It all began for him on the day of his funeral.
   Mass had already been held, and a collection of his family and friends stood outside in
the cool, drizzling rain, listening to the priest's words.  The dull gray tones of the weather
seemed to be just another touch of décor arranged by the funeral home.  Just another
brush of makeup on the face of his family, concealing the true emotions he knew they all
harbored at the moment.  From Tyler’s viewpoint, hovering just above the shoulder of the
minister, the whole thing struck
him as someone's grim joke.
   All morning, his family had been parading around and honoring the dead piece of flesh
that used to be Tyler Degosi, seemingly consoling themselves with the thought that he was
now happily with God in heaven, sipping on martinis in the clouds. But he knew for a fact
that many of them thought he was in hell, and a few of them probably wished that to be the
case.
   He couldn't blame them for it, really.  
   In the last several years of his life - he died at twenty-eight – he had succeeded in
estranging practically everyone who ever loved him.  He stole, he lied, he ruined friendships and split up lovers.  
Hooked on cocaine and heroine, he rode a persistent high that negated anyone's importance but himself.  Looking
back, he wondered if his overdose was really an accident, or whether he was unconsciously restraining himself from
further bad acts.  As he looked at it more closely and honestly, he was inclined to believe the latter.
   Aunt Patty stood at the front of the crowd with her arm around Tyler’s mom, his mother’s head to Patty's shoulder.  
His mother was crying pretty hard, which was a surprise to Tyler.  Their last conversation consisted of his mother telling
him that he was a disappointment and a shame to the family.  
   Despite the gesture he used as a reply, he knew what she was saying was truth.  
   He could only admit that now, though, in retrospect.  Things tend to look clearer when you no longer
have drugs coursing through your veins, or the intense hunger of a body that craves them.  
   Behind and to the right of his mom stood his big brothers, Paul and Jeremy, their faces stony.  Jeremy was probably
the only person in the family who Tyler had not directly pissed off or hurt in some way, due to the fact that he was in the
navy, stationed on an aircraft carrier, and rarely came home.  But Paul, the oldest brother, who Tyler completely
idolized as a little boy, he was the most surprising of all.  That man, who's wife Tyler had gotten drunk and… somehow
managed to give a eulogy at the mass that was a positive reflection on him.  Tyler knew it to be complete lies, for sure.  
How his brother managed to bring himself to do that was a dumbfounding proposition, and a humbling one.  He thought
he felt bad about what he had done before that, but his brother’s loving words effectively took Tyler’s shame and cycled
it through an amplifier at least a dozen times.  And as far as the rest of the thirty or so people who stood there in black
on account of Tyler’s death, the stories of his wrongdoing could go on and on.
   
   
   
   oOo
   
   Unsuspected by Tyler, or by any of his family at that moment, an uninvited guest observed the
proceedings from beside a nearby tree.  
   Like Tyler, the guest saw through the façade of Tyler’s family, and knew well the hatred they all must
still harbor towards their ‘dearly departed’ relative.  He knew this because he too hated Tyler and all he
represented, not because he had ever been personally wronged by Tyler – he didn’t even know him – but
because he knew the self-centered, drug-induced, criminally irresponsible type that Tyler was.
   It was, in fact, a personal crusade of his to rid existence of these worthless souls, and thereby punish
them suitably for the many lives they had destroyed.  That was his purpose, his single-minded goal.
   And right now, his sights were firmly focused on the being hovering just above the minister’s shoulder.
   
