The Letter

(2 Minutes)


I remember sitting in the car for twenty minutes contemplating whether to pay my respects. I was angry at Alicia for hurting me and felt hypocritical pretending to be sad, but I eventually gave in. I knew I had to see her one last time.

Entering the funeral home gave me a new perspective on what kind of person she was. She was a popular girl and well liked in the office, even if I wasn’t included in her circle of friends. I spent an hour hiding in the back mixing with the other mourners, not knowing exactly what to say. I had no idea what a mother that just lost her daughter of twenty-nine would want to hear. I eventually found my way on line.

Embracing her mother and saying a few commiserating words was the easy part. Just being there was of some comfort to her. What surprised me was how difficult it was to see Alicia. She looked beautiful in her casket. There was no indication of the illness that claimed her. I didn’t even know she was sick until someone at work told us that she died. We were all shocked.

The montage of photographs adjacent to her coffin told many stories of happier days. There was one taken of us while we were on a weekend away together. The memories instantly transported me back and it awakened the pain I hoped I had left behind.

It was a year earlier when Alicia put the announcement up for a white-water rafting trip to West Virginia. She was only in the office a week and was already arranging social gatherings.  It was the first of many such weekends. She was always living in the moment.

Ten of us braved the class-VI rapids of New River that weekend.  As it worked out, we were all coupled up. On the first evening we lit a fire on the riverbank. After a few beers, we all took turns relaying our dreams and confessing our secrets.  When it was my turn, I admitted that I couldn’t swim. After a round of laughter and the inevitable jokes, Alicia led me to the river and held my hand until the water was neck deep. She sensed my nervousness and didn’t push me to go further until I was ready. Being accepted by one of the cool girls wasn’t something I was used to.

We spent several wonderful minutes discussing whatever came to mind until I forgot that we were in the middle of the river. It was as if she read my mind when she surprised me with a gentle kiss. She whispered that I should follow her to the other side, and I impulsively swam after her. She was with me the entire way. An hour later, we returned to the campfire and dried off. I came home from that weekend exhilarated and in love.

Alicia and I did all sorts of wild things on our dates. Sure, we had plenty of quiet and romantic evenings, but she wanted to experience too many things to limit ourselves to basic activities like going to the movies or the occasional amusement park. We drove to New Jersey for a hot-air balloon ride, spent weekends in Niagara Falls and Las Vegas, and climbed the knife-edge trail up Mount Katahdin in Maine. I was terrified balancing on the cliff with a thousand-foot vertical drop. She even convinced me that jumping out of an airplane would be fun. To this day I still laugh at the series of photographs of us falling. The blood-curdling screams had slowly transformed into euphoria—and the camera caught it all! There seemed to be no limits to her wish list. We were planning two weeks of scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia when she abruptly ended the relationship.

Friday night was when we would all meet after work. It was another weekly get-together that Alicia organized.  We played pool, ate burgers and usually got a little intoxicated before we’d see each other safely to the train. After the break-up, the Friday nights weren’t as fun. I felt like an outcast again pretending to laugh with everyone else. Alicia and I played it cool because of our work relationship, but our friendship suffered. She organized another long weekend to the Grand Canyon, but I skipped it. I eventually avoided going out with the office altogether and kept to myself.

It was during the Christmas party when she finally spoke to me. She was friendly and we spoke politely most of the night. We both did a good job at avoiding the obvious: I pretended to be over her, and she pretended not to catch on. I still couldn’t understand why she pushed me away. I was too wrapped up in self-pity to realize that she was trying to say goodbye.

Entering the funeral parlor that night changed the way I approach life. Seeing the photographs of some of Alicia’s experiences reminded me how I should live. She taught me the most important lesson a man could ever learn; to attack life and not be afraid. I know too many bitter middle-aged people with regrets, and I will not become one of them. I intend to look back on my life with a sense of pride knowing I’ve lived it to the fullest. I’m thankful to have simply known her. I’m finally going to the Great Barrier Reef like we had originally planned and her spirit will be with me. I will always love Alicia for teaching me how to swim and how to live. I miss her.

Just before she died, I received a letter from Alicia. At the time, I was still angry with her and tossed it aside unopened. I discovered it again while I was packing for Australia, and it gave me pause. I assume it said something along the lines of how much she loved me and didn’t want to hurt me further knowing that she was dying, but I’m still afraid to open it. It would crush me if it said anything else.

©2008 by Charles Rice



(2 Minutes)


I knew I was going to live through it. Even as my car rolled for what seemed like miles, I knew it wasn’t yet my time. Strapped into the car seat behind me, my daughter had screamed in horror. She had already lost her mom and I was all she had left. When the car finally stopped rolling, I was confident that God would not allow Gwen to grow up an orphan.

When I awoke, the light was too bright, and I couldn’t open my eyes. All sorts of possibilities went through my mind. Was I dead? Were they oncoming headlights? Emergency room lights maybe? I ruled out the light being Heaven or angels because I didn’t have that warm fuzzy feeling of acceptance one is supposed to experience upon passing, or so I read. My speculation ended when I finally opened my eyes to find myself lying in bed in a strange room.

