Not like this-
Stef screamed as her dungeon finished falling apart – when the last piece disappeared from beneath her feet, she fell into the darkness with it.
Not like this-
It felt like falling, but there was no wind ripping against her face. No change in pressure making her ears pop. Nothing except the sensation of falling, and the utter blackness crushing against her.
I don’t wanna die, please, please, I don’t want to-
Spyder, you’re still thinking.
She opened her eyes, and wondered if she had – there was nothing to see, except for her flailing limbs.
Suited limbs.
But if they’re…
She pulled in a flailing hand and pressed it to her chest – there was ripped fabric there, and beyond- She shivered at the skin beyond it – it was as cold as ice, and felt almost rubbery.
You’re dead, what did you expect?
‘Please…please, I don’t want to die…’
Bit too late for that, I think.
After a moment, the sensation of falling ceased, and she found herself sitting on…nothing.
‘I don’t want to die, but come on…stop fscking with me.’
A sliver of light appeared to her left. ‘Oh, fuck no.’ She pushed herself to her feet and fell a little more. There’s nowhere to run to Spyder. ‘Would you just shut up!’ she screamed as she backed away from the light. ‘I don’t believe in the tunnel. Angels wear suits and there’s no fluffy-cloud land! Leave me alone!’
Don’t ask for that. Alone is what we’ve been for…however long that was.
The sliver opened into a rectangular door and she felt tears slip down her cheeks. ‘Don’t I at least get a game of chess?’ she asked in a whisper as the dull light invaded the darkness surrounding her.
* * * * *
Ryan clamped his hand over the corpse’s mouth – there was nothing else he could do – screaming girls tended to attract attention, and Emma or not, he wasn’t ready to make the body public knowledge.
‘Are you going to let her come to me?’ Death asked.
‘I didn’t do this,’ he said as he desperately scanned the girl – despite the scream, there was no breath in her lungs, nor pulse in her veins. ‘I-‘
‘Well, she’s come to me.’
He stared at the shattered heart. ‘I failed.’
‘That, little angel, depends on your definition of failure.’ She turned to the corpse and raised a finger to her lips. ‘Shh…’ The corpse stopped screaming and he released his hand from its mouth. ‘Failure is only success when looked at from the wrong way.’
‘Pardon, my Lady?’
‘She’s come to me, Ryan – what are you going to do about it? Are you going to let her go?’
He sat on the end of the bed. ‘If she comes to you, if I don’t- She’ll be able to pass through the void, won’t she?’
‘Onto whatever comes after this existence, yes. If she wakes up, then no.’
He closed his eyes and he felt her cold hand wipe a tear away. ‘I have to let her go. I can’t take that responsibility. I can’t rob her of the chance to go the void.’ He shook his head. ‘I can’t turn another girl into a ghost.’ He shrugged off his jacket. ‘When I heard her scream, I thought that’s what she was. I give her to you, my Lady.’
* * * * *
‘I’m not coming!’ she screamed at the doorway. ‘If you want me, come claim me!’ She slapped her hands against her chest. ‘I’m lost property! I’m lost fucking property!’ She choked back a sob. ‘I’m just lost property, just let me go home.’
A red ball rolled past her.
She looked at the doorway, a small figured darkened it. Confused, she reached for the ball-
‘Redred!’ she squealed as she grabbed for the ball. Another was thrown at her, and she ran for the doorway-
She dropped the ball, and it bounced expectantly in front of her.
‘Game!’ the small figure yelled. ‘It’s game time!’
She picked up the ball again, and clutched it to her chest.
She stumbled toward the doorway. ‘Butbut…Lexandwa’s broke!’ she cried at the girl in gray. The girl grabbed her hand.
‘It dun matter. Now, throw!’
She slowly stood, and walked towards the doorway. The sense of malice was gone – and had likely only existed in her mind in the first place. She handed the ball to the small girl in the gray robe. ‘This is yours?’
