Chapter 1: Annita
Bloody hell. My head hurts.
No wait, scratch that. It doesn’t just hurt –my skull feels as if it was the unfortunate victim of a frenzied stampede. Long story short, ow.
Where am I?
As I slowly, and painfully lift my head from the cold concrete the annoying sound of multiple car horns greets my throbbing ears. Judging from the heavy smell of exhaust fumes, I am probably close to home.
“I should get back,” I mutter to myself and try to get a bearing of my surroundings, in case the universe starts to make sense again. Apparently I’m sprawled all over the trash-filled sidewalk. Some figures resembling people pass me by, yet no one even bothers to acknowledge me. Am I in such a bad state that people don’t even want to look at me?
Carefully and slowly, I lift the rest of myself up, or at least attempt to, because the moment I try to take one step forwards, my legs give up in protest.
“Shi-!” I can see the floor approaching at an alarming degree, so I extend my hands in hopes of catching that rusted railing which is so tantalizingly close…
My hand passes right through the metal. Hello floor.
“Ow, damn it!” I exclaim, rubbing my bruised forehead, greatly perturbed by the fact that my hand suddenly decided to defy basic laws of physics. Did I hallucinate that? Am I on drugs?!
If this is hangover, it must have been one hell of a party.
I get up again, this time in a sitting position to avoid any other unnecessary surprises. After I am sure I am not going to fall or violate more natural laws, I start gingerly rubbing my head in hopes anything would make sense.
“Oh dear; you look awful,” an unknown voice says. I swiftly looked up to see the speaker.
Before me stands a strange man, dressed in a mixture of archaic, Victorian-style and more modern, fancy clothing. “Though I suppose every newcomer is shaken, considering,” the man adds, bringing his hand up to his chin in thought, using an ornately carved cane for support.
“What do you mean?” I ask, regarding him with a great deal of apprehension. “What’s going on?”
The man looks at me surprised, straightening his pose. “You haven’t figured it out yet?” He asks, slightly tilting his head in what could be described as amused confusion.
“Figured what out?” I ask again in frustration, a bit more forceful than I should be.
Yet the stranger doesn’t react to my hostile tone, once again casually reclining on his richly decorated cane. “Then, it seems I will be the bearer of bad news,” he says as he leans forward, his slightly tattered suit jacket parting just a bit, revealing a blood-soaked, torn-apart shirt.
Chapter 2 – Katherine
The words hit me as though two great boulders were plunging into the depths of my stomach, one after the other, and sinking deeper and deeper into a voidless pit.
“I hate to be the breaker of bad news, but you were just in the wrong place at the…”
DEAD…dead…dead…dead…dead…it echoes through my mind, a repetition which doesn’t fade away but remains; carried along with the currents of my heaving pulse.
I am glued to the ground. The tattered mans lips move at a slow pace, the sound distorted and mute. I try to focus on his mouth but instead I sink, like treacle down a bowl. What is left of the control of my physical senses feels pulled towards the sidewalk, and the colourful soup of my remains.
“HEY!” He interjects with a growl. I feel a sharp stab and suddenly I am clear.
“You’re welcome. You know, a guy I used to know, he once told me that a good friend will always stab you in the front; but I sure as heck use this damn cane way too often. You can’t just drift off like that on me, newbie.” He says as he gathers me up to a stand.
“It doesn’t look good on you, it doesn’t look good on me, it’s messing up the damn lacquer on my favourite cane and that’s the worst part of all!”
I turn to face him though my gaze drifts past his shoulder to the sidewalk. A skeletal pidgeon is picking away at the delicious morsels of my face it has joyously chanced upon.
“I feel…everything. This doesn’t make any sense. How can I feel pain, and touch, if I’m dead…? Nobody can see me, but I’m still here? I’m still here…”
A moment of quiet passes over me like a silent wave.
The pidgeon coos.
“Hey. Someone’s happy.” The stranger laughs in an exaggerated outburst which he cuts short as I face him with disgust.
“Look, eh, look here, friend. A guy I used to know, he once told me that the truth is rarely pure, and it’s never simple. You’re here, because you’re here. You’re dead, but not in the “traditional” sense of the word, if you follow.”
“I don’t follow.”
“Hmmm…urm…eh…how to explain…You and I are in the same shoes, so to speak. It’s just that I’ve been around, ah, well. A tad longer.”
I hear a brittle crunch as a hearty golden labrador is making off with my left ankle and disappears through the exhaust fumes of the traffic. A womans voice screeches after him. “Quentin! Put that down RIGHT NOW! Mummy is NOT happy! QUENTIN!”
Red brakelights are blinking like stars in the dusky toxic fog.
“The reason you’re feeling pain, and physical sensation; is because you’re keeping an attachment to the physical world, to your old body. You just can’t let it go, and so you’re stuck here. You’re pain is nothing but memory – a phantom limb. You need to learn to let go, friend.”
A loud screech sirens through the air and another one follows, climaxing in an almighty crash. My bony ankle, skirted with flesh and tendons, dances in a figure of eight as it is propelled upwards in a spin, to land gracefully into the raging fire of a car engine.
Together, we turn to face the carnage. A car alarm sounds through the silence and smoke.
“Well darn, this is a busy day.”
Chapter 3 – John (draft)
I can’t tell you much about how I felt at this point. My mind, whatever my mind even was in this strange half-life I found myself festering in, swam with endless inarticulate questions. Mortality, the great mocker of human self-importance, had flung me from its enveloping embrace and abandoned me in my undead form outside the looking glass to peer, with agonised longing, into what was once my hometown. All these blackened thoughts and more clawed into me when…. “Ow!”, my new spirited acquaintance slaps me with his cane “Listen Miss, I won’t tell you again! You’re spirit is weak right now, being recently dead and all that. If you keep zoning out too long you’ll be picked up by the landlord of Purgatory: he’s a bastard, and the mortgage on soul space there is ridiculous! Now, are you coming or what?”
I gathered myself together to reply “Uuuhhhh…”
Shaking his head the stranger replied “I’ll take that as a yes. You’ll have many questions. Walk with me, I’ll explain on the way,” He strode past me, his cape fluttering behind him as he went, “Come on!” I sombrely followed.
As I eventually caught up with the stranger he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a cigar. “Why would a spirit need to smoke?” I asked gingerly.
He shrugged his shoulders and replied as he lit up “Well, old habits die hard. And I must say I’m surprised that was the question you felt was most urgently needed asking first.”
I could barely even comprehend the fact that I had transcended to another spectrum of the mortal coil, let alone the fact that the first soul to greet me there was a smart-arse. I could feel my hands going sweaty and I ran them through dishevelled hair. “Look,” I began with my angry bewilderment rising “Just tell me what this is! I’m dead but not dead? Am I a ghost? Or, an angel or…”
The stranger raised his cane and pressed it to my lips. I noticed that during the course of our short walk the town with its streets and skyscrapers was gone, instead I was now looking at a misty plain, between the swirling fog I cold discern mountains far off, and when I looked down at the ground I saw we stood at the edge of a riverbank. “I get it, you have questions,” the stranger said “so shut up and let me answer them. First of all, let me introduce my esteemed self: I’m the New Ferryman.”
He extended a thin, clasping hand. I shook it, asking “New Ferryman?”
The Ferryman smiled cordially “That’s me.”
“Hang on, I thought the Ferryman was a barer of souls who’d been around forever. And you’re the new one?”
With a quick nod the Ferryman replied “As I said, that’s me. Three thousand years ago the great council of Asphodel saw fit to have me elected as a new replacement Ferryman.”
“What happened to the old one?” I asked.
“He drowned. Turns out all the silver coins in the world weren’t enough to get the arsehole to take swimming lessons.” I simply stood awkwardly by the edge of the riverbank, not knowing how to respond to this spectre’s black humour. “Look,” The Ferryman went on “Time’s a wasting. Get on the boat and try to relax. I vaguely remember how hard it is to accept that life out there on the mortal side is over, but it’ll get easier.” His voice had lost some of its sardonic tone here, and the faintest memory of human warmth had sounded from those cold blue lips. That was probably what made me able to step limply into that arched wooden longboat.
