Aspen Mountain Press
The Calling Co...
This content was uploaded by our users and we assume good faith they have the permission to share this book. If you own the copyright to this book and it is wrongfully on our website, we offer a simple DMCA procedure to remove your content from our site. Start by pressing the button below!
Report copyright / DMCA form
Aspen Mountain Press
The Calling Copyright @ 2008 Jack Brokenshire This e-book is a work of fiction. While references may be made to actual places or events, the Names, characters, incidents, and locations within are from the author’s imagination and are not a resemblance to actual living or dead persons, businesses, or events. Any similarity is coincidental.
Aspen Mountain Press PO Box 473543 Aurora CO 80047-3543 www.AspenMountainPress.com
First published by Aspen Mountain Press, August 2008 www. AspenMountainPress.com
This book is licensed to the original purchase only. Duplication or distribution via any means is illegal and a violation of International Copyright Law, subject to criminal prosecution and upon conviction, fines and/or imprisonment. The e-book cannot be legally loaned or given to others. No part of this e-book can be shared or reproduced without the express permission of the publisher.
ISBN: 978-1-60168-130-0 Released in the United States of America
Editor: Celina Summers Cover artist: Jinger Heaston
March, 1964 Birthday The busy infant school was packed with children waiting for their morning service to begin, each child wrapped haphazardly against the winter cold. Some teachers guided the children to their places; others watched the clocks to make sure things were running smoothly. Once the few stray kids had been mopped up from the aisles, the music teacher made her way towards the old piano to prepare for the singing. After a few minutes, the children settled down and waited for the headmaster’s head to bow in prayer. Not many children prayed; most simply closed their eyes for as long as it took. Once their prayers were completed, they sang a hymn together. The teachers sang loudly, if not perfectly, while the children murmured along as best they could. This done, the whole school sat down to hear the daily list of pupils’ birthdays from the headmaster. Some children liked the attention when it was their turn, but others, less confident perhaps, were embarrassed by the march to the front of the gathering. It was a slow day for birthdays. Only two boys’ names were called: one ran up smiling in anticipation but the other was crying.
Jack Brokenshire This attracted some catcalls but the teachers soon suppressed this by putting their forefingers to their lips, as they glared at the offenders. Soon, the sniffling little boy arrived at the plinth that the headmaster stood on. "But it's your birthday." the headmaster said in a comforting tone. As the little boy stood there, two hundred sets of eyes watched his turmoil and wondered what the matter was. The headmaster put his arm around the young child, convinced that the problem to be nothing but nervousness. "What's the matter? Come on now I'll stand with you, lets all sing happy birthday" The singing started up again, this time with a little more strength than before but it made no difference to the crying, frowning boy standing in the shelter of the headmaster’s arm. When the singing ended, the boy cried still. He sobbed so hard that he could barely breathe. Some of the teachers knew instinctively that something serious must be the matter, but it fell to the headmaster to intervene and save the little lad’s embarrassment. The headmaster, more concerned as each second passed asked again in the little man’s ear, "What is it? Can I help you?" "My dad's died," the child said as he looked into the man’s eyes and transmitted the inescapable horror he suffered into the grown up. They stood together for a few awkward moments, the child's eyes waiting for comfort while the adult headmaster searched for the right words to say. "Don't be upset, your dad's in heaven now." The boy wiped the tears streaming down his face with his shirt sleeve. "I don’t believe in heaven, I've lost him forever."
My father had been dead for decades before I thought about picking up a phone and calling him. We twist and turn our way through life like emotions in action: sometimes hurrying, sometimes stopping altogether. Contracts of contact come and go between us, creating happiness or pain or nothing at all. Dull years, mad years, and bright years tumble through us, burying us in their minutes and hours and weeks and it seems as if the wild variety of it all makes a gamble of our times but we are wrong. We think that life is just a little thing but we are wrong. I don't know why I didn't think of it earlier. Over the years, I’d become more sophisticated in avoiding memories of him, so sophisticated that it was automatic. He became a simple series of black and white photographs I kept folded in my wallet; the credit cards and cash alongside them were more significant to me, at least that was how it felt. I sat in a crowded bar surrounded by amateur drinkers, the kind of people with busy eyes and easy friends who are comfortable with strangers. I like strangers and I like them to remain strangers, but that’s a sign of my sharpened bar room skills. The queue for drinks grew and faded, people came and went through the door, and the music tricked us all into thinking we knew more about music than we did. I was sitting
Jack Brokenshire on my own on that night. No one was available to join me, so I was busy doing nothing but drinking my cold beer. People entered the bar in groups; some happy, some silent. As the place filled up I found the drinks going down me in an ever increasing rate. I was nervous—it’s never good to drink alone and the feeling of being on your own makes even the most confident of people self-conscious. As the drunk in me emerged from the cover of my sobriety, the thoughts began to tumble. I wanted to go home to my wife. She could make me feel normal again. But as I ran my fingers through my own hair for the twentieth time, my courage returned. Funny how these little actions always seem to make things feel better. I must have examined every mark on the wooden table in front of me, every light in the roof and every stitch in the curtains behind me, trying to look disinterested and cool in my isolation. It was during one of these deliberate examinations that I first spotted a young man getting a drink. At first, I thought he was alone, but as he grabbed his drink and paid I noticed he had a mobile phone trapped against his ear and he was talking, perhaps too loudly. "Hi dad," he said in a bright tone. "I'm in a bar with some time so I thought I would ring you." I envied the bastard; the drink had made me moody. He wasn’t on his own like I was; he was using a phone to avoid the countless physiological leaks of loneliness. My mood swang against him once I knew I couldn’t strike up a conversation with him: Bang! There went my chance to look normal in this place. The bar filled up slowly, but still he yammered at his father. I needed to use my phone. If I copied him, we'd both look stupid but both looking stupid was better than just me sitting here, friendless. But who could I ring? All of my friends were doing other things, some were even doing sports. I couldn’t ring my wife; she hated to talk to me once I started drinking.
The Calling I took a risk and assumed that by the time I got my old phone lined up I'd think of someone. It was a bad risk because for the life of me I couldn’t think of a single person who I could risk ringing. Loneliness, like a landslide in my head, suffocated me for a moment or two. I ran my finger along the phone’s keypad, and out of complete bitterness, I imagined what it would be like if I could ring my long dead father. The other guy was still talking to his dad. Even after a full ten minutes, I could hear him cracking the "in" jokes that bind people together. I had no "in" jokes with my dad, or "out" ones for that matter, but the envy in me was so powerful that I started punching the phone’s keys. I prepared to pretend to talk to some imaginary friend on the end of the line; even that would be better than sitting alone with an unused phone glaring at me. I thumped away at random and prepared my opening act for the audience of drinkers around me. I figured I would pretend to be talking to one of my mates, at least I could keep the one sided conversation partially credible. But all of this was ruined when I heard the ringtone; quite by accident, I must have called a real number. "Hello?” I had to think quickly, which was impossible with the full load of fool fuel I had taken in, so I tried to copy the other drinker’s call to his father. At least I could make it look like a genuine wrong number. "Hi, can I talk to my dad please?" I waited for the inevitable "you must have the wrong number" but it didn’t come. "No problem, just hang on a moment and I'll go and get him for you." I had no notion of what to do. I lifted my beer and took an enormous gulp, confronted by a cul de sac of my own making. After only a few seconds, came the turning point of my life. "Hi. How are you son?" It was my dad.
Jack Brokenshire Initially, I thought I must be mistaken, but by the end of his second sentence I knew something massively wrong had happened. "Come on then, say something! This is pretty fabulous, right?" It was my father—no doubt at all. I had rung the afterlife. **** My father had died of a brain tumour in the sixties. I'd grown up, learned to shave, learned to read and write, danced with women that I hardly knew and then got married and had kids—but in all that time I never went back to my thoughts about my father. Every time my mind touched those thoughts, it veered away quickly, back to a television programme, or a woman or a drink: anything but taking the blow directly. My father had never gotten to know me, I was so young when he died that our conversations must have been limited to things that were basically biological, that and the total hero worship that boys have for their fathers. My memories were in short supply as well, I remember him coming in from his work and, with a big smile, tapping me on the head with his newspaper, I remember the smell of his big coat when he came in from the cold and, of course, the look on his face one Christmas morning when I dragged him out of bed at dawn to help me with my presents. My father had had a weird life and a very short one. Perhaps it was the shortness that had made it weird. He fought in a war that no one remembered, blowing up French bridges and lifting land mines from the desert sand. He was shot at, bombed, shelled, lived in Italian foxholes and experienced the mucky life of a soldier, the life that must have been so hard to follow with anything half as exciting. After all of the fighting and travelling, he came home to his mother and got a job as an engineer, sinking dutifully into the unremarkable mass of humanity. He paid his taxes, obeyed the laws, went to the movies and never mentioned the legend of his past; a legend to me, at least, but to him just a war.
The Calling He could have been the kind of man with a head packed full of ego and nothing inside him. But he was nice; he was a nice person and I really liked him. It seemed to me that as we spoke together I was dumping tons and tons of iron grief out of my mind, as if the contact was washing away the acidic black sludge that surrounded the hole where they had once lived in my thoughts. Certainly once we spoke regularly the grief ambushes I used to get, when something reminded me of my father and I'd tumble into a thirty minute depression, seemed to disappear, which was all to the good: it was awful to have these moments , it was like being tripped up in a fast race. **** The practicality of ringing heaven could not have been easier. If I looked at it from what I had previously understood, I would have thought it would involve some form of ceremony—but no prayers or incantations were required. I was talking to the dead after all, and I supposed that somewhere in all of this would be an element of holiness. Now I couldn’t tell what was holy anymore, or if holy was just something of an invention. On top of that the complications of being a good person, or a bad one, of deserving or not deserving the privilege were clearly left out of the matter. I was not a good person. I don’t think I was evil either; I just fell in the spectrum with all the billions of other people that really didn’t register as special. Maybe it was all a matter of what I was thinking, or what I was hoping. Punching the number into the phone and waiting for the call to go through were standard procedure here on earth: every day I rang plenty of people in exactly the same way. The only difference I found when ringing the dead was that I could put any number into the phone and it worked. I never acclimatised to this discovery; I never felt for a second that I had grown used to it. I couldn’t sleep or eat for a number of days and couldn’t concentrate on anything. As I watched TV or chatted to friends, my thoughts were like bubbling
Jack Brokenshire champagne, alight with excitement, almost like being a kid again. But this was a Christmas day that went on forever. I felt anticipation every second as I went through the hum-drum matters of living. It just all seemed irrelevant. In my thinking, everything that I had thought mattered was suddenly erased and in its place I enjoyed an undisturbed ecstasy. My boss thought I had lost it, my friends thought that the drink had finally got to me and my wife, in the face of a mass of brightness coming from my previously dull face, thought I was on some kind of drug. It was all so simple for me, so clear; I had somehow found access to the dead and me, a simple furniture packer. Whoever it was that had written the rules for the living regarding the dead had really got their wires crossed. The contact was as clear as a bell; it was almost as if the people I spoke to were in the next room, I always found that strange considering the sound quality of some of the long distance calls I'd made to people in other countries on earth; clearly as far as heaven was concerned they'd cracked the problem of interference completely. **** Behind all of this was my good life. I lived deep in clover, surrounded by people with practical minds and wonderful emotions. It was a perfect package of people for me. Even when I was on one of my drinking benders and crawling through the subsequent hangovers, I knew that my people, my family were superb. My wife and I both had insecure jobs making enough money to get by on. Any more security would have made me feel arrogant; I liked the ever present risk of losing it all. I wasn’t a boss: I wasn’t even known by the boss. I wasn't a Union representative and I took no part at all in anything the company organised except taking my pay home once a month. I had made most of my friends at work. We all liked the job because of the lack of brains it required, allowing us to brighten the day with our comments and piss takes. Of course, some of my friends predated this. The two groups, one from my past and
The Calling one from my work, jelled perfectly. We met regularly to complain about our wives and the boss, and our wives met with an equal regularity and complained about us and our boss. Everyone complained about the boss, which was probably unfair because she was a good woman. Our sourness just seemed right in the face of her authority; it was nothing personal. My little world was built around the settled state of "we.” This "we" was mine and was my gang and no one else could ever be a part of it. There is a machine in all of us that grinds away in the background powering our thoughts, but I packed furniture for a living and didn’t want to know, or feared knowing how my mind considered things. Like a billion other families on the face of the earth, we never thought much about anything except the marks on our common calendar and our rival claims to each others’ time. Talking to my mother again brought even more excitement to me. My mother was more familiar, having died much later than my father. I missed her, but in a different way from my father. This made sense; I'd known her for a whole lot longer than him and she was more real than legend. The first time I talked to my mother, I asked her if she could explain some of the mumbo jumbo about things like reincarnation, searching, I suppose, for a schedule for her coming back to life again. She seemed to back away from my question. "It’s not as complicated as you think," she said after a considered pause. "Living and being dead are really just the same; dying is painful—we all know that—but so is being born and no one can recall it." This baffled me so I probed further. "You can’t be serious, can you? Your time seems to be a hell of lot better than mine; I don’t understand how you can tell me that living and being dead are the same." I could sense an argument brewing, especially when she began to be evasive. "Well it doesn’t really matter does it? All that matters is that we can talk now so who cares about where we are or what we are doing?"
Jack Brokenshire At this point, I found myself getting angry with her. My heart began to race, just as it always did when I fought to control my temper. I gripped the little mobile phone harder as a new question brewed inside me. "What about reincarnation? Do people come back here or do people come back as something different? You must know you're dead!" Despite the increasing desperation in my tone, her evasions continued. "Of course, people don’t come back. I've told you it’s much simpler than that—and it’s automatic so there's no reason for us to understand it." When she was alive, she would talk this way—in strategies and vague fogs of meaning. It was frustrating then, but now it was hurting me because I knew she had the answers and wouldn’t tell me. What was she protecting? Some kind if inner God club which people like me went uninvited to? “What about religion then? Have we got it right? Is there someone with you who runs the whole thing, someone who is in charge of it all?" I had pictures of the heavenly choirs in the illuminated texts and all the other weird and wonderful ways we have of cheating our fears, but her answer was less than illuminating. "I have no idea about any of that, no one here questions anything." "You must have some idea about what’s going on. Are there no rules?" “Rules? No. No one is in charge of us. It’s just like earth but with new possibilities. No one leaves heaven to be alive again in some kind of imaginary cycle; and they don’t alter what they were. You can never go backward, only forward through the process of being” At last I thought I was getting somewhere, or at least she appreciated the questions I was asking. Was she trying to make me feel better? That would be a first between us. I was feeling slightly happier that I had succeeded in gleaning something from her as she continued. "It’s a one-way thing with each step better than the last."
The Calling A neat explanation—one that satisfied my curiosity, but not my ability to understand what the hell was going on. "How many children have you got, then?" she asked me, leaving me feeling like a fool for some reason. "I’ve got two." Before I could tell her their names, she continued to talk as if she wasn’t interested. I was upset because I wanted to show off my family and her disinterest prevented me from doing so. Why didn’t she want to know? As we spoke, my mum asked me to hang on a moment and turned to talk to someone else at her end of the line. For a few minutes everything went dead, a strange parallel to what was happening, I suppose. Then she came back on the line, which was a relief. "I have a surprise for you, a huge surprise." "What is it?" I was expecting to continue the previous conversation with yet more disclosures on her part. “It’s your uncle." she replied, and the next voice I heard was that of my father’s brother who had taken me under his wing when my father had died. My uncle had never married and, as such, he was the universal "spare" man at all the family occasions. He reveled in the status. He probably wanted all of the things that my father had, but he never got them. Perhaps in his heart he figured he could step into our lives when my father died and take up the reins. In any case, he was the kindest man I knew after my father had gone and in speaking to him again I felt almost the same as I did when he picked me up in his arms at my father’s funeral and let me cry on his shoulders. It must have been tough, containing his own grief for his lost brother and consoling me at the same time, but he did it well. For the rest of my life I never forgot the strength in his arms as he held my child form while the vicar mumbled out his ceremony. After a little chat where we exchanged pleasantries, it became clear that he had been brought in to shed more light on the situation for me. I suppose this made sense as he
Jack Brokenshire had probably got to know me better than either my mother or father. He spoke in his normal, confident tone, almost like a schoolteacher. When he was alive he would do this when complex matters were being mulled over and it gave off an impression of absolute certainty. I was glad that dying hadn't removed this quality from his repertoire because right now clarity was really not abundant. "You see, the problem is that although you think you are in the real world talking to us in an unreal world, somehow we are here and to us, this is real. We may be thousands of years forward or back from you—we can't tell—and your life is either a form of ancient history or science fiction to us." In point of fact, this dual reality he was talking about was the only way any of this could make sense. "What do you mean?" He continued in his slow, almost professorial style. "Nothing here becomes exhausted or worn out, and even time just goes on any way you want it to. Time never runs out; that’s the big difference here." The trouble was that the things I and most other people had taken for granted, such as the passage of time, weren't quite as straightforward as we had thought. These people were dead to me, but I had to understand that to them I was in the equivalent abstraction of being dead, existing as I was in a completely different place and time. I never asked any of my rediscovered dead relatives where they were exactly, and, in my mother and father's case, they actually begged me not to ask. To them, my world was like a half-forgotten dream and conversely wherever they were was real and in step with things. I never spoke to them about their endings either, not to protect them but to protect me. The image from my early mind of my father’s post-surgery zipped-up head or my mother’s shrunken face was enough to make me veer away from a return visit to such thoughts. I know that this was a cowardly way to think and probably not all that healthy. Cleverer minds than mine always pointed out in documentaries that these things were
The Calling better confronted, but I had to disagree. If things hurt, avoid them. To me, it made no sense to make memories hurt even more by revisiting them. My thinking was definitely wounded. The conversations that night were strange. My dad sounded younger than me with I droned on about my job, my direct debits, or my disappointments. These things were alien to him now that he was in a place where everything went well; there was no work to do and people just existed in an unrestrained happiness. Then my mother said something shocking: that perhaps, in a limited way, they could alter things for me. This came as an attractive surprise and my mind raced towards so many ideas at the same time that she had to calm me down. I immediately starting spinning up plans for a lottery win or two and grabbed for some writing materials with sweet anticipation ringing in my head, but she put my plans aside, laughing. "You don’t understand do you?" she said, half-mocking me. "I said alter not improve. Wait a minute; I'll get your dad over to explain." While I waited for my father to come to the phone, I put the pen and paper away. I had been prepared to jot down the numbers I would need to make my millions My father took over and knew exactly how to explain things. "We can't help in a physical way. We can't make you rich or taller or better-looking, for instance, but we can give you our thoughts." I hesitated for a minute, knowing I was being selfish and shallow. "What use are your thoughts? For all I know, you could be wrong." Dad laughed to himself and said something to my mum which made her laugh as well. This didn’t sound good; now I had both my parents laughing at me and I was stuck in a darkened bar with new rain hammering on the window waiting for some answers. "You're right! We can be wrong about things just like anyone else," he continued, having controlled his laughter. "But we have a bigger view than you; we've done dying and that tends to broaden the mind."
Jack Brokenshire I didn’t appreciate the irony in his remark and I responded in kind. "I see your point, but what use can your point of view be to me? I'm stuck in a different place from you and you've been gone for decades. Let’s face it: you're just not alive." “And you have never died." Finally, I realized the scale of things I was dealing with, and drew away from the pettiness of my question. I could see his point: being dead had to be a distinct advantage when it came to big picture scenarios. Although my hope for practical assistance faded, I saw there would be a big advantage in seeing things differently. He tried to explain what he meant in more detail, describing a little more of the weird system of living and dying we all seemed to be a part of. "It isn’t anything like telepathy; we can’t inform you what the weather will be like tomorrow or who will win a football match at the weekend. All we can do is guess at these things, much as the living do." As the detail of the image increased, so did my father’s ability to explain himself. Maybe that was just how I felt after being laughed at, but the more he spoke the more he reached me. "There isn’t a holy plan for the future for us to refer to, so there is no way we can look ahead for you and give you a heads up about approaching events. For all we know, there might be a design for it all, but if there is we don’t have access to it." At least that was clear; there went my lottery dreams. "You see, things go so fabulously with us here that we really have no need to try and outsmart fate. Where we are, there is no fate. We can roll the dice and wish for a six and it just happens.” I couldn’t see how a person could adjust to it all. In a place where every wish is completed, one would soon run out of wishes. This all came as a bit of a shock to me, sitting as I was looking out of my window at a dark amber-lit street decorated by drunks and stray dogs and empty Coke cans. I worried about just about everything I could think of…and still it rained. I said my goodbyes, promised to ring again soon and hung up the phone. I slept well that night
The Calling after the call, not so much happier but more content as if pressure had been lifted from me. Clearly it had; I had been talking to dead people. It was comforting to see across the threatened black wash of oblivion to a future destination where everything was enjoyed by all. My parents deserved this place. They had both faced up to some harsh matters when they were alive, including a world war, a pile of grief, illness and, at the end, less than peaceful passings. I liked the idea of them both being repaired and cleaned and full of power again. I would never know if what they had was real or, for that matter, if what I had was real but that didn’t matter: it was definitely my mother and father and they definitely thought they were having a great time **** Talking together on the phone must have been as strange for my dad as it was for me. To him the last memory of me was a small golden haired little boy, charming the nurses and running amok in the hospital ward. Now, years later, there was no more running about to be done in my life, or charming of any sort and my hair, like my attitude was grey. After a few of the early calls, we closed the gaps between us: he was always eager to talk to me about what he was doing or what he was going to do next: his life up there, wherever there was located, was an endless succession of excitement and smiles and every day there were literally thousands of new faces to meet and no queues. We had always been told that in heaven people would live in plenty. I'd always taken that to mean they would never want for food or warmth or whatever they needed to be comfortable. In one call to my father, I raised this with him. Despite everything he and my mum had said the model I had and the time they were having was a match; they simply had plenty of things we want when we are alive.
