Please … I beg you … refresh my soul …
A sudden cataclysmic pain seared Dylan’s eyes. The brightness surrounding him was violent. The sound of crashing waves thundered to a deafening scream, reverberating through his head. He clasped his shaking hands to his ears and clamped his eyes shut. All his senses were being invaded. A rush of sulphur burnt his nasal passage and throat, as the bitter taste of saltwater flooded his insides. Each sensory torture increased, until he was forced to his knees. Just when he thought his body could not take the array of pain, it suddenly stopped.
Silence. No taste. No smell. Nothing.
With his eyes still firmly closed, Dylan released the pressure of his hands upon his ears. At first he was met with nothing but silence. And then he perceived his own heart beat and breath, getting steadily stronger and louder. Another sound began to filter in … the sound of water. Dylan opened his eyes and immediately grimaced. The brightness had not faded. He squinted and drew his hand to his forehead to shield his eyes. The white light around him was shifting intangibly. He furrowed his brow and tried to adjust his vision. The bright white slowly began to dim, and a landscape morphed before his eyes.
As the light receded Dylan took in his surrounds. His hand dropped to his side as he tentatively opened his eyes fully. He was surrounded by an ocean. He looked around him, and saw a shoreline littered with ragged rocks to both sides. He looked down and realised that the water was lapping at his bare feet. He looked at his legs, and his hands, studying his body for any evidence of injury. He was wearing black jeans, and no shirt. He was soaking wet. Fat, salty droplets fell from his chin and his dark hair to the pool of saltwater at his feet. His body was shaking, but it appeared to be in pristine condition.
What the hell had happened? Dylan was deeply confused. His mind, having been overwhelmed by the sudden sensory influx, had only just now began to switch back on. Where the hell was he? Again he studied the landscape around him, trying to decipher where he was, and how he had gotten here. But his mind was blank. He shook his head and dealt himself a vigorous slap to the face, tying to jolt his memory back. Nothing.
‘You made a choice Dylan’
The voice echoed out from nowhere. Startled, Dylan flinched and stared around wildly, looking for the source of the voice. It was a deep, feminine voice, that had seemed to vibrate from every direction. But Dylan knew that wasn’t possible, so he continued to survey the landscape with nervous, searching eyes. He could see no-one.
‘You made a choice Dylan’ …
This time Dylan physically jumped back. ‘Where are you?!’ He bellowed out defensively, with a stinging, husky voice. His confusion was rapidly turning to panic.
The voice echoed through the air with a haunting pulse. Dylan paused for a moment, and then let his head flop forward as he let out a mocking laugh. ‘Great’, he said aloud, ‘I’ve officially lost my mind’. He shook his head and put his hands on his hips, before bringing one back up to rub his fingers down his face.
‘Then you have what you wanted’
Having drawn the only logical conclusion he could in such an odd situation – that he had receded into full-scale insanity – Dylan was no longer fearful, but almost strangely amused. He peered up at the sky, and then cynically looked to his left, and then his right, before asking, ‘And what’s that?’
There was a stagnant pause. Then the voice shivered out of the ether once more. ‘You wanted to lose you mind’. Dylan considered this for a brief moment, and was about to respond with a comment on the audacity of such a statement, when the voice said, ‘Didn’t you want to lose yourself completely? Didn’t you ask, time and time again, to lose everything?
This time Dylan was offended, and did not wait for pause. ‘Look, I don’t know who you think you are, or where you’re getting this from, but I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about’.
Dylan’s heart began to beat more rapidly. Although he feigned ignorance, some deep sense of truth had emanated from those words. It unnerved him. He began to feel that he was in a nightmare – a surreal place where rational thought and logic did not reside. He waited, with immense anxiety, for the voice to speak again. It seemed like an endless wait, marked only by the ebb and flow of the strange, dark tide. Where the hell was he?
‘You have looked around you Dylan. But, interestingly, you have chosen not to look behind you. Perhaps now is the time to do so’.