In truth I don’t know how much time passed over this first part of our journey. What I still felt as my limbs, though the actual body parts had probably long since become a forgotten supper for some regally named pup, tingled and my head felt light and beset by dizzy spells. The Ferryman’s talks came to me in bursts and he often felt very far-removed from me despite being only a few steps away. I looked into the water and it seemed so thick and clouded that I was sure the fog had crept under there to escape the overwhelming vastness of the land around us. Apart from the riverbank, every tree, field and mountain seemed impossibly grey and far away.
Finally I remembered what I had meant to ask the Ferryman, “So what is Asphodel?”
The Ferryman looked at me quizzically “You’ve never heard of it? It’s a dwelling place for spirits of the dead. Quite the metropolis these days in fact. What are they teaching the living in schools these days?!” By this point in time I was beginning to settle down; my hands were less clammy with sweat and I was not shivering violently from shock, only shivering mildly from the damn cold. “Is it always so bleak here?” I asked after a long silence.
He looked round with a deferential smile “I knew you’d be an inquisitive madam after the whole ‘Shit I’m dead!’ thing wore off. I a word: no. We at Asphodel constructed quite a nice haven out of those ruins. When faced with an eternity of memories, coldness and unanswered prayers to have life again, distractions are most welcome.” The Ferryman painted such a picture of the afterlife that I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to laugh or cry. Either reaction would have probably earned me a mocking. I remember that soon after this I heard a faint, but no less eery, low sound carrying on the wind – it made me think of wailing. I felt a sharp sense of dread. The Ferryman heard it too, for he slowed his rowing and only navigated with his left hand, while with his right he reached to his side and revealed a sheathed longsword. “Why do you have that?” I asked him. He faced me again, this time no humour greeted me, only a weary glint in the spirit’s eye. He replied “There are plenty of spirits and creatures on this side who resent the new souls and their passage to Asphodel. Now’s not the time to worry about whether your eyes are real or not – just keep them peeled.”
Chapter 4 – Paul
“Best not to worry yourself too much though, miss. You’re in safe hands with me.”
“So you were a sailor in your past life?”
“Not just any sailor. A captain, and the captain of the greatest, grandest, most glorious ship in the world at that!”
An awful feeling welled up in my gut. “It wasn’t the Titanic, by any chance?” I asked, half-joking.
“Oh, don’t be silly. That was only a century ago! I already told you how long I’ve been doing this. When I started out there were still a few mammoths hanging about. And besides, the ship I accidentally sank was much nicer than those bloody tin-can cruise ships you folks have now.”
Suddenly feeling a lot less secure about my chances of not drowning, I scanned the little boat for life jackets. Finding none, I was at least comforted by the knowledge that I couldn’t die twice. Probably.
An awful roar rumbled from within the thick forest at the riverbank. No familiar hint of green capped the branches in this ghoulish wood. Instead the trees stood in vivid shades of red, each leaf a crimson burst.
Movement from within the forest caught my eye- a pale man in rags dashed out into the shallows. He seemed to be trying to shout something to us, but neither me nor the boatman could hear a word. Eventually he gave up shouting and turned to face the trees again. He shook with a certain frantic, terrified energy, like a deserter contemplating the firing squad.
And then the thunder fell. From out of the shadows a huge scarlet tiger pounced, and within moments the pale man had been torn apart. I shouted in out in surprise, fear, awe, all of them all at once. Where the hell did the tiger come from? There had only been the trees moments ago. That monster had been lurking right before my eyes, and I hadn’t a clue.
Contented with its performance, the tiger sat on the bloodied riverbank, watching us go by in the boat. It was staring right at me, and even though I felt uneasy, I stared back. Something about those golden eyes fascinated me. They spoke of terrible fury, but seemed tired somehow. Sad, even.
The boatman spoke up. “Not to worry about him, miss! As I said, in safe hands!”
“Him? Have you seen this tiger before?”
“Of course! I don’t linger near him for long when he’s out hunting, though.”
“But what is he? He isn’t just a tiger, is he?”
“You’re a clever one! He certainly isn’t just a tiger, and you’ll do well to remember that around these parts.”
“Then what is he?”
“To put it simply, a big deal. One that can swim, too, which is why we should get out of here before he gets hungry again. The motor, miss. You’ll see it has another setting?”
I checked the worn old outboard motor and indeed there was. “Shall I set it to… ultra-turbo-pocalypse?”
“Yes yes, that’s the one! Best hold on to your eyeballs, dear.”
With just a hint of trepidation I flicked the switch, and after a tremendous bellow from the motor everything fucked off into oblivion in every direction simultaneously. I felt my entire body (corpse, I guess?) melt and swirl and explode and implode and warp and thousands of other things bodies should never do as the boat tore off into the void.
When the boat finally came to a halt I experienced the joy of having all my organs rocket back to their original positions without warning. (A hard task, given that I think my brain fell out through my nose at some point in the voyage, but it found its way back in, painfully.)
The boatman called out. “We have now arrived. Thank you for sailing with Styx cruises. We hope your death has been a pleasant one.”
I thanked him, even if I did still feel shaken and dazed from the ultra-turbo-whatever, but before I stepped onto the shore I had something to clear up.
“That tiger, aside from a being a big deal, what exactly is he?”
“That tiger is Molokh, god of our cosy little realm.”
“You heard me. He’s God. I know, I know, you probably expected the big man with the beard and robes. Well, it turns out that the true god is one worshipped thousands of years ago by some dead civilisation in Mesopotamia. Who would’ve known?”
He chuckled to himself. “You should have seen how some of the types I’ve gotten over the years have reacted to that piece of news. And to think, what a strange lot I’ve had here on my boat. Emperors, musicians, writers, soldiers, actors, scientists, doctors, gangsters, dictators, all sorts. You’re going meet a lot of them too, by the way. Think of your favourite dead people. They’re all here.”
And with that we parted ways. The boatman shook my hand, passed me a cute little ‘Styx Cruises’ business card and reminded me: “Don’t get on Molokh’s bad side, not unless you want to experience predator-prey relationships firsthand.”
As I watched his ferry hurry off into the gloom, it occurred to me for the first time that I was now going to have to confront my own mortality as best I could. For a while I sat alone on the sand, trying to find an excuse not to.
Some time later I rose to my feet, made my best attempt at courage, and strode towards the gates of Hell.
Chapter 5 – Ross
I could see the gates keeper long before I could see the gate. It shone in the darkness, brighter than any star though it did not hurt to look at it.
It was not male. It was not female. It was beauty.
It was no larger than myself, though I felt dwarfed by it, no larger than a child in the presence of a hurricane.
“Hello” It said in a voice I felt more then heard. Every syllable reverberated throughout my body from my head to my toes. If I still had bones the marrow in them would have shook. It danced a wild jig within my nervous system, holding my tongue. “Are we well met?”
“Can you speak?” It continued when I did not reply “Or are you a mute?”
“I can speak” I replied in a mouse like squeak.
“Good, then you can answer my question?” It responded seemingly pleased with my response. “Are we well met?”
“Yes Sir…or Ma’am, we are well met.”
It laughed a laugh that sent me to the ground.
After a moment that could have been centuries I gathered the courage to ask: “What are you?”
It seemed genuinely surprised by my ignorance.
“Is it not obvious, even to you? I am an Angel”
“What’s your name, angel?”
“Lucifer” It replied and I knew it to be the truth.
It stood aside to reveal a small door seemingly made from volcanic black glass, no higher than the waist. I reached out and touched cold to the touch.
“The Door” It stated “To the home of My Father. My Father’s house has many rooms, each according to their taste. Forgive me for the size of the door, but all beings great and small must enter My Father’s house on their knees. He does enjoy his little jokes does My Father”
Hands with terrible strength forced me to my hands and knees before the door.
“What’s inside?” I asked.
“What lies in the hearts of all of us. Darkness”
Chapter 6 – Heather
The tunnel was much like the hatch – polished black stone. Well, it was certainly polished; I could feel that at least. I say it was black but all I could see was black. The air was clammy and stale and hard to breathe. There was a definite bitter tang to the taste of it. I don’t know how long it took to crawl through the tunnel; only that when I did reach the end, my lungs were full of musk, my arms were shaking and the knees on my jeans were worn. How does spirit material even get worn?
The end of the tunnel was closed off by a dense curtain. I pawed pathetically in the dark until I found the edge. I drew it back, opening up the tunnel to – what looked like – the lobby of a hotel. I stood up on the marble floor, feet complaining about the sudden addition of weight.
