I really don’t know. This isn’t my division.”

“Could you send a message for me? Can you tell them to go fuck themselves?”

He chuckled. “I could but it wouldn’t help.”

I ran my hands through my hair, cursing the universe in my head. “So this is it?” I gave a short sharp laugh of no humour. “The end of my life.”

“The end of this life.”

I didn’t have the energy to argue. My entire body felt like I was running a marathon and had been for days. I was concentrating too hard and drained but forced to go on. Not to mention exhausted, frustrated, and fed up. My eyes stung like I’d been up all night. Though I supposed I had woken up too early for a Saturday. 06:36 wasn’t a human time for me to wake up on a weekday, let alone the day after a party.

06:36.

Something about that time jumped in my head. I’d woken up at that exact time more than once. Some dream I couldn’t remember had ended at 06:36 and woken me up. After everything I’d heard today, I’d pay any amount of money to bet that I was having the same dream. The dream of my crash. The dream of my death. I couldn’t understand why I would be driving at 06:36 but all the evidence pointed to it.

I was going to die at 06:36 one day soon and ruin my family and friends’ lives.

I puffed out a big breath and looked straight at Zed. “I’m going to die.” It wasn’t a question anymore but a truth I had to work out how to deal with.

He nodded. “And thereafter you will join me in the Hereafter.”

“Poetic.”

“Cheers. I try my best.”

“Does this war really need me? Isn’t there someone else?” I tried one last time.

“There are plenty of other people. Don’t feel victimised. Haven’t you noticed more death recently?”

I blinked to try and make that go in. “Yes but I thought that was just because I was older and I wasn’t being shielded so much.”

“Nope. That’s us.”

I shook my head. “It seems too big. Too unpredictable.”

“Anything can be planned when you have an eternity in which to plan it.”

Every time he opened his mouth a hundred more questions sprung to my lips but I knew I couldn’t take in every piece of information. There was too much swirling around in my brain already. “What am I even doing here?”

His eyebrows came together.

“If I don’t have much time left, why am I spending it with you? If you’re right I’ll be stuck with you forever.” I stood, collecting my purse and keys off the table.

He laughed. “No one said you had to hang out with me.”

“I don’t think I’ll have much of a choice, do I?”

He winked.

I hurried out to my car and he got in beside me. “What are you doing?” I asked. “Don’t you have places to disappear to?”

“Oh fine, gonna be like that are we? I can go. I just thought you’d want some reassurance you’re not gonna crash your car right now.”

“I know I’m not.” I started up the ignition.

“How?”

“A hunch. Go fly away. I’ll see you again. Far too soon for my liking.”

“Until then, Amelia.” And then he was gone and I was alone and I could breathe again.

I drove as slow as I dared without angering the people behind me. I waited for too long at junctions and roundabouts. I braked with plenty of time, even when I didn’t need to. I knew it wasn’t 06:36 but I wasn’t about to take any chances. I wasn’t going to let a silly little mistake end my painfully short life.

My heart was racing by the time I pulled up outside our house on The Grove. I’d never realised how beautiful it was before. It might have been small but it was cosy and warm and ours.

I almost fell out the car I was so desperate to see Mum. I slipped my key in the door and shouted to the house. Mum appeared at the bottom of the stairs at once.

“Abz!” She flew towards me and gathered me up in her arms. The floral and fruity scent of her perfume and the feel of her beating heart was enough to make the tears spring forth and roll down my face. She was everything to me. As much a best friend as Otter was.

She shuffled me into the kitchen without letting go and flicked the kettle on. Stroking my hair, she told me that it was okay and everything was going to be fine.

She didn’t know I was about to ruin everything. And it wasn’t even my fault.

After a long chat about Dad and Angela and Grace, we put the Xbox on and played until dinner time. I tried to forget that time was ticking closer and closer to 06:36 and that everything was going to change. I tried to forget the damage one tiny little life could do. I didn’t want to remember what they’d written about me. Grief made people sick. It turns you into a weeping child who cannot understand. What a terrible thing. And I was forcing it upon them.

How I wished I could tell them that it wasn’t my fault.

I sat with Mum as she made dinner and watched TV with her until midnight. I followed her upstairs as she went to bed and kissed her goodnight and held her close to me, memorising what it felt like to be in her arms. After all, I didn’t know whether this 06:36 coming was going to be the one.

