For the purposes of this story, the following observations and statements are true.

As humans it is necessary for us to question the world around us: Do we have a soul? Are we here for a reason? Is there life on other planets? Does God exist? Does Bigfoot exist? Etcetera, etcetera. Many of our questions will forever remain unanswered, though there will never be a shortage of people who will make it their life's work to naively attempt to answer them.

The most frequently sought answers relate to death, more specifically: Is there life after death? The answer to most of the questions we ask is no.

There is something that meets us after we expire. It is not Heaven, Hell, Jehovah nor Lucifer. The very idea that these things exist is as absurd and fanciful as the existence of Bigfoot, aliens or magic. There is no afterlife, no virgins; we will not become ghosts, angels or demons. The only solace we have in death is that we become one with a unified whole, a force that is not life—merely the absence of it. This is not to be confused with afterlife; The Whole is not conscious, not a being of intelligence. It does not live, It merely exists.

Good and evil do not exist. There are only good choices and bad choices. All I have said is fact.

Jenny Day stared at her computer screen. Lit up on the fourteen-inch TFT monitor was Microsoft Excel, and it was blank. Today was his anniversary, the most miserable day she could think of. She was twenty-five, in a job she neither liked nor loathed, and found that she was finding it increasingly difficult to leave her bed every morning. Her world was grey, the outlines of the people she saw blurred and sickly, meshing into the background like one of those magic-eye pictures.

She blinked, the light of the monitor leaving a blemish on her retinas. It was then she realised that Donna, her co-worker, was speaking.

"—wrong?"

"Hm?"

"I said, is something wrong? You don't look well."

Jenny sighed and rubbed her eyes, trying to ignore the square that floated in the darkness of her eyelids. She opened them and looked listlessly at her friend. "It's been a year. A year today."

"Oh God," Donna sighed, kneeling down next to her, "is there anything I can do?" Jenny merely shook her head.

"I wish there was, Donna. I'll be okay, though." Jenny had become terribly good at lying. Donna almost believed her, but one look into those aqua pools, no longer sparkling with love for life, betrayed their owners' true emotions.

"Are you sure?" Said Donna, giving Jenny a knowing look. Defiantly, Jenny met her eyes.

"I'm sure. It's getting better." She feigned. Donna would have argued, but she saw their boss approaching, and thought better of it.

She went back to her desk, leaving Jenny with: "we'll talk about this later."

Sighing, flicking through her papers, and trying not to attract her boss' attention, Jenny could think of nothing other than Eric, her lover. The very thought of him pained her in ways that only people who had been through similar circumstances could even begin to understand. But oh how she loved him! Nobody was more important than her Eric, the tall Adonis with mahogany hair and tree-bark eyes. She worshipped the ground he walked on and unfailingly defended him against her parents, who looked down on him as nothing more than a waste of space and time. He was an artist of great calibre, though he sold little of his work. Jenny was the worker, the breadwinner, and she took great pride in that and not once thought badly of Eric for not selling a lot or for not finding a better paid job. She loved his work, everything he did was a masterpiece to her, and Jenny thought that the art community were foolish and wrong for disliking the majority of Eric's work.

She was Sybil Vane, and he was her Dorian Gray.

The day went by painfully slowly, and thankfully Donna did not once ask her again about how she was. The drive home was as vague and grey as the day had been and without so much as taking note of the world around her Jenny made it home. Eric met her in the hallway.

Many pictures hung on the walls of this house, but this particular framed half-second of time was taken at Loch Ness, Scotland. Everything about it was perfect; from Eric's perfect looks—even caught unawares he was perfectly handsome—to the waning sunlight smothering the mountains behind him in a golden fire, giving him a halo becoming to his nature. She couldn't even find the strength to smile at her lover as she passed him and dragged herself to the living room, flinging herself onto the plush green sofa.

Her living room, constructed of dark wood and soft fabrics, was her favourite room, and it showed. The amount of care she took with everything was incredible, even in her depression she found quiet solace in cleaning the wooden floor and lacquered fireplace mantel; dusting the ornaments dotted around the room produced a similar effect in her, until she got to the half of the room where a couple of Eric's paintings and small ceramic figurines displayed themselves for the few visitors Jenny had. The paintings were of landscapes, styled in Eric's exuberant fashion. Bold, sharp strokes gave the impression that the world within the canvas was made up of varying hues of fire that seemed to lick at the frame encasing its beautiful fury. The models were of women, thin and fragile with the most minute details etched into them. Jenny's favourite was the one that laid on her side, propped up by one arm, and an exquisitely carved butterfly straddling her other hand. Cleaning these things saddened her greatly, but she would never get rid of them. They were the only gifts she had to remind her of her lost love.