The hall was beautiful and terrifying all at once. Intricate pillars spiralling up to a dark ceiling where real jewels glinted in place of stars. Torches flamed on the wall in a variety of colours. High, stained-glass windows dominated the walls, throwing coloured panels of light on the marble floor. A desk sat starkly in the centre, with one figure sitting there. I approached the desk – my footsteps clunked in the quiet hall. A small plaque on the desk said, ‘Reception’. I coughed slightly to announce myself but the woman did not look up but tapped a small sign with – wait, was that a quill? The sign read, “Please ring bell for attention.” So I did. And the woman looked up. She looked so much like Lucifer, and yet was nothing at all like the angel. Her skin shone in the same way and there was a clear similarity in the face. But her hair was so dark that it hid other shades of colour in it. The angel’s eyes had been pure light and yet the eyes in this face were a solid black. The badge on her black dress named the woman as Hecate.
“Welcome to Elysium. Can I take your name please?”
That was when I fainted.
When I opened my eyes my vision was blurred but I could see two figures – the dark woman and the angel – arguing.
“—terrified her. And then just left her lying there. I will take it up with father.”
“Fine, talk to father. It would be nice to see him actually do some work for a change. And you are hardly employee of the month, Lucy. You are about as useless as a fucking air hostess on a plane. The exits are here, here and here.” And the woman mockingly demonstrated the gesture. “Like anybody gives a fuck. I am the only one around this bloody place who does any work and do I get any recognition? I don’t remember that last time someone crawled through that door who actually knew who I was.”
“Are you quite finished, sister?” said Lucifer with the quiet indifference of someone who has heard the same argument many times, “Because I do believe that our latest guest has woken up.”
Chapter 7 – Nina
I opened my eyes and saw them both gazing down on me.
“Finally,” Hecate snapped and tossed her long hair. “One more minute talking to you Lucy and I’d be ready to tear my own eyes out.” I could see Lucifer roll his eyes and then he moved out of my line of sight.
‘I apologies for my sisters manners guest,’ I heard him say and Hecate glared.
‘Just go out in search of heaven will you,’ she growled then turned back to me. I tensed.
‘How are you feeling dear?’ Her voice suddenly concerned and she held out her hand. ‘Overwhelmed, I’d expect – sudden death will do that to a person.’ I took the hand and stood up, my legs still treacherously weak.
‘Now we better get down to business,’ she patted my hand affectionately and retreated behind her desk. ‘Lucy – be of use and fetch a drink.’ Within seconds he appeared next to me with a glass full of amber liquid. Refusing the glass seemed impolite and if a drink had ever been needed, it was now.
‘Thanks,’ I muttered and sipped the drink quietly while Hecate shuffled papers.
‘Well, I suppose the new ferryman was his normal pleasant self and that my brother gave you zero information?’ She stopped and looked up at me expectantly.
‘Um,’ I mumbled, aware of Lucifer standing right behind me. ‘Not much, no,’ I finally said when she started to look impatient.
‘Of course, then let’s begin again. Welcome to Elysium.’ She flashed a brief, show hostess–like smile than turned back to her ledger. ‘We are one of the biggest providers of accommodation here –well, the only one to be perfectly honest – and we provide all the necessities required for your new start in the Afterlife. We provide rooms for all levels, single, double, suites, conference rooms, dining hall,’ the woman rattled off a long list of offers that I could not follow.
‘Including,’ she finished, ‘a fully-equipped gym and a Spa – but I’m afraid you have to be a gold member to access that”. She looked down at my worn jeans and stained t-shirt.
‘I’m not a gold member?” I asked stupidly and she tilted her head slightly.
‘No dear, but you might scrape the bronze level – if you smarten up a little.’
“So if I wasn’t covered in blood I might be bumped up?” Hecate laughed.
“It doesn’t really work like that dear, upper levels are for more…well, exuberant guests. More…flashy deaths if you like – diseases and executions mostly. Not mere hit and runs.”
“My death wasn’t flashy enough?”
“I’m afraid not dear.”
”I was hit by a car?” I added as this detail finally sank in.
“That’s what it says here.” She tapped the papers with the quill. I sipped the drink again and felt my lips tingle. I could not remember my death, not really, but something nagged at me. A ‘hit-and-run’ did not feel right.
“Oh, no” Hecate said with a frown. “You’re not about to snap are you? Cry and scream that you can’t really be dead?” I shook my head and she relaxed.
“Alright then. You will need a room of course, so let’s get you settled. Can I take your name please?” She raised the quill over thick ledger and waited. I downed the last of the drink and watched the glass melt into smoke.
“Abby,” I said through numb lips. “Abby Jones.”
Chapter 8 – Robin
Hecate wrote down the name in an effortless flick of her wrist, without looking at the page – but I did look. Something drew my eyes to the two little words, written in old-fashioned glossy black ink. When she shut the ledger with a heavy, final-sounding thud, I had a sense that I had also been shut inside something for good.
‘Your keys,’ she said brusquely and fished them out from somewhere behind the desk. They were old dark bronze, ornate and unnecessarily large. I’d guessed that they probably would be. For all its strangeness this place had its patterns, and I was beginning to spot them. Perhaps it was the drink I’d been given. It had tasted of rich spices and fruits that I couldn’t name, it had felt cold in my mouth and hot in my stomach, and now it had set my brain crackling with thought. One thought was that if an empty glass of it could vanish into thin air, surely another full glass could appear. Another was that it probably would, if you were a gold member.
I took the keys, took note of the number on them, and stuffed them into a pocket of my jeans, where they sat heavily and comfortably.
‘I can find my way,’ I said. I didn’t know if I could (especially since the room number was 794⅓) but I was fed up of being talked down to. That had happened often enough when I was alive. And in all the huge, yawning, gothically-decorated space, there was clearly only one way to go: this was after all an entrance hall, and the long rows of stained glass led to another doorway at the far end. Anyway, it wasn’t as though I could too far lost. I had a strong impression that I wouldn’t be allowed to leave.
So I set off, refusing to look behind me for a reaction. The hall had seemed overwhelmingly long when I came into it from the dark, cramped, tunnel, but it passed by quickly enough – as if some trick of other-wordly design made it seem longer and more overwhelming that it truly was, or maybe I was just walking fast because I was angry, confused, and annoyed. When this thought came to me I slowed down a bit, and took time to glance at the stained glass. It showed people in the middle of their dramatic deaths, all with the same expression: the artist must have been going for ‘calm, saintly, accepting of cruel fate’, and had ended up with ‘just got out of bed, unsure what’s happening’. Doubtless gold member material. Oh, were you guillotined?, I thought, surprised at my own spite. Big deal. Anybody can get guillotined, that was the whole point. Rather like being run over by a car. Run over by a car…
But I had no time for my strange misgivings about that idea. I’d reached the door, and big and dark as it naturally was, I gave it a push and it came aside quite easily.
I found myself at the bottom of a huge shaft. It was like one of those old buildings where the walls are lined with holes for pigeons, but each hole was human sized, and the whole place was full of the noise of countless lifts going up and down on rattling and groaning chains.
Chapter 9 – Hayley
As I edged ever closer noise of chains became so loud and grating in my ears that it tingled through my teeth, I felt like a mouse that had inadvertently gnawed through some electrical wire. I gazed up through the cylindrical chasm in awe of the sheer multitude of pigeon-holes. The place was only very dimly lit by a few sporadic flickering torches, so although the holes appeared no more than thousands of vacant eyes staring out at me it didn’t take a genius the figure out that each one held a sole body. I hadn’t expected the accommodation in the afterlife to be so neatly regimented. Where were the wailing lost souls, the demons with pitchforks, the lakes of fire? I snorted, half-bemused, half-disappointed. I supposed I had anticipated eternal damnation to be a little bit more…. interesting.
I drew my gaze back downward and from across the room could se countless other confused individuals emerging from tunnels like my own. Some shook with trepidation, some sobbed with despair, the majority however (mostly the old, unscathed looking ones) simply looked bored. In the middle of the room next to a towering onyx monolith stood a figure, no bigger than a child, swathed entirely in moth-eaten black rags. The figure’s ragged hair curled down below its waist hiding its features. Distinguishing a gender would have been an impossibility, although I doubt the figure had one. I watched as a thin red-haired woman emerged from the tunnel directly across from me. She had her arms folded tightly across her chest. She couldn’t have been older than 30 and she looked thoroughly unprepared to face her fate. The figure in the centre of the room extended a pointed skinless arm toward her. The red-head blubbed a few sudden tears, but recognising she was utterly beyond help begrudgingly dragged herself towards the ornate black pillar. The figure snatched the key greedily from the red-head and twisted it in to one of the strange hieroglyphics on the pillar. A flat board abruptly dropped from the ceiling on tangled rusted chains. After some prodding and coaxing the now sobbing red-head reluctantly lay flat on the board. The figure carelessly twisted the key and the red-head shot upward toward where the light evaded the last visible torches and all that lay above was darkness.
