SUPER ROUGHT DRAFT. In fact, this was actually just a freewrite that I read I should do everyday to help get the juices flowing until I find an idea that I can really committ with. So while the finished version will probably be 90% different than this and I beg of you to ignore the probably grammatical, flow, character development, and any other errors, I think there’s some potential in this one in terms of ideas. Obviously y’all aren’t in my head and don’t share my thoughts, so you can’t see the book forming from this the way I can, but use your imaginations. And please, please, please let me know what you think in the comments. After all, I want my first novel to be something people actually want to read. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll actually acheive my DREAM of being on the New York Times’ Bestseller List.
My name is Autumn Summer Stark. And yes, I’m painfully aware that my name is comprised of two seasons. My parents were born-again hippies in the early 90s and thought it’d be clever since I was born on September 22 at 11:54 pm, almost exactly in between the end of Summer and beginning of Fall. But I’m pretty much like every other 23-year old pot-smoking, beer-drinking rebellious college dropout. Oh, except for one little thing. I died this morning.
Yeah, so now I’m dead. Bummer, right? Unfortunately, I can’t actually remember how it happened. All I know is that I woke up in this tiny room with note on my lap that read: You’ve died. But not to worry. Your Advisor will be with you shortly.
Well, I guess I always knew in the back of my mind it was coming eventually. Not like how everyone is eventually inevitably destined to go beyond the grave, but with the way I partied, I was expecting that at the maximum I’d be kicking the old bucket by my thirtieth birthday. I was just hoping I could legally buy alcohol by the time it did. So, now I’m just sitting in this uncomfortable black leather chair, waiting for him to come back in so he can tell me where the hell I am. I mean, I know I died. Check. But what happens now? Do I have to right all the wrongs I’ve made during my time on Earth to earn my spot behind the pearly white gates? Or, a more likely chance, will they just send me straight to the fiery grave that lies below? Either way, you’d think me being dead and all, having nowhere to go, impatience would cease to exist. Wrong.
The door opened and Mr. Ronald Roober walked back in, holding his clipboard and pen tightly in the grasp of his chapped, wrinkled hands.
“Hello, miss, erm” he said, flipping through the pages tightly pinned to his clipboard, “ah, here were are, Spencer. Hello Miss Spencer. I’m sorry about the wait, I had to check a few things. Your death has gotten a lot of people chatting here today.” He looked at me with his dark brown eyes, with the expression of excited curiosity splashed across his face.
“What do you mean, my death? What’s so special about me dying? I’m sure it wasn’t that much of a shock to the big guy.” She paused. “Wait a second, are you him? Are you god? Because that would be really disappointing.” His happy gaze shifted only for a second, as if hurt by what I had said, and then returned his clumsy smile to my direction.
“Oh, no, no, no, dear. Ha! No. Not me. My name is Ronald Roober. Well, Mr. Ronald Roober if you’d like to be formal. Hello, I’m Mr. Roober, and what is your name, mademoiselle?” he said, laughing and slapping his hand on his desk as if he had just heard the funniest joke ever.
“I’m Autumn. Didn’t we just do this?”
“Ah, yes. Miss Spencer. I apologize. Like I said, hectic, busy day. So, okay, let’s get started then, shall we? Yes? Okay. Alright. Do you know where you are, Autumn?
“Well, I know I’m dead. But no, I don’t. Look man, if there’s a one-way ticket to Hell with my name on it can you just tell me now and we can spare the formalities and poorly-executed jokes? I know I’m no angel.” Ronald looked down at a piece of paper attached to his clipboard and started circling with his pen.
“Ah! Well, erm, yes. Yes, in fact, you are, well, dead. But, the good news is, contrary to what you may or may not have been taught-well, I shouldn’t be presumptious, should I? You could have been one of those-oh, what do are they called?” he rubbed his forehead with his pointer finger, forcefully trying to remember the word. “Oh! Atheists. You could be one of them. Are you…one of them?”
“I don’t like labels. The only thing I believe is that this is a waste of time. Let’s just cut to the chase. Heaven or Hell?” Ronald laughed his painfully peppy laugh once more.
“Oh, sweetie. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I guess, depending on how you look at it, that’s just not how it works here,” he said as he opened one of the drawers of his desk and pulled out a tiny clear sphere. “Oh, I just love this part. Okay. See this? This is the orb of balance. Basically, during your time on Earth, you were given exactly-” he paused, once again flipping frantically through the pages, and running his finger across them like it was an out-of-control typewriter. “-ah, 1,104,992. You were given 1,104,992 decisions to make. Choices, if you will. For each one, there was a right decision and a, well, not right decision. Or, to put it less vaguely, one decision that would lead to a series of other decisions that, if chosen correctly, would eventually lead you to becoming a Higher, after you’ve presumably passed, of course. The other, not right decision would lead to a different series of, sort of, tests, to see if you would either make up for making the wrong decision to begin with, or continue your descent into the inevitable ranking of a Lower. Now, of course, you’re probably thinking, but Ronald, I couldn’t make decisions by myself as a baby.” Well, it doesn’t start until your third birthday at midnight. Not a second sooner and not a second later.”
