I conclude that I have died.
It’s hard to tell how long its been. Nothing to pass the time except the whispers. They are incessant. Constant. Almost maddening.
I was silent for a time. Until I could stand it no longer.
I tried to speak and found I could barely hear my own voice. No one else could hear me, either. My sense of hearing seems intact, but touch, smell, and taste are completely lacking. I can’t see my fellows in this place. It is a stygian darkness, complete, black, cold, no sense of range or distance, no idea if my hand, indeed if I have one, is in front of my face or not.
Given all that I know, I have to assume I am in hell or a purgatory so close to a hell there is little difference. How did I come to be in hell? That, dear listener, is easy enough to discern. I was a bastard in life.
I drank to excess, gambled with money that I stole from others or failed to give back when Fortune was kind enough to smile and grant her favors to me.
I was inclined to whore a bit as well. I wasn’t the handsomest of fellows, a nose too large by far, pox-scarred skin, not easily looked at except under the dimmest of lights. The kind you might find in a pauper’s house or a less than reputable bordello; the type of place where the whores were said to cause a touch of madness in writers foolish or desperate enough to partake. Of both places I boasted far too much familiarity.
My empty pockets and often itching loins were constant reminders of my state. You see, I was a writer. Nothing in particular and yet everything I could think of. My works were often scandalous when they weren’t telling truths people could scarcely believe.
Paid a penny for each one I sold, I split the proceeds with my production assistant, a Mister Wells, who worked at a local newspaper and was able to find the resources and time to print my works.
Much of my work was embellishing tales recounted to me by the tender women of my local whorehouse on the docks of London. Eventually this habit of adding a bit too much detail sent me packing from the city as powerful men did not like their private escapades and perhaps sexual peccadilloes made public. For a moment, I felt the rush of excitement as I completed a new work. I felt alive. The blackness was pushed back for just a moment and I thought my world turned grey before returning to lightless black.
The memory of these adventures continue to fade. Both the all-consuming lust and the fear of retribution leave me in equal measure. Strange. Once both things drove me ceaselessly, the way a cruel driver beats a tired nag, too slow returning home.
Now, in his particular moment of ever-present darkness, I would give anything to feel them again. No matter what poor decisions they might lead me to, no matter the indiscretions I might have to fight my way clear or what window I might be forced to throw myself out of with naught but my knickers and socks fleeing into the night.
I was a prolific writer in life. Though if I remember correctly, I died all too young from my lifestyle of drug use and other excesses which lead to my being exposed to the consumption.
It seemed the more afflicted I became, the better my writing. The less I needed to borrow from other lives, I was coming into my own imagination and in my final years, I published seven or eight full manuscripts picked up by the London Press and turned into honest-to-God books.
The war ended all that.
Young enough to enlist but too sick, they turned me away. Politely enough, I imagine. I couldn’t imagine why they would turn anyone away, but my sickness could no longer be hidden.
I spent my time alone with my typewriter. With the occasional visit from Mr. Wells to collect my manuscripts, my world closed in on me. Just my small room, my typewriter and a pile of paper. I couldn’t seem to write as fast as I was thinking.
I finished my last book three days before I died. As I lay in my bed, Mr. Wells finished reading my manuscript and with tears in his eyes, he smiled and told me I had arrived. This would be my crowning work.
I died a month before the first bombing of London.
I have no idea how much time has passed but I began to see something in the distance. A faint light, at a distance that seemed unimaginably far away.
“Stay away from the light of others,” I heard a whisperer say. “It’s not for you.”
I tried to follow that particular voice, a gruff and unpleasant whisper akin to a cat coughing up a hairball. “Why?” I asked it.
“Because, lad, you are in a writer’s purgatory. While you lived, you wanted to be left alone to work, you spent your time locked within your home, your mind palace, your mental work space. Our penance is to spend eternity locked in the darkness of our own souls. Only your readers can redeem you now.”
“I don’t understand. Redemption? Is that like going to Heaven?”
Vomiting-Cat-Voice continued, “You have been here a long time. Haven’t you noticed you still can’t see anything? Didn’t you find that strange?”
“More than passingly, I might add. I thought we were all similarly afflicted.” It never occurred to me to think differently on the subject.
“Writers are redeemed when their works are read. You managed to make it to Writer’s Purgatory meaning the Powers decided you were a writer enough to be here. What did you write, if I may be so bold?”
Beginning to realize the nature of my dilemma, a feeling built in what I would have considered my stomach, if I had been in possession of a body, an unhappy, tense feeling. “Mostly penny dreadfuls, scandalous things, rarely worthy of notice.”
“No papers on social discourse? On the nature of the Monarchy? Nothing academic which may sit in a university for decades but get referenced often? That counts, too.”
“I wrote a number of novels before I died. My best work, in fact. I believe my final work was my best.”
“You don’t see any light at all? No sign of Heavenly comforts?”
“Black as night.”
“That’s too bad. I’ll ask around for you, maybe someone has heard something. What was your name again?”
I tell him. He grows quiet. I sense his presence fading away. I wait. One becomes patient in death. One learns to adjust to the idea of being alone with one’s thoughts. With the rush of Life beyond you, it becomes easier to see one’s behavior as though you were viewing it through the eyes of others.
Time. Passes. I sense his presence, again. “Your final work never made it to publish, I’m afraid. Your man Wells was killed in the bombing of London. Your manuscript was lost.”
The despair returned greater than ever. I was to languish, a writer’s soul without the benefit of Heaven. Without the knowledge of my work having any meaning, touching anyone’s life. “What can be done?”
“From here, my boy. Nothing. Death has defeated us. All we have left is gossip. The dead are notorious gossips. I would suggest you find yourself some friends until they Ascend.”
“If a writer finds a level of notoriety, fame or accolade, they may have the Light shine down upon them and raise them into Heaven. If they are particularly noteworthy, their fame may even raise others with them. Did you have any contemporaries?”
“None that liked me.”
“I am sorry to… did you see that?”
“See what?” For me, nothing had changed.
“There it is again. A shooting star. Now another. It is a veritable deluge of light. It’s beautiful. I think I am leaving you. Never give up hope. Your chance may still come.”
“How can you be sure?” I shouted as his voice grew distant.
“My seminal manuscript was written in the tenth century. It was just dug up from a monastery. I’ve been here for over a thousand years. There is always hope. Farewell!”
And I sit. Figuratively speaking. I talk to the others but most eventually shun me. They assume I will be one of the Forgotten. Never writing anything of note, always lost. Always wandering. Always alone.
* * *
“What you got there honey? You’ve been reading for days. Would you like to share with the class?” The man draped himself over his wife’s shoulders
She closes the last page and wipes a tear from the corner of her eye. “It was a recent discovery found in a cache buried during World War II. I didn’t know the author, but curiosity got the better of me.”
“Was it good?”
“He wasn’t famous then, but I suspect he will be.”
* * *
The darkness parts and a single star appears. A tiny glimmer of light and hope for redemption, at last.