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The International Writers Magazine
Dreamscapes Fiction: New Serialised Novel by Brodie Parker

The Great Beyond
Brodie Parker

"Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me
The Carriage held but just Ourselves
And Immortality."
Emily Dickinson

Chapters One & Two

Death wasn’t something I thought a lot about when I was growing up. My first encounter with it was my Uncle Jerry. I was eight, and he was in his early forties. He drowned trying to save some kids after their boat capsized. I remember after his funeral, I asked my mom about it. She sat me down on my bed, and she said to me "Sloan, we all have to die sometime. Every one of us. We don’t ever know how or when, but it happens to everyone; even the dog. You will hear people your whole life tell you their own version of what happens after we die. Heaven and Hell are popular theories. Sheol and Purgatory and Valhalla are others. Still more are reincarnation, or the belief that there is no after; that this is all there is. The Egyptians believed that when we die, Anubis weighed their heart against a feather of the goddess of truth and justice to decide where they would go. But the fact is that it happens to all of us, and none of us really knows for sure."
I asked her "What do you think happens?"
She gave me that patient look of hers and said "I like you Sloan. You’re a sharp kid, and you ask some good questions, but you’re a little slow sometimes. I just told you, it doesn’t matter. Believe whatever you want to, because you’ll be as right as anyone else, and eventually you’ll get to find out. There’s no point in being scared, but there is usually one in being sad. So be as sad as you need to be for as long as you need to, just don’t ever be scared; no matter what anyone tells you. They’re going to die too, and they have to deal with the unknown in their own way. So do you."

My mom was a hip lady, but she didn’t know everything. When I was a teenager I got to see several more instances where death took over. At each one I heard over and over what she was talking about. Everyone had a handle on where the deceased had gone. Everyone they told between tearful sobs simply nodded silently in mute agreement; even if they believed something totally different. I resolved firmly to keep myself alive as long as I could, and no longer. Then I put it out of my mind entirely.

When I was twenty six years old. I was out of school with a bright future ahead of me. I had a girlfriend and a family. I had a great new job in acquisitions for a major museum. I had a thing for antique weapons, and I lined up an exposition of some incredibly rare swords. I was giving a tour to some of our biggest contributors when it happened.
I had built a large wooden display to secure the swords to and maintenance was about halfway through the job of setting it up. There were several swords lined up on a scaffold about ten feet up; one of the maintenance assholes forgot to secure the casing; I leaned against the scaffold in the middle of one of my speeches; the whole mother collapsed onto my unsuspecting head. One of the blades must have severed my spinal cord, because I lost all feeling immediately. Several of them had passed cleanly through and buried the first inch of their points into the floor, effectively pinning me down. I hung there completely cognizant, although groggy in front of some of the wealthiest people I had ever met, and my boss, bleeding to death.

