Disclaimers: None.  If you read it, you’ll understand why.

Thanks: To Phil and Mac for taking the time out of their busy lives to look this over last minute. I appreciate their diligence in making this a better read. You guys are amazing, and I’m glad to have you in my corner. :-)


Author’s Notes: Just a bit of something that occurred to me that I was able to fit into the Academy Halloween Special. It’s not my typical stuff, and there is no romance to be found here. Still, this is another one I’d love to sit down and make into a full length novel some day. :-)


Guilt’s Edge

By D


If you’re lucky, you’ve never heard of the place known as Guilt’s Edge. Even many who have heard of it believe it to be a myth... or their Italian grandmother’s kitchen. But Guilt’s Edge is a very real place - not quite hell, but truly miserable for all those that end up there.

Most that come to this place are truly worthy of the punishment that is being here. Those that have perpetuated the most heinous, grievous crimes upon their fellowman are guaranteed a trip here... even if it is only to ensure they will carry the weight of their guilt into the pits of hell for eternity.

Others wind up here of their own accord - people who committed atrocities unwittingly; who have done damage unknowingly; who have destroyed without intent. When they realize the damage they have wrought, they come to this place in an effort to absolve themselves from whatever sin they have performed. Some even try to make amends to those they feel they have victimized. This story belongs to one of those unfortunate souls.

The Story

The day had started much like any other October school day.  The sun was shining and added a bit of warmth to the air - not enough to be unpleasant, but just enough to keep the chill in the air from becoming downright cold.  The kids waiting at the bus stop were excitedly discussing the costumes they had planned for Halloween, while the parents that waited with them stood back and listened with indulgent smiles.  It only took seconds for those smiles to turn to expressions of horror and dismay.

They scrambled to get their children out of the way and to safety, but it was all over before most of them could take more than a step or two. And when the smoke cleared, the carnage was epic. Twelve dead - six children; four parents; one bus driver; and the driver of the vehicle that had crossed into the wrong lane, wreaking all the havoc that followed.

The entire community was shocked and distressed by what was being billed as the ‘Tragedy of the Decade’ in the media, and the funerals for most of the victims were enormous… especially the children.  There had been a set of Asian twins - a brother and sister - who had been set to graduate from elementary school the following spring; a little black girl with the cutest ringlets that had just started kindergarten; a young white boy in a wheelchair that was a little older than the rest, due to the difficulties he had with muscular dystrophy; a third-grade black boy who was already a standout in his peewee football league; and a fourth grade girl who never said a word to anyone.  By the time they were buried, the whole town knew them all as well or better than they did their own children, and everyone attended their funerals and cried with the knowledge that it could have so easily been their own.  And when they went home, they hugged their kids a little longer and held on a little tighter.

As for the parents that were killed - most of those funerals were attended by their families and the friends that knew them, though many strangers sent cards of condolence to the spouses and families they had left behind.  The bus driver’s funeral was private, but she was honored for her efforts that had kept the children already on the bus alive. Still, she had died with the knowledge that she hadn’t been good enough, or fast enough, to keep those six children safe from harm. It was that which brought her to Guilt’s Edge.

What she couldn’t know - what she had yet to discover - was that the driver of the semi-truck had been sent by the Devil specifically to ensure one of those children died. Satan didn’t need the interference that would come from allowing the child to grow up and into the talents and accomplishments that lay before them; therefore, he eliminated the possibility of that coming to fruition.

And so, when Okalani closed her eyes in death, her self-condemnation sent her directly to Guilt’s Edge.


She blinked her eyes open slowly, feeling the suffocating weight of her grief pressing her deeper into whatever place the afterlife had seen fit to send her.  She blinked again when she couldn’t see anything and realized it was pitch dark wherever she was.  She closed her eyes again in an attempt to get her bearings, but all she saw was the last few moments of her life, and she screamed at the loss she felt rip through her. This had been her first year as a bus driver, but all her kids loved “Miss Lani” as she was known to them, and she had loved them.

She watched again, as her minds’ eye replayed the pain and horror each child’s expression showed as they were broken and destroyed on the ground. She clenched her eyes tighter, but she could still hear the screams as though they continued experiencing the impact over and over again.

She thought of screaming again herself… or ripping her ears off… but she had the distinct sense that whatever this afterlife was, it would not allow her that sort of relief. So, she slowly sat up and opened her eyes, realizing the darkness wasn’t so all-encompassing anymore. She took a good look at her surroundings… and herself.

