Pictures and sounds fade in and out while my mind constantly tries to grasp where the hell I am. I have to be stuck in some sort of limbo because it's too damn cold to be in hell but too damn hot to be in heaven. One thing I do know for sure is that everything around me is the color gray. Everything. The couches, the television, my phone, the light coming from the kitchen. Everything. Gray. It’s as if I’m stuck in a black and white television show minus the fake audience laughter in the background. How long have I even been here? I pull out my phone from my jeans pocket but the screen is dark. And no matter how many times I try the home and power buttons, I see nothing but the reflection on the black glass. A tired middle-aged woman with thinning dark hair and swollen sunken eyes stares back at me.
One thing is for sure...Everything is a fucking blur since I died.
I hear him but I don’t see him, and it makes me anxious.
“Where are you?!” I yell out. I frantically look around the room, but I'm all alone in my world of grayness. "Dammit, Jason, answer me so I can find you!”
My phone vibrates and there is a notification to view a LIVE social media posting. I hesitate for a second. "Seriously, where in the fuck am I?" I reluctantly click on the notification and there they are, all four of them, surrounding my lifeless body.
It was hard not to speed. I was trying to get us out of there, to save us. I was trying to save them.
They’re all shaking me now, trying their best to wake me up, but it's useless at this point. I'm here and they're there, without me.
“Oh my God, no. They can’t be left there all alone!” My cries and tears almost outweigh my children’s. They know it, too. I can hear it in their screams and moans. How on earth will they survive on their own?
Angel, who is only 7, hears noises coming up from behind them and panics. My oldest daughter, Vivian, covers his mouth to keep him quiet, but in doing so she sees blood dripping from the side of his head. "Angel has a cut on his head that looks pretty bad." she whispers. “What did you do to him?!” angrily whispers Jason, my oldest son. "Not from me, asshole! He must've gotten it from the crash." Vivian softly touches Angel's delicate head and he yells out in pain. "Shhhh! Stop fighting the both of you! Can’t you hear them coming? We have to go NOW!” My youngest daughter, Avery, has always been the voice of reason. “Pick him up. You'll have to carry him.” Vivian orders to Jason. Angel screams and reaches out for me as they run away from my body. I watch in horror as Avery kisses my head before following her siblings into the forest preserve to fend for themselves.
“Wait, don't leave! Please come back to me!”
My phone once again goes dark and I can’t see my children anymore, only the mortified reflection on the black screen.
“What the fuuuck!" Panic radiates throughout my entire body. "Where is my charger? HELLO?! Can anybody hear me? WHERE IS MY CHARGER?! MY KIDS! THEY NEED ME!” But unfortunately nobody responds to my desperate sobs. "THEY! NEED! ME!"
I run to the staircase leading up to the bedrooms but realize the stairs have been replaced with darkness. Black as the glass on my phone. "What the hell is going on here?" I don’t take any chances with the profound nothingness so I run to the basement door located in the kitchen. But as I turn the corner from the dining room, I notice the basement door has been replaced with a wall. In addition to the basement door, the back door leading to the yard is missing as well, and so are the two kitchen windows. I’m trapped within the first floor of my now gray home. “HELLOOOO!” My screams and sobs are met with silence as I slump to the kitchen floor. What feels like hours pass and I remain defeated staring at the volleyball and basketball pictures pinned to the refrigerator. What makes me okay is seeing their smiling faces staring back at me. What makes me not okay if knowing how much Angel hated basketball and Avery hated volleyball. I remember her whining before each practice and crying before each game. But the pictures themselves are so adorable. The multiple “Likes” on social media confirmed this to be true.
I find it in me to stop feeling sorry for myself and force the weight of my lifeless body up off the kitchen floor. I'm not hungry but I walk over to the fridge anyway and pull open the freezer door. Nothing. Not even a single ice tray. Kind of like when I was alive and living with four always hungry kids. For a split second I'm taken back to when my house was full of color and the freezer was fully stocked with frozen waffles and ice cubes. I shut the door and there they are again. And I scream in horror. The once happy volleyball and basketball pictures have been altered. Angel's face is now angry in his photo. The basketball he was once holding on to is now gone and has been replaced with a sign that reads LIAR in big bold print. Avery has tears in her eyes when I glance over to her picture. "I'm so sorry."