“No way in hell.” I muttered. I may be dead but that wasn’t going to stop me being afraid of heights.
But before I could even contemplate looking for the stairs I felt a sudden grip on my right shoulder.
“Wrong way.” resounded the bizarrely upbeat voice.
“Excuse me?” I spun round and was confronted by the sight of a girl no older than myself. Everything about this girl was immaculate her smooth porcelain white skin, her crisp powder blue dress, not even one single strand of hair escaped her neatly bunned hair- shame about the huge gaping hole in her forehead. I opened and closed my mouth a few times as if to say something but only air escaped. I’m gawping, I know I am. I started to trawl my brain for an acceptable opening statement- ask her name, tell her mine, ask what she meant by… My god, I think I can see the wall behind her through it.
“Oh. Right.” She giggled lightly pointing directly at her cycloptic wound. “You know I forget sometimes. I remember when I first came Mack said to me, he said ‘One day you’ll just get so used to it that you’ll just forget its there.’ And I thought; that’s ridiculous how I could forget that there’s a big hole in my face. But y’know he’s right, two years here and I don’t even notice it anymore. Sorry, sorry…” she interrupted herself, all the while I stood transfixed by this young girl’s hauntingly beautiful visage. “Where are my manners? I’m Felicity, Felicity Raye.”
Her name rang worryingly familiar in my ears. Taking her friendly, almost comforting hand I replied simply, “Abby Jones.”
“Sorry if I was babbling on a bit,” she beamed excitedly “I’ve just never got to do a welcome wagon before.”
“Welcome wagon?” I said raising my eyebrows at her.
“Yeah, well you see all the regular deaths just get sorted in to the Stalls. The gatekeeper takes care of that.” I glanced briefly over my shoulder. “Us Silvers though, we’re in the Upper Circle. Our rooms are much more… spacious, so we get to welcome our own roommates.” She elbowed me playfully. “Of course, it’s not as ritzy as the penthouses that are up in the Gods. Those are for the Golds only.”
Felicity’s sunny disposition was only broken by her momentary disdain at the term “Golds”. I suddenly felt a wicked affinity with this girl.
“C’mon. This way. We’ll have to use the main elevator to get to our room.” Felicity clasped my hand and pulled me, almost skipping, back down the corridor.
“There must be some mistake.” My voice echoed through the catacombs as I attempted to keep up with Felicity’s quick footsteps. “Hecate said I’d be lucky if I made bronze.”
“A right sour-puss she is,” Felicity chuckled. “Fortunately she doesn’t make the rules, she just works here.”
“Who makes the rules then?” I enquired futilely, but Felicity merely rolled her eyes at me.
“Besides,” she added “Murders are always Silvers. Everyone knows that.”
“What.” I froze still, wrenching my hand from Felicity’s.
“Come on now,” she said resolutely calmly. “How do you think I got here?”
Felicity Raye. I knew why I recognised the name. Two years ago her name had been inescapable. It had been spoken by every reporter, echoed through every radio and plastered over every newspaper in the city. Felicity Ray. The tragic nursing student whose boyfriend had shot her point-blank in the head. Of course I’d never seen this Felicity before. Only pictures of the bloated purple corpse that they’d dredged up from the canal several weeks later.
“Murder…” I shook my head violently. I was vaguely aware of Felicity’s light hands on my shoulders and the faint tinkling of distant chains.
“No. No. It couldn’t have been….”
Chapter 10: Alyssa
“No. No. It couldn’t have been…”
“Couldn’t have been what, dear?” Felicity asked me as she guided me down the dark hallway.
“I…I don’t understand. I wasn’t murdered, was I?”
Felicity let me go. She sort-of floated to face me, and hesitant, she asked, “What do you remember from the accident?”
I remembered the pain, the throbbing.
“Before the accident. Do you remember how you ended up there in the first place? Like, was anyone else driving or something like that? Obviously, you were in pain. You died.” She said sweetly. I’m not sure she realized how creepy that seemed; someone calmly, kindly telling you that you had died.
I tried to think: was I driving? I don’t remember.
The memory came back to me, fragmented and used. I couldn’t see her face. “I—I argued with someone.”
“Go on.” Felicity urged me to sit down on the stone bench on top of the wet, metal-grated floor straight from Freddy Krueger’s vacation home. “I’m a fortune teller. Maybe I can help recall the memory.”
I ignored her, and focused on the woman’s face. The picture wouldn’t come into focus, but fragments of sentences said came back.
“…not going to…”
“…can’t tell me…”
“What’s happening?” Felicity asked, concerned. I had started sweating, my pulse on fire. I didn’t know that could happen in the afterlife, but it did.
Before I could answer her, a green sludge monster wearing a deliveryman’s outfit came by with a mail cart. “Alright, how y’all doin’ today?”
Felicity smiled, “Gloodge, how are you?”
“Just dandy. I ain’t got a lot of time, and I’m too old for this shit. I’m here for an Abby Jones?” Gloodge said, green puss oozing out of the holes surrounding his mouth as he spoke.
I raised my hand, but I didn’t commit to it. I mean, I don’t want to get to know a dude named Gloodge.
He slams a parcel into my chest, some excess slime dripping from the bottom of it. “These are the affects taken from you once you entered Hell.”
The package was small, the size of a coffee cup. The slime from Gloodge stained the palm of my hand. “Wait, what?”
“Now that you’ve been registered, they have been returned to you.”
“Why wouldn’t you just let me have them?” I asked.
“Don’t matter if it’s heaven or hell, we all got a bureaucracy.” Gloodge saluted and inched away, leaving a trail of neon slime behind him.
“That was gross.” I said.
“Well, open it! Maybe this will cheer you up.”
“It’s the stuff they took from me. I already know what it is.”
Felicity crinkled her nose in confusion, “Do you?”
People don’t bring their things with them when they die. So, what the hell’s in the box?
I ripped the paper open, and there sat in a black velvet cushion an ornate, gold pocket watch. “I think they messed up my order.”
“It has your name on it, though.” Felicity opened the watch and pointed to the inside of the cover.
“To Abby, love Marjorie. Who the hell is Marjorie?”
Felicity shrugged, “Maybe she murdered you?”
Chapter 11 – Maria
I seem to have forgotten so many things. You will think I am dead and dead indeed forever. I’m in this place – they call it the Afterlife – but it’s like I’ve been thrown into some tacky 1980s hotel lobby with angels for waitresses and receptionists. Elysium. The only thing missing is the neon sign. They have a lounge and a swimming pool and vending machines that sell the distilled milk of unicorns. Would you believe it? Apparently it’s rejuvenating; the label says it re-awakens your purity, whatever that means. I wonder why they don’t sell these things to people who are still alive.
I should probably tell you that I put my wrist through stained glass yesterday. I just wanted to see what would happen to my body. At first, there was a sharp stab of pain, but then it faded and my skin sort of reassembled itself like pixels on a screen. I just watched it repair itself, fascinated. There was no blood; just a thin stream of silvery liquid which dripped into the floor and disappeared. I would like to know what’s happening to me. I don’t understand.
I know that it would be impossible for you to visit. I have made a friend of sorts, a strange girl with a hole in her head. David, you know what happened to her? Her boyfriend blasted a bullet through her face. Just one day got up and shot her cos he was having a bad day. But she smiles as if her brain was as fresh as a daisy. And I can’t help but feel…an affinity towards her.
I wish I could find out what you are up to and how the cat is and if Milly is doing okay at school. I don’t need to eat anymore, but I get real cravings for wine gums and the alcopops I drunk when I was young. Sometimes I float in the swimming pool, not feeling the water around me; missing the old smell of chlorine, missing the way you once spoke to me and touched my face so softly. Now you are distant as a dream. Perhaps I dreamed you up altogether. I suppose you will never read this. The girl – Felicity – says I was murdered. I don’t suppose I will ever discover how, though I intend to search the archives they have stacked down in the catacombs. Maybe you won’t ever get this. If we meet again, I hope…it’s not here.
