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Flashbacks Before Heaven
It was early September. The ablaze sun was half hiding behind the alpine mountains, creating a warm fusion of orange and red colours to rein the skies. The still blue lake sparkled under the remains of the suns glow. Tall bulrushes swayed lightly in the light evening breeze. Crickets filled the air with their ringing sounds. Toads croaked amidst the jungle of grass on the river bank. Owls hooted among the huddle of towering green coniferous trees, filling the atmosphere with the sounds of nature.
* * * * * * *
Harry Jones is seventy years old today. It’s the twentieth of June, 2009. He lives in a rustic log cabin overlooking the magnificent views of Spirit Lake and the surrounding mountains in Portland, Oregon. He’s lived there for a good fifty years now. Some people wonder how anyone can live in Portland for that long; the sun is always hiding behind the trails of dark grey clouds which roam the skies constantly. It always rains, too. He sits in his worn deck chair and watches the raindrops hit the lake’s water, each and every one making a gentile individual splash. He hasn’t always lived here. He’d grown up in Millwood, South Carolina, along with his mother and father, and three sisters: Madeline, Angela and Margaret. He’d always been close with his father, maybe because he was his only son, but Harry knew they had a special bond-that’s why it broke his heart when his father was called out to fight in Europe back in 1944, and the only thing ever to return was a letter informing them of his death.
Harry is a stocky man. He wore thick lensed glasses which were pushed right up against his hazel green eyes. He wore red or blue checkered shirts most days, with his favourite beige cord trousers. Most of his hair has fallen out, but some white hairs still sprung from the side of his pale wrinkled head. However, his head was nearly always covered by his worn red baseball cap which he’d bought after the Florida Marlins had thrashed the New York Yankees back in 1985.
Harry’s stomach rumbles so he decides to raid the fridge for something to eat. Opening the door, he catches glimpse of some bacon and eggs and decides to cook them up for his ‘birthday breakfast’. He grabs two slices of fresh wholemeal bread from the bread bin and slots them into the dated toaster. He continues to fry the eggs and bacon, and then fetches the toast as they pop up and spreads a thick layer of butter onto the warm bread. Flipping the bacon and egg onto the toast, he hears faint laughs and conversation heading up the lane. The noises become louder until Harry can recognise that the sounds are coming from children. He turns the knob of the old radio up and the sound of music fills the room. He wedges the bacon sandwich into his mouth and leans against the wooden cabinets casually, chomping one mouthful at a time. The children’s noises become louder, and he can hear them hustling up the cabin steps, followed by a number of knocks on the wooden door. Chuckling quietly to himself, Harry realises who it is.
He turns the door handle and is almost knocked over by the herd of children, each waving carefully wrapped gifts and homemade cards in the air.
Cheers of ‘’Happy Birthday Grandpa!’’ fill the room with an echoing cheery sound. Each of his grandchildren take it in turns to exchange hugs and kisses from their grandfather, who is then bombarded with the presents and cards. He manages to escape for a moment to greet his son and daughter, Erica and James.
‘’Happy Birthday Dad.’’ Says Erica, who kisses him gently on the cheek.’’I didn’t know what to get you, so I made a sponge cake instead.’’
‘’Fine by me.’’ Harry says, as she unwraps the cling film off the cake and places it on the kitchen counter.
Harrys son James then crosses over the room and gives his father a big manly hug; slapping each other on the shoulders.
‘’Happy Birthday old man’’ He says, chuckling.
‘’Oi you-watch it. ‘’Harry laughs, and turns to find each of his seven grandchildren waiting expectantly at the small archaic table. Their small innocent faces light up when Erica walks into the dining area holding the giant sponge birthday cake, overwhelmed with alight blue and pink birthday candles.
The ablaze flames reflect in Harrys wide rimmed glasses as his family begin to sing the accustomed tune of Happy Birthday. He beams up at the children whose voices boom over their parents’ and waits for his que to blow out the flickering flames. As the song reaches its climax, Harry takes a deep breath and attempts to blow out all 70 alight candles. His breathing soon turns to coughing, getting more violent and severe. A burning pain in his chest soon starts to spread to his heart. His hand automatically clutches his chest as the pain becomes so agonizing he finds himself slipping off his chair and hitting the hard wooden floor. He can hear the children scream and cry in terror, and Erica shouting panicky orders at James who was raiding the kitchen cupboards for anything which might help-even though he knew no antibiotics was going to save him this time.
