In the weeks that followed my arrival and settling I scoured The After. My favourite place to visit quickly became, and continues to be, the plains. The massive sprawling open fields filled with vibrant flowers of purple, red, yellow, white, blue and so many more colours. Some of those flowers stretch high into the air. I wouldn’t call them sunflowers but in many ways they evoke memories of that specimen. Then there are rose-daisy amalgamations, something close to lilies but not, furs with little flower buds which form a bucket shape. In fact, there are so many flowers that to try and list them all would take me a year I feel.
Yet, it was in those weeks that I grew to really love this place. It came to feel like home; like I’m meant to be here and was always destined to be. I didn’t understand why that was at the time. Again I have begun to digress.
It was during the third week of being in The After that I came across a structure. Many in The After are old, covered in vines, scattered with tufts of grass that poke out through cracks that are the result of I have not a clue as to what for the weather here is temperate. Rain is fleeting, it’s never cold, the sun too is adequate in its intensity and periodically broken up by the sheep wool clouds.
Regardless of the causes, this structure I came upon however was different. It looked as though it was suffering from actual neglect, not the slow ‘decay’ that others appeared to be suffering through. It seemed it had been forgotten by all those who walked and loved this realm. The Forever’s, like myself, that had made sure this place would always be a paradise had failed here. However, it seemed as though with this stone edifice they did not try. I found it most obscure, which is perhaps why I was drawn to it in the first instance.
I felt the burning of eyes upon me as I dared to close upon it. They instilled in me no cause for pause, which is likely why before long I spotted a line of scrawl. It read, I remember vividly, ‘…he who is worthy may pass.’
A new approaching set of passersby were the ones I caught the attention of. To them I queried as to what the stone monolith was. There first reactions were darting eyes and mumbled whispers of words I couldn’t make out. When I urged them that I simply wished for knowledge for I was new in The After, a strong woman with gold coloured hair that flowed like a waterfall, falling in the correct direction, past her shoulders strode forward from seemingly out of nowhere to meet my gaze with blue steely eyes.
Her stare lasted for an uncomfortably long time and during it I decided I didn’t like this woman, who when she did finally speak sounded fierce. So much so in fact that I was quite taken aback by her for I had not been prepared for her words, which still to this day are fresh in my mind.
“This place is not for your attention. Leave it where it stands.”
For the first time since my arrival I experienced doubt that The After was truly what I had been told that it was. It appeared that it might possess a secret. One that no one wished to admit to, or it seemed even acknowledge the presence of.
In response, my brown eyes narrowed with suspicion. I remember feeling a need to ask as to who this woman thought she was telling me, a fellow Forever, what I can and cannot do in this place that was new to me. After all, I was only attempting to learn more about this place, as I had been informed it would be my home for the rest of time, however long that might be. Sadly, I did not get the chance for another woman, one of those who I had got the attention of, blurted in my defence, “Annice, Niobe is new. She only wishes to see this place. You are not acting in a way that is befitting. You know this. Explanations are needed and must be given if sort. Such is only fair for this remains quite new to her, and you must recall what that was like.”
If the woman’s defence of me was meant to melt the iciness of Annice’s words it failed for in response the blonde woman spun round on her haunches. I can only imagine, for I could not see, that she must’ve affixed the withered looking woman with long straggly brown-grey hair with an expression most damning as her reaction was a literal step backward.
“We all know who each of us are. There is no surprise to us. Soon there shall be another Forever. You all know this like I do. However, we must uphold a consistency. This, this is not to be spoken of.” Annice, her tone having been stern throughout, right after spouting those words turned back toward me and with a glare uttered, “You shall stay clear of this ingress. It is not for you to interfere with.”
I, of course, ignored Annice’s demand and instead queried what the inscription meant. I was of course referring to the ‘…he who is worthy may pass.’
My refusal to follow the demand levelled was met with gasps of shock from those around me, bar Annice who simply narrowed her blue eyes which flamed brilliantly. I didn’t know what might follow next and never found out as right then Zion appeared.
