Healing through story

Tag: afterlife

shortfiction24 – shot dead in the ER

Riley Rowan did not expect to die in her own ER. The spirits were ready to escort her to the afterlife. Riley had other thoughts.

I hope you enjoy the short story. Comments and Likes are always welcome. And for all you short-film makers out there, my stories are available for rights.

Shot Dead in the ER

Bob Gillen

Riley Rowan’s spirit hovered over her body. Her bloody, lifeless body. The scene in the ER was chaotic. A gunshot victim had succumbed to his injuries, despite the efforts of Riley and the rest of the trauma team. As Riley had been covering the body with a sheet, a security guard escorted an already distraught brother of the victim into the ER bay. Riley had turned to the brother, said “I’m sorry,” when the brother whipped out a handgun  from the waistband of his pants. He shot Riley three times in the chest before the security guard wrestled him to the floor, kicked away the gun and handcuffed him. 

The trauma team rushed to Riley’s side. The trauma doctor found her unresponsive, no pulse. The overhead florescent lights gleamed against the pool of blood spreading across the floor. The doctor called the time of death. 

As the trauma team stood in shock, some in tears, a spirit appeared at Riley’s side. “Hello, Riley. I’m here to escort you to the afterlife.”

“Who’re you?” Riley’s spirit asked.

“I am Jonny Angel. Your escort.”

“Jonny Angel? Seriously?”

Jonny’s spirit took a step back.

Riley ignored Jonny Angel, watched as a degree of routine settled on the ER. 

“Riley, it’s time to move on.”

“No, no. I’m not ready. They need me here.”

“Riley, you’re dead. You can’t do anything for them now.”

“Don’t spirits hang near loved ones? Talk in their ears?”

“Doesn’t happen as often as you think.”

“I gave eighteen years of my life to this ER. I train new RNs. I have to stay.”

“Riley, I repeat. You’re dead.”

“Says you. I can still help here.”

Jonny Angel swirled around Riley.

“Look,” Riley said. “This is my life. Saving people. I don’t want any part of the afterlife.”

“You don’t have a choice. You’re already on your way.”

“Nope. I’m not the kind to sit around all day listening to harp music. I need to be doing something.”

“First of all, there’s no ‘time’ in the afterlife. No one sits around all day, as you say. They simply are.”


“It’s pure joy…forever.”

Riley’s spirit shook its head sharply. She pointed down to the ER. “This is pure joy. Saving lives.”

“And you did it well. But it’s time…”

“Not yet.” Riley swirled off to the hospital’s operating room. A man lay on a gurney in pre-op, his left leg black with gangrene. She moved close to him, whispering in his ear. “It’ll be okay. No worries.” The man did not react.

She swirled off again, this time to the ICU. An elderly man lay alone in a cubicle, tethered to multiple IVs and lines. Riley hovered next to him. The man opened his eyes. Sensed Riley’s presence. He took a breath. Closed his eyes. Died. Alarms went off and staff rushed to his side. His spirit was already apart from his body. Hovering. Then gone.

“See, Mr. Angel. I can help patients with their illnesses. I can make a difference.”

“It doesn’t work that way, Riley.”

“I’m not going with you.”

“You don’t get to choose.” Jonny said, “Come with me.”

The two spirits moved to the oncology unit. Jonny lead them into a room. A twelve year old girl lay in the bed, her bald head covered with a scarf, tethered to multiple IV lines and monitors. The gir’s mother sat next to the bed, holding the girl’s hand.

“Her name is Meghan. She will pass any moment now.”

Riley saw another spirit appear next to Meghan. Jonny said to the spirit, “I got this one.” The spirit disappeared.

Monitor alarms beeped as Meghan passed. Her mom rushed away tears, got up and stroked Meghan’s cheek. An RN rushed in but it was too late. Meghan’s spirit appeared to Jonny and Riley. 

“Hi, I’m Meghan.”

“Hello, Meghan. I’m Jonny. I will assist you as you pass to the next life.”

“Who’re you?” Meghan asked Riley.

“She’s transitioning too, but somewhat reluctantly.”

“I just died down in the ER. I’m trying to convince Jonny I’m not ready to go.”

