You know how gifts can be a crapshoot, whether giving or receiving them? Well, I think this gift, given to me by my father and his wife, might just keep on giving. It’s this lovely book full of writing prompts: 712 More Things to Write About by The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. Since I’ve been experiencing writer’s block recently, I decided to pull a prompt from it. As it turns out, writing prompts are friendly little helpers during times when one feels creatively constipated. So far, tackling this endeavor has proven fruitful and inspired possible recurring posts! I hope you enjoy the prompt and the flash fiction that follows. 🙂
Write about a chance encounter at a cemetery.
Cemeteries have a tendency to give people a case of the collywobbles. I suppose they don't like to be reminded of their own mortality or that they visit a grave explicitly to show respect to their loved ones...who aren't really there. Such a strange concept: visiting the dead and leaving flowers that will die too. I don't mind a good graveyard so much. Their ominous vibe is peaceful and thought-provoking. The lack of technology draws me in, well besides the mobile in my pocket...we living, we’re always so connected, but the dead, they aren't. At least so we think. By the by, I'm in a cemetery right now writing and studying for end of the year exams. I find it's the only alone time I get these days. Then again, I usually speak too soon. Cue the bloke approaching with flowers in his hand and a somber look on his face. He definitely hasn’t seen me yet. I suppose I have the vantage point since I'm sitting down looking up and he's got rows and rows of headstones before he's able to see me. I'm sure he'll be slightly startled, smile hesitantly, and continue on his journey. As he gets closer though, he looks up and sees me already looking at him. He's surprised but continues forward. As he approaches me, he looks less somber and more intrigued. Surprised myself, I stand up letting my books drop to the ground. "Hi there. You happen to be sitting next to the very place I was headed." He said this matter-of-factly with a playfulness in his voice. "Oh, excuse me, I will take my leave." Picking up my books, he leans down to help. "You don't have to leave...honestly it's a relief someone living is here. I wasn't expecting it." As I finish gathering my things into my bag, I decide to be bold and ask casually, "So, who have you come here to visit?" "My uncle. He passed away ten years ago today. This is my first time here." "Wow. That's personal but I guess I asked a personal question." Blushing, I play it off like my cheeks aren't giving me away and with one arm I gesture to invite him into this awkward moment and cemetery, "Well, welcome to the eternal home of peace and quiet. We've got everything from mortuaries and tombstones to churchyards and gardens. It's just shy of a Necropolis." He bows and says, "Why thank you kindly. I think it will do nicely for my rare visits." "I'm going to ask why you're just now visiting, because I think you want me to...and I'm curious." "Haha, well yeah sure, I'm an open book. My uncle was an abusive man who lacked the decorum of a gentleman." "And you're visiting because?" "I don't know. I guess out of respect. I didn't make it to the funeral." "Well, at least you don't completely lack decorum." "Thanks. So you study here often? He said with curiosity in his voice and then quickly, "I don't mean to be chatting you up. I just find it curious that you're here." "I think you're allowed a personal question of me. I do study here on occasion. I find cemeteries calming." "Interesting. Most people find them to be uncomfortable." "Because of the dead underfoot, the thought of ghosts or the loneliness?" "All of the above. And I would say the overall lack of the living." "Curiosity begs to know, are you most people?" "No, definitely not―but I'm not as unique as that just made me sound." Surprised at his very quick introspection, "Well, aren't you a thoughtful man." He holds my gaze for a moment and says rather boastfully, "To keep with that illusion, these flowers are for you." "Haha, no they aren't, they're for your uncle." "Ah, yes, indeed he was the original recipient, but then I realized you would get more enjoyment out of them." "I accept your kind offer and raise you a name and a curtsy." "Well then, here you are m'lady. I'm Edan, Edan Bellamy." He bows like a gentleman would and hands me the flowers. "Pleased to meet you. Feel free to call me Cass." "Cass? Short for Cassandra?" "Cassiopeia." "Fascinating name. Were your parents hippies?" "No, more like astrology swots." "And is that what you are?" "Sometimes, but today I'm a servant of politics. Aristotle and the like." I shake a book at him in a jaunty manner. "Well, I would love to engage in a passionate debate but I must be on my way. It was lovely to chat with you Cassiopeia." "Oh I see, give a girl flowers and take off...to what? Initiate a chase?" "We all have to say goodbye sometime." Crinkling my nose and feeling confused, I respond with a combative tone, "That's an odd thing to say." "Do forgive me, but my time frame has just been tightened." "All right, I'll let your indiscretion off the hook. Don't let me keep you. When considering our locale, maybe it wasn't such an odd thing to say.” I wink and smile, parting with, “It was lovely to make your acquaintance." We look at each other for one second too long so I shove my hand in the air for a shake and he follows suit. I hold his hand, leaning in to inquire and feeling like I can't let go, "Are you sure you have to go? I'm going to be pulling an all-nighter and I would love to grab coffee with