The lower part of her body was wet, and by the copper scent surrounding her, she guessed it was a blood puddle, and she struggled to pull herself out of it. With a lot of effort, she managed to move just enough to curl up beside it, and she closed her eyes as she gulped down deep breaths, trying to recover. When she finally felt her heart rate slow into something more reasonable, she opened her eyes again and continued to look around.

It looked like she was in the middle of a dead swamp - the trees were old and bent and barren of anything resembling life, if you didn’t count the spider webs woven into their branches. The birds… or what she assumed had been birds… were silent and skeletal, and their eyes glowed a freakishly purple-red. She was almost certain there were any number of creepy-crawlies observing her in return, but at the moment, none of them seemed interested in her as more than a curiosity.

She felt a shiver run over her spine and did her best to contain it, as it sent spikes of agony through her being. Then she took several deep breaths and shifted around to rest on her hands and knees, as she prepared to stand and take in her surroundings more fully. That was when she noticed the first changes within her own body.

Okalani had been a young woman of twenty-six when her life had ended so abruptly, and many would have considered her quite a beauty. Her hair was long, dark, and lustrous; her brown eyes bright and shining with laughter; her skin was tanned and unblemished and her smile was infectious. But what caught most people’s attention was the joy she found in life and the happiness she shared with others.

Now, however, her hair had fallen out in clumps, and what was left was grey and tangled and matted. Her brown eyes were milky and full of grief, and her skin was saggy… or falling away from her bones completely. Her mouth was twisted in a permanent grimace, and the sounds that issued forth from it were raspy and tortured, and she stood with a stoop to accommodate the weight of her sadness and guilt.

She looked around again, trying to decide if there was somewhere to go… somewhere other than this place of death and decay. Deciding she had little to lose no matter where she went, she picked a direction and slowly shuffled forward.


It could have been hours or days - it could have been years, for all she knew - before she finally found signs of others. She frowned as she looked around. The place she had reached was still much like the place she had left - full of the sights and scents of blood, death, and decay. The biggest difference here was that there were a number of other… she hesitated to call them people. Even she wasn’t really much of a person anymore. Still, there were other beings here, as well as a number of crude shelters, though the sight of them made her shiver in disgust.

The rest took little notice of her, and she moved to one side of the activity to watch what was going on, trying to figure out where she was and why. That bothered her the most - not that she had never heard of this place… wherever it was - but that she had no idea why she was here and not the fire and brimstone hell she’d been taught was one option for her afterlife. It was the punishment she felt she deserved.

She relived the last moments of her life over and again, eyes closed, and mouth twisted in a silent scream. Then she realized this must be hell… or some sort of hellish purgatory… and the weight of her guilt deepened the stoop of her back even further.

A voice like velvet chuckled lightly near her ear, and a hand rested on the bits of her leg that was once her knee. “Oh, honey… this isn’t hell, and it isn’t purgatory. Those places you can’t leave… not of your own volition, anyway. This here’s a place called Guilt’s Edge.”

Okalani’s brow furrowed as deeply as was possible, and she turned to look at the owner of the voice. She was surprised to find compassion and understanding, but mostly she was stunned by the brightness of familiarity in twinkling gray eyes. “I’ve never heard of…?”

The old woman sitting beside her smiled and shook her head.  “No, you wouldn’t have. Not too many know about this place, and those that do would rather not. It’s not a pleasant place to be.”

Okalani’s expression faltered, and she closed her eyes as those screams echoed around her brain again. She felt the comfort of the other woman clasping her hand, but it felt wrong to her, and she shook it off as she curled into herself. Instead of taking offense, the old woman simply sat by and waited for it to pass. Slowly, Okalani allowed herself to relax and fall into a restless sleep. Only then did the old woman allow her sadness to show, as a single tear rolled down her face. “Oh, Lani,” she whispered, then leaned back against the rickety tree nearby… and waited.


Okalani could still feel the heaviness of her burdens when she opened her eyes again, but she could also sense the comfort that radiated from the woman seated next to her. They weren’t touching, and the woman wasn’t even looking at her, but she exuded a sense of peace that spoke to Okalani in a way that nothing had in seemingly forever.  She waited until the horror of her dream dissolved, then she turned her head to face the old woman.  “Who are you… really? And what is this place?”

