THE PERFECT WAVE • by James Flanagan

The sun is stuck. The golden coronal flares tickle the orange clouds that hover over the horizon, but it refuses to climb any higher. The colors stretching across the sky are a painting in soft pastels, and the perfect wave crests but does not crash. It too is suspended in place. I lay there on the sand beside my surfboard, studying the waves.

If I could turn, I would see my wife and two children running towards me, but I cannot turn my head. I too am frozen.

A man rides up to me on an old-fashioned bicycle. It is hard going in the soft sand and the front wheel bends left and right, trying to make progress. He places his black patent leather shoes carefully, endeavoring to avoid the dry sand reaching in and filling his inner sole.

“Hell of a spot,” he says.

“No, this is heaven to me, mate. Look at that sunrise,” I say.

“So you have made your choice already then,” he declares.

I look up to him and see he has no eyes, no skin, and his face is an empty skull. I try to bend my eyes away from him, but I am transfixed.

“Yes, I am DEATH.”

His last word emanates from him like he is exhaling the winds of hell. It is his signature. The sulfurous smell of my singed hair rankles my senses.

“What choice?” I ask.

“Heaven or Hell. It is yours to choose.”

“Why would anyone choose Hell?” I am intrigued by how much self-loathing it would require. Before I finish that thought, it dawns on me.

“Wait, I’m dead?”

“You were a terrible patient. You didn’t take your meds, did you?”

“I just wanted to ride a few waves before I took them this morning.”

“And, yesterday, and the day before.” His bony finger waggles.

I lower my eyes and realize he is right. It is my fault. I choke up, realizing why my family is running towards me. What a selfish bastard I am. “Where is Heaven anyway? I don’t know if I deserve it.”

“Heaven and Hell are not places,” he says. “They are times. Heaven is to stay in a moment of your choosing. Most people choose the happiest moment in their life.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad.”

“HELL is to relive a moment in your life, but I get to decide which.”

The worst of my life flashes before me, like a menu from which Death will decide. My first divorce, my second cancer diagnosis, or my third child’s infant death.

“I can’t decide whether I deserve it.”

“As I said, you have already made your choice.” Death picks up his bicycle and walks it back up the beach.

I look out over the frozen sea and watch the sunrise tickle the sky. I bury my toes in the soft dry sand and smile as the perfect wave remains unbroken.

James Flanagan writes in London, UK.

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