“That is quite enough Annice. This is not how we treat those who are our brothers and sisters. You know this, or should, for it was you who welcomed me to The After.”
I was quite astounded to hear Zion reveal such. Of the two I at that time, with my still linear thinking, have pegged Annice as the younger and more recent addition to this realm. This way entirely my own fault for having based order of potential arrival for other Forever’s upon appearance and supposed physical age. I have since learned from my mistakes, by and large.
Annice did not kowtow to Zion’s demands however. Rather, she went to speak. She never did say whatever was on her mind. Zion shook his head. That simple act seemed to have the desired effect. I still, to this day, cannot say as to why a simple shake of Zion’s head was enough to dissuade Annice from her actions. For a long while I wondered if some silent mouthed exchange had been undertaken, but I seldom think it matters now.
I don’t really recall how Annice departed, by that I mean in what manner, only that she did depart leaving me with Zion. Even those I had stopped returned to their meanderings of whatever had been their prior whims before my interference in their day. Still, many gave me nods and smiles as they returned to whatever business it was they had settled upon.
“I apologise for Annice. She forgets herself.” Zion admitted some time afterward and while gesturing that we take a seat upon a stone bench I don’t remember having been present during the Annice confrontation.
We sat. The surface of the smooth grey stone was warmer than I would’ve imagined. It didn’t surprise me. At one time it would’ve, I know that much.
Unable to contain my sharply piqued interest I could not help but query as to what the neglected stone edifice was. Zion smiled. It was a pained smile. I didn’t understand it at the time and thought that perhaps it might have been some kind of memorial. I don’t know what to for nothing dies in The After.
“That structure you are so curious of is a door.”
A door to where I asked. The response that came was at first a simple shrug. I didn’t believe Zion hadn’t a clue. Then he spoke.
“We do not know other than to say that for as long as any of us, Forever’s, have been here it has been sealed.”
Why neglect it, I wished to know.
“There is a lock, but no key. The inscription says…”
I told him I knew and recited it by heart as proof. He smiled. It wasn’t a sad smile this time. Instead he seemed impressed. To this day I have never discussed with him if I was correct in my assumption or not. Perhaps I will have to some time, just to be sure, not that there is any sort of rush to do so. Time is not really an issue in The After.
“We feel that if we were meant to tend to it and what lies within then the key would be available to us. It is not and so we leave this one corner of The After to its own devices. To us it is only right that this realm, which has given us an endless, shapeable home within which anything we can imagine becomes a reality and where our first end will never result in a second, is permitted something of its own. If that is all the payment it needs for what it offers us, we gladly accept it.”
I could not believe that no one knew of its founding, its formation, its purpose and that the manner Zion was speaking in bordered on worship. I issued these questions to Zion. He had no answers except to say that it had always been. It didn’t seem like much of an answer to me, which was disappointing.
Following our chat, which carried on for a time, we parted ways. He had preparations to make for the next Forever but did query if I felt an impending entity would soon be joining us. I admitted I did not. He didn’t seem surprised. Instead, he smiled and told me such connection would be established in time. I remember vaguely that I wasn’t sure I wanted that, to feel any and all Forever’s in The After, including those who are yet to come. It’s funny to look back on now. So much fear still ebbed within my being that I was not consciously aware of. Yet, knowledge has always been how I have overcome fear. I was taught that as a young girl by my parents.
I would be remiss if I did not admit that for a long while I missed them. They never came to The After. They were not Forever’s. I sometimes wondered in those early days if they were something else or if they were able to go to somewhere else. I liked to think they did. It brought me comfort.
With Zion having departed I returned to my wandering. Other Forever’s passed me on the road. A good number offered smiles and well wishes but only when I met their eyes with my own. Otherwise, they left me to my devices and I left them to theirs. It sat as the right thing to do in my mind and imagine it did in theirs too. Still, I couldn’t get thoughts of the door out of my head. I understood the premise but failed to agree with the conclusion. A door is meant to be opened and that is why a couple hours of wandering later I had reached a conclusion. I would pick the lock, or at least attempt to. I had no knowledge of such things but elected that if I could be successful anywhere it would be in The After.