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Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

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In Memoriam

In+Memoriam

The faded old man seemed lost as he shuffled along, the worn leather satchel matching his weathered brown shoes. “When did you die?” I asked.

He looked up and blinked, surprised I’d even seen him.

“1973,” he whispered. “What is it now?”

“I think they’re up to 2024,” I replied, knowing full well but not wanting him to feel bad for losing track. I really had to lean in close to hear.

“Do they have flying cars yet?”

This was always the first question from the badly faded, the long dead. Why were flying cars so fascinating? It doesn’t even seem like a good idea, given how people drive regular cars. Maybe it’s just a marker for when the living world will have moved beyond what they would recognize. Who knows?

Here in the afterlife we are kept whole by our memory among the living – the less remembered you are, the fainter you become. This old codger must have been fairly ordinary in life, probably now remembered only by his grandchildren. Soon he will be just a whisper, and after that? Well, no one’s sure what happens after that. The attitude here in the afterlife is simply: enjoy it while it lasts.

By contrast, the next person I saw looked vibrant and bright and utterly confused. The newly dead are always fun. Those of us who have been here a while loved orienting the newcomers. In the afterlife there is no welcome wagon, no users’ manual. No God on a throne or angels with wings. Maybe there is a God somewhere, I suppose, but there’s no more reason we’d see them here than we would walking among the living.

I introduced myself to the woman, who was well-dressed and looked to be in her 30s. I know this doesn’t mean much here since people appear as they are remembered, at least at first. With The Fading comes age and decay and somehow even a weird smell. But the newly arrived are at their most resplendent. This one smelled of lilacs. “I’m Annie. Pleased to meet you,” she said with a kind smile, and then added while looking around, “Is this Heaven?”

I didn’t want to disappoint her with my stock answer, “sort of.” So, I tried to provide context as we walked my well-rehearsed tour. Annie took it all in with an air of intellectual curiosity. In life she must have had some line of work that required careful thought and listening instead of incessant talking. She was clearly forming questions faster than she could ask, and I could see the effort she took to articulate them clearly.

“Is there a separate place for the bad people? Like Hell?”

That is an excellent question – one that should be asked much more often than the one about flying cars.

“No, the bad people are here too, though they tend to mellow over time. We can’t physically harm each other, and we have no possessions and no needs,” I explained. “The worst an evil person can do here is to try to hurt someone’s feelings.”

We walked along talking about how things worked in the afterlife, and I introduced her to a few of the friends I’d made over the years. The summer was approaching, so most everyone had a little extra color and sharpness as their living families made plans for vacations or reunions, with all the reminiscence those entail.

Robert was a veteran of the military, and I rarely saw him outside of November, May and July. I asked him many times where he went when he was too faint for us to see him, and he did not know himself. He said it reminded him of blackouts he used to have from drinking after he returned from the war. Every year he remembered Veteran’s Day leading into Thanksgiving, and the next thing he knew it was Memorial Day weekend.  He said The Fading from his viewpoint was like an onset of darkness, an interesting contrast to his appearance to us.

As we walked we passed a vibrant man in a khaki uniform sitting alone on a stone wall.  “Hey pretty boy,” the man regaled me in an over-the-top German accent, “Did your mommy dress you this morning?” He really leaned on the “mommy,” in classic bully style.

“Is that Adolph Hitler?” asked Annie with a nod in the direction of the bully. “He hasn’t faded at all.”

“Yeah, I’m sure he’ll be remembered forever. Here he just sits all day and tries to start arguments or talk about his mental superiority… but no one listens to him.”

We walked on without giving Hitler an audience. “Ignored for eternity,” Annie smirked. “I guess that would be Hell for someone like that.”

*****

That’s how I met Annie over 50 years ago. Lately, my blackouts are more frequent and getting longer every time. I can’t decide if this is surprising or not – if my grandchildren even have children, why would they think of someone who they never met?

Whenever I am back I see Annie, who always looks the same. I have never completely understood who she was in life, but she must have been as memorable and beloved there as she has been to me all these years. She tells me they still don’t have flying cars.

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About the Contributor
Doug Ensley
Doug Ensley, Contributing Writer
Doug is an Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Shippensburg University (Pennsylvania) who relocated to Leland in 2022. He holds a PhD in mathematics from Carnegie Mellon University and continues to contribute to mathematics professional organizations in his retirement. Within the mathematics community, Doug is known for his leadership and his innovative uses of technology in teaching. He regularly exercises his right brain with word puzzles, poetry, and fiction. He resides in Brunswick Forest with his wife and her cat.

Comments (3)

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  • J

    JaneJanet StieglerMay 2, 2024 at 5:13 pm

    Really creative, Doug! Great job!

    Reply
  • D

    Daniel NeizmikMay 1, 2024 at 6:01 pm

    Doug, I’m in awe! This is fascinating, unique and beyond imaginative. I must visit your planet someday! Seriously, I really loved it. Dan Neizmik

    Reply
  • C

    Chuck BinsMay 1, 2024 at 11:01 am

    I do like this one, and I’m certain She does too.

    Reply