With all my love,
I had sealed the envelope with hot wax and handed it to the delivery man. His face lit up like a beacon as he took the letter away from me, his slimy body slobbering with excitement. It was all I could do not to gag; if he does not hurry I fear he will melt away altogether.
Felicity tells me that letters can be sent up to the mortal world, though it would be foolish to expect a reply. I can’t describe the strange things that have happened to my handwriting since I was dead. No matter how hard I concentrate, my letters form as ill-shaped and clumsy as a child’s. I don’t suppose David will be able to read it, even if he does get it. Still, it’s the smallest bit of hope that I have left to cling to.
I spend my days gathering gossip. I try to find out how and why every guest that’s here got here. I wonder if they are guests or residents, or whether indeed the distinction is relevant at all. Felicity and I swim laps in the pool, passing through each other as our mortal bodies once passed through the bouncing atoms of water. We don’t talk about it, but we feel connected. Sometimes when I look at her, I see things in that hole in her head that I wouldn’t dare to speak of – not in normal life, anyway. But things are topsy-turvy here. They feed us a curious concoction that tastes of piss and heather, but I am warming to it. Only slowly, of course, like everything else. For time does not move fast and forward here. Sometimes I wake up and I find myself not asleep in my room but standing in the corridor as I did the day before, talking to Felicity. Or else I am hanging upside down, bat-like, in the chasm beneath the hotel lift. I have to admit, the darkness no longer scares me. Once, I found myself back on the River Styx, held in the gaze of the golden-eyed tiger with the scarlet fur. I had to go through the whole initiation again, find my place in the hotel. Time moves not in a line but in loops and spirals.
What scares me is the mysterious identity of Marjorie. The more I say the word out loud, the more a sense of deja vu begins to haunt me. I cannot say what I once was. Marjorie. Her name seems to …bear a certain intimacy. Felicity tells me it is normal to glorify the past, for it is difficult for a dead person to look to the future.
“But that’s why time’s so messed up,” she says – one of the few things she says with any seriousness, “only the truly blessed are able to control it.” And that’s when it hit me – the real, clear possibility – what if the pocket watch I had been sent was able to control time? What if there were a way to follow the circle, travel backwards along the river, pass again the tiger, the white blinding of headlights? What if I had been gifted the means to…another life?
Chapter 12 – Ailsa
High on the thirteenth floor of the Elysium Hotel, in a two-story tower where the roof touches the crimson sky, a seemingly young woman looked out over Asphodel pergatory. Before her stretched the grasslands, villages, trees; a myriad of colours and tones that another person might have gawked at and called “enchanting …” but that she just looked mournfully upon.
She sat in an old wicker armchair, with a dirty cushion to support her back. Leaning, verging, almost lying towards the window she looked as if she were about to topple down and land amongst the hay and fallen leaves like an accident made to happen. Yet something kept her in the room, in her deep depression, and slipping to her death, but it was invisible, intangible, indecipherable.
In her right hand, the one that was furthest away from the wide window, she held a large half-filled (or, half-empty) glass of red wine. Think lipstick stains could be seen around half of the rim, matching the colour that stained her lips. It was a similar colour to her dress, which was rich in style and pride, but else centuries old. Though it was clean and still had some form of beauty, it was worn, as if it had been taken off, washed, then placed back on time and time again since her first incarnation in this hellhole.
The door to the dark, dirty room opened. Into it stepped Lucifer, with his golden hair perfectly combed. It swished maginificently as he took a small step, the sort of swish that was able to melt any admiring, fan-girling, shrieking maiden’s heart.
His eyes wandered quickly around the room, spying out the dark woods of the furniture that was needlessly crushed into the space. He looked, briefly, at the rags that made up the blankets on the bed, and then he gazed at the scratch marks on the wardrobe doors, which was the desperate pleas of a mad person dragging nails across the wood crying, “help, help, help, let me out of here…”
He switched to look at the woman, sitting there, dangerously close to spilling her wine. Sighing at her stance, he strode over, and placed a calm hand on her shoulder.
“Mother,” he whispered in her ear. In her saddened ear. In her distant ear.
The woman made no move. She did not even blink. Lucifer sighed, and knelt by her side. Slowly he raised a hand, and cupped it around hers.
His mother moaned, and shivered slightly. Her eyes drifted in and out of concentration. Focusing and unfocusing, a slow shifting variation of light.
Lucifer stroked her hair, and leant down to kiss her temples.
“Mother … Persephone,” he whispered. She only breathed.
“The delivery man brought you pomegranates.”
Suddenly, the woman gasped. Her whole body shuddered, to the extent where her hands shook. That which held the glass began to tighten, the knuckles rapidly growing white. Lucifer quickly took a step back, his eyes widening, a gulp in the base of his throat. Then his mother, Persephone, the old insane goddess, rumoured oracle, threw her head back; the glass shattered, sending splinters and wine splattering out all over the floor and room, joining in chaotic sound as a growl ripped from her throat.
A growl that grappled the handsome gate-keeper’s heart and sent him grasping for some form of stability.
“Mother,” he yelled, “Mother?!”
“TTTIMMMMEEE,” Persephone screamed, “The man … brought … TIME. ”
Chapter 13 – Rachel
I sat on a little embankment overlooking Styx, a place I had found where things were quiet, and stable. As stable as it got in this place, anyway.
For a while – I’ve no idea how long – I took to wandering the strange disjointed corridors of Elysium, but the lack of any logical progression of space and time was almost sickening. It made me feel empty and wrong. Almost like sea-sickness. One minute I’d be in some tacky, brightly-lit corridor, the next I’d find myself lost in the catacombs, where stalactites needled down from the impossibly high vaults, and everything was lit by a strange, misty purple light that emanated from nowhere. I had meant to properly explore the catacombs, look for the supposed House of Records, where I was told that the details of my death were kept on file (possibly some sort of stone tablet) but I never made it far enough in before I got distracted or hesitated a step. Then, I would find myself back within the neon-lit cloisters of Elysium, watching dead hustlers from 1950s Vegas spilling out of some netherworld casino, riddled with bullet-holes, or still foaming at the mouth from spiked martinis. Felicity told me this is normal for newcomers. We haven’t adjusted to living in a plain of existence where time is no longer linear, and where the dimensions of physical space follow rules of their own.
Here, looking out over the misty gloom of the perpetually-nocturnal valley, where the ghostly trail of the River Styx snaked out beyond, I could sit for hours – or, theoretical hours – thinking about life. About death, I should say. About whether this place really was it for me: my eternity. It was not a thought that I liked to dwell on, but there wasn’t much else going for me, besides the nagging concern of unravelling the mystery of my demise. I took out the pocket watch and turned it around and around in my hands. I ran my fingers over the engraving. Marjorie. It was a name that sung to me with its familiarity, and yet when I reached for its source, tried to fix a memory to it, even the ghost of a half-remembered face, I found nothing but the remnants of emotions without context. Each time, the effort was too much of a strain on my fragile consciousness, and I was forced to abandon the effort.
Marjorie. I couldn’t remember her, and yet I felt that she was a friend. A true friend. And something told me that there was a reason that this watch, this watch with her name carved into the metal, had been brought to me for a reason. This can’t have been my only worldly possession that I’d had with me when I died. There must have been some loose change, a credit card, a cell phone, some old bus tickets and a pack of gum, right? So the watch must have been important. It was almost as though it had been sent to me from the outside, sent by someone who was watching over me. It felt like a message…
I heard a familiar echoing roar from below. Molokh was ‘welcoming’ some new residents, it seemed – by the looks of things a family, probably shot by the father. It was a frightened mother and three young kids, all dressed in blood-soaked pyjamas, the youngest still clutching a teddy bear who seemed to have had its head blown off, and was leaking cottony stuffing out of its neck. I grimaced. The Ferryman was giving the family the spiel, though I noticed he was a lot more sympathetic than he had been with me. He caught my eye from the distance and gave me a knowing nod. I wondered if he remembered me. I was surely one of so many millions arriving each day, though I never saw more than a handful actually arriving – just one of many inconsistencies I had noticed with this so-called Afterlife. For a start, all the religions were completely jumbled up: Lucifer and Hecate? Some Mesopotamian animal god lurking around the river Styx? It was like the place had been invented by aliens, a hodgepodge of every mythology there was out there. I sighed a pointless sigh that was swallowed up by the still, airless atmosphere of the valley.
