Short Fiction – Nobody Knows Where You Go When You Die

Some people think they do. Some people are actually pretty sure. But none of them really know.

Nobody knows where you go when you die.

I’d never given it much thought before it happened. If you’d have asked me, I’d have probably said that you don’t go anywhere much. That the lights would just go out and then you'd be done. Turns out I wasn’t a million miles from the truth. Funny that.

I did figure this much. If there ever happened to be a choice of two places, I would be bound for the lesser of the two. That was easy figuring. In life, I wasn’t ever much of a man, not really. I was mean and angry and I’d most likely hit you as soon as I’d look at you. No. If there was ever going to be a good place and a bad place, you could safely mark me down for the bad one. Like I said, I didn’t think on it too much ever.

Then, after I died, I pretty-soon got an inkling of how things were going to be. I didn’t like it very much either. I was in bed, when I died, and it was sudden-like. My son came in and tried to wake me up but he couldn’t cos I was dead. He ran out, all annoyed and such, and started shouting for people to come.

How do I know? I hear you ask. How do I know what he said and what he did after he found me dead in my bed?  Well that’s just it, isn’t it? That’s the inkling I got. The sense of how it was going to be.

I could hear him, you see, I could feel him. Hell I could even smell him. I was dead but I was still there inside me, listening and feeling. I couldn’t see cos I died with my eyes closed but everything else was working for me.

That was the inkling I got.

And that’s how it was going to be.

I’ll spare you the details. This isn’t meant to be no horror-novelette. Let it suffice to say that it’s not any great fun to be stripped and scrubbed and autopsied and embalmed when you can still feel most everything. I knew I was dead all right and there was a sense of panic and fear inside me like I never felt before. I could feel things, like I told you already, but thankfully the feelings were not as ripe as when I was alive. When they cut into me and prised open my ribs, it was like my flesh was rubber and my bones were twigs. It smarted quite a bit but not like you might fear it would. A small mercy that was. A small mercy indeed.

I remember being in the church for my funeral. I could hear the mourners filing past but my box was too thick for me to hear too much of the eulogy. That’s probably just as well.

And that’s pretty much it. They put me in the ground and filled me in and here I’ve laid ever since.

It’s been seven years.

You’d think I wouldn’t know. You’d think time would become a meaningless concept in the eternal darkness and unchangingness of your coffin but no. Senses become heightened, when other things go, and that remains true even when you’re dead. I couldn’t move and I couldn’t see but I could feel. I could feel things through the conducting-fluid of the sodden earth outside of my oaken casket. I could hear the sun go down and the dawn come crawling back in. I could mark every day in my mind and add them all up together and keep them tidy.

I could do all this.

After the madness passed.

Because, yes, of course, there was madness. How could there not be? That’s why it might not be seven years. It might be seven years plus however many years my mind screamed at me in denial and panic and utter indescribable horror. If you can imagine it, my situation, then you must know that madness had to come visiting and it had to bide a while, there with me in my rancid box.

Utter silent screaming insanity.

For a time.

But it passed on.

All things pass on within the measure of eternity.

When my mind settled, it found things for itself to do. I had  always been creative in life so that was my way too in death. I wrote novels, plays, built up entire structures in my mind. I developed characters and plots and scenarios and I lost myself in them for a good long while.

I slept too. After a fashion. When all was quiet above and around me, I slept, and sleep was a respite. I was relieved from feeling my corporeal body collapse into itself as I lay. The interminable buzzing of the parasites within me were momentarily muted when I drifted away for a while.

But only when it was silent. And it was rarely silent. The worms outside the wood were noisy, who would ever have thought that? And the people above who shuffled past. And the people in the next graves, yes I could hear them too. The ones who had been there the longest were the faintest, their mildewed bones only gave off a faint electrical hum. The newer ones could be quite chatty. Chatty is perhaps the wrong word though. They were chatty in comparison to the millipedes and the slaters. Sometimes a story from their demonstrably pointless lives was recounted. Mostly they just bemoaned their unexpected lot. Once a new person was put in, six or seven rows over, and her screams gave us a very bad year or two.

People come to see me sometimes. My children mostly. I hear them up there, standing. Sometimes plucking impotently at a stray weed. They never speak. Nobody ever speaks directly to me. That is the worst of it.

Today is Christmas Morning. How could I know that? I can't say. We know things, we of the graveyard. We know the turning of the year and we sense the anticipation from the houses across the allotments. We can feel Christmas even from down here.

Somebody has come. I feel their weight on my sunken chest. It’s Martin, I think. He stands there and lays something on top of me. A holly wreath, I would guess. Still he doesn’t speak.

“Who’s down there?” A young voice. A living voice. Could it be my Grandson? My only Grandson, only a little bruiser when I died.

“Your Granddad. Do you remember him?


“Although he’s not really down there, he’s up in Heaven with Holy God.”

(Wanna bet, Skinny?)

“I remember Granddad,” the young voice again, no more than ten, “I remember him well.”

“You were too young to remember him all that well.”

“I wasn’t. I do. He gave me sweets. I remember him. I loved him.”