“You can call me Omi,” she replied with a soft smile, “and I’m here to help you get through Guilt’s Edge. What happens after that…?” She shrugged her shoulders.


Omi frowned. “Why what? Why am I here?”

Okalani nodded, even as she spoke. “Why would you want to help me? You have no idea….” She sucked in a deep breath to stave off the sobs she could feel gathering in her throat and chest.

“Oh, Lani… I do. I know exactly what happened… and why. When I realized you were stuck here, I volunteered to come help you find your way home.” Omi held up a hand and shook her head when Okalani opened her mouth to speak. “I’m not allowed to tell you why. Suffice it to say that I owed someone a favor, and I had my own reasons for allowing this to be the marker that got called in.”

Okalani studied her a moment, then nodded… just before she grabbed her head and shook it from side to side to try and rid herself of the screams and accusing glances that continued to roll through her mind with startling regularity. She felt Omi clasp her hands and pull them from her ears, but it took several more minutes before she could focus on the sound of Omi’s voice. When it finally broke through, she tilted her head and squinted, as though to help her make better sense of what was being said. She shook her head but didn’t try to remove it from Omi’s grasp. “Can you say that again, please?”

Omi smiled, and Okalani felt the pull in her own lips, though she didn’t allow it to form. The weight of her guilt was still much too heavy to permit such an action. Still, the comfort it brought her let her focus on Omi’s words. “The children don’t blame you… and neither do their parents. They know you did your best to keep them safe, just like you were trying to do for the kids already on your bus. And they know the real story of what happened, and why.”

Okalani simply stared at her, not sure what to think about Omi’s words. “What do you mean? I couldn’t protect them; that’s on me. They blame me for letting them die, and they should. I did.” She pulled out of Omi’s grasp and turned her back until she was facing the others in the ‘town’.

Omi watched in silence for a few minutes, then leaned back and started talking. “You should probably know right up front that you and almost everyone else that was killed that day were collateral damage to something bigger that was happening.” She saw Okalani jerk upright and stiffen at her words, and she looked down at the hands she had loosely clasped together in her lap and waited.

Finally, Okalani spoke, and for the first time, there was a hint of the fire she’d always held in her heart. “What do you mean… collateral damage?” almost angry.

Omi sighed. “Just what I said. Only one was supposed to die that day - one that was so important to the world that Satan sent a demon to make sure the child had no future… no tomorrow. It was a demon that drove that tractor trailer, and he was gunning for your bus… and those kids. There was literally no way for you to have avoided the crash… nor the aftermath that followed.”

Okalani turned to face Omi, and her eyes were almost black and clear in the rage she felt coursing through her veins. “But why?”

Omi shrugged and kept her eyes on her lap to keep the smile from her face. Okalani had been so distraught when she’d arrived in this place, that she’d had her doubt about being able to convince her of the truth. Her outburst, however, told Omi that the woman she had known was still buried in the shell of the woman she had become under the weight of her grief and guilt. For the first time since her arrival, she had hope.

“It’s as I said. There was one amongst the group of children at the bus stop that morning that Satan felt could not be permitted to live any longer.” She held up her hand. “I wasn’t told why or what was to become of them to make him tremble in his boots, but the fact is, someone scared him. The demon he sent was desperate - rumor has it that killing that child was his last chance to earn his place. He had already screwed up once before by allowing the child to be born at all.”

“You have got to be kidding me,” Okalani drawled.

Omi shook her head and made a motion over her heart. “Cross my heart and hope to….” She looked around. “Well, not here, but you know where I was going with it.”

Okalani snorted. “Yeah… I do.” Then she sobered. “I still should have been able to do… something.” Her shoulders sagged as her guilt settled across them once more.

“What? What could you have done?” Omi asked reasonably, waiting for Okalani to give her an answer. When none was forthcoming, she continued. “I want you to think back to that moment.”

Okalani glared at her. “Seriously?! That’s all I’ve been able to think about since I got here.”

Omi shook her head. “No, you’ve been reliving the screams and the terror you heard and felt after the truck hit you and the others. I want you to rewind to the moment you realized something was wrong - when you saw that truck headed directly towards you.” She waited until Okalani turned her now fierce gaze inward and focused on what had happened that day. “What do you see?”