Jonny said, “Riley was an ER nurse for quite a while. She was shot by a distraught relative of a gunshot victim.”

“Oh, wow. Right here in the hospital?”

Riley nodded.

“Did you like your job?”

“I loved it. I lived for the thrill of saving lives.”

“You were lucky.”

“Yeah, I was.”

“I was twelve. I never got to reach any of my goals and dreams.”

“What was your dream?”

“To  a marine biologist.”

“That sounds exciting.”

“Who knows? I never got there. And look at my mom. She never got to see me graduate with a degree. Never got to see me work. She didn’t even see me get to grow proper boobs!”

Riley smiled. “I did okay in that regard…And yeah, I was lucky with my life.”

Jonny said, “It’s time.”

Riley said, “Can I see the ER one more time?”

Jonny shook his head. “Afraid not.”

Riley said, “Jonny, I guess you got me. Meghan, see you on the other side.”

The three spirits disappeared.


shortfiction24 – heaven ain’t all joy

A woman struggles in the afterlife as she grieves for the family she left behind.

This story came to me when I woke up this morning. It doesn’t get any fresher. I have often pondered the afterlife. Pure being. What does that mean?

Enjoy the short story!

Heaven Ain’t All Joy

Bob Gillen

I am so disappointed. There was no pearly gate. No St. Peter with a clipboard to welcome me. I’m here, for sure. It’s been maybe a month in your time. Here, there is no time. I measure it by watching my family. 

I miss my family so much. I ache for them. My dear husband Matt, who cared for me to the end. Ryan, my high school senior, set to graduate in a few months. He already has a black band he will wear with his cap and gown. Katy, my fifteen year old. She lives on the autism scale. I know they are grieving. I can see that. But it makes it even harder for me. I grieve them.

Breast cancer nailed me. Nailed me in my prime. A great job as a home health nurse. A schedule I could work around important family events. I was happy. And then, my annual mammogram. Downhill from there. 

So, I’m here. Not at all what I expected. I was so fearful of dying, of going to the afterlife. What would I do there? Sit around and feel joyful? Not my cup of tea. I don’t sit around. I move, I do things. And here I am, dealing with my own afterlife. 

They used to say, after death you are pure being. I am still grappling with that. Still not sure what I am feeling. One thing relieves me. I can see my family. Not too many other people. A few relatives and friends. But not everything going on back there. And not the future. I have no idea what the future will bring for my family. And I don’t appear to be able to influence their lives in any way. I can simply see them. Watch their routines, see the empty space where I should have been.

I miss them like crazy. It’s almost too hard to deal with. Is this some kind of purgatory? Do I have to deal with my own grief? And will it last until they’re all here with me again? I have no answers. And no one here has offered any help in that regard.

I met my parents. We talked. I found out it was not my mother who manipulated me away from my group of friends when we graduated from eighth grade, and pushed me towards a more desirable crowd. I guess I feel okay about that now. It’s like, being here, part of me doesn’t care.

I see people who died before me drift by. Relatives, friends, associates. Some merely nod. Some don’t appear to realize who I am. We don’t communicate in any way.

I saw JFK the other day. The other day, your time. He was smiling, talking to Marilyn Monroe. I did not see Jackie.

And I saw Gov. Dewey. Remember him? Thomas E. Dewey, declared the winner prematurely in the press in the presidential race, only to lose to Truman. My father worked for his law firm for a few summers when he was in high school. He passed Dewey in the hallway back then one day. He said, ‘Good morning, Governor.” Dewey replied, “Good morning, son.” My dad always talked aout that moment.

Okay, I’m saying it again. I miss my family. Are we supposed to grieve up here? I sure am. It hurts like hell. It’s like watching the people you love on television, but you can’t reach out to them.

Ryan plays basketball. A great team. He’s a starter. They have a chance at finals this year. I am so proud of him. Katy, with her autism, loves theater. She builds dioramas of stage sets. She has been constructing the stage set from Hamilton for months. Almost finished. She posts her progress and her completed sets to Instagram, where she has a strong following. A couple of local theater people have encouraged her to create a calendar from her images and sell it online. She’s not ready yet, but I think with Matt and Ryan helping her, she could do it. She has a neurological issue, has to wear earplugs for large, loud gatherings. We had attended mostly local theater, black box theater. Not so difficult for her. She wore her earplugs when we went to see Hamilton. They helped her through the performance without her missing out on the experience.

