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Sophie opens her eyes hesitantly. Brightness nearly blinds her. This place can’t be on earth. But it has to be. She doesn’t move. The last thing she can remember is a cliff. A shout. Yells. Wind rushing. Falling. Meeting the earth. Impact. A searing pain in her back. And then just dreadful nothingness.
A voice eats at the corner of her mind. You left. You’re not tied to the earth anymore. You’re gone. Dead.
Sophie screams, “I AM NOT DEAD!” The words hang in the air, as if caught by a cartoon bubble. She bends over, sobbing. How can she, at 14, be gone?
Without any warning, two figures materialize in front of her. On the left, a handsome prince clad in gold and silver stands, resplendent in the robes he has worn for more than three thousand years. Probably also to die in, Sophie thinks bitterly. On his right, a young woman leans against him, dressed in the attire of a servant, arm-in-arm with the prince. “What saddens you, young damsel?” the prince asks cheerily. Sophie cringes at the idea of a ‘damsel in distress,’ one of the words used over and over in her sister’s romance novels. A new wave of sadness hits her. She won’t see her sister again.
“Are you… dead?” she chokes out, her throat, swollen from crying. Immediately, the servant dematerializes, until nothing but a ripple in the air is left of her. The prince beckons Sophie over. “She gets very upset when she gets reminded of being dead,” he whispers. “We were killed trying to run away and marry. Sarah was only a maid, and I was a prince. We decided to find a small town and raise a family. When we were only slightly out of the kingdom, we were hit by a bolt of lightning, and died.” He lifts his trouser leg to reveal a burn wound, twisted and glassy, which makes Sophie wince. The prince continues, “You have one, too.” Sophie lifts her jeans leg, but sees nothing. “On your back,” he says. “It’s cut.”
“How do you know?” Sophie asks him, her mind still trying to adjust to her change in consciousness.
“You were here for three days, Sophie. We watched over you.”
This news shocks Sophie. “Three days?” She sobs even harder, doubled over and gasping. “How… how did I…”
“Die? I don’t know. The Chosen will.
“One who has been dead for a long time. The king.”
Sophie nods. “Okay, so where is he?”
“You don’t know where he is? Oh. I’m sorry. You just got here. Well if you’re dead--“
“She’s not dead, Linus.” Sarah smiles softly at Sophie. “See her eyes? They are living. She still has hope.”
“Sarah, you know… you’re right! It’s impossible, but…”
Sophie jumps up. “Let’s go! I want to go back!” She looks like a young girl on the morning of the first winter snow.
“Sophie… please. You may not be able to.” Sarah falls into step next to Sophie.
“But you said…” The girl looks devastated.
“But you may be able to!” Linus says. “Isn’t it amazing, Sarah? She’s a live one!” He hurries to catch up with them.
Sarah points to the right. “There. The palace. Here we are.” A nervous energy builds up in Sophie, throwing all other thoughts into the dark recesses of her mind. The fate of her life—no her death—depends on this meeting.
Sarah reaches the gates first. “Hello,” she says nervously, twisting a stray strand of hair around her index finger. “May we… enter, please?” The gatekeeper grunts.
“We have a living!” the prince exclaims exuberantly.
And the golden gates swing open.
The main hall is massive, with gold and silver décor, and mirrors coating the walls. Sophie wonders why everything in death sparkles.
The trio walks deeper into the hall, and Sophie is just speculating on how far down it will go, when they reach a turn, and on a throne, sits a young-looking man with black hair and mischievous eyes. The prince obviously knows him.
“Will!” he cries, running toward the throne. The man grins at him.
“I didn’t know you were chosen! Last I knew, you were down is Aquarius trying to get them interested in poetry.”
The man laughs and turns around. Sarah curtsies to him, lightly, and Sophie, realizing that she aught to acknowledge him, bows slightly.
“Now, Linus, why did you come?”
“We have a living.” He gestures to Sophie. “Her eyes, Sarah noticed they aren’t dead, like ours.”
“Yes, yes. When is your time Linus?”
“Two years, yes… I can’t wait!”
Sophie looks at Sarah questioningly, and Sarah whispers to her, “He will go back to the living world.” She suddenly goes stiff. The man is talking again.
“A living, yes, the eyes, I can see…”
“Her name is--“
“What is in a name? The man asks softly, “A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” And then Sophie knows who he is.
“William Shakespeare,” she murmurs. The man nods at her, and smiles.
“That is I! Now, do you know how you died?”
Sophie shakes her head, and the man pulls out a laptop. She can’t help smiling at the anachronistic image of such a historic figure using such new technology.
“Your last name.”
“City of last residence?”
Shakespeare squints at the screen.
“You fell off a cliff,” he says simply.
And suddenly, memories come rushing back.
I was standing, leaning on a metal bar. It was all that separated me from the hundred-foot drop below. But I had never been scared of heights.
A park ranger came over. She told me not to lean on the rail, it was broken. Mom asked if that wasn’t dangerous. The park ranger fiddled with her hat. When she couldn’t avoid answering any longer, she whispered, “yes.”
One word changed everything. I started, and heard a sharp crack. The bar snapped, and I plummeted over the side.
I could hear screams from onlookers, and the anguished cry of my mother. But I was calm. I didn’t understand, but I felt peaceful, like I did at the beach.
Suddenly, I hit the ground, and had a millisecond to wonder why I was still conscious, and I can’t remember anything after that.
“So, am I dead?” Sophie asks, impatiently, bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet.
Shakespeare taps one last key, and folds the screen down. After what seems like hours, he finally answers her.
Sophie stands on a large rise in the middle of a patch of trees. She feels very self-conscious, with Sarah, Linus, and Shakespeare (who has told her to call him Will) standing around the rise, chanting incomprehensible words into the sky. She stays still, fighting a horrible panicking desire to turn and run. But she stays put, knowing that they are doing all they can do to return her to the real world.
Radiating, a kind of
Able to be lost,
Falling, to the
The doctors call Sophie’s recovery the most amazing ever. In only days, she is home, with her parents, sister, and all the other relatives fussing over her, like she’s a porcelain doll, liable to break at any moment.
As soon as the hubbub around her dies down, she steps outside into the cool morning air, grass laced with dew, with a pen and pad of paper in her hand. Treading softly to alert no one of her presence, she walks down the sloping backyard, and sits against the smooth, old maple tree.
She writes a letter.
Dear Sarah, Thank you for I want
I miss you. You were the first to know I was living, and the one who I felt most wanted me to be where I belonged.
When you get returned, remember me. Visit me.
Thank you, Sarah.
And somehow, as a gust of wind wrenches the letter from her grasp and blows it into the air, teasing it around, somehow, she is sure Sarah will get it.