The girl took it. ‘Ours!’ she squealed, and threw it into the room- No, it wasn’t a room. Heavy rain clouds swirled over head and a light breeze blew through the dead forest in front of them. The ball bounced against a felled log, then came rolling back towards them.
She stepped into the land, and the door into the darkness disappeared.
Solid feet on solid ground.
She crouched and ran a hand over the dusty gray ground. ‘I can feel it…’
The gray girl jumped onto her back. ‘Of course, silly!’
‘Who are you?’
‘The little one!’ she girl said as she grabbed her hair and shook it. ‘Pony ride!’
‘No…’ she mumbled and knelt. The little girl slid off and walked around in front of her, dropped to the ground and began to poke her knees with a small twig. ‘Where am I?’
The girl pointed around. ‘Here.’
‘No, where. Where am I?’
‘Guess that’s a step up from dead.’
The girl poked her again. ‘You are dead. Just waiting for sissy.’
* * * * *
Ryan looked up at Death after a moment. ‘I’m not trying to make the easy decision.’
She put a hand on his head. ‘I’d never accuse you of that.’
He straightened his back. ‘I’ll destroy the mirror. I’ll bury the body. Just another mess swept under the carpet. She’ll be as forgotten as Dajulveed.’
‘Do you want to at least say goodbye?’
‘If you’ll permit me.’
‘Of course.’
* * * * *
‘I’m not dead,’ Stef argued. ‘I’m thinking, I’m feeling, I’m making my shoes dirty. I’m not dead.’
The gray girl shook her head. ‘Until you go the void.’
‘Look, I only had my behind-the-scenes pass for a week. I don’t know all this stuff. Where’s the exit? Where’s the chess tournament?’
‘It dun work that way,’ the little girl said, tracing circles in the dust.
‘Then how does it work?’
‘You wait.’
‘I’m sick of waiting.’
* * * * *
Ryan closed his eyes and let himself fade away from the world – it was so strange to disappear from the world with no specific place in mind – some people had lost themselves doing this, it only worked when the knew you were coming, and were welcoming you into their realm.
The gray world of Limbo was the same as ever – nothing ever changed. Its guardian sat with his recruit, bouncing a small red ball.
He had barely taken two steps forward when his recruit turned to look at him. Her mouth worked for a minute, before she swallowed and smiled. ‘Hi,’ she said, tears glistening in her eyes.
There was a cold breeze behind him – signaling Death’s arrival. His recruit’s smile turned to fear, and she pushed herself to her feet, holding the red ball in front of her like a shield. ‘Don’t let her take me!’ she cried.
He looked around. ‘Where would she take you?’
She took a nervous step toward him – looking as though she was going to run at any moment. ‘You’re here to get me, right?’ she squeezed the ball. ‘I remember this place, this is where I was last time. Limbo means you can go either way, right?’
Limbo’s guardian stood and poked her in the leg with a stick. ‘I already said: you’re dead!’
‘Stop saying that!’ she screamed.
He smiled. ‘Recruit, do you know you’re yelling at one of the most powerful beings in the multiverse?’
She looked confused for a minute, then shook her head. ‘I don’t care! I’m not dead. I’m thinking, I’m feeling, fuck it, I’m even crying. I’m not dead! Dead people don’t feel anything! Dead people aren’t scared out of their minds! Dead people don’t just want to go home.’ She wiped the back of her hand across her face. ‘Take me home, please take me home, I just wanna go home.’
‘You came to say goodbye didn’t you?’ she asked, her tone accusatory. She sniffled for a moment. ‘Thanks for making this all the much harder on me.’
He turned to look at Death for a moment. ‘You would have hated yourself if you hadn’t come,’ she said in a voice he knew only he could hear. He looked at her, all of his thoughts hers to hear, if she chose and shook his head.
‘You had to come.’
‘You came to watch me die?’ Stef asked, looking around the small, gray world.
‘You’re already dead, Stef,’ he said, hating himself for the words. ‘That’s why you’re here.’