Having finished her evening routine, and after changing into pyjama trousers and a baggy t-shirt, Jenny sat in her armchair—a wingback, the only piece of furniture Eric ever bought—switched on the television, which was perpetually stuck on the news channel. Not that she listened to anything they said. It was just noise, but it was comforting.

The telephone rang. Jenny hesitated, but picked it up just before it went to the answer machine. She tried to speak, say 'Hello', but could not find it in her. It felt like it had been so long since she had last said anything.

"Jenny?" It was Donna. Somehow that small fact brought the breath back to her chest, the words back to her tongue.

"Hi Donna," she half-blurted," how're things?"

"I should ask you. Do you want me to come over?" Again Jenny found it hard to say something. She managed a noise, one that not even she herself could figure the meaning of. Donna knew, however, and informed her friend that she would be over within the hour.

That hour, for Jenny, was agonising. She could do nothing but think of Eric, their five years together, and his death. They had met six years ago, by chance—such is the beginning of all romances worth telling of—at a library. There were none of the cliché's one would expect; their fingers did not touch as they both reached for the same book; there were no fleeting, flirtatious looks across a table as they both read their books. In fact they were not even in the same building when they first met. This sounds strange, I know, but it's true. A painting Eric had made of the local countryside hung on the wall on the first floor, where Jenny liked to go and study for her business degree. She fell in love with the artwork, and felt that she knew him just by seeing it. She surmised that only a passionate, fiery individual could create something so vivid and alive. She would soon learn that she was right; Eric would prove to be the most passionate person she'd ever known. A mutual friend, who worked there, introduced them when she learned of Jenny's interest in the picture.

It took a month of courtship before he decided that he loved her, but she had known her feelings from the beginning. They never argued, never got angry with each other; they were as perfectly matched as any couple could ever hope to be, everyone was envious of their joy, yet none wished them any harm. There is a curious charm in seeing two people as happy and in love as they were; it was easy to be envious, but impossible to be spiteful. Even the women who made sport of taking men from their wives or girlfriends could not find it in their hearts to tear them apart. They were perfect, and Jenny knew it, which made her love him all the more.

They tried for children many times over the years but with no success. It came to light that Eric was infertile, which devastated them both, Jenny more than Eric, who suggested adoption. She decided that she would rather not have children at all if she could not bear his.

As had been mentioned before, Eric did not sell much of his work; but what he did sell he sold for a handsome amount. This would have appeased Jenny's parents if it weren't for the fact that he spent that money on more art supplies and the occasional holiday for himself and Jenny. This meant that the money Jenny earned was all they had to live on, which wasn't a great deal, but she was good with money and managed to save enough so they could have certain luxuries. She didn't mind all that much, hardly at all in fact, but she did wish that she could go out as much as she'd wanted—her friends had such active social lives—but Jenny never complained, she had no cause to; she was happier than she'd ever been.

Finally, the doorbell rang.

Jenny woke from memories that hardly felt like her own anymore. She was so happy back then, and so wretchedly alone now. She had friends, Jenny knew that, but not even Donna, who had been her best friend since college, could comfort her now. She let Donna in and sat forlornly in her wingback, staring at the television without hearing whatever it was that it had to say. It felt like an age had passed before either of them said anything.

"How are you holding up…?" said Donna.

Jenny shrugged.

"I can't help if you don't say something."

"I know you want to help," sighed Jenny, dragging her eyes away from the television and laying them on her friend, "but there's nothing you can say or do that would make me feel better. Not today. I just can't stop thinking about him…"

"You can't spend every day of your life like this," Donna groaned. She loved Jenny dearly but hated the way she'd continuously moped through the past year of her life. Donna understood perfectly why Jenny was so depressed, but a year was a long time; even if Jenny didn't start dating again she could at least try to pull herself from her depression. It was beginning to look like she didn't want to pick herself up.