If I was going to be stuck here for all eternity, I thought, I had better make myself useful. The first step would be to train myself to navigate this weird, time-free dimension. The next stop, the House of Records, and somehow gaining access to my file. And after that…well. First, I needed to make friends with some gold-members, and then, if I could, I was going to find out what was really going on in Hell.
Chapter 14 – Heather
I let the door to my room slam behind me and I slumped onto my bed.
“No luck with the catacombs today, then?” I raised my head a little. Felicity was sitting daintily in a chair on her side of the room, book in hand. I hadn’t even realised she was in the room.
“No. Nothing. I just can’t make sense of it.” I let my face sink back into the pillow
“Well, there’s your problem right there. You’re trying too hard. The only way to get through the maze is to get lost in it?”
“That makes even less sense.” Felicity giggled and set the book down on a table.
“Abby, has anything you’ve seen here made any sense?” I looked back at Felicity, scanning the gaping hole in her laughing face. “I suppose not.”
Felicity had been right. I didn’t think about it – I just ran through the passageways, right, left, and straight ahead. I made my way through the labyrinthine catacombs of Elysium until the twists and turns just stopped. There was a door, a great black door with silver letters saying, ‘Record Keeper’ and a silver handle in the shape of a skull. I reached out and twisted the skull with my hand, opening the door. I had expected it to be locked. Or if not locked, it should have opened with a creak. But the door was silent. The room it led to however, was not.
It wasn’t music I recognised but it was loud with heavy drums and guitar and it was coming from an old gramophone resting on top of a wooden counter. The room reminded me of the entrance hall of Elysium only smaller and less grand. I was prevented from going any further into the room by the counter that boxed me in. beyond this barrier was an arch in the wall, covered by a thin veil, and another door off to the side. There were ornaments featuring skulls on every possible surface. Skulls grinned up at me from the counter, laughed down at me from bookcases, and leered at me from where they hung on the wall.
“…say goodbye, as we dance with the devil tonight…” A voice joined the blaring music and the owner of the voice stepped through the arch, drawing the veil aside. He looked around 25, close to my own age, but he was much taller than me. He must have been close to 6 and a half feet. He had black hair with white streaks that flopped over one side of his face. His clothing was all black too: long sleeved black top, black waistcoat, black skinny jeans. He also wore a lot of silver jewellery. He looked straight at me with bright, ice blue eyes.
“Hello, darling. I was wondering when you would show up.” This I was not expecting.
“Are you the record keeper?”
“No, I’m the bloody chef. What do you think?”
“I expected someone with a little more decorum.”
“Well, sorry to disappoint you, darling, but if you’re looking for decorum, you should stop being dead. As you may have noticed, we don’t do sensitivity down here.”
“It’s certainly a trend in the staff.” The man smiled and shut off the music.
“That’s the problem with having a life-long contract and being immortal. You get stuck in a dead-end job.” I bit my cheek to avoid smiling at his bad pun. If I asked him a straight question he would just avoid it. I don’t know how much this guy will tell me, but I came down here a reason. If I left now I might as well just accept my life here. I smiled up at that smirking face, trying to look a lot more confident than I felt.
“Hecate gave me that impression too. I guess immortality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. ”
“Katie doesn’t think so. And I guess it’s pretty frustrating when no one knows who you are. She’s had a lot of words with Father about it.” I knew there was something familiar about that face – a little bit angel and a little bit demon.
“You’re her brother?”
“Half-brother, as she loves to remind me. It bothers her that her little brother is more famous than she is.” I knew he was leading me to ask who he was and part of me was curious, the other part didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of thinking I cared. But I needed information.
“Famous? I don’t recognise you?”
“Why, darling, I’m Death.” Death was a person? An actual, talking person? I was talking to Death and he was talking back.
“Yes. But everyone calls me Grimm. It’s because I’m so cheerful.” I suppose he thought that was funny. If he really was Death, then he probably knew more about how I was killed than anyone else down here. I brought the pocket watch out of my jeans and held it up to Grimm. He took it from me, turning it over in his hand.
“Do you know what this is? What does it mean?”
“I sent it to you.”
“You did? But why?”
“What you have to understand about me, darling, is that I don’t get to choose who lives and who dies. I go by the sand in the hourglasses.” Grimm twisted the halves of the watch and I heard it click. For a moment I thought he had broken it, but instead, it stretched – into an old fashioned bronze hourglass. The top section was still half-full of sand. “This,” Grimm continued, “is your glass. And as you can see, the sands of time have not yet run for you. Yet, here you are, as dead as this poor sod here.” And he gestured to a human skull on the counter. If what Grimm said was true, then I couldn’t be here, but I was. I could feel tears pricking at my eyes – I hadn’t cried about my death before, I had just accepted it – but here was Death himself telling me that I shouldn’t be dead.
“I don’t know, darling. But I’m willing to bet that Marjorie has some explaining to do.” At last, we came to the elusive Marjorie.
“Who is she?”
“A friend of yours. She had terminal cancer. Or rather she had it right up to the moment you got splatted by that car. I was coming for her and I got you instead. That can’t happen. It shouldn’t have happened and I want to know why!” Grimm got angrier with each word and his eyes glowed fiercely.
“Why did you send me the watch?”
“To bring you here. Temporary amnesia is common in violent deaths, but you still can’t remember anything. I think someone messed with your memories so you wouldn’t know what happened. I want you to remember, not for your own sake – I’m not that nice – but somebody messed with the natural order. The universal truth that is me and anyone with the power to do that is dangerous and has to be stopped.”
“So, I was…what? A replacement?”
“No, darling. You were a sacrifice.”
Chapter 15 – Rut
“What does he mean by ‘sacrifice’?” Felicity seems eager to analyse every word from my conversation with Grimm.
“Exactly what the word signifies. Somehow Marjorie managed to make a deal with the universe or performed a creepy black magic trick – I have no idea but she should have died but she lives and I am dead. She lives because I am dead. Grimm does not know how I happened and neither do I. I don’t know anything!”
Felicity nods slowly. After a while she asks: “So, if you find out what happened, will Grimm send you back? I mean, if your sand has not run through yet…”
I haven’t considered this option before. But she is right. My time has not run out yet. It would only be fair, if I got a second chance. Nevertheless, I’m not sure, whether that is possible. I am dead and the dead cannot come back to life, can they?
“Do you think, Grimm has the power to bring me back to life?” I ask.
“Grimm definitely not but he father might and Grimm can be very convincing.”
“Well, first of all I have to remember what happened” I open the cardboard box Grimm has given to me and put the contents on my bed: photos, lipstick, a pair of socks, a doll and a lot of junk.
“What’s that?” Felicity asks.
“Stuff that Grimm mad Gloodge collect from my flat” I answer und try not to think too much about the green slimy monster going through my belongings, touching everything and leaving green puddles of phlegm. “Grimm hopes that they will help me to remember.”
“Oh wow, Grimm must really be pissed. Even Golds must fill in an awful amount of forms and wait an eternity before they are allowed to get at least one personal item which they didn’t carry with them when they died. Who’s that?” She has picked up a photo of David, Milly and me on Christmas. It seems so long ago.”My husband and my sister. She lives with us. Our dad left some years ago and Mum… Mum isn’t well. She cannot look after Milly properly. So David and I took her in. I’m fourteen years older than she is and I’ve always rather been a second mother than a big sister.”
Felicity goes through the other photos, chatting happily. She seems to enjoy that. I don’t. I cannot concentrate. Felicity seems a bit disappointed when I tell her I would rather look at the box on my own but she does not protest as I leave the room and head to the garden of Elysium.
It is a huge green area that can be accessed from the lobby. Felicity and I have been here a few times but there are still many parts I haven’t seen yet. A group of children plays football and the lawn that is closest to the entrance. I recognise one of the boys killed the family shooting I saw some days ago. He seems better adjusted than I am. It must be my amnesia that makes me feel disoriented. Regaining my memory becomes more important with every moment I am here.