Matt, my dear Matt. I didn’t thank him enough for the care he gave me, for being at my side till the end. He supported the kids so well. I wanted cremation. They have not been able to decide where to scatter or bury my cremains. Matt wants our backyard. Katy says no, what if we ever moved. Ryan wants the beach, but it’s not legal and there is always someone at the beach who would spot us. As of now, I am in the living room on top of a bookcase. My guess is I will stay there. Okay with me. I’m here. That’s no longer me there. Only bone fragments. 

I am grieving. I said that already, didn’t I? Why? If this afterlife is supposed to be all harps and joy, I don’t get it. I talked about this with my hair stylist one day. She said she knew a medium who had the belief that the afterlife is a series of adjustments, learnings. You are constantly growing as you learn more about life in all its forms. Maybe she was right. I am certainly adjusting. If that is what they would call grief here. Not sure yet about the growing. 

There are people I want to meet here. So far I have not seen them. My eighth grade boyfriend Spin. One of the friends I lost when we all went off to different high schools. Spin, me, Patty, Frank. We were a tight group. I had periodically Googled them in the last few years, but I found no mention of them anywhere. Maybe it just takes time here. Wait, there is no time. I don’t know how to measure anything. 

Do I somehow have to be ready to meet them? Or, this just occurred to me, maybe some of them are not here yet. Duh! I made it to almost fifty. Young for hitting the afterlife. Yeah, most or all of them are probably not here yet. How would I find? Is there a registry? Is there a Google for the afterlife? Search for people who are here? The more I think about it, there are many people I know preceded me that I would like to connect with. I already meet my parents. But so far we have not discussed their earlier lives. I never knew how they met. Where they went to school. What secrets were buried with them. 

My maternal grandmother is here somewhere. She came over from Ireland as a young girl from County Waterford, passed through Ellis Island. Married, lost a husband and a son, remarried. I have not seen her yet. I’d love to know her story about immigrating to New York. I’ll watch for her.

My head is spinning. I have much to do, after all. Watch my family. Try to communicate with them (although that does not seem possible, at least not yet). Look for people here. Look for answers to questions that puzzled me all my life. Was there a conspiracy behind JFK’s murder? How did Marilyn Monroe really die? Yes, I was something of a true crime follower. Always fascinated by questions that had no obvious answers. A high school classmate who disappeared on prom night. Never found. Did she run away? Is she dead? I saw a story recently about a woman who was assumed dead, who turned up very much alive in Rio twenty years later. 

Well, that’s my story for now. I am grieving. Did not think that would happen here. I am struggling to find my way. No one has stepped forward to guide me. I may be on my own for this journey, this sojourn. Only time will tell. Except, there is no time here. 


shortfiction24 – not ready for us yet

This past May we left the spirits of Vinny and Lewis tangled together after their cremated ashes were intermingled at the crematorium. They are struggling to separate and continue their journeys to the next world. Nothing has worked so far.

Here’s the link to the original story. Enjoy their further escapades.

I should note that some of my stories have become series. I don’t plan these continuing stories; the characters simply continue to live. So – I have no pre-planning for these series.

Not Ready For Us Yet

Bob Gillen

Margie Pasquilino sat in her backyard, warmed by the sunlight of a fresh morning. A mug of coffee rested on the arm of her husband Vinny’s favorite red Adirondack chair.

Vinny and Lewis squirmed in their box of ashes, buried under the bottlebrush tree in the yard. “Morning.”

“Back atcha,” Vinny said. “Is it another day?”

“I think so. I can kinda feel warmth. A new sun.”

“Let’s go up.”

The two wiggled up out of the box into the fresh air. 

“Margie,” Vinny said, smiling in her direction. Margie did not look over. “She can’t hear me.”

“We kinda knew that, didn’t we?”

Vinny moved around, taking in the scene. Only a few days till Halloween. Margie had placed a pumpkin over the burial site. A long white skeleton hung from the tree.

