‘Stranger’ in a Strange Place

by Jordan Pennells

A high-pitched note, dulling. Blinding white light, fading away to reveal a room. A room without easily discernible walls, but without any noticeable features out in the distance either. As I reached the edge of my field of vision, I began turning neck to realise I had no neck to turn. What was this? A hallucination? I’d heard of the brain doing strange things, releasing a cocktail of chemicals when it was dying. People say they had walked up the bright tunnel to St Peter’s Pearly Gates, had witnessed God. They were sure of it. But isn’t belief part of the hallucinatory experience. So, I asked myself again.

“Is this a hallucination? Is this heaven?”

Materialising out of the light from my right was a voice, accompanied by a man strolling my way.

“Hello John. Hallucination, no. Heaven, somewhat… This is your Judgement Day.”

I looked this mystical stranger up and down a few times, my forehead straining from the height my eyebrows were reaching up my face. He was attired in a well-fitting suit and sharp tie, a picture of fitness that I always regretted never achieving.

“Who are you?” is all I could produce amongst my bewilderment.

“I’m your conscience, John. Are you starting to piece it together? This is the review of your life. You better prepare yourself for this.”

Before I had a chance to reply, my childhood began flashing before my eyes on a giant projector without a backing screen.

“There’s something I better show you, before things get too interesting,” my conscience said as he moved across the room to stand in front of a machine I hadn’t noticed initially. The gold-plated device showed a semi-circular scale between positive and negative, with the pin currently fluctuating around neutral like an oversized Geiger counter as my childhood passed by.

“This old thing tracks your net worth to society over your lifetime. So far so good, but here come your teenage years.”

A cringe plastered itself on my face and I threw my hand over my eyes, only allowing a thin slit between my fingers to view through. My eyes darted around the screen as I was forced to relive these forgotten, or more likely repressed, memories. The counter had shifted below neutral.

“Now,” my conscience interrupted, “time for your point of no return from net positivity. Remember that man up there standing on the ledge. He was about to jump, but a crowd had formed and were beginning to talk him down. And there you are, supporting a man in his darkest days, but what are your encouraging words? ‘DO A FLIP!’ And he does, flipping all the way until his face mashed against the pavement. I’m calling that basically manslaughter.”

My face went slack as the screen highlighted the shock and disgust on each crowd member’s face after I had run away from the scene. Then the victim’s mother learning the news, then the victim’s daughter crying with incomprehensible confusion.

“Anyway, you improved as life from that point onwards, what with the African sponsor child and your partial liver donation, but there was no counteracting that event.

So you were born into a middle class American family for this life, but it says here you’re being downgraded to be born into a ‘Low socioeconomic family, struggling with their fifth child and no work.’ Damn, what a shame. I’ll be around again for you to ignore less this time, hopefully. Good luck!”

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