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Short Story – Neither Heaven Nor Hell is Permanent

Featured Image Heaven - Hell

I don’t know how long I was asleep. When I woke up, I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t even know who I was. I just knew I was not alive. After all, it was continuously being announced that ‘Welcome to the afterlife. You are no longer alive. Do not panic. A guide will be assigned to you shortly. All our guides are currently helping others. We appreciate your patience’.

The message kept playing in a loop, and I didn’t even know what being alive means. It was like everything I knew before opening my eyes was suddenly wiped off. I didn’t even know what panic meant. So I just sat there listening to the voice saying the same things over and over again.

After a while, a door appeared, and someone entered. He looked like he knew way too many things and was struggling to keep up. Before I could say or do anything, he started speaking. I understood some parts but didn’t get a chance to ask any questions. He didn’t stop speaking to let me ask questions.

“Let’s see what we have here. Oh yes. Here are your records. Everything looks sorted. Your accommodation is actually ready. We don’t need to wait here. We can start walking there and I can explain the rules on the way.”

This was fine with me, but he didn’t wait for me to say anything. He started walking and kept talking. I started walking with him. He was telling me the rules now. Something told me that rules are important and that I should pay attention. Maybe I will get answers to my questions.

“This is the afterlife. You will be assigned accommodation. Kind of accommodation is based on what you did while you were alive. To put it simply, if you were good you would get better accommodation, if you were bad, the accommodation would be bad.”

Well, I didn’t know anything I did while I was alive. I don’t know what kind of accommodation I would get. There were more rules, it seems. He was still talking.

“You will see other residents in the Afterlife. You won’t be able to communicate with them in any way. So don’t try talking or writing notes. Understood?”

I think I understood. No talking. Maybe that is applicable now as well. He is still not letting me talk after all.

“If you need anything, there is a command centre where we are coming from. You can follow the same road we are walking on and reach it in no time. There go through the door and tell your request to whoever is on duty. They will provide you with whatever you need. Although most of the things will be available in your accommodation.”

Saying this, he suddenly stopped in front of a small cottage. It wasn’t as big as some we crossed on the way, but it wasn’t too shabby either. Seems like I wasn’t too good or too bad.

He wished me luck and said he would come back after a year to see how I am adjusting and then just left as swiftly as he came.

My accommodation was a tiny little cottage. It didn’t look too great or too shabby from outside. I waited for a while, wondering if someone else would come and let me ask everything I wanted to ask. I quickly realised that was not going to happen and then finally walked towards the cottage door.

The fence gate was broken, and so was the handle on the main door. But when I pushed the door it opened easily, without making any noise.

It was dark inside. Next to the door, I found a switchboard with what appeared to be a gazillion switches. It took me a long time fiddling with those switches to find the one for light. Finally, an overhead lamp turned on and I could see the inside of the cottage.

There was a sink and what looked like a kitchen counter on my right side. There was a couch, a table, and an empty shelf on my left. Right ahead was a door. When I opened it, it led me to a room with a bed in the centre and another door on the right. That door led to a bathroom.

When I circled back to the living room, I realised that there were some windows which were boarded up causing me to miss them the first time around.

The entire cottage had a clean feel, but at the same time, it was covered with a thin layer of dust. Like the cottage was clean, but the dust came as soon as I opened the door. The dirt was just adding to my currently building gloom.

This is where I was supposed to spend my afterlife? There were so many better houses we crossed while coming here. So this meant that those who lived there did better than me when they were alive. I must be a horrid person to get stuck here.

I sat on the couch for a long time just trying to process all that had happened since I woke up in that room not so long ago. I had a lot of questions and no one to answer them, and it appeared that no one was coming either. I was all on my own. I had to figure out whatever was there to figure out all by myself.

When my stomach started making strange sounds, I went to the kitchen and found some boxes on the shelves. I took out whatever smelled good and ate without thinking or even noticing. After I was full, I simply plopped down on the bed. I kept staring at the ceiling while it turned dark outside. It was then I realised that I had left the main door open. Not that it mattered anyway.

I didn’t move from the bed for a long time. I didn’t sleep. Maybe I couldn’t sleep. I just stayed lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling. Slowing, I could hear other sounds. Well, when I say sounds, I actually mean just one sound – water dripping. A constant drip drip drip.