Jack Brokenshire "You're not quite right; food and warmth are minor issues in this place where everyone eats or doesn’t eat and it makes no difference. You can wish for whatever temperature or climate you want and you get it but you’re missing the biggest point of all." This caught me off guard; I mean what else could a person want than having everything available all of the time? It literally was the place of plenty, just like the religious people had always said it would be. "What point have I missed?" He shredded my ignorance quickly. "What we have here and what we could never have there is plenty of time. That’s the greatest plenty that we appreciate." I considered what he had said for a few seconds as he went on. "Those of us who can remember enough about living on earth to draw comparisons think that plenty of time is the most brilliant difference of all. Most of us seem to have only dim memories of our prior lives; what we had was nothing, compared to our lives in this place, so you can’t blame us for putting such memories aside." I could agree with that. I no longer liked life after the impression I had been given of the condition that would follow it. "There is no appointment system in here, no clocks or schedules, there isn’t even night and day. It’s simply a matter of doing what you want." I concluded that the only truly lost people were those amongst the living. So it was with a bright mind that I made the calls, and everything gained a momentum of its own.
It was at this time that I let a few of my friends in on the secret, which was a huge mistake. None of us had any idea about the consequences of my revelation, consequences that would obliterate everything that had gone on in our normal lives. In the time it took for the news to spread about my special phone, every single camera and microphone on the earth redirected its attention on me. Everything became unravelled. I should have known what would happen. My father had warned me to tell no-one for a while, but I was just so pleased that I couldn’t wait to let people know. The sudden ability to converse with the dead had a big effect on my level of self-control and in the excitement I lost all restraint. It was a lack of discipline. Some people have minds they can control, but any form of excitement threw away the rule book in my thinking. Lack of self-discipline or self-command is a common fault in 99% of the population, but when you weld it onto the front end of a worldwide miracle it guarantees a fiasco. This was one of those moments in life when whatever moderation you have goes straight out of the window. This is followed, or in this case preceded, by any rule books. In my case, as I had little or none of these qualities, I didn’t spend enough time working out my thoughts regarding my discovery. Instead I went for something familiar to me, and low key, almost as if I wasn’t sure how people would react. It was
Jack Brokenshire this low key approach that amplified the effect of the news, not that the news of a heaven-earth phone link really needed any amplification. I decided to explain this phenomenon to a couple of friends on a Saturday night in a busy bar. This made the mistake even worse and placed a huge matter of universal proportions into the foreground of a drinking session. In all my life I had never assumed that I could be possessed of such a highly refined idiocy as would foul up such a wonderful thing, but I was. It was the usual crew who met in the bar that evening—a couple of familiar faces from the past and a few people I worked with. As this was a regular weekly event, the phone calls to arrange it were perfunctory and as we always spoke about the same things there was no need to get ready for a sharp conversation. Half of the crew were furniture packers like me we had seen each other every day at work and so had little to talk about. My long-term friends knew everything about me and likewise I didn’t expect anything in the way of scintillating conversation. To me it almost seemed the perfect opportunity to mention to my drinking brethren that I had been in conversation with the dead. In this respect, I completely underestimated my capacity for making errors, but who could blame me? It wasn’t everyday that a blueprint for existence landed on the lap of a furniture packer. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and it never needs contact lenses or telescopes to make it sharp. The rendezvous went well with people arriving over the course of the first halfhour or so. After about half a dozen drinks and the usual big talk about big cars and big women the conversation reverted to its normal routine. It started with general news around the campfire and then sports and the irritations of life. It took a surprising amount of courage to reveal the miracle, maybe everyone who discovers such things has to build up to the moment they talk about it, and for a few moments I wanted to back away. Something in me must have known what would happen but it was if I couldn’t believe just how big the news was. A couple of drinks later my reservations were afloat on a sea of courage, or maybe it was bravado or gin but in any case I wasn’t
The Calling so worried. I took a final visit to the bathroom, sat back down again ready to venture my news, little knowing that I was on the brink of ruining everything. It was one of those moments when looking back one could identify with crystal clarity the precise instant that the deal fell through: sending everything that was perfect tumbling off the stage into a complete disaster. I waited for an appropriate moment, bought a round of spirits for everyone and dropped into the conversation that I had been talking to the dead. "This is a joke right?" My best friend butted into my first sentence as he always did, in a way he rescued me from the need to run into my second. "No, it’s true mate. I swear on my wallet that I've been talking to my dad using this phone." As I said this I produced the phone and lay it in amongst the drinks glasses on the table. For a few minutes the drinking team sat in silence, one or two took deeper slurps from their drinks, but the others simply sat considering the matter. Eventually one of my workmates, screwing his mouth up and nodding his head, summed up the men’s feelings. "Never in all my life have I heard such a heap of crap." This raised a laugh, but armed with certainty I pressed on "No, you're all wrong. Do you think I would risk saying something stupid to you bastards on a night out?" I took a resuscitating gulp of whisky to keep me going. For a brief moment I thought I had turned a corner in Credibility Street, but I hadn’t. About three of the team said at the same time, "Yes, you fucking well would!" "Okay, I can prove it to you; you can even have a crack at it yourself. I have no idea how it works but it does, my dad’s in great shape and I reckon you can all call your own folks if you put a mind to it."
Jack Brokenshire This was a bad line of argument. An old friend immediately jumped in. "Speaking of minds, are you still using drugs? That would explain this situation; you can't seriously believe what you are saying." I stuck to it. "Yes, I'm deadly serious; this is no hoax." For a full two minutes, an enormous amount of time on these occasions, we all returned to looking at the phone. Half-full beer glasses and a completely full ashtray surrounded it with obstructions, so some of my friends lifted their heads or moved their seats to get a better look at the object of controversy. I should have said nothing to anyone, just as my father had advised, or at least kept it close by spilling the beans in some other way. As the miracle was given to me freely, I never suspected for a minute that other people might think I had something to do with it. I should have known that the association of a furniture packer with a miracle might have been expected to disturb my life. I was a professional at making d.i.y errors—they usually came thick and fast in my life. Now I had been given plenty of free material, enough to start up a production line working on them 24 hours a day. I vainly tried to make this a bit easier for my friends to swallow by making it clear it was only my family I had been conversing with, and that we were having regular normal conversations via a phone. "It’s just my own people you know, I can’t talk to anyone famous." At first this brought a few hoots and insults, especially as they were all fully aware that my own people were dead, deeply dead. As my story unfolded and my body language told them I was serious, most of them concluded that once again I'd had too much to drink and was off on a tangential journey, the type we all get when spirits hit us. In this case spirits, in the literal sense, had done just that so I pressed on with my story. I stressed this idea about my limited access because I was worried in case anyone thought I was a medium or someone who went into trances and spoke in a different tongue—the embellishment made little difference. This was a bad use of words in a half-drunken group.
The Calling "Then what's the point in it then?" questioned another furniture packer and when he sensed the audience was nodding in support of his query, he backed up this remark. "I mean, if you can't talk to Napoleon or Hitler or someone like that who gains anything from it?” "Why don't you lot get some balls and have a go?" I said offering the phone to my best mate. I took some heavy flak as my line of presentation was developed. My friends could find humour in virtually anything, that’s why they were my friends, but despite their initial reactions I could sense I was gaining ground and the invitation to have a go had to be responded to. At first, he just laughed in my face. So to warm things up, I took the phone up and rang my dad again. We had a perfunctory conversation, I told him what I was doing and his reaction added to my increasing feeling of unease. "Oh no! This is a bad idea," he said, almost in an admonishing tone. "If you want my advice, stop everything and go home. Ring me later." It was too late for that; the avalanche was well underway and there was no way of stopping it now. I carried on talking to my dad for a while, but as I spoke I could tell that my drinking team were shaking their heads again in disbelief, accusing me of cheating. "Get lost; we know you're just acting it out" There was no way out of it; my best friend would have to have a try. I ended the call to my dad and insisted that my friend step up to the plate. At first, egged on by the crowd, he simply laughed, but sensing that ego was at stake his willingness to make a fool of himself took over. "I bet the thing explodes in my hands or something," he said, expecting a trick to smack him in the face. To play along, he attempted to ring his younger sister whom he had lost about five years previously. Just like me, he punched away at the keypad and held the phone close to his ear—only in his case he made several dramatic sweeps with his arm to ensure we all recognized his disbelief.
Jack Brokenshire But his face changed as soon as someone answered the phone and went off to get his sister. As they spoke to one another, it dawned on him that what I had been talking about was true. It was more his tone of voice than his expression that showed the team that I had been telling the truth. The call ended with a few nice words from him, and obviously also from her. I could see tears forming in his eyes. Immediately after he had spoken to her, confronted by a depth of proof I had no way of simulating, his face became ashen. "Crap," he said, losing the power of speech beyond invective. He dropped his now redundant drink and ended up staring at the oak walls of the bar as if there was an answer to be found amongst the smoke stained wood. He tried to stand up, but almost collapsed and had to be given a glass of water. I knew how he was feeling and I knew that this would convince the others that what I was talking about was true, but I felt worried when I saw his reaction. Perhaps because I was on my own when the phenomenon landed on my lap, I didn’t have to face a bar full of people watching me talk to the dead. He looked unwell, as if he had had a heart attack or something. We got him a taxi home, hoping his wife would understand. It was almost the last time I was ever to see him. This little drama drew attention to our huddled group in the corner and the news swept around the place within minutes "He's talking to the dead! It must be a trick, right?" It was no trick, and of course it wasn’t a matter of simply talking to the dead. They were talking right back at us and they sounded fabulous. All of this with a jukebox blaring, mighty queues forming at the bar for drinks and new couples forming from strangers: a good environment to reveal that the dead were actually very much alive. My drinking friends were shocked into utter silence and one or two of them gave me unfamiliar looks out of the corner of their eyes. A mob of drinkers soon gathered around the table, listening to the additional calls I allowed my friends to make in a reverent silence. Some drew closer to us, each stranger
The Calling waiting for their chance to have a go. Maybe twenty people had a try at it and, like my friend, as soon as they returned the phone to me they ran off to their homes and loved ones—at least that's what I assumed. It turned out that one or two of them had ran straight out and contacted the press, passing on phone camera photographs of the proceedings. As the evening wore on things began to change around us. The music was mercifully turned off, the drinking, which had initially accelerated stopped altogether and we sat there until dawn trying out this strange new feature in our lives. It fell to the manager of the bar to make the first of a million offers for the phone—if I remember correctly he pitched up five hundred pounds for it—but naturally, I refused. Maybe I should have accepted. It would have been a mercy to have walked away from this whole matter before the whirlwind started. We spoke to mothers and fathers mainly but there were a few grandparents thrown in for good measure. Soon after the two hundred people in the bar were convinced, two thousand of their friends were let in on the miracle and so on and so on in an ever-escalating mathematical pyramid of excitement. People were ringing their own friends on their modern mobiles and it wasn’t long before a vast crowd formed inside the bar and out on the street. A few stray policemen arrived, suspecting trouble of some sort, and despite talking to a few people in the throng they really couldn’t figure out what was happening. Until I lent the phone to one of the officers, that is. Like everyone else, the policeman thought it was a joke "If this is going to back fire on me you'd better get ready to be arrested,” he said, making a defence out of his authority. He didn’t tell anyone who he was ringing but clearly he got through to his objective. "Is that you Mike?" The crowd hushed around him helping him to hear more clearly. Like everyone else, the young officer was dumbfounded. He was so shocked he even turned his radio off so that he could hear his friend’s voice better, before he
Jack Brokenshire handed me back the phone and headed home. I later found out that "Mike" had been one of his fellow officers who had been shot dead just a few months ago in a bank robbery. After the law come the newspapers. A few reporters turned up, then the television news. The phenomenon had an instant energy of its own. With skills honed to perfection, they barged their way through the growing mob and formed a ring of bright lights around the table we were sitting at. Some scuffles developed as the people in the bar tried to hold back the media, but drunks were no match for the elbows and equipment that the jittering media people were armed with. About ten reporters all started calling out questions at once, a baffling development to a factory man like me. At first I felt cool, almost proud, but within minutes this torrent of attention started to make me feel like a hunted animal. Microphones were everywhere and such was the clamour of lights around me that I started to sweat: out of fear or the heat I couldn’t tell. "Tell us all about it in your own words!" one reporter ventured, or at least this was the only question that broke through the skirmish. "It's nothing to do with me, it just happened." I felt a bit like St Paul denying Christ, but this sudden mass of attention forced me on the defensive. One camera crew tried to move closer to me and their sound equipment swept our table of all its drinks. Beer, whisky and glasses crashed to the floor but even this didn’t stop the frenzy. "Why here, why now, why you? Do you go to church often?" A verbal bombardment was well underway and I was the unsteady target. My dad had been right. All I wanted to do now was grab the phone and run out of the bar but there was no way through the gathering swarm. This was a big change for everyone and it was very unusual for such things to happen on a Saturday night, and in a run down bar on the outskirts of a smoky town. In a world equipped with mobile phones and the internet, all news travels with the speed of light and this situation was no exception. I didn’t know it at the time but I
The Calling subsequently discovered that all other news was stopped, all the normal TV channels were giving it blanket coverage and it wasn’t long before my face (half-drunk of course) was being transmitted to all the nations of the sweet earth. All of this while I was sitting in my bar and dropping the occasional drink—now free from the owner of the bar who still held hopes for his bid—it couldn’t be imagined really. I thought I was still Mr. Joe Soap while people in Papua New Guinea, Paris, Beirut and Panama were huddled around their television sets wondering what was going to happen next and who the strange man with the phone was. "Where are you from? Have you got a job? What does your wife think of all of this?" The mention of my wife made my scattered attention focus on my escape. She would shelter me, she would know what to do, she could get me out of this! Unfortunately, for now I was trapped. "What do you think this will mean to the Church? Has the Church contacted you? What kind of car do you drive?" As the living mirage continued, the questions were yelled at me from all directions. My friends had dispersed and the mob consisted of nothing but strangers. Another table full of drinks was sent flying and this time, the table itself tumbled over. The crowd surged over it towards me but by some miracle, I managed to get under the wave of the onrush and, by weaving around close to the floor, got lined up on an exit. I was so unknown to the crowd at the back that I simply walked out into the street and jumped in a taxi. Even the taxi driver was in on the event. "Did you see the bloke who can ring up heaven in there?" "No." It was the only reply that could save me. I thought that getting home might avoid the brunt of the problem, but I was wrong. Slightly ahead of the interest my revelation had stimulated, I met my wife at the door with my children huddled behind her
Jack Brokenshire "What the hell have you been up to?" she asked as I made my way past them and into the front room. It was hard to know where to start. "Well, something weird has happened, you see, this mobile phone of mine—” I got no further before she jumped in. "Forget the mobile phone! Our phone hasn’t stopped ringing! I've had to take it off the hook. Why are all these people trying to talk to you?" She handed me a list of the people who had been on the phone before she decided to stop it all. She was a meticulous woman so in a long column nearly a full page long, she had recorded most of the big names in the media industry. "And that’s not all!" she spat. "We've had three banks ringing up and telling me they've started to deposit money into our accounts and for some reason about a dozen companies have started doing the same! This has to be some kind of joke, right?" She glared at me waiting for an answer. I took a deep breath and while the smiling children jumped around me and held my hands, I tried to explain. "As I was saying something huge has happened." "You got that right," she said, looking more upset than annoyed now "It's all to do with the phone, this mobile phone—” I took the phone out of my pocket and held it up for them all to see. "It's just a phone! How can an old phone cause all of this?" She looked on the point of tears now as she tried to come to terms with the sudden changes that were exploding around her and our children. "Well, I can ring the dead with it." We didn’t know it, but at that moment we enjoyed our last minute of family time for a long time to come. She looked at the phone and then at me and the children looked at us both wondering what the hell I was talking about. Then the media pack arrived. They started with the doorbell, and then resorted to banging the door and the windows for attention. The garden rapidly filled up with reporters and the street
The Calling became blocked with vans and taxis and hundreds of people. The circus I had left in the pub caught up with me and was reinforced a thousand times over. Once the world’s eyes and ears had heard of these goings-on, my world was split into a million different pieces, so madly dispersed by the wild variety of the things that happened that I couldn’t keep up. Within hours, my face was on the front cover of every newspaper printed from Shanghai to Sevenoaks and within days the helterskelter world of fame had me in its trip-wire grip. I entered the bar that evening as an imperfect normal man and left it as something no one, especially me, could have thought; a miracle maker. To me it was completely off the mark, I was just an average guy who had stumbled on a way to talk to Heaven. Maybe my opinion didn’t count for all that much, but it was just one of those things and nothing to do with me. I had no spirituality beyond that which lived on the top shelves of the bars I frequented. There was no way I would have deserved to be selected, as some of the papers and interviewers tried to suggest, for some kind of special role. For all I knew all the vicars, Popes, priests, Brahmins and rabbis were just busy on other projects so my name came out of the hat at random. Lucky me, or at least that’s how I felt for the first six or seven hours when the news broke. After that, as I gradually escaped from the orbit of normality, I became more scared than surprised as people the world over began to associate my face with matters for which it had not been designed. I was a plain-looking man and no matter what angle the cameras looked at me from the result was the same: the unshaven appearance of an enthusiastic drinker. I wasn’t media trained, media friendly or even user-friendly and I didn’t have a pocket full of smiles ready for the cameras. This kind of thing mattered little to the image hungry frenzy that surrounded me. Within a short time someone had researched my full genealogical history—and that of my wife—going back for tens of generations. Their research revealed nothing more interesting than the usual nest of distant uncles slain in the great war, a smattering of petty criminals from Northern
Jack Brokenshire Ireland and of course the obligatory crop of very black sheep. There was not a trace of religiosity or holiness and not a shred of anything even remotely deserving of the miracle being given to me. The research didn’t stop there. While some of those interested in me looked for good things, there were others who hoped to dig out the bad. I encouraged this because I always assumed I was a boring bastard with an empty cupboard just waiting for skeletons to be hung in it. I couldn’t wait to see if anyone found anything worth remark. Once my impeccable blandness had had its credentials confirmed, apart from a few speeding fines when I was younger, this research was dead. It was a squirming mass of histrionic applause within the week and after that it just grew. In the olden days you had to do something to be famous. Now it was enough to be widely known, and being the first man in recorded history who could actually talk to the dead made me known everywhere. I had to move into a new hotel every night, which was good for drinking but destroyed the one thing that we all need to be happy—order. Despite resisting it at every opportunity, the one part of life we rely on is order. From being a basic man with a conventional family, from having the appropriate friends and colleagues and understanding the little patch of the material world I inhabited with all its invisible rules and conventions, I ended up in another place entirely. The new place I lived in was a place where every word I heard was positive, where just about every impulse had an immediate solution and where chaos was mistaken for freedom. I never knew that I had been so happy before. All of this happened in a matter of days; there was no glass ceiling to it. I could not prevent it and soon people everywhere were behaving very strangely towards me. For a start, everyone smiled. ****
The Calling I went home for a few days, but it was just not workable. Life at home under this kind of media fire was intolerable. The phone was permanently blocked and an endless succession of people pounded at our door or shoved cameras into our windows. This was a madness we had not prepared for. The kids, thinking things were simply my problem, soon turned on me when their friends couldn’t call. My wife couldn’t even cross the door without a sea of flash bulbs going off in her face so very quickly I sensed I should move out again. Although I'd seen what this had done to my family, in the last dying hours of normality I still wanted to be with them. Regardless, I left for a local hotel and set up a lonely life. Living in a hotel was exciting for a furniture packer like me. The allure soon ran out when I realised that the siege simply followed me around, but this time I was in a strange place surrounded by artificial people. I needed to try again, one more time, to get back home. A couple of days later fortified by a few bottles of whisky and an ever growing crowd of people in the reception waiting to see me, I decided to make another try to get home. I rang home first. By some miracle, I got through to the number but there was no answer. I figured my wife would have given up answering the phone so I wasn’t too put out by the lack of response. I took a private security company’s car at some ungodly hour only to discover that my wife had gone. She had taken the kids with her and left her keys dangling in the lock of the kitchen door; there was no note. Who could blame her for running for cover? The money alone was enough to break the bonds between us. We had grown used to being close to insolvent; like most families we spent everything we had as quickly as possible to stop anyone else laying their hands on it. It was this constant balancing act that held us together as a couple, both of us assuming that the other would starve without our omnipotent financial guidance. All that had changed now. Everyone in the world started dumping money our way. The banks were just the first, then came the commercial world and at the back of the queue the governments. The letters that I received from these people never asked for anything in return, apart from the chance to associate themselves with me. I didn't
Jack Brokenshire have to sit on the bonnet of new cars or open supermarkets or anything like that. It must have been a simple act of piety from the senior executives of the various companies with the money; maybe they imagined I had some kind of special pull in the great beyond. I had no time to explain to my wife what had happened, no time to talk over my thoughts and no way to walk around the millions of pounds that were flooding towards us from people who would previously laughed us out of their premises. Even if I had had the time I didn’t know much about it myself so what could I have said? I could imagine just the act of leaving the house with kids and getting into our beat up old car must have been traumatic for her. At first as I listened to the stillness in the house it almost felt like a relief. My head was so mixed up by all of this needed some silent place, but not here. I looked at the bits and pieces of our world: the kettle, the TV where my children should be sitting fighting over the channel changer, the coat hangers with a few of my wife's clothes on. I touched her clothes and picked up the scent of the perfume that she wore and it felt as if a black line had been drawn across me, a crossing out, a border had been crossed from a problem and into a disaster. The world's media was still there, photographing and recording the nothingness of an empty house. I had to move fast, because once the news got out about my presence there the world would go mad again. I grabbed a couple of photographs from the mantelpiece and jumped back in the armoured car I had arrived in. I had lost my family. In a world of change, wives and children are anchors in a man’s mind. We often pull against them, fooled by the notion of freedom, just like the millions of lost soldiers who have ripped each other to pieces were fooled by the same idea. But once the anchors are lost and you drift around in a sea of strangers you can bet that trouble follows quickly. There was no one to say "no", no one to disagree with me, no one to be frugal with their feelings and forcing me to reach out to them. I was quickly awash in a constantly simmering sea of sycophancy and where my family would have kept me nailed to the ground, with fights about television channel changers, over flowing wash