Donna remembered the first time she met Eric. It was at a four-year high school reunion and the instant she laid eyes on the couple she knew that Jenny was in love, and he completely infatuated. That man, whose honey-laced voice could win over the steeliest of battleaxes, followed Jenny around not like a faithful puppy but like a sailor, caught under the spell of a Siren's song. He charmed everyone he met, flashing his creamy teeth and bellowing his infectious laugh. He hardly spoke about himself, instead choosing to listen to everyone else's life stories. Everyone loved him, and Jenny had never grinned so much in her life.

Donna was instantly jealous. Not of Jenny though: of Eric. As she watched them swan around she felt a sadness well up inside her. She knew that Jenny would never see her in the way she wanted and she'd managed to come to terms with that, but what upset her the most was that she knew she'd never have the opportunity to make Jenny that happy. Sure, they'd always be friends and they would have happy times together…but Jenny would never look at her in the way she looked at Eric, would never hang on her arm and on every word she said.

She didn't hate Eric. In fact, she loved him as much as everyone else and it was this she hated, this that made her so angry with him and herself. She had to leave. It was bad enough that she had to watch the woman she loved being swept away by a man, but the fact that she actually liked him was too much for her. After that night she saw him almost as much as she saw Jenny, and it took a long time before she could see them together without welling over with hurt and anger.

Five years quickly passed, and Donna learned to hate Eric less and less every year, though she could never say that she didn't hate him. She always did, and thought she always would, until he died. Never before had hating someone made her feel so bad. He never really deserved to be hated. After all, all he did was make Jenny happy, and that was all Donna wanted.

It later came to light that Eric had been, for some time, suffering from terminal cancer. He hadn't told anyone, and Jenny only found out towards the end and she kept her word to him and did not tell another soul. He passed away in their home, in a room Jenny can no longer find the fortitude to enter, let alone sleep in.

She looked at Donna, her deep blue eyes misty with sadness and oncoming tears, and said "I can't help it, Donna. I love him so much…he's all I can bring myself to think about!" at this point her sorrow brimmed over, and she choked the sob of a heart weak with grief and hollow with loneliness. "Why didn't he tell me…"

"I don't know," sighed Donna as she leaned forward in her seat and placed a hand on her friend's knee, who sobbed into her own hands "he probably found out too late to do anything and didn't want to worry you. He didn't want you to grieve while he was still alive, and I don't think he would have wanted you to be like this for a whole year. I can understand your pain, I really can, but the only way you can stop it is by picking yourself up and putting your life back together. Don't you see that?"

"Of course I see that…" Jenny sniffed, wiping her eyes. She stared down at her t-shirt and started picking at an imaginary piece of fluff.

"Then why can't you do it? I hate to sound uncaring but you need to get over his death."

"I know…I try to, but it feels like a part of me…I don't know, like it won't let me get over it. I just can't do it."

Donna looked around the room. It's spotless, she noted, and with Eric's things displayed like some shrine it's no surprise she's still depressed. "You need to take all this down."

Jenny looked up, her damp eyes wide with horror. "What? No! I can't get rid of them!" She hurried over to the paintings and ornaments, as though to protect them from Donna. Reaching out to her favourite figurine, the one with the butterfly, she touched it lightly and sighed. "I won't get rid of them. Any of them."

"But all they do is remind you of Eric." Donna pleaded. "How about just putting them away until you get better?"

"No!" Jenny cried, spinning around.

"You won't get better with them there."

"So then I won't!" Her eyes welled up again and without a sob or a choke began to stream freely, her jaw, despite it's trembling, set in firm defiance. Donna relented, knowing she wouldn't be able to get through to her friend while she was in this state. The subject remained taboo for the rest of the evening and, with a glass of wine each, the two women sat, smothered in darkness and veiled in silence, and watched whatever films were on the movie channels. It was the usual rubbish, but it took Jenny's mind off things. Or did it? Donna didn't, couldn't, really know if it did or not but it seemed to have stopped the stem of tears.

It was eleven forty-five when Jenny decided to go to bed. It was halfway through some awful film when she said her goodbyes and left Donna alone with an empty bottle of wine. Despite the noise of the film Donna knew she heard a stifled sob.

It wasn't long before Donna herself decided to go upstairs.