I don’t know why that was driving me so crazy. The constant drip drip drip was like a constant reminder of my failures while I was alive. If I was a better person while I was alive then I wouldn’t have to endure this constant drip drip drip.

I was feeling things I didn’t know how to explain in words. This is going to be my life from now on. The finality of the realization was slowly dawning upon me. This is my life now. This is it. Nothing is going to change. No one is coming to help me. I can’t communicate with anyone. I am all alone. Truly alone. Absolutely alone.

I don’t know how long I stayed in bed like that. After some time, the light came through the main door. Then sometime after that, it turned dark again. The cycle repeated several times while I still stayed in bed. I went up only when my stomach made sounds. The container I ate from kept refilling, so I kept eating the same thing again and again without even bothering to check what was there in other containers.

Occasionally I had to use the bathroom. There I found the source of that drip drip drip sound. Apparently, there was a leaking sink in the bathroom.

Over time, the sound became louder and louder. Or maybe I was finally losing my mind. It became so loud that I couldn’t stay in the room anymore. I went out of the cottage for the first time since I entered it, I don’t know how long ago.

I started walking aimlessly. The path was well paved. There were trees and flower plants on both sides of the road. Occasionally I could see some other houses and even some other people. I desperately wanted to talk to someone. Anyone at all.

I tried to reach other homes, but there was no path leading me to them. Even when I left the paved path and started walking among the trees I could not figure out how to get closer to the other houses.

Whenever I saw another person, I would shout and wave frantically. But no one noticed me. They went on doing whatever they were doing. Finally, I collapsed under a tree and broke down crying. I couldn’t take it anymore. How was I going to endure this forever and ever?

I hated everything. I hated my stupid cottage with the dripping sink. I hated the food I was eating every day. I hated that there were people around me, but I was not able to communicate with anyone. I hated that I had so many questions, but no one cared enough to help me out. I hated whatever I did while I was alive to deserve this.

I returned to my cottage that this time I plopped down on the couch itself. No point in going to the bedroom and be tormented by the constant sound of that dripping. Not that I could sleep anyway. I think I hated this fact the most. There wasn’t even the sweet escape of slumber. I was always awake. Always.

More cycles of light followed by darkness went by. I kept my routine. I kept loosing my sanity. Now I could hear the dripping in the living room as well. Was the sound really that loud or was I imagining it? It seemed like the sound was following me everywhere.

Finally, I decided to leave the cottage and stay outside. I did that for some time. Coming in only to eat. But the sound was definitely following me. I could hear it no matter how far I went from the cottage.

I kept walking further and further away from the cottage, following the paved path. Ultimately, it led me to another building. I think this was the one where I woke up on the first day. How long ago was that? I don’t even know. I don’t even care anymore.

What did that guide tell me that day? I remember him saying that I would get anything I need. I had no idea what I needed, and yet I went inside. Anything was better than what was happening right now.

It was all white inside. And I mean ‘hurt your eyes’ white. There was just a screen at one end with a message – Please look directly into the scanner placed next.

The instruction was simple enough that even I could understand and follow it, even with my current state of mind. I looked directly at the scanner. I was afraid to even blink. Then I heard a loud beep, and I turned around.

There was a box behind me. Was it there when I entered the room. I wasn’t sure about anything at this point. I opened the box and there were some tools inside and a manual of some sort. The title said – Basic plumbing.

Well, so apparently I needed tools and a manual for plumbing. Not knowing what to do next, I picked up the box and walked back to my cottage.

I kept the box in the living room and sat next to it. I didn’t know what to do with those tools. I didn’t even know how to hold them correctly.

Surprisingly, I was able to read the manual. I read it from end to end and then read it again a couple of time. It was just a few pages long. It showed me how to use the tools to fix the drippy sink.

I had nothing better to do, so I decided to give it a try. Fixing the drip turned out to be very easy. I was finally free of the constant drip drip drip. I was so happy I cried for a long time.

I stayed on the bathroom floor for a long time, just looking at the now non-dripping sink. I couldn’t believe I did that. I did that. I make that happen. I make the sound stop. I felt like the king of the world. Like I could do anything. It was like I was riding a high wave.