“She did a little decorating, huh?” Lewis said.

Vinny was silent. He gazed at Margie, lit by the early sun. A long shadow hung across half the yard, the sun blocked by the house.

“She looks like a Hopper painting,” he said.

Lewis stared for a moment.

“Yeah. Cool. You got a good eye.”

“He was always one of my favorite artists. Solitary figures. Sunlight and shadow.”

Lewis’s spirit twirled around slowly. “Speaking of art…Listen to me, Vinny. Trust me. This is our moment.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Did you and Margie ever go to the theater? A play, a musical?””

“Long time ago. ‘Oklahoma,’ I think.”

“Okay, think back. There’s a special moment in the theater. The moment when the stage lights and the house lights go dark. The moment the audience grows silent. That wonderful moment of anticipation. For the performers, all the hours of rehearsal are behind them. For the audience, they are ready to put their daily grind behind them. They all wait in darkness. And it only lasts a moment. And then…lights, music, movement, dialogue, action. Then performers and audience become one.”

Vinny shook his head. “I don’t remember.”

“Vinny, look. You’ve rehearsed your whole life for this moment. You’re ready. Now you can enjoy an unending performance.”

Vinny’s spirit stopped swirling. “You really think so?”

“What else could this be? Think about it, Vinny. You die. Then there’s a moment of blackness. That’s what this is. Admit it. You can feel the anticipation. And then, bam, the lights will come on. You’re in the show. Forever.”

Vinny hesitated.

“Vinny, you know how people who have had a near-death experience talk of seeing a bright light?”


“Maybe some of us gotta do a bit of transition to see the light. First, a moment of darkness.”

Vinny’s spirit shrugged. “I’m not saying you don’t make sense.”

“Okay! Let go. Let’s go home.”

And the bright sunlight intensified, enveloped them, pulled them up out of the yard…

And dumped them back in the yard again.

Lewis was the first to speak. “They’re not ready for us yet…why? What are we missing? Didn’t we get our shot just now?”

The two spirits shifted over and sat on the pumpkin.

“You sound like a theater guy,” Vinny said.

“To the core,” Lewis said. 

“What was your favorite role?”

Without hesitation, Lewis repled, “Duvid, the missing husband, in the play A Shayna Maidel. Two sisters separated in World War II. Rosa escaped Poland to Brooklyn. Lusia survived the Holocaust, then reunited with her sister and father in Brooklyn. Duvid found them later.”

“I don’t know it.”

“What about you? What did you do?”

“Transport driver for the film industry. Drove cast and crew from staging areas to their shooting locations.”

“Union, right?”

“Yup. I did all right.”

“Meet any famous actors?”

“Lots. Like Vegas, what was said in my van stayed in my van. One actress, years back, well-known now. She was a stutterer. She struggled as a girl and teen. A speech therapist noted she did funny accents and voices. He encouraged that. It helped her get past the stutter. Got work as a voiceover artist, cartoons, animations. Landed a role in a horror movie. Took off from there.”

“I get the stutter thing. Every actor has to get out of themselves, inhabit a character.” 

Vinny and Lewis grew silent, each searching for a clue on how to separate. Margie went back inside the house. As afternoon came on, the sky darkened.

“Thunderstorm coming in,” Vinny said. “Rare for us in LA.”

“I wonder if we’ll feel the rain.”

Hours later the sky fell to black, clouds low. 

“I say we retreat to the box till this is over.”

The two slipped back down to their burial box.

Thunder boomed, lightning flashed. The yard lit up like day when a lightning bolt struck the bottlebrush tree. The tree split in half, scorched black, seared branches clawing at the sky. Fire lit the exposed center of the trunk.

An hour later the storm had passed and blue sky edged out from behind the departing clouds.

Vinny and Lewis came up.

“Holy shit,” Lewis said.

The bottlebrush tree stood unrecognizable as anything but a scarred stump. The skeleton decoration lay blackened and twisted at the base of the tree. 

Smoke seeped from the trunk, from the roots. Wisps of smoke seeped up through the skeleton.

“The roots must be burning,” Vinny said.

As they watched, the wisps of smoke grew more intense. They stared.