   oOo
   
   "…Ashes to Ashes.  Dust to dust," the minister finished.  One by one family members approached the
coffin to place a single rose upon it.
   "Life looks a lot different when you're dead, doesn't it?" Someone said to Tyler out of nowhere.  He
realized later that it wasn't so much a “voice”, but more like thoughts that congealed into words in his mind.
   "What? Who said that?" Tyler said, startled.  He thought one of his family was talking to him, and he
looked from face to face, checking whether anyone was looking directly at him or not.  He didn't recall having any
psychic relatives.
   "They can't hear you."  
   Tyler looked at the priest, but he was busy packing up his things.  He checked around and found nothing.  Then he
started becoming aware of a 'presence' in his immediate area.  "Whe- Where are you?  Who are you?"
   "Focus on my voice and you'll sense it coming from a certain direction.  Then if you direct your attention in that area
you'll be able to spot the source point of the communication," the voice instructed.
   Tyler did like he said, and eventually it worked.  His attention finally fell on the being that was talking to him, about
ten feet away under a tree.  Tyler couldn't actually 'see' him in the way he could see the tree, but he could perceive him
now, and when the being moved closer, Tyler was now fully aware of it and of where he was moving.  "Who are you?"
   "I am your Guide.  My name is Jareth," he said, and seemed to smile, though without any mouth to look at Tyler
wasn't sure how he knew that exactly.  "And you are Tyler, I presume."
   "How do you know my name?"
   "Well, you're eulogy was a dead giveaway," said Jareth with what Tyler took as a chuckle. "Pardon the pun."
   The eulogy? He must have been at the funeral mass too. "What, have you been following me?" Tyler said, a little
annoyed, as he looked around, trying to perceive any other possible eavesdropping spirits in the area.
   "I guess you could say that.  I needed to contact you, but felt it most appropriate to let you have some closure on
your life first.  So I waited till the burial rites had ended to introduce myself," Jareth said.  "Was that too soon?" He
sounded so nice and polite, almost cultured, and Tyler noticed that the more he listened to him the more he found
himself wanting to listen to what he had to say.  He wondered for a moment whether Jareth was enchanting him with
his words.  Then he realized that, after experiencing a few days of the entire world no longer speaking with you or
acknowledging your existence, anyone would be enamoured with one-on-one communication.
   "No, I guess not," said Tyler. "So what kind of 'guide' are you supposed to be?"
   "I prepare souls for their passage to the Other Side."
   "The 'other side', huh?  You mean heaven?"
   "Well, not exactly."
   Tyler’s stomach, if he had had one, might have been twisted in knots as he asked his next question.  "Hell?!"
   Jareth paused for just a moment before answering.  Just long enough to give Tyler a good scare.  He suspected
Jareth did it for his own amusement.  
   "Oh, no, nothing like that.  Understand, there is no such thing as Heaven or Hell," he said dismissively, "at least not
as your books describe them.  But there is a place, another world or dimension if you will, where a soul can go and be
happy in the company of other souls.  It is a place with no death and no pain, where your desires materialize at your
wish.  Heaven might be a good analogy, except for all this nonsense about clouds and harps and pearly gates… it's
quite a point of humor on the other side, actually.  And this concept of angels - why any spiritual entity would need
something as crude as wings to fly is beyond me," Jareth said.
    Wow, thought Tyler.  Was it actually possible that this was life's plan?  That it really didn’t matter what one did in
one's life?  That all of the sins he had committed in life would not be coming back to haunt him?  Tyler felt a degree of
glee set on at that point.  He was relieved and disturbed at the same time.  He certainly didn’t want to feel any pain or
punishment, but he couldn't totally shake the concept that he had cheated 'the system' somehow.  Though what
'system' he was thinking about he didn’t know.  "What about God?" he asked.
   Jareth didn't immediately answer on that one, as if he were about to 'break' some unpleasant news to Tyler. "No one
really knows."
   "What? No one knows?  What is that suppos-"
   "Whatever the ultimate truth about God, his motivations or whether he exists at all are honestly just as much a
mystery to us on the other side as they are to those still wearing flesh," Jareth explained with considerable
disappointment.  Somehow he seemed much more genuine in those few moments than he had before. He seemed
troubled.  Then he must have caught himself, because he quickly resumed his more conservative tone.
   Jareth's attention seemed to focus on Tyler more intently, and he asked, "Are you ready?"