Okalani concentrated, and after a moment, her mouth dropped open in horror. “He’s smiling! The driver of the truck was grinning like some sort of fanatical idiot!” She paused as the scene played out in slow motion, allowing her to see every single action and nuance that happened in the seconds leading up to the crash. She wondered why, when she clearly remembered everything moving so quickly when it happened, but it was something she didn’t question in this place. She figured it was another aspect of this world that was meant to torture her. Instead, it was offering clarity, and she was grateful for it. She continued to observe, watching as the driver - the demon - turned his head towards the children waiting to be picked up. She saw him deliberately swerve to run over them and watched as she made an effort to put herself and the front of the bus between the kids and the truck. Just before impact, she noticed the flick of his hand, pushing the bus back just enough to allow the truck to slide through and still manage to destroy the front of the bus and kill her. Her mouth hung open for several moments in total shock at what she’d seen, and when she turned to back to Omi, she wasn’t surprised to find a knowing expression on her face.

“I didn’t… I mean, it wasn’t… I did….” Okalani broke down into tears and Omi wrapped her arms around her and held on for all she was worth, whispering softly so that only Okalani could hear her.

“You didn’t kill those kids; it wasn’t your fault; you did everything you could and more than many would have tried.”

The longer Okalani cried, the better she felt. Her body began knitting itself back together - recovering her flesh; growing out her hair and returning it to its former glory; relaxing the muscles of her face; and flushing her eyes back to the deep, sparkling brown they had once been. Around her, Guilt’s Edge began to transform as well - blood puddles became ponds teeming with life; trees straightened and grew colorful leaves; birds were covered with feathers and began singing a song. Creepy-crawlies still existed, as spiders and snakes and bugs were part of nature, but they seemed less threatening now and more a part of the natural order of things. And at least she could see butterflies again, and that made Omi smile… just a little bit.

Okalani sat up again after a while and looked around in surprise at the changes that had been wrought while she had cried. Everything in front of her was fresh and new, and it made her smile in awe. She chanced a look at herself, and felt her mouth fall open in shock… again. She looked like she remembered - young and vibrant and beautiful. She turned to Omi.  “How…?”

Omi smiled gently. “You did this. Realizing the truth has made it possible for you to recover… to be who you were when you died. And it’s allowed you to open the portal so that you can go and see those kids for yourself.” She motioned ahead of them where six children stood waving wildly at her. Okalani waved back, her smile broad and bright. She started to stand but was held back by Omi’s light touch.  She tilted her head as an eyebrow rose in question. Omi’s smile turned sad.

“Remember, Lani… you must leave your guilt behind you, or you’ll wind up here again,” gesturing to the abomination and decay that stretched out behind them. “And the more often you come here, the harder it becomes to escape. You can feel sadness and grief over what happened; you can feel anger at what you lost… at what you all lost. But your guilt is unnecessary, because none of it was your fault. Lay your guilt here and let it stay. You deserve peace and happiness.” Now her gray eyes twinkled again. “And I know you’re curious to know what those kids have been up to since they arrived in their afterlife. I promise you’ll love it. Go on now… let go of your guilt and go be at peace.”

Okalani studied Omi for a long time. “We know each other, don’t we?” she finally ventured. Omi merely smiled and nodded her head once. “You’re not going to tell me how, are you?” watching an eyebrow cock and the smile turn into a smirk. Okalani looked down and linked their hands together before squeezing briefly. “All right. You keep your secret for now.” She brought her eyes up to meet Omi’s and grinned. “I’ll figure it out.” She leaned forward and brushed a kiss across the soft, wrinkled cheek. “Thank you, Omi. I don’t think I could have done this without you.”

Omi allowed her lips to caress Okalani’s smooth skin with the lightest touch, then gently urged her in the direction of the impatiently waiting children. “Go,” she commanded softly. “They’re waiting for you.”

Okalani squeezed the hand she held tightly for a long heartbeat, then she turned to move toward the children who greeted her with excitement and open arms. Omi watched until they disappeared beyond the boundary of Guilt’s Edge, then she spoke to the being that had materialized beside her the moment Okalani had turned her back and walked away.

“You did a good thing,” he said, watching as her shoulders slumped.

She nodded, but not enough to allow the tears in her eyes to roll down her face. “I know. But we’re even now.”

“We’re even,” he agreed, sliding from sight between one breath and the next. Omi never noticed. She simply walked away until she, too, disappeared into nothing. And Guilt’s Edge returned to its gory reality… waiting for its next inmate to stumble in.



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