Spiraling smoke around the skeleton began to take shape. A spirit emerged, smoldering, shaking off bits of burnt material. 

Lewis wrapped himself tightly around Vinny.

“Back off. You’re killing me.”

“You’re already dead. Remember?”

The spirit moved toward them.

“What the fuck?” Lewis gasped.

The spirit turned to face Vinny and Lewis. “Is that any way to greet a lady? I’ve been trapped down there for going on thirty years, and the first words I hear are, what the fuck?”


“Who are you? What’s going on?”

“My name is Fanny. Me and my husband lived here before you moved in. I died of natural causes…all my organs basically failed. My husband – his name was Joseph – he was a loving guy…but a cheap bastard. He would squeeze the guts out of a buffalo nickel before it left his hands.”

“Tell me about him. He wouldn’t negotiate at all when we bought the house.”

“Anyway, I died. Joseph told everyone I died in the hospital. He did a little private service here in the yard, had people in for coffee and sandwiches. He kept my body here in the house till my rigor mortis softened up. We were having yard work done. That’s when we planted this bottlebrush tree. He dug a small grave one night, folded me up and buried me here. He wrapped me in layers of burlap. I’ve been rooted to this spot all this time. Rooted. Ironic, isn’t it? The roots caught fire, ignited the burlap that had not yet rotted away, and here I am. Free of that hole in the ground.”

Fanny’s spirit darted up high over the yard, flew in circles over the scene. “I’m free.”

She settled back down in front of Vinny and Lewis. “So, what’s your story?”


shortfiction24 – my dance space

This week’s short story

Not all spirits move on right away. I offer you a story of two spirits intermingled after death. It’s quite loosely inspired by George Saunders’s book Lincoln in the Bardo.

Having some fun with Vinny and Lewis, a couple of dead guys whose spirits are stuck together in the transition. Can they move on?

My Dance Space

Bob Gillen

Margie Pasqualino slipped out into her small backyard after dark, pulling her sweater tight around her torso. The moonless night wrapped the neighborhood in silence. 

A ten-foot tall bottlebrush tree graced the rear of the yard, a handful of rocks circling the base. Margie knelt in the grass near the tree, next to the hole she had asked the gardener to dig for her. About a foot square, eighteen inches deep. A square of sod and the excavated soil sat on a flat piece of cardboard to the side of the hole.

Margie held her dead husband Vinny’s ashes in her hands, in a box made of thick biodegradable paper. She kissed the box gently, lowered it into the hole. With a garden trowel she scooped dirt over the box. When it was level with the rest of the lawn, she patted the soil firm. “Rest in peace, my love.” Tears fell, soaking into the soil. 

Eighteen inches below the surface, Vinny Pasqualino’s spirit moaned, stretched, wriggled into his new home. “Sure beats sitting on the bookcase,” he told himself. “I love my yard.”

“Move back. Gimme some room here.” A voice squeaked in the space.

Vinny’s spirit swirled around. “Who’re you? What are you doing here?”

“My name is Lewis. Lewis Bomer. Most of me is somewhere else, but a bit of me is here.”

Vinny stared at the wisp of a figure. “What the hell are you talking about?”

 “I got cremated before you. Some of my ashes got left behind as they cremated you…so here I am.”

You want a piece of me?

“Shit, this is my space.”

“You know the old line? ‘You want a piece of me?’ Well, you got a piece of me.”

“This is my yard.”

“Yeah, I get it. This is your dance space.”

“Dance space?”

“Yeah, you know, dancers don’t like to be crowded.”

“Okay, okay. Let’s start over. You’re Lewis. I’m Vinny.”

“Hi, Vinny. Was that your wife put us in here tonight?”

“Yeah. Margie. We were married fifty years when I bought the farm. Heart.”

“Good for you. I was single, still playing the field. Drunk driver got me.”

Vinny shivered. “Okay, so what the hell? You stuck here with me?”

“Beats me. My first time doing this.”

“Cramped in here. Can we move out of this box?”

The two spirits scrunched and wiggled, and found themselves up in the yard in the fresh air.

“Hey, this feels good,” Vinny said.