   "Ready for what?" said Tyler, perceiving a degree of subdued eagerness flow from Jareth to him.
   "To go to the other side, of course.  Look."  Jareth said, directing Tyler to turn around.
   In the air five yards away, directly above the row of grass that most people at the funeral were using to walk back to
their cars, hung what on first impression Tyler believed to be a black hole.  But a few more moments of inspection
disabused him of that idea.  It was a fairly perfect circle, five feet in diameter, and just hung there.  The blackness that
made up the majority of its features had a churning and shimmering quality to it, like a cauldron of black tar boiling
without the bubbles.  And around its edge about six inches of feint light smeared a cloudy frame for it, making a ring of
partially bleached air.  "What the hell is that?!" he asked.
   "A dimensional portal to the Other Side," Jareth said.  
   To Tyler, it just looked like a big black void.  To Tyler’s left, Aunt Patty and his mother had just left the casket and
were headed back to the parking lot, heading straight for the void.  "Wait! Look out!" he called to them, but they took
notice neither of him nor the void, and walked right through it.  To Tyler’s relief, they harmlessly emerged on the
opposite side and kept walking.
   "They can not see it, and it will not affect them.  It can be perceived and experienced only by free souls - those no
longer restrained by a body."
   "Restrained?  You make bodies sound like straightjackets?"
   "Well, if the skin-puppet fits…"
   "Now that is funny!" Tyler laughed, and kept laughing.  If he had been alive he might have wet himself, he laughed so
hard.  He couldn't help it.  The comment had struck him so suddenly and it was so inappropriate, given how somber
and solemn the surroundings were at the time, that he just lost it.  And it wasn't even that it was that funny.  It reminded
Tyler a lot of school, of how the sternly enforced silence in class had an effect stronger than laughing gas.
   Jareth laughed a little too, but then abruptly directed Tyler’s attention back to the void.  He seemed to be rushed.  
"So, now is the time.  The Other Side awaits."
   Tyler turned to face the portal, and began inching closer to it.  He was apprehensive.  Partly because of the obvious
- it looked more like the dark mouth of an ethereal monster than a doorway to eternal happiness.  But there was
something else he couldn't articulate.  A faint feeling.  Like a whisper in his mind just loud enough to be noticed, too
quiet to be heard.  Just anxiety about the unknown, I suppose.  Stop being a coward, he told himself.
   Tyler approached until he came to within a foot of it.  That's when it started.  A flood of pleasant senses came all at
once.  The sound of crashing water - like a waterfall, the beautiful sounds of exotic birds, the scent of his favorite sweet
- cinnamon buns, a breeze of damp summer air, as it would smell after a thunderstorm, the emotional rush of falling in
love, and on and on.  The senses kept changing, but no matter what they changed to, they all were things that brought
moments of true happiness to him, if only briefly, during his life.  If this is what it will be like on the Other Side, he
thought to himself, then full speed ahead!  He looked at the portal, and readied himself to go through.  There was an
idea – a passing thought that tried to occur to him at that moment, and at first he figured he’d succeeded in shutting it
out.  It was a facility he’d used often and well during the last years of his life – don’t look, don’t think, just do what feels
good.  He started towards the portal.  Then he… didn't move.  He stayed right where he was and locked up.  He
couldn't bring himself to go in.
   He tried to reason himself into moving forward.  What could be wrong with eternal bliss?  He felt like there was an
answer there, one he didn’t care to look at.  But since he couldn’t seem to go forward, he started backing away.  He felt
he at least needed to get out of the thing’s range.  With all of those sensations buzzing around he couldn’t think through
whatever was wrong.  It was more than a little distracting.
   After withdrawing a bit the “noise” faded out.
   "Wha- what are you doing?" Jareth said sharply.  Suddenly he was right beside Tyler.  
"What do you think you- er, I mean, what’s wrong?”
   Tyler didn’t answer.  He didn’t have an answer – only questions.  Why couldn’t death
be simple – dead, gone, dark, nothing.  But no, it turned out to be just as riddled with
confusion and conflicting emotions as life was.  Dammit – doesn’t it ever get easy? he
thought.  He searched his feelings, trying to find an answer that would explain his
hesitation.
   “What’s wrong?”
   “Give me a minute, will ya?” Tyler said.
   “Oh… of course.”
   He didn’t think he was afraid.  As scary looking as the void looked, the pleasant
feelings once he was near it offset that totally.  He could say that he had some mistrust of Jareth – after all, a guy