The sunlight filled the bedroom from somewhere behind me. A wooden dresser faced me at the foot of the bed. The mirror atop the dresser provided me with a clear view of artwork hanging over my head. If I was able to move my neck a little more, I could’ve confirmed the painting’s location. To my left, the door was only slightly ajar, as if someone meant to close the door but it didn’t quite latch, and a slight breeze had moved it from its jamb. I felt warm and comfortable.

The muffled voices were unfamiliar and distant, but the unmistakable sound of children running somewhere inside was clear. I remember smiling. Judging by the authoritative maternal voice commanding them to stop, I deduced my position to be in someone’s upstairs bedroom.  Just about to doze off again, I felt a cat jump on the bed to investigate. She wasn’t mine but her purring comforted me just the same and I dozed off contented.

The first thing I noticed when I opened my eyes again was the chill in the air. The bedding was heavier and warmer, and the artwork visible through the mirror was now partially obscured by a silver balloon that read Happy Birthday. I couldn’t imagine whose bed I was lying in—I know it wasn’t mine. This time I was more alert. This time I felt strong enough to get out of bed.

I sat up and saw someone unfamiliar in the mirror, and someone sporting a gray beard and balding looked back at me. I rubbed my face to confirm that the old man was me. How long has it been?

A child stood in the doorway, apparently surprised to see me sitting up. A woman in her mid-thirties, her mother perhaps, walked up behind her to investigate what the child was staring at.


The woman was obviously astounded. She knelt on the floor and held me tightly. I could feel her tears drop on my neck like warm rain. I knew it was Gwen. At that moment, I knew I had been in and out of a coma for three decades.

“I’m sorry Gwen.” I began a feeble apology for my poor driving. I realized that thirty years after the fact, she would think my guilt silly, but to me, it felt like only an hour had passed.

“Don’t you dare,” she responded. “I’m happy you’re finally with me.”

Gwen proceeded to introduce me to my son-in-law and grandchildren. The kids seemed scared that I was finally awake—I was back from the dead after all. I could only imagine. I had a hard time comprehending what pain I must have caused Gwen. I put her through hell. Whatever money I had in my savings must’ve been exhausted within weeks of the accident. My care must’ve been astronomical. What have I done?

I’ve always prided myself on handling any situation thrown at me, but I couldn’t bear the guilt. Gwen forgave me. All I wanted to do was fall back asleep like a coward. She deserved better.

I was grateful. I was able to walk downstairs for a hot meal, which was in itself a miracle; my muscles should have atrophied after three decades. My daughter was blessed with a beautiful family, and I was blessed to have at least spent some time with them.  As I dozed off, I had a sense of enlightenment. I knew nothing of the mysteries of life or death – I had no answers, but I felt at peace. More than anything else, I had a will to live greater than ever before.

When I awoke, I was strapped to a gurney in an ambulance. I was in pain and confused. If it was time for me to pass on, I was ready. I found comfort knowing my daughter was fine, and that’s all that mattered. I passed out.

When I again awoke, or when I opened my eyes for the first time—I still can’t decide which, my sister was smiling at me. She was young and beautiful as I remembered from years ago. I smiled back. She asked me if I was ready to see Gwen. A pain shot through my chest thinking she was already in Heaven, but I couldn’t resist the thrill of seeing her again. My sister stepped to the doorway and reached out her hand. I began to cry in anticipation, but a four-year-old toddler entered.

©2010 by Charles Rice

A Moment of Reflection

(15 – 18 minutes)



Hi, I’m Katy, and I live here at the cabin. I love misty mornings best. Sure, sunny days are always nice because I can get stuff done, and I love sitting on the bridge and feel the water rush through my toes. I welcome the rainy days for guilt-free relaxing, but my imagination soars when the fog is so thick that I can barely see the mountain vista I know is before me. The fog can be spooky if I let my imagination take hold, or even otherworldly, which is irony on a grand scale.

I honestly don’t know my true age, although I know I only appear seventeen. The seasons change like everywhere else; the summers can be hot, the snow can get deep in the winters, the brook swells a bit in the spring, and the autumn colors are always divine, but time is weird here.

It seems like I’ve been at the cabin for centuries, and oddly enough, I’m rarely bored—my guests see to that. I never really know when they’ll appear. Usually, I’d have a few weeks to relax, and sometimes, only a day or two. They often appeared when I was out tending to the crops or collecting berries, which, for a city girl like me, were skills I learned here at the cabin. I’d see them wandering in the field, or they would happen upon the cabin and enter on their own. My next guest will eventually appear, of that I’m sure, and she’ll need me, and I’ll be here to help her, as I’ve always done. For now, all I can do is wait.

It took me under an hour to clean the cabin for her arrival. I like things to be neat when they arrive. It didn’t take long tidying two rooms when all I really needed to do was sweep. With my chores done, I can sit on the porch swing and watch the fog clear. Perhaps she won’t come today. It just means I’ll have another day to consider why I’m here and how long I must stay. Sometimes, it does get quite lonely, but at least this place is beautiful. It’s not a bad place to spend eternity.

