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The light above an empty hospital corridor
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The Light Above

  12+  I open my eyes, blink and try to focus on the bright lights set into the white ceiling flying past overhead. I hear beeps and muffled voices. It feels like I'm strapped to a camp stretcher, but it's moving. I'm on a hospital gurney. What happened? I want to ask. But there's a tube down my throat, and I can't talk.

I've stopped moving. I'm in a room with more beeping and a light in the centre of the ceiling. A masked face shines a torch into my eyes. I blink. The voices are clearer. 

"He's back," the masked face says. 

"It's a miracle," someone adds. 

What happened? I want to ask again. But I still can't speak or move my head. I can only blink. 

I recall a fog-like dream. It was early morning, and I was on my bike, freewheeling downhill, fast. A car sped past me, close, too close. The bike wobbled, and the dream ended. 

There's activity in my peripheral vision. But the voices are muffled again, and the beeps fainter. I struggle to focus on the light above me but just want to close my eyes. I succumb, and everything goes dark and quiet.

"You're back," an ethereal voice beside me says. 

I turn, but there's no one there. "Sorry, where are you?" I ask.

"Here with you," the voice responds.

"Here? Where's here?" I ask, fear flooding through me as I look from left to right and see nothing but a black void.  

"Relax," the voice reassures me, "we're in the afterlife."

"THE AFTERLIFE!"

I flail about and try to grab the body of the voice and shake some sense into it. But my hands grasp nothing. Then it dawns on me: there isn't a body, and I have no hands. I plunge into full-fledged panic and scream.

"Now, now," the voice says calmly. "I know the afterlife's a shock at first. But you'll have plenty of time to get used to it. After all, we're here for eternity."

"No, I don't have time for eternity," I protest. "I've got sales reports due this week, my wife and I have a dinner date, and my son's birthday party is next weekend. I have plans!" 

"Life seldom works out as planned," the voice counsels. "I learned that lesson when the airline delayed my flight. Had we departed as scheduled, we would have missed the storm, and I wouldn't be here with you."

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"No, I don't have time for this," I repeat. And then something sparks in my memory. "Hang on, you said, 'You're back'. Have I been here before?" 

"Yes, briefly," the voice confirms. "The doctors resuscitated you."

"That's it," I say, hope extinguishing my fear and panic. "The doctors can bring me back to life again!"

"I admire your spirit, pardon the pun," the voice chuckles. "But once is a miracle, twice is —"

I hear beeping again. I open my eyes, blink and focus on the light in the white ceiling above me.

© 2024 Robert Fairhead

Thanks to Stefan Schweihofer for sharing the hospital corridor image on Pixabay.

I wrote The Light Above for the March 2024 Furious Fiction, the Australian Writers' Centre's 500-word flash fiction challenge. The brief for March was that each story had to include: 

  • A character who revisits something 
  • The same colour in its first and last sentence
  • And the words CAMP, FAST and SPARK (longer words retaining the original spelling were permissible).

When I started writing the story, I planned to have my character revisit a place, like their hometown, after a long absence. But I've drawn from the deep well of this autofiction for several other stories (I left Perth, WA, in 1983, when I was twenty-one), so instead, I switched on the "bright white light" of a near-death experience and the "place" became the afterlife … or life, depending on how you read the story.

I didn't make the Writers' Centre's showcase or longlist for March, which left me feeling a "little low". But fellow Furious Fiction writer Judd Exley, with whom I shared The Light Above, lifted my spirits with his enthusiastic feedback: "Oh man, oh man, did I LOVE that story. That was brilliant, utterly brilliant."

So, I picked myself up, revisited the story, rephrased a few passages, tweaked a word here and there, and shared it on Tall And True, my forty-second Furious Fiction (official and unofficial) since April 2020. 

As I wrote in a 2020 blog post about the challenge, by its name and nature, Furious Fiction doesn't afford writers time to reflect on their writing. 

Consequently, the story I've shared on Tall And True differs from the one I submitted to the Writers' Centre. But The Light Above respects the criteria and word-count rules, and the judge would still recognise it and, hopefully, agree that it's better for my reflection and edits.

You might like to read the short story mentioned in the 2020 blog post, written for my first Furious Fiction, A Song on the Radio.

Grammarly

Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com. He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.

Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story. In 2021, Robert published his first twelve short stories for the Furious Fiction writing competition, Twelve Furious Months, and in 2022, his second collection of Furious Fictions, Twelve More Furious Months. And in 2023, he published an anthology of his microfiction, Tall And True Microfiction.

Besides writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, watching Aussie Rules football with his son and walking his dog.

He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. ~ Maya Angelou

Tall And True showcases the writing — fiction, nonfiction and reviews — of a dad and dog owner, writer and podcaster, Robert Fairhead. Guest Writers are also invited to share and showcase their writing on the website.

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