I sat in bed with my light on for a long time, feeling more alone than I ever had before. I stared at my walls and waited for something to make me tired which was stupid considering how exhausted I was and how much I wanted to sleep. But I couldn’t sleep now. Not when this might be it.

I toyed around with my Rubik’s Cube without bothering to time myself until one am. It was then that I shuffled down under the quilt and shut my eyes. At two am I gave up and switched my lamp on and grabbed my glasses. I fiddled around on my phone until three and felt like I could collapse into a river of tears from fatigue alone.

I decided to search for Zed one last time. I typed Zachariah motorcycle accident into the search engine and I was wide awake again.

There were various articles about his death in newspapers and I clicked on the first one. Treby teenager, Zachariah Harte, killed in tragic motorcycle accident. It was dated the 30th of November 2005, not quite ten years ago.

Underneath the headline was a picture of Zed laughing, looking just like he had earlier today. I held my breath as I read.

Zachariah Harte, 18, known as ‘Zed’ by friends and family, lost his life when his motorcycle hit a tree on Saturday afternoon in his hometown of Treby.

It was reported that Zachariah, student of Roundtrees Collage in South Warikson, was leaving the home of his friend Christopher Richards and heading back to his own. He lost control of his vehicle at around 3:45pm while speeding round a corner and hit a nearby tree. An ambulance was called by a driver of a passing car who stopped to come to Zachariah’s aid. Unfortunately, nothing could be done and Zachariah was pronounced dead at the scene.

The breath I’d been holding exploded from my lips and I found myself hyperventilating as I read on.

Family and friends remain “devastated” and “shocked” by the loss of Zachariah who was “loved by all”. Zachariah left behind grief-stricken parents, Valarie and Simon Harte, as well as younger sister Magdalena ‘Maggie’ Harte, 16. They described Zachariah as “a charming, fun young man, and the most wonderful son and brother we could’ve hoped for. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

Friends also had kind words to say upon hearing the news. “We’re broken hearted at the loss of Zed. He was a light in all our lives, funny, cheeky, and always smiling.”

Best friend and last person to speak to Zachariah, Christopher Richards, also a student of Roundtrees Collage, was left shaken and deeply saddened by his death. “Some people are in our lives for the shortest of time but remain in our hearts forever. Not a single person who had the pleasure of knowing Zed will be able to forget him. He was one of the greatest people I will ever know.”

My hands were shaking and tears were blurring my eyes as I reached the bottom of the article. I scrolled to the comments but there was nothing of interest there, so I read the article over again before moving onto the others.

They were almost identical with the same quotes and the same picture, the only difference being that the words were in a slightly different order. They seemed too matter-of-fact. Too blunt. There was no emotion, no sense of feeling sorry. No sense of human decency. Just the cold hard facts.

My heart was squeezing tight at the idea of Zed leaving behind such a lot of mourners, but I was even more traumatised by the idea of my name appearing in print like that along with quotes from no doubt Nathan, Otter, and my parents. I wondered what picture they would use of me and whether or not a picture of myself alone and smiling even existed. I wouldn’t stand in a picture on my own, only in a group, and even then I often refused to smile. Would that mean they’d have to crop everyone else out of a picture I was smiling in? Or would they pick one of me looking far too serious and boring?

The idea made me shudder for reasons I could not understand. There was no way I’d want to read about myself like this but then there was this morbid curiosity to find out how I would be immortalised in print, which I no doubt would be. The Suddich Standard was struggling far too much not to take my story up for their sorry excuse of a paper. The idea made me sick.

I cleared my search and typed in Zachariah Harte, a whole new wave of articles popping up along with a few social media pages. He had a more or less empty Facebook page with people posting to his wall on his birthday which appeared to be November 13th, and the anniversary of his death, the two being only seventeen days apart.

The last post was by Maggie Moore on Christmas Day last year. Merry Christmas big bro! I miss you every single day. I wish you could be here celebrating with us. Lots of love xxx

It must’ve been Zed’s now grown-up and married younger sister. That was crazy. I wondered if Zed had access to the internet in the Hereafter and had read all these posts meant for him. Not that his family and friends would ever dream of them being read by him.

