Wha!? Where did everything go? Just a moment before, that car rammed straight into ours, and now it's just me, floating here in darkness stretching as far as I can see – not that I can even see my hands right in front of me because there is no light. I am still wearing my long-sleeved jacket and jeans, though, which was originally to avoid attracting too much attention. Am I dead? Is this what it's like after you die? Am I just stuck here in eternal suspension, or is my fate still yet to come?
Something taps the edge of my shoe, and I pull my leg back out of reflex, barely holding back a gasp. I peer down and see nothing still. I reach my foot back out and feel a hard, flat surface – a wall? Or perhaps a floor to settle on! When I reach my hand over for a feel of the texture, the rest of me suddenly plops onto it. Yup, it's a floor – a cold, though smooth one.
Relying solely on my touch, I position my hands and legs with care, taking my time with getting up. Once I'm on my feet, I tread forward slowly, reaching my hands out to feel anything in front of me. This goes on for a few minutes before my scrawny arms can't take any more of the strain and I need to set them down. If only I had exercised more. I sink my hands into my pockets and continue walking, stopping every now and then to feel around the floor in front of me. Where am I anyway, and why is everything so dark?
Several more uneventful minutes pass by before I decide to sit and rest my tired legs, seeing no more sense in continuing. My mind has gone numb from lack of stimulation, so I might just go to sleep right here. I slip my hood on and lay my head down, doing my best to get comfortable.
Soon after, though, an assortment of crackling and crunching sounds starts up all around me. Oh, now something's happening! Well, what is it?
These noises grow slowly louder over a minute or so, bringing my ears moderate discomfort, until they abruptly end. A few seconds after that, a large, round cluster of hexagonal holes, towering at about four times my height, brightens up before me in a crystal-y green color, making me step back in surprise – and turn away in horror. Ugh, I finally see something, and it happens to trigger my mild Trypophobia! At least now I know I haven't gone blind. What even is it, anyway?
Once I can bring myself to stare fixedly at the unpleasant sight, my first observation is the source of its light: six closed-up hexagons twice their size of the others surround the edges of a deep hole. Also visible are six dark, bladed wing-like appendages protruding around its sides, and a thick tail of a similar shade that the creature appears to be standing with.
I then hear the entity speak. "Hhellloooo!" Its swaying, high-pitched voice and its jovial tone fall into an uncanny valley between welcoming and threatening, which is accentuated by the disorienting echoes that bounce randomly around us.
My mind is falling into shambles! Where am I? What am I looking at? Why are things playing out like this? Was I being watched the whole time? Oh, how stupid I probably looked! What's going to happen next?!
Hold on! This could all just be a lucid dream; but my dreams tend to be much faster-paced than this, though. Oh wait, I was just greeted by this thing; I should probably say something too!
I manage to cough out what seems like the most appropriate question to start things out. "Wha-…who are you?"
"Ahem." The entity's voice becomes more controlled, and the echoes settle within it. "Why, I am an overseer of sin, who keeps track of the unforgiven sins of every individual I am assigned to."
"S-so-" I tremble at my next words. "-am I…i-in hell?"
"Nooo, not quite," the overseer corrects as if trying to comfort me, their wings drooping down a little. "You might consider this your own personal 'purgatory.' Every sinner has one, constructed and designed specifically for them whenever their life is put at risk."
My eyes scroll across the surrounding expanse, the only light still being the overseer's eerie luminescence. I guess this does match my propensity for anxiety; just gazing into it threatens to fill me with paranoia of something jumping out at me.
The overseer continues, "Due to the exclusivity resulting from this system, we can generally only meet up with one person at a time; thus, there must be a bunch of us since many people can die at once, as you may already understand." Way to rub it in, huh?
I turn back to the overseer. "So, w-what now?" I ask, feeling slightly more at ease knowing I am not (yet) in hell.
The overseer proceeds to slither around me as they begin, "Here, you are to reflect back on all of your unforgiven sins and confess them to me personally; this is specifically for your sake as I already know precisely what you're guilty of."
A large larva emerges halfway out of one of the overseer's holes, causing a squeal of fright to just barely leak out of my lips. The overseer then comes to explain, "For each valid sin you properly admit to, no matter how small, one of these little sweeties will pop out to greet you from the hole corresponding to that sin. It seems, however, that this one can already sense your fearfulness, darling."
Yeah, I am quite the nervous wreck. "Yeah, heh heh, I do make that aspect of me clear, don't I?"
The overseer lets out a creepy, yet also innocent-sounding little chuckle. "Now, if your self-assessment turns out to be fully accurate, you get to decide your own punishment! How does that sound, hmm? We figured if a sinner understands where they went wrong, they might know how they ought to suffer as well, so it's the least we can offer down here, hm-hm!" They finish their circle around me, their seemingly endless tail keeping me fenced inside, and return to their original height and position.
So I can choose what happens to me? Does that mean anything so long as it's bad? What are the rules on all of this?
"Now, as a fair warning," the overseer notes, their tone turning a tinge more serious, "we are in full power to bestow our originally planned punishment if we deem yours unfit." They lean forward in a rather intimidating fashion. "Do you understand?"
I nod my head in short, meek bobs. "Yes, I understand everything."
"Alright then!" they announce with returning cheer, wings thrusted upward. "Let's get started."
