A Stellar Flare of Young Adult Writing and Visual Art
BY MICHAEL CRECCO
I didn’t even feel myself hit the ground.
My headstone reads, “Here lays Connor Grayley, A blessed spirit who was never meant for this world.” When I was on my deathbed, I didn’t really regret much. I didn’t regret not trying harder in school, because school made me miserable. I didn’t regret not making more friends, because people suck and I was always getting bullied anyway. I didn’t regret losing Sarah as a friend after that fight, I didn’t regret never getting along with my asshole parents, and I never regretted the times when Eddie McCarson followed me into the bathroom and had his way with me. I have never regretted anything that I’ve done with my life except being born in the first place; that was my real mistake. I thought that maybe jumping off the 4th Street Bridge and crashing through the water to my death would be the way to reverse all of that. But of course, that was just the start of my real problems.
I never listened when my mom dragged me to church, but I really should have been paying more attention. After I died, there was no warm light, no voice leading me on, and no sensation of relief. However, there was also no burning flame, maniacal laughter, and no crippling darkness either. It was just gray, lots and lots of gray.
Then I woke up in a city. I thought for a moment that I might have blacked out on my way down to the bridge and screwed up, but then I looked down and saw different clothing. My pants and sleeves were tattered and torn, and my usually short-cut hair hung in my face.
There were strange people, everyone looked like they were homeless, all just shuffling around and shouting. The entire place looked like a gray-scale slum.
“Well what do we have here?” A voice came from behind me, “A new lost little soul wandering the sorry streets of Purgatory?” I turned around to see a lean man standing over me in tight black pants and a leather jacket with studded shoulders. “And quite a looker too.”
I scooted away and tried to stand up, but most of my body was still numb from death. He walked closer and put his hand under my chin to inspect my face. “Hey! Don’t touch me!”
“Alright then,” he said, throwing his hand from my face, “You can starve out here. If you want to come find me, I work at the Funhouse down Main Street.” He walked off while I sat and let my legs recover. “My name is Ashe by the way.”
And starve is exactly what I did. For the next month, I scavenged for whatever food I could. I wasn’t sure if I could starve to death post mortem, but I really wasn’t interested in finding out, especially if it meant I’d fall even further into this afterlife.
I finally decided to find Ashe and see if there was any way I could get him to help me out.
The Funhouse was my only experience in a whorehouse before, but I don’t think I could ever find a worse place worse to look for shelter in. There were leather-clad freaks walking all around the main hall. Some people were naked and hooking up right in front of everyone else. The entire place smelled like death and alcohol vomit, but I guess that wasn’t much different from the smell outside.
One of the leather freaks, a tall skinny guy with facial piercings and blue liberty spikes, came up to me quick. “What do you want scrawny?”
“Umm… I’m here for Ashe,” I wasn’t sure what to do in a situation like this, so I just hoped that he was still here. “Is he in today?”
“Better warn you kid, you’re in for a trip,” he turned back into one of the hallways laughing, “Ashe, you’ve got a customer.”
He walked out in even tighter pants than before and a leather vest that covered practically nothing. “Oh look, the little cutie comes crawling back to Daddy. Looking for a good time hunk, because I will give you everything you need.”
“Look, you’re right; I can’t make it out there. Can you help me please?” I tried to sound as un-pathetic as possible, but I wasn’t really sure how to go about this.
He gave me a look over with a skeptical glance. “We’ll need to get you cleaned up and into some work clothes, but I think you’ll do just fine here.”
“Wait, hold on. I’m not getting into all this prostitution crap!” I could feel my face getting redder. “Sorry, but find someone else.”
“Hey, you wanted help,” he turned and started walking back, “I don’t know what else I can really do.”
I hated what happened next.
And that’s how I became a whore in the afterlife.
For the next two years, that was my life. I catered to every customer who came in and needed a good time. For the first few weeks, I’d get sick to my stomach afterwards and throw up in the bathroom just because I was so disgusted seeing myself in the mirror. After a while though, it became easy. It was really no different from Eddie McCarson in the bathroom stall.
Ashe was apparently one of the golden boys of the Funhouse. We had a few women working there, but children could still be born here in Purgatory, so most of them didn’t risk using their bodies like this. Ashe, a short blonde boy named Leon, and a man named Samuel were the most often requested boys in show. Apparently, they were good at what they did, but I wouldn’t know from experience.
I became really good at pushing down all the feelings I had about what I was doing and just losing myself in the work. If I had known being a prostitute was this empowering while I was still alive, I might be doing that on Earth instead of here.
One day, Ashe came in with his hair in a mess and a pained look on his face. “Oh shit Con, I think that guy put something in my drink.”
“Why would he do that? He already gets a free ride out of you, doesn’t he?” I thought about laughing, but after being in Purgatory for as long as I have you can’t really laugh anymore. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m sick to my stomach, hot flashes, and my head is fucking killing me.” He wobbled while he was standing, so I laid him down on my bed to stop him from falling. “And I can’t see straight, everything is just a blur.”
“I’ll call Samuel, he should know what to do,” I quickly ran to get him and we rushed back to Ashe.
Samuel was working in the business longer than anyone else. He looked like he was in his mid-twenties, strong build, and thick brown hair all over that he trimmed for the customers. “Well I don’t think it’s roofies, but I’ve never seen anything like this before. You should probably take a break for the night, sweetie.”
That’s when I stopped letting customers buy me drinks and flirt.
Eventually, we were so overcrowded that we needed to hire more help. We had people walking the streets, working in other businesses, making house calls, you name it. I had worked my way up to the same rank as Ashe, Leon, and Samuel, so now we were head honchos at the Funhouse. Admittedly, we even fooled around a few times just to see what a night as a customer might feel. That was better than Eddie McCarson. But that’s when the real chaos started.
Leon came running in with cuts and bruises all over. Samuel rushed over to take a look at him, “Holy shit! What happened?”
Leon’s eyes got wide with fear. “They’re here! They’re here and they’re coming for us!” We looked behind him and saw a flash of light outside accompanied by screams. “We need to get the hell out of here now!”
Ashe and I looked at each other with confusion. He turned to Samuel and asked him, “Wait, what’s going on?!”
Samuel didn’t answer immediately, which was probably the scariest part. “Angels. There are angels in Purgatory, and they’ve come to smite the souls of sinners to solve our overpopulation problem. As adulterous whores, we’re first on their list.”
We heard screaming every night after that. We hid out in a trailer that Samuel kept just outside the city limits, trying to just stay hidden and put off our eventual capture. Purgatory was made up of one gray city surrounded by infinite gray desert. We were locked in a perpetual midnight, and hiding from angels in the place between salvation and damnation.
Ashe was pacing the floor rapidly, “This is bad. This is really bad. If they find us, we’re going straight to hell for sure. Samuel, you’ve got to have some idea as to something we can do.”
“Besides pray for forgiveness, I don’t see anything we can really do here,” Samuel just looked at the floor. “My hands are tied right now.”
“Well then it’s over!” Leon was probably most afraid out of all of us. It had never occurred to me before, but he actually seemed the youngest of all of us. Probably got a lot of creeps back at the Funhouse.
“What if we just hide out until they leave?” Ashe was trying to make us all feel a little better I think, but the idea of cramming up in a trailer for who knows how long just helped the panic set in. No one answered him, and that just made him more upset. “Well I don’t hear you guys pitching any ideas!”
“Everyone just calm down!”
“No, you’re the one freaking out!”
“Don’t I have a right to? We’re all about to die again!”
“Will you just shut up and let me think?!”
“You’re just making everyone more upset!”
I wanted to say something, anything to try to make this a little better. Even though I still hated Ashe for bringing me into all of this, and I hated Leon for being such a spoiled brat, and I hated Samuel for being so damn calm all the time, these guys were my only family right now. They had been for the past two years. I thought dying would make all the pain and struggle go away, but I just felt worse than ever, and now I can’t even kill myself to get out of it.
“That’s it!” Leon screeched, shutting up the other two arguing. “I’m done!” He stormed out the door and slammed it shut behind him. I ran to the window and saw him going back towards the city and it’s flashing lights of damnation.
Samuel rushed out the door and shouted to Leon, “Get back here! They’ll catch you!” He tried to catch up with him, but then Leon took off running. He shouted something that I couldn’t hear, and Ashe was still pacing the floor trying to figure out what went wrong.
Samuel came back inside with a defeated look. “He said… He said that he’d rather be caught now than just wait for the inevitable… He’s giving himself up to them and going to hell…” Ashe and I had never seen Samuel looking anything other than cool as a cucumber, but the look he wore now was the final nail in the coffin.
“I… I can’t think of any other choice…” Ashe had curled into a ball. From what I could gather, this was the end of the world for the afterlife.
I decided to try to break the panic, anything was better than just sitting here. “Hey guys, why don’t we just talk for a bit? It might help us clear our heads a little.”
“That’s a good idea,” Samuel answered. “What’s something you guys want to talk about?”
Ashe stayed quiet, so I decided to speak up. “Well… It’s a little morbid, but I was wondering how you guys ended up here in Purgatory.”
“That’s a long story for me,” Samuel had regained some of his composure, “If you guys care to hear it.” I sat down and nodded, Ashe was still quiet.
Samuel had actually been doing things like this in his life too. He worked as a stripper, but eventually turned to prostitution when the money wasn’t coming in. He was taking lots of drugs, and sleeping with anyone who would pay him enough to fund his rent at his apartment. He was moving up in the business, almost becoming manager of the brothel so he wouldn’t have to sleep around anymore, he would’ve gotten paid enough to get him back on his feet too, but one night one of his customers wanted some free service. When he denied, the guy started to beat him. In his drunken rage, he ended up smashing Samuel’s nose bone into his brain and killed him. He had been in purgatory for six years by the time I arrived.
“That’s crazy,” Ashe had managed to calm down over the course of Samuel’s story, and I guess he was pretty interested in it too. “So you were just murdered?”
“Yep, but looking back on it all now after having been here, one free night isn’t even all that important.” Samuel just began to laugh at the irony of it all. I wondered if he’d ever regretted it, but I didn’t think it was a good idea to ask anymore. “Ashe, do you want to go next?”
Ashe was one of a bully at school because he was the victim of a lot of abuse at home. He terrorized kids who couldn’t stand up to him, and hurt a lot of people. He said that he was in a gang for a little bit, but I’m not sure if he actually killed anyone. But I couldn’t really blame him for all of it after he told us why. Apparently, his stepfather would come home drunk all the time and hit him and his mother. One night, he and his mother made a plan to run away. They were about four towns over when they needed to stop at a gas station to fill up and use the bathroom. He went around to the door to ask for the key when he heard his mother screaming. Someone was holding her at gunpoint trying to rob her. She didn’t have anything, so he got in the car and started driving off. Ashe was trying to chase them, but ended up getting hit by a car. He never found his mom down here, so he assumed that she was still alive somewhere.
“Poor kid,” Samuel gave him a pat on the back and acted consoling. I just stayed quiet. “I guess that means it’s your turn, Connor.”
“Do you really want to hear all of it?” After hearing their stories, I felt like suicide was almost inadequate. “It’s not as glamorous as yours.”
“Come on kid, just tell us.”
After I told them everything, Ashe just sort of looked at me. I had never known him in life, but after hearing about getting picked on in school, he seemed to blame himself for it.
Samuel stared at me for a while before finally speaking. “So… You were seventeen and just decided to kill yourself? That’s awful. Your teenage years are supposed to be the best of your life, why didn’t you just stick it out?”
“No offense Sam, but if those were my best years, I would have crashed and burned after.” I didn’t mean to sound so angry, but I was. These two had no right to judge my decisions after hearing about everything that they did. “I made my choices, and that’s the end of it.”
I was getting so angry for no real reason. I had never thought that I’d be questioned about my decision after it, but I was dead and still getting the same crap that all of the school counselors tell you. I was so tired that I took a permanent nap, and no one had the right to question my decision about my life. But if that was true, why was I getting so mad? Was I just mad at myself for ending up in this mess in the first place?
Ashe looked out the window to the city. “How much longer do you think they’re going to be here? I mean, sure there are lots of sinners here, but then there are also people like Connor who didn’t really live one way or the other.”
“I don’t know,” Samuel said, “I can’t imagine that they want to clear us all out, there are just too many of us down here.”
I fell backwards and rested on my back. I just wanted to jump off a bridge and die for real this time. Ashe and Samuel joined me and we eventually just fell asleep, but it didn’t feel the same without Leon there too.
The next two days were the exact same as before. We talked, we slept, and we waited. The angels didn’t seem to be going anywhere, and we had no idea what to do.
Ashe watched it all happen out the window and then spoke to me, “Do you regret landing yourself here now that all this is happening? I mean, if you could take back killing yourself, would you?”
“I don’t know,” I tried to think about a better answer, but none came. “It’s really lose-lose. If I stayed, I’d have suffered. Now that I’m here, I get caught by these guys and suffer. It’s just a matter of preference to location.”
Ashe called out to Samuel who was cooking today’s lunch in the kitchen corner, “Hey Sam, do you think we can just pull a Connor and get out of all this mess?”
“Wait,” I interjected, “Can we really do that?”
Ashe looked at me like I was an idiot, “Calm down kid, it was just a joke.”
“No, but seriously, do you think if we just killed ourselves we’d be out of here?”
I looked at Samuel, and he didn’t seem to know. “I don’t even think you can die in Purgatory, Con. Let alone do something like that.”
“Well what about all the people who starved to death? They died didn’t they?” I was getting that same feeling from before, a chance to find a way out. It was a sick thrill, but that meant that I wouldn’t have to suffer forever. Dying twice is better than burning forever.
“Connor, stop it! You’re scaring me,” Samuel seemed to be getting really worried about all of this. “No one is going anywhere. We already lost Leon, I’m not gonna lose you two as well.”
And that was that.
That night while Samuel was sleeping, Ashe nudged me to make sure I wasn’t. “I’m awake you know. What do you want?”
“I think you’re right about what you were saying earlier,” his voice sounded frantic and desperate. “I think that if it’s possible, then we should go for it.”
“What do you–” I suddenly understood, “Wait, you mean dying?” I didn’t believe my ears. I was suddenly wide awake, blood pumping, heart racing, and adrenaline coursing through my veins.
“Yeah, I think you’re right. I think it’ll work.” Ashe must have gone off the deep end after seeing Leon go out like that. But if it could work, maybe we’d be saved from this mess after all. “I know you’re akin to jumping. I don’t think there’s a single body of water in the whole of Purgatory, but I know a nice high-rise we could leap from.”
“But what if it doesn’t work? What if we don’t die? Or what if we just wake up here again like before? Or what if–” Ashe cut me off by cupping his hand over my mouth. I guess I must have been getting louder, because Samuel started to stir. After waiting a few seconds, we saw that he was still asleep.
“Look, I have no idea what’s going to happen from here,” Ashe sounded calm and in charge, just like his old self before all of this started. “But would you rather sit here and twiddle your thumbs until the angels finally find us?
“But what about Samuel?”
“If he’s gonna be bull headed and decide to do nothing, then fine,” Ashe’s eyes looked like they were on fire. “I’m done with this load of crap. I’m done sitting here. I’m going, are you coming with me or not?”
Sneaking into the city was easier than we’d thought. The angels decided that the best way to seed out the rats of the underground was by flying above the roofs and shining lights down onto the streets. All we had to do to get in was wait for one of them near us to pass by, then stick to the alleys.
Ashe led me up to a large hotel complex. This is where some of the more powerful gang leaders of Purgatory lived before the angels showed up and dragged them away. After climbing endless flights of stairs, we had finally reached the roof.
“Alright,” Ashe sighed with relief, no angels up here. We were at least 30 floors up from the streets below. “Are you ready for this?”
“Ashe…” I couldn’t quite choke out what I was thinking. “I’m having second thoughts about this. We just left Samuel there, and there are a hundred things that could go wrong… I’m starting to wonder if this is really a good idea.”
“Fine, stay here,” Ashe walked up to the edge, “I’m getting out of this nightmare.” Just as he said this, a light appeared from behind him. His eyes grew wide with fear and he turned around and began to scream. I never saw what the angel looked like, all I saw was a flash of light and then Ashe was gone. I was in such disbelief I could barely even move.
“Ashe..? Ashe, are you there?” Silence. “Oh my god Ashe…”
Then I saw my shadow on the ground in front of me. I was illuminated from behind, and I knew it was my turn next. I didn’t even turn around.
Without thinking, I just took off towards the edge of the roof. I wasn’t gonna let him take me like he took Ashe. It was about fifteen feet from me to the edge. I could feel him closing in on me, but I just kept running.
That’s when I jumped.
I felt myself falling down further and further towards the ground. I was too far away for the angels to get now. I had no idea if I was going to die, go to hell, or just wake up back into life, but at this point I didn’t care. I just needed all of it to be over.
I didn’t even feel myself hit the ground.
Michael Crecco recently graduated from Homewood-Flossmoor High School and lives in Homewood, Illinois. As a reader, his grandfather raised him on works of fantasy, telling him all about dragons and wizards and everything between. He taught Michael how to imagine the impossible. As a writer, Michael uses his teachings to create new worlds with equally impossible wonders.