The Calling baskets and queues for the bathroom, all I had now was the constant agreement of people who didn’t know me. I wasn’t wise, but somehow because of the phone they thought I was. I wasn’t clever either, but they all spoke to me in hushed tones as if I was some kind of bird of prey on a perch. I was so bemused by all of the attention I was receiving that I hardly had time to think about the loss of my family. Strange how such a wonderful thing like talking to heaven can turn a person into a complete certified and bang up-to-date bastard. I became a new version of myself. My wife and the kids had been such a fundamental part of me that in the gap left by their removal I had to put in place something very serious and solid, something for me to call home, something I knew would be able to assuage the pain of their loss, and true to form it only took me a few days to find just the things, alcohol and drugs. I knew as soon as I alighted upon the idea of getting blasted that it was a bad one, but I still accepted it because it worked very well. I had lots of time to waste and an unlimited chance to cure the poison in my thinking but I never quite succeeded. Not through lack of effort. I did all of the selfdestruction work alone, of course. I was never a user friendly type of person, even my previous—and now lost—group of friends was a tight band of familiar faces. The fact that everything had changed never dented my approach to getting wrecked. People came onto me of course, some after a free drink or two, some chasing me for the reflected fame, some trying to hitch a high from my constant stash of drug ammunition, but there was never a party animal in me. I was suddenly so rich and established that if one hotel room seemed to get crowded with hangers-on, I just left it and moved to another. I never gave out invitations or my phone number and I never left a room with plans to meet anyone again. It was a life of the immediate, a life on the move and a life more powerfully bent by substance abuse than any rock star or poet or actor could have dreamt of. Why so high? Simple. Everyone around me thought I was special (and by everyone I mean
Jack Brokenshire everyone) so there was no restraint, no law, no interference and no pressure to do anything to keep the ball bouncing. I never had to write a new album or novel, I never had to paint another masterpiece; all I had to do was exist. To add to the unique nature of my fame and status, it didn't seem to matter to anyone how I behaved. At least a rock star or a supermodel had a few rules and regulations to observe, even if it was only having to get someone to spin up a story regarding their latest escapades. I was even luckier. I could do just about anything and there was never any come back or need to explain. It was stardom of a new type altogether and it had fallen on someone who previously had done nothing but pack boxes of furniture. **** Times passed and as the masses tried out this gift most were to be disappointed when it became clear that only the precise make and model of phone that I was using could actually reach the dead. In the whole world there were only a couple of thousand left, the owners of which must have felt like they had won every lottery on earth. There was a rush to market from all the other phone manufacturers in an attempt to cash in on the sudden deification of mobile phones. New deals came out daily, new models hourly and the young men and women in the mobile phone shops found themselves with a whole new range of customer questions. But despite this sudden enormous crop of new models, and the unbelievable increase in what the new phones could do, none of the newer generation could contact the past generations of people. After a while the flood subsided. Only my phone, made at some certain time and place, could reach across the great divide to the people in the other world. The news hit the headlines and my name was up in lights, big lights, very big lights. Some people asked me very complicated technical questions, some very stupid ones, and as the news spread my emails were jammed up and my hard line phone was
The Calling ringing night and day; every night and day so I just stopped answering it. My post changed as well, from the handful of insurance brochures and special offers for kitchenware it developed into thousands of letters a day. It came in huge sacks from all directions, as people tried to contact the angels they imagined or tried to interest me in special arrangements for "my benefit.” Some, if not all, included money. Life was awash with the stuff and it wasn’t unusual for me to open a letter and find a cheque for thousands of pounds from a total stranger. I shouldn’t have been surprised, I suppose; it was a bit of groundbreaking news being able to talk to the dead, but I soon tired of it all. It didn’t seem to matter where I was, no matter which hotel I went to—be it an expensive one or a cheap backstreet dump—the attention always followed me. As I had no one who could help me hide in reality, I used other measures to hide my mind in unreality. I should have created a mailing address or something like that, or even recruited a press office full of land lines to tackle all of this crap but it would have felt pretentious to have a team working for me, especially as the miracle phones were not really of my making. The manufacturers of the miracle phones called me. They set up a laboratory in my old living room and gave me fifty grand a day for the privilege. The house was smothered in wires and modems (something my wife would never have allowed) and they brought in additional generators and chemistry kits which soon wrecked the house completely. But as no one was living there, I didn’t care. I dropped the neighbours big lumps of money to keep them sweet. This was the phone company’s attempt to make more of my phone type, but it just wasn’t the same. It seemed that a specific batch of these phones made about 9 years before were the only ones that could make contact. No-one was going to make money out of it; they could replicate the bits and pieces they had used but they never discovered what it was that made that batch, and only that phone, operate in the way mine did. They even sent their manufacturing people out into their factory stores and
Jack Brokenshire dug out the exact components that had been used in the original production run. These had lain redundant on the shelves for years, but they gathered them together, reconstructed one of the phones and started punching in numbers. Nothing happened; this was more than just a matter of the tangible elements involved. So the old phones became worth more than anyone could estimate. No one was going to part with them, even if they were obsolete and battered and failing fast these items had become priceless. Eventually the phone manufacturers asked if they could dismantle the one I had to take a look at the guts of the thing. Of course I said no; I didn’t want anything to risk the connection that I had stumbled on, certainly not some kid with armed with a PhD and a screwdriver. A team of white coated experts turned up and began a line of questioning "How long have you had this phone? Have you ever tampered with it? What payment package was it on?" I broke into this discussion quickly because details always bored me "What difference does it make how I paid for the thing?” The technician who had now sat down on my sofa without being asked made the position clear. "Well you see as this equipment was actually made by us, we kind of own what it’s capable of doing and not you." Fabulous, I thought. "Here, help yourself." I handed the young man the phone at the centre of the turmoil and for a few seconds he toyed with it, and possibly the idea of keeping it, but he handed it back. "No we don’t need it back, if word got out that we had seized it back, the company would never sell another phone." I could see his point but stuck to mine. "I don’t want this phone tampered with, if you foul it up and I lose the link to my family it'll be a disaster." The technical wizard now had his feet up on my sofa and was relaxing as only technical wizards can. I brushed his boots off the furniture and he eventually got round to his point. "That is very selfish of you. We reckoned we can figure out what it was
The Calling that had made this possible if we look at the workings within, and by doing so everyone could have one." But I still said no. I knew that it wasn’t a mechanical thing that made the contact possible. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it wasn’t anything to do with the wires and batteries of the phone itself. "Oh, very well!” The defeated technician graciously threw me his intentions at last. "We'll limit ourselves to external examinations of the unit and some x-rays.” I let them use my house for their experiments and for all I know they're still there now with their microscopes and oscillators and whatever, trying to avoid the obvious conclusion that it wasn’t the phone that was behind the strange calling. In any case, if the company managed to crack whatever it was that made the miracle happen it didn’t seem right to me that they should be able to sell them. Cold commercialism with gaggles of champagne swilling capitalists smiling at their sales figures didn’t sit right with the gentleness I was hearing up in heaven. The sales and marketing people turned up next and offered me billions of wonderful things to promote the phone brand, which didn’t call for an awful lot of work on my part. Strangely enough, on top of being able to contact dead people the phone never needed charging. Something must have spilt over them from heaven, that's the only way that this could have happened: the "whats" and "hows" were lost on simple men like me. I never troubled myself to work out just exactly how something as banal as a mobile phone could suddenly become the proof of life after death. It would have driven me mad to have been as inquisitive as some of the people who called me became. Some even wanted a sample of my DNA. I refused; I didn’t want anyone to associate anything about me with the working miracle I had stumbled upon one night in a bar. I was no miracle worker, despite the growing fuss in the papers. I was just a normal guy with a normal job and a normal family, and of course I'd lost the job and the family, so all that was left was my normality.
Jack Brokenshire Not a good defence in the face of the entire world’s acclaim. Maybe I drank too much at times, but so did everyone I knew—so that was no qualification for me to be singled out from the sea of humanity. Not a day went by without at least a hundred people contacting me, offering either vast amounts of money to buy it from me or vast amounts of money to make a single call. Some would ring me up, some would send letters or emails and others would actually come up to me in the street and make a bid for my attention. I was never tempted to accept because my father and mother had come back to me and I didn’t want to risk anything ruining it. I always thought that if anything like this happened to me I would be able to steer a wise course from the brink of bankruptcy I normally lived in. I thought I had the brains and experience needed for a better life. Truth is, when something this big happens one retires sharply into the basic person you know you can be confident in. It was about at this time that I got my first call from the church. There were to be many visits like this one from Muslims, Jews and so on. Even a couple of Buddhists dropped in once to ask me a few questions. Aside from funerals, I hadn’t been inside a church for over a decade. When the gentlemen turned up at my hotel room door it was a bit disturbing. They hadn’t made an appointment and the room was not looking its best. Neither was I. They were very nice about things, very polite and thoughtful, but I could tell by their demeanour that they were uneasy. To start with, they talked to me as if they were some kind of senior authority. The tallest and the most pompous of the squad seemed to act as the ringleader "Now this phone situation! You understand, of course, that the church does not ascribe to the idea of being able to talk to those in heaven." He closed his eyes and looked at the roof for a moment then continued on a similar theme. "Also, because we cannot know what kind of man you are, we have to be sure that what you claim is real. We have this kind of thing happening all of the time. I'm sure you'll understand." "Actually, no I don't. Look, have a try. You'll see what the problem is."
The Calling But he demurred. One look at me told them that I didn’t deserve to be sitting this high up the chain of command of holiness. I quite clearly knew nothing at all about religion and my naturally disheveled state, made worse by current events, did nothing to set them at ease. For a start, they couldn’t take their eyes off my mobile phone—the wrong mobile phone. I'd bought a more modern one so I could call people normally. Their eyes betrayed their emotions as their attention flicked from subject to subject. The tall guy marched on. "His Holiness has allowed you the indulgence of making your claims without prejudice to your condition in our Lord's sight. This is a great honour because in most circumstances such as this, the church takes a very harsh view of any fraudulent claims." "Are you calling me a fraud now?" "Oh no no no," came the less than sincere response as once again he closed his eyes and pondered. "But the church needs to be careful when it is handling these matters so as not to support disingenuous proclamations." "So I am being treated as a fraud right?" Quite honestly, I was armed with certainty—a certainty that was backed up by other people who had seen what the phone could do—and these hawks now sitting in my hotel room looked distinctly frail. I wondered if they had looked scary to other people they had interviewed. To me, they looked very authoritative and their manner backed this up. Now I felt they represented something totally debunked. For a moment, I actually felt sorry for them. They had spent all of their lives working on these things and their work had just been made invalid be me and my old mobile phone. They never smiled or relaxed the entire time they were with me even though I sorted out some tea and biscuits, figuring that vicars like that sort of thing, and turned the TV volume down. Eventually one of them plucked up the courage and asked to see the phone.
Jack Brokenshire When I brought it, all three seemed to spin off into a world of their own. It was as if I wasn’t there for about an hour as the theological questions flew thick and fast between them, in a dialect and vocabulary only they could understand. It got so boring I turned the TV volume back up again to entertain myself while they discussed things, and took a slug from a half empty Vodka bottle I had to hand. The tall one, as always, took the lead in their discussions. "Our Lord would not be aware of such technically advanced pieces of equipment like a phone. Neither would he condone such a thing." A younger one piped in. "And why not? Much good has come from the development of the phone over the years—take the emergency services, for example." The tall one charged in for the kill. "You are missing my point entirely; the Lord would not support anything that suggested man was meant to develop tools and equipment. As soon as our Lord showed that, it would mean he was also happy with the atomic bomb, as both the phone and the bomb are products of man’s struggle for scientific progress." These people were clearly possessed of gigantic IQ scores as most of what they were saying meant nothing to me, or to anyone else I could think of. At one point, one of them grabbed the copy of the Gideon's bible I was using as a drinks mat and flinging open its pages, began gesticulating at the text. Clearly, he was entirely focused on driving his point home because he impolitely moved the bottle of vodka I had just taken a slug from out of the way without asking. I forgave his impoliteness; he was excited after all. So a bizarre situation ensued with me sitting there, able to talk to the dead, while those educated in the matter trundled through the mental beach obstacles that their training had given them to prevent them believing that such a thing could happen. Just to make the right impression, I offered them each the chance to use it and ring someone they had lost, but they all refused without explaining. "That would be quite out of the question," said the tall hawkish one, making sure the smaller men took his observation as an order.
The Calling "Why not? I mean, you've got nothing to lose and it might be cool to talk to someone you have lost." But my remark really had fallen onto stony ground "This is not a matter of ‘cool.’ This is a very serious matter that you have confronted us with and it needs our deepest consideration." "Oh, sorry then," I meekly replied, although for the life of me I didn’t understand the complications he was going on about. To me it was really simple; there were no philosophical dilemmas in talking to my dad. I suppose my little phone had pretty much unwired two and a half thousand years of ass-kicking belief, so it must have been tough for them to actually accept the fact that the dead were really rather more alive than they had assumed. They certainly didn’t expect to hear of people who had passed away enjoying karate lessons, learning to fly aeroplanes or spending their days dancing to heavy metal music. As appealing as it sounded to me, to men who had spent their lives in what they thought was holy dedication this kind of laxness must have seemed disgusting. They never spoke about their heaven to me of course—why should they? They knew all the rules about the place from their books and studies and me, well I knew nothing about it beyond that it sounded like fun. I figured heaven should be fun, nothing else would make sense. I ventured a question myself, not wanting to look dumb in such company. "What is Heaven meant to be like then? You should know. Is there a heaven? What's causing all the confusion for you? It sounds like everything people could want, surely.” They stopped their talking and after a few moments of silent thought, it was the small one who answered me. "Heaven is not a place, you see, it is the condition of being in the presence of God. From what we have heard regarding your phone conversations, God is not even mentioned. This is where the problem lies. It can't be a good place to be if there is no God."
Jack Brokenshire He had me on that one. No one had a clue who was running the show up in heaven, or indeed who was running the whole system from life on through, but I had to try and answer him as best I could. "Maybe God isn’t just one thing, maybe God is many things, maybe God is everything?" It sounded okay to me. I was no philosopher, but after some of the things I had been through recently I just couldn’t see one bloke, or woman, being able to contain the power needed to make this show of living and dying keep running. Trite maybe, but a bigger idea was needed. They didn’t waste any time on indulging my ignorance. "That’s simply not possible under any circumstances; a supreme being has to exist." And off they went again into the twisted fables and legends that they assumed to be law. One of them plucked up the courage to hold the phone, and the others took photographs of it as if it were some kind of medieval relic, which I suppose it was. Except—this one actually worked unlike some other splinters and bone fragments that these gentlemen, and others of their ilk, seemed to hold in such high regard. After their cup of tea and fresh round of biscuits, they left in a trail of robes and crucifixes, smiling, but quite obviously not sure which side of the good versus evil matrix I and my phone were sitting on. They never came back, although I was visited by several other denominations. After they had left, I looked out of the window at them in the car park as they sat in their little car outside, surrounded by my daily pack of newshounds and cameramen. They had lost the smiles they had worn on their departure. Each one of them was on a mobile phone to his boss reporting back on what they had seen. Just like me on my special mobile phone, I thought as I turned away. I went back to my vodka and the cable channels. My mind went back to the religious relic thoughts I had had earlier and even though my grasp of medieval history was based on what I had learnt at school. I could recall several Crusades being launched to regain bits and pieces of saints and such.
The Calling Fueled by my vodka imagination, I wondered if the same thing would happen with my phone: armies clashing in the fields for possession of my low tech gadget. I kept all my conversations to myself and I rang up in the middle of the night, earth's night. It seemed right to call during dark hours. It seemed right to keep my talks with the dead secret, especially as the entire planet was now hard wired into everything I did. Sometimes, I would even make my calls from underneath the duvet. It was a stupid move but it made me feel more secure about the whole thing. My father was as happy as ever when we spoke, but he did mention that now the secret was out he expected things to turn sour at some point. There was no deep moment of revelation about it, he sounded just like any dad would sound if he was talking about his son’s unwise decisions: calm but clearly indicating that an error had been made. He was well in advance of me on these matters and I took his words to be a suggestion that the deal would fall through on the entire phone calling thing. At first my mother never mentioned anything about it all, she was far too busy with her dancing and her painting and her sky diving to be distracted by my remarks from a world she had long forgotten. And it was as well that she had forgotten.
My mother and I had had the distinct disadvantage of getting to know one another. My father, dying young, never went through my teenage years, my angry years or the start of my drinking years. He'd never had to face being worried about me as I hunted for a job and he never had the chance to think I was acting stupidly. He never had the chance to disapprove of my choice of friends, my style of clothes or music and of course he never laid his eyes on any girlfriends, women which my mother clashed with as a matter of maternal tradition. For my mother, the net result of knowing me was that she didn’t like me—and she'd made a pretty good representation of this feeling in every way she could while she was alive. She never lost an opportunity to comment, be it a stroke of false praise or a genuine kick of criticism, and as her comments became more abrasive I would fire back at her. This was a strange turn of events because I quite liked her and never understood her harshness. I had nothing but sympathy for her because she became a widow so early in her life. In those days, widows were on their own and treated by suspicion by people who were having, as they saw it, contented lives. This was long before the era of en masse divorce and I sensed from the way other people acted towards her that everyone saw widows as loose cannons in the family system. She was treated like dirt by other women who probably suspected that their husbands would be drawn to her.
The Calling I always sensed her vulnerability, her aloneness, even her utter frustration at being an attractive woman and yet not having the companionship of a normal life. The worst moments were when she acted tough and the act was exposed by something. She would be destroyed in front of me by someone else's anger: in those moments she had nowhere to run for shelter and no one to protect her. After my father died, it must have been tough to bring up children alone. We were broke of course. Everyone was broke in those days and when my father’s wages sank into the grave with him, we were screwed. Mortgages never die even though men and women do, and there were times which were so tough that I have no idea how my mother kept us all together. The house went from being in good condition to being a wreck as the list of repairs needed grew ever longer but there was no one about the place to sort things out, my mother lost all her power and force when her predicament dawned upon her. She was totally alone; fuck knows what kind of things she must have thought when she went to bed each night. All of the money worries and kid worries were piled on top of her grief. So, it was no wonder she stopped baking cakes and pies and ended up chain smoking cigarettes and sitting on a chair snarling at the world. These were the days when alone meant alone—long before the councillors and social workers and antidepressant drugs swept in to make us all numb to reality. In those days, widows froze in the winter and no one was concerned about it. We often hid inside our cold house while people battered at the door demanding money, it must have been unbelievable; it was unbelievable because I was there and even I found it hard to believe that life could be so emotionless. That's what happens when you have unsynchronised dying: and my father had broken the synchronicity that banks and mortgages depend on. Dying early or late fouls the whole system up no matter who you are. You have to die on time. So as I grew older, I felt for her. At least as a little boy I didn’t sense the horror she must have felt or have the obligations she had to somehow cover; it must have broken her heart. But, my feelings for her were never reciprocated. Maybe she could have remarried but we children got in the way; maybe she felt love again but
Jack Brokenshire found her path to happiness blocked by the avalanche of responsibility which we children represented; maybe she actually met someone who told her things would have been brilliant if not for us kids. I know she had boyfriends. I met most of them and while at night they were engaged in patting the widow's ass, they still patted my little head in the morning—probably with the same hand. In any event, she never remarried and she grew old and angry in a perfectly orchestrated dance. Not old in time, but old in her eyes and in her heart and in her expression. It’s hard to look into someone else's feelings, especially someone as close as your mother, but sometimes I would catch a glimpse of how she felt. Maybe it was as I matured and I understood some of the weight which had accumulated in her life as she got sadder and older. She had no one, she had lost everything. It was no wonder she imploded and barked at everything she saw. Anyway, over a period of about two years she fell ill and then she died. The night before she died, she managed to fight through the morphine fog and impart her thoughts to me. The savage drama of the moment was completed by this final act played out in front of a busy hospital team while dinner was being served. We both knew that she didn't have long to go; I clung to a hope that she would fight back in some way and live, but she was destroyed. Anyway, unlike the kind of brave words one sees in the movies when people finally die, my mother’s words were not designed to make my heart light or an audience weep. She drew me close, lifted herself from the bed and whispered in my ear slowly and with great care, "I must tell you this." She paused to gain a few breaths. "In all of my sorry life, no one has made me as unhappy as you." That was all she said, almost as if she was making sure that nothing could confuse the message she wanted me to hear and understand. As the words drifted away, she lay back on the pillow with a deadly look on her face: the look that separated me from being treated like a child and being treated as a person. It scared me. I remembered.
The Calling This was a suitable ruin of thought for me to live in for the rest of my life. For the first time in my life, I was completely scared. It could not be misunderstood: my mother’s last words were chosen with particular care to let me know what was in her heart. I became dizzy. The room was a dismal place but now it suffocated me. My head swarmed with the emotion. I knew instinctively that unless she said something else, her words would pound me for the rest of my life. But there were no other words; she had laid some bitter traps to catch me in every smile or laugh or happy moment I would ever have. We left that night, and got the call at dawn the next day that she was finally going. When we arrived, she could not speak any more. There was no chance of a reprieve for me. I watched her last breath, the last breath of a woman I had known all of my life. I begged for her to keep breathing. Just one more breath! I thought when there was still a hope that she could change her testament, but there was no hope. She died badly; the nurses had to clean her up at one point in the business, while outside the open door of her hospital cubicle some lazy bum was placing bets with a bookie on a race that morning. After the hell she had been through, she couldn’t even die with any privacy or dignity. But as the nurses hurried to bring in the things they needed to help her die, she had the last laugh on us all. Her breath stopped. It was over. The nurses looked disappointed that they hadn’t had the chance to use their toys on her. She would have liked that. At first, I could excuse her final words: it was the drugs or the pain or something like that. I would tell myself it couldn't actually be what she thought; that would be insane. In any case, how selfish was it of me to even consider my feelings? She was dying and I was alive. It was self-centred of me to struggle with her statement when it was her last moment I was reliving. I drank through three bottles of Jack and was drunk at the funeral. This was followed by a kind of phoney peace. I coped well until a few years later, when the shock of it all had faded a little, and then there was trouble.