Dylan let out a disgruntled guffaw. What in the HELL was going on here?! This is ridiculous, I’m definitely insane, he thought, as he began to turn his body. But as he did, he detected an instinctive reluctance to do so. Something in him did not want to turn around. The instinct did nothing but fuel his extreme confusion. He dismissed it as another signal of his demise into insanity, and turned his body around to see what was behind him.
He instantly turned cold. His jaw dropped. All the blood in his body plummeted to his feet. His eyes went from the bottom of the rocks, and steadily rose the full scale of the momentous cliff before him. As his gaze hit the top of the cliff, all his memory came flooding back into his consciousness. The weight of it threw him to his knees as he screamed in pain and covered his face with his hands …
Flickers of childhood memories coursed through his mind in vivid, surreal colours. Pictures of him laughing with his sister, playing on the tyre swing … holding her hand when she fell off her skateboard … trying to protect her from the beatings lashed upon them by their mother.
He saw rows upon rows of liquor bottles, lined up on shelves. He saw himself getting caught trying to empty them into the sink. He felt the burn of the punishment, as the belt ripped his skin …
He saw the wallpaper in the lounge room at his foster house. He felt the kindness there. It rippled through his being, creating pockets of happiness. He saw the school corridor. He saw the boys leering at him. He felt the blows upon his self-esteem. He saw himself punch that guy in the face – the one who had spread the rumour about his sister …
He saw the drugs. He saw his hands fiddling with the metal. He tasted the relief … he saw himself drifting away from the real world and escaping the pain …
Then he felt himself sink into darkness. It was like he was falling into the core of the earth, surrounded by nothing but heavy darkness. He remembered the depression. He remembered the endless hours spent curled up in that private hell. He was unreachable then. He saw his sister moving to Melbourne. He heard her laugh again. He relished that moment. But then he saw her come home crushed and broken. Beaten countless times over. He remember the rage that had entered his body. He felt the tirade of emotions pumping ruthlessly through his very soul… he saw himself reaching for escape … and then slipping into darkness once more …
He saw himself hysterically shaking with the violence of his emotions. He felt the way he had pounded on his head … begging it all to just stop …
Then he saw himself driving in the darkness. He saw the determined line of his jaw, and the vacancy in his own eyes as he made that trip … he saw the edge of the cliff as he walked toward it … he smelt the sweetness of the thick night air … he tasted the saltwater scent … he felt the single tear roll out of his bright blue eyes as he looked over the edge …
He remembered the words coming out of his mouth … ‘Please … I beg you … refresh my soul’ …
The staggering crescendo of memories suddenly ceased. Dylan sat, kneeling on the rocks, fighting for breath. He flicked his eyes open, expecting to still be caught in the visions. But he saw only the beach before him, and the cliff. He drew his hands from his ears and tried to regulate his breathing, as reality began to dawn on him. He slowly rose and looked around him. Addressing the ether, with a fragile cracking voice, he said, ‘I’m dead?’
For a moment he heard nothing but the waves. He began to think that the voice had abandoned him, now that he had realised what he had done. But he was still confused. He was about to speak further, when the haunting echo billowed out once more;
‘You made a decision Dylan … you decided to die’
Dylan was in shock. He was dead? He had actually gone through with it and jumped? He raised his hands to study them again. They seemed normal. Yet, now that he gazed upon them, they seemed to glow ever so slightly. There was a surreal aura around them. This whole place was surreal. He was just getting to grips with the situation in his head when he felt a sudden stab of pain in his chest. He remembered the way he had felt just before he jumped. He remembered everything that had led up to that point. He felt all the hopelessness and despair well up in him again. He clutched at his stomach and winced in pain. But then another thought occurred to him. He looked up again. With a naked sense of enquiry, he said, ‘But, if I’m dead, and this is the afterlife … then why am I still in pain?’
