Treehouse

online magazine for short, good writing

5 Ideas about an Afterlife

by Treehouse Editors

from Bailey Bridgewater, author of The Congregation

I’m an atheist, and one of the best things about being non-religious is that it allows a person to evaluate different religious ideas pretty objectively, without any commitment.  It’s like if your friend handed you her phone and asked you to do her Tinder swiping for her.  It’s entertaining, and you can evaluate the choices brutally, curiously, without having to directly deal with the consequences. I believe that when we die, you, me, and all those people on Tinder are simply dead–nothing more, nothing less.  Yet ideas about the afterlife captivate me, so I share with you here five ideas my good friends and questionable family members hold about the afterlife.

1. We re-live the same life in perpetuity. This theory is held by a good friend who has a graduate degree in Mathematics, which gives him some level of credibility–not because graduate students are trustworthy, but because anyone who can deal with numbers at that level has access to mysteries of the universe that most of us can’t or simply don’t want to understand. He believes that not just the individual, but the entire universe participates in an endless cycle of creation and destruction that goes the same way every single time, and thus we all live the same exact life over, and over, and over, never able to correct our mistakes or even remember that we made them. You’ll always lose that key, always miss your boat, always say the wrong thing, always realize a little too late. Always. It’s the most depressing of the theories I’ve heard. There’s no justice in it.

2. We are reincarnated on down the food chain. My great-grandmother lived by far the longest of anyone in my family, which is its own argument for some sort of God–surely nothing that’s out there would have wanted her back. What she lacked in overall goodness, she made up for in fanciful ideas.  Despite her Methodist upbringing, she believed that we’re all reincarnated–a not uncommon idea worldwide. But her reincarnation was ruthless. You only come back as a human if you were pure as the driven snow and right as the unpolluted rain.  Screw up a couple times, and you might come back as a donkey.  Screw up a lot, maybe you’ll be a possum. Manage to mess it up so badly that your kids don’t come to your deathbed, and you’ve got a good shot at cockroach–which means, ironically, a reward of near immortality. There’s a chance you might kill a cockroach that is my great-grandmother.

3. We live again, this time as someone close to us.  All right, so this was my idea, and I don’t actually believe it. I thought it up as a comforting punishment after divorcing an abusive ex.  What if my great-grandmother’s reincarnation idea was on track, but instead of a wolf or a goat, we came back as someone who had an impact on our life, for better or worse? We would feel the pain we caused that person, or the joy, and we would see what had been ourselves from this new perspective.  It could be a strange form of heaven or hell, depending on how much of an ass you were.

4. There’s totally a dog heaven. Totally. One common denominator among both the religious and non-religious folks I know is that they all sincerely want to believe in a pet heaven. One acquaintance of mine is so looking forward to seeing his deceased pets again that he has a tattoo of himself running out of the void and down the rainbow bridge, where his animals are all running to greet him. If there is any justice in the afterlife, there is a place where we can be reunited with our animal companions, or at least where they can eternally play with one another. If there’s not, it’s just further proof that there is no higher being.

5. All is forgiven, if you remember to repent right before the ax falls. My grandmother, a devout Catholic who was apparently so religious that she almost never had to go to church, firmly believed that no matter what you did in life, if you repented on your deathbed, lucidly, honestly, then all was forgiven. (She also believed in curses and ghosts, and would sit on the sofa to talk to her deceased sister well before she developed dementia and Alzheimer’s. I don’t know where all this fit in with her religion.) It didn’t matter if you were a murderer, a rapist, a pedophile–so long as you repented, God would allow you into heaven. I often wonder if, given that she died not knowing where, when, or sometimes who she was, she remembered to say her “my bad’s” in time.

5 Ways in Which My Ideas Are Like My Garden

by Treehouse Editors

from Karen Collier, author of The Gift

1. Sometimes my ideas are like clematis. They are so dawdling I forget I planted them until the day I notice they’ve overrun the trellis.

2. Sometimes my ideas are like coreopsis. They leap their boundaries, and I must rip them out by their roots.

3. Sometimes my ideas are like flame acanthus. They immediately perish but then pop up the next year in the most unexpected places.

4. Sometimes my ideas are like pigeonberry. As soon as I plant them, they are stolen, not surprisingly, by the pigeons.

5. Sometimes my ideas are like mealy blue sage. They grow tall and strong in exactly the place I planted them.

5 of My Favorite Emojis

by Treehouse Editors

from Darren Higgins, author of Wapiti

🍯

Nothing drips quite like honey, so slow and sweet. Nothing shines. Nothing stays. The stickiness comes as a surprise but then I like it. Does honey wrap around your tongue? It does. Around and around. It does. Honey is liquid time. Honey remembers us, that’s what we want to believe. Honey tastes like.