“What? Higher? Lower? Orb of what?”
“Ah, yes. My apologies. Highers and Lowers are the rankings in which we use to separate the classes here in Afterward. I guess it’s like what you were referring to with Heaven and Hell, relatively similar at least, except there is no such thing, really, as Hell. The Family decided long ago that everyone deserves a second chance in Afterward, so here we are simply divided into two sections. The Highers live in the North End and the Lowers live in the South End.”
“Wait a second. So is it like these…Highers live in mansions with crystal doorways and golden bathtubs while the rest live with four-headed lions and flesh-eating viruses?” One final roaring laugh came from under Ronald’s bushy white mustache.
“Oh, my dear, you really mustn’t believe everything in see in the movies. No, no, it’s nothing like that. Sure, the Lowers don’t have as many luxuries or opportunities as those residing in the South End, but it’s far from what you’re imaging.” He put down his clipboard and placed the small sphere in front of me. It was perfectly round and not quite transparent, but fogged, almost like a crystal ball.
“So what is this thing?” I asked. The irritatingly amused smile returned to Ronald’s face. He leaned in, staring at the ball, and raised his eyebrow, as if he was waiting for something to happen. “What is supp-” I said before Ronald interrupted me.
“Just watch, my dear. Just watch,” he said with a glimmer in his eye and an excitement in his voice that resembled a kid on Christmas morning about to receive their presents. I stared at the sphere, awaiting something, anything to happen, but after what felt like ten minutes, I began to feel impatience creeping up again. And just as I was about to say something, the tiny, clear orb began to rise, floating in the air right in front of my eyes. Suddenly, a blurry picture, like a tiny, tiny movie began to play. There was no sound, but after a few seconds I realized what it was. It was me. And not just me, but me as a baby. And then there I was taking my first steps. And my parents, and Lily, my best friend. This tiny ball was literally flashing my life before my eyes. And with every new frame, the images were surrounded by a different color. Blues and reds and greens and yellows, blacks and browns and purples and golds rapidly lit up the scenes of my life. And just like that, it was over. I guess nineteen years doesn’t take too long to show at that speed, though.
The orb continued to float, but instead of the clear, foggy glass color it was now shining a bright, almost blindingly so, orange. It was beautiful, but just as I was about to reach out to touch it, Ronald grabbed it from the air, and the color faded away.
“I-I don’t understand. Orange. Orange? That can’t be. It simply can’t be. Never in my-” he paused, looking up at me with a look of bewilderment on his face that harshly contradicted the soft and joyful expressions that came from it before.
“What’s wrong? What does orange mean? Is that bad?” Ronald continued to look at me, and then down at the orb, and then up at me again in utter disbelief. He looked as if he had just seen a ghost.
“I-I don’t know wh-what to say. M-my dear, you’re a [middle, center, something].”
“Huh? What does that mean?”
“Well, wh-what it means is, is that, well, you’re neither a Higher nor a Lower. You’re p-perfectly, amazingly, im-impossibly in the middle. Y-you, you don’t fit in either. In all my years as an Advisor, and well, quite frankly, in the history of Afterward’s existence, never have I ever seen this happen. Ex-excuse me f-for a moment.” Ronald quickly and clumsily got up from his brown leather chair, his ass leaving an indentation in the cushion, his frazzled arm knocking over his coffee mug, spilling coffee all over the papers and clipboard. “Oh, frizzle! Oh Ronald, you clutz!” he murmured to himself, grapping his blue pocket handkerchief from his uncomfortably tight dress shirt and dabbed the blotches of coffee that were seeping into the cotton. “I will be right back”, he said, rushing out the door and slamming it behind him.
Well, this is just great, I thought, not only did I die today, but now they don’t know what to do with me. I stood up from the chair, and for the first time I realized I felt different. The first thing I noticed was how much further away from my own feet I felt when I looked down. I felt substantially taller, like I had grown a good three or four inches overnight. I also felt more internally calm. It was a strange feeling, but it was almost like not a single pore of my body was closed, like every inch of my skin was breathing with ease. I had felt a similar rush of euphoria only once before, and that was after six days of only drinking a gallon of water each day with lemon juice, honey, and cayenne pepper in it. I had read that it was great for cleansing out your body of any toxins, but all it really did was give me some amazing energy for a few days and the rest of the time made me feel lightheaded and dizzy.
I walked over to the bookshelf that towered over all the other furniture in the room. It was long, spanning the entire back wall, and while the room itself wasn’t big to begin with, there still must’ve been over 1,000 books in that thing, all perfectly placed into their own unique designation. I reached out to grab a book entitled Knowledge of Botomy: Tigerdaisies and Daffelions, but before I could turn it over to look at the back, I noticed something else extremely strange. My fingernails, which usually were bitten down to tiny nubs, barely visible to the naked eye, were long and perfectly symmetrical. They weren’t painted but had almost a sheen to them as if they had a clear coat of polish on them. I hadn’t had nails like that since I was six years old when my mom used to take me to get them done when she was out doing the same.