Jack Brokenshire It was then that the deal fell through for me, the deal of burying the pain in the belief that it will never resurrect itself, and I lost heart in life. Something must have happened, I can't remember what it was: maybe an inconsequential argument with my wife or maybe one of the kids spilt a glass of lemonade, who knows? But it triggered a spring-loaded lock on the part of my mind where my mother's words had been secured. Out they sprang, accompanied by all the other venom I had set aside. This part of me was a very dark sector full of the wreckage of shot down plans that I couldn’t face. Over the years, I must have kept this stuff tightly buttoned up and the atomic energy it required to keep the lid down must have finally been exhausted and the coffin sprang open. This was bound to leave me open to disaster. The attack was not long delayed, a couple of days of depression and then my brain got started to work closely with its new dark editor. Everything was reviewed under a new light. Normal perspective was thrown out and a new culture of thought was devised to crap all over anything that was good, or proper or even bright. I went over her words again and again, wearing out the cold wrapping that shrouded them. The numbness that had protected me vanished and, in its place, after it had had a little time to build up power a big contorting whirlwind erupted like a pack of Huns looking for virgin cities to ravage. With my thoughts disintegrating fast, I never really believed she had meant what she had said to me. It was only this thought, this last ditch of an idea like a handful of bread thrown to a mob of starving villagers, which delayed me from going insane. It was all too dark and too heavy, and in the finest tradition of a desperate person I decided to lighten up my heart with the sparkle of alcohol, the promise of mind-altering drugs and the confederation of the thoughtless people who are normally found in the orbit of such things. This was my first mistake in these matters: a pioneer mistake that was to lead the way for a whole migration of mistakes in this direction. I was about to enter the Promised Land of spectacular fuck ups. From this era onwards I was never going to be whiter than white again. The perfect person I could ever have been, the little boy, had walked into a different world and over
The Calling the following years he drifted away. He must have vanished completely at some point and died like his mother did. I kept alive of course, everyone has to until the killer blow, and I was young enough to add more energy to my thoughts to increase the lift from my broken wings. But it was tiring and I never stopped trying to get the lid back on the box of thoughts that were flooding my mind. The result was that some days I won, and other days I didn’t. The nights were always lost to me. Eventually, if I drew up a league table of days between the good ones and the bad ones the black wildness began to get the upper hand. Although the victory would have been invisible to people outside my head, once her words had finally hit home I cared little one way or the other. I was in a world of my own most of the time. So years after my mother had died, with tides of explosive unhappiness washing around me and armed with the power due the figurehead of the biggest thing that had ever happened on the planet, I was in a fabulous position to do bad things. And so it was. I was the man who found the phone miracle. It had been a miracle but now as its wonderfulness pressed on the broken foundation of my past, all of the conversations the phone enabled me to make were adding to the melee in my head. I could not simply turn away from what had been said and done; the actual perpetrator of this pain was close enough for me to hear her voice on a phone. True—she was in some kind of eternity, but she and I could converse to try and clear this all away. By now, I had lost contact with my wife and children and had no idea where they were. This added a rich seasoning to the mess, making it twice as nauseous. I thought I would never be able to defuse the ticking bomb that my mother had planted in my mind. Only she would be able to take her last words away from me, and the look she had worn when she said them, from my memories. I had the chance to talk to my mother and sort things out between us. It was a bit of a dark conversation, a complete contrast to the style we normally used on the phone, but it was worth the risk for the possibility that she might finally release me from the iron cobweb of her last words. To me, in the wreckage of my character and still taking a
Jack Brokenshire heavy bombardment from my memories every night the fact that there could be a release from this was way more important than the appearance of the phone themselves. I could get out of this mess and become me again. As soon as this idea, the idea of being certain about her and me came into my mind, I became frightened. One call would clear this all up and she would say, assuming that she could even remember, that of course she had never meant to wound me with her words. My fear came from the wild idea that she might confirm her last words, what then for me? I had nothing to lose, so I chose my moment and I asked. My mother had always been an oblique person; there was no reflection of anything else in her. Her manner made her opaque, but up in heaven things were different. I was as certain as I could be that in her new place she would be freed from all of the tackiness of living. With a lightened mind, perhaps even a clear mind, she would feel different about things—about me. During our phone calls, she often had made it clear that she missed me; even my Father said he missed me and he’d never really known me. So her feelings for me must be with her still. I allowed a couple of sentences at the start of the call for the normal banter. I didn’t have enough guts to make the preamble very long and I wanted to get things over with as fast as I could. To prepare for this critical moment I had done what people like me always do: spent the preceding forty-eight hours refueling my coward thoughts with powerful drinks and putting icing up my nose with mind-polluting drugs supplied free by a salesman for washing machines. It was late one Sunday evening and my mother's frame of mind was as happy and as bright at the start of the conversation as they all were up in paradise. I was timid; what I was going to ask was so critical that even when backed up by the scaffolding of my substance abuse, my mouth went dry and my words were unsteady. Sitting alone with a stiff drink to hand, I noticed that I was shaking, my brow became warm and every motion of my body seemed to take more effort than normal. It felt as if I was being watched by a thousand people, all wanting my mother to turn the disaster within me into a complete catastrophe.
The Calling "Is dad with you?" I asked as my courage cranked up "Not at the moment. I think he's over with the parachuting people, why?” "Oh, nothing really. I just wondered what he was up to." “I can get him if you like." "No, that’s okay," I said in the unnatural tone of someone who is trying to be assertive but fears the sound of their own voice. "Is everything ok with you? You sound different to me." She said this as if I was suffering from a cold, but at least her words gave me the chance to finally get to the point. "Can you remember what you said to me the night before you died, mum?” There was a silence at the other end of the line, and as I had already managed to broach the matter my courage seemed to strengthen so I delivered the line I had been waiting to say to her for years "You didn’t really hate me that much did you?" Immediately after my question it seemed as if she had ignored me. She brushed it aside and talked about her archery classes and her dry stone walling. After a little while, I got the impression that maybe she didn’t even remember what she had said that night. In that instant, I became angry; all the years of my life since she had gone had been spent in feeling grim about myself and here she was, or at least the essence of her, in total ignorance of what she had felt. "You said that no one had made you as unhappy as I had, remember?" Again, a dripping silence greeted my words. Summoning up the courage again, I repeated my question—but this time I bordered it around with half humour. "It wasn't what you actually meant, right?" This time, there was a special silence. I could hear the birds singing in the background at her end of the line. It was one of those silent moments between people when you know that you have caused some thinking to take place. Then she hung up. Even in heaven, apparently, they can hang up the phone on you.
Jack Brokenshire I didn’t sleep at all for the remainder of the night. I was in and out of bed so many times that in the end I gave up. Looking in the mirror, I saw a different me. It was probably at this moment that my dislike of mirrors started. It was a funny peculiarity to suddenly pop out of nowhere, but seeing myself had bad consequences upon the way I thought. Someone clever could have figured out what it meant but I wasn’t clever, I never had been; another gulp of wisdom the mirror gave me for free. I was tempted to ring my father and ask him what was going on, but I came to the conclusion that people in heaven were just as duplicitous as we were down here. The material world I lived in was no worse or better than the place where they were: she must have remembered her words and could find no answer to my question. How wonderful to be possibly the only man alive to remind someone in heaven of the hatred they had felt in life! I figured it was better to let heaven be. Despite pretending to me that they had some form of bigger view than I had, they still got caught in the revolving racket of pros and cons, black and white, good and bad and hatred and love. For a short while, a very short while, I thought that I might have upset her. I had been told it was impossible when dealing with the dead; they were protected from such thoughts. Well, lucky them! In the few seconds it took for me to discard this idea, a nation at arms sprang to life in my heart. This nation was at war with heaven, and earth and everything about the game I seemed to have got involved in. My mother still hated me—it was clear. So while they all were having a fabulous time in the great beyond, washed clean of the bad things that had happened to them, the bad things they had done remained like a deep stain on us poor bastards that were left. You could still hate things in heaven, what a joke! So that was heaven—just a Mark 2 model of earth, souped up on perfection and limitless skills but in essence just a place with a million shortcuts to what we have down here, enjoyed by the same people who kept all the fucks up they had had down here with them. My internal temper took hold of me and I had to deliberately close my eyes
The Calling to calm myself down. I was possibly the first person to be disappointed what he had seen of heaven. Heaven was not perfect? Well they could shove it and their bankrupt wisdom. For a few moments the certainty was relaxing. No more doubt about it: the woman had hated me then and she probably felt the same right now. I remembered other incidents between us to support the thunder building in my brain. I remembered how she had told me just after my father had died that I had been an accident; an unplanned accident between them. In my swirling thoughts, I drew a pencil line between the two cruel remarks and it was a straight as a rocket. It took heaven to help me to the conclusion, but the conclusion was inescapable; I was a bad ass, from a false start. I felt more alone than ever, despite being able to contact just about anyone who had ever existed. Back in a lonely bar, I tried to strike up a conversation with the bar keeper. It was deliberate: I needed to talk to someone and bar keepers are prime targets because normally they can’t run away. The place was empty. It was late and he was as bored as I was. The room had a couple of low hanging lights which had once been fashionable , in fact the whole place looked like it could use a shot of botox to make it young again. "Where is everyone?" I said as I sipped on vodka. No response from the barman who was reading a newspaper nearby. This was a bad start in my effort to talk. I pressed on. "Does this place ever get busy?" He looked at me, head tilted to one side, lips tightening. He considered his response and then opened fire. "I'm reading a paper here and I'm on my break and you're a drunk who needs someone to talk to, am I right?" I didn’t say a word, but took a deep breath and looked away. However, he stuck to his task of slaughtering me. "This isn’t going to work is it? I don’t give a fuck about whatever your problems are. I just don't care do you understand that? So you just finish your little drink, barfly, and get out." A unique marketing approach on his part, I thought. I actually found it refreshing: at least he wasn’t fawning over me like most people did. I did as he asked and as I passed him on my way out I saw the newspaper headlines:
Jack Brokenshire Can The Living Really Talk To The Dead? And it had a picture of me underneath the caption. As I passed through the doorway, I heard him yelling me back. "Wait a minute! Is this you?" He must have seen the photo, but I just kept walking away. It was a habit. Maybe now, if my wife and family had still been around, I would have thought things through, taken time over this kind of big stuff, or ignored it as irrelevant. I don’t think I would have been found trying to strike up conversations with barmen, or drinking all hours of the day. If I had somehow hung onto the compelling here and now of loved ones in close proximity, things would have been different. But I'd lost everything. No maps or charts of me were close at hand, so every idea I had walked out of its womb and danced with my instincts. I still had no idea of where my family was. I assumed they were hiding from me: a daddy gone mad, a silent husband. **** For the next few weeks and months, I never bothered to ring heaven. Christmas approached with all that season implied: its grinning teeth and plastic warmth, its jolly TV programs and its childish belief in peace. Through all the build up to the Christmas time I looked ahead, brooding, becoming more untamed with every tinsel dream It was as if the bits and pieces of propriety that I had welded into me from birth to convert me from a suckling animal into a useful, tidy and clean human were gradually dismantled. It’s not a pleasant experience to have life amputated while you are still breathing. I had hoped in some earlier version of myself that everything was forgivable, but I was wrong. I had thought that that even people like Hitler and his gang of dunces would be able to let go of the things they had done, and hell, for all I knew my mother and father were playing tennis with the bastards while I was suffering alone. No matter what was said, it was crystal clear to me that my mother felt the same anger that she had when she was alive. As a result, my position in her world was just
The Calling the same as it had been in that dismal hospital room; no forgiveness there. My brooding became darker, as it was bound to be when one has an issue with the dead. As the lights went out one by one above the display cabinets of my life, I slid into a smiling anger. This was a bad sign at a bad time, with heaven just a phone call away. Anyway, I was tempted to give the phone to someone who could get a better life from it than I had. I often just looked at the thing in frustrated anger and hated it for the trap it had put me in. Even if I went to heaven it would be a hell for me now, with my mother waiting to continue the unfinished business of vaporising my soul. People were contacting me and saying what a fabulous thing it must be to talk to the loved and the lost: I stayed silent but didn’t discourage their notions. How could I? It would always be fabulous for others to be able to talk to lost people and then find out that we were the lost ones while they were fine and living a high life in some unknown place. We were alive, but we were all so arrogant about breath; we thought we were the be all and end all of experience. But now, we had found out that what we had was basically obsolete. There was another place which made our place look like very hard work. I was jealous of the real stories from real life I heard of happy reunions. Some people had no snags in their feelings for each other and could dream of reaching across the greatest divide that one could imagine with sentimental dreams. But not me; the more I thought about it the more powerful became the shadows in me, and soon they began to invade the way I thought of happy people. I should have known that I was in trouble, but it was too dark in my mind and I had no lights to shine on my archives of proper thinking—if they had ever existed. My wife had been my illumination, and she was gone. I had occasional impulses to ring my dead parents, to try and repair things with my mother, but I couldn’t imagine anyone inside eternity changing their mind. It was a big leap in my understanding to even assume they had minds, let alone opinions. My mother had made it clear her opinions had survived her death, or maybe just her opinion about me, which was more than a little damning. There could be no heaven for
Jack Brokenshire me, just a reunion with the mess I had already eaten a chunk of, so how was I going to escape? I had other impulses. At one time, I wanted to chuck the special phone under a truck or into a skip as I walked by. But as the weeks and months ground by, I frankly forgot I even had it. There were rotten memories now, so rotten and decaying that it gave me a headache just to fly over them with my thoughts let alone touch them with my heart. Occasionally, I sent reconnaissance thoughts across my battered memories but none survived. Each one was shot down by the raging mass of flak that armed and protected these black regions within me. Some of the memories had been so beautiful, so tightly held, that I had to close my eyes for a few moments when I concluded that they were just lies: sentimental programs I played through my mind. I remembered when I was a little boy how I had fallen over in the street and cut my hands. I ran to my mother sobbing and she picked me up, held me close in her arms and patted my back until I calmed down. She sang a little song into my ear at the same time, and for decades I remembered that moment and it comforted me at times. But now even this soft thought was ripped to pieces by black dogs and barbed wire fences. When she lifted me up she was probably annoyed rather than gentle; how could I know what was on her mind? Of course I knew now, so all the years spent dwelling on what should have been a wonderful memory were wasted. While I recruited armies for the coming troubles in my life, the world was busy making a mess of things on its own. I could have been on TV; chat show people were on to me day and night with amazing offers of global marketing deals. A company of public relations consultants got in touch suggesting I made better of myself, got my hair cut, dressed snappier and wore dark glasses everywhere to furnish my dull face with the appearance of mystery. It got to the extent that my conventional phone never stopped ringing: and no matter which hotel I was staying at the bastards always managed to find me, sometimes before I even got fully into the room the phone would be jangling. No matter how much I paid the
The Calling receptionists or the managers someone else would pay them more. It was a circus for wolves and I was the bait in the middle of the arena so no one could be trusted. Eventually I didn’t even bother trying to sleep, as the circus around me gained energy of its own. In the very centre of this was my pain, rubbed raw by people who couldn’t know that there was trouble between me and heaven. Trouble between me and heaven. I should have known what would happen, as if I could cope with this and make it into a fair fight. I got drunk and stoned too many times; falling over wrecked was a daily occurrence. Naturally, the police, once they recognised me, were the very soul of discretion. Normally, they took me back to my room, even putting me into bed sometimes. Such was the fame of being the first man to speak to heaven. I was above the law. I probably could have robbed a bank and they would have let me off with a caution. I didn’t need to rob a bank because money was rolling in. Some nights I would sit in a hotel room and burn thousand dollar bills just for the fun of it, and when I got bored I'd burn the big notes from all the nations on earth. I didn’t make a big analysis but I noticed that the bigger the note the better it burned. One can't imagine the thrill of swigging back a bottle of top shelf liquor while lighting one’s fifth joint with a roll of foreign bank notes—enough to buy a house, or a village or a steel plant. Perhaps thrill is the wrong word in such circumstances. Once you’re on a binge like that, there are no thrills; it’s all a simple matter of momentum. On one occasion, I looked up from the bed I was sprawled on and noticed the mirror on the far wall. I grabbed my half empty bottle of vodka and slung it into the insult of my reflection. There was a loud smash. Pieces flew all over the place but within twenty minutes the hotel had repaired the damage and given me a fresh bottle of drink: all at no charge. The pace was really picking up. I was never a demanding kind of man, and after this I would ring ahead and have all the mirrors removed, or just smash them as soon as I entered the room, and no one seemed to mind anything that I did.
Jack Brokenshire The fame was amazing and completely unrealistic. I could have lived well on opening supermarkets alone, and as for the sales people who wanted my name on their boot polish, or cars or holidays? Well, all salesmen are the same. I can say that from hearing the identical patter from a thousand different heads, each one ready with the drink or the drugs needed to seal a deal. The money became invisible; there was just so much of it heading my way with no strings attached. Governments were sending me millions upon millions just to keep my favour. They sent me so much money that it looked my bank balance could have competed with a medium sized nation I gave billions away, but this just made it worse. My image as a saint was buttressed by these kind acts which the press, discovering my genetic banality, was eager to broadcast to the world. Someone was keeping track of all the cash I was handing out and created an article about it in one of the Sunday glossy magazines. It made me out to be the nicest man on earth. Backed up by the phone thing, this article gave the impression that I was more wonderful than anyone else, which couldn’t be true. I was tempted to contact the journalist myself, but I left it alone. I had billions upon billions of people all saying I was a fabulous man, but my mother’s thoughts seemed to break through all of it, making the compliments cut even deeper. And every day the billions rolled in. I never felt comfortable with the fame; I fought hard to avoid the interviews and I never agreed to have a movie made about myself and my role in this strange miracle. The whole thing made me feel quite sick once I had discovered that my mother detested me, and still the offers poured in. Cartels of extremely rich people pitched in with bids night and day. So much money was washing around me that, in the end, the problems that had beset me before all of this had happened didn’t even appear on my radar. A thousand mortgages were paid off by me at random, to the extent that I'd sign pay off checks for hotel receptionists and car park attendants without taking a breath or waiting for a thank you. I always paid the mortgages of the people who had to sweep up the pieces of the mirrors that I smashed.
The Calling Maybe that was why none of them ever complained. Talking to bank people was another opportunity for me to try and make contact with reality. There is no one on earth as real as a bank manager. One conversation I struck up illustrated to me the full extent of my plight. “So how much do you wish to deposit?” “About five million in cheques and I’ll need a lawyer to sort out some house transfers.” To me it felt great: I could put money all over the place and I could still remember my life before this kicked off—when I had to look for money all over the place. For the manager behind the table, the shocks just got worse. “On another matter, how much do you owe on your mortgage? I want to pay that off for you as well.” Some showed me the door—assuming I was mad, or going mad, or had been mad. Others made a limey fortune and educated their children with the money I had saved them. Big houses were passed over to me freely and I could drive a new car every day for the rest of my life as the people surrounding me played for favours. I lost all of my life. Despite the physical pleasure of living in perfect luxury, the mental squalor caused by the loss and annihilation of all my friends and family had left me in poverty. Every day was a famous day, and every night a wild one. It became boring first, then stifling and finally as each day dawned I just hated the whole business. To get away, I made use of the plethora of free drugs that were being offered to me. The cocaine and heroin I received could have jacked up a whole Chinese city. There were a hundred Chinese cities in my mind all fighting each other for their share of the opiates. They had no need to fight; there was plenty for them all and the fighting was from me. Some of the cities had nuclear weapons and they weren't afraid to use them either. This was all becoming a big mistake. I had nowhere to turn except deeper into my own personality’s structure. I had no alternative but to run to the worst place imaginable for shelter: inside my damaged framework of thinking.
Jack Brokenshire In the end, someone offered me ten billion pounds for the "first miracle phone," as it was now known. Figuring that a guaranteed life in absolute comfort would at least mollify my thoughts, curb my hangovers and get me out of the limelight, I took the money and ran. I reckoned that as soon as I dumped the phone, all of this would stop and I could get on with the depression started by my mother. This was a flawed notion, of course; I was held in such regard that the fact that I had sold the phone was seen as significant. It further enhanced the saleable value of the brand that I had become. The billionaire who bought the phone rang ten minutes after he had left with it. He said he would have paid a hundred times more; he had been talking to a son he had lost over a decade ago. There was a lesson in this; money was irrelevant to him while a few words with his son were priceless. But for me, it was a lesson that remained unlearned. I wished him well and flew off in a private jet to Hawaii that night, stoned all of the way. I soon discovered that a millionaire uses a toilet, eats breakfast and watches the same television as anyone else: the difference was that he had people to flush the toilet, cook his breakfast and change his channels for him. Other things became obvious along the way. I kept the same volume of friendship but instead of it being concentrated in a few faces down at my local bar, faces that I trusted, the same amount was dispersed amongst a thousand people I hardly knew. A thousand little friends instead of the few: one can guess the impact of being surrounded by partial people and not having the enrichment that comes from a few close friends worth something. Within weeks, I cottoned on to the belief that nothing mattered that much. Up to my neck in money and pandering voices, I found a gangplank and walked off the end of it into a sea of cocaine and heroin. As each successive wave of damage swept over me, I opened my mouth wider, hoping to drown. Drowning like this takes a lot of time. After the removal of everything that had made any sense to me, I lost all idea of right or wrong. Living at the bottom of my own drug-polluted sea everything—be it good or bad—could be interpreted as making sense. The good things were accidental
The Calling after a while. Just like the Chinese cities in my head, friction became the order of the day. By now, I didn’t see what one would have expected to see in a mirror: so bad were the hallucinations that when I looked in a mirror, my face was made of leather, skin and bits of the wooden framework of fear. Inside me there was a growing aversion to mirrors, more than an aversion. I feared them like a dog with rabies fears the water. The mirror thing was getting out of control now. On top of removing or smashing the ones I found in my hotel room, I was buying whole shops of mirrors and smashing them myself in junkyards late at night. Even this was tolerated by all and sundry, because all and sundry associated me with heaven; to some I was "the man from heaven" even though I'd never set foot in the place and never expected to. At this rate I was going elsewhere and fast. **** After a couple of years of this, which passed pretty much in a continual blur, I woke up bombed in a damp back alley in a suburb of Pittsburgh. As I dragged my aching carcass to its feet, I noticed that I was surrounded by full litter bins, used condoms and my own stinking vomit. This was a proper wake up and I realised that I was not right in the mind. Maybe it was a rare calm in the middle of the hurricane, or maybe someone had stiffed me on a batch of cocaine, but for a moment I sensed amongst the mess in that back alley that things were not as they should be. Nothing could soften the crack in my heart as it grew wider and wider, forced open by the crowbar thought that my mother detested me. But now I had no means of fixing things. In the face of a world gone mad, and the entire population in a frenzy of activity as people reconfigured their beliefs, it felt selfish of me to have a down about my own, insignificant problem. But it was a problem that filled my mind and as I used my mind as a lens on the world it meant that everything was tainted by it.