I checked the cabin again out of habit and discovered she had arrived. This time, she appeared in bed and was fast asleep. I backed out not wanting to wake her. I still get nervous at first, even after hundreds of guests, and I needed to prepare for her. I’d discovered the aroma of coffee was an excellent way to ease my guests into their stay. I crushed a handful of beans into my wooden bowl as the water boiled in the fireplace. A surprisingly high percentage of my guests love coffee, and it helps with the disorientation they experience having passed over.

A few minutes later, I sat in the chair next to the window with my coffee and watched her sleep for a while, hoping the aroma would stir her awake. This time, she had brown hair, a little darker than mine. Her dress looked like something out of the fifties, which may or may not be her time period. I noticed her nails were tastefully manicured and her skin was a little on the pale side. She seemed rich, although I’ve learned never to assume such things, but she was probably classy and old-fashioned. I wondered what her situation was, and how I could help her.

She opened her eyes and tried to focus on me. “Where the hell am I?” she asked.

I smiled. That was usually the first question.

“You’re safe and you’re in the cabin.”

I knew my response was a little cryptic, but I needed to proceed slowly. I tried to keep my voice soothing. I’ve been in her position before and I know how upsetting it can be when you first arrive.

“I’m Katy. I just brewed a fresh pot of coffee. Would you like a cup?”

She sat up slowly as if she were asleep for a month. I gave her a moment to follow me into the kitchen. She was taller than most, then again, I was on the short side and everyone seemed tall. I poured the hot liquid while my guest discovered the porch swing. The mist had completely obscured the view of the mountain. You could hear the brook a mere fifty yards away, but it was enshrouded in the thickness. With a little imagination, you could envision the cabin atop a very high mountain instead of the picturesque valley where it stood. Maybe even hope a wise old guru could answer the secrets of the universe or something, but nope, you only have me, and I still don’t know too much of what happens next. It must’ve seemed spooky to her, kind of like Heaven.

I handed her a mug of coffee. “There’s no milk or sugar – sorry. I have honey, but it doesn’t really work in coffee.”

“That’s okay. Black is perfect, thank you. I’m Sophia,” and she held out her hand.

I joined her on the swing awaiting her first of what must be a hundred questions. She remained silent for a long time, presumably taking it all in. I had so many questions for her as well, but I allowed her to collect her thoughts. We had plenty of time to get to know each other.

We sat on the swing for a while as the fog started to lift.

“Is this Heaven?” she asked.

I laughed. “I don’t think so, although it’s beautiful here.”

I couldn’t wait any longer and needed to ask. “What’s the last thing you remember before you woke up?”

She thought about it for a while. At first, I thought it was because the facts were fuzzy, as is usually the case, but then I could see the anger rising in her.

“My husband murdered me,” she responded evenly, as if her fate just dawned on her. She searched her chest for a wound that wasn’t there.

I didn’t know how to react, so I reached for her hand. She allowed me to take it, which was a good sign. Some guests withdraw completely, and it takes weeks for them to open up.

“Sophia, you’re my first murder victim. For some reason, I get a lot of suicides.”

I wanted to keep the conversation light so she wouldn’t think it was a big deal, but I guess it was too soon. This time I was wrong, and my flippant approach upset her.

“Some angel you are,” she snapped, and went inside.

I’ve been getting good at helping my guests deal with the issues surrounding their suicides. In life, most attempts fail because they’re really not sure they want to die. They plan it poorly, or usually it was just a cry for help. If I was still alive, I could help those folks by showing them that life is constantly changing, for the better or worse, and to wait it out. It always gets better. Always. However, my guests have already succeeded. These are the souls that truly felt no hope in their lives, or didn’t trust that life is an ever-changing gift with challenges to conquer. My guests were the ones in real pain, and they had all awoken to a realm with the same aching they suffered in life, with a pain that didn’t magically disappear when they crossed over.

I must reexamine my role here in the cabin now that I’ve been given my first murder. I’ll need to change my approach. Perhaps the universe has somehow deemed that I need to grow as well. I sat on the swing for hours contemplating my next move.


It was mid-afternoon before I entered the cabin. I found her lying on the bed with her eyes wide open. I could feel the moisture from a recent shower across the hall. The small mirror over the dresser reminded me that I still appear as a teenager.

I sat on the bed alongside her, noticing that she shifted a bit to give me room – a good sign. I brushed her damp hair from her eyes. “I’m sorry Sophia. I’m no angel. I’m just a kid that died too young.”

Sophia adjusted her position to get a better view of me. “What happened to you?” she asked.

I was a little embarrassed to admit the circumstances surrounding my death, even though I’ve confessed repeatedly to my guests, but I’ve learned to be open and upfront here in the cabin. “I was a bitch.” I laughed out of nervousness. “I was a self-centered, spoiled little shit.”

I sensed that my language made her uncomfortable, and I made a note not to curse again.

“You don’t seem bratty to me.”

“That’s kind of you, but I’ve had a long time to reflect on my misdeeds.”

“So, what happened?” she asked.

“I was pretty decent in gymnastics, not good enough for the Olympics, but I won State in the floor exercises.”

“I can see that you’re athletic,” Sophia noticed.


I couldn’t help but chuckle. Just wait until she works in the field for a few months. We were only inside today because of the rain.

“Anyway, one night after practice, I thought it would be cool to show off and do summersaults in the parking lot. I hit my head on a fire-hydrant. Freaky, huh?”

