The Second Chance
Where am I? The last thing I remember was that huge semi coming towards me…. Oh, I'm dead. But where am I, this doesn't look like hell... it doesn't look like heaven either. Everything is just gray.
“Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?” I hear nothing, no echo, no sound, not even my own heartbeat or breath. I'm not breathing...weird. This total silence is unnerving.
They're all the same, these vermin people who come here. First they look around, trying to figure out where they are, what this place is. Then they remember that they are dead. They cry out futilely for someone, hoping for an answer; their only answer is silence.
Funny thing, silence. Down on Earth there is no silence, at least not completely. There is the sound of Life somewhere. Maybe in the breeze rustling the leaves or the breathing and heartbeat of a person. However, here there is no movement, no heartbeat, no breath, no Life.
After all, those who come here are dead. But this isn't heaven or hell. This is the Inbetween. It's the gray between black and white and good and bad. This is where you see who you really are.
Suddenly, a noise behind me, I spin around expecting to see someone. No one is there. If I was still alive, my heart would be racing. I need to get out of here. I start running, but there's no sense of direction or distance. I have no idea if I have moved at all. I cry out, frustrated and angry.
“Matthew Whittaker, age 38, 1980-2018.” A loud, authoritative voice speaks from the gray that surrounds me and I shrink back in fear.
“You are here in the Inbetween because of how you chose to live your life. Those who come here are not murderers or thieves, however they have killed and stolen. Because you chose to live only caring for yourself and disregarding others, you have killed people's spirits and stolen their happiness. For this you will be judged.”
I turn in desperate confusion. Where is the voice coming from? What does it mean, I have never killed in my life. How will I be judged?
I watch with a cruel detachment at Matthew’s panicked reaction. So many have passed through the Inbetween that I have lost count. They don't matter to me anymore. It's easier that way.
I search through his file and find the memory I want to start with. The kid, the small one, who went home and cried every day because he hated school. The one who begged his single mom to homeschool him even though he knew it was impossible. The first life Matthew ruined. I watch the figures materialize behind him and the scene begin.
“Stop it!” The voice is scared and vulnerable. I turn around in time to see a little boy knock books and papers all over a school hallway. There are others egging him on. He smiles proudly. I'm shocked to realize the little boy….is me.
I remember that it had been an accident; I had bumped into a boy, who had been teased since the beginning of the year, and he thought I did it on purpose. Before I could apologize, the people who saw, laughed and I was encouraged to do more. So I knocked the books and papers out of his hands.
The little kids were replaced with twelve-year-olds throwing rocks at some shaking, half-starved, shaking animal covered in mud. It yelped in pain with each projectile that connected with its scraggly body. I looked closer and recognized myself and my little sister’s dog!
It had been a stray mutt then, but my sister, Casey, took it in off the streets and named it Molly. Under Casey’s love and tenderness, the mutt became a pet and her pride and joy.
My mind took me back to one afternoon, a few years later, when I was walking Molly. I had seen my friends at the park and I tied Molly to a tree so I could go play. When I got back, Molly was gone. I had decided to tell my sister that I let Molly off her leash to play with her ball and she had run away. Casey had been so upset she went looking for Molly.
The kids were replaced by Casey and I, at 14 and 15. It was the same memory I had just been seeing in my mind. Now we were standing on the sidewalk. She had searched into the evening for Molly and had just gotten home; we were fighting about her “stupid dog” and I pushed her back, into the street.
A car with its headlights off had just rounded the corner as she stumbled backwards into the street. It swerved and she died on impact. Ever since then I decided I would care for no one except me so I would never have to worry about feeling this kind of grief again.
Tears are streaming down his checks but I remain stoic and proceed to the next memory. Of course, there are many to choose from, some large and some small. However, I only show those that really matter. Those that affected others, those that you bury down deep until you forget.
But they are always there and anything can trigger that memory so that you are drowning in guilt and pain as fresh as the moment it happened. I look down and shudder, the first emotions I have not been able to suppress. I almost don't play it. Almost. This will drown him in guilt. I don't know I if will be able to stand it but I know that he won't.
I calm myself and wipe away the tears on my face, glad for the small respite. A lone figure appears and I brace myself for more pain. Strangely, the person is a girl. I look for myself in the scene but cannot seem to find myself.
A chime signaling a text message breaks the silence and I move closer to see the phone. I see the girl for the first time and her beautiful, beaming face is like a punch to the gut.
I dated her when I was twenty-five. The relationship lasted on and off for five years. I finally got tired of her and decided to end the relationship for good; I had wanted my freedom back. After that I had never heard from her again.
Hey! hi baby What are you doing? just watching tv Oh! Do you want to come over? Or we could go somewhere.
maybe later im with the guys. Oh...ok. Later then. actually i wanted to tell you something Really! ya i don't think this is working out i think we should break up for good this time
Is it something I did? Am I not pretty or skinny enough? . . . I can't believe you think that! no babe its not like that Then what is it like? sometimes you are too clingy and needy
I'm needy! So it's needy if I ask for your attention once and a while! I just want to feel like I'm important to you but you treat me like a burden, not a priority like I deserve! no i don't Don't try and deny it! I hate you!
The girl’s face had gradually darkened as the texting went on. Now she cried, a chilling sound full of rage and bitterness. She threw the phone at the wall and it shattered. Then she started sobbing pounding her fists on the bed.
She sat up suddenly and, with resolute movements and tears still streaming down her face, she headed to the bathroom. When she came back to her bed, she was carrying an orange prescription bottle, a paper, a pen, and a book.
She quickly scribbled something on the paper and took all the little white pills out of the bottle. “I'm so sorry mommy,” she whispered. The unadulterated sorrow in her voice nearly tore me in two.
Then she laid down with the paper and the book on her stomach and went to sleep. Shaking, I leaned over. The book was "Thirteen Reasons Why" and the paper read “The only reason: you”
Pain lanced through my chest as I sank to my knees. I was suffocating, though I didn't need to breathe. I hated myself for what I had done to her and how my lifestyle had harmed so many people.
I watched as he sank to his knees. I knew how he felt as he curled into a ball and rocked with a grief too deep for tears. I wanted so desperately to end his pain, to offer him comfort. I had already let my indifferent facade crumble away.
I too, had been a person who skipped through life in a self-constructed oblivious bubble. I too, had come to the Inbetween and been judged by the Voice. In the end, I had been repulsed by the person I was. I hated myself.
But I had decided to become the new voice because of this. I could bring people like him to the Inbetween in their sleep before they died. I could offer them a second chance.
I woke up screaming with tears streaming down my face. As I looked into the darkness around me and listened to my panting breath, I realized I was alive. I wasn't dead in some weird place in between heaven and hell, I was in my bed in my room. As I calmed myself, I could still feel the pain in my heart for everything I had seen.
I knew I couldn't pass off the dream as a nightmare, it had been too tangible, too real. And my relief surpassed any previous emotion I had experienced because I knew I could do better. I was alive and I had a second chance.