‘’Call an ambulance!’’ Erica shrieked across to her brother whilst she held her father in her arms.
Harry became so weak under the excruciating pain. His arms felt like limp rubber hoses, his legs like heavy slats of wood. A blinding wave of black rushed over his eyes. It was like a thick blindfold being forced against his eyes, firm and fast-not only his eyes, but himself with a crushing weight. It was so exhausting to push against it. He couldn’t feel anything. He couldn’t even hear anymore. He knew it would just be easier to just give in-but he wasn’t going to let that happen. He tried to make himself feel something-anything-but the same agonizing pain pinned him down and crushed him. He was helpless under this abominable hold. He had just enough strength to hold on for a few more moments, hoping that there was enough time for the pain to stop and enable him to wake up from this nightmare. It wasn’t enough. His strength was demolished by the increasing agony, and the black pushed him down, down to a place where no pain, no fear, no worry and no weariness ever existed.
* * * * * * *
Harry’s eyelids flicker. He can hear a soothing melody swim through the light breezy air; it’s familiar. He fights against his heavy eyelids and catches glimpse of soft consolatory brown eyes. His face is close to hers. Her cheeks are a light peachy colour, dotted with small brown freckles. He chuckles harmoniously as strands of mousy brown hair tickle his chubby face. He reaches out his tiny hands and touches his mothers face. She smiles and resumes to hum the familiar tune; it’s his lullaby. His affectionate mother cradles Harry for a few moments, and then lowers him gently into the pine cot. Harry wriggles about slightly whilst his mother attempts to wrap a baby blue blanket around him. He pulls one of his pink thumbs into his mouth and peers through one of the wooden bars to see another figure enter the room. He’s tall and dark haired, with big round spectacles hanging on the edge of his long nose. He grins down at Harry, showing his perfect set of white teeth. He wraps his arms around his wife and they both stand above the cot admiring their baby son. Harry truces with his eyelids, and they slowly being to shut. The image of his mother and father are settled in his mind as he slowly begins to drift off into a deep sleep.
* * * * * * *
Harry wakes up to darkness. His once heavy eyelids flutter open without ease to find himself sitting in a rather uncomfortable seat. He feels around for some evidence as to where he is, but only finds two plastic armrests both containing what he knew were some sort of cup holders. He lifts one of his legs (still wearing the beige cord trousers) and hits something hard in front of him. He realises it’s the back of yet another plastic seat.
Abruptly, a row of lights either side of what looked like a vast room lit up to a dim glow. Harrys head revolved around the room to find hundreds of rows of red chairs slanting up a diagonal angle. Through the middle was a space to create a flight of stairs through the two ascending arrays of seats. Each step was lined with little illuminating lights. Harry was so far up, that the chairs at the bottom were like little ladybirds, with the mix of red and black. Although he hadn’t been here in a while, he knew where he was. Harry hadn’t been to the cinema since 1982, when he took his wife Elizabeth to see E.T.-which then became one of her favourites. Suddenly, an enormous screen parallel to him brightened to show an image he was very knowledgeable of: Spirit Lake. It must have been taken a good few years ago, before the eruption over the other side of the mountains. Harry found himself gazing admiringly up at the vast screen displaying this place of beauty.
‘’It’s breath taking, isn’t it? One of my greatest creations.’’ Someone casually remarked.
Harry surged at the sudden sound, and craned his neck to see a middle aged man sitting nonchalantly with one leg overlapping the other.
His skin was a dark brown tanned colour, which was illuminated by his glowing white shirt. The sleeves were scrunched up to his elbows, and his ragged denim jeans hung loosely on his thin legs. His shiny black shoes caught the light of the screen, and lacked any sign of filth or dirt. The mysterious man smoothed his hand over his small, tight curls which sprung from his head. His soft face was surfaced with freckles, scattered around his perfect nose and dazzling white smile. His eyes were a warm chocolate colour, which captured Harrys. He wondered how anyone could look so radiant.
‘’Hello my friend-and welcome.’’
The man held out his hands, and then clasped them together again.
‘’Your death has come as a bit of a shock to me, I must say. Although the amount of bacon is included in your daily intake, I’m not surprised!’’ The man chuckled again, attempting to lighten the mood.