Sophia laughed.

“It’s not funny. I was in a coma for two months,” I said, trying to be serious.

Sophia laughed even harder. She had a slight wheeze in her breath that made her laugh infectious, and I wound up laughing with her. I knew I ended my life in such a stupid way, and it was not really funny. I also knew how with one poor decision, I not only wasted a precious gift, but I hurt many loved ones around me.

Sophia sat up and regained her composure. “I don’t see how that’s self-centered.”

I had to tell her the truth, confessing being good for the soul and all, but I’d learned long ago that admitting to my faults got my guests talking and that was the reason they were here.

“There were people in my life that needed me and I ignored them. My little sister was sick a lot and I never helped her, especially considering my father bailed when I was young, and my mother was trying to raise us by herself—and hold down two jobs. I could’ve done a lot more. The only thing I cared about was looking hot and taking good selfies.”

Sophia looked confused, “Selfies?”

I realized she was from an earlier time and didn’t know what selfies were. It was too early in her visit to explain how differently time worked here, and about all the inventions that had been created since she left Earth.

“Taking a photo of myself,” I responded and left it there.

“Well, I’m sure your mother understood,” she said as she pulled me closer and held me as if she was my mom. She comforted me when I was supposed to help her. I imagined that she must’ve been a great mom. She had a natural maternal instinct.

“Did you have any kids?” I asked.


She slowly relaxed her embrace and left. I called out to her, but she walked out of the cabin and stood on the porch. I followed her out. I tried to hold her hand, but she pulled it away. I could see that my question upset her, and I felt awful. That was the second time I asked the wrong question, and it caused her pain. I wanted to apologize but I was afraid to say anything at that point.

I watched her cross the bridge over the brook and up the path. I sat on the swing and watched her meander up the mountain until she was out of sight. Clearly, something was troubling her, and I hadn’t helped matters much.

The process rarely happens quickly, and I shouldn’t have rushed it. She’ll be back, there’s nowhere else to go. I know this because I walked for weeks when I first got here, and I’ve explored the mountain paths and valley many times since. It was easy to avoid my particular issues, but I discovered that I couldn’t run from them forever. In fact, I think roaming the countryside may facilitate the healing we all need to do to move on. Nature is as gorgeous here as it is back home. I still don’t know where everyone goes after they heal. Maybe they go back to Earth for another go-round in another body and face different problems, and maybe they learn new things. Maybe Karma is a real thing, and we are sent back accordingly. Perhaps there is another plane of existence beyond my understanding. I honestly don’t know. I’ve wondered for a long time if I was ever moving on, but I’m stuck here at the cabin, possibly forever. I have many questions about the universe I’d like to ask my creator. There’s so much I don’t know, but my task is to help Sofia. That much is clear.




At the brook’s deepest point, the water only reached waist deep. Even after all the snow melted or after a storm, it would only swell a little. There were boulders throughout, placed just so where at one point the water would bottleneck and rush through. I discovered it was the perfect spot to catch fish with just a net. With a moderate amount of effort, there was always a meal. Perhaps a previous guest arranged the rocks for an easier catch. It seemed our time here was designed for reviewing our previous life, and not for honing survival skills. I quickly learned however, that laziness was rewarded with hunger pains.

I noticed Sophia on the bridge watching me struggle with a good-sized salmon. I could see by her expression that she was pleased. After a full day wandering on the mountain, she must’ve been starving.

“Is there anything I can do?”

Even though I had already collected plenty of berries earlier in the morning, I handed her a basket and pointed her in the direction of the tall blueberry bushes and blackberry plants. I needed to get her used to chores.

I had become an expert on starting a fire and had the fireplace alight in seconds. I was lucky to have lemons in season so my guest could enjoy one of my few recipes. When Sophia returned with the berries, the fish was ready.

We took our time with dinner. I made sure not to ask her anything. In fact, I avoided asking her about her life for a couple of weeks. It was clear that Sophia’s issues were deeper than I was used to. I managed to make her laugh with my stupid jokes, although most fell flat.

I kept us occupied by teaching her how we collected the rainwater for drinking and bathing. The sun warmed the collected water on the roof just enough to make showering bearable. The brook always flowed briskly so drinking water was never a problem. I had small fields of corn, berries, wheat and groves of lemons and oranges —all within a ten-minute walk. I even discovered maple trees for syrup and for making sugar, and grapes growing wild on the other side of the mountain. I’m still waiting for a guest to show up that knows how to make wine. Oh man, that would be awesome.

As long as I’ve been here, I still couldn’t answer many of Sophia’s questions. There were never more than two people in the cabin, yet there were four kitchen chairs. There were real ceramic mugs for drinking. Who made them? Were they standard afterlife issue? I didn’t know. I told her that the cabin must’ve been here for eons before me, and maybe previous hosts and guests made all this stuff. I’m not a carpenter. I have no idea how to repair things if they break so I’m very careful. She asked about the indoor plumbing, and all I could do was joke that God must be a woman. A man would have us crapping in the fields.

I ran out of candles years ago. A guest once made hundreds for us, but when she moved on, so did her secret. She showed me how to make them from beeswax but I never paid attention. Another guest showed which plants and spices were in the area that would make our meals different and tasty. Fortunately, I paid attention to her. Now, I can make jellies, caramelize onions, and choose the right herbs for dinner, but I must do it during the daylight hours, because there are no candles.

