Joelle Schumacher | from:English

The Lake is a Long Way From Here – First place

Tondal's Vision | Jheronimus Bosch | mid 16th century

So it’s like the Greeks, right? And everyone has a personal afterlife tailored to them, except it’s not all dark and bleak. You do the task and you go through the thing and then there’s another side. It’s not just an eternity of boulders, or torture, or whatever you’re thinking. No. No. Listen to me. You’ve got to listen to me. So Charles is out there, right? And he’s dead, at least to our senses, cus we can’t see him or talk to him or call him up anymore. But he’s not like, dead dead. He’s still somewhere. And where he is is where all the dead junkies go – they end up in this personal little afterlife where they have this Herculean task to complete. You get me? And what Charles is doing, what Charles is doing is Charles is redeeming his soul. I know, we’re back on the soul. But what did you expect? So anyways, ever since he died Charles has been working on this task. And it’s brutal. This isn’t some pussy shit. Charles is out there grinding, and he’s alone, and every time he’s done with one task he has another one to start. And it’s terrible. He keeps thinking what the fuck, and I want a cigarette, and when is this gonna be over? But as time goes on he gets stronger. He gets better at the challenges. They don’t hurt – there’s no one eating his kidney or anything – they’re just extremely difficult. Like a full day of manual labor, every day. But he does get to sleep, and he does get to eat, because sometimes the animal pleasures are all we get. But he’s lonely. Like, so lonely. He’s just totally alone. And for the first few years there’s no one there, cus all the junkies go to their own little pocket of this universe. So anyways, he just wakes up the first day next to a lake. And the sun is in his eyes, and he has no idea where he is, and there’s a note on his chest telling him to build a wall. And he’s like, what the fuck, who wrote this? Mind you, Charles has never built a wall before. But he gets up and he looks around and there are these stones. Just these white, beautiful stones. And he turns around and there’s this concrete. So he starts building this stone wall and it’s hot outside. And he’s sweating and he’s wiping his sweat and he’s thinking, Why am I listening to this note? But there’s nothing else to do. So then the sun goes down and he goes back to his little tent and there’s some food, and a cot that’s surprisingly comfy, and he lays down and he goes to sleep with his hands covered in blisters. And the blisters get worse as he works but – listen – they never break. His hands are never covered in blood. And he wakes up the next day and he’s sore and he’s lonely but he – he does it again. He keeps building that wall. And eventually he finishes the wall and he thinks, great. I’m done. And then he looks at it, he really looks at it, and for a moment there’s nothing but him, and this wall, and the connection between them, and he notices it’s actually a really nice wall. Like he almost has this sense of pride because he created something with real sweat and real work and real things. So he goes and he sits down on the wall and all he can think is damn. This is kinda nice. When lo and behold, all the sudden into his lap falls another note. And the note just says: Now build a dam. And Charles is like, what the fuck? I’ve never built a dam. I just built a fucking wall. I don’t even know how a dam works. But sure enough he goes over to the river and there’s all these materials there, stacked in little wicker baskets, and Charles picks up the first thing he sees and he knows what he has to do. So he starts building. And then the dam is done after a couple of months and he thinks to himself, shit. I made that. I actually made that; and it goes like this for a while. For a few years, maybe. And then after three years have passed like this, suddenly, someone appears. And Charles is confused because this guy is blue and he’s sort of glowing and he literally appeared out of thin air, and Charles has never seen anyone here before. He didn’t even know anyone could get here. And the guy gives Charles his next task. He opens his blue, glowy mouth and he says, “Now build a bridge.” And then he’s gone, poof, just like he came. And Charles is like what the fuck? Three years of no one and then some demigod appears just to boss me around? But he builds this bridge anyway because what else is there to do? And even though he’d never admit it, by now he likes the work. He likes making things and he doesn’t mind being by himself that much and there’s sort of a flow to it, like once he gets enough into the rhythm it almost doesn’t matter that he’s alone and he’s dead and he has to do these things. But there’s no fight, see. He’s stopped fighting everything. And so he likes it, this new life, even if it’s lonely, and eventually, the day he