Harry sat still, staring up at the man with confusion and a lack of patience.
‘’Why am I here?’’ He asked, half -heartedly.
‘’Ahh, well, I can’t really explain that. Everyone ends up here at first, and each time a different picture appears on the screen-according to their life experiences. ‘’ He explained.
‘’Okay. Right, so where’s the exit then?’’ harry clutched onto the arm rests and heaved himself upwards steadily.
‘’There is no exit Harry.’’ The man’s tone was sterner this time. ‘’There are some procedures that need to be followed through.’’
‘’What procedures? What are you talking about?’’ Harry asked, more impatiently.
‘’Sit down and I’ll tell you.’’
Harry Plonked himself back in to his seat with a heavy sigh.
The man pulled out what Harry recognised was a remote control. He pointed it towards the screen and another image appeared. However, this time it wasn’t Spirit Lake. It was Christmas, 1943. Harry was four years old. It was the Christmas just before his father had been called out to war. Harry knew this because of the bronze medal which hung from his small hands. His father had given it to him as a ‘going away present’ and had assured Harry that he would be returning before the following Christmas.
Harry closed his eyes in the semi-darkness and rubbed his forehead. All the memories he’d kept hidden in the back of his mind came flooding out-it was too much to handle. He opened his eyes to find that he was no longer sat in the cinema, but in his fathers old red arm chair. A dazzling green Christmas tree stood vigorously, decorated with sparkling tinsel and multicoloured baubles. More gold, red and green tinsel hung vividly along the wooden beams of the tiny living room. Candles were placed carefully along the mantelpiece above the ablaze fire. Harry was sat on his father’s lap, whilst his mother handed out gifts to each child. Every one of his three sisters received their much wanted presents: dolls, play prams and sweets in jars, however Harry was not handed a gift. Just then, his father reached into his pockets and brought out a small black box and handed it to Harry. Harry smiled with relief and opened the box carefully and curiously. His eyes lit up when he caught glimpse of what lay inside it. A gold medal was placed on a piece of cloth inside the box-it was his grandfathers. Harry had always admired the medal when in was originally kept next to the frame of his grandfather. It was hung from a thick blue ribbon which Harry picked up. He held it up in the air to show his mother and sisters what he had been given, and the medal dazzled in the light of the tinsel and candles.
Harry felt a sudden wave of reality wash over him, as he became to acknowledge the cinema surroundings once again.
‘’What is this.’’ Harry said, staring into a blank space ahead of him.
‘’This is part of your procedure-your five flashbacks. Every man, woman and child experiences this procedure when they die. You’ve already experienced two, so you now have three more to experience. Every flashback is an event or memory in your life which is most important to you, or had made the biggest impact. It’ll all make sense soon.’’ The man explained politely.
‘’Right.So, what happens now?’’
‘’You are now free to leave.’’ The man pointed one long finger towards a door which stated ‘exit’ above it.
Once again Harry heaved himself up out of the uncomfortable chair and looked down at the man reluctantly. The main smiled reassuringly and held up his hand as a sign to ‘go ahead.’ Harry walked down the lighted steps slowly. When he finally reached the ground floor he paused and looked up through the rows of seats to find the man had disappeared. Shaking his head, Harry opened the heavy exit door.
Harry was bewildered when he discovered what was behind the door. It wasn’t anything he’d call special, nothing he’d ever thought about a great deal before.
A twentieth century classroom prevailed before him. The classroom was decorated with ‘outstanding essays’ and posters displaying Pythagoras’ theorems. Four rows of single filed wooden desks were lined parallel down the classroom. It wasn’t until then that he came to realise the presence of the students, who sat staring up at him with wearied curiosity. Some were smirking; some were flicking their pencils against their desks with boredom and impatience. A large blackboard was placed towards the head of the classroom, where a corpulent teacher sat glaring at him with her small black beady eyes behind a pair of thick glass spectacles. Her thin lips were pursed into an angry pout, and her long wavy hair was scraped back into a tight bun at the back off her head. There was a dead silence.
‘’Master Jones, how nice of you to join us at last. Now, tell me, what time do you call this?’’ A shrill, sarcastic sound startled Harry, and he turned his head to face the blatant woman. One of her eyebrows raised as if to demand an answer. Harry’s eyes swivelled around the room to find a clock.
