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Afterlife 

          and  

                Ralphie

AFTERLIFE   

by  Keith

Winthrop McKinnis, three months dead, grew bored with lying in his velvet-lined coffin. A restless soul during life, after ten weeks of enforced leisure six feet under, he was frantic. He began to ponder what all those years of toil meant if this was the result. How long was he to lie here confined? And he missed his new iPhone.

He could stand it no longer.

He clawed at the velvet, shredding it, revealing flimsy pine below… which he morphed through with an ease that puzzled him for several moments, until reasoning became somehow irrelevant. Likewise, the gravel and rock below proved no match for his need to dive into the dim void.

Images of his life flashed before his eyes, making him wonder if he was in fact dead… wasn’t this supposed to happen moments before dying? Or is there another state between the body failing to function and death?

He could Google it! Forgetting, he reached for his cellphone which, in a rare lighthearted moment, he had named ‘Umbilicus’.

Oh right. Not there.

Oddly, neither was the pocket: only the flap. Design with no function… what…?

Again, he pushed puzzlement aside, concentrating on the increasingly hot liquid route ahead.

Out of miasmic purple, another sequence of images appeared, photographs this time, dancing in the molten swirls around him, the details too quick to register. So he tumbled and rolled along with them, bringing him face to face with family and friends, places and events, moments of dread, triumphs and… what was that other thing?

Then, a fading.

And all became gentle motion as he drifted languidly with the cooling current, his mind now pasted with images of early life, his fragile maturity… and recent serious illness.

Very quickly though, unbidden urgency took hold. The feeling of being steered towards something. Intimations of a different reality: one unknown but inevitable.

Finally, Winthrop gave up the need to know, to understand, even the need to be in control, letting the accelerating current strip away clothes, memories, beliefs and prejudices, as he spiralled into a narrowing cave, following a sound much like a soft drumbeat.

Suddenly… confusion! Bright light. And strange joy.

The voice of a woman saying something he didn’t understand.

And why would he understand? He had not yet learned the Mandarin for ‘Oh, what a lovely baby!’

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RALPHIE  

by  Cynthia

Bang! Ralphie scurried into the corner, the slamming of the metal door clanging in his ears. Rolling his neck and shoulders, sore from being manhandled, he tried to shut out the racket. He always tried to be as inconspicuous as possible - ducking into alleys at the first sign of trouble - and hadn’t taken part in the ruckus that landed him here. Life on the street was difficult enough without being thrown in jail for being hungry!

Small mercies: he didn’t have to share a cell with one of Butch’s crew. And there was a cot, more than he usually got for a bed. He burrowed under the blanket to escape the mayhem in the corridor. In the dark, he could stifle his panic and try to think his way out of this dire situation.

There was no one to help. Ralphie had never known his father - or those of his brothers and sisters - though his mother had done her best for them all. Sure, Bella had her problems - urges she was unable to control - but she had always fought for her kids. When several were seized and adopted out, though, the fight just seemed to go out of her and she was resigned to losing her kids. Ralphie’s natural reticence did not endear him to adopting families, however, and he stayed by his Mom’s side.

Then she died in a road accident and Ralphie took to living on the street. Occasionally, he’d be taken in and given food and a bed for the night, especially when it was particularly cold out. People were more charitable during the cold.

Cautious and quick, he managed to evade the authorities…until today.

Generally, he avoided the street gangs that loitered near McDonald’s; they were a rough bunch that invited trouble. Today, a group of children looked easy prey to the gang and, hanging on the fringes,

Ralphie thought to take advantage of the possibility of a handout. He was so close to snatching a morsel when a fight broke out, kids screamed, cops stormed in, batons flailed, chains rattled. Ralphie felt forlorn; what would become of him? He had had a short stay in a foster home once, but they owned several cats, which he hated. He bore a scar across his nose as proof of their evilness. Feeling dejected and unloved, unwilling to trade hunger for abuse, Ralphie left at the first opportunity.

Realizing that the noise had abated and sensing a change in the atmosphere, Ralphie lifted his head from under the blanket. A young girl smiled at him through the bars. Without a word, she held out a piece of sandwich. Peanut butter! His favourite!

Without hesitation, stomach rumbling, Ralphie hurried to the cell door and accepted the gift. Delighted, the girl bent close to the bars and whispered, “I think we’ll be great pals,” into his silky ear.

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