Jack Brokenshire I dusted myself off and decided to put getting wrecked on hold for a few good reasons. Firstly, I had no idea where the hell I was—this was a big city full of big strangers; secondly, I found all the normal mechanics of running a human body difficult —you don't see that in the movies, but this kind of hard excess makes things like taking a piss a matter that requires one’s full concentration; and thirdly I realised that a few helping words might disarm the now-daily hallucinations. So I checked into the most fabulous hotel I could find and fell asleep for a week. It was all free of course, as the receptionist recognised who I was; fame is the ultimate credit card. They even had all of the mirrors removed the moment I appeared in the reception, looking the worse for wear. After this brief rest, I signed up for about twenty rehabilitation courses and I sat down to do some hard work on myself and the way I was thinking about things. Most of the systems they use to get people back on their feet depend on the fact that time is short, an argument I knew was fatally flawed. Basically, once they've unwired your head and sorted out whatever faulty parts are inside you, you set off with a clearer idea of how to better invest your rapidly dwindling time. I didn’t even attempt to explain to the shrink that I had a problem with my mother. If I had even started to bring the phone miracle into things it would have blown the group therapy sessions into complete disarray and she would have had no answer in any case. With the voices of the dead still ringing in my ears and the words of my mother still needing a rebuttal, I tried to distract myself under the guidance of the professionals into other more languid pursuits. But the chance to swap large amounts of powerful alcohol for endless hours of basket weaving, or rejecting free snowstorms of cocaine in favour of a pallet of watercolours really didn’t work. I tried, of course, but drink had become like a new relative to me. The bottles of booze that I commonly used were like my uncles. I used to call them my “kissing uncles” whenever I spoke to myself, which was a frequent thing during the kind of days I scrabbled through. The doctors and nurses and fellow rehab inhabitants all tried
The Calling to encourage me, but I soon realised I was wasting everyone's time. I put aside my wicker work and the watercolours and the balsa wood aeroplanes. I never really tried. I appreciated the efforts of all those involved but even the brightest and most astute mind on earth had no hope of solving a relationship problem with someone in heaven. The dead don't come to the group therapy. I did my time and chatted to other hardened drinkers and drug users. Leaving all of the various establishments through the front door, I headed immediately back to the dark edge of town—a disappointed man—and got fully wasted. No one minded. I was considered to be such a unique person that even the papers left me alone for a while. I never understood it. If I had never had the phone, my thoughts would have probably safely simmered away, but they'd been made more virulent by hearing the voices of the dead. And the voices had not said what I wanted them to. Meanwhile, the phone story moved along. Although I no longer had the thing, it was impossible to escape news about the phenomenon. The guy who bought it from me was a stronger type than me and he had no problem with the publicity. Good for him, I thought, until things really did get out of hand. It wasn’t long before people began to suspect that mine wasn’t the only phone that could contact the dead. This sent phone bills rocketing as about a billion phones all tried the trick that I had pulled off. They all failed, but some people spent years at it. Someone really clever set up a laboratory with some weird equipment that would set off and ring random numbers on a mobile phone automatically. Years later, it hadn’t hit the target but it still had a dutiful staff watching it for the first sign of a breakthrough: a breakthrough that would never happen. As everyone tried their phones, it followed that conspiracy theories would break out. Papers, television programs and the internet all started to accuse various famous people, normally very rich famous people, of keeping a “calling” phone secret from the
Jack Brokenshire rest of us. Strenuous denials were ignored: that’s normal in the world of people who set these ideas away. It was all quite quaint and funny even, until the shooting started. A rich man in India was shot dead for his phone, and then another was whacked in London and another and another—it just spiralled into complete mayhem. A columnist asked my advice on all of this mess, stupidly assuming that I still had a role to play in this screw up, figuring that as I was the first man to go public about it I might have some bright ideas. I told them to dump the thing in the river and have an end to it. No one listened, as the phone was now priceless, even though recent events proved it also carried a death sentence for anyone known to be carrying it. Although the conspiracy people had set the world worrying about things, it was the actions of the guy who bought the phone off me that really detonated the brew. He was grateful to me on the first day he took possession of the thing but after that he appeared to have run amok. The billionaire’s calls kept going on between his very material world and the place where the dead resided. It became a scandal reflected in the headlines of the day that despite the fabulous opportunity that the phone represented only he could actually use it. He encouraged people to apply to use it. It made a great show when a competition winner got the chance to ring someone up, but this just heated up the mixture of discontent. Strangely enough, I never attracted the kind of venom that this guy was getting thrown at him. I suppose it was because I normally said fuck all to anyone unless some snooping newspaper hack cornered me in. I was never one for multinational media exercises, even when I was a furniture packer, but this rich guy thrived on it. It got to the point that he made it known that he was using the phone to set things up for himself in heaven. One Italian millionaire who was dying of cancer actually paid the new owner of the phone to set up a party for himself to celebrate his arrival in paradise. He didn’t comment on how the dead received the news of his impending arrival.
The Calling Companies, peopled by sharp eyed and sweet smelling young things, even offered consultancies on preparing for the fun to come at the dead end of life so that people, specifically rich people, could start to prepare an itinerary of things they would like to do. Some impatient billionaires even considered ways of jumping any queues there might be up there, cynically assuming that even heaven had limited facilities. It was laughable, but like most laughable things it had a sinister edge to it. In the middle of it all, the new “calling” phone owner was having a field day. He was setting up franchises for everything from party organisation, tour guides and even relative location services. If my face was never out of the papers, his was adorning everything from postage stamps to the sides of skyscrapers. The vast majority of the world, still going about their days in comparative penury read the headlines recording what the rich were doing for themselves and shook their heads. Real world injustice seemed to be invading heaven, or at least trying to. I knew that the greediness and worldliness would mean little to the people at the heaven end of the phone. The living might try and arrange parties for themselves or make sure they avoided any capacity problems in the great beyond, but the voices at the other end really didn’t get involved beyond agreeing that it would be nice to see someone again. Only later was this to make sense, and even the Italian millionaire, once he had died and been rang up live on TV, didn’t make mention of what had happened when he had arrived on heavens plains. Clearly, a change of heart had taken place in him. No matter to the papers, however, who filled more columns than Trajan with print reporting "possible" parties and quotes from "sources near to heaven" making heaven sound like Las Vegas on free acid. Some people found it fun to read; it competed well with the normal celebrity scandal that now seemed criminally inconsequential and, of course, none of it could be disagreed with. Imagine the editors’ unbounded glee when they realised they couldn’t break any libel laws and would never have to retract a word. It was gossip galore once their
Jack Brokenshire confidence grew, and now that the living knew that heaven was up and running even things like wars, famines and the sex lives of the previously famous elite seemed to be of little note. **** The years ground on, mine marked by bigger binges while the whole world of glamour, fame and publicity was altered by the visions we could all now see. Like red hot iron bars, the things we had loved in life before were dropped as the world made a rush for heaven. Only the poor were excluded but the poor are always excluded from good things, or at least that was how it seemed. The rich were busy attempting to tailor heaven to their own requirements, but I knew, or at least sensed, that heaven was really not going to be changed by the mighty buck. Over time, as I sat on my ever accumulating piles of cash, the magical phone still held its appeal but nothing could solve the problem. The rich were able to talk to their people, while all the poor had was their traditional recourse to unanswered prayers. As this matter grew ever larger, with killings based on conspiracies racking up impressive numbers of dead rich people, the various officials from various churches looked on smiling. They celebrated the return to the traditional arrangements, arrangements under their complete control, and with a few theoretical tweaks of their beliefs their institutions made it through the dark times of universal communication with heaven. They were good at tweaking their theories, that’s how they'd lasted so long. They explained that God, or at least whatever God was their God, would never support such an unequal distribution of a miracle such as this. Therefore the phone could not be from God. So prayers and bells and old books in undiminished strength remained the tools of their trade, despite the fact that I had spoken to my dad after he had died. After a while, people realised that dying wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Countless books were written summarising what had been learned by my phone’s proven ability.
The Calling To be frank, heaven looked superb. No one had figured on the fact that it would be a "do as you please" situation with people sunning themselves on bright beaches while others a few yards away were snowboarding or climbing mountains. The clergy gathered together to try and come up with an answer but ran out of ideas at about the same time that they were told that people were having sex in heaven. The new owner of the phone must have needed more attention, or maybe he just liked the idea of stirring things up. No matter what his motives, he held a vast press conference to announce that in the afterlife, people could look forward to the full panoply of human enjoyment. After that, the religious community didn’t need any ideas, they simply sat, smiling, on the panels of the talk shows they were drafted onto. Some people physically swooned at the news. Madmen thought it a brilliant time to kill themselves and get in on the spree and people began to look at their living spouses in a completely different way. The chat magazines were the first to gather around the corpse; if heaven was all it was cracked up to be then what could one expect from a relationship in heaven? Would marriage survive or would free love be the order of the day in the great beyond? And, of course as orgasms, were so hard to set up on earth, did that mean we could enjoy them on tap in the Promised Land? To add to the mayhem, the hard core people turned out a series of films called "Porno Promised Land" with all the hallmarks of their vacant trade, packed full of strangers making love to one another. As if the situation wasn’t bad enough, the traditional papers had a field day. It was like watching carrion crows picking at something beautiful, or seeing a wonderful work of art pissed on by someone who was laughing to the cameras. No one had dreamt that touch or love would be part of heaven. It was assumed that such corporal things would be left here down on earth, with the shabbiness of blood and muscle and hair replaced by white garments, a permanently perfumed environment and a mind everlasting. When the first reports came through that people were literally getting it on up there and, worse still, enjoying the matter, some clergymen gave up their robes and looked for more immediate answers to their
Jack Brokenshire spiritual needs. But that’s another story; suffice it to say that although the mechanics of it were the same as down here on the sweet earth, all we really knew was that the heavenly rewards were of a much improved calibre. Despite the apparent allure of such a possibility, everyone on earth found it hard to grasp that those in heaven could enjoy such things as pleasing lines, emotion-packed eyes and the warmth of another person. How could any of this work without a body attached to it? So sold were we all on the idea that heaven was for "the spirit" and not for the framework that carried it around, the idea that some kind of contract, similar to what happens amongst the living, could be arranged amongst the dead, put too much salt into the otherwise delicious soup that the living had been fed so far. It was hard for people who were bred to think of sex as less than clean to associate it with the cleanest place they could imagine. Perhaps that was what jarred in most people's dirty minds. Even those with clean minds and healthy appetites couldn’t see the point of having sex up there in the twilight of the great beyond; they pondered what form of birth control would be needed in the land of the dead, and if an orgasm, as was widely assumed here amongst the living, was a glimpse of heaven, then what would it be like if it happened in heaven itself? All these questions and concerns would be cleared up eventually, but not in time to spike the guns of those that made a living out of sex and religion. There were more than a few people who fell into both camps, despite the polar difference in their garments and attitudes. It didn’t pass my attention that while everyone was talking about the sex conundrum no one had asked if people in heaven could fall in love with each other, a much more important question for us to work out an answer to. There is nothing indecent in sex, but plenty that is indecent in the minds behind the machines that make the technicalities of the matter function. I watched the papers and the television documentaries with total disinterest. I had come to know heaven through my phone, and after learning that the people there were just the same as down here none of it really mattered anymore. I was sore with bitterness, but I was wrong, we were all wrong.
The Calling My millionaire lifestyle still remained, built on some landmine thoughts and even touchier memories. The cartoons of a sexy heaven with everyone having one hell of a time couldn’t make me feel any worse. As usual, the television and newspapers all asked for my opinion but the volume of their enquiries died down for a while after a few cold-hearted conversations with me. When one American channel had contacted me, invading my hotel room in New York with their cameras and microphones, my reputation grew even more bizarre. Thrusting a microphone under my nose as I sat there dwindling near one of my half empty bottles of spirits, the clever hack asked, ”So, which would you prefer, heaven or earth?" It was a question made for my frame of mind and my instant reply “Fuck this planet, fuck whatever happens next, fuck heaven and fuck you," delivered from a smiling face, hit the spot with a chilling accuracy. It also increased my income as my remarks stoked the flames of bright fame with the fuel of notoriety. Within minutes, tee shirts were being produced with the slogan I had just launched upon an unsuspecting public The hack pressed on. "So it would be true to say that having this phone hasn’t made you happy?" I considered my answer for a few seconds, but before I could speak, he added to his penetration of my defences. "How can you not be happy with everything that's happened? So many people in the world have been given hope by you." "It wasn’t me that gave them hope; I had nothing to do with it." The reporter sensed blood and dug deeper. "But it was your phone and it was you who made this all happen!" In the ensuing scuffle, a camera got smashed and the reporter left the room with more than his ego bruised, but no one complained. No one said "no." There was no one left in my life who could say such a thing to me. I knew then for certain it was high time to bail out of this mess, and began planning to kill myself. The idea didn't come from one of my now frequent face to reflection mirror lectures; it came out of a lack of good things.
To people who have never encountered thoughts like this, the whole idea of blowing yourself away seems stupid. But for those who have danced and flirted with these notions, we know there are different rules in play. The bright people all say "How could you do that to the people you leave behind?" and "It’s a coward’s way out!" but the dark people, those truly locked in the debate, know that these ideas are just nonsense. Being confronted by a complete city of blind alleys becomes boring rather than painful, and it’s a gaseous, nauseous boredom that seems to kill all the front line troops of optimism. In my mind I had vast trench systems full of dead soldiers who had fought for optimism. The ultimate escape from this process of hell is good news, not suicide. But good news is like an addiction: after a while, it has to get bigger and bigger for it to have an impact. Like drugs, the "high" comes at a price, or rather, an inflation of the requirement. I was a man who, from nothing, had found a way of talking to heaven, had spoken to my lost parents, got so much money and attention that the price of my good news had inflated beyond belief. If someone had said "We've just found out you're going to live forever!" it would normally have counted as good news in anyone's life. To me, it would been a normal thing. If you have an extraordinary life then you need extraordinary good news to keep up the equations in your heart. That couldn’t happen, so the formula for continuing
The Calling with things didn’t add up any more. After that, it's all a simple matter of chucking the calculator. Good news can't solve everything, even if it eventually comes, and in a situation like mine, where nothing was making sense and what did make sense seemed marginalised by my miracle, the idea of stopping the whole game shone at me like a beacon. It glared at me as if it had a personality of its own. The bright people with their attempts to make a potential suicide feel bad about it miss one vital point. Once you're committed to it, the normal rules of debt and honour mean nothing; likewise family ties are evaporated when you realise you can get away from it all. You can leave the nightclub of life at any time and go home forever. Oblivion offers a complete end to the game, complete in every sense. Every verb, noun, pronoun and word becomes dry wood once your mind has bought it, everything becomes nonsense. It's as if logic folds away its paperwork and grabs its car keys for an early night and the whole stream of life gets flushed away even while you are still breathing. Everything is erased; everything between absolute pleasure and unendurable pain. In the position I was in, no one knew me enough to have to cope with anything more than the funeral arrangements. My family were God knows where and probably had other lives by now. The bright people were always wrong, they never realised that once you see it as not just offing yourself but also the removal of absolutely everything about you, and it becomes refreshing and not tiresome. Suicidal thoughts are simply love thoughts in reverse. As for the cowardly thing, take a look at what happened on Iwo Jima, The Japanese fought like tigers: they were no cowards, and thousands of them capped themselves with their own rifles. It's not easy to take command of things when all of your life has been open to chance. You can beat everything by having the last laugh, and to people who have these dark thoughts, those who have the bright thoughts look like a pack of mummy's boys. Life is a little thing when you know it is followed by something else. In fact, once armed with the apparent proof of a life eternal, this place becomes banal. There was no
Jack Brokenshire complete escape, of course, not for me. Despite everything, I would still face the grim prospect of meeting my mother again. I couldn’t wait to see my father; somehow I felt he would understand my predicament and be on my side. But my mother’s deadly words? Could they haunt me in heaven as well? In a situation like mine, the need to take action glares out of your polluted thoughts like a laser. No matter what happened, heaven had to be better than what I had, better than what was left of me. Maybe the drinks were free, maybe, maybe...a million maybes hoping for a sweet release, or at least a thought path that didn’t always end up in a stunning cul-de-sac. There really was only one path left. Little did I know it, but out of the few hundred people who had had a chance to use the phones quite a few were in the same position I was. The first one I discovered was a woman from the east coast of America. She had won a chance to use the phone in a lottery run by the new owner. She emailed me and through my drunken stupor I made out that she had contacted her long-lost brother to try and get him to forgive her for not being there when he died. Needless to say, the forgiveness was not forthcoming and so she had decided to blow her brains out. I never bothered to email her back, I figured she had a plan so why interrupt it? Her body was found lolling on the banks of a river somewhere in New England with a big hole in the side of her head. She, and Mr. Smith and Wesson, had solved her problem. After her, a whole stream of people who found themselves in a similar position began to contact me. It seemed that an attempt to sort any simmering problems out with the dead simply brought the matter to the boil. The dead never made anyone feel any better about what had happened, never apologised, never expressed any remorse and even when the pleading became heavy they never reacted at all beyond offering the traditional "take it easy" or "you worry too much." Cold comfort to someone about to jump over the brink of materiality.
The Calling It appeared to those caught in this trap that heaven wasn’t listening; business as usual. Why they didn’t contact the phone’s new owner I never really understood. I suppose pictures of my condition made me look more approachable than him. Battalions of people were killing themselves over this. A few of them did because, like me, heaven hadn’t really sorted things out for them. The majority did because they considered heaven a great place to be rather than enduring this miserable life. So people were walking away from everything for different reasons. As things stood, I was in the long shambling queue to do the same. One suicide was particularly significant. This was another woman whose husband had died many years before in a car accident. On the morning of the day he died, they had argued and agreed to a divorce. It was the kind of thing that happened all of the time, but normally dying doesn’t intervene in the matter. When his car was wiped out in a head-on with a truck, the poor wife was left in purgatory. She was a winner of one of the new owner’s many scams to give people the chance to use the phone, but just like the woman who got kissed by the Smith and Wesson it all went wrong. The things left unsaid and her memories of her husband’s face, teeming with tears as the argument between them had petered out and he headed for his car, struck her like a bowie knife .When she spoke to him, she, got absolutely no resolution to the matter. So, she watched her favourite films on her DVD player, put on her favourite perfume which he’d bought for her birthday, packed her two kids into the back of her car and drove it at full power into a concrete wall. They all died. There the matter would have ended, except that once the news of the tragedy broke, the new owner of the phone offered her brother the use of the phone. Taking chance by storm, the brother rang her up. His pain was as extreme as anyone associated with a suicide is bound to be. He knew of her troubles and in the course of his call he discovered that she had no recollection of her pain while she lived and could offer no comfort for his loss. It was as if a huge blanket had fallen over her eyes and her memory, her happiness was as good as it could possibly have been—to the extent that
Jack Brokenshire her husband and children were with her. In this way, the living discovered that the dead had somehow been rebooted. None of this gelled with what I knew, because my experiences with my mother had not been erased from her mind in any way. She'd even hung up the phone on me when I tried to talk it over. Maybe it was just me, maybe it had to do with being first to let everyone in on the phone thing—I just could not see why everyone else up there seemed cool about stuff, but my Mum still carried the venom. It was becoming confusing. There seemed to be no pattern to the game we played except that while you were alive things were pretty dismal, and when you died things were pretty shallow. At least that’s how it seemed to me. It looked as if the billions of people up there were simply the same as the billions of people down here, but with the grimness of having to cope with things removed. As the world turned, the worm turned with it and large amounts of people were blowing their brains out. The phone had not proven to be an advantage, in fact, as the casualties mounted across the globe, loud voices made themselves heard as they yelled for a return to the good old days of not knowing. Some people wanted to take a step back to the days of seeing the deep grief and the utter desolation of our endings, of suffering real grief. Maybe a step back was the best way ahead for us all? My drinking had got to a fabulous level. As I could afford anything I wanted, I was piling in drugs alongside every bottle of vodka. The twin hammering this caused my body didn’t worry me in the slightest: I was far more interested in sitting in one of my many homes in front of a blank wall and painting pictures on it with my smack-induced pen and ink. I hadn’t seen or heard from my wife or children for years now. Even if I had wanted to talk, I had no means of finding them. Despite the miracle and all of the money, it's a damn big world and if people don’t want to be found, genuine people like her and the kids, they can stay lost forever. Every time I came into contact with reality, I worried about them—nowhere near as much as a proper person would have done. All my
The Calling propriety had been vaporised by what had happened, and being held in an almost religious status in the minds of some people helped the race to insanity gather pace. The view from the top of my fame and wealth had ruined me. Like a spoilt child, all I had to do was find another sweet to suck and that always made me feel better. So every time I worried about my family I sucked on vodka, or cocaine, or whatever else was to hand and the worries were shot at dawn. Realising that I really wasn’t what I wanted to be made me remember them. They had laughed so wonderfully and their smiles hung like masterpieces in the gallery of my mind. My wife was there; she held my hand so gently and made me feel so under control. My wife had given me formality, and like all stupid bastards I hadn't seen just how strong that makes a person. Too late to figure that out now though; too late for a million things now and as the ever circulating cocktail in my head swirled this way and that. I only rarely caught glimpses of my children, and my wife's eyes. When I did it upset me so much that I just kept on sucking away at my sweets and let the nasty notions pass. The rehab clinics I had previously been to contacted me again . The stories of my dissolution became known to them and they sensed they could join the fray and make some money out of it. Kind thoughts flowed in from every direction; some might even have been genuine. But on the other side of reality, in the no man’s land between the senses and beguilement, I couldn’t detect anyone's intentions. Each hour that passed found me attempting to break from the gravity of myself and launch away into the outer space of me, but gravity was strong and it took all my efforts to break its hold. There was no moment when I was real now; even as I slept, the chemical accelerator I had mixed kept the mechanics of my brain revving away, burning up rest and destroying my natural defences. I could have bought strings of nightclubs or department stores. I could have bought mountain ranges or fleets of fabulous cars, and I could have married the most beautiful woman on the earth and then betrayed her and not have been brought to book—but I wanted none of this.