you." "Sadly, I have an appointment to move up in the world." "Oh, new job?" "Something like that." "OK, well good luck with that and thanks for the flowers." We both smile, I walk one way as he walks the other. Feeling like something is pulling me, I turn back. Of course he's out of sight, I waited too long. Or did I? We couldn't have been walking more than a few seconds. I look around feeling empty and alone. Cold even. Disappointment seeps in. I did invite him to join me, the ball was definitely in his court. Oh well. I tried. As I turn around the world blurs slightly. I rub my eyes, a terrible habit, but feeling tired I begin to head for coffee. Like hitting a wall, I can't walk any farther as my sight has not recovered. Dropping the flowers, time slows. I look down to reach for the bunch and in my haze I notice my surname on the tombstone. I fall to the ground, uncertain of what I see. I look up breathless to discover it's not just my surname on the tombstone. It's my full birth name: Cassiopeia Luna Beckett. It can't be a coincidence. Suddenly there's a boot near to me and a hand offering to help me up. I look up and my eyes begin to refocus. "Edan! I thought you had to leave?" He lifts me up gracefully and I feel a fluttering in my stomach as he releases me to gather myself. "I did but I came back for you. By now you would have figured it out." "I...I don't know what you mean but I'm having an odd time of things all of a sudden. You left and I left, and I fell. My vision became clouded and I saw...I saw..." Looking at the tombstone that reads my name, I point at it but his gaze never leaves me. I look back at him and in our shared silence he begs me with his eyes to understand. Feeling less than trusting, I spit words at him and tense up, "Oh, well, this must be some cruel joke. Who are you?" He responds calm and collected while treading carefully with each word, "I'm a friend and this transition is never easy, but I'm here to support you." "Is this why you approached me earlier, to gain my trust?" "No, I was merely gauging where you were in the process. I realized you hadn't figured it out yet." "So...you're Death then?" "No, you met Death already but you missed the window to enter the next phase." "What? How come I don't remember it?" "Because you've been reliving your last day's moments repeatedly. It's like a cycle of denial." Confusion and anger fill my lungs, my chest is heaving and I begin to pace and blurt curtly, "Fine. I'm dead. Now what?" "That was quite a leap from where you were mentally." He looks at me quizzically. "Well...reliving the same day sounds pretty terrible and it's not something I'd like to continue. And for some reason, beyond reasoning, I believe you. Just don't tell me there's nothing to be afraid of." "Deal. Now to the window." He offers his arm and I take it, still a little hesitant but ready to walk whatever this path is in front of me. I ask him eagerly, "So, the next phase?" "Yes, the next phase of life." "But you said I met Death?" "I did indeed, but I didn't say that life ended." "Oh, well isn't that just what everyone wants to hear?" "Some do, but some find it to be vexing―those who view death as a finality or an escape. But no one really escapes." "That's not ominous at all!" "Pardon my blunt speech, but I want to be honest with you since our initial encounter was less than." "Thank you very much, but I don't know if I want to go now!" "It's not all that bad. I just have strong opinions and oddly, I feel comfortable telling you." "How could you not. We go way back!" I say in a sarcastic yet friendly fashion. In a line of trees ahead, I make out billowing fabric―as if branches had curtains attached to them and they were blowing in the wind. "Is that an actual window? How literal." "Yes, well it's the most inviting. When one window closes, another opens." "I don't think that's the saying, but I catch your drift.” We approach the window and it looks old, with paint chipping off the trim and frosted glass that's difficult to see through. The window dressings are adorned with delicate embroidery and eyelets. We stop and Edan turns me to face him and with serious, darkened eyes he says, "Are you ready?" "Are you kidding, no I'm not ready but what choice do I have?" "Well, you can choose to stay and live as phantoms do by existing in the greyest areas of limbo." "Um, no thanks to that. On to the next adventure, whatever it may be." "I truly hope you don't lose your optimism." "Who knows, maybe it will rub off on you." I try to stay cheerful in my tone without revealing the fear that's daring to take over completely. I ask him, "So, do we just open the window and crawl through it?" "I wish. It's a bit more dramatic than that. Once it's open, it sucks you in but your mind will resist. It's leftover fear from your time as a human." Shocked to hear such an utterance, I look at him incredulously and say, "What in the world does that mean!?" And this is where everything goes wrong. The window explodes and throws us to the ground. Edan tries to shield me from the blast but fails to do so. Aside from his heroic attempts, the last thing I see is shattered glass and splintered wood flying towards us. Almost immediately Edan is imploring me to get up and says rather urgently, "Cass, we have to leave!" "Aren’t we?" He grabs my arm and lifts me up. Looking around frantically he says, "This wasn't supposed to happen. Not yet." "Is the part where my mind resists?" "Clever but no, this is something else." "What is it then?" He takes hold of my hand tightly and looks me in the eyes. He says with absolute certainty and an iota of excitement, "Rebellion."
Copyedited by: Heather Ayres, Ross Byers and me