by Justine Hyland/A participant in the Juiceboxartists writing workshops

Photo by Stuart Timms on Unsplash

Chapter One: Deserts of Vast Eternity

As urgently as Saoirse had asked questions in life — what happens when you? Where do you go with? Will I be judged? Will I ever see you again? — now that she was dead it appeared as though nothing was happening. Her parents had buried her in the ornate, park-like cemetery, high on a hill, with lines by Yeats on her tombstone, and fresh bells of Ireland brought to her grave regularly. Saoirse wandered among the trees, lost in insubstantiality, a shade that not even other shades could see. The only distinction she could glean from her state was that thoughts seemed to appear and dissolve readily, an unending glimmering that rose and fell above what she felt to be a great invisible river. Everywhere, she could hear the gentlest roar of rushing water, the sound so powerful that its softness evoked vastness. Satires’s favorite story about the afterlife had been where the heart of the deceased is weighed against the feather of the Egyptian goddess Matt. If the jackal-headed god Anubis saw that the heart was lighter than the feather, the deceased was deemed to have lived a decent life and thus worthy to join the god Osiris in Paradise. For those hearts that were heavier than the feather, the demon Admit laid in wait to devour them. Yet heaviness and lightness alike were now foreign feelings to her. She felt she was a strand of light, weaving in between the water, constantly changing and brief. At the same time, she forgot nothing. So many myths say that the dead forget their lives, but she saw each particular point of her life magnified and irradiated by something so bright that it was difficult to bear. The difference, at least so far, was that her memories didn’t sting, there was no regret, no longing. She was a witness to a film reel of her life, playing over and over — beautiful and gone in an instant. On a late summer’s evening, as Saoirse floated next to a beech tree, she saw a blackbird fly down to her. Straight as an arrow in his artful winging, he shone like a bright spot of midnight, beautiful, glistening, darkness itself. He hopped down nearby and perched on a low branch. With inquisitive, sharp eyes, he said, “Good evening, and who might you be?” As anticlimactic as life as a ghost seemed, it was a pure spot of delight that this curious creature was speaking to her. “I’m Saoirse, who are you?” “Some people call me Lon-dubh because they say I was the first blackbird. After a while, people forgot Irish and gave me nicknames. Nightbird is the one I like best so please call me that.” “Nightbird,” asked Saoirse gently, “Where am I? Where can I go?” “You are somewhere I’ve never seen a shade go — between rays of light and the fabric of the air. I’ve lived a long, long time and yet you’ve discovered a place I didn’t know existed. Will you take me with you? I want to now where you are as well.” Saoirse considered the shining bird, “What are you? How can you speak to me? Where are you from?” With a flick of his wings, Nightbird jumped from the branch to the ground, somehow looking much larger than he had in flight. “What I am and how we can speak are not questions I can answer. But I can tell you where I’m from: I’m from the dawn and the gloaming, From the first word and the first gleam, From before anything could mean anything. I remember when the world was nought, I recall the chaos before anything was wrought And I played with the Spirit upon the deep. My wings come rom every true dream, I am silence and music, First insight, brightness supreme. I am from curiosity and laughter And I’d like to know your version of hereafter.”

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