I think it over for a bit before I know just what to say. "Okay, well…I've done nothing."
The overseer's wings flap oh-so-slightly. "What's that, dearie?"
"I did nothing in my life to get here. What I mean by that is, I-I should've done stuff but didn't. I had grown to fear the feelings and consequences of failure, defeat, and disappointment at an early age, so I never took up any tasks that weren't in my direct way like, say, obligatory school assignments, nor did I seize any social outlets. I also couldn't stand up for myself in the oddly few times I was picked on; Idid learn to blend in very well, though."
The larva wriggles slightly up and down, presumably in excitement. "Very good so far," the overseer interjects. "Now please, continue."
As I allow my repressed feelings of guilt to resurface and guide my words, my delivery smoothens and boldens, and I begin to gently pace left and right. "Furthermore, I held back from speaking my own mind except whenever I was forced to. Even if I shared my own thoughts, though, I wouldn't have much to say 'cause I refrained from developing any opinions or beliefs beyond the bare necessities, if that makes any sense. On that note, I was afraid to be skeptical of things, but I was also reluctant to hold faith in them; I wouldn't commit myself to any side or anything. I became complacent, unsocial, unproductive and, quite frankly, sort of lazy."
A second larva slinks out from a different hole while the first one thrashes about more violently. "Yes, yes, darling! Spot on!"
"My mom eventually caught on to my inactivity, however, and had me join a co-worker's son and his friends on a trip to someplace I forget. Of course, I couldn't conjure up the strength to resist the order. They were a diverse group, though, I must admit; I probably could've made at least one new friend if I tried.
"Anyway, after our light at an intersection went green, the driver forgot to look both ways, and all the passengers were too busy with themselves or each other to see another driver speeding through from our left. Admittedly, though, I kind of only caught them from my peripherals myself despite my well-developed observational skills. Now, I knew I had to alert everyone in the car, but my lips clammed up; I guess a part of me winced at the supposedly unflattering image of a quiet person like myself suddenly shouting out to "Look out!", so how about we just add pride to this list, too, while we're at it?"
At this point my guilt and shame become so overwhelming that I can't look at the overseer anymore, and instead I gaze downward with my fingers gripping my hair and face. "Augh, that would've been my turning point; I could've saved all those people and started making progress with myself, but I went and blew it, all because I was so cowardly and selfish and pathetic that I couldn't get myself to actually talk to people or accomplish anything my entire life!"
I wipe my dampened eyes and cheeks on my sleeves and look back up at the overseer. What a mess I probably look like right now. "And now, here I am," I sob, swinging an arm open to gesture, "pouring out my soul after it's already too late for any more such chances. If only I became like this when it still would've mattered; I might've actually grown to love myself more."
Once I've calmed down, I can see that a peculiar arthropod now rests in the central hole. Could that represent-?
"Well done, dear," the overseer congratulates. "You've recapped all of your sins with perfect honesty, including the one running behind all sin: pride. Now, your newly found confidence can still serve one purpose." They lean down in anticipation. "It's time to choose your punishment."
"Nothing's going to happen to me," I answer in a weak breath of defeat, "not good or bad. What should I reap if I hadn't sowed anything in the first place? It's best that you just leave me here to wither out in total isolation."
"Hmmm," the overseer mutters in a jarringly ominous tone. "Perhaps you're not quite as fun as I'd hoped." They begin to back out, their tail pulling back out from around me and their light beginning to faintly flicker out. Well, here comes total darkness again.
Once the overseer vanishes from my sight entirely, those weird crunches and crackles from earlier return, this time they gradually muffling out over time until they are gone once more. A loud, but gentle *ting* then goes off high above my head as if for closure.
So...did I choose the right punishment? I figured they would've wanted a punishment that corresponded with the deed. It could be that mere isolation isn't severe or intense enough. If that's the case then, what awaits me now, and how long do I have to wait?
My next thought makes my heart jump: perhaps the punishment has already started! They might've unleashed a demonic beast of some sort to ravage me for all eternity. Or maybe I'm doomed to forever experience unprompted jump scares with no way to brace myself for them! Oh, the stress is killing me already! I think I'll just lie back down again; maybe the torment won't be so terrible then.
I slip my hood back on and lay my whole body on the floor before shutting my eyes. If only I had the chance to make things right.
If only I were able to escape this crazy nightmare.
A bright light suddenly hits my eyelids. I prop myself up with my left arm and protect my eyes with my right hand, letting my hood slide off the back of my head. I note how the light is white. This isn't a trap, is it; some scare to strike home how there's no hope of getting out? Well, whatever, then; there's really nothing left for me to lose.
I move my hand aside to see what looks like a huge gash in the supposed ceiling. This opening – and the light emanating from it – seems oddly devoid of the desolation that had enwrapped me since I got here, which I sort of sense burning away. When I stand and take a step forward, I feel my feet lift off the floor, taking me by surprise. I look down to see my blurry reflection on the floor, and half a smile cracks through one cheek. Could I really be receiving grace after death?
As I am drawn closer to the light, a soft blanket of silk envelops my body, and I close my eyes and lift my head in preparation; it looks like I am being granted salvation! No longer will I waste away my days leaving zero impact wherever I go. I can now become a lively individual who expresses thoughts and emotions in earnest, generates healthy social connections, and learns to feel legitimate love in all of it's forms!
My new life begins here!