showing up and offering the world tends to get filed under the ‘too good to be true’ category in the ‘suspicious’ section
of one’s mind.  But that wasn’t it.  There was something else that kept attempting to inch up his ethereal throat.  He
wished it to just go away, especially because it had the distinct taste of conscience to it.
   He looked over at Jareth, now hovering close, in almost an imposing way.  He wasn’t saying anything, but Tyler
could tell he wanted to make sure he made it to the Other Side.  For a second he got the funny thought of Jareth as a
prison guard, herding him towards an execution chamber and ensuring he didn’t get away.  The funny part being the
thought of this prim and proper man dressed in tweed and sipping at a cup of tea in one hand, while waiving a black
baton in the other and admonishing Tyler in polite a voice to keep moving.
   Ridiculous, yet some part of it rang true.  In the land called “family” he had been, indeed, a criminal.  He needed to
somehow atone for the grief he had caused them.  He had no idea how he could possibly accomplish that from beyond
the grave, but he resolved at that moment that he at least had to try.  Yes, that might just explain his apprehension to
the void, he thought.  But there was something else – something he was forgetting – something just on the edge of his
awareness.  He tried to reach it for a few desperate moments, but then, with a pang of fear, a metal door closed in his
mind, denying passage to the memory.
   “What is going on?!” Jareth finally blurted out in an annoyed tone, snapping Tyler at least partially back to the
present.  “I do have other pressing matters to attend to!”
   “Um, yeah, sorry about that.”  He turned back towards the guide.  He had made a decision.  “Look, I can’t go,
Jareth… not now.  I’m not ready.”
   Jareth’s reaction at this point was a little hard to read.  Up to this point he had seemed fairly composed.  But right at
this moment Tyler got the impression that Jareth might blow up at him.  Not out of mere frustration either, but rooted in
something deeper.  What that might be, though, he didn’t know.  But then that moment passed, and Tyler was left
wondering whether he had simply imagined it.  
   After a few moments of silence, Jareth finally responded.  “What’s wrong?” he said in a sympathetic tone.
   “What’s wrong is that… I don’t know… I guess I need some ‘closure’ with my family.  It just doesn’t feel right going
like this.  I feel like I need to do something to make up for the way I treated them.  At least apologize or something.”
   Tyler got the impression of Jareth letting out a frustrated sigh.  “Tyler, they’re not going to hear you, so what’s the
point?”
   That comment really pissed Tyler off.  Because it seemed like Jareth wasn’t so much trying to make him see reason,
as just plain trying to change his mind.  But if that was the case, Tyler had no idea why.
   “First of all,” he told Jareth, “I have a hard time believing that it isn’t possible for me to get a communication across to
my family somehow.  There are lots of true stories of people “hearing ghosts” all the time.  So either you just don’t know
how to do it yourself, or you’re lying to me for some reason.”
   “I most certainly am not…” Jareth began in a fluster.
   “SECONDLY,” Tyler cut him off, “this is something that I feel I need to do.  And excuse me, but I never asked for you
to follow me around or to bring me anywhere.  So if I’m holding you up, you just go ahead and leave.  I’ll get by.”  And
with that, he turned and headed off in the direction of the parking lot, where most of his family was already driving
away.  He didn’t need this.  He had enough to cope with without being given a deadline for it all.  I always resented
people trying to run my life, and I’m damn well not going to let someone run my death.
   “Tyler, Wait!” he heard Jareth call behind him, but he ignored him and took off in
pursuit of his mother’s car as it pulled out onto the road.  
   Tyler needed to think.  The fact was that, despite the point he made about the ‘talking
dead’, he actually had no idea how to do it himself.  Naturally, he had already tried talking
to his family over the two days that elapsed between his death and the funeral, to no avail.
And he had eventually sunken into an apathy and accepted the fact that such a thing
wasn’t meant to be.  And nothing had changed now, really, except perhaps a rekindled
desire to make them hear him, reinforced with an urge to prove Jareth wrong.  And he
hoped those factors would make the difference.

By Christopher J Owen

Email Chris for the rest of the story!
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"Circle of Redemption"
By Christopher J Owen
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Every day, 4700 kids smoke pot for the first time.. Will your kid be next?
Will your kid be next? Every day 4,700 kids smoke pot for the first time...
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