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Chapter 7

Chapter 7: Descent

I angle down the mountainside with Sabonis, feeling like I’m skipping class. Somehow, I suspect there’s more at stake regarding this particular truancy.

Can I be blamed for not wanting to sit and suffer on a mountain just yet? For not wanting to abandon all my connections to life? Twenty-two years might not be a long time to some, but it’s all I know. If getting Clear is the only way to achieve in the afterlands, I’d rather stay murky.

Seems like yesterday, I walked down a sidewalk with Gina on an anomalous and sultry May evening. Elixirs of lilac wafted everywhere. Life budded and burst and leafed out in every patch of woods. That night was the last I spent with Gina, a night when the future seemed infinite and potent, and rivers of life poured through every capillary. Why would I ever want to Clear this sensation, this culmination of my existence?

I wonder how Gina would handle seeing me as a girl. Laugh her ass off, probably. Would she love me as a woman? Maybe, but it could never be the same. Gina liked herself some man.

I do discover some advantages to this new body. As we pass through a complex jumble of stacked and tippy boulders, I am not the stumblebum I knew. I am nimble. I have balance.

“So … where exactly are we going?” I say.

“A place called Dilmun,” says Sabonis. “It’s a bit of a haul.

“You have a boat there?”

“Yup. My ’rigger. Outrigger. Needs patching,” says Sabonis. “But as long as we bail it, it should get us out to where we need to go. Right?”

“Right,” I say, though I have no clue where it is we need to go. Does he believe me? Do I care? I’m just happy to be headed down the mountain.

“It wasn’t just any boat Delgado took,” says Sabonis. “That was my cat. Most people here don’t bother to do more than strap a few logs together to make a raft. That boat was a work of art. My islander buddy Andali built it. Life and death. He was a master craftsman. I’d cross the Pacific in that hull.”

Sabonis looks out over the steely water.

“But I’ve still got the ’rigger. Been reluctant to take that thing out in this stuff. But if you know where we’re going …”

We knife through a gaggle of men and women tucked in a little hollow surrounding a muddy spring. All vegetation had been stripped except for a few patches of trampled and tattered moss. I study their faces, but they avoid my gaze.

“You ever run into any dead relatives here?” I say.

“Nah,” says Sabonis.

“What about all those long-lost relatives that are supposed to greet you when you follow the light through the tunnel?”

“What tunnel?” says Sabonis.

“Figuratively,” I say.

“Not everybody gets to come here,” says Sabonis. “Some people … when they die. That’s it.”

“What’s so special about us?”

“Dunno,” says Sabonis.

This notion disturbs me. I think of Gina, my mom, my dad, my sister Diane. What if they’re not special? If they never come here, I will never see them again? I hope Sabonis is mistaken.

I wonder how they’re all taking my death. How long did Gina wait for me to show at that restaurant? Had she gone out to look for me in the rain? Is she okay?

Sabonis leads us away from the beach where we began. We walk through tier after tier of people of all races and sizes and shapes. They sprawl like sea lions over every flat ledge.

In places, we jostle our way through densely packed bodies. I bump into a taut-skinned skeleton of a man and almost knock him off his ledge. Sabonis catches him before he falls. “Sorry!” His frailness makes my bones ache.

He ignores us, like most we pass, lost in trance, Clearing. It is rare that anyone shows displeasure. Most ignore us. An incorrigible few, Midwesterners I suppose, mutter polite niceties as we pass.

Everywhere on these lower slopes, people gather into clusters. No one wants to be alone.
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