Sneak a peek at chapter one of Afterlife below, or download the first two chapters for the price of a Tweet.
Snatches of screams, the heat of burning metal, fire mixed with darkness, someone clutching my hand and then-
The sun on my face. I can hear someone mowing their lawn. I can feel the hard surface of concrete under my head and under my hands. A soft breeze flows past my hair and ruffles my school skirt on its way to my shoes. I don’t understand. I must have hit my head when I landed.
I hear the pad of running feet and a shout: ‘Eve!’
I recognise the voice, but I’m not sure who this Eve is.
The voice has arrived and I can sense the person, a girl, kneeling next to my head.
‘Praise the Lord around us! Eve, Eve, wake up!’
She’s touching my face gently. She thinks I’m Eve, which is ridiculous because I’m not. I don’t know exactly who I am, but I’m pretty sure I’m not Eve. This girl has me confused with someone else.
Fire flashes again, sparking across my eyelids. I can hear screaming in the distance, like an old record being played on a loop. Girls screaming. Boys screaming. Metal screaming as it tears. There’s someone clutching my hand as we fall.
‘Eve, I’m sorry Eve, but I’m glad you’re here - I’m glad you made it to me. Open your eyes, whatever happened to you, you’re okay now. Trust me, open your eyes.’
The voice is so familiar, so full of love. But my stomach is dropping away as ground turns into air, I’m falling again.
‘Eve. You have to open your eyes. Do it now!”
The snap of her voice takes me by surprise. She’s so bossy! I open my eyes. I feel the solid street beneath my body as I squint up at her.
A smile lights up her face, her hair - she has so much hair now, it curls around her face, as she beams at me.
‘Eve,’ she says, ‘It’s so good to see you.’
I grew up on 60 Chester Road in a suburb that probably looked like almost every other town suburb, in the world, ever. Detached houses, slightly smaller on the inside than they looked on the outside. Green sculpted garden bits gave the feeling that house and road had to be separated by grassy knolls so the house didn’t drive off to work with the rest of the parents.
It is a normal looking house, except for the doors and windows. My mum, prone to fits of artistic passion like the Caribbean is prone to hurricanes, had decided to paint the front door and window frames purple. Pale purple. As I’d pushed the trolley around the hardware store she had told me to look for the shade of purple you’d see on a forest floor in the springtime. A vague instruction, but I’d known what she’d meant and I’d found it almost immediately. She’d clapped her hands and hugged me when I’d pointed it out.
‘My daughter, the artist!’ she’d said, far too loud. I’d looked at my shoes. Why were parents so embarrassing?
I think the purple had been partly to irritate my dad. My big, blokey dad. Everyone says I look like him, except his skin is the colour of chocolate and mine is the colour of caramel. His eyes are so dark they are almost black and I have my mum’s green eyes. And he shaves his hair off, whilst I wear mine in a crazy afro sticking up all over the place - so I don’t know how I look like him, my nose, perhaps?
‘It makes it look like girls live here,’ he’d mumbled when he’d seen our handiwork.
‘Girls do live here,’ Mum had replied.
But then she’d offered to make him his favourite curry to celebrate. Curry goat, the last word in peacekeeping in our family. We’d had curry and toasted the new décor with beer - even I’d been allowed a small glass. Such a small, silly evening, but I’d always hung on to that memory. It had been just before Mary became ill.
This morning I’d tumbled out of bed, late, thrown myself through the shower and then launched myself down the stairs and out the door. Mum had called after me about breakfast, but I was already gone. The only thing that stopped my morning mission of trying to get ready for school and out of the door in less than fifteen minutes was Mary. Or at least, the picture of Mary set on the counter where we kept our keys. Every morning I’d say bye to her and she’d smile back from her frame, looking so vibrant, so healthy.
The picture was from before. Before the treatments. Before the hospital room with the adjustable bed, the uncomfortable visitor chairs and the tubes that curled around her like weeds. Before the curtain that we would pull around us, to mark out a tiny private patch where our family could stand and watch and wait.
Now here she is, leading me by the hand.
‘You’re probably in shock. It’s hard for everyone at first. I’ll take you home, we’ll have some tea. We’ve got so much to talk about.’
We’re walking down a beautifully sunny suburban street. It’s like every other town suburb except it’s so much better: not a cloud in the sky; the front gardens are beautiful; no dog poo or chewing gum littering the path; the grass is all the same length; every house has a driveway, but there are no cars.
Then I see it. A normal-looking house with a pale purple front door and matching window frames.
‘Is that -?’
‘I found it. I was drawn to it. When I got up this morning I noticed your room had your stuff in it - that’s how I knew you’d… Come in, let’s get some tea.’
I push the door open and I’m home.
Through into the living room and there’s our red sofa set, coffee table, fireplace - but it’s wrong. I can’t put my finger on it straight away and then I notice the awful gold curtains Mum had bought a couple of months ago aren’t there. Instead, the blue drapes Mum had called ‘disappointingly bland’ hang in their place. They’re wrong. It stops me in my tracks.
‘Mum and Dad: they’re not here, are they?’
Mary looks at me. ‘No, Evey’
‘Why?’ My hands are smoothing the fabric of the sofa; it feels so real, everything is so real - but it isn’t right. ‘This is our home, they should be here.’ My hands are starting to shake.
‘Sit down, little sister, I’ll get you some tea.’
I stand, barely able to think - I don’t understand. Everything is coming into my head in a rush - the heat of burning metal, fire mixed with darkness, running out of my front door with Mum shouting after me, someone clutching my hand. Suddenly I am crying, shaking all over.
Mary is coming towards me ‘Eve, sit down.’
‘But you’re dead,’ I say.
‘I know, Eve, you have to sit down.’
A chilling realisation is threatening to bowl me over, I’m not sure I can breathe properly - my chest feels like it’s caving in on itself - something awful, so awful, is right in front of me. But despite all this, a small eternal part of me can’t help noticing how bossy Mary is being, she has always been really bossy -
‘Stop telling me what to do!’ I gasp and then everything goes dark.
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