“Quiet here. Peaceful.”

“It would be more peaceful without you attached to me.”

“No worries. We’ll figure this out.”

Vinny nodded toward a faded red Adirondack chair. “I spent lots of hours after dinner in that chair. Margie would fall asleep watching her TV shows, and I would grab a cold longneck and sit out here.”

Lewis smiled. “The yard feels right for that kind of sitting.”

“I barbecued every weekend. Mostly burgers. My last year even some vegan burgers. Docs were all over me about my heart.”

“I had a studio apartment in the city. Cooked ramen noodles in a microwave.”


“I wasn’t home much. Ate a lot of snacks and happy hour food in bars.”

Dragging Lewis, Vinny’s spirit drifted around the yard. He hit a wall a few yards in each direction. “Looks like we got some restraints here.”

“Won’t last long, if we’re lucky.”

“How does this whole thing work?” Vinny asked. “I don’t think we’re supposed to be floating here forever.”

“Yeah, you know, shouldn’t we be part of that whole spirit world now? Back in touch with everyone we knew?”

“Sounds right.”

“This is truly weird.” Lewis shook his head. “Maybe some kind of transition.”

Vinny tested the boundaries again. No change. He said, “I feel like I should be standing in a rowboat paddling with one oar down a long dark tunnel with mist swirling around my feet, Phantom of the Opera music wafting around me.”

“Hah,” Lewis said. “More like going through Disneyland’s It’s a Small World ride.”

Vinny held up his hand. “Don’t make that song the last I ever hear.”

Lewis peered around the space. “I wonder where the rest of me is. I have no idea what my mom would have done with my ashes.”

“Maybe in her living room.”

“I don’t know…she would be too sad looking at me all the time. She’s kinda the move-on type.”

“My ashes will be here for a long time…my spirit, that’s another issue.”

Lewis laughed. “You know what would be cool?” 

He paused.

“You gonna finish that thought?”

“I would like my ashes to be stuffed into a giant fireworks canister and shot off on the Fourth of July.”

He gestured to the sky. “Spread everywhere… in a blaze of glory.”

Vinny shook his head. “Who’s going to do that for you?”

“I know a guy, who knows a guy, who works on the fireworks barges for the Macy’s celebration every year.”

“Yeah, but does he actually fill the canisters?”

“He could just tape my ashes to one of the canisters.”

Vinny shook his head.

“No, really. Think about it. My ashes would explode high over the East River in New York, then drift down all over the city.” He laughed again. “Picture this. Some tourist is walking down Fifth Avenue looking in all the store windows. He takes in a deep breath. Says to his wife, ‘What a beautiful night’… while he breathes in a speck of my ashes. Don’t you love it?”

“I gotta hand it to you, Lewis. You got a big imagination.”

“I’m feeling kind of diminutive right now, if I may use a big vocabulary word. I wish I knew where the rest of me was.”

“So do I.”

“Hey, not my choice to be here.”

Scraps of night fog began drifting into the yard. 

“Am I missing the obvious?” Vinny said. “Are we expected to let go…somehow? Are we keeping ourselves here?”

“Like I said, it’s my first time. And I’m not all here.”

“No argument there.”

“You won’t let this go, will you?”

Vinny shrugged.

“I should consider myself lucky, you know? My ashes could have mingled so much with yours that we became one spirit.”

Vinny pointed at Lewis. “Maybe you got a point there. If I can figure out how to move on, you can just come along with me. Find the rest of you at the next stop…wherever that is.”

“What are you saying? We swirl together and float out of here? Like the fog?”

“Yeah,” Vinny said. “We twirl around, mingle our spirits, drift up and out of here.”

“Sounds too easy.”

“Got a better idea?”

Lewis whirled his spirit around Vinny’s. The two mingled. Spun together. Shaped themselves into a single wisp. 

Nothing happened. 

“This is bullshit.”

“Damn, I can’t find the rest of me till we move on. We’re stuck together.”

Can’t stay here forever.

“Yeah, I’m not happy with the situation either, but it’s the best we got.”

“Can’t stay here forever.”

“Maybe I can stay here. I like my yard.” 