I scrolled back to 2005 when Zed had joined. He hadn’t posted much other than the odd photo, including the one the newspapers had used. I flicked through them, taking in his friends and family from ten years ago. Almost every photo had a condolence comment attached from one person or another.

Next, I went to his Myspace page which I struggled to navigate, never having been on the website myself, being too young when it was popular ten years ago. It seemed to have updated and deleted most of his content other than a few pictures that I’d already seen.

It was so strange to think that his internet imprint still existed, though I wondered how much he could’ve been online ten years ago. I couldn’t imagine my life without internet connection wherever I went.

I looked up and let out a short shout, my heart sprinting at once, pumping hard. My phone landed on the bed in front of me with a thump, still open on the Myspace page. Zed was sitting cross-legged on the end of my bed, watching me.

“How long have you been there?” I breathed.

“Only a minute.”

It was the first time I’d seen him without some sort of jacket on. He was wearing the plain black t-shirt he’d worn earlier, leaving his arms bare. I gawked at the tattoo on the inside of his left arm. It was a thin arrow starting at the crook of his elbow and pointing to his wrist.

“What are you even doing here?” I asked when I managed to drag my eyes away from his arm.

“Heard you couldn’t sleep. I came to give you someone to talk to.”

I crossed my arms over my chest, feeling self-conscious wearing nothing but my pyjamas. “Well thanks but I’m fine.”

“What’re you reading?”

“Nothing.” I felt my cheeks and face go red.

“Come on, I’m curious now.” He was grinning.

“I was just looking you up actually, Zachariah Harte.”

He grabbed my phone before I could and gazed at the screen. “No!” He chuckled. “My awesome page has been ruined.”

“Have you not seen it since you died?”

He shook his head. “I may be able to hold these things but it doesn’t mean I could work one and even if could, how would I get my hands on one?”

“It’s easy really.” I took it back off him. “Your friends have said some wonderful things about you. Do you want to see?”

His face dropped and his eyes seemed to get bigger. “When?”

“All the time. The last one was from Christmas. You get tons of messages on your birthday and on the anniversary of your death.”

“I . . . I don’t know if I wanna see.” His voice was quiet and I shuffled towards him.

“It’s all good things.”

“I’ll bet the people who hated me have written nice things too.” He shook his head. “I dunno. I think we should leave this stuff alone.”

“It won’t matter that you’ve seen,” I encouraged.

“Would you wanna see?”

My answer earlier had been no but now I’d had time for it to sink in I was changing my mind. “I don’t know,” was my honest answer. “But you touched a lot of lives. I’ve heard you were loved by all.”

“Is that right?” He smiled. “I wonder who wrote that. I wasn’t loved by all. No one is. But as soon as someone’s dead everybody loves them. Humans are stupid.”

I could only agree. “Zed, what are you really doing here?”

“I wanted to see what your house looked like.”

“I thought you’d been listening in to my conversations?”

“It’s more like I got told about these conversations. If I’d been there you would’ve seen me.”

“Can’t you turn invisible?”

He smirked. “This is me right here being invisible. It doesn’t work on other angels and it doesn’t work on you, Angel.”

“Please don’t call me Angel.” I pulled my knees up to my chest.

“Okay, Amelia, please don’t call me Zachariah.”

“Why are you still calling me Amelia?”

“Why are you still letting me?” His eyes seemed to devour me at once and my mouth went dry and I couldn’t speak.

Out of nowhere he smiled this big, beautiful, genuine smile and my heart melted a little. I felt like a fool but I was noticing for the first time how handsome he was. Every other time we’d met I’d been preoccupied with something. But right in that moment all I could think about was looking at him.

I’d never been a girl to chase boys but that didn’t mean I didn’t understand an attraction when I felt one. There was this unmistakable pull that made me want to be close to him and sent excitement buzzing around my body. Time and space seemed to halt in that moment, me staring at him and him gazing right back at me.

“I dunno,” I choked out at last. “I guess I like it.”

He scooted forwards so our knees were touching. “You fascinate me.” He leant closer to me so our faces were only a few inches apart.

“What’s so special about me?” I could only whisper.

“Everything.”

And that’s when he kissed me.

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