finishes the bridge, the blue guy comes back. And this guy stares at the bridge for a few minutes in total silence; and then he says, good. Now we’re gonna go on a hike. And the blue guy leads Charles up this mountain that Charles has never gone up before, and Charles is a few paces behind him, and the mountain is a jungle and the jungle is crazy and Charles is losing his shit with wonder. Like just absolutely can’t believe how beautiful this place is. But it’s hot outside and it keeps getting hotter. And eventually Charles is sweating through his clothes and he’s fanning himself and he can barely even breathe. And he’s like dude, can we slow down? Which is the first question he’s asked since he’s gotten there. But the guy just keeps walking on, same pace, not even a word of an answer. And so Charles just keeps going, for another few hours or so until he can’t walk anymore. And he sits down on a log next to the path and he starts sobbing and in between these really ugly deep cries he chokes out Where are you taking me? And the blue guy stops, and turns around, and says, “There’s no such thing as where anymore.” And normally this kind of shit would freak Charles out because it’s like, what the fuck is going on anymore? Is he being played? What does that even mean? But Charles just sighs and gets up and is like, ok, no more wheres, got it. And they climb and they climb and they climb and eventually, eventually they reach the top. And this is where shit gets weird. He looks down and he sees a whole village below him, way down teeny tiny at the bottom of everything; and he realizes he built it. He built that whole fucking thing.  And for the first time in his life Charles feels real honest pride about something he made. The blue guy looks at him and announces: you made that. And Charles is like, yeah. And his ego crawls back into his body and he’s thinking shit, I made a whole town in three years, cus he’s been marking off the days every morning, the blue guy interrupts him to tell him it’s been ten. And that freaks Charles out, because when did he miss seven years? But then the blue guy says, “There’s no such thing as when anymore.” And Charles has no choice but to trust him. And they sit and they watch the sun set, and then the blue guy leads him back down except it only takes like fifteen minutes this time, and then he tells him he’ll see him in the morning and he leaves. And when Charles wakes up the next day the blue guy is there again, and they start this insane personal training routine. Like some Olympic level shit. Charles is running sprints back and forth, and he’s carrying huge boulders up that hill, and he’s climbing up rocks like nobody’s business. And they do this for a few months or a few decades and eventually Charles stops missing everyone. Eventually he’s okay. Like all the work is finally over and he’s just okay for the first time in his goddamn life. And that’s when the blue guy says, you can go home now. And Charles is like huh? Except deep down he knows. And the blue guy leaves, and everything starts to blur, and then one by one the houses start to float away, and the bridge, and the dam, until finally it’s just Charles and the wall, that very first wall he made. And the wall starts to blur, and then it just disappears from beneath him, and Charles is left sitting there on nothing. Then Charles starts to feel funny, like maybe he’s overdosing again, and he’s like, oh fuck. Oh fuck. Because he remembers. He remembers what it’s like to be dying – the way you get sleepy, and then everything starts to speed up around you, and all the voices that have ever been in your head start getting real loud, and you know. You know it’s over and that there’s nothing you can do but get pulled by this current away from the real and into the unreal. And Charles is freaking out right? Because he just did all this and now it’s gone, and he feels like he’s overdosing on heroin again, and he’s scared. For the first time since he’s been there he’s scared. And what Charles does – do you know what Charles does? Charles takes a deep breath and just says ok. And then Charles starts to disappear too. Slowly, at first, like a particle at a time, and then it starts to speed up. And then he’s gone, and the world looks just like it did when he came into it – no house, no tent, no brick wall. Just meadows and the woods and that mountain in the back with the river winding below it.  And that’s when Charles gets born again. I’m not saying it makes sense. But you’ve got to listen to me. He’s born again and he gets to live this whole other brand new life where he isn’t like us. And he laughs and he cries and he experiences the whole world without having to get drunk or shoot pills or fuck girls he doesn’t like. No, no. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. It’s ok. It’s ok. You have to listen to me. I need you to know this. He’s okay. He’s finally just fucking okay.