The sound of the television frightens me.
Reluctantly, I walk into the living room to find all four of my children on the television screen. Angel is pale and weak with so much dry blood on his head. I can do nothing but slowly ease myself down onto the coffee table in front of the television with my hand over my mouth, completely disregarding the three gray couches around me. “My poor baby. Why haven’t they wrapped his wound?” I whisper to myself. “YOU NEED TO WRAP HIS WOUND!” I scream but they can’t hear me because I’m not there. “You need to clean it and wrap it before it gets an infection! Please, somebody! Please help my children!”
“Lay him down over there while I check to see if I can find something to drink.” Vivian calls out to Jason.
“YES! Find him something to drink!” I'm once again standing, mouth still covered by my quivering fingers.
“There's nothing here! They must’ve taken everything when they left.” Vivian yells from the kitchen.
“Did you try the sinks? Check to see if they still have running water!” Jason yells back.
Avery is sitting with Angel. Her angelic face is filthy and her eyes, once crystal blue, are now gray. Her long dark hair is no longer in the ponytail I fixed for her some time ago, but I knew she wouldn't keep it in. She's notorious for messing up her hair when I'm not around. I can tell from the look on her face she doesn’t know what to do, and that it's all my fault.
“I found a couple of cans of food. Spinach and corn.” Vivian hands the cans to Jason. “I didn’t find anything to drink and none of the sinks work.”
“This will have to do. See if you can find a can opener.”
Vivian runs back to the kitchen. It’s not shown, but she is anxiously looking through the drawers for a can opener. The screen is now focused on Angel. His eyes are closed and he’s more pale than he was when he first appeared. The bleeding has yet to stop and he’s shivering. “Someone go grab him a blanket.” Avery tells to no one in particular. “Why don’t you go?” Jason suggests. “Because I’m watching him!” Avery claps back. “I’ll get him something!” Vivian yells, giving each one of them the evil eye. “Here’s the damn can opener.” She throws it at Jason not caring if he catches it and then runs upstairs to go search for a blanket. I notice Vivian's ponytail waving back and forth as she makes her way up the stairs.
Not a second goes by and Angel starts convulsing. “Oh my God, what’s wrong with him?” Avery screams. “I don’t know! Hold him down!”
“NOOOOO! Don’t hold him down! That's not what you do!" I keep thinking to myself that they'll eventually hear my cries.
“What’s going on!” Vivian runs down the stairs holding a sheet. “He just started shaking! What should we do?” Jason asks. “I don’t know!” Vivian cries out. “I don’t know what to do!”
And that’s it. Another black screen stares back at me.
“WHAT THE FUUUUCK!” I try to turn the television back on but nothing happens. I look at my phone but again, nothing. No windows, no doors, no stairs, no color, no kids. Frantic pacing is all I know now.
“Mama? Mama, are you down there?”
It’s Angels voice. I can hear him calling me from upstairs.
“Yes, baby, I’m here! Mama is here!” I try to find a way to get up the stairs, but the darkness is everywhere. There is no way for me to reach the top.
“Mama? Can you tuck me in? I’m cold.” His voice sounds so far away but so close at the same time.
“I can’t, baby. I’m sorry, but I can’t.” I’m using everything in my mind to try and figure out how I’m going to reach him without falling into the nothingness. “Can you come to me? Can you come to mama? Do you see me, baby?”
“It’s okay. I know you’re on your phone.” His tone has changed and he sounds sad. “I’ll just go to bed by myself tonight. Goodnight, mama. I love you.”
“No, baby, that’s not it! I'm not on my phone! Mama just can’t reach you, that's all! Mama wants to tuck….” I hear a door slam shut and there is no more Angel.
“But I’m not on my phone! I’m not on my phone! Do you hear me, baby? I’m not on my phone!" But there is just silence. "I want to tuck my baby in! I want to know what’s going on with my children! I’m not on my phone!” I frantically take my phone out of my pocket and throw it across the room. As it hits the wall the screen lights up. Too afraid to move I stand on the other side of the room watching it load my social media apps on its own. A pinging noise sounds and I run to check it. The headline reads “Young boy dies after clueless siblings can’t figure out how to help him.” Tears uncontrollably falls from my eyes. I scroll straight down to read the comments. “Where was this boy’s mother?” “How did a 16 year old and a 13 year old NOT know what to do?" I turn off my phone and set it on the table. Seems like the crying never stops.