A heated pause shivered across the sky. Dylan looked around him, puzzled. He suddenly felt very vulnerable. He needed an answer.
‘You wanted it to end. So you chose death’
Dylan was stumped. ‘Yeah! Exactly! So where’s the fucking heavenly gardens of utopia everyones always on about then? Why am I HERE?! And why do I still feel the SAME?!’ Dylan’s body was vibrating with frustration and befuddlement.
As he angrily glared up at the sky, he almost felt as though he heard the unearthly presence laugh at his folly. ‘Answer me this Dylan – what was it that made you think that death would be better?’
A surge of panic coursed through Dylan. He was slowly beginning to perceive the gravity of what he had done, though his mind still struggled to find some semblance of logic and familiarity. As if sensing the depth of his internal struggle, the voice serenely whispered, ‘Let me show you … Let me show you what you left behind when you made that choice’ …
Dylan’s eyes were once again flooded with white light, before shapes began to morph into a scene. It was as if the beach had opened up a portal into another realm. Dylan stared, utterly transfixed. In this space he saw lines of people dressed in black, stifling emotions and wiping away tears … he saw himself resting in a casket … he felt the unified weight of mourning that hung over the souls still alive … he saw them drifting through their lives with a piece missing … he saw his sister curled up on white tiles, crying hysterically … he felt the crimson pungency of her pain. Then he saw blurred scenes whizzing by – like he was fast forwarding in a car on the highway … the images bubbled and took bright vibrancy, shifting and changing like a slide show … he saw his sister’s swelling belly … he heard her merriment as her son sat on her lap giggling … he saw her loved by a man who deserved her … then he saw himself … running along the shore … with his nephew in hot pursuit …
Dylan drank in the image. It was the most exquisite thing he had ever seen in his life. He could see the joy. He could taste the freedom. He could hear the contentment. He could feel the light. Dylan’s trembling hand rose to his cheek, as he wiped away the fresh tears that were pooling in his eyes. His body suddenly loosened and gave in. He felt himself slump forward as his shoulders began to shake with the violence of his emotions. The tears flooded out of him. His body shook with revelation.
‘Death cannot refresh your soul Dylan … in death you are trapped where you were when you left the living world. Life Dylan … LIFE is the time when you have the power to mould your soul’
As the gravity of the situation hit Dylan, he let out an agonised, primal scream. He ferociously wiped his eyes, but did not dare look up. The next words that came from his lips were the most raw, tender and honest he had ever voiced in his life, ‘But I can’t go back now’. Another sob involuntarily wracked his body. He placed his jittery fingers over his face, and tried to stifle the emotions. Though he felt the undeniable stab of regret, he instantly resigned himself to his fate. If that was the result of his death – causing such untinkable pain to those he loved – then missing out on the utopia of life he had just witnessed, yet which had eluded him during his life, then that was fair punishment for the selfishness of his decision. He would take it. And he would derive a sick sense of masculine pride out of such martyrdom. He was about to stand up and ask what happens next, when he felt that now familiar shiver …
‘You are not dead Dylan’
Dylan froze. He was speechless for a moment, before he furrowed his brow and uttered, ‘What?’
‘You are in between Dylan. You have another choice to make …’
In deep confusion, Dylan threw his hands up in silent exasperation, even as some small flicker of hope ignited within him.
‘Remember the last thing you said Dylan? You said … refresh my soul … You can chose to stay here, knowing what you know now. Or you can chose to live. You are one of the lucky ones Dylan. It is a rare few people that get dropped in between – just hovering on the verge of death. The people that chose death make the mistake of believing what comes after will be their salvation. They don’t realise that they are ultimately responsible for their salvation. The only time you have the power to save yourself .. is in life’
Dylan’s eyes widened in supreme clarity as he took in the information bequeathed to him. He reflected for a brief moment, and then began to walk towards the shore.
NOTE: This post was inspired by the word from The Daily Prompt, REFRESH.