‘’Sorry Miss, it’s ten past twelve.’’ He answered.
The teacher breathed in loudly through her crooked nose and her face positioned into an even tighter pose whilst the class sniggered and sneered.
‘’SILENCE!’’ The teacher shrieked. The class became silent. ‘’So, a bit of a joker, eh?’’ The teacher questioned demandingly. ‘’Well, you can stay in during lunch and be a joke then.’’
Harry sighed and took his place at his desk without causing any more unnecessary attention. Hours seemed to have passed by until the bell finally rang shrilly and the class rose to their feet and bustled out of the crowded classroom. Harry started to arise from his seat, when he remembered his detention. Plonking himself back into his chair, he looked up hopefully to see if the teacher had left. Unfortunately, the teacher was still spread at the desk stuffing what looked like a double layered sandwich. Sighing heavily, he looked around the classroom to see another student enter the room. He’d never seen her before, but he knew that she was the new girl-Elizabeth Collins was her name.
She had long fiery red hair which hung past her shoulders. She had sparkling green eyes which lit up her radiant peach face. Her smile was fixated in his mind; her rosy pink lips spread apart to show her sparkling white teeth. She walked graciously through the aisles of seats and pulled out a chair next to Harry and flashed another dazzling smile at him.
The bell rang yet again for the start of last period, and Elizabeth arose from her desk and collected her belongings. Harry, who was half asleep, leapt out of his chair and piled his books into his rucksack hastily so that he could catch Elizabeth, who was just heading out of the door. Slinging his bag over his shoulder, he rushed through the rows of desks and pushes the door open, expecting to find her in the busy corridor, amongst the crowds of hustling teenagers.
However, the school corridor was not what was behind the classroom door. A dull, pale and pasty hospital corridor stretched ahead of him. Harry held up the bunch of large daisies in his left hand and smelt them satisfyingly. Just then, a midwife came out of the door Harry had just exited and led him inside. As she turned the metal door knob, Harry could hear the sound of his wife’s appeasing voice. Taking of his red baseball cap, and holding the bunch of flowers to his chest, he entered the white hospital room. Sat upright against the metal bed frame was his beautiful wife, looking as radiant as ever amongst the pasty colours of the dull room. Her long fiery red hair was full of life as it hung beside her angelic face. Her emerald eyes sparkled at him with happiness-something he had seen so often, but never wearied of. In her arms she held two tiny figures; one wrapped in a baby blue blanket with a matching hat, and the other in a baby pink blanket, with a matching hat.
Harry gazed up at what he then knew was his family. He started to walk over to his wife amiably, and handed her the daisies and kissed her gently on the cheek. He then pulled back the blankets of each babies face and kissed them, too. Placing his hat on the chair adjacent to the bed, Harry pulled his glasses off his nose and wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeve. Elizabeth laughed lightly at the sight of her husband crying with happiness and smiled the smile that Harry adored so much.
Suddenly, the babies disappeared. The curtains were drawn around the bed. Machines were pulled through the cloth freely. Midwives vanished and were replaced with doctors in long white coats with ball point pens in their chest pockets. Harry lowered himself into the chair.
Harry watched in horror as this nightmare swooped in and destroyed this perfect scene. The daisies hung limply in the vase beside the bed, withered. Just like his wife. Her once fiery hair was a tired grey. Wrinkles dented her perfect peachy skin, and her sparkling emerald eyes were hidden behind her closed eyes.
Tubes stuck out of her body at every angle. The machines continuously made echoing bleeps. Nurses came in regularly and smiled sympathetically at Harry whilst pulling up the sheets. Harry knew it was their job to do this, but he wished they would leave them alone-if the sheets need pulling up-he would be sure to do it. Days seemed to pass. He could feel his heart shrivel up inside his chest every moment he saw her suffering like this. He rubbed the cold sweat off his hands onto his knees and swept a displaced strand of hair off her face. He sighs lightly and realises that she is still as beautiful as ever-even without her favourable characteristics.
‘’Hello Elizabeth, It’s me, Harry. I...’’ Harry’s sentence was cut short when his son and daughter bustled through the curtains. Harry looked up to see them stop and stare blankly down at their sick mother. Erica, in the middle of college, turns away and starts to weep. James cradles her in his arms and tells her she’s going to be fine.