‘You brought me back before!’ she said, dropping the ball. ‘Just do it again.’
‘It’s not that simple.’
‘Yes, it is,’ she seethed. ‘Just point me to the door.’
‘So I can watch you become a ghost?! I don’t want that. I don’t want you to-‘
She ran.
* * * * *
Running doesn’t change anything, Spyder.
Stef ran – away from the little gray girl, away from the imposing form of the reaper, and away from the one man she’d thought she’d trusted.
The forest was the only place to go – there was nowhere else to hide in the flat world. She pushed her way past the identical dead trees, further and deeper into the leafless forest.
Go back there and face up to it. You’d accepted that you were dead. There isn’t anything anyone can do. But I- What you want doesn’t matter, haven’t you figured that out by now?
She stopped and leaned against one of the trees, too tired to go on. Slumping to the ground, she drew her knees up to her chest and buried her head.
* * * * *
‘I-‘ Ryan began.
‘How did you think she would react?’ Death asked as she walked over to her youngest sister. ‘Her thoughts were screaming. She’s been waiting for you to rescue her.’
He faltered for a moment. ‘It doesn’t change anything. I’m not-‘
‘I’m not the one you have to explain this to.’ She pointed to the forest. ‘Talk to her so that you can both rest in peace.’
‘Yes, my Lady.’
He walked into the forest and following her footsteps made her easy to find. He found her leaning against a tree, staring at her fingers.
‘It won’t matter if I run, will it?’ She asked spitefully. ‘You’ll just catch me. And the outcome will be the same.’
‘You can run, if it will make you feel better.’
‘You’ll just shoot me in the back.’
‘No weapons are allowed in Limbo.’
She wrapped her arms around her knees. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t let you shift me back. I’ll keep my room clean. I’ll keep my damn shoes clean. I’ll stop being a hacker. I’ve learned my lesson. I’ve learned my lesson. That’s what something like this is supposed to do, right? I’ll get domesticated and get a puppy. Anything. Everything. Just please-‘
‘You can’t rely on stories.’
She reached up and grabbed a handful of her shirt. ‘I’m here,’ she implored. ‘I’m right here. I’m thinking. I’m talking to you. Please-‘
He crouched in front of her and pressed hand to her face. ‘Stef, it doesn’t work like that.’
She leaned into his hand for a moment, then pushed it away. ‘Then how does it work? Tell me that, angel!’ she said, spitting the last word.
‘Your body is there, in the world. It’s been suspended for nearly a month-‘
She looked up at him. ‘That’s how long it’s been?’
He nodded. ‘But…where your heart should be, there’s a piece of mirror. The piece that killed you.’
‘I’d, er, kind of figured that part out.’ She bit her lip. ‘Heart transplant?’
‘It’s already acting as one.’
‘Then what’s the problem?!’
‘Everything you are is bound to that shard of mirror. If you wake up, you won’t be able to die.’
She gave him an incredulous look. ‘Dorian seems to manage that alright.’
‘You won’t be able to die…ceasing to exist is another matter.’
She groaned. ‘Simple words please.’
He sat in front of her. ‘When a human dies, they come to Death. She takes them to the void, and they pass on to whatever’s next.’
‘And what’s that?’
‘No one knows.’
She crinkled her face. ‘Yeah, right.’
‘Death herself is simply a gatekeeper, even she does not know what lies beyond the void.’
She shook her head. ‘So?’
‘If you…come back, you’ll be mortal.’
‘Yeah, and?’
‘I sold my soul on eBay!’ she screamed. ‘If fluffy-cloud land and pointy-fiery place were real, I’d be screwed. I don’t care what happens after life, I just want a life.’ She buried her head again. ‘Can we get past this and to the part where you pat me on the head, give me a cookie and take me home?’
He shook his head.
‘Why not? Why the hell not? I don’t care if I wake up looking like Astrin, I can turtle it down in the sewers, I always wanted to be Donatello anyway.’