I walk at least one hour before I sit down on a bench underneath a weeping willow hidden from sight where I empty the box again. One photo attracts my attention. Two tiny girls in school uniforms and with pigtails. The one on the left must be me but I don’t know the other one. The backside of the photo says “Abby and Marjorie, Christmas Concert, St Mary’s Primary School, 1996”.
Somewhere, deep in my head, buried under many other memories I find something. Santa Claus is coming to town. Marjorie and I sang it at the concert. We were so nervous but it turned out fine. When we high fived after the solo, Marjorie asked me whether I wanted to be her friend.
Only a few items trigger memories, not all of them concern Marjorie and none is connected to my death. The memory that seems to have the closest relation to the sacrifice seems to be promise Marjorie and I made to each other when we were thirteen. Even though I don’t remember what started it but I now remember Marjorie saying: “I would die for you. If I could save your life by dying in your place, I would.” And I said, kind of feeling obliged to do so: “I would, too.”
However, this was an age when you barely understand death. If you are a thirteen-year-old who has never experienced loss before, it is easy to promise your best friend to die for her. You like the idea because it is romantic. You never expect it to become true, though. But it did. I died for Marjorie. Did she ask me to do so? Did she use this old promise as a permission to sacrifice me?
Angry voices disturb my thinking. One of them seems familiar. I shift on the bench quietly and recognise Grimm through the twigs of the tree. The man he is arguing with is tall and muscular but is leaning on a walking cane.
“Grimm, I told you, Persephone has nothing to do with it!”
“And I have told you, that she must be involved! She is sickness. The girl should have died of cancer. She must have made a deal with Persephone giving her the other girl as a sacrifice. And if that’s true, it is not the first time! You have to control your wife! Who is running Elysium? You or her?”
“Don’t talk to me like that! And don’t blame Persephone! You hate her because I preferred her over your mother. So don’t make this a personal affaire! Look for the one messed up with the two girls’ hourglasses but keep your feelings out of it.”
“This is a personal thing and if you’re too blind…”
“The conversation has come to an end. Now.” The man walks away. In spite of his cane, he walks away quite fast.
Grimm stays for a moment and then runs after him.
Were they talking about Marjorie and me? I’m sure they were. Did Grimm already suspect Persephone when he talked to me? Maybe I should be angry because he didn’t tell me but at the moment I’m more interested in what else I might remember while going through my box. I pick up the pair of sock and suddenly I remember.
Chapter 16 – Maura
There was a motley group of people sitting in a rough circle in a clearing, somewhere in the great expanses of Asphodel. It looked like some mockery of a children’s game, except for the aura of darkness and despair that filled the air around them. And they weren’t really people, that much was clear.
Persephone was there, lounging gracefully on a high backed throne-like chair which looked very out of place in the grim surroundings. A few other minor gods sat near her, in varying degrees of discomfort. And there were three shadowy figures, hovering slightly above the ground and exuding a sense of complete and utter hopelessness.
Persephone uncrossed her legs and sat up straight.
“Very well ,” she said, looking around the circle with a look of distaste. “I assume this is everyone, then?”
There were murmurs of assent from the circle, and she smiled. It was not a very nice smile- rather, the sort of smile that tends to be the last thing people see.
“I called this meeting because there has been a small problem,” she announced. “The girl is starting to remember.”
“Impossible,” snapped a voice from the circle. It was Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, who wore the form of a plump middle-aged lady, and she did not look happy. “I would have been informed. I would know.”
Persephone raised an eyebrow. “Well, she is remembering, and so you must be wrong.”
“I am not wrong,” the goddess said, looking affronted. “I remember everything, and I know what people remember. And she does not remember.”
Persephone leaned back in her chair. “Grimm has helped her,” she said, and there was a chorus of hisses and curses from the gathered gods. The ethereal figures said nothing, but the area darkened slightly, and the gods shivered.
“He has no right,” snarled Mnemosyne. “He has no right to meddle.”
“I believe that he does not know,” Persephone said lightly. “And that is better, surely. For what he knows, my husband knows. And none of us want that, do we.”
She looked around the circle. “Morpheus. Phobos. Deimos. Eris. You are all here because you all partake in deals and the like with mortals, and it is in your best interests that this girl does not remember. Because if she remembers, how long until the others remember?”
The gods shifted in their seats. Deals with mortals to pass the eternity were all very well and good, but strictly against the law, and while they were all immortal, none of them wanted The Lord of the Underworld to find out about these illegal dealings. A few millennium in a fiery pit awaited them as punishment, and, well. After a while that really starts to get boring- not to mention that that much sustained pain for that long hurts even the strongest god.
Morpheus leaned forward in his seat. He had taken the form of a skinny, gangly man, and he was wearing a sharp pinstriped suit. “I thought you said she was taken care of, m’lady. I thought you said you could deal with Grimm?” he said, voice hoarse and rasping.
Persephone glowered at him, her glare icy, and the god shrank back in his seat. “How dare you disrespect me,” she hissed. “I may not be as powerful as my husband, but I can make you suffer.”
“Apologies, m’lady,” Morpheus whispered, cowering.
Persephone shot him a look of scorn, and turned to the shadowy figures, who had yet to speak. “Can you deal with the girl?”
They spoke as one, and their voice was terrible and echoing, sending shivers of fear and terror down even Persephone’s spine.
“Yes,” came the reply, “we can handle her.”
Persephone rose to her feet. “Permanently?”
The figures seemed to confer silently amongst themselves, and then they answered with a note of finality. “Yes.”
Persephone smiled wickedly. “Perfect,” she said, satisfied. “And with that, I think it’s time to leave, don’t you all? My husband doesn’t know I leave my tower, after all.”
The other gods stood, dipping their heads and murmuring farewells as they vanished. Persephone watched as the dark figures dissolved into mist, and then she waved her hand, vanishing the chairs and removing any signs of their presence.
She thought about her lonely tower, and sighed. Still, she thought to herself. Soon she’d be entertained by the no-doubt dramatic fate of the dead girl. She could look forward to that.
And then she was gone, leaving nothing but an empty clearing, and a lingering sense of dread.
Chapter 17 – Alyssa
I knocked timidly on the ornate, office door.
“Enter, if you must.” Hecate replied, bored with me already.
I walked in. She terrified me, but I had to get help. Felicity didn’t have enough pull in Hell yet to help me, so this was the only option.
Hecate looked up from her paperwork, “Miss Jones? Why are you here? I wasn’t expecting a crisis appointment for another millennia or so.”
“I need to speak—wait, crisis appointment?”
She stood up, her black, silk robes smoothing out and meeting her movements. “When a new tenant arrives, they tend to have an existential crisis. However, your mental history shows great strength, which is why I assumed you wouldn’t have a crisis for some time.”
“Right, okay.” I stepped in and closed the door. “Listen, I spoke with Grimm the other day. He believes that I am a sacrifice for the life of someone I knew on Earth.”
Hecate leaned back in her chair. She really looked at me, black eyes seeing through mine. “I’ll ignore the fact that speaking to Death is a breach of tenant rules for now, Miss Jones. Explain more.”
I told her about Marjorie, about what Death said, and about my memories. I told her that my head feels like a battleground: once I remember something vivid, I feel such a great pain and can’t remember that memory again.
“This is awful.” Hecate said, “We need to deal with this at once. Whoever is rearranging your mind must be dealt with accordingly.”
“I have an idea.” I said. “Can you resurrect me—I mean, temporarily—and, maybe then I can convince Marjorie to undo what she did?”
Hecate looked at me knowingly. “You do realize, Miss Jones, that if you successfully reverse the spell and Death takes the right life, you will be revived permanently?”
“I’m having trouble seeing that as a problem.” I said.
Hecate sighed, “We’re at a crossroads in terms of how this is dealt. We could potentially breech the natural order of life, possibly in two ways.”
“I don’t understand what you mean.”
Hecate sighed, her long hands speaking with her. “I could send my soldiers to the task and keep you here. We would then restore the life that should have been lost, but you remain dead, which has been revealed as the initial breech of natural order.
“However, we could do as you have suggested, but then we would use abnormal means to restore your life, making your return a breech in life’s natural order. We, my dear, have a spiritual paradox.” Hecate’s brow furrowed. She reached into the lowest drawer in her desk and pulled out a worn, leather book. It looked it like could be used to tie around some guy’s foot, sinking him into the river Styx mafia-style.
She leafed through the pages, examining each one carefully, but I couldn’t deal with her silence and bureaucratic methods.