When I open my eyes it looks like a new day but everything around me is still gray. I walk over to the stairs in hopes that the darkness is gone, but no such luck. The television turns on and static is all I can see and hear. “Mama?” It’s Angel’s voice again. “I’m here, baby! Can you hear me?” I yell loud to try and drown out the sound of television noise. “Mama, can you help me find a sweater? I’m still cold.” I look into the nothingness. There is a wall on each side of the staircase. If I work my way up with one foot on each side I might be able to reach him. “Hold on, baby! Just give me a minute, okay?” I start by putting my right hand on the right side of the wall and my left hand on the left side of the wall. “Mama? Are you there? Can you help me, please?” I know it’s crazy considering I can’t see him, but it sounds like he’s cold and I try not to cry. I have to keep my focus if I’m going to reach him. I try lifting my right foot onto the right side of the wall but my left hand no longer reaches to the other side. I immediately push myself to fall backwards instead of into the nothingness. Looking back at the staircase from the floor I notice the walls have grown further apart. “Mama? Are you there, mama?" Now his voice sounds further away. “Baby, check in the closet! I put all of your stuff in the closet!” “Mama? Are you there?” But he not hear me. Does he think I'm ignoring him? “I’m sorry for bothering you, mama. I’ll just stay cold. You can finish watching your shows now.”
“I’M NOT WATCHING MY SHOWS!" I scream at the top of my lungs. "AND I’M NOT ON MY PHONE! WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?! WHY?! TELL ME WHY! MY BABY IS COLD AND ALONE! HELLOOOO!”
“I’m hungry.” Avery says, still with tears in her eyes. I didn't realize the television screen changed during my angry outburst. She’s sitting next to the sheet that’s covering Angel’s body. It’s getting dark where they’re at and with no more electricity, it will be completely black in less than an hour. My mind remembers seeing something on social media about burning crayons for light. Apparently they can burn for up to 30 minutes. If I know Avery, she has a pack a crayons with her in her backpack. “Use the crayons!” I yell to the screen. “If your brother has his lighter, then use the crayons so you guys can have light and some heat!” But again, I’m yelling at a television screen. "Why didn't I share this information with my kids when I was alive?" Regretful tears seem to burn my cheeks more than the angry tears. “I’m hungry, too.” Vivian says. “Open the can of corn if you’re hungry.” Jason recommends. “Can't you? I don't see you doing a damn thing.” Vivian claps back. “I don’t know how." Jason says with tears forming in his dark broken eyes. "Mom never taught me how to use a can opener.” “Of course she didn't. She was always too damn busy on her phone." Vivian says with an attitude. "Look, it’s getting dark and we need our strength just in case we have to leave in a hurry again.” she continues. “What will they do if they find us?” Avery asks, afraid of what she might hear. “I don't know.” Vivian says, but this time she's wiping her newly formed tears away. “You're right, you know. She didn't even teach us how to use a fucking can opener." Jason says looking directly at Vivian. As much as they want to hate me, I can see in their faces that they really don't, and it makes me hate myself even more. Night has come for them, and the television screen also goes dark.
"She is right, you know." I whisper to myself before wiping my running nose and tears with my sleeve.
“Mama? Mama, are you down there? Mama? Can you tuck me in? I’m cold.”
I want nothing but to try and reach him, but as I make my way to the staircase I see that the nothingness has turned into a fiery pit of smoke and lava. "So, I'm in hell." My phone dings from across the room and I ignore it. "Baby, can you hear me?" I call up to Angel. Again it dings, but this time it’s so much louder. I try to ignore it and turn my attention back to the giant hole of fire, but the ding has turned into ringing. It's Jason’s ringtone and I can no longer ignore it. I slowly move toward the couch, pick up the phone, and see his smiling face on the screen as the ringing gets louder. “Hello?” My voice cracks as the voice on the other end yells “Mom! They found us! Help us! We had to leave the house, but Vivian fell and she might’ve broken her leg! What should we do?! Please! What should we do!” Uncontrollable tears make it hard for me to respond. “Find something to make a splint to ensure her leg is kept straight. Wrap it up with something like a cloth or a rip a shirt. I know it’s going to be hard to do but let her rest for a bit before moving on.” I try to stay calm while going relaying the instructions but I can hear Vivian and Avery struggling in the background. “MOM?! Are you there? MOM! I hear them getting closer! MOM! What should we do?! HELP US, MOM, PLEASE!” And then silence. I look at my phone in a panic and it reads Call Failed.