‘The journey through Death’s realm isn’t easy. Even if you decide you want to…you may not make it. If that happens, you’ll be a ghost. An insane, trapped, half-life, tormented until the ending of everything.’
‘I don’t care.’
‘Stef, there’s-‘
‘I don’t care.’
‘You need-‘
‘I. Don’t. Care.’ she said for a third time. She pushed herself forward and knelt in front of him. ‘About any of it. I’ve never counted on there being an afterlife, so if I’m cheated of it, no biggy.’ She leaned forward and wrapped her arms around him. ‘Don’t leave me here. Please, Ryan, don’t leave me here.’
‘You seem to be wavering, Agent,’ Death said to him, and he knew that Stef couldn’t hear her. ‘But, you know, you can’t stop her from making the attempt. All you can do is dissuade her by telling her there’s nothing back there for her.’
He looked down at the crying girl in his arms, and returned the embrace. ‘Don’t leave me,’ she whispered over and over.
‘There’s the logical thing to do,’ he said to Death. ‘And there’s the right thing.’
‘And what about your headache?’
‘Sanctuary is always an option,’ he said.
He patted Stef on the back, and after a moment she stopped crying and looked up. ‘This is goodbye, isn’t it?’ she asked, clutching his vest.
‘No, it’s not,’ said as he helped her to stand. ‘Time to go home, Stef.’
Death stepped forward. ‘You know where to wait,’ she said to him. ‘I need her for a moment.’
‘Of course, my Lady.’
* * * * *
‘Ryan?’ Stef said as he retreated towards the clearing.
‘You’ve got no reason to be afraid of me,’ Death said as she took a step forward.
She instinctively retreated. ‘Show me an ankh or a curry and I’ll calm down a bit.’
Death smiled. ‘If you go now, you leave my jurisdiction.’
‘I know. Well, I don’t, but I sort of get it.’
‘You carry a piece of my father within you. Look after it.’
‘Um, sure?’
‘Are you ready?’
‘But Ryan’s-‘
‘You aren’t a child anymore,’ Death chided. ‘You have to do this on your own.’
‘Then sure,’ she said, puffing out her chest, projecting a bravado she didn’t feel.
Death put a bony hand to her forehead and a door into the blackness appeared to her left.
‘Through that?’ she asked sarcastically.
‘Just keep heading up.’
She took a deep breath and ran into the blackness.
Almost immediately it began to suck her down, but she fought against it, reaching up towards the faint light above her. She kicked her legs and felt steps beneath them. She stopped fighting for a moment and let her feet stabilise on them, then began to walk up.
‘Up,’ she repeated to herself. ‘Up…’
She looked down, and saw nothing, but flashes kept coming to her. The scent of warm, fresh cookies wafted up, and she almost turned, but shook her head and took another step up.
I’m tired again…
She let one of her feet slide from the stairs and let it swing through the darkness. She looked up and saw a shadow of herself just in front of her. She yawned and her other foot slipped from the stairs.
Get back on the stairs!
She lazily reached up, and kicked, but got no closer to the light.
This is the poppy field, if you sleep now, you’re doomed!
You’re such a killjoy.
I’m the one that keeps us alive. Now, keep walking. One minute won’t make a difference. One minute could mean everything, we’ve been dead for a month.
She took another begrudging step, but didn’t feel the staircase. She kicked her legs, and went a little closer to the light.
That’s it, there’s good stuff in that light. Stuff worth staying awake for.
The light faded a little.
Stay awake!
I can’t!
Then you are fucking useless, aren’t you? You weren’t worth the effort. No wonder everyone’s abandoned you.
Shut up!
Make me! Take another step!
The light got a little closer.
Your godsdamned angel is up there waiting for you. Come on, you can do better than this.
I’m just a hacker!
And I’m just a voice in your head, now shut up!
Little by little, the light got a closer.
Come on Spyder, just a little more.
A moment later, she reached out and touched it.
There was a flash, and she opened her eyes.
Her real eyes.