I couldn’t feel a thing or move a muscle. I remember when they pulled all the blades out, and placed me on a stretcher but then I passed out. When I came to, I was in a white room with a lot of people on their feet around me. There must certainly have been a lot of noise in the room; I could tell they were talking quickly and moving things around. I realized they were doctors, and that I must be in an operating room. I still couldn’t feel anything and was starting to believe that I had gone deaf. There were machines flashing numbers and lines, and people moving rapidly all around me, but I couldn’t hear anything. Then a sharp sound broke the silence, though it didn’t belong with what I could see. I heard a door swing open with a creak that echoed through the room as if it were empty. Regular relaxed footfalls gave sharp reports of boot heels on stone as they came closer and closer. I was on my back looking up at all the faces when a tall pointed hat appeared behind the nurses at my feet. It was a conical, wrinkled brown mass of dense cloth that bent over on itself at the top. I stared in disbelief as it appeared to pass through their bodies and my feet. It came to a stop over my chest, appearing to rise out of my torso. Convinced that I was hallucinating, I watched more calmly as the bottom of the hat rose steadily upward followed immediately by two bushy gray eyebrows, a pair of wire rimmed spectacles over a round nose and high cheekbones. A thick gray beard and mustache covered the remainder of the face, and down over the chest. The top of the hat seemed to stay where it was, making itself smaller as the strange man stood looking down at me. He raised his hand and placed a thick cigar in the corner of the opening in the tangle of white whiskers.
"You look terrible." His voice was disappointingly ordinary. He put a hand down near my face, and suddenly I could talk.
"That’s OK. I feel great." My voice was clear and strong. I still couldn’t feel anything, but my mouth was working. "Who are you?"
"I’m the six fingered man." He moved to the side in front of the doctor leaning over me. No one paid him any attention as he circled around behind me. He placed his hands on either side of my head, and suddenly I could feel again. I sat up and stretched and checked myself for holes. Finding none, I stood up and walked through the doctor. I felt great; I didn’t even need to pee. When I turned around it really sunk in. I passed through the people standing around my fresh corpse and studied the wounds.
"Damn. Would you look at that. My intestines actually stayed inside. Well, mostly."
"That’s nothin’." said the six fingered man. I did a quick count as he continued, "The old wars where those weapons were used left far worse on the battlefield."
"Show some respect." I said.
"Sorry." His body rose up a bit more, and he pulled the hat off in a fluid motion. Wild gray hair stuck out in all directions. When he put it back on, it resumed its original size and appearance.
It seemed to stay at a constant height no matter how he moved, and his body seemed to melt into it at the head. The wide brim came down over his forehead and touched the tops of his eyebrows. He walked around beside me, and as he did so, I saw his body shrink down and his hat lengthen; its bend point always at the same height. It stopped when there was an equal amount of curious little man and wrinkled hat. He blew smoke rings and gestured toward a door. "Shall we?"
"You only have ten fingers." I said as we walked toward the door.
"Fine. I’m the Wandering Jew. Let’s go."
"Where are we going?"
"That’s up to you." he said.

The Great Beyond - Part Two May 10th

"You don’t look Jewish." My strange companion who seemed to be made of part man, part hat, was leading me through a doorway in an operating room, where frantic doctors and nurses fretted over my remains. An unfortunate accident with some magnificent swords had left me dead and in strange company.
He took the cigar out of his mouth long enough to say, "Call me Bootman. I don’t have all day to stand here talking about meaningless semantics with you; as tantalizing as it might be. You have places to be as well, unless you’d rather stay here…"
I looked quickly back at the cold body on the table. "OK. Where to?"
"Like I said, that’s all up to you. I’m just an escort. You’re the guide here."
This should have disturbed me, as I didn’t even know for sure where I was. But what the hell, I thought. I’m already dead. We stepped through the heavy wooden door into a picturesque hillside. Rich green grass and a deep scarlet sky stretched off in every direction. It was a warm twilight of late summer; the truest witching hour. Witches sleep at midnight, they roam at dusk. The boundary between day and night is at its weakest at sunset and sunrise; more so at sunset though. A dirt path snaked back and forth in switch-backs up the hillside. At the top there was a cabin with a wooden fence around it.
Bootman was covered from neck to toe in a loose flowing cloak. It ruffled slightly in the faint breeze as he pointed toward the house. "Top of the hill boss. This is as far as I go. Best of luck to you; don’t take any wooden nickels." He turned to leave.
"Wait, where am I?"
"How should I know? You brought us here."
"I’ve never seen this place before."
"Neither have I. It’s a nice place though. Maybe I’ll stop by sometime."
"Seriously, I might not be welcome here. Shouldn’t you stick around to make sure this is the right place?" I looked nervously at the dim light coming from the windows far above us.
"Nope. I can guarantee that you brought us here. Whatever this place is, you’re supposed to be here. If there are any answers for you, they’re in the house on top of that hill. See you around kid."

He sauntered off toward the sunset, trailing smoke rings and a tall shadow. I looked back at the house, when I turned around he was gone. I started walking along the trail up the hillside. I strolled along easily for about ten minutes before I looked up toward the house again.
It didn’t appear to be any closer.

