I don't know how it ended up being Friday today. I'm not complaining about the weekend, but I am wondering how it arrived already. Maybe it was just a fast week because things ran per the schedule and that was strange and unexpected? (I really am one of those people who has a schedule, and whenever I update it with logical and achievable things to do the Universe laughs and laughs. My hubby was one of those people who could make a plan and execute the plan and complete the plan. Then he met me. *shrug*)
One of the things that worked out right this week is that When it's Not Right released yesterday and is - for this weekend only - a FREE DIGITAL DOWNLOAD! And because it's a related story to When it's Not Perfect, I decided that both should be free downloads until Sunday! Click a cover below to learn more about the book and pick up your free download. :D
For more free reading, the below part of the short story Life after Life is the conclusion. This means that the free download is available over in Short Stories, just like the rest of my completed shorts. Next week's blog post will see the start of a new and spooky short story... Happy reading! Hope you have a good weekend :)
8. Life After
The tiger was watching the scene over Liam’s shoulder, barely even bothering to glance at the man crouching just ahead of him. When the big cat did lock eyes with Liam, there was so much more than just an animal looking out from the golden orbs. There were scars all over his body, and a limp when he stepped forward to sit down beside Liam with a grunt that turned into a sigh. He was an old cat, and tired. Reliving his worst day had exhausted him, but he hadn’t known any other way of life than to just keep fighting through so that’s what he’d done. His eyes, now that he could see himself dying, were just… sad.
Liam tentatively reached out and rested a careful hand on the tiger’s wide head, stroking and rubbing softly in a tender caress. The cat hooked a heavy front paw over the offered arm and turned his head into the contact, opening his mouth to pass his teeth harmlessly over Liam’s fingers. Liam smiled at the antics of the tiger lying down and rolling to his side so that he could hook both paws over Liam’s arm like an overgrown house cat. Liam sat down to play a little easier.
“You look like you could use a rest,” Liam told him when the big cat yawned.
As if on cue, the tiger rolled back to his belly and wiggled forward enough to shove the front of one shoulder against Liam’s hip. The big cat wrapped his front legs around Liam and then rested his head on Liam’s lap. When the cat blinked up at him with a question filling his eyes, Liam dropped an arm across the cat’s neck. After a moment, he bent his arm so that he could gently rub his fingers between the tiger’s ears without removing the half-hug.
“Not this time, friend,” Liam told him. “I think you’ve done enough by yourself that this one time you don’t have to be alone.”
The tiger breathed on purpose, his throat rattling heavy and deep in a purr. They sat like that for a while, watching the super-human efforts of the vet together, and then the golden eyes slid closed and the purring slowly rattled to a stop. The weight in Liam’s lap faded away with the rest of the scene, leaving sparkles rippling and twinkling over the grey like starlight on water, until he was just sitting there alone amid the dullness with a gap the size of a tiger’s head between his arm and his legs.
Liam dropped his hand into his lap and just sat there in the middle of the nothing. He hadn’t expected the tiger to just lie down. He’d actually expected to be ripped apart and his bits that weren’t eaten to be flung out into the nothing he was now here alone in. He thought about Kaylynd and how genuine she could be, and then about the sad and tired tiger. He thought about Nish and wondered if anyone would tell her he was dead, or if she’d just find out from the school newspaper. He wondered if his obituary would even be worth a mention in the school newspaper because even after nearly six years attending there he didn’t actually have friends.
What he did have right now were a lot of emotions which – with a moment to acknowledge them – were actually really heavy and burbling up from really deep. It was like the flood gates opened for everything he’d been put through years of counseling to train him how to deal with – and during each session he’d wondered why – but now all of it was really real and hitting him at once in a way that nothing had ever gotten through to him before. If he’d been breathing, he would’ve been having a really hard time doing so. His palms were sweating and he couldn’t stop his legs from fidgeting. One part of his brain wanted to analyze, compartmentalize, and assign all the tidy terminology that his counselors had given him over the years. Instead he took a page out of Kaylynd’s book, crumpled in on himself, and cried so hard he thought he might throw up.
It might’ve been minutes or it might’ve been years – time was different here – when the crying finally stopped overriding everything else. When he’d been a teenager and had full meltdowns, typically he would just fall asleep after and feel sick for a couple of days and then he’d start to feel better. Right now, here in the grey, he didn’t feel tired. It was like he’d completely skipped over feeling crappy (or maybe had gotten it all out) and was already into the feeling better part. He still felt raw and shaky and if Kaylynd was here he’d definitely want to get one of those genuine hugs from her, but for the moment it was enough to just sit up and remember some of the good times. Slowly all that counseling worked its way into his thought process and he assigned the terminology his analytical grey matter needed: breakthrough. He felt better now – lighter – because he’d had a breakthrough.
He spent another lifetime (or maybe a couple minutes) sorting out the events since he’d died, and came up with a general theory that this was some kind of limbo state and he’d probably be stuck here until he really, actually died. Until then he could be some kind of Davy Jones or Charon, making sure anyone else that ended up here with him was transported appropriately. He could be that someone to help them get through their worst days, if they wanted. That was pretty cool.
He’d kept getting accused of being ‘disassociated’ in his sessions, and everyone kept wanting him to engage more and maybe try for an emotional contact with anything. His counselor last year had given him a plant, but Nish had overwatered it and killed it. Thinking about the advice now was a bit of a laugh; he couldn’t get much more engaged than by actively chauffeuring the mostly dead through whatever they needed, and this new level of relationship was a lot more engaging than the insincere interactions during childhood and at university. Straight up, he’d just saved a little girl from drowning and then comforted a wild tiger in death. There wasn’t anything from his life before dying that even came close to being that beautiful or intensely good.
Liam looked around at the grey and felt more comfortable in his skin than he ever had before. Inside his chest was calmer without a pulse driving him around and the constant demand of needing respiration, and his heart seemed to have more ability for feelings without having to dwell on circulation. His head felt calmer now, too, without having to worry about what was coming in regards to where to live and how to afford groceries and rent and tuition. Right now, he just had to be right here.
He stayed sitting and stretched for a few minutes, cracking his neck and at the end and feeling… different. Maybe ‘new’ was the right word. He felt good and it felt strange. It took a few moments to realize that he could see the catwalk now. He leaned forward to stare at it, his hand dropping beside his leg to take on some of his weight out of normal habit. The catwalk felt like set gelatin against his skin. It wasn’t sticky, just definitely there and offering a slight resistance to pressure.
The tiger definitely hadn’t been wearing clothing, but had walked the whole way from wherever he had started to where he ended with his head in Liam’s lap. Inanimate things like clothes and coins could only be what they were, but the bit of vague philosophy from a couple first and second year classes Liam didn’t really remember held the notion that people were constructs assembled through all their experiences. Maybe, with going through experiences in the grey, this place was becoming more real around him because it was becoming more real to him, like his clothes were real to him.
Or maybe he was becoming realer within the grey as his constructs about himself fell away. Maybe he was learning to exist in the now that the grey presented. Maybe he was unlearning his experiences in life and just existing without the pressure of the construct he’d worn; existing like the tiger.
He stood back up and started walking in the direction that felt like forward. He couldn’t remember which way he’d been going when he’d laid down, but this seemed like the right way to be going now. After three steps the familiar shunk sound thudded against his ears and everything went absolutely black. Liam stopped and, a slow smile spreading across his face as he settled the crook of his elbow to hide his eyes from the coming bright, listened to see if he could hear who or what was coming next.
A weekly blog updating on Saturdays with quick personal blurbs about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and that doles out my short stories and novellas in bite-sized parts for everyone to read for free!