The List

It seemed like it had only been a few seconds earlier when the semitrailer truck jack-knifed across the icy highway, careening headlong into the Honda that Deborah had been driving. She didn’t even have time to scream.

Tunnel Light ImageOne of the highway patrolmen said: “Poor woman, she never had a chance.”

“It’s a shame,” agreed his partner.

Deborah watched as her body was transferred into an ambulance. She observed while hovering high above the ground. Then she realized that she was dead. At first she thought it was just a horrible nightmare that she’d awaken screaming from at any moment, but that moment never came.

Suddenly she was picked up, whisked away, and the next thing she knew she was flying through what appeared to be a long, dark, pitch black tunnel. She felt like she was being hurled forward at a very high speed which was so fast that she felt short of breath. This in itself seemed odd considering the fact that she was dead. Dead people shouldn’t be experiencing shortness of breath.

Gradually she slowed down. Then she noticed shadowy figures lined up on both sides of the tunnel. They were shrouded in the mists rising up from the bottom of the tunnel, but she was still able to recognize some of their faces. She saw her cousin Margaret who’d died of ovarian cancer five years ago; her Uncle Ned who’d been killed in the Vietnam War; her best friend Jennifer who’d been killed in an automobile accident; and her Grandma Jennings who’d died of a heart attack. They were all there, her dead relatives and friends, smiling at her, waving at her, and reaching out to her. But she couldn’t touch them.

Then a dim light appeared in front of her. As she came closer to the light, it became brighter and radiated an amazing warmth. It poured out a feeling of welcome. And there was something stronger. What was it? Yes – love. Unconditional love. She desperately wanted to go further toward the light. She knew that was where she was supposed to go. But it seemed she was only going slower.

“I want to go faster!” she pleaded.

“Not yet,” answered a voice.

She turned around to see who had spoken, but no one was there. There was only silence.

“What do you mean?”

The voice spoke.

“You must wait.”

“Why?”

“First we must check to see if you are on the list.”

“What list?”

Silence.

A very long time passed before the voice spoke again, and now it spoke like a patient teacher would speak when giving a student an answer that the teacher feels the student should already know.

“The list to get in.”

Deborah was shocked. The list to get in? She’d never thought that this was a possibility. She’d always assumed that when she died, she’d pass with ease into that realm where her loved ones were waiting for her.

Her mind began to reel with the reality of the situation. What if she wasn’t on the list? What if she couldn’t be with the people who loved her? How was she going to face such an awful fate by herself?

“How does a person get on the list?”

More time passed before the voice answered, as if trying to decide whether or not to tell her.

Finally the answer came.

“Good deeds.”

Good deeds? Was that all? That seemed so simple. Deborah was certain she had performed good deeds at some point in her life. She began to frantically search her memory, but couldn’t remember a single good deed.

Involuntarily, she began to move slowly backwards through the tunnel.

“No! Please, don’t take me away!” she pleaded.

“We’re sorry, but we don’t see your name on the list,” the voice boomed.

Deborah felt total despair.

Then she heard a bark and the panting of a dog beside her.

“Molly! Hi girl!” Deborah called, relieved at the friendly sound.

Molly was Deborah’s golden retriever who had died nine years before. Deborah had found Molly half-dead by the side of the road when she was puppy. She’d brought her home, nursed her back to health, and became her beloved mistress. Deborah had saved Molly’s life. And now Molly was going to save Deborah.

“Wait! My good deed! Molly’s my good deed!” Deborah cried out.

The voice boomed once more, and this time it sounded as though there were a smile within the voice.

“You are correct. You are on the list. Welcome home!”

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6 comments

  • I loved this piece for so many reasons but primarily because I kept reading to find out how it ended. I am such a sucker for happy endings, though you’d never know that from the stuff I write 😛 The imagery is so beautiful, especially the bit about being plucked up and propelled through a tunnel. It’s just the right set of words. Superbly crafted, Cindy!

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  • I liked hating the bureaucrat who couldn’t keep an appropriate record which was obviously vital to those dependent upon his role. This story makes me hopeful this type of bureaucracy is absent in the afterlife (if there is such a thing). Thank you for sharing.

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  • I travelled with Deborah through the tunnel and believe me I could feel my slow hot breath. Relieved that her Molly rescued her.

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  • And I like when touches of your personality come in: “Dead people shouldn’t be experiencing shortness of breath.” and “Good deeds? Was that all?” added a lot to Deborah’s character.

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  • I especially liked this simile because I can really hear it: “… it spoke like a patient teacher would speak when giving a student an answer that the teacher feels the student should already know.”

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  • Jennifer G. Knoblock

    My favorite part is the strong visual of the tunnel with its shadowy figures, which felt very River Styx-y to me. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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