Thomas awoke to darkness. He knew his eyes were open and yet all he could see was black. He walked forwards, not really knowing where he was going or doing. Just placing one foot in front of the other. As he started walking he noticed a soft tiny amber glow in the distance like a small flickering candle. Since he could not see anything else of interest he walked towards it. He got closer and closer and he realised it was a small campfire. Behind the fire was an old black gate, intricate in design and somehow standing up on its own. Next to the fire were two wooden logs and on one sat an old man. The only clothes Thomas could define was a long dark green cloak which put the rest of the man into shadow. His head was worn and tired with a long grey beard but his eyes shone with a hidden sense of humour. He held in his right hand a large gnarled piece of wood; Thomas guessed this was used as a walking stick.
Thomas sat down on the other log and looked up at his new mysterious companion. No words were shared, but the old man seemed to know something that Thomas did not. Whilst the old man stared, Thomas wracked his brains for some clue and eventually he spoke,
“Am I dead?”
No response from the man, apart from a small grunt.
“Am I dead?”
“That depends,” the old man spoke in a shaky voice, “on whether or not you accept my proposal.”
“It all depends on whether you accept my proposal.”
“Right.” Thomas looked worried, “It’s just I remember being shot, quite badly. I was washing my clothes and then BAM! Dead, or at least I should be. So I was wondering could you explain?”
The old man laughed, “So many people above you would love this opportunity.”
“Huh?” Thomas looked up, something he had neglected to do before. He noticed a hoard of people racing for another black gate. He saw people of all ages, all races and all types just making their way through the gate. But no matter who they were they all shared something. A look of peace, as if their faces said “Finally it is over.” All looked tired but relieved. Thomas stared once again at the old man, and saw a smile creep across his face.
“So have you figured out where you are yet?”
“No, as I should be dead.”
“You are, and this is Netherworld.”
Thomas laughed, “So when am I going to see a young boy in green tights?”
The old man hit Thomas on the head, “That’s Neverland.”
“Ow, if I’m dead then that should not have hurt me.”
“You not exactly dead, nor are you exactly alive. You are in a state of flux.”
Thomas raised an eyebrow, “Shouldn’t I have passed on to the other side by now?”
The old man slowly got up, leaning on his staff, “If you’re that much in a hurry to see what’s next you can just walk through the gate.”
“Oh no, you have a deal for me.”
“You are not as stupid as you look.” The old man sat back down and got out, from under his cloak, an old dusty tome. “Let us cut to the chase. You were not supposed to die.”
“My boss knows exactly what everyone is going to do in their life. All their mistakes all their worries and all their triumphs. You were supposed to live a long and healthy life, and be fairly successful.”
Thomas’ eyes lit up with glee, “Doing what?”
“Never you mind. Anyway, somebody cuts off your life. Instead of dying at the ripe old age of ninety-two in your bed, you die in the university halls laundry room at the age of nineteen. Something or someone has messed with the universal time line.”
“So where do I come into this?”
“The boss cannot send anybody to search as his employees are not normal and would cause a widespread panic. So the boss is giving you a choice.”
“You can walk through that gate and find out what is on the other side or you can go back to Earth. We make it that you are still alive and you investigate for us.”
“Why do you need me to investigate?”
“It is very obvious why. If someone can do it once, they can do it again and again. Before you know it the other side has a huge influx and will not be able to cope. When people die they will just become empty walking souls. We cannot be having that now can we. I’ll give you some time to decide.”
Thomas stood up and walked around. He went over to the gate. It was an old metal gate, but huge. It was slightly bigger than Thomas and arch shaped. The metalwork was exquisite. It was patterned to be vines intertwining and moving in and out of each other. Occasionally a rose would appear. This would not look out of place as the entrance of a garden, yet in this space it was just intimidating. Thomas turned back towards the old man.
“If I did go through the gate, what would happen?”
“You would find out what’s on the other side.”
“Can’t you give me a hint?”
The old man looked as if he was thinking about it, “No.”
“That might influence your decision. Imagine if I told you that what lay beyond that gate was nothing. Emptiness. A black void. You would easily jump at going back to life. Similarly if I told you it was the perfect paradise that you could only dream of you would be racing through that gate. I cannot tell you what lies beyond. Besides which,” and at this point Thomas noticed a sadness run through the old man’s eyes, “I stay out here. Would you even believe me?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Listen Thomas, you must understand. It is not only for your sake we want you to return, this person could do it again. If you were able to find them then we will somehow repay you.”
Thomas sighed, “Go on then. I’ll return home.”
The old man jumped up and shook Thomas by the hand. “You do not realise how wonderful it is to hear that. Now I must warn you of something.”
“A dead man should not be walking the Earth. It creates strange phenomenon.”
“Well it’s only ever happened once before, and he was only there for a couple of weeks before coming back. We are not exactly sure about what it does.”
“Oh really? And you want me to go back when you have no idea what might happen.”
“That sums it up quite nicely.”
“Okay, what do I do?”
The old man grabbed his stick and bashed it on the floor. A white door sprung up out of nowhere and opened. Through it Thomas could see himself lying on a bed in a hospital, the doctors were rushing trying to save his life.
“On you go,” the old man said beckoning towards the door.
“Will it hurt?” Thomas said with a sudden sound of trepidation in his voice.
“Let’s see, you got shot in the chest. Yes it is going to hurt. A lot.”
“Thanks for that.”
“You’re welcome,” and using his stick, the old man pushed Thomas back through the door into his life.
by Dominic Spencer