She switched off the television, wincing at the ringing noise it let off. The whine got higher and higher—so shrill it was, in fact, that it hurt. Donna, frowning in pain, took the glasses into the kitchen, where the ringing stopped.

She switched everything off and went to bed.

Jenny slept in fits that night—every night, tossing and turning, her dreams disturbing and refusing to let the past slip from her mind. Every night she re-lived her five years with Eric, and the year she'd spent alone, and every morning she awoke in a wash of tears and sweat. If asked, she would have said that her dreams were only fifty percent of the reason why she could not forget him.

True to form she awoke drenched in sweat, her eyes red from tears and fatigue, but it was not morning. The night still had its claim over the world outside, the vague glow of streetlights coming through the blinds in long orange strips. The house, the street, the whole town it seemed, was silent. It was deafening. Jenny, now dredging herself from the pit of memories, remembered to breath. She sighed loudly, lamentably, just to make a noise that would end the maddening hush.

Downstairs was no better. In fact it was worse, darker than upstairs, since the lights from outside had no way to break in on the lower floor. She went straight to the kitchen, her bare feet padding on the hardwood floor.

Too bright, she thought as the florescent tube rained down its white fire upon the kitchen. Jenny kept her eyes shielded until she'd managed to pour a cup of tea. As she raised it to her lips her dreams—the past six years of her life—flashed through her head. She closed her eyes tightly as though to block out the images more than the light, sipped her tea, drowning in silence, and almost died of fright when she heard a dark rasp from the living room.

Tea splashed against the floor tiles, collecting in the grooves between, though she kept a firm grip on the cup, almost crushing it. Jenny stared at the door that led into the dark; her short, sharp breathing the only noise in the house, until the living room rasped again. It sounded like sandpaper against wood, tapering into what sounded like a harsh whisper and ending in a high-pitched whine.

Trembling, she put the cup down and went into the dark of the living room.

"Donna?" She managed to utter, and thought: if it's her, down here in the middle of the night, she must be moving Eric's things. How dare she! How dare her so-called friend try to take away the only things she had to remind her of Eric?

Angered, she stormed into the living room, only to be met with darkness and a cold unlike anything she'd felt before. Her breath hung in the air like a phantom, and she ventured to the middle of the empty room. Darkness enveloped her, clutching her to its hollow bosom. The silence got louder, its unrelenting mass weighing heavily upon her, pounding through her skull in a soundless bass.

If the air in her lungs had not been sucked out by the void in which she trembled she would have called out again, though even if she had it would have dampened her words and dragged them into freezing nothingness.

Then the last remaining sliver of light coming from the kitchen flickered and died, plunging Jenny into oblivion. She tried the lights, which sparked momentarily, but still the house remained dark, cold, silent and dead—until, for the second time, the room rasped and whined. A car passed, illuminating, for a split-second, a figure standing only twelve feet away from her. It felt like the room breathed, and within the exhalation, twisting with the mists and ethereal dust of time, was the word: "Jenny."

The girl's mind lurched. She leaned against the back of the armchair, trying to fathom whether or not what she had heard was real. The room breathed again and her knees buckled. She looked over at where she thought she saw the figure and even though she couldn't see it, it was there. She felt it watching her with its nebulous eyes. It rasped, the high-pitched ringing piercing the veils of space and darkness. Another car drove past, slowly this time, she saw the figure again and it was then she realised that the ringing was coming from it.

It was screaming.

Then the car moved on, leaving the spectre in darkness once more. The screaming stopped and it called out to her again: "Jenny. It's Eric."

Her own mind blazed at the voice. It was like fog, thick and cold, and it wasn't so much heard as it was felt; and it felt like a lump hammer endlessly banging a piece of lead. It didn't sound like Eric at all, yet the thing claimed to be her dead lover. She squinted into the darkness, trying to make out the figure.

It can't be him, she thought; "Eric's dead."

"Yes," the hammer thundered, "for one agonising year."

Jenny stared at the space where she felt the voice came from. "How…how do you know that? Who are you!?"

The space pulsed slowly. "Eric."

"Eric's dead!" cried Jenny, angry and upset. She opened her mouth to say something else.

"I should be!" thundered the voice. "I should be dead! But you," the voice now dripped with black venom, "you, Jenny…you won't let me go."