Lewis shook his scrap of a spirit. “Think of moving on in this way, Vinny. You can have an endless longneck. Ice cold, condensation running down the bottle, every sip crisp and cold.”

Vinny shrugged. “If I go, I would have to spend time with my dead in-laws, right? They hated my guts…”

Lewis wrapped himself around Vinny’s spirit. “What would you love to do, Vinny? Something you never got to do in your lifetime?”

Vinny did not hesitate. “I always wished I could play the guitar. Just one song. The delicate guitar melody Jerry Garcia played on ‘Ripple.’ You know, the Grateful Dead. That is one fantastic line.”

“Yeah. The song had such cosmic wisdom.”

“Don’t get sappy on me. It’s just a good song.”

“Ironic, though,” Lewis said.


“Ironic you would want to do a song by the Dead.”

“I get it. Yeah, ironic.”

“Wouldn’t that make you want to move on? Spend forever playing ‘Ripple’ with a cold longneck at your side.”

“You’re starting to make sense, Lewis. Scary if all of you was here. You’d have me running to hug my in-laws.”

“Come on, Vinny. This life is over. Time to move on.”

Vinny smiled. “Maybe you’re right. Let’s try again.” He floated around the yard one more time.

“Bye, Margie. I’ll play guitar for you when you join me.”

Vinny and Lewis faded into the night fog.




“We’re still here.”


Let’s see what happens with Vinny and Lewis. More story to come.

shortfiction24 – the second date

What I’m Writing

Jack and Diane are back. They caught my interest in my last story. This week I’m following them on their second date. Will it work for them? No guarantees.

See my post for the first Jack and Diane story, Death by Millstone, here.

The Second Date

Bob Gillen

Jack Marin stepped into the hair salon. A young man greeted him from the reception counter.

“Who are you here to see?”

Jack glanced around, taking in the slick ambience of the salon. “I’m meeting a client of Krystal. Her name is—“

The receptionist grabbed a microphone. “Krystal, someone to see you.” He turned away to take a phone call.

Jack stood a moment till he realized he had been dismissed. He sat in a beige faux leather chair. In a room directly ahead of him a stylist dressed in black was blow-drying a client’s hair. The two chatted freely as she worked.

“You must be Jack. I’m Krystal.” 

A woman in a black apron waved him over. “We’re back here.”

Jack followed her around a corner to find Diane Somers sitting in a salon chair, draped in a black apron. Diane pulled an arm out from under the apron, waved, smiled at Jack in the mirror without turning.


“Sit here.” Krystal pointed to the empty chair in the next station. 

“Jack, this is Krystal,” Diane said. “My stylist and friend for more than ten years.”

“Welcome, Jack.” Krystal picked up scissors and a comb.

Jack nodded. Talking to Diane and Krystal in the mirror made Jack uncomfortable. 

“Thanks for meeting me here,” Diane said. “I’ve been running late all morning.”

Jack nodded to the mirror.

“So,” Krystal said, “I hear you guys just met last week.”

“We did,” Jack said. “At the beach.”

“Good beach weather,” Krystal said. “Almost too warm for this time of year.”

“Thanks to our fucked up climate,” Jack said.

“Tell me about it,” Krystal said. “My kids are so into climate change projects at school.”

“Krystal’s kids are adorable,” Diane said. 


“Do you have kids, Jack?” Krystal asked.

“Two. Both back east, one in New York, the other Rhode Island.”

“Get to see them often?”

“Not enough. Damn pandemic. I haven’t seen them in almost two years.”

“I didn’t know you had kids,” Diane said.

Jack smiled. “Our first meetup kinda went down the toilet, huh?”

“No, no. I’m glad you had a chance to talk.”

“What about you, Diane. Kids?”

“One. A daughter here in LA. She’s an event planner, works mostly with a private high school.”

“Cool. She’s close.”

Diane shrugged. “I haven’t seen her since my husband died three years ago.”

Krystal had been listening intently. She returned to cutting and shaping Diane’s hair. She tipped Diane’s head forward to get at the back of her neck.

“My wife has been gone two years next month,” Jack said.

“You’ve both been through a lot, huh?” Krystal said.

“I still miss her like crazy,” Jack said. “The only comfort I have is knowing she’s in a better place.”