‘’Too damn right she’s going to be fine. She brought up two troublesome kids at once didn’t she?’’ He tells them, attempting to lighten the impossible mood.
Erica looks up at her father and starts towards him, pulling out a second chair and placing her head on his shoulder. Tears continue to spill down her rosy cheeks. Her strawberry blonde hair shows the link between her father and her mother-which Harry loves the most. James stays standing against the bed frame. His hazel eyes fixate on his mother admiringly.
‘’We both have her in us you know.’’ He says comfortingly. ‘’Erica has her hair, mixed with Dads, and I have her eyes, mixed with Dad’s. ‘’
Harry smiles and nods at his son, and James steadies himself and walks toward his sister and pulls out a third chair to sit on, holding his sisters hand in his, and smiling up at his father.
Harry takes one last look at his wife, and then buries his head into his hands. He wants it all to end. He wants to disappear; to just go with her, wherever she’s going. He can still hear the bleeps of the hospital machine. They get increasingly slower and slower. He counts the second between each bleep until the bleep is just one big sound filling the atmosphere with misery and anguish. He knows she’s gone. He removes his hands from his face expecting to see her lying there, limp and lifeless, but instead, all that he can see is rows of red seats.
Harry’s eyes dart frantically across the cinema horizontal lining of chairs, to find the very same man beaming up at him.
‘’Who are you?’’ Harry’s voice is so low that it’s almost a whisper. ‘’You’ve put me through all of that and your smiling at me? Who are you?’’ He repeats.
‘’I didn’t. You decide what flashbacks you experience. Not me.’’
‘’But how do you do it?’’
‘’Because, I’m him.’’
‘’The ‘Big Guy.’ The ‘Almighty One.’ You know who-God.’’
If Harry hadn’t of been through what he had-he wouldn’t of believed him. But right now, he was so tired of these ‘procedures’ he knew that the man sitting next to him must have been God. Who else can make you travel back in time and experience flashbacks? Not many.
Harry took a deep breath and squared his shoulders up against the seat.
‘’So I’ve had my five flashbacks. What happens now?’’ He asks cautiously, focusing pointlessly on a dark space of the room.
‘’Well, that’s easy. You return to the most precious memory of all. You know about heaven, right? Well, everyone has their own personal heaven. It’s an environment where they are most familiar with, and they share it with the people whom they have loved most in their lives.’’ He explains.
Harry opens his mouth to ask another question for reassurance, when the small lights on each wall of the screening dim until the cinema is left in complete darkness. He stands up in hope to find something with a glimpse of light. Giving up hope, he goes to sit back down and wait for something down. He drops himself down onto the chair, only the chair has vanished. His back hits the heavy floor and he cries in agony. Suddenly, beams of blinding light rip through the darkness one by one. His body feels numb and once again his arms and legs feel lifeless and rubbery. He can’t feel the floor beneath him, but he knows he isn’t falling. The beams of light continue to shoot through the dark, until he is completely surrounded by the blinding light. He closes his eyes as the light is too bright to keep them open.
Suddenly, he can feel his body again. He’s standing upright. He opens his eyes to see the blinding light as one small circle placed in the pale blue sky.
* * * * * * *
It’s early September. The ablaze sun is half hiding behind the alpine mountains, creating a warm fusion of orange and red colours to reign the skies. The still blue lake sparkles under the remains of the suns glow. Tall bulrushes sway lightly in the gentle breeze. Crickets fill the air with their ringing sound. Toads croak amidst the jungle of long green grass on the water bank. Owls hoot among the huddle of towering green coniferous trees, filling the atmosphere with nature.
Harry stands silently staring up at the beautiful surroundings, then turns his head around to find the lodge standing ahead of him. His heart stops beating and his eyes widen. His palms sweat and his throat becomes dry. Sitting graciously on the lodge steps is a figure he knows only too well.
The woman stands up slowly and smiles at him. A smile that Harry would’ve anything to see again, and now is.
Her rosy lips pull back against her sparkling white teeth too show Harry a sight that is even more beautiful than the nature which surrounds him. Her fiery red hair bounces against her shoulders as she walks steadily don the lodge step and over to him. She finally reaches him, and her sparkling emerald eyes gaze into his.
''Hello Harry, I’ve been waiting for you.’’