Something strange is happening to me. I feel lighter. I feel some kind of breeze through my bones. Like air.

“I’m sure he’s glad to hear you say that, John, how you loved him.”

“I did. He bought me sweets and was nice and I loved him.”


“We have to go now, John, come on, you’ll catch cold.”

“Goodbye Granddad, I loved you.”



I am still here.

Those things he said. The boy. They were almost enough, they were almost enough to send me on from here. From what I now know as my purgatory, my limbo.

Almost but not quite.

Perhaps he will come again someday. Perhaps he will say again how he loved me. Perhaps that will be enough to send me on. 

At least now I know there is the possibility of something else, something beyond this grave.

If only he would come again.



Jim Murdoch said...

When I read a story like this my first thought is always: This is so obvious. Why has no one ever done this before? Most likely someone has. We love to think we’re being oh so original but there’s always some bugger out there who’s got his foot in the door first. Just think, when was the last neologism you thought of that didn’t have 10,000 entries in Google? It’s depressing. But I digress. No, the premise behind this story is so mind-numbingly obvious—when you die you don’t go anywhere—that someone else must have done it before and maybe they have but yours is the first one I’ve read and so, in my head at least, you’ll always be the one who came up with this first and I’m miffed that I didn’t because I could’ve. I do, actually, have a couple of stories narrated by the dead which I’ve always found a bit odd since I have no interest in an afterlife. I’ll find out when I’m dead, as they say, and that’s soon enough for me. I did enjoy this though, very much. I was obviously curious how it was going to end and I think you did well there. My assumption at the start of the story was that this was what happened to everyone but maybe not to those who were loved enough or loved in the right way.

I’m bringing out a short story collection next year and am at the editing stage at the moment. I’m a big fan of self-editing. To my mind once you pass a book over to an editor they should’ve had 95% of their work done for them. I’ve just reread my collection ten times in a row. While reading I sit with a shorthand pad and scribble down the things that are wrong or just rub me up the wrong way, then go back and fix them and then reread again from the start until there’s nothing left to change. So I feel like in my own personal Groundhog Day at the moment and have been for the last three weeks but we’re nearly done. One more read I think and then I can hand the thing over to Carrie. Odd the stages you go through with a story. You start off loving it and then your start to see its flaws and you fall out of love with it and leave it lying around for a few years and they you rediscover it, see its potential, start to take a fancy to it again, spend time on it, feel the love again and then, because you can’t stop tinkering with it, you start to actually hate the damn thing because it refuses to be perfect but something won’t let you abandon it and, eventually, you learn to be friends with it and let it go to see if it can find love elsewhere. That’s how it goes with me anyway.

Good job here, though, Ken. I would’ve been dead pleased to have written this.

Ken Armstrong said...

Thanks very much Jim. I'm very pleased about that.

Like you, I thought this was a blindingly-obvious angle for a story but, like you, I haven't seen it before (honest).

Thanks again. 'Made my day, that has. :)

Dave King said...

Wow, this is devastating stuff! raking up for some, I wouldn't doubt, all those old fears of being buried alive by some mistake. Powerful writing, though. Compelling.

Ken Armstrong said...

Thank you Dave. You've made my day even better.

Lovely to see you there. I owe you some visits. :)

Anonymous said...

This is nice. Very nice.

When I've found myself thinking about this sort of thing, which I do on and off, this is probably the biggest fear; that we just sit there rotting, fully aware.

Like Jim and yourself, I've not seen it written down anywhere before this specifically, but it has echoes of the Brian Lumley Necroscope series, with the viewpoint switched.

What really struck me though was that you've thought it all the way through to what happens *next*. Just a glimpse. A hint.

And that's quite brilliant, and possibly even more horrifying.

Carrie Berry said...

Had to come read this after Jim raved about it last night. Excellent stuff, Ken. And one more reason I want to be cremated!

Ken Armstrong said...

Gavin: Thanks. What comes next is Nice... in my story anyway. :)

Carrie: Thanks very much. I value your judgement and am very chuffed that both of you like it. :)

yvonne grace said...

you write exceptionally beautifully Ken - we are fellow twitterites and i have retweeted this today - it's lovely and tough at the same time - like all the best writing

Ken Armstrong said...

Thank you Yvonne. I know you from Twitter, of course, and your comment has made my afternoon better. :)

ND Mitchell said...

Absolutely loved this. Hooked me straight away. A brilliant read.

Organic_Mummy said...

I've had to go to another room from the household mania to read this. The title hooked me straight in!

From feeling the torturous claustrophobic pain weighing on my chest, spasming and burying my brain... Almost painful reading, thoughts no one dares to push; Just as I felt like screaming from the horrors of 'Purgatory', the breeze and weightlessness of peace from love flowed through.
Mighty frank, beautifully descriptive and emotional writing Ken.
Such a logical twist, a lift from the usual finalities associated with death.

Sam said...

I know this is quite a dark story and subject albeit with an excellent hook I might add that it is almost strangely beautiful...somewhat, I love this Ken.

RobertA said...

Lovely Christmas Story, Ken! I'll expect to hear it from the man himself very soon!