Sofia asked about the pile of bricks in the field out back. A previous guest had marveled at how futuristic the cabin was. She had never seen such advanced construction. She explained brickmaking and we decided to make some. She moved on before we could finish construction on our addition. I’ve been practicing brickmaking for a while now, accumulating several hundred bricks. Someday, I’ll finish the project.

I miss music the most. It’s been so long since I’ve heard any songs, I can’t remember anything specifically anymore, and I’m sure I’m misremembering the melodies I do hum. Maybe music and reading would distract my guest and somehow slow the healing process. I don’t know, but it’s the hardest part of life at the cabin. It’s all in God’s plan, I guess.

I vaguely remember some of my favorite movies though, like Star Wars and Jurassic Park, and a ton of slasher flicks—the weirder, the better. It would totally suck to hear that ominous T-rex roar echoing in the distance, or having to cope with velociraptors running around the valley.  Perhaps the Hell version of the cabin has those types of fun creatures to avoid. Fortunately, there are no bears or wild cats either. The bees that make my honey don’t sting, at least not yet. Nope, the only other animal I’ve ever encountered were my fellow guests. As troubled as some of them may have been, none have ever been a psycho with a hatchet. Not yet anyway.

Sofia and I laughed a lot. We did our chores in the morning, had lunch, and chatted in the afternoon. We collected firewood before dinner, and spent the evening curled up on the sofa. Many times, Sofia would make up stories on the spot. She could’ve been a writer. She went to bed when she was tired, and I slept on the sofa, maintaining the fire if necessary. That was our life.

An interesting fact about this afterlife business is that time works independently of Earth. Sophia and I were lamenting the lack of electricity. I made a comment about the internet, and it went over her head. I soon discovered her murder took place in 1953, about fifty years before I was even born. As a science nut, she was fascinated as I explained how we went to the moon, the discovery of thousands of extrasolar planets, and how a guest who had died a century after me once described a full-fledged hotel in orbit for rich folk. A guest once arrived so happy because she was an atheist who was thrilled to even awaken after her suicide. She decided death was better than chemotherapy and was only here for a few months. She was the one who noticed that the stars were all wrong and that this planet could not be Earth. All of my guests enjoyed exchanging notes on what had or will happen on Earth. I’ve had guests that were native Americans that lived before Europeans came to colonize and conquer America, and I have had guests that lived hundreds of years into my future.

When I shared stories of my previous guests, I often slipped in their issues to soften the blow for Sofia, but she was more interested in what the guests from the future said. It was all cool stuff and made for great conversation, but the advances in technology didn’t serve any purpose in the cabin. This place was for addressing issues.


We were on our way to the brook to catch our dinner one day, and she just came out with her story.

“John and I were having marital troubles for the first few years,” she began. “I suspected he was having an affair with his secretary, and I only confronted him when I learned I was pregnant.”

I climbed on one of the boulders and listened. After eight months, she was finally ready to open up to me and I wanted to make sure I heard every word.

“You need to understand that divorce was frowned upon in my time,” she reminded me. “Anyway, after a week of him pleading with me to get an abortion, I finally agreed. I only did so to save our marriage.”

I could see the pain Sophia was in recounting the story, but she needed to get it out. I remained silent. I dare not ask another question that would interrupt her.

“John drove me to a guy he knew in Long Island that performed abortions. He wasn’t a physician; he was a veterinarian. I could hear the dogs barking down the hall. John told me he would wait for me in the next room. The man, I think his name was Barney, inserted something small.” Sophia started crying. I could appreciate the shame she must’ve felt, but she managed to continue. “There was no anesthesia and much pain. The procedure only took five minutes. The man said I might experience some bleeding for a few days.”

“Is this why I’m here?” she asked.

I had no way of knowing what kind of crime abortion was. I came from an age where it was legal and usually safe. I couldn’t imagine what going through a back-alley abortion was like. I honestly didn’t know and told her. I asked her to continue.

“I cleaned up and looked for John. He wasn’t there, he’d left me in Long Island stranded in some veterinarian’s office. I eventually located him that evening in the bar he normally spent his evening hours. I screamed at him for leaving me. He laughed at me and handed me divorce papers. He had planned it all along. He made me murder my child.”

“I went home. My parents were already dead, and I had nowhere else to go. I started packing his things, but instead, threw his stuff out. I cut all of his suits. He came home and caught me, we fought, then he stabbed me in the chest.”

Sophia stared out into the field. “I remember that he was walking in and out of the kitchen, stepping over me trying not to walk in the blood pooling around me. It was several minutes before I lost consciousness, and then I woke up here.”

She let out a long breath. She needed to unburden herself. It was a chilling account of a horrible murder, but it wasn’t the reason she was here. Guests who come to the cabin have issues to work out, a victim of murder is simply a victim.  Although I sympathized with her, I figured there was more. Perhaps it had nothing to do with her murder. Maybe it was the guilt from the abortion she needed to heal from. Guilt is such a pointless burden to carry. It could’ve been something from her childhood. It could’ve been anything.




