“Out of the Gates of Heaven, Locked in the Gates of Hell” by Hannah Staton

2017 Youth 2 Division Winner

“Mama, look out!,” I screamed while jerking her steering wheel to the left. She let go of the wheel and allowed me to take over. It was either crashing into the car in front or straight into the iron lamp post. My hands chose the iron lamp post and when I crashed, the light went out. The lamp post was attached to a transformer which made the whole street go pitch black. The electricity was out, and when I looked down, the white air bag, the only thing that was glowing in the dark, had broken both of my hands, now turned inward and completely out of place. My wrists popped out on top and were slanted toward the right. I glanced at the rear view mirror and the reflection revealed that blood was trickling down the right side of my head. My vision began to blur, and I started seeing spots. My head turned to Mama sitting in the driver’s seat.  She looked lost and was sweating and shaking. With blood drooling down the left side of Mama’s mouth, she couldn’t speak. She was in shock, in total disarray. I reached out for her hand, resting it on my cheek.

“Mama, I’m scared. I’m scared. What’s gonna happen to me? The air is not on but my skin is so cold. Mama, stop look at me like that. Why are you looking at me like that? I don’t understand. I was fine but I don’t feel so fine. Wait…I can’t feel anything. I don’t know anything. Tell me what’s going on! Tell me! I’m so lost and I’m kind of out of breath. Is something wrong? I don’t know…” I cried, but Mama kept that look of horror on her face.

As I struggle to breathe and understand, Mama looks like she is seizing. As the shaking beings to die down, I see her face contouring and wonder if she will size again. She tries to speak but her words seem to stick in her throat. “Sarah…my baby girl. I know you are scared and I am too, but I need you to listen to me.” She stops and shudders as if she is about to die. “Sarah, I loved you from the moment I first felt your kick. No, wait. I loved you before that eve. I have always loved you. Always. I want to say the right words but I don’t know if there is enough time. Please be patient with me. I don’t want to let you go. But listen we have always been together and we can be in this moment together. We love each other and we are both scared of what is happening but just know that I am here with you. I’m right here.” She pauses again and gulps hard before she makes out more words. “Don’t think about anything else. Just focus on me. Wherever you are fixing to go to, I will be there too one day. Don’t worry about me. Your Papa and I, both, will join you. Shhh….it’s okay. There is nothing to be afraid of. I’m here. Hey, look at me.” She lifted my chin up as my eyes started to swell up with tears and they started to burn. “I’m still here. I will never leave you. Never,” she said in a voice that was trying to fight off her tears. No matter how hard she tried, her tears began to flood down her cheeks. All I could think was how brave she was. I know she was scared too but she somehow found comfort. She made me feel loved when I was consumed with the fear of death.

It took a few seconds before I understood what she was communicating to me. She was fine. Meaning, she wasn’t about to die. I took a good look at her, and she was right. She didn’t have one bone out of place. But then I remembered the blood from her mouth, so I quickly jumped back to that. Then, I realized it was just a small cut on her lip. Reality told me that Mama wasn’t going to die, but I had to suffer and face whatever would happen after a person dies, alone. I held onto Mama’s words and the love she promised me.

Mama wrapped her hands around mine and tears flowed down her cheeks in streams repeatedly. I could tell she wanted to save me, and in my heart I wanted to stay with her, but my body said no.

“Okay, Mama. Tell Papa that I love him. And you, Mama, I love you,” I said taking my last breath looking straight into her eyes.

With my last breath, I felt a rising in my spirit, like a floating sensation. I felt as light as a feather, as if the wind was carrying me upward. There was nothing physical about it. My vision became clearer as I saw myself going through the hood of the car. It was as if I could go through any solid material and squeeze my invisible spirit, or should I say, my soul through it. I looked down and saw my body leaning against the car seat, while my mom stroked my skin. Mama started screaming, then groaning over and over. She grabbed her phone and dialed 911. What was going on? I wasn’t there.  I was out of my body. The pain was gone. I felt good. Then, I saw a bright light zooming in, in front of me from above.

I woke up, and the next thing I saw was myself lying there, wearing white, linen clothes. My fingers grazed my black, silky hair. I looked straight ahead at a large, golden gate with spirals all over it.  Beyond the gate, a vast field was filled with yellow lilies.  Where was I? Is this what some people call Heaven? Something inside me told me yes. I died, and that was the only thing I was sure of. Touching one of the spirals, the gate opened, and I saw a cabin to my left and another to my right. A blue jay bird swooped over me. An orange butterfly rested on my index finger. Wherever I was, it was beautiful. I heard rushing waters from a waterfall up ahead. I don’t know where I got this energy or drive, but I began to run. The butterfly left my finger, flying beside me, as I ran towards the waterfall. It was one of the biggest waterfalls I’d ever seen. All around were stones, each with a unique pattern. Big stones were surrounded by little ones, and I threw one across the stream to test its depth.  It wasn’t very deep. I bent down and cupped my hands in the water. It tasted sweet and refreshing. I stepped from one rock to another, leading me to a small trail which led me to the top of the waterfall. I wondered what was beyond it.  At the top, suddenly the light turned into darkness. My heart started beating faster and faster.  All the beauty was gone.  I became scared.  A red dot in the middle grew bigger and bigger filling the black space in a spiral fashion. I felt a tug on my clothes, like I was being sucked into this red space by a vacuum.

The scene changed. There was no air. I couldn’t breath. The smoke reeked of human flesh. Everything was blood red. Another gate appeared, this time covered with spiral-shaped vines.  Touching one, I expected the gate to open like last time, but instead it became alive, transforming as a coiled yellow-and-black-ringed cobra, flaring its hood and striking at me.  I screamed even louder than when I screamed for Mama in the car. The cobra retreated back into a coil.  Then, I saw many others coiled in the same color.  Perhaps only that one was a snake, I thought.  Testing, I touched another one closer to the middle of the gate.  At once, all the cobras uncoiled, rattling their tongues at me.  Darting backwards, I ducked my head and inhaled the filthy air. I felt lifeless, dead, choking with each step. Behind me now was all black.  The waterfall, the field of yellow lilies, the butterfly, were all gone.  Looking ahead more determined, I wondered how I could get out.  I screamed and ran toward the gate, hoping my body would transcend it like I had the hood of the car. Instead, my head banged against the iron gate, leaving me unconscious, hearing only the slithering snakes around me.

I awoke with four mysterious-looking creatures carrying me to a red river.  A huge knot throbbed on my forehead. The gates behind had opened, and I was already in, thanks to the creatures carrying me. One looked like a He.  But, his face was distorted with ingrained scars; his body, burnt like charcoal; his scent, like rotting fish.  His fingers were half missing, with no tips and knuckles covered in blood.  Terrified, my heart pounded rapidly as I looked around and spotted other men with multiple eyes.  What was going on? They continued carrying me to the boiling hot, red river.  Cupping my hands, I desperately wanted to drink the water, like I did in Heaven, but it was blood instead.  Its thickness, after spitting, wouldn’t leave my mouth.  Everything was sticking to me; nothing would release or let go of me.  Independence was not allowed here.  Looking around, I saw many of those creatures walking slothfully, peering at me with creepy eyes.  I felt unsafe. The four who carried me started laughing and pushing me into the river. I clawed the ground, only to find it wet and slippery, the mud slithering between my fingers.  I was being engulfed by an underground world. In the distance, one child with a woman, probably his mom, was screaming at her.  She was bleeding, and her tears never stopped.  Was this Hell? Did I just enter into the gates of Hell? Like in a steam bath, sweat poured over me.  I must get out of here!  The only exit was the gate, where I would have to face the cobras.  I quickly surmised that was better than the luring creatures and the river of blood.  Pushing through the four men, I sprinted toward the gate, as it was closing.  This was my chance!  I had to return to the waterfall, wherever it was.  Suddenly, two claws latched onto my feet and started dragging me down the hill.  I fell face first.  It was too late. Some invisible force barred the gate.  I screamed, “Don’t you people tell me that I’m staying in here! I’m not!  Let me out!  I want to go back where I started!”  Mockingly, they gawked at my tantrum and proclaimed in unison,“It’s over. This is your destiny.”

I woke up. I had breath. I still had life in me. I pinched my skin and blinked my eyes over and over to see if this was reality. There I was, sitting in the passenger’s seat next to my mom. My senses told me that I had experienced Heaven and Hell but something or someone had given me a second chance. For that fraction of a second, I believed in God. I felt like I could start a true relationship with Him. Not because of the horror of hell and voices telling me that that was my destiny, but I had been given a second chance. I knew what was real and what wasn’t. Even though I just realized I was back on earth, nothing was as real as knowing that God was real. I began to feel this hunger rise inside me to know God more. All the confusion settled in my stomach and I felt sure of what I had gone through in the past few minutes.

I looked over my shoulder to my mom lying there with her neck slumped over to her side. I leaned over and tried to feel her pulse from her arm and her neck. Nothing. She was dead. My heart started to beat faster and faster. I could have sworn she told me before I died and visited Hell and Heaven that she wasn’t going to die. She looked healthy to me, except for the little blood trickling down her mouth. I grabbed her arm and held onto the cold skin. There was nothing left. So, I was brought back from the dead and now I see my mom dead. But maybe she would come back, like what has happened to me? So many thoughts and so many questions were balled up in my head. The sureness I felt a few seconds ago started rise and I remembered the experience I just had after I died. I looked at my mother and tucked her gray hairs behind her ears. She was at peace. I was at peace. Maybe she was experiencing the golden gates of heaven and running next to that butterfly that I ran next to? Just after that thought, the same butterfly I ran beside of from Heaven came swooping into the car. It rested on the tip of Mama’s nose. I smiled. This must mean that she is in Heaven, I thought. Right when I started to feel at peace with my mom’s death, a yellow-ringed cobra rose its hood from the middle of Mama’s crossed legs. I let go of Mama’s arm and started to scream. I sat there and watched the cobra strike its head at the butterfly. The last I saw was the cobra swallowing the butterfly whole. I knew what this meant for Mama. I knew where she was and this time there was no escape. She met her destiny. This time, Mama wasn’t coming back.