🐞

I once sat in an awful patch of grass, more dirt than grass, really; it was sharp and unevenly cut, at odds with itself, poking my palm. Then I felt a tickle at my fingers. A ladybug. I watched her climb my arm, then returned her to the grass many ladybug-miles from me. But she returned. She found me. She kept coming back. She preferred me to the grass.

🗝

I have never had a tattoo nor really even considered it, but if I do ever get a tattoo then let it be a fancy old key right there on the inside of my left wrist, near the delta of my veins, near the tendons that rise like cables when I make a fist, floating upon the twitch of my pulse. What is a key? What is it really? I think the key is desire.

🥝

No one suspects the kiwi. Who would? No one suspects that it is my favorite fruit, more favorite than even the strawberry (though I do like to bite strawberries, I won’t mislead you). The unassuming kiwi. What are you hiding? But I know! I already know.

🚂

The rhythm of the train is the rhythm of the masquerade. I am never myself on a train. I am a performer, to be seen, to be looked over. But that’s all right. You are never yourself either. You take me by the hand and push me into my seat. You smile. I turn my eyes toward the window, watching the golden fields pass slow and sweet as honey.

The Congregation

by Treehouse Editors

Bailey Bridgewater

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Bailey Bridgewater’s work has appeared in Crack the Spine, The Molotov Cocktail, The Eunoia Review, Nanoism, SubTerranean, As You Were, and Fiction on the Web.

Wapiti

by Treehouse Editors

Darren Higgins

She wore her antlers to bed
and raked them against the headboard.

Bloody strips of velvet
coiled on the pillows and sheets.

What did I know of her hunger
to change, or mine? So much is better

left to the dark. The sounds she made.
The things she did.


Darren Higgins is a writer, editor, and artist living in Waterbury Center, Vermont. A graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, Darren has contributed essays, interviews, and commentaries to Numero Cinq, Jacket2, and Vermont Public Radio. His poems and stories have appeared in The Iowa Review, La Fovea, Quick Fiction, RAZED, Cosmonauts Avenue, and elsewhere.

New Brief Encounters Prompt: When Life Gives You Lemons…

by Treehouse Editors

We’re excited to announce that Brief Encounters submissions are back open, and our newest prompt is: When Life Gives You Lemons…

Do you make lemonade, or lemon dill potatoes? Do you light the lemons on fire and hurl them through life’s windows to let it know that you’re not to be screwed with? Can you make lemonade without sugar and water? Send us your most creative and unexpected stories of making the best of a bad situation, whether they be poetry or prose (as long as they’re 400 words or fewer, of course).

We can’t wait to see what you guys come up with!

The Gift

by Treehouse Editors

Karen Collier

I sit at the kitchen table with my mother, stepfather, and one of my new classmates, Kim, a girl with long black hair, eyes the color of a glacier, and skin so translucent I can see the veins meandering across her temples. They finish the last refrain of “Happy Birthday,” although Kim is singing the version about a monkey in a zoo.

“Make a wish!” My mother shoves a lop-sided chocolate cake with twelve candles in my direction.

I blow out the candles in one breath.

“Here!” Kim hands me a wrapped box as my mother begins to cut the cake.

I rip off the paper and open the box to find another smaller wrapped box.

“Fooled you.” Kim giggles, and I join her.

Our laughter grows as I open each box, only to find increasingly smaller wrapped boxes.

When I reach the smallest box, I think it is the perfect size for a pair of earrings or a friendship bracelet, but as I peel off the paper, I notice that Kim’s laugh has become maniacal and my mother looks worried.

I open the final box and see a sheet of fluffy cotton. I lift the cotton to find the bottom of an empty box.

“There’s nothing in it.” Kim doubles over laughing. “That’s why it’s such a good joke.”

We eat our cake in silence. I fight back tears. When we’re finished, Jerry offers to drive Kim home.

“See you tomorrow.” Kim waves as she bounces out the door.

My mother covers the leftover cake with tin foil and wets a washcloth. As she wipes cake crumbs from the table, she asks, “Is Kim the only friend you’ve made at your new school?”

“Yes,” I say, and I pick up a piece of torn wrapping paper from the floor.


Karen Collier is a native Texan. She spent twenty long years in high tech before becoming a high school English teacher and discovering how the other half lives: in poverty. She left teaching after five years to pursue life as a creative writer. Her work has been published in Full Grown People, The Austin-American Statesman, The First Line, and The Ocotillo Review.