Jack Brokenshire Inside, I knew that my mother had never wanted me. As I looked at life going on around me, I felt as if this was a party I was not invited to. I had gatecrashed a womb and come to life without a present for the host. It always worried me that, despite knowing of a life everlasting, of knowing for certain that death was just a semi colon in life, nothing seemed to fit into the scheme. I had a huge dark reservoir of pain in me, so big that someone had put fish in it and they lived off the dark stuff that floated in amongst the fury. Sitting alone in a flashy hotel room in Norway, watching the mountains pushing their fingers into the sky, I realised that I was actually dead inside. The sadness could not be stopped or bought off; no one outside of my head could look inside to disconnect the clock as it counted its way down to zero. I was waiting for an alarm, something to stumble across which would yank the hand brake on in my thoughts. As I stumbled around in the room looking for my sugar bag of cocaine, I saw little men marching around on the top of the TV. I'd got used to such things as reality, or what I thought was reality, was invaded by the bayonets of drug abuse. Sometimes I'd see the little guys at the bottom of a bottle as I took a swig, squirming around in a drowning mass and yelling for help. It was all part of the deal I had bought into where you deliberately blow your mind to escape from normal thoughts, and I was still coping with battles between the Chinese cities. I'd drank everything in the Mini bar, and drank a few bottles of spirits I'd had sent up from below and this combined with the cocaine I had woven into my head made the room seem just a little too claustrophobic. The view was stunning. The fjord, or whatever it was outside my window, had been there for thousands of years being gawped at by people like me. In my head I could see battalions of soldiers on the mountains, strange velvet oil rigs on the water and powerboats crewed by clowns and mime artists: Funny how reality can call these things up and paint them wrongly. It was time to go out for a walk. I wandered out, dressed up in thick clothes to avoid detection. It worked as no one recognised me. Stoned, wrecked and shivering in the cold, I staggered and barged
The Calling through a few groups of happy people and found myself in a bar. I could find bars with ease these days—I had a dark light in my head guiding me. When you're a drunk, you notice that normal people's faces alter when they are in proximity to a drinking hole and Norway was no exception. I got a double whiskey and sat in the corner of the place. A few people were in, one couple was slow dancing to some music from the eighties which was playing so softly that you could hear the couples' shoes scrape on the floor tiles. The first whisky was good, and so were the five that followed it. The little men, now accompanied by an army of ants, were having a party on my eyelids with their sharp and spiky hands while a group of zebras stood at the bar rail patting the floor with their hooves. It was hard to keep pace with the hallucinations when they occupied the same space as real things. I had to close my eyes to shut out reality and focus on the zebras and the ants and the Chinese diplomats. The young woman behind the bar smiled at first, retail courtesy which I didn’t respond to in case she recognised me, but as the drinks went down her smiles fell away to be replaced with coldness. Who could blame the poor woman? Me, packed full of coke and drink trying hard to sit still in order to drift away with my little menagerie of visions, and her, tight and sober and making an hourly rate of pay which would have enabled me to buy her for a decade: shocking thoughts and bargains. I could have bought the bar, I could have bought the entire town but at that precise moment I would have given billions just for a kind word. Kind words. Would I have even recognised any words spoken to me in my own tongue, let alone Norwegian? I was so high on low there was nothing left of language in me. I could just make out one of those little offices behind her that bar staff normally have, a little pocket of business and sobriety in a place designed to soften the skull. It had the mandatory blazing lights, a pregnant ash tray ready to give birth and a shambling pile of papers. And a phone. That was ringing.
Jack Brokenshire The barkeep let it ring out; maybe she thought it was her boss or her boyfriend, and by the look on her face I don’t think there was much of a difference. The silence returned to the bar and the couple kept on shuffling their feet to the music. But the phone rang again, for some reason this second time it seemed to be more insistent and the woman behind the bar stood up from her elbow perch with a surrendering sigh, stretched out in a yawn and headed towards the irritating sound. A moment later she came back to her perch. "It's for you," she said with an indignant look on her face as if a bum like me could get a call in her bar. I, like a broken down rocket, lifted off to my feet, steadied myself and, bumping around the obstacle course of chairs, tables and a sudden rush of the zebras, splashed down on a bar stool. Who in the hell could be calling me here? I was way too gone to be bothered. Maybe it was a newspaper man; they were clever bastards when it came to finding my hiding places. It was always harder to keep out of their sight than it was the television people. The television people seemed less well-informed and too heavily equipped to make stealthy approaches. It took a couple of attempts but eventually I lifted the receiver to my ear. It was my father. His voice came through loud and clear, even to my bruised brain. I asked him in a slurry voice, “How in the hell can you ring me here?” Because I knew heaven never rang out. He simply replied, “Never mind that now, I have to have a serious talk with you and quickly." It sounded almost like an admonishment. His instructions were quick and to the point: he wanted me to go back to my hotel room, take a long bath and he would contact me again later. He had a couple of things he needed to talk over with me. I was taken aback and shook my head a little, trying to make out if the call had been real or just in my imagination but there was no doubt about it. After years of silence and seclusion, heaven had rang me up. Even the cocaine seemed to pause its thoughts while it figured out how to recapture my attention.
The Calling I was still neck deep in mind muck when I put the phone back on its receiver, mind muck made up of a composite elixir of drugs, drink and thought, but at least I knew what I had to do. I stumbled out of the bar and headed back to my hotel, never for a minute doubting my father’s ability to ring me back. I puzzled over this. Why hadn’t he rang before? I thought it was a big deal to them. I thought it was impossible. My pace quickened as I entered the hotel reception area. When I ran into the lobby, the receptionist collared me, telling me I'd had a land slide of calls to my room phone. Suddenly polite, perhaps in excitement that came from anticipation, I thanked him for his trouble and dove into the lift. Within ten minutes, I was lying in a deep foamy bath, dangerously stoned and with sleep approaching on every breath. I looked up from the suds at a mirror. I hadn't had this one removed or managed to smash it as yet. I only used them these days for dropping the coke bombs I needed and for looking at myself to patch up the damage. Every time I looked into one, the same horrible bleary-eyed monster stared back out at me; packed full of evil comparisons and all the rest of the crap that people spin up when they see themselves at point blank range. I could do without such thoughts right now, the mirror and the zebras and the ants brought on nausea and I was sick all over the place. Even this couldn’t dim the light in my mind now that my father had called. I hung a pillow case on each of the mirrors to stop them interfering with me; it was as if the reflections were bullying an orphan in my head. Cleaned but not refreshed, I dried myself, turned on the unintelligible TV, and lay on the bed waiting. This had to be something big, I knew that heaven couldn’t ring out but it was definitely him on the other end of the phone. The drugs could hold onto some of me, that was a given, but as my hopes increased so did my power to fight off my stupor. Eventually, clean and warm and pulling just slightly away from the destitution I had dived into, I fell asleep.
Jack Brokenshire Inside the workings of my body, some serious fighting was taking place. The coordinated mass of nerve and muscle and organs which kept things going came unwired and the messages between the departments got muddled up by the ants, the Chinese cities and the zebras. My breath and blood had started a revolution against my nervous system, and in the chaos of the mix up a few things were overlooked. All my major functions had called out their unions in a strike for higher pay, but my business was bankrupt. I died for a moment in that hotel room overlooking the Norwegian fjord, and never even noticed. It was the drugs or the drink or the wildness of my sadness. I fell off life like a surfer who just couldn’t hold his balance, but somehow just managed to hang onto his board in the maelstrom of water and speed. My battered body counter-attacked and I recovered and breathed clearly again, and stronger. But in between death and life, in the small no man’s land of my dying, a miracle happened, just for me.
It was death all right; no doubt about it, and it was easy to be dead. One moment I was aware of nothing and then everything: it was like a sun coming up in my mind. I still had the drugs ringing in my ears and somehow the image of the couple dancing in the bar hung inside me before it finally chose to fade away. Even with this, though, there was no doubt about it: I was in a whiter, cleaner, calmer place, even if my eyes were shut and I was feeling absolutely tired. I couldn’t keep my eyes open and I had no idea what I was laying on, only that it was soft and warm The first couple of hours were confusing. In heaven, there is no time but one’s mind has to get used to this. And of course whatever material you are made of has to get used to not decaying as the moments tick by. This isn’t as simple as it sounds because we are all used to fatigue and weariness and aging. In this place, none of this happened; you just remain the same all of the time with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy. All I knew to start with was that I had to get used to the feeling of life wearing off slowly. The first thing that properly drew my attention was a wide open window; a soft breeze sent the lace curtains in a gentle bow each time it wafted through them. I looked around, only to see my father sitting by the bed with a big smile on his face as he waited for me to wake up.
Jack Brokenshire "Hi," he said with an easy smile. "I've been waiting for you." And with those words, the years of separation, years I thought would never end, were closed. I had arrived in heaven. He looked at me closely and explained a few things I was going to have to cope with. "It’s going to take some getting used to here; it's not automatic," he said as he ran his fingers through my hair, almost as if he were visiting me in hospital. “There is no time here so try to understand that there is no need to rush anything. In fact, you're going to get up soon and you'll see that there is nothing you can’t have instantly, so get ready for some changes in the way you think." After this he smiled again and left me to rest. Once I was up and running even estimating the passage of time became impossible because it simply didn’t exist in this place. I knew things had changed when I finally managed to keep my eyes open and found myself in a bright room, in a deep white bed with soft cotton sheets. Enough of me remained to feel slightly put out by such gentle delicacies: drug users and alcoholics feel uncomfortable in bright places and this place was lit up like a summer’s day. The room had an incandescent daylight which no curtain could abbreviate. I turned over in the bed, feeling very sick, and why shouldn’t I? I had died from a massive drugs and drink overload; it was bound to have some carry over. **** It took a lot of time, or what passes for time there, before the damage I had done to myself was completely cleaned. Even in heaven, there must be processes; everything gets fixed in heaven but there are none of the instant fixes so beloved of the people who have faith in their hearts. Somewhere in all that perfect mass of sun and fresh air and endless time, the cocaine and heroin and drink lifted out of me slowly. You always have to pay for mistakes, even in life everlasting, and it took ages before the drink and the drugs were out of my thinking.
The Calling And all the time, my father sat there. On earth his vigil would have been a labour of love, using up his time for me like that, but up here where everything was free it was something more than that. The fact that he sat there with me, surrounded as he was with an endless supply of entertaining things he could do, spoke loudly of his dedication to me. This was something new and maybe it helped clean me in some way. I didn’t know how these things worked and I had no need to, because there was never a need to break the rules. Once free of the stuff I had used to destroy myself, no drink or drug could ever harm or overwhelm me again. In heaven there was no harm, only pleasant effects. When I was myself again, I swung my legs out of the bed, sat up and took a deep breath —which for once wasn’t interrupted by the stench of drink or the grime of tobacco. I was already dressed in summer clothes, so I straightened these out a little and took my first stumbling steps into the great beyond. There were no choirs singing, no one reading out from a book of my life and no sound of angels flying overhead, just me and my dad who was waiting for me outside the room. He held me for a moment to steady my dizziness and then we walked over to a nearby cafe and sat down to a new kind of drink. Being heaven, we only needed one to get to that state of happiness which normally takes twenty drinks on earth. The irony of taking a drink after drink had killed me didn’t grab my attention. I lifted the glass to my lips. It was the first drink I had ever shared with him as a man, and here we both were, almost the same age and dead. The conversation began to flow and he introduced me to the other people in the bar with the confident ease of a person who is well known. “This is my son,” he announced to everyone in the place, talking to them all as if they were old friends. I never knew what that felt like to be called “his son.” He had died so long ago that my memories of him never extended to knowing how he felt about me. When he used the phrase “my son,” it felt as if a slate had been rubbed clean, as if everything not quite right in me had been fixed.
Jack Brokenshire I shook some hands from the sea of smiles that my father had created. He surprised me by commenting on the same feelings I had felt. “Wow, that felt good! I’ve never introduced you like that before.” And as he sat there, full of life and health with me beside him, I sensed that there was nothing to fear anymore, as if everything that had been messed up inside me had been put back in place, once and for all. It was only later that I realised that heaven is where everyone knows everyone else instantaneously, but for me, being freshly dead, they seemed only vaguely familiar. This was my first introduction to a heaven that I had never believed in; a drink with my father and his friends, maybe that’s what heaven could do for us, set up the unimagined, perfect things that are really only unimaginable because they are impossible. After this, we had weeks or months or years together as my father demonstrated to me just how limitless this place was. We went sailing some days, out on a big ocean where the wind was always fine and fresh; both of us having the skills of master seaman. There was time to explore new places, from the shore to the mountain tops. We skied like international stars. And cars! It was beyond belief, like everything else in this place, but we drove hundreds of different types of cars and motorbikes and never crashed. From Formula one to Model T Fords, all one had to do was think of them and they were there. It was as if the expression of skill and the enjoyment in its execution was part of the package. Everything was possible. We were able to fire arrows for a mile and hit a target, to swim in a warm ocean and never get tired, to build a ship from start to finish, to examine the craters on the moon or look at the massing stars through a cloudless sky; everything was possible, all that was required was the thought to do it, exactly like the phones calls I had made from the living world. It was all just a matter of thought. We walked endlessly about this magical place and took our time to watch and see what was happening around us. In a place where all one’s hopes and wishes are
The Calling fulfilled instantly, it's important to have a guide so that you can calm down after a life that was so very different. The seas were all calm, unless one wanted to experience a storm, and the sun always shone unless one wanted to see a thunderstorm, but it was much, much more than that. With everything refreshed inside your body, all of your senses are set back to perfection. In living, the senses are blunted by the barrage of noises and sights and smells. As you grow older, the actual machinery of sensation breaks down or becomes worn out. But here all of that decay was repaired. My father and I could walk through pine forests and the smell of the pines was utterly delicious; we could see the details of every splash of water in a sea wave, each colour and shade of the water gaining a new resolution from eyes as sharp as an eagle’s. We could hear the wind as it rippled across the top of a lake and identify every tone change the water imposed on it. Touch seemed more alive than ever, even though we were in the place I had assumed to be very dead. When one shook hands, one could pick up the warmth of another person’s body. If you picked up a cup of coffee, you could almost sense the tiny contours along the edge of the cup as you raised it to your lips. Heaven was much more than experiencing a kind of limitless theme park: the activities were simply platforms upon which the senses consumed the wonder of the details. During all of this time, my heaven holiday, my father and I were inseparable. He showed me how to use my thinking and how to enjoy the new skills and senses I had been given to the fullest. He never mentioned the matter of my mother, but kept a steady stream of his friends and other people that I had lost coming into our pursuits to add spice to my experience. I met them all, all of the people from my past that I had known of as legends: aunties, uncles, even some people who had links with my father but I had never really known. As each face came onto the scene, it was if they had known me, known me as a great friend. Everyone here seemed to be best friends, something that was hard to get used to at first when you expect there to be a hierarchy of friendship, but there was no
Jack Brokenshire hierarchy in heaven. Eventually, and perhaps because I had a few grains of living in me that always had a sense of time, I decided that the moment was right to go over some of the things that had happened to me on earth—mother matters. It was an instinct that grew slowly behind all of the new things I was seeing and enjoying, but I knew that the special arrangement of life in death that I was being given was for a purpose: and the feeling that it was time to approach that purpose grew steadily. So one moment, when we were in between events I raised the matter of my life with my father. He indicated that we should sit down for a while and enjoy a few moments talking. It wasn’t long before he approached the matter of my unique situation. My father spoke to me of what was going to happen. Firstly, I was not actually dead as yet. The times we were sharing, although they had seemed like months, were in fact just my first death. My body back on the earth, thousands of years away, would recover for a while, manage to keep itself alive for a few more years and then I would be really dead, and back with him again. This glimpse of heaven was a special privilege. "You've died now," he said with a smile on his ever smiling face. "But you'll be going back, you need more of life and some more happy times. All of this business has taken it out of you." I couldn’t disagree with that. He drew in a deep breath through his uncorrupted lungs and turned to me. "When you come back here it will be even more amazing than this time.” Along with everything else this was hard to believe: how could anything be better than this world of imagination and happiness? I'd adjusted to being dead. In fact, it was odd to me how quickly I was cool with the idea of being dead. The movies and my own expectations had made me think that I would have doubted my death and ran around thinking I was alive, but I was so unhappy back then that I embraced death easily. I was probably a lot deader when I was alive than I was right now sitting next to my dad, on the side of a road in heaven, watching the occasional Bugati zoom by with a Rolls Royce on its heels.
The Calling I knew I had got things wrong: horribly wrong. I could remember lots about my life. This wasn’t the norm for the other people in heaven, who only had recall when they were reminded. My father said this was due to the fact that I would be returning to the earth I had just left for a while before I finally died. These moments with him in heaven, or the great beyond or call it what you will were unique, because I was still alive. After I returned to life, and died and came back to heaven, he made it clear that my memory of my life would fade and change and eventually disperse, rather like my memory of early childhood. All very mystical sounding to a man who never left a half empty glass at a bar and packed furniture for a living. But I understood what the basic idea was and accepted that it was a gift and non-negotiable. I didn’t venture the argument that I should stay with him and not return to a place so packed full of limitations. It didn’t take long before I realised that I was going through an unusual procedure, even for the dead where procedural matters really don’t apply. I seemed to have jumped over a lot of the rules I thought existed. For instance, despite knowing that heaven's phone could not ring out, my father had rang me in the Norwegian bar; also despite being dead I had retained virtually all of my living memories. I asked him about this and discovered that I was at the centre of a very special arrangement. "Well, this is a privilege for you,” he said. As he did so, he looked down at the roadside grass as if it would give him a more serious demeanour. "This has never been done for anyone else. Because I have to explain to you about your mother, this phone thing left you in the lurch. Something special has been arranged so that you can learn what really happened and learn a little about how things work." This seemed very fair to me, considering I'd been talking to the dead for years; I'd crushed my mind by not being able to understand my mother's hatred of me, lost everything that I had held dear and then subsequently died, packed full of drink and drugs in a lonely Norwegian hotel room. Of course, everything I felt bad about had
Jack Brokenshire been my own thoughts and nothing had been imposed on me, but being at the front end of a miracle clearly had its bad side. Wearing a smile on your face was not enough of a defence when you're at the centre of a something as radical as discovering heaven. So, my long dead father and I wandered down to the unpolluted seaside and sat under a faultless sun so that he could give me some more explanations. It was a bit strange because he'd never had the chance to do this kind of thing with me when he was alive and here we were both stone dead. I never asked him who had arranged this deal; I figured he wouldn’t know in any case. Naturally the conversation turned to my mother, who even I could tell was absent from this special explanation. "She's not here anymore," my father explained. "The lucky woman has moved on to the next place already." He was happy as he told me this, happy for her. I sensed in his tone of voice a hint of pride. I remembered how they had explained to me that life and heaven weren't the end all and be all of us; in fact, they were just the start. Everyone moved through the different parts of the game at different speeds. "Of course dying the first time is the worst bit. Dying the first time round is really terrifying because you have no idea what, if anything will follow it,. That's part of the deal though. After that, when you move on to another place you're sure its going to be brilliant, more brilliant than you can ever imagine. You know that things just get better and better with each move." I couldn’t imagine what could beat heaven right at that moment. As I watched a couple ballroom dancing on a seashore, I also watched a woman sculpting a rock. In a deep blue sky, there was a happy sun in a border of incredibly detailed clouds and a coffee house brimming over with laughter, and all within a few yards of where we were sitting I'd spent my life as most people had spent theirs—seeing heaven as the perfect place, but now I was being told it was just another staging post.
The Calling "So this isn’t the end of it, there is something even better than this? I mean—what could top this place?" He thought for a while. “Another heaven further on. I have no idea what it will be like, but I know it'll be far out, even compared to this." It looked as if I was going to be left with a few questions unanswered but that was forgivable. My father was part of the same thing that I was, he wasn’t running the show. In fact it looked like no one was running the show it just ran itself. I was disappointed about not being able to talk things over with my mother, and he immediately saw this written on my face. It must have been obvious, I suppose, because no one in heaven was ever disappointed. As part of my special deal, I was allowed to have this emotion: Nice touch on behalf of whoever had organised this for me. It was becoming clear to me that my status in this place was not the same as everyone else. It felt to me that I was being allowed to see things and even enjoy things, but I wasn’t a complete citizen. If I was, the thoughts and opinions I felt as they transited through my heart would have been impossible. If my mother had been there I daresay that armed with all the emotions I still had command of, it would have been a pretty gruelling experience for all of us. Maybe that was why she had moved on In any case, I expected my father to put all my concerns to flight regarding the troubles that had happened between my mother and I. I trusted him. We moved a few hundred yards away to a mountain cabin, and there, with bald eagles circling overhead and Kodiak bears scraping honey from the trees, we lit up our pipes and sat down on rocking chairs to watch the sun again. This time the sun wasn’t bright or dazzling. One of us must have wanted it to be softer, so it became something like a sunset or a dawn. It just hung there, acting as a magnet to the eyes and looking stunning. I looked at the sun for a long time before venturing a question. "Is that the same sun as on earth?" "Yes." he replied. "There was only ever one sun; it’s just a lot older and wiser like everything here."
Jack Brokenshire He sucked on his pipe and rocked unevenly in his chair. Smoking in heaven, who would have thought of that? I remembered how the newspapers had devoured the news that people in heaven indulged in sex, and pondered on what they would have made of the tobacco industry establishing a beachhead in the great beyond. But in this world, a world without lung cancer or bad smells, smoking was fine; here anything was believable. He ran his shoes across the grass at his feet and a light shower of dew rose up like a slow motion mist. "Come on, let me show you something.” My father got up from his chair and in a second we were watching people making oil paintings down by an English river, complete with willow trees and jumping trout. He called a man over to join us. It was my uncle, my father’s brother, and strangely they were as pleased to see each other as they were to see me. Appreciation seemed to be the order of the day here. My uncle told me that he had known I was coming and he was excited about the special arrangement that was allowing me to die twice. If I'd heard that kind of news on earth, even with a bomb bay full of hard drugs, I doubt I would have been so calm about things. But I knew that this was death, that this place would be mine once life was over so the inclusion of double death in a conversation mattered not a jot. My uncle walked close to me and gave me a huge hug. I couldn’t tell if it was my mind fooling me or something deeper than that, but it was as if I was back in his arms at my father's funeral. It made me feel safe and protected just like it had when my father had been buried. After some small talk my uncle went back to his painting and my father and I to our talk. We continued our stroll and as we passed a group of people singing along to an electric guitar, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a small wicker table with a simple phone on it. There was a man standing nearby and he waved over to my father. My father noticed my obvious interest and underlined what I had already concluded. "Yes, that's the phone."
The Calling He redirected me over towards it. As we drew closer, the phone rang and the man standing there answered it. It felt odd seeing this, the other end of the miracle line, but I suppose in every sense I was in a place of the "end of the line.” As I looked at the thing, I saw it was old fashioned and looked like it had been plucked from a 1950's Scotland Yard thriller, but something intercepted my thoughts and I felt sick suddenly. The phone reminded me of all the black sludge in the life I had so recently, and temporarily, left. Just the sight of a phone brought it all back into my mind. I'd spent weeks or months or years or decades in heaven, I couldn’t be sure which,, but this was the first reminder I had faced of the miracle, or the massacre, that had overwhelmed me then. My father noticed this and we sat down for a moment so that I could recover. “Are you okay, son?” “Yes I just had some of the wind knocked out of me by remembering the phone.” He explained as I sat with my head in my hands, trying to fight off the odd nausea. Colours and sounds seemed to get jumbled up and I couldn’t seem to concentrate properly, and I was dizzy, even as I sat down I felt as if I was going to keel over as the colours and sounds disabled my limbs. "It's only memory. The other people here have memory, but not like yours is now, son. The people here have been cleaned of associations, but you still need yours for when you return to life. It'll soon pass." “Return to life? I can't go back to that again!” “You must, son.” My father interjected before I could get into the full swing of justifying me staying right where I was. “Stay calm, this illness will soon pass, but you are needed back in life, son. Take some deep breaths and you’ll see: it’ll all make sense again.” And it did. In a few minutes things had stabilised, probably something to do with my father putting his arm over my shoulder as if to comfort me. I was soon ready to ask another obvious question. “What just happened?”
Jack Brokenshire “When you are reminded about going back to life, it comes as a shock. As I said, everyone else here is heading further on. Only you are still set up for going backwards, so to speak.” “And that made my nerves fail me?” “Yes. Now you are calm again, you can face going back to life, right?” As I thought about it I realised he was right. I didn’t want to leave him, but once I had turned off the thoughts of life the idea of going back didn’t seem to be so shocking. “Its grief in reverse!” he said, almost laughing at me. “Its grief for the living!” Again, trying not to burst out laughing. “You should feel honoured I suppose; no one else has ever felt that here as far as I can tell.” I didn’t feel honoured by it all, in fact I felt a fool. I decided to change the subject. "How come there are no queues for the phone?" As I spoke, the gentleman on the phone put down the receiver and went back to his play while the phone sat there silently. It was the only time in my whole stay in heaven that I ever saw the phone, or witnessed it in action. "Remember this place has no time, so we can take the calls whenever we feel like it. I guess it's completely different for the living." I understood. Up here, everything was perfect—but when it came to being dominated by time the living would just have to eat their lumps. “Here there are no clocks or appointments, and with time removed the calls were received whenever one felt like it. The whole game was twisted like that, the living have to cope with constraints and capacities but here all of that was gone. Everything was just right.” As we talked he continued to explain to me the differences between what I had been thinking and what was actually going on. “When you were alive, your thoughts, confronted by the sound of heaven on a phone and a billion dollars, being given to you every day could be forgiven for being a bit untrue.”
The Calling My father was well aware of what had happened to me. He understood that the break up with my mother had simply magnified the storm I had ended up sailing in. When I outlined some of the dire situations I had found myself in before I had died, he patted my back, looked into my eyes and said that it was over now and things would be much better from now on. Did he understand my stories about drink and drugs? He had known neither of these things to the extent that I described them to him in his own life. I don’t think anything I could have told him would have shocked him. To me, the memories were more than upsetting. I remembered the poisons in me at that time, and here I was in heaven: the contrast was explosive. I sensed in his eyes and in his manner that I was talking to someone who would not judge me for my mistakes. Maybe this was what he and my mother had described to me when I had been alive, the “big picture" that they had access to. He pressed on with his explanations. “I suppose if you understood the whole scheme, the errors made when you are alive, you’d know they really don't count against you. No one here was counting anyway. I’ve met quite a few dead drunks, dead drug addicts and plenty of people who killed themselves.” There seemed to be no measuring of good or evil and no comeback for anything that you'd done before. It wasn’t forgiveness; what happened in life was made largely irrelevant by this place of accessible miracles. Perhaps there was something else going on for people who had really fouled things up, but I never asked. Who was I to judge? In any case, why waste time in this utter paradise by counting the coins of the bankrupt business of life? He returned to the story of my mother. "You see, when you are on earth you're not the real person you were meant to be. That happens here. Living and breathing in the material world is just the start of things. The problem is that we were designed for this place and not the earth." We walked as he spoke and arrived back on the porch of the mountain retreat where we both sat down again. He sucked on his pipe a little longer as he rocked back
Jack Brokenshire and forth, and searched for the words that could possibly help me understand the things that had happened. I could tell it would be a long search. "Here, nothing decays; everything is simply set and there is no such thing as wanting or needing. But living is different—you start out just like we are here, thinking everything is possible. But as you grow older and discover you can’t have everything, that you can't even get the things you need—in fact you can’t even be happy most of the time, it bends and twists how you think about things." "So why be alive on the earth in the first place? Why don’t we all just live in heaven?" His answer was immediate. "I reckon it's because you have to sense those limitations first in order to appreciate this place. No one has explained it to me, but that would make sense wouldn’t it?" It was very strange to have my father ask me a question about what was going on for us both, but it was clear he had no idea about the system which operated behind the moments we were having. Not only that, but he felt only mildly interested in its mechanism. But he continued: “You have to look at heaven and look at it in wonder. Maybe that’s what keeps it all going; I don't know." He looked up and drew my attention to something in the sky. At first I thought it was a flock of birds, but as it drew closer I could tell it was a mass of hang gliders, maybe a thousand strong, all flying in a perfect sky with dead pilots swooping and diving in an understanding wind. "Well at least you can't fly here," I said, trying to make a joke of it, but my father countered my half lit remark quickly. "Actually you can, but the hang gliding is a lot more fun than just walking around in the sky so most people have a go at it." Have a go at it, I thought; it was impossible to appreciate the scope of what a person could do if they were released from the binding limits of what I had assumed was reality. My father explained to me that although the heaven we were sitting is was
The Calling pretty fabulous, no one knew if it was real, if living on earth was real or if something else was real "Things happen to the living that don't happen here, this is the real you. Not in your case, of course, because you're only temporarily dead, but everyone else here is exactly as they were meant to be—as if living on the earth had never happened to them." I couldn’t believe in people having a perfect part to them, even in a land like the one I was looking at. After the life I had just led and the other lives I had seen ripped to pieces around me, it was a big step to admit that people had anything perfect about them. Everything that went wrong seemed to stem from people: the bullies, the people you owed money to, the people who betrayed you and of course the people who hated you. In my opinion, even in heaven my mother had kept those thoughts with her, so how could she have become perfect? He sensed my confusion. I mean where was all of this heading? I still knew that my Mother had detested me; even here in wherever this perfect place was called it was obvious to me that her feelings hadn’t altered so nothing seemed to have changed. "Your mother fell out badly with you when you were both alive, but that would never have happened here. The things you said to each other were just the words of people who had a tough time of it. She, in her turn, probably fell out with her mother and father and so on and so on; that’s the way it goes when you are alive. But your mother started out as a perfect version of herself, just like we did. It was the passage of time which made her angry and bitter. Did you know that when your mother was a little girl she sang in a choir, played the violin, and wrote little poems to her mum and dad, did you know that?" I didn’t. To me she was just a battle-hardened woman with a brain like a flame thrower and the sensitivity of a shark. When he explained what she had been like when she was a little girl, I began to grasp what he meant. “I fell in love with your mum when she was soft and gentle and as stupid as the rest of us. Over the decades of her life, these parts of her were bitten, burned, scratched and ripped off so that all you saw was the wreckage of what she had originally been, or
Jack Brokenshire what was left of the original after it had done a few rounds in the boxing ring against circumstance. Remember, it devastated her when I died.” I could barely remember those things. I had been so young, but I could imagine that my father's death would have destroyed any charm in life for her. "You see," my father continued. "The person who said those things to you back then was not really her. What was left of her said the words and made the sounds that reached your ears, but the real original her would never have said such a thing—not to you or to anyone." I had to make a statement; even now some small part of my thoughts was ruining this conversation. “But she did, she said those things to me and...” But before I could complete my sentence he interrupted me. “No she didn’t. That wasn’t the real her, that was just what was left of her after a tough life. The real her was here.” He paused for a while to watch the hang glider people as they approached for a mass landing near a group of icebergs. He let his words hang in the succulent air, not deliberately but because what he was saying was the truth and needed no embellishment. He stood up again and ushered me towards the Japanese pagodas nearby, and as we walked I saw a picture of what he was explaining to me. This place with all its icebergs and hang gliders and pagodas was where we were meant to be, or at least closer to where we were meant to be. The world I lived in, or had lived in until the drugs had killed me, was simply a very poor replication of where we should have been. It was so poor that it was virtually impossible to live there and not be harmed in some way, and the harm was to our natures. What my mother said was not unique; there were a billion other things said which made people sad on earth. But they were words, spoken by people damaged by their lives. None of it meant anything, only the kind stuff was actually real. They were the words of someone about to enter a gas chamber, with no way out, and that after a life of dirt and crime. What would a situation like that do to the child in us all?
The Calling Just before the mob of hang gliders made their perfect landing, a group of four peeled away from the flock and headed towards us. As they came closer, I realised that I recognised one of the pilots. It was my best friend. I hadn’t seen him since the night in the bar when we had poured his shocked frame into a taxi to get him home, uncountable years earlier. As he flew in, I could see that alongside him were his mother and father, both of whose funerals I had attended, and his sister, the one he had rang on that first night of revelation. He landed, unstrapped himself and jogged over to me laughing. "Yep it's me mate. I killed myself apparently just a couple of weeks after we last saw one another." He smiled so happily, and his mother and father and his sister all came over with equally big grins on their faces. "Fabulous isn’t it? " he said to me as he hugged his people around himself with obvious glee. Oblivious glee. I could only agree, but at the same time I wondered what kind of a man I must have become to not have known of his suicide. “What happened? Why did you kill yourself?” I had to ask him despite the hypocrisy. “Oh, I don’t know really.” He said it in an off hand manner. “I don’t dwell on it. There’s nothing to be gained by raking over the coals, and we are all happy now so who cares?” Again, I felt I had to start up a discussion. “But that makes life pointless surely? If you give it away so cheaply and then never even think about it again, then what was the point?” My old friend looked around for an answer for a moment. “I think the point is being with people that you love, but others disagree.”
Jack Brokenshire His family gave me an assortment of hugs and handshakes and headed off arm in arm towards yet another coffee shop that had suddenly appeared without me noticing. As they left I was sure I heard them singing. My father continued. "Your mother couldn’t answer you when you asked her if she had meant those things. She remembered them in some way, but she was a total stranger to the woman she had been and couldn’t understand it. No one is ever upset in heaven, so she just passed over what you had said and didn’t dwell on it. The mother you knew, the mother you remember was not your real mother. The mother you spoke to on the phone was your real mother and she adored all of us. Here in heaven, everyone is like that, but on earth—" He paused and ran his hand through his hair. "Well, that’s different." We sat in silence for a while, dead together in every sense. I couldn’t know what my father was thinking, but I understood that it must have been important not only to him, but to a few other people, for me to come here and hear it from him. I understood what he meant now. I couldn’t understand what the point of living was if it was so awful, but then again I expect anyone would say that if he was sitting in heaven and comparing the paradise there with what we had to contend with as a living person. As I mused on these matters I could look out over a thousand miles of sunshine, on my left I could see the sunrise and at the same time on my right I could see the sun setting. It was a moment, or at least a thought, that summed up all of this heaven stuff for me. And for the first time in a long time I was purely happy. "We're all born as perfect versions of ourselves, but the experience of life from the very first instant decays it; here there is no decay." In the moment it took for me to understand his words, freedom leapt into me. The years in the sewer of my mind vanished as soon as I knew that all of the thoughts surrounding my downfall had been unreal ones. In heaven, nothing changes; we are literally fixed in time. But on earth everything changes, and because of that so do we. My mother's words had killed me, but she in her turn had already been killed by her life. Her face was not her real face; it was a face ground out of her real face by the
The Calling erosion of her times. Her childishness and perfection, just like mine, had been eaten away by her life. All I ever knew of her was the husk that remained after the attrition of life had taken its toll. It was this shattered version of her that had hurt me, Just as I, in my turn, had ruined others. When we died we were reset to the person we were meant to be. At the moment we were born on earth, the reality—our perfect state began to be spoilt by changes. None of it was real. Only here, in this strange place, could we be the real souls we were meant to be, free from everything that once had scratched out our thoughts. She loved me. The real mother in her loved me, and I could live again knowing that. My father led me to a group of people who he said he'd like me to meet. In heaven he assured me everyone was a close friend but as I was working under special rules I was allowed to see some particular people who had been on my mind. Sitting down by a stream watching the fly fishers making their perfect casts and the oil painters and the dancers and the sunbathers deep in their novels, I noticed a small knot of people approaching and they were all mine. When they recognised my face they broke into a run and soon I was surrounded by the people I had lost, all in perfect working order, tanned and happy. There were old girlfriends, friends who I had drank with, soldiers, in-laws and grandparents; there were people who I had lost touch with ages before who must have died without me even knowing, and of course there were the suicides, all forgiven, all in top form , all cleansed of the world I was so familiar with. We talked for years, or seconds, there was no way of knowing. The sun never set, we never became hungry or tired and the conversation was as rich as the best moments we had shared together when we had all been alive. Behind the mob, my father stood smiling. It was like a deep rest, it was so different to everything I could have known before. As we spoke, music started up from an orchestra that was sitting nearby. They changed from classical pieces to heavy metal to country and soul as each of us thought of a new style we would like. Each band populated by people who wanted to be musicians for a while.
Jack Brokenshire I had grief in me for all of these people. My mother-in-law smiled as she held my hand. “Well look at us!” She said this in exactly the same way she used to when something fabulous had happened on earth “Look at us still waiting for a dance!” I used to always ask to dance with her when she was alive. “Not likely,” came the familiar voice of my father-in-law. He grabbed my shoulder, span me around and gave me one of those monster hugs he was famous for along with that big blue eyed smile of his. “How have you been? And how’s my daughter? You need to see her again soon” I remembered how he had died, how they had found him but here he was again. I had cried alone when we had lost him, not wanting to show anyone the shock it had caused me, but now all of that was swept away. All of those tears and the secret stifled crying had been set aside. As each face came to me, I felt like crying with happiness. Up until this moment, I had been forced to accept that they were gone but now they were here again. In a way that nothing else could have touched me, these lost people, now so happy and close, by tears and by smiles repaired the cold stillness in me. An old man I had once worked with strode towards me, hands holding his braces just like he used to in the morning when we clocked into work together. “Now then, it’s a weird world, son, isn’t it?” I couldn’t agree more and he cuffed my head lightly with his hand just like he had always done. Feelings built up in me, much bigger feelings than people felt in this place, so I knew that something was different about this gathering. In brief moments, I felt my chest heave as if it was a living chest so high was I becoming by seeing these angels around me. I remembered the loss of most of them and I also remembered the numbness of looking down into the big black hole where their lives had been in my mind and crying like a baby because of the loss. They were my angels. They were the people who in some way had made me what I was, not what I had become; that was a monster
The Calling compared to how I felt now in amongst the people I had loved and lost and now found again. As each one burst through the crowd and shook my hand or hugged or kissed me, a little snap of the grief I had felt returned; this was the disadvantage of still having life in me but seeing them again and knowing they were in this paradise wiped my mind of pain. All that was left of the grief was missing them and even that was diluted by the fact that they were here with me and they were well. But I knew I was destined to go back to life. I had spent immeasurable time in heaven, but I knew that back in my ruined body, only a few moments had passed. I would have to go back. My father had told me that everything I was seeing under the special arrangement would be mine again, and more. But when my living body fought its way back to life, be it for a few seconds or a few decades, I would have to go back and die again properly. Heaven was a stickler for proper dying procedures. Although I could see no reason for having to leave this place, I understood that going back was part of this deal that I was enjoying. I didn’t want to leave and hoped for the quickest return possible, but an incandescent thought dashed through my mind as if it was implanted. Now there was no source of pain from my memories, no mother hatred, this had all been disarmed. I saw pictures of my wife and children, who had I almost smudged away with the drugs. They were still alive, they might need me, and I could try to fight back life's decay for them now that I understood what was happening. As suddenly as they had occurred, the bright thoughts clicked off and I was back with my father again. I wanted to live again, to buffer as many people as I could from the damage life caused, to try no matter how ineffectually to preserve the children in the adults I would meet. My father worked his way through my friends and drew me to one side with a smile on his face. Still grinning at me, it was obvious he wanted to talk about something a little awkward, something that was slightly embarrassing.
Jack Brokenshire "This sex in heaven thing, I'd better clear that up before I forget," he said with a cheeky look on his face. Remembering what had happened down on the earth when the news of a sexy heaven had broken, I had more than a passing interest in his explanation "Its really simple, on earth sex is about bodies with a little bit of thought, but here everything is about thought with hardly any bodies." He smiled again, straight into my eyes, and held my hand for what seemed a very long time. His long hoped-for face with his bright eyes sparkling seemed to be everywhere, and I knew without being told by him, just by the warmth of his expression that it was time for me to go. "The world is a place for seeking satisfaction, and coping with not finding it, but this?" He swept his arm around slowly to show me. "It's a place of given enjoyment. There are no mirrors here, because there's no need to see ourselves."
Things gradually faded into black with a slow elegance that was beautiful. I could just hear my friends in heaven shouting their laughing goodbyes to me and feel my father’s hands on my shoulder and my face and then—there was nothing at all. I woke up back in Norway, coughing and retching, less than a minute after I had previously died. I got out of the bed, which was drenched in sweat and worse and staggered to the bathroom. I remembered everything that had just happened and the ants and the zebras and the little soldiers and the Chinese cities had all gone. I turned on the tap in the sink (its water seemed crystal clear for some reason) and I cupped my hands to collect it, washing my face in its warmth. As time adjusted itself, everything seemed to be moving in slow motion, each drip that fell from my face seemed to hang in midair as it fell from me. I looked up, removed the pillowcase from the mirror and saw myself alive again. Breath, smell, time, touch and thought had all brought me back into the living world. After what had just happened to me, in the years or seconds that had just passed, I had come back cleansed. I felt tired but I had no drugs or alcohol in me; I could tell. I knew what both felt like and their glue was missing from my eyes and thoughts. Things were going to have to change. I have no idea how long I stood in front of the mirror, time hadn’t settled back into its gears as yet. Although I was still the same man, the thoughts I had as I looked at myself were different. Heaven had made me a child 104
Jack Brokenshire again; part of me had had its decay repaired and in place of the accumulated poison, there was calmness and a feeling of anticipation. I knew that I could soon be dead again but that mattered little. This was the last time I was ever to look in a mirror; my father’s last words to me had cleaned me of any need to look into me again. Better still, I never again broke them on sight; I knew how much trouble this caused other people so I could just pass them by without feeling the need for action. As I walked back into the bedroom, I opened the mini fridge and found it full of mineral water. I drank five bottles straight off and as I drank I looked out of the window at the most beautiful country on earth. I saw it differently now, each detail of the mountains and water and skies seemed to compliment my eyes by being there. Discarding the last bottle of water, I looked back into the room and I noticed something on the bedside cabinet. It was a mobile phone, and it was a duplicate of my special mobile phone. Having died, been to heaven and returned back to life again, I should have taken the appearance of a miracle phone in my stride, but I didn’t. It seemed to hit me right on the button and I slumped back on the bed, just looking at the thing. In the room’s complete silence, I held it in my hand, revolving it through my fingers and feeling its angles and textures. What a stinking mess these things had caused for me, but that was in the past. This phone would harm no one. I had no notion of how it got there. Perhaps my father had left it for me. I still had the images of heaven and my father in my mind, so I felt a whole lot more certain about things, but the phone troubled me. This was where the whole thing had started to go wrong. I remembered all my friends that night, years before in the bar when I had told them about my discovery. I hadn’t seen them since that night, and it was just a little while after that, maybe just a couple of weeks, that I had lost my family as well. But here it was in my hands again, urging me to use it. This time it had no mystery to it.