Jenny glared at the space. "Whoever the hell you are, however you're doing this, I want you out. Now."

Almost immediately the room was filled with the same high-pitched ringing from before. Jenny felt like she had a head full of shellshock, the room spinning wildly. Her knees buckled again and she fell to her knees, covering her ears.

It stopped. Another car went by and as Jenny looked up. Bathed in tungsten and standing over her was the figure. The light illuminated it for only a second, but in that second she was able to recognise that the figure was indeed a man, and that past the dead flesh and hollow eyes she saw the features and the face of the man she loved. Before her stood what appeared to be Eric's corpse.

She screamed. At least, in her own mind she screamed. What came out of her mouth was little more than a strained wheeze. Eric glared down at her as she fought with herself to flee—the one part of her wanting to see him again gradually subduing the other; the part that recognised the horror of the thing that stood before her screamed and thrashed and bit wildly in the back of her psyche while she just sat there and stared up at the phantasm that towered over her.

"E-Eric?" she finally managed.

"Yes," the lead boomed in her head, the monster's lips hard and unmoving. "It's me."

Jenny wanted nothing more than to throw her arms around him, to kiss him and laugh about how silly she was to be afraid, to take him upstairs and make passionate love to him and spend the rest of her life in his arms.

But he's dead, her subconscious reminded her; Eric's dead.

Her lips trembled as she whispered: "you're dead."

The voice remained silent, though she knew that if it spoke then it would have once again said: "I should be."

"He's dead and I'm mad…" Jenny could hardly bear the thought of Eric's death, but the mere taste of realisation concerning her own descent into madness was a crushing blow she could not buffer. She laughed. She cried. The tears flowed down to her once-perfect smile, now crooked from her crippled sanity.

"I've never left you, Jenny." Eric said, suddenly. "For a whole year I stayed with you because you could not let me go." Then his voice took on a shade of emotion. "Why?"

Jenny wiped away her tears, her manic laughing subsiding enough for her to talk. "Because I loved you so much! I still do! The thought of living without you makes me sick."

"You have to let me go," said Eric, as cold as before. Jenny slowly looked up at him.

"I've tried…I-I can't."

"You must!" The room almost shook with the force of his growl. Jenny shrank back. "You must move on. If you don't then I'll be forced to stay here."

"You…you won't leave me?"

"It's not what you think. I won't be at your side for all eternity; just stuck, neither here nor with The Whole, unable to rest." The emotion in his voice had returned, pained this time.

"The…whole?" Jenny asked tenderly, her fear and self-pity giving way for other emotions.

"Yes. The Whole is a non-entity, the very absence of life itself. What you have come to known as your 'spirit' joins with it when you die."

"Like heaven and hell?"

"No," said Eric, a certain tone of gravity in his voice, "there is no afterlife. No heaven, no hell; just The Whole. I have to go to it, Jenny. It calls me but my feet stay rooted here."

"Please," Jenny choked, her eyes welling up once again, "please…don't leave me."

"I cannot until you let me."

Jenny straightened her back and stared up at him, clenching her jaw in square defiance and said, "then I won't."

These three words caused a reaction within Eric that was nothing short of demonic. He screamed, the high-pitched ringing almost perforating Jenny's ears; the room, house, nay—the very earth itself shook with uncontrolled violence, yet it seemed as though nobody else felt it. Only she, with the closest connection to Eric, could hear and feel his rage.

"You will!" he roared, "You do not, cannot, understand the pain! My very existence is unnatural! Every second of my subsistence here is more torture than I can bear!" He quickly seemed to calm, though his eyes silently raged on. "How could you want that for me? How could you suffer a dead man to live?"

"I…I…" Jenny stammered. Suddenly, all malice and darkness left the room. Eric knelt down in front of her, now looking as she remembered him: young, handsome, and alive. He was to her an angel, his radiance lighting up the room. He smiled and touched her cheek. Jenny flinched, expecting ice, but was shocked when his warm flesh touched hers.

"Please, Jenny…" he whispered, "please."

Jenny stared into his eyes, her grief overwhelming. Everything flashed through her mind at once, from the time when her eyes first fell on that painting in the library to his final days lying in their bed. Now he was staring back at her, as real to her as ever, and he looked so healthy it seemed like his cancer had never happened. She had to let him go, to move on with her own life—like he said, it causes him nothing but pain…but she, she had been through some intolerable pains of her own in the course of the past year, did he not consider her agony?