I started winding my way up the path more quickly, looking steadily at the house. For fifteen more minutes I walked and watched carefully but came no closer to the top. Looking back to check my progress, I noticed that I was in the same place I started from. I sat down and looked at the sunset, still lighting the sky in the middling ambiguous tones of dusk. It should have set by now. It should have grown darker and colder but night never came. While I was thinking about how I was going to make it to the top of the hill, I got a strange feeling that I was not alone. I looked all around but didn’t see anything. Then my shadow moved. Not in reflection of my movements, but on its own. It shrank down to my height, then the upper half rose up out of the ground and propped itself up on two ebony elbows.
"How’s it going?" Its voice was like mine, but distant and staccato.
"Not so great. I died this morning, and now I have to get up this hill, but I can’t seem to get any closer. I’ve been worse though; the sunset’s nice and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere."
"What do you mean?" It pulled itself up and sat next to me.
"It’s been sunset since I, or we got here. It should have ended by now."
"So time is frozen here?"
"I guess. I’m not even sure there is any time here." I switched my weight around an my shadow did the same. Its posture exactly matched mine.
"If it is frozen, then space might be frozen too. Maybe that’s why you can’t get any farther."
I considered it for a while. "I guess so, but that doesn’t help me get to the top of the hill."
"Maybe I could help. You could take the shadow road."
"The what?"
"The shadow road. You always carry your shadow around with you. You just have to have light to see it. When there isn’t any light, shadows move around on the shadow road. You can go back with me the same way I came up here with you."
"It’s worth a shot. What do I do?"
"Leave it to me." My shadow stood up, as I did, and stood on my feet. We began to walk together into the swath of darkness cast onto the path by the setting sun. I sunk down gradually into the blackness, and as abruptly as the light disappeared my next step brought the sunset into view on the inside of the wooden fence, next to the front door of the house. I surveyed the landscape and saw the hill stretching downward all around the shack. I thanked my shadow, who didn’t pop back up or respond in any discernable way.

The house had four walls; each about twenty feet on a side. Twin windows of poorly made, vaguely transparent glass cast faint light out from each wall. Many of the boards weren’t fitted together properly, and light leaked out from countless cracks. The front door looked as if it would collapse if I knocked too hard. I decided to tap on the frame instead, but a loud and surly voice erupted from the inside before my knuckles connected.
"Who the hell is it?" It fairly shook the building.
I was speechless for too long and it came again. "Who’s there? What do you want?"
The light shining out was blocked out from behind the door. I was being ogled overtly from the other side. "My name’s Sloan. Bootman told me I was supposed to be here."
"And here you are." The door opened with a creak. "I guess you’d better come in."

Light poured out from the opening, framing a tall guy in a trench coat. He had a five o’clock shadow and he smelled like bourbon. He gestured me in, and as I crossed the threshold I noticed that the inside was larger than it looked on the outside; considerably so. I was standing in a well lit anteroom which led into a vast hallway lined symmetrically on either side with gigantic marble pillars.
"What do they call you kid?" He led the way down the hall.
"Sloan Tucker." I ran to catch up with him. His voice seemed familiar. I couldn’t place where I’d heard it before, and it grated on my nerves every time he spoke.
"Call me Urimaru. How did you find this place?"
I told him about everything as we hurried onward. The swords and Bootman and the shadow road. The whole time I had an itch in the back of my mind caused by his voice. He took me up a spiral staircase which stretched higher than I could see, and into a small library. He offered me a seat in a high backed chair and took off the trench coat and held it up in front of him by the collar. It floated smoothly across the space between him and a coat rack in the corner. It hung itself neatly as he poured a drink. He was wearing a simple blue kimono that bulged in the middle, concealing a beer gut.
"Can I get you a drink?"
I nodded my assent when it dawned on me. I suddenly remembered where I had heard his voice before. "Uncle Jerry?"

Only in Hackwriters…
Missed Chapters One & Two of our serialised novel - it begins here
Chapter Three here

Chapter Four here
Chapter five here

Chapter Six here
Chapter Seven here
Chapter Eight here
Chapter Nine here
Chapter Ten here
Chapter Eleven here
Chapter Twelve here 7.03.05

© Brodie Parker Begun May 10th 2004

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also by Brodie
Brodie Parker - Kill the Monster



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