When it ended, he woke in a field. There was too much green and his eyes stung. There was a harsh kind of warmth nipping his nose. There was silence, and stillness and nothing but him – a dead man in white, all alone.
The field seemed limitless; kilometres of grass that only rich people with gardeners could afford to grow. Crisp, mown, manicured. His head ached from the absence of wind, only the sun frozen directly above where he stood, like it was scared of the horizon. He began walking in an unknown direction, searching for something more than grass and a blue, cloudless sky. A ladybug, perhaps. A pond. A person. Searching until he found something better. No clouds were above him, and he thought of the song his mother sang to him as a baby,“…and wake up where the clouds are far behind me.” He never liked that song.
The grass pecked at his calves, making his skin turn red with spots and he was reminded of the red elderberry bush that used to grow in his garden. Why weren’t there any elderberries in the afterlife? None that he could see, anyway. And the sun shouldn’t be this hot. His calves shouldn’t itch, with small red spots amongst the green, like the elderberry bush. His glasses started to fog with sweat, but surely he hadn’t been walking for that long? Glasses were redundant, he decided. You don’t need glasses in heaven. Spinning around in a circle he saw the same shade of melancholy green rolling on for an ineffable distance. He wondered if he’d even moved from his original spot and began to question what direction he was walking in to begin with. A sigh escaped his mouth. He’d waited far too long to reach this grass covered wasteland. Of course he didn’t need his glasses. He pulled them from his face as the blades blurred together.
Denny, the dog he had as a child, came into his mind. Surely Denny was somewhere around here because, oh, how he would’ve loved this grass. This was Denny’s heaven for sure, he thought, and Denny had been waiting here for years until his best friend arrived, so they could run through the grass and tumble over each other for eternity.
“Denny!” he shouted. “Denny, c’mere boy! I’m here.”
He stood, unmoving, just another blade of wistful grass, waiting for the ground to rumble with his dog’s excited stride. He shrunk into the grass for a very long time, because Denny didn’t come. Not a move, not a sound, not a soul. The sense of smallness began to overwhelm him, even though he was larger than anything else he had seen in a long time. It was the insignificance that made him small, because there was no way he mattered without his dog running towards him. Because he missed him so much, or without anyone here to recognise who he was, or without life. He fell to the ground and lay back, and luckily his weight pushed the sharp blades together to make an oddly comforting bed. The sky was the bluest he had ever seen, and everything about this day should be perfect, but thinking that just made him sadder. When he closed his eyes, he could still see blue and green, and he imagined Denny wagging his tail so fast that the colours mixed together to make a rainbow.
In the morning – well, perhaps not the morning because it never became dark – his eyes opened and above him was a cloud. How it had appeared without wind, he was not sure, but that didn’t matter. He could hear something. A murmuring from atop the cloud, that sounded faint from the grass yet was surely loud if you were at its centre. At first, he thought it was simply thunder brewing, but when he stood up and focussed his ears, it became obvious it was the sound of talking. People talking. People. There were people up there and of course, that was the real heaven. This was just the waiting place, the transit centre, until he could leave for his final destination amongst the clouds. And up there would be Denny and elderberries and all the people he loved. He imagined how the cloud would caress his thighs instead of stabbing at them and how all this green and blue and loneliness would melt away like lemon drops.
However, the cloud was at least sixty feet from the ground, and from what he could tell, there was no feasible way to reach that height. He stood directly under it, listening to the comforting sound of the voices chattering, mumbling, shouting, and oh, how he had missed that. His eyes squeezed shut and through the hum he wished, more than anything, to be up in that cloud, to be away from this stupid, ugly grass, because that is where he was meant to be found once he died. Not here.
And when his eyes opened, there was a yellow brick staircase to his right that led directly to the cloud. Suddenly he was halfway up the stairs, and then three quarters, and then he was there. On the threshold of heaven, silky wisps of water droplets and ice crystals slowly twisted around him like fairy floss dissolving on a child’s tongue. In front of him stood thousands of people spread over a vast expanse of grey, all walking and talking to one another, smiles bright. They all looked so relaxed, so at peace. The talking seemed so cheerful, as if some great topic was being discussed, which made him more excited. He even felt wind on his cheek as he stepped from the last stair to the cloud’s surface. It wasn’t prickly like the grass, it was soft like heaven. He ran out into the crowd, screaming “I’m here, I’m here, I’m here.” He twisted around himself, eyes darting to find a familiar face. Wouldn’t it be easy, he thought, to find someone he knew? Weren’t they waiting for him?
As he shouted, the gleaming smiles of the people started to blur together, and he began to struggle deciphering who was who. There were thousands, perhaps millions of people around him, yet for some reason, no one would make eye contact. He walked further and as the crowd got thicker he found the people to turn their heads and talk to someone else when he looked at them. And even worse, he couldn’t understand a word they were saying. The hum had turned into an incomprehensible babble, so much so he was unsure what language was being spoken. He attempted to tap someone on the shoulder, but that just made everyone close to him walk in the opposite direction. It was like he was moving with an invisible bubble around him, repelling everyone nearby. “Hello?” he said, and everyone kept talking, except to him.
As he searched deeper into the crowd, the cloud touching his feet started to turn cold, and above him dark swirls of fog stirred ominously. Strange shadows fell over the grey people, turning them all to phantoms with smiles too bright. Eventually it felt like he was walking on ice, so he clasped his hands across his body and thought of sunshine. The sky started to rumble, his breath turned misty, the ghosts talked louder. He shivered as he tried to move towards a group of them grinning mindlessly at each other, hoping he could feel some warmth radiating from them, but they were colder than the ground and when they saw him they turned and ran, snickering. Twisting around in his bubble, all he saw was this grey cloud and people with glassy eyes and he longed to see nothing but black. Yet when he closed his eyes and lay down on the ground, he felt only hard frost underneath him, and no matter how hard he tried, all he saw was grey shadows. At least when he was below the cloud, he thought, the grass was soft and warm under him. At least when he closed his eyes, he saw a rainbow.
He stood and ran and ran and ran until he was at the edge of the cloud and the murmuring was behind him. Looking up, he saw that the dark clouds were brushing his head and he got the sudden sense that he was melting into them, into the colourlessness. Looking down, he saw the green grass, each blade honourably tall, and he remembered the soft bed they made for him and how the day was perfect. A crowd began to form behind him, and he heard each one of them whisper and chuckle and shout. He noticed that amongst the grass, there was a small white shape prancing around in circles. It was Denny, all alone. His eyes froze over as he sang to himself.
“…that’s where you’ll find me.”
Hope is in her second year of Creative Writing at QUT, and although she doesn’t have any clue what she wants to do after her degree, she continues to write whenever she can about the things that inspire and intrigue her.