When I first arrived, I found myself lost on the mountain wandering in the snow when I eventually spotted the cabin in the valley. I knocked and a woman in her sixties named Georgette answered the door. She warmed me up with some soup and we huddled around the fire discussing my transition. The first week she was understanding, and she comforted me. The following weeks were spent doing chores until I understood what was what. She determined that I needed solitude to best sort through my issues. Georgette left and never came back. Experiencing the abandonment helped me to understand how I had behaved in life, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I was alone for six months before Sara appeared while I was showering. I had no idea who she was or how she got there. I helped her instinctively, not realizing that assisting new arrivals had become my responsibility. It was my therapy. Sara was my first guest.

She was a suicide that blamed the world on her miserable life, and she simply needed to understand that all the choices were hers and that her happiness was her responsibility. She was a little bi-polar and that made convincing her more difficult, but here at the cabin, self-pity doesn’t fly. She was actually really smart and understood quickly. In only a few months, Sara had moved on.

Most of my earlier guests were straightforward. Their issues were easy to spot, and I was turning them around fairly quickly. As the years went on, the cases became more difficult. One particular guest was an abusive woman in her twenties that fought with everyone in her life. I suffered many bruises at her hand and even a black eye, but I never hit her back. She finally felt guilt over her actions. It was exhilarating watching her transform from a bully into a peaceful woman. She was here for almost two years.

Sophia was my most challenging guest to date. After almost a year, no apparent issues had surfaced, at least none that would warrant time at the cabin. Sure, she harbored resentment towards her killer, but that’s a normal and understandable reaction. She never forgave him, but I sensed it wasn’t her issue. She had deeply regretted the abortion and I’m positive she would have moved on quickly if that was the reason for her stay.

It was winter. The snow was over a foot deep, and we were running out of firewood. I had grabbed the ax to seek out more wood when I noticed the gleam in her eye. Something about the ax had triggered a memory. Instinct told me to keep quiet and to let her tell me in her own time. It wasn’t until later that evening when she began to open up.

I had just stirred the fire when she asked a question. Although masquerading as innocent, I sensed it was leading to something important.

“Did you have any pets as a kid?”

“I had a cat,” I replied. “It scratched the furniture, and my mom was happy when it ran away.”

“I always wanted a puppy,” she confessed, “but we couldn’t ‘afford another mouth to feed.’”

It sounded like she was quoting her father when she answered. I remembered she was a child during the Depression.

“I was seven when my father brought home a lamb a week before Easter dinner. I had no idea what his plans for her were. I fell in love with her, I even named her Rosey.” She wiped a tear away. “And then they ate her.”

Sophia chuckled a bit, but I can see it still bothered her.

“I was punished severely for refusing to eat the dinner my mother prepared for us. I had insulted her. It was the first time my father ever hit me.”

Sophia got up from the sofa and knelt beside me. She took the poker from me and stirred the fire.

“I didn’t eat meat for years afterward. I don’t know if it was for moral reasons or defiance, but I got the strap every time I refused to eat.”

I didn’t know how to react. My mother never hit me and my father was never there. Fortunately, Sophia was used to me listening.

“He never let up and I refused to give in. The strappings continued until I was fourteen. That’s when he died. I spit on his grave at the funeral.”

“Did things get any better after he died?” I asked.

“No, the situation deteriorated from there. My mother never raised her hand to me, but she did something far worse.”

I was dying to know what could be worse, but Sophia excused herself and went to bed. It was too much for her. I had plenty of time to get to the bottom of her issues and forced myself to be patient.

Things continued normally for a while without incident, but without progress. We added to our brick pile when we felt like it. She enjoyed tending the crops and became quite good at making jellies and cooking in general. She was terrible at catching fish so that became my task. She tried to hide her anxiety whenever I cleaned the fish, in fact, whenever I handled the knife, she would find an excuse to leave. I suppose it was understandable knowing how she died. I made sure the fish was cleaned before she returned from the fields.

It was late in the summer during a particularly brutal thunderstorm when I noticed resentment creeping in. Little things would anger her, things like dropping a fork. Perhaps it was cabin fever, but it got to the point where I couldn’t do anything right. What began as resentment quickly turned into screaming. I avoided yelling back because I knew it would be unproductive. I needed to understand where the anger originated from. She never told me what her mother did that was so bad, and I was afraid to ask.

One morning, my impatience got the best of me and I told her to grow up. I yelled right back at her and reminded her that she was here for a reason, and she wasn’t leaving until she faced her problems, even if it took “a hundred fucking years.” I had hoped a dose of reality would snap her back into the situation, but she responded by slapping my face. I hesitated for a moment unsure of my next move. I slapped her back. I don’t know why I did it, but it was too late to take it back. The seething glare in her eyes convinced me that I had chosen poorly. You see, we had fallen into a type of mother-daughter relationship, and she took my slap as disrespectful. I was thankful there wasn’t a belt handy, or it would’ve been much worse. I backed up and cowered into the corner, but she still managed to get me good. I’ve never experienced physical discipline before, and I cried. She knelt over me, and kept at it.

