This story is by K.C. Bouy and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The gleaming pearly gates slammed shut with a resounding clang. The translucent forms occupying the bright white room went silent as one. Kenneth took a timid step towards the unwelcoming gates that had issued the bold statement.
“Kenneth Warren,” a booming voice echoed around the vast room. Kenneth shuddered and took a second step towards the gate. “Regretfully, I am incapable of allowing entrance. While you did a great deal during your lifetime, it was not enough to offset the unworthy acts you committed.”
“She was better off without me! Anyone can see that. I wasn’t ready to…” Kenneth gasped as the room flashed blood red before fading back to the glowing white. His hands darting to cover his eyes fear coursing through his body. “I tried making it right. I was going to leave her family everything. But it was too late. The paperwork… it’s unfinished. Send me back. Let me live for a few hours. I’ll make it right. I swear it. I’ll make it right.”
“That is not in my power,” The voice took on a kinder softer tone as it continued. “There is one way you can make things right. Succeed and you will be granted entrance. Fail…”
It was all the warning Kenneth was given. Before he could prepare himself, the floor opened and he plummeted through the clouds. Falling, speeding, down to the Earth below. The lights of some city rushing to meet him.
Kenneth braced for impact, as the concrete building loomed ever closer. Moments before he flattened, Kenneth floated to a leisurely stop and was set on his feet.
A quick look around revealed the rooftop entrance to a parking garage. Cars lined the outer walls.
“What… What am I doing here?” Kenneth marveled.
“Trying to talk me out of jumping, would be my guess?” A feminine voice said from behind him. Kenneth whipped around and saw the thin young woman standing on the edge of the garage. The blue Prius and bright red Mustang on either side of her creating a multi-colored walkway. “Did she send you? Tell Mom to give it up already. She’ll be gone soon anyways”
Kenneth inched closer to the woman. The few golden locks that escaped the bun she’d tied her hair in, blew sideways in the wind. Kenneth prayed the wind wouldn’t change direction and propel her forward.
“It’s possible she did. In a roundabout way. Why don’t you come down, and we’ll talk about it?” Kenneth said, stopping before the hood of the Prius. Could this be it? He wondered. Could this be how I correct those mistakes and gain entrance?
“Don’t worry. You can go.” She sighed removing a hand from the column she was gripping to flick him away.
“Not until you come down from there. I’m not abandoning you up there or allowing you jump. Let’s say I’m on an angelic mission,” Kenneth said drily.
“Well, mission accomplished,” She sneered, turning, and jumping from the edge. She landed with an effortless grace between the two cars. “You can report back and let her know you succeeded. I’m not jumping.”
That’s it? Could it really be this easy?
“Not today at least.”
Of course not.
Kenneth sighed, “Why would you want to throw your life away?”
“Who allows you the right to determine what I’m doing with my life?” The woman argued back glaring at him.
“Don’t discard everything you can achieve on one selfish act. Trust me. You don’t want to end up in my shoes,” Kenneth countered staring into the woman’s eyes. The moss green snatched his breath away. They seemed so familiar to him, but it couldn’t be.
“Katherine?” He asked around the lump forming in his throat. He wondered if the dead could have lumps in their throats.
“Uh… absolutely not. Geez, you are pathetic at this. I’m Ellie. Is there some other woman standing out there about to jump you should be talking down? Is this your first day on the job? You should retire quick.” Ellie scoffed, leaning back against the grey stone wall.
“No. Um… my mistake. I’m assigned to you. Forgot your name is all. I’m Kenneth. Why are you up here anyway? Why would you want to jump?” Kenneth asked, shaken to his core.
“Not that it’s any of your business, but letting off steam can’t hurt. My mom’s dying. Dad’s deadbeat. I’ll be alone, no money, no job. Nothing to live for. I’ve taken care of her most of my life.” Ellie coughed attempting to mask the sob. “So, who’s Katherine? And don’t say no one. I spilled my life’s story to you.”
Kenneth extended his hands to wipe the tears from his eyes, “My daughter. She died several years back.”
“I’m sorry,” she dropped her gaze to the cement floor.
“Your eyes. That color green, remind me of hers. I… I’ve never…” Kenneth broke off tears threatening to spill over.
“Never…” Ellie prompted.
“I abandoned her and her mother, ok? I’m a deadbeat too. They were better off. She had a better life. A more devoted father. I wasn’t…” Kenneth said it all in a gush of words.
“No child is better off without their parents. No matter how shitty.” She glared. “How did she die?”
“Drunk driver. Her mother contacted me afterward. Sent me a letter with her senior pictures. I never got the chance to make it right. To get to know her.”
Kenneth stared down at the floor, unshed tears blurring his vision. He couldn’t convince himself to look Ellie in the eye. He’d spent endless nights staring at the photo of his Katherine after her death. Years wallowing and regretting the one decision that took away the one person that would have meant the world to him. Now her eyes were staring back at him from the face of Ellie.
“Go to Warren Industrial. It’s a family run business. Tell them Kenny was in the process of hiring you for the admin. assistant job. It’s decent pay with insurance. You’ll get a chance to learn the ropes from my cousins, and if you stick it out? You’ll have a shot at a fair advancement. Inform them exactly like that. Kenny was processing you. Any other way and they won’t look twice. “
“Kenneth…” She gasped, shimmering light surrounded him and shot Kenneth upwards once more.
“Effectively done.” The voice said from behind the closed gates.
“But not enough,” Kenneth replied, wiping the tears streaming down his cheeks. “What’s going to happen to Ellie?”
“She possesses the potential to have a fulfilling life. She needs a guide. I am searching for the appropriate one. It has been difficult to find. She is a unique case. For now, you have earned entry.”
The magnificent gates opened up revealing a glorious interior. Tears poured down Kenneth’s face at the sight. Steeling himself, he turned his back.
“Who will be her guide?”
“Ellie’s? I have no one for now.”
“Can I?” Kenneth prayed for the chance to counsel the abandoned woman that had his daughters’ eyes.
“You will be incapable of returning until her mortal life is finished.” The voice warned. “If she is led astray by your guidance, and falls because of it, both of you will not end up here.”
“I will not fail her,” Kenneth swore. He refused to fail at this task for the second time. Ellie may not be his daughter, but he will guide her as if a father.
The floor opened beneath Kenneth once more. This time he smiled as he plummeted back to Earth. Hopeful for the first time in a very long life.