What comes after

Foreword

“The year is 1993 and our story starts in Atlanta, Georgia. The players may choose any concept and background for their character fitting the setting. The only requirement is that in the opening scene of the story, they are all sitting in an empty church attending an anonymous support group meeting for survivors of a near-death experience.” Thus speak the notes of the story teller.

It must be said though that in practice it turned out a little differently. As players we were adviced to go to the first session without a character sheet in hand and only the barest idea of a character concept. The purpose of the entirety of the first session was to create our character through storytelling. We spend the session without a sheet or dice and all the characteristics and backstories were improvised on the spot. The session held only the bare minimum of plot hooks and allowed the players to craft three stories, free from interference by the storyteller. As a result this method of character creation opened us up to fill in the sheet later and have it correctly display how we portrayed the characters.

The chronicle consists of three players. One of which dabbled into wraith during a one shot story. Another who is a classic world of darkness veteran. Lastly there is a relative newcomer to the world of darkness and roleplaying games in general.

Have fun reading and be warned; it get’s a little sad.

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Mid February 1993: First meeting

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[Fellas, I want to reassure you
Today’s story is a story about life
Today’s story is a story about life
The things that drive us
the things that tie us down
And you, players,
are going to help me tell it.]
-Storyteller quote.

Everyone has gathered in the First Methodist Church of Atlanta for a bi-weekly meeting of a support group called “What Comes After”. It is open to anyone who has lived through a near death experience to help them cope with what happened to them. None of them can deny that this support group has helped them get through the weeks that follow until the next meeting. They depend on it. After everyone has poured their coffee, put on a sticker with a first name that’s either real or fake, and taken one of the folding chairs, Griff decides he would like to be the first one to share.

Griff is a middle aged man and no one has seen him look happy, not once. From some of the rumors people have picked up and from what he has shared it’s become common knowledge that he’s the sole survivor of a car crash. If it wasn’t for the other driver’s donor card Griff would never have made it. Despite all his confessions it has never been made clear who was at fault for the accident.

Griff starts talking and everybody listens intently. “See, I woke up this morning. Same way I woke up yesterday morning. Some of us here have spoken about night terrors, I don’t get those. I haven’t dreamed, not once in my life. Not that I can remember, at least. But, but that doesn’t mean that I awake without a sense, eh, without some weight on my shoulders, y’know? I think about my sorrow, going away, y’know? And I wonder what they’re up to in heaven today. You see I wake up everyday, in this empty bed, in an empty house. And my wife, and my daughter…”

Griff can’t hold it together after that. Everyone thanks Griff for opening up.Janice, who organizes these meetings takes a moment to calm Griff, and calmly asks; “Would anyone else like to share?”

A young man named Stewart speaks up; “I’d like to share.” Janice nods welcomingly while still calming Griff; “Sure Stewart.” Stewart gathers himself and opens up; “Well my momma always told me I was kind of a daredevil..ish person. So, of course I one day tried bungee jumping. From a bridge. Until the rope snapped. I fell on my neck and it broke. I had to be hospitalized for about seven months. Now I’m the most cautious man that you’ll ever know. Because I’m never going to do anything like that again. So, no more biking, no more bungee jumping, no more parachutes. That’s it.”

A newcomer then asks “What does that mean? Isn’t that kind of a restriction on your life?” Stewart shakes his head. “No. It was so horrible those seven months in the hospital, I just.. I just want to be more cautious in life. Always checking the road for cars, looking left, right, left again, before I cross it. I’m watching out more. And better.” All the while Janice nods, Griff has found his bearings and once again listens intently.

Darren, another relative newcomer looks at Stewart. “It must be hard to have that fear.” Stewart agrees; “Yeah. It’s just.. It’s over. It’s done. No more hospitals for me, I hope. That’s about it.”

Janice thanks Stewart for opening up and invites someone else to share with the group. Darren, the newcomer decides to share for the first time. “Yeah. I’m Darren and it was the stupidest thing. I was also enjoying an outdoor activity. I was kayaking and eh, I was just cruising the river and all out of a sudden. A leaping fish hit me right in the temple. I got dragged down the stream. I remember going under and that’s when I must have passed out. I’ve had a concussion. I was saved, though.” For a second Darren has to hold something back that can either be tears or a dismissive chuckle. “By, by a man who only named himself Billy. He said that when he found me by the river I wasn’t breathing. I must not have been breathing for maybe a couple of minutes. I was out and.. ehm. He was, well he was.. He just helped me out and ehm.. Now here I am. And now, yeah. I’m not sure if I can say that I’ve died and came back. Or if anything like that happened, all I can say is that now I’m here. And that’s it.”

The attendee is thanked for opening up by Janice. She then asks if one of the other newcomers would like to speak but it becomes apparent that it’s too early for them. Dereck, a veteran of the group shows some initiative. “I would like to share. It was a regular day of work at the construction site when I was standing beneath a construction elevator. It was four floors up and all of a sudden the whole elevator was coming down. And I noticed it just in time to jump away from it. Well, not in time. It landed on my foot. But for my colleague, Aaron, it caught it him right.. Right there. He was killed instantly. Blood everywhere. I was stuck beneath that elevator with my foot.. and a dead Aaron. Everynight I hear, I dream and then I hear the sound of the elevator and it coming down again. And the sound of it hitting Aaron. Everynight. Again and again.”

Dereck struggles visibly. “At first I couldn’t do my work because of my foot. But when I was all right again I was just too scared. Every ‘clink’, every sound of metal on metal I hear.. I just panick. So, I’ve been without work since then.” An older man; Stanislav, who has been coming here for a long time, shows interest. Most members know that he comes from a land that one should no longer call Yugoslavia. He always has been a little bit too morbid for most people’s tastes. He nods; “You worked on skyscrapers, yes? Those look nice. Good work!”
Darren concludes again; “Fear can be a powerful thing. How long have you been in construction?” “Ten years.” Dereck answers. “Got two kids to take care for. Now I am without a job.” Darren then admits that he’s always wanted children and follows up on it, albeit with a nervous stutter; “I tried seeing all this as a positive thing, I tried and the only good thing that I can think of is that this.. It was only a short time ago. This accident has rekindled the interest of my wife, she’s less apathetic now. So who knows, maybe one day?”
Stewart mixes himself up in the discussion “Do you ever plan to Kayak again or will you be just like me?” Darren struggles to find an answer. “It was just an accident. No. My life has been getting very monotone in the last couple of years. I still want to go out and do something different every now and again. Sometimes I go hiking, sometimes fishing, lately I’ve tried kayaking. Just to break the dreary spell of eh..” He trails off there. Stewart nods; “I get it.” Dereck tries to salvage the situation; “So, how old are you, Darren?” “Thirtytwo.” Is the short cut answer. The group goes silent.

Stewart looks at older man in their midst. “What about you, Stanislav. What is your story? ..If you don’t mind sharing.” Stanislav obliges in a heavy accent. “I can repeat it for newcomers, in short, just in short. I immigrated to United States years ago. And at home, you see, something this nation has too, there was persecution, yes? There was this man, Tito and after his death the whole thing fell apart. Ethnic groups, as you say, were at each other’s throats and I ended up on the wrong side of eh.. Something which was intended to be compassionate and they kicked me to within an inch of my life. And then I came here and I’ve never been back. The twenty-something has another question for the older man; “Do you miss it or not at all?” “I miss the way it was, under Tito. Those were good days. I still remember the good days.”

After a while Janice stands up. People check their watch and it’s hard to realise that an hour has passed already. “I thank you all for coming and as always I hope to see you again in two weeks.” The group disperses slowly. Stanislav walks by Griff and claps him on the shoulder, while proclaiming, a bit too loudly; “You remember the good days, Griff!” before going outside and lighting a cigar. Darren and Dereck join him for a cig, Stewart heads for a liquor store.

On the church steps Darren has to admit; “That was something.” Dereck agrees; “Yeah. Do you think it can help you?” “I don’t know, man. I never thought I would be in one of these groups, of course no one thinks that. I guess everyone is just naturally optimistic. Still, yeah, I think it was good.” His new associate has to grin at that. “Sometimes it really looks like the anonymous alcoholics. Though, I guess some would prefer alcohol to cope with everything. I try not to.” Darren muses on this further while looking at Dereck’s prosthetic leg. “After everything everyone has seen, a glass or a bottle doesn’t seem that threatening anymore.”

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Mid-End February 1993: Coping part I

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[What happens now. I want to hear a story from you about the coming two weeks. This will have minimal interference from me. Whatever you get up to. Three individual stories with a beginning, a middle and an end. How do you cope the next two weeks? What does your life look like, what do you do, what do you want to do? Does it have a theme or a struggle? How do you cope?]
-Storyteller quote

After the meeting Darren goes home to his wife Denice and life seems to go on. He works in a typical car garage where every now and then a colleague cracks a joke or remark about the accident. Darren doesn’t know whether or not this should make him sad or angry.
During the week that follows Darren watches his marriage slowly but gradually return to it’s original state of disinterest. The car mechanic tries to keep himself informed of what’s going on in the world by reading newspapers and following the news on tv. He also looks forward for something new to do during his monthly trip. When the troubles of the day become too much for Darren he escapes to his high school yearbook. With mixed feelings he has to agree that those were better times.

Stewart goes back to his apartment where he lives with his dog, Buster. He feels affection for his dog, even though he doesn’t really take good care of him. They hardly go out for walks and the creature has to do it’s business in the small back garden. Stewart has a boring desk job where, in his mind, nothing bad can happen. He loves the bottle but limits it to a couple of nights a week. He does his groceries daily in small amounts. He goes to bed early so he can be in time for work. Most of Stewart’s time is spent inside of his apartment watching tv, watching sports, especially baseball which was a big part of his life. He lives a cloistered excistence.
Stewart still has a toy car collection from when he was a kid. Sometimes he pretends to be a stunt driver, performing on the tracks. It helps him relive something of which he knows he will never again have the courage to experience

Dereck goes home to his wife and kids. His wife, Sophia, works as a nurse, a couple of hours a week to generate some income but those are slim. His twelve year old daughter is calledStacey and she’s hit puberty with all the rebelliousness that comes with it. Louis, his eight year old son spends most of his days stuck to his video game. Most of the time it falls to Dereck to look after the children but he doesn’t seem to keep them in check. When he’s not at home Dereck can be found on the street, playing dice games with friends in the neighbourhood. Small time bets roll as often as the dice, these flutters are paid for with Sophia’s income.

One day Stewart is drawn to the window by a sound that’s coming from outside. On the other side of the street he sees a man, singing his lungs out. He’s accompanied by a little boy, not more than fourteen years old. The little boy holds out a tin can to passersby and the man keeps playing. He keeps watching until he sees a young woman with tears in her eyes hastily write a check until she runs off. The kid shows the check to the man who doesn’t need to play anymore. Stewart can’t see how much is written on the check but the musician seems surprised. They pack their things and leave. Stewart closes his curtains to the outside world.

Dereck drives home, in his shabby wreck of a car, after buying groceries. His route takes him just outside his own neighborhood. This neighborhood is gradually degrading as his own has for ages. Rich people used to live here, though, in great apartments with nicely decorated house fronts. One of these buildings is old, it’s crumbling, once it may have belonged to a healthy family but not anymore. One thing he notices, as he notices everyday is a great mural, spray painted in white. A hood. An unmistakable symbol of a klux klux clan hood. He remembers hearing two women discussing their husband’s salary at the checkout counter back in the grocery store, doing whatever business for whatever corporation. That conversation is still at the back of Dereck’s mind when he sees that spray painting. He can’t shake the feeling that two were connected.
When Dereck gets home he notices that Stacey is gone. Louis is playing his Atari. Dereck has to ask his son three times where his sister might be before he answers with a half hearted “I don’t know. She went out.” Dereck packs his groceries and goes out looking for his daughter who has a tendency to hangs with friends while she’s not allowed. Dereck catches her on the street, smoking with some other youngsters. The man flies into a patronizing rage. “Stacey! This is outrageous! You went out and didn’t tell me where you were going! And now you’re smoking with these.. kids!” Stacey sees her social standing shattering around her and fights back the only way she knows how; by shouting even louder. “What are YOU doing here?! I’m out with my friends! What I do in my time is my own business!” Dereck starts towards her “What you do is most definitely my business because YOU are MY daughter! Now you’re getting in that car and you’re going home with me!” Stacey has no choice but to reluctantly agree. In the car ride back Dereck patronizes and grounds her, which she in turn firmly ignores.

One morning Darren finally wakes up, shivering, after a nightmare that seemed to have no end. Denice wakes him up. Darren is covered in sweat and heavily nauseous, for his night hours were filled with with visions of ceaseless storms. Of dark waves roiling, crashing and consuming each other while the skies above turned ever darker and spun. He knows he’s going to throw up in ten seconds. Darren scrambles out of bed in the direction of a toilet but he doesn’t make it that far. Denice helps and comforts her husband but when she leaves to get cleaning utensils a sigh can be heard from the hallway.
After his wife leaves for her waiting job Darren calls in sick for work. It’s not much of a fuss for he can easily be missed at work. He is troubled by what happened last night. He has a hard time distracting himself, he can’t find anything worthwhile on the TV set. Before long he sits back with his yearbook. He looks at the pictures from when he was a jock at school, when he had lots of friends. He has read it a hundred of times. He skips the sixth to last page on which he knows to be a memorial that he can’t handle right now.

Stewart bumps into his neighbor Andrew, whom he has a friendly bond with. They share an interest in Evel Knievel. These instances of smalltalk, short and superficial as they may be, gives some joy to the former daredevil. Remembering his hero gives him a small dose of adrenaline as well.

When Denice gets home Darren still has his yearbook in hand. Before him is a page with a photo of the couple who have been together since high school. He comments on how pretty she has always looked. They share a night of beer and wine which ends fruitfully. He heads back to work the next day. The week progresses without further incident all though Darren is anxious about sleeping the first night after the nightmares. It turns out to be a good week for Darren.

[Let us now end on your second week. The cumulation of the morale of your individual stories. Narrowing in on the core of your stories, you had a beginning, a middle. Now tell us the end of that story. Issues with kids, getting stuck in the past, hating the present.]

Stewart still works every day, he’s in his own cubicle. It doesn’t have any pictures on the wall.
This thursday is a special day for him. He musters his courage to visit the first exposition game of his favorite baseball team; the Braves in the Fulton County Stadium. As per his routine he sits in the second ring as close to an exit as he can. He gets a hotdog and a couple of beers. The athletes are not at their best this early in the season. He entertains the thought about maybe getting back into sports one day but he is scared by the loud sound of leather hitting wood. He leaves ten minutes before the end of the match to avoid the crowds stampeding for the door and beer stalls. At home he has one last drink but tries to get to bed early. On friday he tries to get home as early as possible. He enjoys the weekend and friday nights are important to him. It’s where he dares to drink a little more and if he can muster up the courage he takes a small walk around the block. Only if the streets are deserted, of course. Should he run into someone he quickly gets back home.

After the incident with the singer Stewart decides to keep a closer watch on his neighborhood. One person has peaked his interest. A young woman passes his street almost every night somewhere between 9 and 9:30. As the week progresses his interests in her doesn’t cease to increase. He wishes he could go and ask her out but finds out he doesn’t have the courage for such a confrontation. There’s always tomorrow, he says to himself. A couple of days later while being just affected enough by whiskey he puts on his coat but stops. “You’ll only make an ass out of yourself.” A sober voice says in the back of his head.

[Editor’s note: It’s during this time that Stewart’s player asks our story teller if it ever snows in Georgia. “Not really, it’s a warm region.” Is our story teller’s somewhat misleading reply.]

Sophia is angry with her daughter but just as mad at her husband for neglecting the kids. Dereck doesn’t pay enough attention to her and she’s sure that’s what caused Stacey to go out smoking. His son Louis is having a hard time as well, he isn’t very social and isn’t doing very well at school.
A couple of days later Dereck is out doing groceries again. His car breaks down a few blocks from home but not quite yet in his neighborhood. He knows that if he was within his own hood at least ten guys would’ve come out to help. Here, people give a fake smile as they pass by, probably wondering when this man is going to leave. Dereck decides to walk back home to find a friend with a towline.
The first one he sees is Fred, an older man with at least 10 years of seniority over the unfortunate Dereck. Both of them grew up around the same block. Due to the age difference they didn’t hang out much but Fred has never been unpleasant. They drive back to Dereck’s shabby car when an uncomfortable silence falls. A couple of minutes on the road Fred awkwardly breaks this silence; “I saw your girl hanging around my porch last week. I wasn’t gonna say anything but she’s hanging out with them Crawford boys. Do you know them?” Dereck knows of their father, at least the rumors that surrounded him back in the day. You could always get a discount on your stereo there. This reputation has escalated somewhat. Dereck curses his luck “God damnit, Stacey is getting harder and harder to handle. Must be the age.” This brings Fred to a chuckle. “My daughter is off to college now, do you think twelve is bad? At sixteen they won’t be able to fly the nest yet.” “Stacey is grounded now though..” “Ha! I remember that, they’re in the house and then you kinda wish they would get the fuck out of the fucking house.” Dereck agrees with a somewhat somber “Fuck yeah.” As they pull up to Dereck’s car his ride finishes with “I don’t know man. I just thought I would tell you.”

When Dereck brings the towing cable Fred suggests to take a look under the hood. “You said it simply died. It’s probably just the battery.” Dereck admits in somewhat of a fluster “Yeah, I guess we could. I took a good look at it but didn’t have any tools. I didn’t see anything but let’s pop the hood.” The senior takes a look at the car, with some jumper cables and less than a minute proclaims; “You’re good to go.” The car starts, Fred smiles patronizingly after which they both head home.
Upon his arrival home Dereck engages Stacey in some parenting alongside his wife. They talk about what happened the other day. The respect that Stacey has for her mother is obvious but she’s still mad at her father who embarrassed her in front of her friends. Sophia agrees with this, after all it wasn’t polite and could have been handled a lot better. When father mentions that it was the Crawford boys Stacey was hanging with the daughter has to endure Sophia’s scorn as well. Stacey with her pubescent mind claims to be old enough to choose who her friends are. Dereck forbids her to hang out with the Crawford boys again. In the end Dereck’s daughter stamps to her room. The parents argument doesn’t end there, Sophia calls her husband out on her laziness, on his gambling, about how he can’t even fix the fucking car. In the end her husband is an incompetent asshole. When everything calms down it is Sophia who heads to her daughter to try and fix the situation.
In response Dereck tries to connect with his son. Tries to play with him on the atari but that effort soon turns into a train wreck as well. Louis hardly responds to him and he has to push his son to give his father a try. This puts Louis on edge and that in turn causes Dereck to patronize him. “You should focus more on school instead of all these games. You should go out and play more with the other children. I haven’t seen Tom in ages, why don’t you just go play outside with him?” Louis raises his voice to his father when he declares “Tom is stupid and so are you! Everyone in school is stupid!”
At the end of that evening Dereck has alienated himself from his whole family.

All though everything seemed fine for Darren during the first week after therapy. The second week has everything spiralling out of control. The couple get into a fight, the reason of which is lost 3 minutes into the argument. It’s the kind of fight where one keeps twisting the other’s words, where 15 minutes deep you don’t know who you are anymore. It’s a long brutalizing verbal cage match. While her husband is making some kind of defense Denice blurts out “You should tell that to Joey Gabreski!” Darren can only stop himself from punching his spouse in the face by storming outside. He drives to a liquor store and makes his way to Casey’s Hill cemetery. There the man uses some a garbage container to climb the fence. From the bushes he grabs a hidden folding chair. He spends the night sitting in front of a gravestone marked for Joey Gabreski, a kid Darren went to school and took his own life at the age of seventeen.
At dawn the mourner hides his chair, climbs the fence and heads to work.

At the end of the week Stewart sits in his apartment with a can of his favorite beer and a tiny, tiny smile on his face. A weird look in his eyes, but a tiny smile as he pets his Buster.

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Early March 1993: Second meeting

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And at the end of two weeks of a life like that. It’s time for another scheduled meeting after sunset at the first methodist church. A meeting of the What Comes After support group. Janice has arranged all of the folding chairs. Griff helps because he was here early. Only one of the new faces from the last time shows up again. There’s fresh coffee and that’s the first thing people grab, the conversations only ever start there. There’s cake, nobody really likes the cake but there is cake. After some smalltalk Janice calmly asks “Shall we begin?” And the only answer is everyone silently trotting over to their chairs. Some take their usual seat.

This time Stanislav takes the initiative. He doesn’t speak often but now he has a look in his eye that no one has seen in his before. It’s a look that’s often seen here but never in his eyes. “It has been a while since I immigrated but you all watch the news. And with what’s going on now it is making me shed tears for my homeland. I don’t want to bore you with what for you must seem like foreign affairs. I was reminded..” He takes out a crumbled piece of paper from his pocket. “I was reminded of last year. When we all, we decided, because the meeting for this group coincided with American memorial day. So Janice instead took us to see the ceremonies. I remember that day last year when the mayor; Maynard Jackson, he said something. That all he wanted, was for everyone to be free and for everything to be all right, yes? It was later that somebody explained to me that this what you mean when you say ‘liberty and justice for all’.
“But what I remember most about that day is that there was a student from Clark university. And there was a poem, he was saying. By poet John McCrae. Well, boy, it’s very relevant you see.”

Stanislav starts reading from the paper.

“In these deep fields the poppys blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In these deep fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppys grow
In these deep fields.”

After a long silence Stanislav recovers, unlike Griff last time, with a smile. “I wish I had a bottle of something. These men’s memories deserve a toast.” Janice doesn’t have a bottle to offer but she nods and earnestly thanks the european man for sharing.

[Before you decide to share with the group. I would like you to write down your concept and to choose your archetypes depending on how you acted the previous two weeks.]

After Stanislav’s poem a silence falls over the group. Janice picks the session back up “Well, that’s one thing to be thankful for. We see these horrible things happening on the news and while it’s not that we’re glad that it’s happening to someone else. But it makes us mindful. That was a beautiful poem Stanislav, thank you.” She ponders for a moment “Maybe that could be tonight’s theme. I mean we all know that as complicated as our lives have become, the loss of a friend, the loss of others complicates this further. Am I right?” Everyone mumbles an agreement. “It’s not only about what we experience but it is also about how it colors our life.”

The group struggles with the topic until the young Stewart decides to speak up. “I too lost someone. I lost my ex girlfriend. Not because she died but she left me because I was such a rebel. Too much to handle, she said. We were together for eight years. Maybe that is also why I’m so cautious now. For a future girlfriend, or maybe for when she decides to take me back. Maybe she’ll say; ‘Oh, he’s a mindful man, he has a steady job now. We can be together again.’ I don’t know. It was something I wanted to share with you.”

This peaks the interest of some of the group. It is Darren who asks. “Do you still talk to her?” “No, not at all. I only think of her and maybe she thinks about me but I don’t know. I do know where she lives though, and she still lives alone. Sometimes I take a look when I’m coming down from work. So that’s about it, she still is alone-ish, I guess.”

Stanislav points at him with a somewhat thick finger. “No, no, no! This is wrong. No peeking at lost loves. You move on! You drive past the windows and no looking! Take express road.”
Dereck pitches in as well “Yeah, there are still many more fish in the sea.” In his defense Stewart admits “Yeah, I know. But it was eight years, it was a long time. I’m still hoping.” “You’re still young! Eight years is nothing.” Stanislav interrupts. “When you think about it it’s true. But it still hurts like hell.” “Which is why you should move on. Find other women.” Derick agrees but Stewart isn’t so sure. “I don’t go out that much. Maybe one day I’ll see someone at a baseball game or something. But, yeah. It’s hard. Not being with your loved one. So in a way, I guess I lost someone”

Dereck then tries to steer the conversation in a different direction. “Well, you all heard my story about Aaron.” Stewart inquires about this further. “Were you close as colleagues? Could you say he was a friend?” “Yeah definitely. We were on the job together for four years. So yeah, I was close. I’ve been at his house a couple of times. He was always nice towards others. He himself had lost one of his children when it was only one year old. He never got over that. The child had some heart condition or other medical problem. We as colleagues always dragged him along and he in return was very nice to us. He was joking during the breaks and whistling to the ladies. The usual stuff. It was a big loss to us when he was gone.” Stewart nods. “I can imagine.” Dereck finishes “I still visit his grave from time to time.” This hits Darren close to home. “Yeah, you should pay your respects, man. Never forget, never forget.”
It is Stewart who decides to inquire further about Aaron’s family and how they are coping. “We’re still in touch, yeah. I still spoke to them from time to time. But they moved on, I moved on. I guess it must have been painful for them. I was a living memory of what had occured to their dad, to her husband. I lost my foot in the same accident, it was very confrontational for them.” “That must have been awkward for them after a while.” “Yeah, so I kinda stopped visiting.”

Darren tries to comfort him. “You shouldn’t feel guilty though. And they shouldn’t make you feel guilty. It’s good that you got out alive.” “Yeah, it could’ve been me.” Janice takes the reigns in the conversation again. “I like what everyone’s been saying, you know, about loss. And you’re all right. There’s the kind of loss that you think you can never get back.” She says as she looks at Stewart. “And the kind of loss that you think you can never get back.” She continues as she looks at Dereck. “I have a suggestion. We conclude the meeting with just a minute of silence for everyone that everyone here has lost.” Darren agrees “It sounds appropriate.”

And so the First Methodist church falls silent. Until halfway through Darren breaks into sobbing. He is silently comforted by Janice. “Okay, okay, everybody that’s a minute. Let’s all thank Darren for opening up and I hope to see you all again in two weeks.”

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Early-Mid March 1993: Coping Part II

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[At the end of the next two weeks we will know a whole lot more about your characters. Almost everything. I want you to focus on the big passions in your life. Until now we focused on one passion. We should diversify. There’s always more than one thing going on in your life. At the end of the two weeks we know all about what drives you and what ties you to this existence.]
-Storyteller quote.

Darren gets home from the meeting. He spends the night watching TV with his wife, married with children is on. None of them are really paying attention though. Denice is reading a magazine, her husband is reading a flyer. It doesn’t really matter though for it’s an easy show to follow. The episode ends on a positive note, the family hugs each other on the couch. A one liner is flown around. “They look happy.” Darren remarks with the hint of a question in his voice. He wants children but his wife doesn’t necessarily. She is still weighing her options and even after all this years she considers it’s too much of a commitment. In the end the discussion that Darren hoped to start never takes place.

Stewart also spends his night in front of the tv albeit somewhat frustrated. In his frustration he drinks and through his drinking he decides to go outside. While on the street he sees none other than her. The woman he has been watching for weeks. They almost bump into each other. He apologizes quickly, she says not to worry and the woman goes on her way. Stewart affected by both her and the whiskey in his system decides to follow her at a safe distance. This works for a block or 3 until he sees her entering a supermarket. He is unsure of what to do or what to say to her. After ten minutes of agonizing about his decision Stewart says to himself “You’re hopeless. Get the fuck out of here.” And so he leaves. A smile appears on his face when he realises the big step forward he has made. At home he celebrates, drinks more and goes to bed later than he should. Satisfied and drunk.

The next day, for the first time in his year and a half of employment, he’s late at work. He still smells of last night’s celebration. His boss tells him to go home and return tomorrow. But the newness and the thrill of this situation also kind of excites him. While at home he looks at his dog, Buster, who has given him unconditional love over the past few years. Stewart feels good enough to take a walk with his dog in a location other than his own backyard. They are outside for almost 2 hours. He smiles and thinks he’s happy. When he gets home he’s satisfied, albeit a bit exhausted for he hasn’t really been exercising lately. In the end he smiles, pulls out a beer. “To you Buster, I love you man.”

Dereck goes out gambling on one of the following days. He sits at a table on someone’s porch playing games. He loses himself in the thrill of gamble, the excitement is what keeps him going. He isn’t interested in the outcome, he isn’t interested in what it costs him. Dereck gambles to weigh the chances, to pierce through his rival’s bluff and over bluffing them. This gives him a lot of satisfaction. He doesn’t care about the money. Still, today he wins quite a lot. While going home he ponders what to do with the money. It’s been a long, long time since he bought his wife a gift. He wants to salvage his relationship at home by buying her a necklace.

When he gets home he teasingly presents his wife with the wrapped package. When Sophia opens it and sees a golden necklace she notices that this has cost a lot of money. “Where did you get this? Did you steal it?” Sophia asks accusingly. “No, no, no! I bought it. I won and I just wanted to give you something.” Sophia loses her shit. For all these years Dereck has wasted so much money and this one time where he actually earned something he spends it on something useless. “We could’ve brought the car to the mechanic, or we could have paid for our children’s schools!” She berates him endlessly.

The next day Stewart shows up to work on time. When his boss asks him about what happened the previous day he simply replies with. “Oh you know, I was just celebrating. I had a great time with a beautiful woman and it got a bit late. I’m sorry and won’t do it again.” Even though Stewart knows that what he said was technically a lie, he feels better about himself for having said it out loud. For the rest of the day Stewart works as he always does, and as always, at night, after he gets home he stares outside of his window between 9 and 9:30.
While at work Darren catches wind of an ongoing discussion between co-workers. “Our president, a democrat. Within a month of being in office, he passed a bill that says that any employer.. Eh. Say, your wife gets pregnant. I know your wife doesn’t work but now it’s mandatory to give her paid leave. That’s a good policy and he did it within a month!” The other co workers get furious, they don’t have much love for the new president Clinton. “This is man is gonna bring it all down. He’s too young, he’s a self righteous prick and him preaching about family values.. I mean, do you remember what he said during his campaign? He wanted to make abortions legal, safe, and then with a wink he’d say; rare. No man, he’s already reverting laws passed down by Raegan and Bush. Laws that kept family values in place. Darren mixes with the winning side of the argument although the words maternity leave linger in the back of his head.

Dereck finds himself at his usual grocery store. He has to tell himself that this is the affordable one but he can’t deny that he’s surrounded by those who are well off. Mostly white folk who buy from the higher shelves while Dereck himself has to crouch down to the lower ones, supported by his prosthetic leg. He sees a child there, about Louis’ age, he sits there patiently while his mother goes about her errands. The child stares at him, when he looks down the aisle the child keeps staring at him, with the most bitter expression on his little face. The kid looks at Dereck as if he were a monster.

After a while the gambler tries to confront the child. He walks towards him slowly. “Hey kid.” With every step Dereck takes towards the child, the child in turn takes a step back towards the safety of his mother. By the time Dereck asks if the child wants to hear a story the little boy is behind his mother’s skirt. The mother confronts Dereck. “I’m sorry, why are telling stories to my child?” This leaves the man a bit flustered “Well, you know. He was staring at me and I thought to myself what this child needs is a good story.” “My child doesn’t need anything from you.” She swiftly replies while she puts her child in the shopping cart, scoffs with “Good day, sir.” As she rounds the corner.

Later that night Dereck visits the Ebenezer Baptist Church, which is important to the african american community due to it’s connection with Martin Luther King Jr. After the sermons Dereck tells what hat occurred earlier that day to one of the other attendees. This man holds a little more radical ideals, he takes Dereck to sit somewhere privately. The church goer explains that the white man will always try to keep them down, that the black folk need to claim their own place in society for the white man will never give it to them. Dereck finds these ideas extreme but has to agree with his new friend to some extent. The thought of opposing instead of condoning thrills him, though. The two exchange numbers and Dereck’s new friend invites him to a meeting of like minded individuals.

A couple of days later, while the TV is on in the background Stewart is looking at a rainy street. He can’t be sure if the subject of his recent obsession has passed by due to the downpour. The TV catches his attention when it shows a photo, for the girl on the photo looks a lot like his mysterious love. When he sits back down a CNN reporter talks about incidents now several years ago. “In 1984 President Ronald Raegan announced the teacher in space project. NASA wanted to find a quote/unquote ordinary person, a gifted teacher who could communicate with teachers while in orbit. Now. Approximately 17% of americans witnessed this launch live because of the president of payload specialists; Christa McAuliffe. Who would have been the first teacher in space.” The face simply speaks to Stewart. “The first teacher in space. Who doesn’t remember this day, january 28th in 1986 when the NASA space shuttle orbited Challenger, now seven years ago, broke apart seventy three seconds into it’s flight, leading to the death of it’s seven crew members. Which included five NASA astronauts and two payload specialists. As part of this special of the Challenger reports, we would like to repeat to you the footage of that fateful launch.” Stewart sips his beer as he watches the explosion TV. After the broadcast he notices that it’s been ten past ten and he probably won’t see his crush anymore. He can’t help himself when he goes outside on his porch in the rain. Looking left and right in hopes to catch a glance of her. When he gets back, defeated and soaked he sits back in front of the tv where specialists discuss the cause of the Challenger accident.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmAbcDud2L8&nohtml5=False

On that same rainy night Darren climbs the fence of of Casey’s Hill Cemetery. He needed to escape the monotone existence of his married life. He picks up his folding chair, he takes the half empty bottle. He once again visits the grave of Joey Gabreski.
Darren is not used to people entering the graveyard at night but he sees two people enter and strolling over to another gravestone. The father and child don’t suffer the same restraining orders as him. Darren doesn’t engage them, he takes a sip of his drink and looks at the framed photo of a frail, geeky kid.
The mechanic then starts something of which he knows can’t be a dialogue but still hopes to feel that way. “It’s been a while since I came here. Well, not since I came here but since we talked. You know, after the accident and how everything is going I just wanted to bring you up to speed on what’s going on down here. I’m still together with Denice, yes, 15 whole years. All though I must admit that the only thing we share is our history together.
Everyone in school knew you had a crush on her. Who knows, if you played your cards right, maybe, you might have given her more. But like I said, now all it is is now is history. There is no future in it. I wish there was. I wish we could build towards something. I wish we had something to look forward to. But she seems more disinterested with each passing day. So yeah, it sucks.”
He gathers himself when he watches the silhouette of father and child in the rainy distance.

Dereck places flowers on the wet grave. He holds his umbrella over Louis who is very unhappy with being dragged outside, at night to stand in the rain. “It was a bout of luck.” Dereck says to his son. “It was me or Aaron. Sometimes about what would’ve happened. If I could’ve pushed Aaron away, he would have lived. I would have layn here. Sometimes I think about what if his son never dayed and lived to be your age. You know, Louis we should be thankful. We should be thankful that we’re alive. We should be thankful that we made it. That we a is a family still stand together. And we as a family need to find a place, we need to fight for our place in this world. It’s not been easy. It won’t be easy. You know us as black people we’ve always been marginalized against. But we need to be strong, we need to stand together.”

[I think this is a nice moment for a conclusion. This one rainy night where everyone is staring at something. Stewart is staring across the street, Darren is staring across the graveyard and sees two figures. Dereck is talking to his son, we ought to be thankful, we ought to be strong. One last thing.. Is your son who silently mumbles. “Dad, we ought to be a lot of things.”]
-Storyteller quote.

Darren looks at the sight of this father and his son. He feels a slimmer of motivation and finishes his talk with Joey. “I’m sorry for how hard I’ve been for you, man. It was never my intent. I know I kept pushing you and pushing you. If I knew what you were about today I would never have done it. I’m sorry.” And with that he leaves for home.

The next day Stewart tries to dismiss the thought of the girl whom he missed so desperately the previous night. He heads out for groceries and the world defiantly presents her to him, walking down the aisles. He follows her and watches what she’s buying. Or more importantly for how many people she’s buying. It’s all very moderate and this gives Stewart the hope this woman might be single. He tries not to be too obvious as he stalks her down the supermarket.
At the fruit department she drops an apple and against better judgement Stewart races towards it to grab it for her as it rolls away. “Here you go ma’am.” He presents the apple to her with a sense of pride. “Hey, thanks! Didn’t I run into you the other day?” “Yeah, I guess we did. Well, here’s your apple.” Shyness overcomes him though and he quickly walks away after wishing her a nice day. The importance of the interaction doesn’t seem to register to the woman, whom Stewart watches going on with her life as if nothing has happened. Still, he goes home with a good feeling. He knows where she goes shopping after all and will make sure to bump into her again more often.

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Mid March 1993: Third Meeting

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Two weeks later with all that having happened there is another meeting. Everyone gathers at their chairs, a cup of coffee in hand. And before anyone has a chance to speak up Janice says she would like to share. “For the first time in over two years of organizing these meetings.. It’s been that long but I think it’s time for me to share too. You know, hearing everyone here, sharing as you do, It’s always done me a great deal of good. You really can’t imagine. This has inspired me to devote myself to the right things. The things worth doing and.. There’s something that I need you all to see.” Janice reaches into her purse, pulls out a small pistol. With a steady hand,a loud bang. The shot runs loudly through the church. The blood is everywhere, hanging about the room like a thin mist for a few heartbeats. The grisly sight of her shattered face is imprinted on everyone’s mind when she slumps off her chair.
There are screams, there’s wailing after, there’s cursing. Darren sits in his chair, frozen in shock. Fear takes over Stewart who scrambles to the door of the church, he immediately heads back home. Dereck is the one to take the initative “I”m gonna call the cops.” While Stanislav has already headed towards Janice, hands and shirt covered in blood. Knowing there is nothing he can do. He appears to relive more than one kind of trauma as he sits there.

Outside Dereck quickly finds a payphone. When he finally gets a 911 operator on the phone Dereck’s voice is broken. “Hello? This is Dereck we’re at the First Methodist Church. Someone just committed suicide. She.. She shot herself through the head. I think she’s already dead but.. But I’m not sure.” Squad cars get send, the phone call to the coroner is placed, the woman on the other end of the phone tries to keep Dereck calm. Before long everyone is back inside again, except for Stewart who’s nearly home. There’s one officer who sticks around after his colleagues realise that there is nothing to be done here until the coroner arrives. Nobody has anything to share tonight.

By the time they have Janice zipped up the police officer asks “Does anyone know her name?” Dereck speaks up “Janice, she always called herself.” “Sir, I need a last name or a date of birth.” “This is an anonymous support group, sir. We don’t know any last names.” The officer tries to think of a solution. “Alright, I get that. If nobody knows than can I get at least on contact information of one of you. You can keep it anonymous, I just need someone to contact. A full name and a phone number” It is Dereck who gives his information to the officer who accepts it gladly. “Al right, then we will contact you if there’s any updates. If anyone else wants to be involved..” He looks at the crowd. “Well, he will be contacted.”
Dereck proposes to meet again in two weeks but the officer reminds him that it would be proper to have a funeral before then. “I’ll be in touch.” The policeman says before he leaves the church.

Stanislav walks up to Dereck and pushes a paperslip with his phone number into the man’s hand. “I’ve known Janice for years, please contact me with anything. Anything you hear, call me. I’ll get answering machine just in case.” Stanislav leaves, hands and shirt still covered in blood.
The rest of the group relay their information and leave, all except for Darren who hasn’t moved since the shot. When Dereck nudges him the first thing Darren can do is mutter “I’m so sorry Joey.” after which he snaps out of his shock. In the end he leaves Dereck his phone number as well.

After witnessing death so close, Darren decides to choose life. When he gets home he sabotages their birth control and seeks comfort in the arms of his wife.

Eventually Dereck’s phone rings, he gets to greet the police officer from earlier. “Janice Dorothy, age 35, no known family. In her apartment the police found a note describing word for word, her exact intentions, including both the events at the support group meeting and the detailed description of how she ritually slaughtered her cat. It lastly quite explicitly mentions that she urges anyone who, and I quote, witnessed her death should, come to her funeral. One for which she had ascribed a date and left funds for in cash. So, it will be arranged for tomorrow and I’m counting on you to reach out to these other witnesses as per Janice’s intentions.” Dereck agrees and receives a date and time for the funeral. “Did you say she ritually slaughtered her cat?” “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. I shouldn’t have said anything.” “No, it’s allright. It’s just a bit hard to process. I’ll reach out to the rest.”

Dereck calls the other members of the What Comes After support group but can’t reach Stewart. Stewart however knows where Stanislav lives (they drank together one time and he had to bring himself home.) and decides to visit him two days after the incident.

When Stewart sits down in Stanislav’s appartment he comes to a shocking realisation when the old man informs him of what happened the day before in his thick accent. “Yes. They buried her yesterday.” “That’s kind of quick.. Shit.” “There was no family so state made expeditious arrangements.” It’s hard for Stewart to process “So it was just the group? Just us?” “Yes, no family.” “I’m so sorry I couldn’t be there. I was just too scared, too much of a chicken.”

“It’s understandable. Would you like drink?”
“Yes, anytime.”

At the ascribed day the members of the What Comes After support group, the priest and the police officer who was at the scene gather for Janice’s funeral. The officer expresses his condolences, which feels awkward because he was right there before. He goes on to point out the headstone exactly to the detail she had commissioned in her letter, which doesn’t do anything to make it better. And then everyone gathers around the casket which is already readied to be lowered. After a moment of silence the priest looks around and starts talking about grief in life. But then he stumbles a bit after he mentions family before remembering that none of Janice’s are here. He recovers by talking about regret in life, that those who remember her life would do justice, what little there is to be found in these events, by being mindful of mistakes.

Stanislav finishes the priest’s speech in his thick accent “…and also to be mindful of what you regret. Acting before it’s too late. Before your regret consumes you.”

The priest briefly looks around. “Does anyone have any words prepared?” Dereck steps up and takes out a paper from which he reads. “Well, Janice it came to us that you had no specific family other than us. So now it must come to us to speak at your funeral. I can say, I can confidently talk for all of us that we in our bi-weekly meetings. We managed to stay strong as a group, we managed to support each other. There was crying, there was a lot of cursing, there were fights even but all worked out well. All these meetings, they made us stronger. So thank you, Janice. For organizing these meetings.”

“And then the man, I should not say colored man but he is a colored man. He said nice words. He said we were strong because of Janice. And I agreed with him.” Stanislav tells Stewart who is slumped and uncertain. “But what now? No more meetings?” “No!” The immigrant says “No, we keep doing meetings. I will be there in two weeks time.” “I will be there.” He repeats determined. “Did you tell the others that you will still be going?” Stewart asks. This gives Stanislav pause. “I had not thought about it. It is habit.” “Tragedy or not. This must go on.” He declares, defiant of all that has happened. Stewart promises him that he will be there.

There is one thing about the funeral that Stanislav has not mentioned however. For he did not witness it. As the casket is lowered into the ground and in that long moment, Derick and Darren see something that none of the mourners do. For a brief moment the polished surface of Janice’s gravestone seems to fog up, with the imprint of someone’s hand and then it is as if a finger traces across it. Spelling three letters; S E E. Before the wind blows away any trace and the message evaporates. This image will haunt the two for the rest of their days.

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March 12-15 1993: Death

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[And now we head into the last story of two weeks. But I lied, this won’t be a story as before. Because during these weeks something happens. Something that shouldn’t have happened, something of which there wasn’t a chance of it ever happening. Something that every news station is talking about and something that will be remembered forever.
During these two weeks all your plans get pushed aside, because you get trapped in something that you didn’t expect, something which isn’t fair.
Something of which you are the victims.
Videocue. Right click to enter in new tab
] – Story teller quote

One of the last thing Dereck hears on the TV before the power goes out is that the reporter urges everyone to stay inside. He is trapped at home with his kids while Sophia is at work. The father does his best to comfort Stacey and Louis and due to their fears he manages to get close to them. For the first time in, who knows how long ,they feel supported by their father. Despite it all, in this moment Dereck is happy.
It’s getting really cold, his wife hasn’t returned, his neighbours must have long since left but Dereck doesn’t know where. About six hours ago the gas has also stopped working, somehow.The children keep saying how unhealthy their father looks.

For hours upon hours Dereck listens to his children worry.

Stewart is trapped at the grocery store. The electric doors got closed shut, the lights went out. There’s panicked screams, Stewart’s amongst them. He feels utterly alone in the busy store for the object of his desire is not among the people there.
The employees and most of the people have long since fled the supermarket somehow. But Stewart is too late. There’s a cold wind creeping in the store but there is nothing for him outside.

For hours upon hours Stewart sits by the window, surrounded by liquor bottles, hoping to see a light out there to show him the way.

Darren will not be able to tell why he was outside during the storm. Literally digging through the snow with no street lights to guide him. His world exists only of black snow and black skies. He can no longer feel his arms, or his legs. He doesn’t care for he knows that justice will soon be done.

For hours upon hours Darren swims, digs and trudges through the snow.

And after upon hours they realise that something has changed, none can say exactly when. Outside the storm gets more aggressive. It gets to the point where it’s not subsided but it has changed, they think they see screaming faces in the roiling clouds above, and they think they see rending claws reaching out from the gust of wind swept debris. Although everything has changed they remain trapped, they can’t move a muscle. Until they see their corpses lying a few feet away from them.

Dereck sees his children beating their fists on it.

Darren sees the snow slowly bury it.

Stewart sees it become one with the ice on the floor.

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