She eventually got exhausted and stopped. All I thought about was when the abusive woman gave me the black eye and how guilty she felt afterward. Her sorrow eventually led to her cure. Maybe Sophia’s abuse could serve a purpose, if that was possible. I peeked up and saw her holding the door handle as if she wasn’t sure of her next move. She stood there for almost a minute as I tried to stop my crying. I couldn’t catch my breath.

“I’m sorry,” she said simply, and left.




The following morning, I made coffee hoping she’d be in her room even though I figured she was still out somewhere. I could feel the soreness on my backside, but when I looked in the mirror, I was surprised to see the bruises on my face. Part of me was furious and wanted to leave her out there for a month to starve. The part of me that loved her wanted her back. She was my friend. I knew she needed to be alone, maybe even to cool off more, but I sensed that she needed me. I certainly knew my role was to help her regardless. End of story.

I set out to find her after breakfast. I carried a cup full of berries as a peace offering. I followed the path beyond the bridge up the mountain. It took me until sunset before I found footprints in the mud. They led to a cliff. I looked over the edge and saw her at the bottom. I fell to my knees and cried uncontrollably. She was about a hundred feet below, and her form was lifeless. The cliff was too steep to safely descend, and I had to find another path to the bottom.

It took me about twenty minutes with the darkness looming, but I located her. She cried the moment she spotted me. I ran to her and knelt over her. I hugged her and all she could do was apologize.

“What were you thinking?” I asked her.

“I’m so sorry Katy.” She was still crying.

“I guess you figured out that you’re already dead. You can’t die again, you big dummy.”

“I’m so sorry I did that to you.”

“I know you are,” I said, trying to move on from the apology phase. I kissed her on her forehead and called her a dummy again. I handed her the cup of berries which were already half gone.

“Where are you hurt?” I asked her. I knew I’d be making a few splints to get her back to the cabin.

She managed a laugh. “I broke both my wrists, at least one leg, maybe both, and maybe a rib or two.”

“Well, I guess you won’t be hitting anyone for a while,” I joked.

She started to cry again. “I can’t believe I did that to you.”

“Don’t worry about it. I could use a good beating every two hundred years or so.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Okay, enough with the ‘I’m sorry,’ it’s over with. Let’s put it behind us and move on.” I felt she needed me to take charge. “I’m not mad, I’m concerned about you.”

I laid down next to her and we chatted about whatever came to mind. The night sky was clear, and we could see thousands of stars. They were stunning. All of our issues were reduced to minor details as we admired the vastness of the universe. For the first time in centuries, I was humbled by the sheer vastness of space and the endless possibilities. It was no less awe-inspiring after death. I decided to ask her about her mother. She didn’t hesitate and spilled it.

“After my father died, I confronted my mother as delicately as I could. I was angry with her for not stepping in. She claimed she fought with my father over his treatment of me, but I never heard any such arguments. I doubted her claims and told her so. We didn’t speak for weeks.”

“She made a small meatloaf for herself and spaghetti for me. It was the first time she actually prepared separate meals in seven years. I threw out the pasta and took a slice of meatloaf just to show her that I was an independent woman. She told me she hated me and that I ruined her life, then she went into her bedroom.”

I knew Sofia was coming clean with everything and I didn’t want to interrupt. This moment was crucial for her to move on.

“I lived with my aunt until I was nineteen. I met John and we got married. Soon after, my mother passed away from acute liver failure.”

I could hear her crying. I asked her, “Do you miss her? If you could see her now . . .”

“No, I don’t miss her,” she interrupted, “and if it was possible to see her now, I would not be interested. Is that wrong?”

I didn’t respond. I didn’t know.

She continued, “I was becoming a handful to my aunt and John had a nice job, so I married him to get away from everyone. He was kind at first, then he transferred to New York and things went downhill from there. He began an affair with his secretary.” She chuckled. “You know what? I suspected something was going on, but I didn’t care. I guess I didn’t really love him.”

Sophia tried to shift positions, but she was in too much pain. I helped her sit up against the rock. Our eyes had adjusted, and we could see the cabin from our perch. It was pretty far away, but within view.

I collected several branches suitable as splints and searched for long blades of grass and thinner branches—whatever I could get my hands on that was pliable enough to make rope. I fashioned two decent splints for her legs. Her wrists would have to wait until we returned to the cabin.

“I have to tell you something,” she said. “After John told me in the bar that he wanted a divorce, I first went to his girlfriend’s house. I was enraged and wanted to kill her. I waited for a couple of hours, but she never came home. This woman was in my home and pretended to be my friend. I felt betrayed by her as much as I felt betrayed by John. In retrospect, I guess I was lucky she never came home.”

“I eventually went home and smashed every plate, every glass—anything I could get my hands on.”

“You know, it’s seven years at the cabin for every broken mirror.”

I could see her calculating the years before she realized I was joking.  She pleaded with me to stop because laughing hurt too much. I apologized and encouraged her to continue.

“I was cutting his suits when he came home. He tried to reason with me, but I wasn’t hearing him. He took the shears from me and pushed me to the floor. I got up, went into the kitchen and grabbed a knife. I pointed it at him as if I was going to kill him, but he laughed it off. He ripped open his shirt and dared me to cut him. I don’t know what happened, but I couldn’t take it anymore.”

The sun was just starting to rise. I was hoping Sophia would finish telling me before she got distracted.