The Calling I knew that this phone would do something good. But there was no need for it now, my visit to heaven had cleansed me, as it did everyone. I still ached all over and felt very tired, but my mind felt new. I couldn’t ring my mother; she had gone on to another place altogether. As for my father, I felt as if he should be left alone now and allowed to get on with his heaven. So I put the phone down again, sat in the room, drank another bottle of water and let my thoughts take me where they wanted to. Sobriety was new to me and it felt wonderful when placed in the corrections that heaven had allowed me. I had had my body cleaned, my mind restored to its concentrated form; but more than that, the fractures in my heart, put there by the deaths of other people, had been soothed and repaired. There was a new silence in that room as I sat thinking; nothing breached the calmness of the moment and, being sober, I could fill my mind with a proper running commentary. Then I knew what to do! This phone had not been left for me to ring the dead; it was for me to find the living. My heart raced as the certainty of what to do jumped into my newer, clearer mind. I must find my family and this phone could do it for me. I picked the phone up, thought about the faces of my wife and children and punched the keys at random. Within a few seconds I heard the ringtone and then my wife answered. Her voice was the most wonderful music I had ever heard as the distance between us shrank to nothing and the woman I had loved, and still did love, stepped out of her hiding place and smiled into my mind. Speaking to the dead on the phone had been a miracle, a miracle gift that stunned everyone, but speaking to my wife was more than that. It was as if I had found some heavenly thoughts back here in my living world. Over the years, my wife and my family had hidden themselves from the sudden glare of what had happened, but unlike me they hadn't changed. They had sheltered from the storm, thanks to my wife's wisdom, and now it was over they clambered out of the wreckage untouched. It had been easy to provide for them, to make them secure
Jack Brokenshire in their hiding place. Even in their absence, as the money and property piled up, I made sure that through a chain of intermediaries they had access to the wealth. They had more than anyone could want, but while I literally fell off the earth my wife had kept the family alive. She had protected everything; she had guarded against errors and slips and invested her time in making sure the children were not affected by the explosion in their father’s head. She had never used a miracle phone, despite being able to, because she instinctively knew that what was real should stay real and not be tampered with. Despite not having spoken to her in almost a decade, she recognised my voice immediately and in the strange way that husband and wife can read each other’s feelings I knew that she was smiling. She smiled like the people in heaven smiled. "I've been to heaven," I told her. Without missing a breath, she replied, "But this is heaven." And I knew, despite everything that I had seen: despite the zebras and the ants and the fighting Chinese cities and the hang gliders in heaven that she was right. Where one is will always be the best place one can have. Maybe that was what the system did for us, but I'd leave that to the philosophers to work on. All I wanted was now. “What was it like then?” she asked me directly. Dwelling on what she had just said, I found the reply instantly. “It's like you.” “Where have you been? I thought we’d lost you, the kids are scared stiff by all of this; they want to see you again.” I couldn’t form the words to reply to her, every syllable of her voice seemed to be polishing the new peace I had been given. I could see her in my mind’s eye clearly and wanted to hold her in my arms and cling to the idea of her as much as to the real woman. I clutched at words. “I will never be happy, not completely happy.” “Is that what’s messed everything up? Is that what destroyed us?” She must have thought that I was on some kind of self piteous rampage again.
The Calling “No, that’s not a problem, I can never be completely happy because, although I know that my last ever thought will be about you, I can never change my first ever thought to make it about you as well.” There was silence for a moment as we listened to each other’s breath, sensed each other’s thoughts and nothing else mattered. She told me how our children were and as they were both there with her I spoke to them. They had survived just like my wife, because of my wife. They were strong and clever and practical and had no broken glass in their minds so talking to them was easy and bright and wonderful. I needed to see them, but my wife said, "Ring us back in a couple of days and we'll see." Not sensing that it was a miracle phone that had found her, she must have assumed I had managed to find her number in the normal way. I felt so happy; they sounded in high spirits. It was as if all the troubles I had known were mere imagination, and now I could swipe them away with my hands. Even though I had told my wife that I had been to heaven, she never asked me about it again, at least not while we were building the bridges we needed to secure ourselves to one another again. I could have told her I had been to hell, or to Mars, and her sensitivity would have ensured that she waited for a better time to talk it over with me. I think this was because she loved me. After our first call I slept again. I slept for two whole days. I only woke up when the hotel maid alerted the manager and he bundled into the room looking very alarmed. Soon old friends came back into view, still alive, still drinking and totally amazed that I seemed to have survived the madness of the last decade. I found them in the same way I had found my wife, a few moments’ thought about them, and a few random numbers into the phone and there they were. It operated in exactly the same way that the original miracle had worked, only this time it was to find the living and not the dead.
Jack Brokenshire The media never let up, commenting on the new image as a matter of course, but you had to expect it from such people. They had pictures of me glaring around hotel room doors bleary eyed, bearded and holding a bottle of vodka. Now there were others of me, correct and bright and very much alive. I never told anyone that I had been to heaven apart from my wife, so the people behind the cameras and columns of print would just have to guess on what had brought about my transformation. Learning from what had happened before; I decided to keep things between me and heaven quiet. The calls always worked to my wife, and each one repaired another patch of damage in our hearts. I discovered through being in heaven that it was easy being dead, but by inference it was even easier being me so that’s what I did. I removed everything I could from my ways that had congealed around me since the episode had started; learning from what my father had told me. The weird thing was I never felt like I needed to ring him or any of the dead again. It was as if my first death had brought back a beautiful separation between the workings of the living and the workings of the dead. Although heaven was better than living, I also knew that the chain of good things went on beyond heaven. Living was part of that chain and you could, by thinking differently, see the bigger picture. Just like my father and mother had told me during those early calls, they could help me see these things. The fact that I had been allowed to go to heaven for a one on one with my father didn’t make me feel lucky, just clearer. Even after the original miracle, my visit to heaven and the new miracle of the phone calls to my wife, I retained a distance from the phenomenon. I knew it wasn’t me doing anything special, or deserving anything such as had happened, and of course there was no such thing as luck. I couldn’t believe in luck once I had seen heaven with all its choices acted upon without the interference of chance. So I just accepted things. I accepted that I was the one to have this happen to him. I'd leave other conjectures to people who had the time for it, I was nothing special. My wife and children had done
The Calling the right thing by leaving me; if they had stayed God only knows what would have happened between us or what damage would have been passed on. We had no major issues, but naturally my wife was being careful. That's what wives do; even though men sometimes call it interfering, a woman's heart and her purpose is subtly more careful and considerate than a man’s. She had been careful when leaving me, protecting the children and now, as we moved closer together again, she was still being careful. You had to admire someone that careful, someone like her. My friends began to gather again, and of course this meant drink. Having been cleaned of its effects, I could drink as much as I liked and never get drunk. While my friends had maintained their habits and lives, mine had changed. Drink meant nothing to me now. In heaven it had been converted into something refreshing, and that’s how it tasted to me on earth as well, its venom and impact removed forever. Their stories were similar to mine in that they had attracted huge interest in themselves by being in that bar on that night when the deal had come to light. It was a world-changing event, and like all world changing events it was made up of a billion people changing events, each one seen in the mirror rather than in a history book. My best friend had died, of course. We all missed him and his suicide had hurt those he had left in the lurch, except for me because I knew he was happy. I found out that he just couldn't take the accumulated thoughts in his head, depression followed within days and his wife had found him one morning in his car gassed to hell with no note. He did quickly what I did slowly, I suppose, but it was irrelevant now. It was all pretty unpleasant; my other friends said that the funeral was a gruesome business with his kids putting wreathes shaped like cars on the coffin and his wife inconsolable. I never revealed that I had seen him in heaven—that he was having a great time hang gliding with his Mum and Dad and his lost sister—but I wondered if it would be a good thing to visit his wife, It would have been a better thing for her to be able to speak to him but I knew that one day she would. I figured I'd leave things alone for them to sort out themselves. Being in heaven did alter your view of things; there was no need to act when in the end everything was going to be okay.
Jack Brokenshire I never did. I would never have been able to make her feel any better about things without talking about a heaven she would never understand. I imagined that she'd be less than pleased to see the man who had set the powder trail in motion towards her husband’s suicide. In the end, she would see him again. I knew that for certain; the pity was that she would have to live a little more of life before she could talk to him again. She had no magical phone to shortcut their reunion and even if she had, I think it would have made things worse. The phone calls to my wife eventually fixed the many things that were damaged between us, so we decided to meet. I wasn’t tense at all; we had prepared for the reunion, me by seeing life in a better way and her by being cautious with the events that overwhelmed us both. We met in an airport lounge. She brought the children and within an hour or so we were all on an aeroplane back to one of our many houses. As we sat during the flight, my eyes moved from one precious face to the next hardly believing that they were back with me. For the first time since all this had gone off, my wife looked at me and smiled. The kind of smile only lovers can give because they can look into each other and not simply at one another. She got up from her seat and came over to me held my head in her hands and placed a single kiss on each of my eyes. It was another heaven. At the very moment she did this, the phone I had used to call her gave out a beep, as if a text had arrived. I hurriedly pulled it out of my pocket, not knowing what to expect, and all it said on the display was "low battery" and then its lights went out, never to return. The era was over, a new interpretation of the world was there for us, and my lover, and the loves of my life were all around me and happy. Every night since going to heaven, I had such wonderful dreams about the place. The dreams were so regular that often I would look forward to having them during the course of my day and race to sleep. They were dreams in bright colours, not the normal dim images with weird story lines; were they dreams at all or were they replays of my time in death given to me for free?
The Calling Through many days and nights together new connections were formed between my wife and I. She was more beautiful to me than ever before and I was calmer and more accepting of things. After years of separation, when neither of us knew where the other one was, it seemed that the value of being together again had increased tenfold. Soon our passion revived and then these miracle matters were put aside. We had so much money that every year I was in a position to give it all away, knowing that it would instantly be replaced. Giving was good. After so much disgusting self-absorption, it felt wonderful to look beyond the windshield of my eyes and see other people for a change. We built gigantic hospitals, schools and development projects sprang up all over the place—so many we couldn’t list them, and with each one, more money rolled in. It allowed us to do the celebrity thing: being visibly generous, but at the same time backing up people invisibly without their knowledge. We did this to avoid the sanctimonious crap that normally springs up from rock stars using charity to shine up their fame. We even put a couple of wars out in Africa and South America, all it took was a bit of imagination and using our unlimited money cleverly to wipe out the trouble. One of the best things we did (my friends were all involved by now) was to buy up a whole fleet of merchant ships, fill them with weapons that we had bought on the black market from unscrupulous arms dealers and twenty tons of heroin. We sank the lot in the middle of the Atlantic one night. It was big, it was spectacular and it was fucking cool to watch so everybody won. We even put movies of it on the internet to rake in more cash. We did this every year thereafter and none of the arms dealers ever knew about it. The prices of weapons soared as we bought up everything we could; it was a win-win situation. We even built a dozen shipyards to replace the ships that we were sinking; we built yards in India, Africa and other places where they needed jobs. It was a fabulous thing we were able to do—all because of the miracle of the phone. And all through this, I knew that heaven was waiting for us.
Jack Brokenshire Some people outside my circle of friends went mad for the whole thing. Someone went so far as to buy the pub where I had broken the news and the house we had been living in at the time, and turned them into weird shrines. The men from the phone company were still in the house attempting to find out more about the phone’s potential, but it was a pointless task. No one knew how they must have felt when the place was converted into a shrine around them as they worked. My wife and I took a surprise tour of all our old haunts and it was worth it. You never sense how things have advanced for you until you look back. It was odd seeing the kitchen where I had fought back so many hangovers glittering with gold braid and inset jewellery. My wife was even more surprised. "Look at this.” She had found our old kettle and it had been embossed with gold leaf and had some kind of inscriptions on it. "I could really do with a cup of coffee, I wonder if it still works?" And as she said this, she flicked the switch on the top but nothing happened. For her, it must have looked even weirder than for me. She was the home person and had managed every detail in the house, and now all her efforts had been converted into a strange sepulchre. The pub where I had often vomited up my dinner was also dressed up like a temple, complete with a ringing bell. They even recruited some stupid bastards to man the place and guide people through the major events of what they called "the calling.” Naturally I never endorsed any of it and veered away from the matter. I knew it was much simpler than all of that, much more real and much more wonderful, but hell! If that’s what they wanted to do, let them go ahead! I could only imagine how they would feel when they died and saw that it was a more generous thing than that; there was no need to worship or enshrine things. This was just a beautiful system that we were all in, a massive dream of good things set up by something very big. We would be fools if we thought that we could affect anything by worship, or lack of it; the scale and power of what was going on was just too enormous for anything we could do to have an impact.
The Calling This was a good time: living with my wife, my children secure and happy, with my friends around me daily and all of us so wealthy that we could afford to act like good people, live like good people and even hope to be good people. It was far from perfect but I told my wife that this perfection would come. We suffered all the usual tantrums and tempers that people who live in close proximity experience, our children, now well grown up, still pulled and tore at our fibres and we loved them all the more for it. We still argued over washing up, untidiness and which TV channel to watch but somehow a new perspective had come into us. We knew so much more now that trivial matters came back into their proper focus and we never slept on an argument. When the world had scooped me up, the sudden rise in my social barometer had killed me. Back in that bar when I had detonated into life the era that was now gradually passing I had made the stupid mistake of revealing what was going on to the wrong audience. I now knew that I should have told my wife first, and her alone. If she and I had spoken and I had had more time to explain things to her, I would have avoided all of the troubles that I ran into. She was my most powerful drug: she and the children were more powerful than the world's supply of heroin but I didn’t see that then. It was just as my parents had said at the start, "We can help you to see the big picture." The trouble is the big picture is often locked up in the small things of life, making it invisible. Over a period of time, people sensed that as heaven was there for them, why should they need to call ahead? Why should they stop the enjoyment going on out there and claw back people’s hearts from the obvious happiness of their new dream-like lives? The other people who were lucky enough to have made contact were more mature than me. Cleverly, their minds understood the message that I only grasped by dying. The media people are just like us; they're probably a lot cleverer but they're not in the business of informing us, or making us happy. They simply surf around on a wave of currently important things, and earn a crust by interesting us all. I remember we
Jack Brokenshire bought quite a few newspapers and magazines and television stations, but after a while we drifted into the world of looking for news, rather than simply waiting for it. So we gave all our interests away to a charity for kids in Mongolia. We were rich but even the long-time rich people developed more meaningful thoughts about the whole thing and grasped the fact that calling up the dead, even though they were more than willing to talk, was almost a violation of how things should work. Of course it wasn’t a violation, because I doubt anything powerful enough to keep the whole thing running with people living and dying and going from one place to another would allow violations of any sort, so it must have been for a reason. Or maybe “reason” was just something the living needed to make sense out of things. Nevertheless, it was clear, due to the mountain of evidence, that things were good, almost cool for the dead. It was also clear that it was we who needed them and not vice versa. The living needed to know things, to find endings to be re assured, but the dead were content and had no need of such things. Over time most people; (although there would always be a steady trickle of calls going on until the phone broke down) learned to live and let live, literally. Perhaps that was what the big idea was all about. People now knew that heaven was waiting and that seemed enough. Everyone else had a one-way ticket but I'd been given a full return package. Seeing heaven was way more important than the comparatively simpler matter of talking to the dead, and each night came more dreams. Decades of these dreams came to me; each one more brilliant than the last, to the extent that waking up, although still wonderful and exciting was like switching from colour to black and white in my heart. Each wave of images reminded me of my time in the afterlife, or more precisely the other life. I saw but could not manipulate the changing scenery, the changing sky and sea and sun. The sun was always in my dreams. I heard the voices of my friends in our last few minutes together, and saw again my father smoking his pipe as we talked. My father was in all of my dreams. His face at the end of my stay was always the final thing I saw before I woke up in life again.
The Calling I missed him, I missed my mother too, but now I understood the joy of knowing that we are never completely separated from the people we have known. I saw how heaven could be; the conversion of all wants into reality. I grasped the endless smiles of people who were freed from the decay of the life I'd been sent back to. The dreams never faded, never wore out with repetition and were never obscure. As I grew older, my senses began to grow less clear, but when I dreamt at night I saw things with the sharpened senses that the people in the other life have. I knew that heaven was a magical place teaming with beautiful things and populated by vivid men and women. **** As an old man, aging happily, I realised I could wait no longer. My wife understood, she had heard my endless stories and guessed that my attention was waning as more of me was given up to these dreams. We sat one night on the veranda of our house in Norway. I had bought the place as near to the hotel room that I'd died in out of impulse rather than any common sense, although, as with all our homes it was a stunning place. It was high summer, my friends were all coming for a party the next day, and my wife was talking over the arrangements with me as we watched the sun hide away behind the horizon. With my head half with her and half in a paradise that she could only imagine, I remembered my father’s words from years before as if he had just spoken them to me. When you come back here, it will be even more amazing than this time. And as I recalled this phrase, it became louder in my mind and I couldn’t speak. So I sat in silence. I walked along the hallway and passed the mirror on the wall that hung above our phone table. I turned to look in it and for a few seconds I could see no reflection of myself. There was nothing there but the background and I remembered what my father's final words to me before I left him in heaven. There are no mirrors here, because there's no need to see ourselves.
Jack Brokenshire I had experienced a life full of miracles: my wife's love first of all, then the phone and heaven and finally, as another guide to me, this simple hallway mirror had shown me that my dreams of heaven had brought me to the moment of going back there again. My wife called for me. "Is everything all right? You seem to have been gone for ages." "I'm fine; everything is perfect now." I walked slowly back to where she was sitting. I knew it was time to move away from life. I knew I need not go on with living any more. This wasn't a rejection of life; I just knew that I had to go to the other place. I was probably the first man alive that wanted to die for all the right reasons. I remembered those dangerous thoughts I had had back during those dark, pre-heaven days; the unstoppable suicidal thoughts that no one could interrupt. I remembered the desolation in my mind from my mother's words and the attention of the world and how the conclusion of escape had entered into my drugged frenzy. Now it was a peaceful, confident conclusion, one not of escape but of advancement. My wife knew now that we would never be separated and that earth time, for want of a better phrase, was really not the point of it all. We would be reunited later. For her, it would take a few years; for me, maybe it would only appear as a few minutes before she arrived in heaven, but this instinct born within me was correct. It was time to move. The dreams were warming my heart too much for me to stay alive; it was not going to be a death this time, but more like a clever transference at a perfect time from one place to another like sunshine becoming warmth. After a few moments, my wife noticed my lack of attention and smiled at me, one of the wonderful smiles she made when she was happy. She knew it was my time too, and with a perception bordering on angelic she understood that I would have to make a move myself; I couldn’t wait for time and decay to take me back to heaven. There were a few moments of silence between us and then she spoke, almost inconsequentially. "I'll tell our friends when they arrive don't worry."
The Calling She smiled as I got up and headed upstairs for our bedroom. She followed me a little way but I turned to her and held her close. We were both old now, but somehow our age didn’t really matter anymore. She was more beautiful at that moment than I had ever seen her; it was as if I saw her again for the first time and knew that she was the most beautiful woman on the earth. I gave this unique woman a final kiss and held her tightly to me, knowing that we were done for now. "I'll miss you." Her words revealed the emotion she was holding inside herself, holding back to help me. "I'll see you soon, angel,” I replied as I ran my fingers through her hair. "Take care." She had been my life and I now knew that with crystal clarity. In many ways, the miracle that had happened to me was overshadowed by the miracle of her. Heaven had showed me that perfection was being with the people that you loved. It was this facet of heaven that we could share amongst the living, but only in imitation of what was to come. I had once told her that my life was saddened because although I could be sure that my last thought would be of her I could not change my first thought, as a child in her direction. But now I knew that all of my thoughts had started with her, there was nothing before her except a preparation to have her share my life. “This is nothing, angel,” I said to her, knowing that her certainty of a reunion could not match mine. “All of this will make sense in a few moments.” Even though I had said the words, I had no idea of their source. I had no time to decipher it; I kissed her again and she held my face in her hand. She had done everything that I had wanted during life; she had loved me, she had protected the structure of our family when I had vanished from her side, and then she had taken me back. Her thoughts and her image were the last things I wanted to hold in my mind as I took my next step. She had forgiven me for all of those wild years of sadness and now she was prepared to let me go on without her. I knew it would only be worse for her if I stayed, alive but besotted with that other place.
Jack Brokenshire I walked up the stairs slowly, enjoying the last scenes of my home more out of sentimentality than appreciation. I felt the texture of everything, the handrail as it ran through my fingers, the slight spring in the stair carpet under my feet and the touch of my clothes against my skin. Mundane things for sure, but there was a new intensity about it now that I was going to leave such things forever. Sitting on our bed for a moment, I rang our children for a quick talk, just to see how they were. I had never explained to them where I had been for my miracle: I wanted them to have good lives, their own lives, and not be bogged down in the past adventures of their father. I knew my wife would help them, but as we spoke for the last time I felt a pang of worry. But I knew that if I stayed on earth I would become a wordless burden to everyone as the dreams took over, took me away from them. This realization helped my thoughts, but even the close presence of absolute paradise could not dampen my adoration of my children and my caring for them. It was a caring that I wanted to continue, as if I had never done the drugs or the drink or the madness. Equipped with pills, I lay down on the bed, took a handful of what I needed and slowly, ever so slowly fell asleep. For a while I dreamed, seeing heaven again, but this time everyone I knew was there and half shrouded in reality. They were waving and smiling at me: my father was there, jumping up and down with happiness as he shouted as loudly as he could through cupped hands, "Well done! Well done, son!" And finally, I saw my wife and children's faces, right at the very end of me. Then I died again, with a deep sigh and an old man’s smile. At the same instant, my wife sensed that I had gone. Getting up from her seat to come upstairs she noticed something unfamiliar to her on the table at the bottom of the stairs. She walked towards it and as the distance closed she recognised what it was, and understood what I had said just a few moments before It was a mobile phone. We would never be separated. The End
Thank you for your purchase of Calling by Jack Brokenshire. We hope you enjoyed this paranormal novel. Please visit www.aspenmountainpress.com and browse our virtual bookstore, where you’ll find other paranormal offerings. Please visit www.aspenmountainpress.com and browse our virtual bookstore and / or join our newsletter to stay atop the latest happenings with authors at Aspen Mountain Press. The newsletter also lets readers know of specials, discounts, and other happenings within the Aspen Mountain Press community.