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I looked around but had the strange sensation that my head wasn’t moving.
There it was again—that voice. I’d been hearing that voice a long while and it had been getting louder, even though it was still only a whisper. It was odd to hear my name, because the last thing I remembered was screaming and blinding light.
I looked around—if you could call it that—because I didn’t see anything. What I saw was a soft grey something. It wasn’t light and it wasn’t darkness. I tried to shut my eyes but they didn’t seem to close, and I was beginning to get worried when I heard it again.
A soft echo. That was my name. I sat in silence and a sense of calm came over me. Then the voice:
“Why are you here?”
I found that I could speak. “Where is here?”
“Wherever you make it. But you still shouldn’t be, at least not yet.”
That wasn’t a helpful answer, but it was enough. “So…what happened? Why am I here?”
At first there was no response. “I don’t know,” it finally answered. “This has never happened to me before. But you came here because you died.”
It took me a minute before my voice was working properly. “I’m dead?”
“Well…yes. But I’m not sure you should be—like I said, this has never happened to me before.”
“It’s a first for me too.” I shook my head. Feeling was coming to me, but it felt sluggish, like I was in a dream. Like I was here, but had no control. “So…is this place, Heaven?”
“No. Not like Heaven. This…” the voice drifted away in thought. “In your words it’s Limbo, a sort of in-between.”
“Well…here, and There.”
“And you can’t tell me where there is, can you?”
“Well, no, because I’ve never been There. I’m stuck here, just like you, only this is my job—and you…well, frankly, this is simply unusual.”
I was surer than ever now that I was going crazy. “Can I go back?”
“To Life?” The voice paused again. “I don’t know. Have you tried?”
I didn’t answer, because honestly I’d never really thought about it.
I stood alone in the grayness and began to wonder how I’d gotten here in the first place. I couldn’t remember anything before here; it was if the slate of my life had been wiped black, clean.
I close my eyes and began desperately to think.
It was a long time or maybe just a second—it didn’t matter here—that I stood alone. And then I smelled something— the tangy salt smell of the sea. I opened my eyes and felt and saw the impossible.
I was at an isolated beach front, staring into the sun. Whether it was dawn or dusk I couldn’t tell. I smiled nonetheless, hugged my arms and took a deep breath. I looked down at my feet and wriggled my toes, burying them into the sand. I was wearing a pair of shorts and a light, comfortable long sleeve shirt—the shirt that had been my favorite for years, a relic from summer camp. My hair was down and oddly back to its natural brown—but best of all I was warm, and I could feel and sense everything around me. The sunlight, rising or setting, was brilliant and beautiful and I had never known such simple joy.
“Are you alone?”
I turned around to see the figure of a man standing behind me. He seemed only a few years older than me, and there was nothing remarkable about his appearance or his stature to make me worry.
The words left my mouth before I could think.
“I’m never alone.”
“Will you walk with me?”
I nodded and walked beside him in the sand—leaving only footprints in the light.
“How did you find this place?” the man asked curiously.
“Just stumbled across it, I guess. Do people come here often?”
“Yes, of all ages, of all kinds. But none like you have come here before.” He paused again, looking out across the sand in reflection. “I’ve never been on a beach,” he mused softly.
I glanced over at the water. “Is it dawn or sunset?”
He studied the horizon a moment and answered, “It’s too early to tell.”
He stopped and turned to look at me directly. “Now that you’ve come here, what are you going to do?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe see what’s around.”
“When do you plan on leaving?”
“When I can. How did you get here?”
“Who, me?” He looked down at the sand. “I’m always here. You could say I live nearby.”
I didn’t say anything but glanced at the horizon, thinking.
“So, hypothetically speaking, if I wanted to stay here a bit longer, where would I go?”
“You’d follow me away from the beach.” He looked sad as he said this, and then his expression cleared and became impartial. “Tell me, what’s back home for you?”
I paused, knowing he was asking for more than a location. “My mom and my brothers. I’m the only girl; all my brothers are younger than me. And my friends, and my dog Midnight.”
“What’s here to make you stay?”
I sighed and looked at the horizon, closing my eyes against the blinding rays of light. “Richard.” I opened my eyes, staring into the sand, burying my feet. “My stepfather’s a scumbag. And them. All those bastards at school who won’t leave me alone. They invited me to a party…” I stopped, trying to remember exactly why I was angry. “They killed me, they gave me something and they threw me over.” I turned angrily to him. “Why am I remembering now?”
“Keep going,” he answered quietly.
“It’s not my problem!” I screamed out, kicking up the sand. “My mom goes and marries Richard, who’s a scumbag! I saw him, I saw him take the jewelry from her box, I must’ve told her a million times! And the sick jerk’s denying the whole thing, telling her I need time to adjust and all this bull and then when she leaves—and he’s hit me so many times, I’ve got bruises everywhere. It’s not my problem, it’s not fair—I’ve got three brothers to take care of while Mom’s out with Richard and I’ve cleaned their cuts and covered their bruises and lied for them, and it’s no wonder that my life’s gone to Hell.” I dropped down to the sand, my hands balled up in fists. I pounded the sand and screamed into my knees. My head pounded and my eyes felt sore and raw and stung as I cried.
“I ran away,” I said softly, more to myself and to the place than to my companion. “I took the car and went to the lake. I met some people there. We partied; we drank. I fell…I don’t remember.”
I looked up at the man. “What should I do?”
He wasn’t listening to me; he was staring into the sun. “You’re tired,” he said, speaking in statements rather than questions. “You’re angry. You’re abused and you’re ready to move on.” He looked down at me. “You need to leave this place. You’re not ready yet.”
And with that he started to walk away.
I nearly called after him but stopped myself. I stood, stretched, and looked at the beach, from where we’d walked. That’s when I noticed something strange.
There were only one set of footprints in the sand.
I looked toward where I had seen the man walk off. He was gone, no footprints left behind him.
I closed my eyes and began to cry. I looked away from where he had disappeared and toward the sun.
I opened my eyes and looked down at the glistening water starting to brush against my toes.
“I’m never alone,” I whispered to myself. “And I’m ready to go home.”
The sun began to rise.