Free Will by Kayla O'Connell

“What was like?” He looked at her with tired eyes, wondering if he should have put the question off until morning; she looked away, shrugged his hand off of her hair. It was clear that the answer, she wanted to keep to herself. “When...” “You know...” “You don’t want to say it.” “No.” “Were you there?” she asked. “I was.” He gave her a glass of water and it tasted like light.

“It was scary.”

She heard the words come out, but never felt the breath required to support them, and as she sat, puzzling over from where they came, he sat calmly holding her.

“What was it like?” this time, a bit more urgency; he saw her eyes squeeze shut.

“What was it like?” she repeated.

They lay like this for awhile; she, lying back in the crook of her arm, he, lying against the foot of the armchair, the hardwood floor supportive and strong against him.

“It was like... in the moment when heaven meets hell there is a burst of confusion... then dead silence.” She looked up to him uncomfortably to see if he understood. “It’s followed by the incessant chattering of voices discussing the most precious matters of your universe. They talk circles around each other.”

She looked to him again, this time unsure how to proceed; suddenly felt the urge, the need to describe her experience, and now the words came quickly and without thought. She got up on her knees and turned to face him:

“The mind... knowing it’s not supposed to be in 'this place,' feeling something strange, premature, reacts in disdain; attempts to shut down. But such...” she searched savagely for her words now, “such luxuries are not allowed in purgatory. The exact function of this avoided meeting point is to feel as if the clamor will go on forever, to feel the suffocation of endless voices, forcing you towards the darkness or light.”

She pointed in either direction. “Chances are, whatever side you entered on is the side you’re coming out on. Probably without ever looking back. Probably without effort or even regret. You’re given this chance, this point to turn on. You look right in its face and your stomach is sick with the weight of this decision, with the enormity of it.”

She paused. “It’s here that you learn all about yourself. How strong or weak you are...”

She took a deep breath, unsure if she had taken one while speaking; he watched in silence debating whether to engage her or remain silent. His voice suddenly far out of reach, he waited, his hands crossed in his lap. She sat back on her elbows now, a world away from him.

“After the weight of the decision is lifted, the journey begins again. In light or in dark. With silence. Complete, mind-engulfing silence. Whatever carried you in carries you out. God, cocaine, brilliance, savagery... but this time it was all your choice. Your decision. No one there to tell you whether it was the right one or not. At least not for me. But you know. I knew... it’s a heavy load.”

She laid back now, head on the floor staring at the ceiling. She allowed him to soak it in.

“That’s what it was like.”

After a moment, she heard his tears falling, so loud, against his chest, that the sound tore her head apart. It took him what seemed like light years to ask the final question, he supposed, because he was sure he knew the answer.

“You’re high right now?” he said, wishing for some deafening sound to enter the apartment and prevent him from hearing her answer.

“High?” She whispered. “Yeah.”

She quietly pushed herself deeper into his arms, ignoring the pounding of his tears on her head.

Kayla is a twenty-something writer/actor/yogi/bartender livin' the dream in big, bad NYC. Visit her blog if you know what's good for you: