The Taylight Zone - Anthology Nine

21 - Welcome to Paradise - Gwen

He was not the first person, Zac Hanson told himself bitterly, to know the exact second and precise manner of his death. Times beyond number, condemned criminals had waited for their last dawn. Yet until the very end they could hope for a reprieve; human judges can show mercy. But when things were as neurotic as this, there was no turning back.

Zac knew he wanted it. He had been planning it for the last two and a half months. Ever since the concert in Philly where they had almost gotten crushed on their way out, he knew he couldn't take the madness anymore. He couldn't do anything. He couldn't go outside and play like a normal kid, he couldn't see his friends, he couldn't have a girlfriend. He couldn't even be alone for a while to sit and think. No, not without being accosted by a thousand screaming girls, all wanting a piece of him, Zac Hanson.

His fate was already chosen for him, sealed shut. That was why he was so desperate to find a way to change that fate. Anything would be better than this, he told himself over and over again. Even dying. If he died, then where would he be? In Heaven, the place for eternal happiness. He knew he would go there, and that was why he was so sure it was the right thing to do. In Heaven there would be no shrieking teenyboppers, no photographers constantly following him, and no more endless practice and rehearsal. Heaven would be his place for total and complete pacification, where he could simply sit and relax, where when he slept he could sleep serenely.

He had actually come up with the idea one night at a show, while he was sitting there at the drums, beating away. It had become so easy that when he did it, he didn't even have to really think about it. Once the song's name was said, something registered in his brain that made him know the rhythm automatically. Rhythm was simple. And then there was the singing. He didn't have to worry much about that, because for the most part it wasn't his job. Yeah, a few solo or add-in parts here and there, but basically, he was the tempo man. And tempo was easy. Consequently, he often dreamt or thought about different things while he was playing.

That night it was about suicide. He thought about the various ways it was done: with a gun, drowning, lethal injection, pills. But only crazy people killed themselves. To inflict that much pain upon oneself, by choice...? He had never thought very hard about it before. It had just been another one of those things that would pass right away in his head. But now when he thought about it, now when he looked over the audience of girls, and the lights around the dark coliseum, now it made sense. He wasn't happy. He knew that. But would Heaven be happy? Of course. Finally he had a reason to be thankful to his parents for forcing the Christian faith so hard on him all those years.

Sleeping pills were the first thing that came to mind. He didn't want to hurt himself, didn't even want to feel it. He just wanted it to happen and be done with for ever and eternity. Sleeping pills would be easy, clean, simple. Zac liked simple things because he didn't have to think about them much, obviously. Besides, pills were pretty.

And after that night he had decided on it. He would kill himself with sleeping pills. He knew they had some in stock for those late night road trips to foreign venues. Sometimes it was hard to fall asleep on bumpy and winding roads. And sleep they did need. It was vital, a necessity. So the pills were there, and he would take them. Too many of them. It would be a blissful sleep for ever and ever. Zac smiled when he thought about it.

It was dark out, pitch black. The kind of lightlessness where you were unable to see your hand in front of your face. It was time, Zac told himself. It was time to commit the unthinkable act.

He stood, shivering a bit, as he looked back down at the sunken white mattress on the hotel bed. Just lying in it made him think of death, and being six feet under a sodden earth, where no uncertainties or screams could penetrate. He touched the cotton blanket with his palm, and finally turned his flat hand into a fist as he clutched it harshly. Holding it tightly made him think about the craziness, and everything that had ever annoyed him to the point of dementia. He told himself to breath slowly, inhale, exhale, and he let go of the blanket.

Placing one foot in front of the other, he inaudibly crept out of the carpeted room, and onto the tiled floor of the bathroom. He turned a small nightlight on in the room, to make it dim. He stood in front of the mirror that was the medicine cabinet for a moment, staring into his own eyes and seeing the pain in them. He reached down and picked up a pair of small sewing scissors that were on the sink for one reason or another, and brought them up to his golden blond hair.

He cut and snipped at it for another half hour, until finally all that was left was a sink full of scattered shavings, yellow locks and strands overlapping and intertwining one another.

Zac breathed in as he fingered the familiar hair that reached only to his earlobes. He felt sentimental for a moment, released finally from the burden of the trademark hairstyle. And then he remembered his purpose, slowly opening the magnetic door of the medicine cabinet.

And there they were. Mann's full strength sleeping tablets, DO NOT EXCEED STATED QUANTITY OF ONE PILL PER SIX HOURS. Zac's smiled partly. It was just too goddamn easy. The child proof lid was off in one simple twist, and he emptied the bottle's entire content into his palm, the overflow falling to the floor. He brought the handful up to his lips, trembling uncontrollably, and then into his mouth, as he tasted the acute bitterness on his tongue. He turned the faucet on lightly and cupped his hands underneath, bringing the liquid into his mouth, and swallowing all that he could of the fatal pills.

And that was all there was. Zac flicked off the nightlight with his forefinger, and stepped back onto the plush carpet of the bedroom. He stumbled a bit as he paced to the queen-sized bed, and he laid himself back down next to Taylor. His eyelids fluttered a bit before they shut, and he was asleep in seconds.

As the floating sensation slowly melted away, Zac carefully opened his eyes. What he saw would have been normal, had he been alive. But he wasn't alive. He was dead. That was why what he saw startled him so much. Hundreds, more likely thousands of adolescent girls were yelling, their piercing shrieks drifting up and finally evaporating into the walls of this packed arena. Shouts of 'I love you,' and 'Hanson rules' could clearly be made out. Signs with pictures from magazines were held up, reading such things as 'Here's the Love,' or 'We're thinking of you.' Shirts, hats, posters, pins, books, keychains, stickers. And all for what? For him. This wasn't Heaven; this was earth, home, and his former hell.

"What?" he spoke aloud. His vision doubled and he realized that he was looking at this through a fence, or gate of some sort.

"Welcome, Zac."

Zac's eyes enlarged as he turned and looked at the white shrouded figure beside him. "Are... are you...?"

The image smiled, bearing sparking silver teeth. "No. I am the gatekeeper. Now, Zachary Walker Hanson, you have been a good child for your period on the real world. I know you must be very scared now, and terribly upset to have left your world... to have died. But like I said, you have been a virtuous, god fearing soul. That is why I'm going to make your early departure or death up to you. I am giving you, in a sense, everything you had before. You don't have to feel alone or scared. This is your Heaven, and I promise it will feel exactly the same as it did when you were on earth. The only difference is that you will not grow, or change, nor will the heaven change, ever. You will remain thirteen and famous, Zac Hanson, pop superstar phenomenon, forever. You will never be lonely, because you will always have an audience."

Zac felt his hands start to shake as he realized what this man was telling him. He had killed himself to get away from the madness, only to be brought back into it, harder, everlasting.

"But I don't want this!" he said weakly. "That's why-"

"Shh," the gatekeeper commanded. "I know you do want this, in your heart. This is Heaven, child, the place of eternal dreaming and fantasies coming to life. Now have your fame, Zachary! Have your kingdom come!"

Zac felt himself unable to speak as the gates slowly opened, revealing a red carpet for him, rolled out all the way to the stage where his brothers were waiting for him.

"Please, please..." he begged.

"Hush, child. Be merry. Welcome to paradise."