“…I realise that this doesn’t actually go anywhere: I wrote it as the start of a story that I haven’t even finished in my head yet. I suppose I’d better tell you, in case it’s not obvious, that the genre I drew was ‘Horror.’” Terry cast his eyes around the Circle and was relieved to find that he did not sense open hostility. He took a deep breath and tried to relax (it could be worse, think of a Thursday night in a Dewsbury Working Man’s Club) with the breathing exercises he had been taught one time by a sword swallower from Latvia. Truth be told, he felt as though he might well have a furball of his own down there right now. He focussed as hard on his neatly typed manuscript as his slightly misted varifocals allowed and he began to read.
“‘…In the end, the pain stopped as suddenly as it began, but between times it had ripped through him, engulfing him in waves of nausea and panic of ever-increasing intensity. When – how – it had begun he could not recall, all that he remembered for now was anguish.
Time is not a physical thing. The actual moment of death can be an eternity: plenty of time in which to review the good and bad moments of life; the opportunity, perhaps, to actually experience the joy and pain for which you have been responsible, to weigh one against the other. Hell is a life made of pain. Few of us are destined to end our days in Heaven. It was his mother, he remembered, who had told him that there was no such place as Heaven or Hell, they were both, she assured him, just a state of mind – so stop moping and put the bin out.
There can be no purpose for an afterlife when the last breath of your existence can stretch over an eternity. When your last moment, suspended between life and death – not fully in either – can occupy a million life-times, there is no time contemplate what is to come; it is merely what has already been, locked within a frozen present: two hours trapped in a lift with an insurance salesman.
And the hope of every soul imprisoned within this eternal instant is redemption. The hope that when that ultimate moment at last arrives and the chips have all been counted, the final conscious recollection will be one of, on balance, a life well-lived: an existence that gave rather than took away. It is what every soul craves and it can be found, but not here. Here it is much too late. Here is only regret. Redemption comes at a price, but that price has already been paid. There are only ‘benefits’ that wait to be reaped…’” Terry looked down at his papers. There were many more pages like that, but he decided that he had read quite enough for now. He half folded them and looked around the Circle.
“If I’m honest,” he said, “that’s about as far as I have got. What I’d like to do is to somehow tell the tale of an ordinary man, trapped in this limbo, trying to come to grips with the ‘heaven and hell’ of his life. I want it to be clear that the two outcomes are not completely separate and I want it to be obvious that he is just an ordinary man, not a saint and not a monster, just a normal, fallible human being caught forever in this ‘reckoning’. That’s the ‘horror’ of the situation I think. I’d like him to gradually piece together the memories of his life and death and I’d like him, eventually to pass away, leaving the reader to decide where he has gone… but I’ve absolutely no idea how to go about it.”
Terry sat down to a silence that rang like a death-knell. He rolled and unrolled his papers.
“I really like the idea,” said Jane, the first to break the silence. To Terry’s amazement there was a general murmur of agreement.
“It’s a great concept,” said Louise.
“And I like the way you’ve started,” continued Jane.
“It’s almost poetical,” added Penny.
Jane looked at Terry and, despite her resolve to not get involved, found herself asking, “Are you really interested in pursuing it?”
Terry nodded. “But I don’t have a clue how,” he said. “How to plot it, how to make it work…”
“Well, I think that you can see that everybody thinks that you’ve got a good start. What about if you go back to the point of ‘death’ as it were, and build his story from there?”
“But I…” Terry wanted to admit that he had never actually written anything in his life, that he really did not have a clue about how to proceed.
“Are you serious about making it work?” asked Jane.
“Yes,” he answered, uncertain still of how much he wanted to reveal.
“Then I’d be happy to help you,” she said, “if you want me to.”
“Yes,” he smiled, feeling like a Cheshire Cat, but determined not to grin.
“So, remind me, what’s it called again?”
“Redemption,” he said.