Krystal smiled. “She’s at peace.”

Jack laughed. “Funny. I believe in an afterlife. I know our spirits live on somehow. But I’m in no rush to get there myself.”

“It’s not your time yet,” Krystal said.

Forever, with nothing to do.

“It’s not that. I’m a doer,” Jack said. “I have trouble being idle. When I think of being in heaven, or in some spirit world, I shudder. It must be so boring. Sitting around feeling joyful. The joyful part is okay. It’s the sitting around. For eternity. Forever, with nothing to do.”

Diane peered at Jack in the mirror. “I think it would be wonderful.”

“Not so much for me.”

Krystal set her scissors on the counter. “Let me tell you a story.”

Jack turned to face Krystal, trying to keep one eye on Diane in the mirror.

“I went to a medium last year. We talked about this.”

Jack squinted at the thought of a medium.

“I felt something like you do, Jack. She told me the spirits aren’t just sitting around.”


“She said they keep growing and learning.”

Jack leaned closer.

“The medium believes we go through a transition when we first die. We have to learn how to be in the new spirit world. In heaven. It takes some adjusting.”

“Do they join up with all the people who have died ahead of them?” Jack asked.

“Oh sure. They interact, learning from one another. Experiencing how they all were good, how they made mistakes, what they learned from that.”

“That’s fascinating,” Jack said. “So my wife is still growing…”

“Oh yeah. The medium even believes we all come back to live multiple lives. But we don’t remember our previous lives. Each one is fresh. We keep growing. Keep trying to get it better.”

Jack stared at his own reflection in the mirror. He murmured, “We keep growing.”

Diane looked at Jack, then caught Krystal’s eye in the mirror. Krystal winked.

“Jack, that means something to you.” Diane smiled.

Jack shrugged. “I think so. I need to think about this.” He turned to Krystal. “Your medium says we never stop growing, right?”

Krystal nodded.

“That’s cool. It makes sense. Why has no one ever said this before?”

Diane opened her mouth to speak. Jack cut her off. “This is why I gave up on religion.”

The conversation died for a few moments while Krystal blew-dried Diane’s hair. Jack stared at the mirror.

A half hour later Jack and Diane sat over hot drinks in a nearby coffee shop. 

“Krystal is amazing,” Jack said. “You’re lucky to have her as a friend.”

“She has helped me almost more than my therapist. Since my husband died.”

“I can’t stop thinking about what she said…about her medium. That’s life-changing. I mean, I never thought of the next life as a time of growing. Really cool.”

Diane sipped her coffee. “Were you and your wife close?”

“Oh yeah,” Jack said. “My best friend.”

“My husband and I were the same,” Diane said. 

Jack nodded. 

“Have you talked to a counselor since your wife died?” Diane asked.

“You mean, a therapist? Nah. No need. I’m dealing okay.”

Diane stared at her cup. “Are you?”


She looked at Jack. “I said, are you? Are you dealing okay?”

“Yeah. It gets better as I move along.”

She looked into his eyes.

“Does it?”

“What is this, a therapy session?” He leaned back in his chair.

“No, but I wonder if that’s what you need.”

“You hardly know me. This is only our second date. What are you talking about?”

“You told me I was a good listener.”


“Do you even listen at all?”

Jack ran his hands through his hair.

Diane pointed to his gesture. “You just watched me get my hair done. You have not said anything about how it looks.”

“It looks good.”

“Thanks. Too late.”

Jack shook his head in confusion.

“The day at the beach you gushed on about yourself. I listened. You never noticed that I dodged talking about what bothers me.”

Jack shook his head again.

“And just now you were up to your eyeballs talking to Krystal about your wife. You never asked me if I wanted to talk about my daughter. About our estrangement.”

“Sorry. I didn’t realize.”

“That’s my point.” Diane shook her head. “When we were just leaving the salon, Krystal whispered to me, “That man would melt the polish off your toenails.”

Jack squinted.

“She thought you were hot. Me, I feel like this will be too hard to make it work.”

Diane stood. “Thanks, Jack.”

Diane picked up her coffee cup and headed for the door.

Jack stared after her.


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