“Mama? Are you still on your phone? Can you tuck me in now?”
"No! No! No! No! No! Turn on! Please, God, turn on the phone!" But God is not with me, and he just won't. At that moment I can feel my heart breaking and my mind leaving.
I get a notification on my phone that someone Like'd my new profile picture. "What fucking new profile picture?" I click on my social media app and there we are...all five of us. We look happy. Six more notifications come in as I stare at our smiles. Someone comments "Keep up the good job, mama!" Eight more notifications. Three. One. But I know it's all bullshit. It's all a fucking lie. The television turns on by itself again and there is nothing but a dark screen. Jason's scream is the first I hear, followed by Vivian's and then Avery's.
"MOM! MAMA! MAMA! MOOOM! NOOOOO! HELP US! NOOOOO! PLEASE! MAMA! MAMA! NO! NO! NO!" And they only get louder. But I don't cover my ears. How can I? I know it's all my fault.
"Mama? Are you still on your phone?"
Eventually the screams are so loud my ears start to bleed. I decide to make my over to the staircase of fire, take one more look of our photo together and throw my phone into the hole. I then turn my focus to the television. It's too heavy to lift so I knock it to the ground and begin pushing it to the fire pit. I don't even think twice before hauling it into the heat. "Mama, are you there?" Angel calls down. "Mom?" Jason's voice is coming from upstairs now. "Mom? Can you teach me how to use a can opener? I'm hungry." Again with the tears and sobbing. "Mama? Can you teach me how to put my hair up? I promise I won't take it out this time." Avery is upstairs, too. "I'll show you, Avery. Mama is probably too busy watching her shows or on her phone." I can hear the disgust in Vivian's voice.
And with that I take one last look around my gray home, close my eyes, and throw myself in the fire.
There is a faint beeping sound and some muffled words being spoken but I can't make anything out.
"Where am I?" My throat feels like it's on fire and I'm finding it hard to move any part of my body. The nurse rushes over to check my vitals while the doctor walks over to my bed.
"You're in a hospital, Mrs. Anders. You've been in a car crash." The doctor says while shining a bright light into my eyes.
"How long have a I been here?"
"It's going on two days. You have a rather large gash on the right side of your head that we've addressed and your left leg is unfortunately broken. You also have a few broken ribs and your spine has suffered extensive damage. It might take some time to get back to your normal self."
"Where are my kids?!" I notice the nurse immediately turn her focus to the doctor. There is a pained look in her expression.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Anders, but your children were in the crash as well. None of them made it. I'm so very sorry for your loss."
There are no words, only uncontrollable tears.
"Is there someone I can call for you? You've had a few people come and go but since it's late, everybody has gone home for the evening. Your husband just left." I notice the doctor holding my cellphone.
Between sobs, I answer, "No, not yet, but thank you."
"Well, here you go. I'll leave it right here so it's easy for you to reach." He puts the phone down right next to my bed before him and the nurse leave the room.
I hear a television turn on and I start to panic. It's on my roommate's side of the hospital room. Our dividing curtain is drawn so I can only listen. The news reporter talks of a crash in which four children were killed. Police are trying to determine the cause of the crash but they believe icy roads contributed to the crash. Apparently the car slid off the road and hit a tree in the forest preserve. There were no witnesses so it took a few hours for anyone to notice the car. Angel was still alive when they found us. He must've been so cold.
Crying myself to sleep takes hours.
I wake up to the sound of Angel's voice and I notice my husband in the chair next to my bed. He's looking down at my phone and crying. He only notices I'm awake when I reach my arm our for him.
His eyes are swollen and full of tears.
"You've got quite a few notifications on your newest profile picture, I see. Was it worth it?"
He turns the phone around so I can see what he's talking about and there we are...all five of us. Jason is in the passenger seat, Vivian is in the seat behind him with Angel in the middle and Avery in the seat behind me. And there's me, behind the wheel.
Even with the gray filter, we all appear to be happy.
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