Yes, of course he did, she thought. He always did. And now it's my turn to repay him.

But that would mean that he'd leave you, forever this time.

Eric smiled and touched her hand. "I'll always love you."

Jenny broke out into a heart-wrenching moan, her tears streaming down her face. Softly, soothingly, Eric stroked her hair. She fell against his chest and gave a cry of anguish, wrapping her arms around him as tightly as she could. He hugged her back, kissing her cheek and forehead. She mumbled into his chest, hiccupping between sobs. They stayed in their embrace for what felt like an age, until Jenny pulled away. Eric looked at her, his smile as beautiful as ever, and watched as she shook her head and choked, "I'm sorry."

Eric did not need to hear anything else. The fury which Jenny had been subjected to before was dwarfed as his healthy flesh peeled away to reveal the dead man beneath and he roared, not screamed, roared, a guttural and terrifyingly dark bellow that almost made Jenny physically sick from not only fright, but from the impact against her fragile human body. She tried to scream, but could not find the air within her body to do so. The roar turned to a scream so shrill that Jenny was sick, her head throbbing.

The world around her became a thick, viscous ocean of pain and confusion. She swam, every molecule in her body stung obscenely, and her head burned with a heat more intense than anything she'd imagined. Slowly, she grew numb to the pain, numb to everything around her; apart from Eric, who reached down and grabbed her by the throat, lifting her off the ground. He glared at her through dead eyes, and said, "If you won't let me go…then I will take you with me."

"You said," Jenny choked, "you said you loved me; you wouldn't hurt me if you did!"

Eric glared at her, aeons old fires burning into her eyes. He opened his mouth and venomously hissed the very thing she hoped never to hear:

"There are limits."

Jenny screamed, and her world turned white.

Bells rang and birds chattered against the lush green backdrop of Lanvale Cemetary. Only one group of people were congregated, dressed in black, around a single grave. The priest said his prayer and a minute of silence blanketed the group, silent save for Donna's incessant sobbing.

Slowly, starting with only a few drops, it began to rain. The droplets bounced off the umbrellas as they unfolded, and quickly the group split and parted. Donna, a friend's arm around her shoulders, stared at the grave, her eyes raw. It began to rain heavier, thunder rumbling in the distance.

If Donna had listened, really listened hard, she would have heard a quiet sobbing coming through the ether. If she had followed it, it would have taken her behind the ornate gravestone and before her, sitting on the wet grass, would have been the woman she loved, crying into her hands.

Jenny sobbed loudly and pathetically, leaning against her own headstone. She didn't cry because of what Eric did, that he killed her in order to end his own misery and pass on to The Whole. She cried because the of the pain that crushed her insides, the pain that Eric spoke of, the pain that he felt because of his anchorage to this world, was unlike anything she'd expected. It wasn't usual pain, it didn't just hurt; there was emotion. Every emotion imaginable was coursing through her. Imagine feeling everything there is to feel all at the same time, imagine not only the psychological damage it would cause but also having to live with these feelings, what it would be like. She knew she shouldn't exist, that, like Eric had said about himself, she was unnatural.

Jenny didn't exactly feel sick; it was more than that, it was like a sense of dread that continuously ate away at her mind. But then there was pain, pain that she knew when she was alive, but it was intensified a million-fold. It pumped through what used to be her veins and through it all she felt something else.

Donna. She could feel her pain too. The sorrow that Donna was going through gripped Jenny's heart and dragged her down, keeping her on earth. It took an immense effort for her to stand up, but she did, just in time to see Donna take one last look at the grave. For a second they caught each other's eyes, but the mourner dragged herself away, oblivious to Jenny's cries of agony.

The phantasm moaned, trying to stumble after her friend. The pain was growing at an exponential rate. She cried out and bunched her fists against her forehead; she had to stop the pain, and she knew exactly what it would take. She was willing to do anything to stop it. Another wave of searing, white-hot torture washed over her and, gripping her hair, she screamed.

Her voice got higher and higher, louder and louder, until it reached heights only just audible to humans; thunder rolled and she flickered before disappearing, leaving only a loud ringing in Donna's ears.