“He held is shirt open and gave me a target, but I stuck the knife into my own chest.”

I was stunned to learn that Sophia was actually a suicide.

“It hurt so bad, and I screamed and fell to the floor. He looked down at me and thanked me for saving him the trouble.”

Sophia cried uncontrollably and buried her face into my embrace. She finally passed out.

I sat with her for a while as she slept. I needed to take a whole new approach. Getting her to confess was half the battle, but it was the hardest part. I had to work on her failed relationships with her parents and with John. With the admission over, the toughest part now was having her forgive herself.

I returned with a blanket and dragged her as carefully as I could. She screamed in pain all the way down the hill, but we laughed at the same time at the ridiculous situation. When we got to level ground near the bridge, I had to stop and come up with another method. At her suggestion, I ran and got the rocking chair. I tied some makeshift rope to the bottom and that did the trick. I managed to drag her all the way to the cabin. I bathed her and put her into bed. She slept for a full day. She managed to walk and use her hands after a week. Physically, she healed many times quicker than she would’ve if she was still alive. I don’t know why that is, but my guess is that a long recovery would hinder her emotional healing. Or perhaps, the pain is merely phantom in nature, and she wasn’t really injured. I can tell you that burning my hand on the stove seemed pretty damn real to me, as did the beating she gave me, but physically, I healed quickly.

Sophia stayed another couple of years at the cabin. We did more laughing than anything else. One day, she asked to make dinner without my help. I sat in my favorite spot on the porch swing. I watched her scream as she caught the fish. I laughed as she carried it up the path holding the net at arm’s length all the way. The fish was still flopping as she entered the cabin. She cleaned the fish—that was a big step. She broiled it with lemon, created her own glaze made from berries, boiled corn—all while I sat on the porch. As I poured the water, she briefly mused about what her child might’ve been like. Then, she told me she loved me, and thanked me.

I was surprised. I loved her and told her as well. We embraced. I made a joke that I no longer eat fish because I’m an independent woman. She laughed. It was an honest to goodness belly laugh.

She suddenly stopped laughing and said, “Oh, wow.” Then she vanished, right before my eyes, leaving the fish untouched.




As I sit here on the bridge with my feet in the rushing water, I have a lot to consider. It has been several months since Sofia moved on and I miss her dearly. It seems unfair to love a friend so dearly, then watch them leave you alone without warning, right in front of your eyes. I guess that’s what I did to my mom.

Although I cry most nights, I’m thrilled that Sophia finally found peace and moved on, but I still miss her. She was my toughest guest so far. I did help her, and then she helped me right back. She taught me how to accept love like no other guest.  It was during our last year together. I thought her ordeal was over and I had wondered why she hadn’t moved on yet. I figured whatever other issue there was would present itself eventually, and it did. She needed to take care of someone. She was a success taking care of me as any good mother, and I discovered how much I needed a mother. I needed a true friendship based on trust and love. I finally found it with Sophia. We made a great team. Wherever you are Sophia, thank you.

At first, I didn’t know what to do when I got here and spent centuries faking it. I had no idea what was expected of me. How could I? Georgette left me, a clueless seventeen-year-old spoiled brat with the immense responsibility of healing souls, alone! Since, I have found faith in the assumption that the Designer knows exactly what She’s doing. I’d heard somewhere that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. I guess She’s right. She seems to know exactly what I truly need, and now, I love Her too.

I wonder what my next guest will be like. I could really use an easy one this time. Maybe she’s already inside waiting for me or maybe I’ll have a week or a month more to recharge my batteries. Maybe she’ll appear wandering in from the mist. Maybe she’ll be someone who could make a musical instrument, or even better, an expert wine-maker. No matter how it happens, she will eventually appear, of that I am sure, and she’ll need me. I’ll be here for her, as always.

I’ve lost count on how many guests I’ve had, maybe a hundred, maybe more, but they have always been women. I’ve helped every one of them and they’ve moved on, free from whatever issues were troubling them. For a selfish brat like myself, this type of interaction began as utter Hell and I couldn’t have been bothered. I felt condemned. Throughout the decades, I’ve learned to appreciate my fate. I now feel wonderful every time a guest moves on, like I’m finally contributing to the universe somehow and doing some good for a change. I truly love helping complete strangers. At times, I wish I could stay here forever, although I miss my mom and sister. And I miss Sophia. Sometimes I wonder if this is actually Heaven, because I really love it here. Who knows? Maybe, just maybe, for me, this is Heaven.

I’m trying to remember how that one guest made the candles, but I can’t even remember her name. For now, the fireplace will have to do. Perhaps, I’ll use my time alone finishing my little earthen addition. I certainly have enough bricks. Maybe, I can make an outside cooking area, like a barbeque. I even think I can make a large enough mud bowl to fill with water. It’d be nice to relax in a hot bath. The sky’s the limit.

I can see that a storm is approaching, and I should really get off my ass and get up on the roof to set up the apparatus that collects the rainwater, otherwise I’ll have to march up and down the hill with a bucket if I want to bathe myself any time this week. But I like to sit on the bridge and feel the water rush through my toes. It feels so nice. Just a few more minutes…

“Oh wow.”            ҉

©2010 by Charles Rice






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