When my stomach rumbled this time, I took the time to check all the containers in the kitchen. I found something that smelled even better than the one I was eating. It tasted even better. This was pure bliss.

This time when the light came, I picked up the box and walked back to the command centre. This time I even remembered the name my guide told me all those days ago. I reached much quickly that last time.

I went in straight to the screen and looked directly at the scanner. I could feel my heartbeat get faster while I waited for the beep. When finally the loud beep came, I turned so fast that I felt dizzy for a moment.

There was a smaller box this time. Inside there were several books. I read the titles and they all on the lines of ‘Simple cooking’ or ‘Easy recipe’ or something like that.

I was curious. I didn’t even know I needed something called recipes. I went back home and got settled on my bed this time. Again, it was very easy to read and understand these books. I read them all in one go. It took more time than reading the manual. But it was more fun to read these books. I learnt so much.

Apparently what I had been eating so far were raw ingredients. I followed one of the recipes and made a simple dish. It tasted way better than anything I had been eating so far. I kept trying new recipes and eating yummy food. Now I didn’t even wait for my stomach to rumble before eating. I could not eat continuously, but I figured out I could eat 3-4 meals in one dark-light cycle depending upon the recipes.

I was starting to feel better. Like it was all manageable now. I now knew what I had to do. I just had to go to the command centre and they would give me whatever I needed and then I would use that. It was actually simple enough.

I kept going back to the command centre. I would take the old box back, and it would disappear. Sometimes something would appear again the new box. Then I would keep them at the home and not take them back again.

Slowly and slowly I learnt so many new things. I got more books and I read like a frantic. Sometimes I would go to the command centre several times in the same cycle just to get more books.

Sometimes I knew what I needed, but mostly I was surprised with what I got. I was always happy to get anything new. If I went to the command centre before fully using what I already had, I wouldn’t get anything.

The boxes would vary in size depending on the contents. Bigger items came in carts with wheels, which were easy to push on the paved path.

Overall, I was having a great time now. Every visit to the command centre gave me a gift I needed, and using them was an absolute pleasure.

I fixed more things around the house. I removed the boards from the windows. I even got beautiful curtains for them. I cleaned the house every day. I learnt to cook many things. I even got bigger projects and built new furniture. I made a table and a chair. I made a rocking chair as well.

The biggest project was converting a window into a back door and building a patio leading to a backyard. That led me to a whole new world of gardening. I loved tending to plants and seeing them grow.

I loved reading too, and I got to keep many books. Eventually, I had to build big bookshelves to accommodate all the books.

The books answered many of my questions but raised many new ones.

Occasionally I would go to the command centre wanting something specific but would receive something totally different. At first, I used to get bummed by it. But over time I realised that the command centre understood what I needed better than I understood it myself. I got what I needed, which was not always the same as what I wanted.

One day my guide appeared while I was working on my garden. He smiled, pulled a chair and sat there. He didn’t look in any hurry today. I washed my hands and sat next to him.

“The place looks very different from when I saw it last.”

I didn’t know if I was supposed to say anything, so I decided to stay silent. If he wanted me to respond, he would ask directly, right?

“You look different. You look happier. I would say you are adjusting pretty well in your afterlife. Do you still have any questions for me?”

Finally! I was allowed to ask questions. He was waiting patiently like he would answer anything I ask. There was so much I still wanted to ask. But I also knew that I would get many answers from the books. So I decided to ask something I found in none of the books. Rather, this was a question that arose from something I read in many of the books.

I asked, “Is this Heaven or Hell?”

His smile grew broader before he spoke.

“This is just after life. You make your own Heaven or Hell here.”

I must have looked as confused as I felt since he kept explaining.

“When you came here, you were assigned accommodation based on what you did while you were alive. But what you did with that accommodation was your choice. You could let a mansion go to rubbles with neglect or build up a humble shack into a mansion. You are provided with everything you need. It’s your choice to make what you want to. Does this make sense?”

I had absolutely no idea what to say now.

“Well, my annual evaluation is complete. You are indeed adjusting well in your afterlife. I’ll come back again after a year. I am sure you’ll have more questions. We will discuss it then.”

Promising that he would come next year, he left, leaving me in my thoughts. He answered my questions and also left me with more. But I realised one thing for sure.

Neither Heaven nor Hell is permanent.

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