“What? So, we’re going to send some slimy demon monsters to kill my friend?” I leaned forward. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to send someone she knew, reverse the process, and restore the lives that have been lost? Isn’t that restoration restoring natural order?”
Hecate narrowed her eyes at Abby, but closed the book gingerly. She crossed her hand and examined her nails, taking her time saying her next thought. “There is the possibility that, if I send you, you will be lost forever. Since your body was destroyed, I cannot reunite you with that form. You’ll have to borrow a body from the recently deceased.”
“I’m willing to do that.” I said. The thought of stealing someone else’s body disgusted me, but I needed to fix things. I needed to figure out who Marjorie was.
I needed to see David again.
“Alright, then. I will send you back to the living. Meanwhile, I’ll figure out who’s been suppressing your memories.” Hecate stood up and walked to the door. “Miss Jones, follow me.”
We walked down the obsidian tunnel, turning the opposite direction of the exit into a pitch-black room. Hecate held up her hand, which let out a weak light. I realized we were in a tunnel of black fog.
“Miss Jones, I need you to step onto the edge here.”
I followed her, but I hesitated. There was nothing over the edge but the black water of Styx. It had tints of green, and I could see the reflection of Hecate’s light.
“In order to restore your life, I must drown you.”
Before I could argue with her, she pushed me into the river. I lost sight of Hecate’s light, and the water became higher the more I swam to the surface.
After a few minutes of struggling, I felt the cool air of the tunnel when my hands finally broke through the surface. I opened my eyes briefly and saw a large pair of yellow eyes in a sunken human corpse.
They blinked, staring back.
I woke up in a dark room, but I smelled the scent of lavender potpourri.
“Darling, do you want to see Raiders of the Lost Ark? They’re having an old movie night at the theater on seventh.” I heard a familiar voice say from the bathroom.
I looked around the room. The furniture was whitewashed wood, there was a smaller flat screen attached to the wall across from me. I was in someone’s body. In someone’s bed. In someone’s home.
“Lacy, are you there?” The voice asked again.
“S-sorry, I…I, uh, fell asleep for a second.” I said. I turned to the picture frames and froze. I saw the woman who I presumably am, Lacy, and I saw the healthy, happy face of Marjorie.
Marjorie, not all looking like a cancer patient, came out of the bathroom. “Well, that probably means we’ve all had a long day.”
I couldn’t smile. I couldn’t move. I was afraid to react and reveal myself.
Marjorie got in the bed, and looked at me. “Hey, don’t give me that face.” She smiled and held me. She gave a passionate kiss, which I was not prepared for at all.
She smiled lovingly. “The cancer didn’t get me, love.” She then reached behind us to turn off the lights and lay down.
I remained sitting up. My mind could only process one thing: as Marjorie sees it, I am her recently deceased girlfriend.
I lay unblinking just staring into the darkness above me. I say “me” really I mean Lacy’s body. I wasn’t me anymore, I wasn’t even a ghost or a spirit or whatever I was uninvited; like an overly drunk guest at a fancy cocktail party. It didn’t take long for Marjorie to fall asleep, maybe a few minutes and then she was snoring and grunting like an old train. The thought crossed my mind that Lacy and Marjorie had probably made love right before I inhabited this body. It made me feel a little queasy to think that I was now inside the flesh of a woman who had just shagged my former best friend (my un-biological sister) and also the lady who was likely responsible for my untimely murder. With sleep clearly out of the question for me I decided to make a swift exit to the bathroom. It wasn’t till I stood up that my head (well technically Lacy’s head) burned as if someone had shoved a red hot fire-poker through my skull. I clasped a hand to my forehead and with the other grasped through the darkness to the bathroom. I shut door firmly behind me. Leaning over the sink a few drops of crimson trickled from my nose down the plughole. “Fuckfuckfuck.” The burning began to slowly subside to a dull throb, a few more drops ran across my chin and then all at once the pain was gone. I wiped my nose first frantically with the back of my wrist and then more sensibly proceeded to was the blood away. I gazed up slowly at my new reflection, the white in my right eye had filled with blood and the pupil was vacant and swollen. “Brain haemorrhage. Nice.” I muttered to myself, assuming Grimm was behind this swift but nonetheless dramatic method of despatching Marjorie’s lover. I looked again at my new features. Lacy had a sweet face, but the eye was definitely going to be noticeable, long brown hair and (my god) huge knockers. I raised my hands to my new ludicrously large chest. Huh…They’re actually real. Curiosity sated, I realised that it was probably time to focus my mind to the more serious task at hand of getting my life back. I drew my eyes away from the reflection of Lacy that faced me and noticed that few drops of stray blood had splashed on to the base of the loo. As I stooped to mop up the mess I could see something strange poking out from behind the toilet. I grasped at the thing dislodging it as swiftly as it had been evidently hastily stashed, it really hadn’t been well hidden at all. I found myself clutching a small straw figurine, in every sense unremarkable except from the fact that it had clearly been bound with strands of Lacy’s hair and had a pin stabbed through the right side of its head. I trembled for a moment then shoved the doll back where it had been. Marjorie, not Grimm, had done this. Just like me, she’d evidently helped her lover on her way to the afterlife with the aid of some kind of spell. The question ‘why’ rang in my ears. Why? Why would Marjorie kill me, her best friend and her adoring girlfriend. What was so damn important that was worth killing the two people she cared most about in the whole world over? Before I had time to give it another thought I heard footsteps approaching the bathroom. Fuck. The eye. It’s so obvious. She’ll know. I gotta cover this up. As far as I could see there was only one thing for it. I took a deep breath and brought my head to a crashing blow on the sink. By the time Marjorie opened to bathroom door I lay slumped on the floor with my hand clutching a newly bleeding wound on my right eyebrow.
“Lacy!” Marjorie gasped. “Gosh darling are you alright?” she stooped to cradle me.
“I was feeling faint,” I panted, feigning helplessness, which wasn’t hard in Lacy’s sickly sweet tones. “So I came to the bathroom. Oh, I think I hit my head on the sink.”
“Jesus, your eye!” Marjorie cradled my face in her hands. She stared at me intently something dark twitched behind her eyes. “Come on. Let’s get you cleaned up.” As she took my hand in hers I felt my lip quiver with expectant fear. It was like I was gazing upon Marjorie for the very first time and every fibre of my being was telling me she was not to be trusted.
“Are you sure you don’t need me to drive you to the hospital sweetheart?” Marjorie asked for the fifth time as she pulled on her jacket.
“I’ll be fine,” I smiled “I don’t even need stiches. Honestly I’m fine. You go off to work.”
“Well as long as you’re sure.” She embraced me, her kiss upon my lips made my tongue curl as if I’d swallowed curdled milk.
“Have a nice day honey,” was all I could muster and with that she was gone.
In her absence I turned the whole apartment over. At some point during the night Marjorie had removed the little straw man, I was certain that she had known I’d seen it. I knew her eyes questioned me, her mind doubted that Lacy had survived her curse but I don’t think she had any idea that her past had come back for her. A soon as I heard her key click in the door I ran back through to the bedroom. I up-turned the furniture, pulled all of the drawers out and tossed every shelved item to the floor searching for something, anything, that might give me some clue as to why Marjorie had murdered me. I moved from the bedroom on to the lounge, the bathroom, the kitchen, the hallway and yet could find no evidence of Marjorie’s involvement in anything sinister. That was until I noticed it. Hidden in plain sight, glinting on the mantle-piece was a pocket watch identical to the one I’d been given in Elysium. I snatched it down and sure enough the engraving on the inside of the watch read: To Marjorie. Friends ‘til the end of time. All my love, Abigail.
As I cradled that golden watch in my hands it reminded me of my infinite predicament; my time had already run out. I shoved the watch in to the back of my jeans and before I knew it I was walking down familiar streets, retracing my steps in someone else’s shoes. I was walking back to the happiness I had before Marjorie stole my life from me. If only for a moment I would see their faces again, I would gaze in to their blinking unknowing eyes and see them smile at a stranger but I would cherish their soft looks. For the last time I was going home.
I approached the street and my breath grew deeper, I wavered only a moment when I realised that my heart was not beating with trepidation as it should. My breath stopped altogether. I suddenly realised that my respiration was just a phantasm of what it meant to be alive. Lacy was dead, I was merely the spirit that inhabited. I was essentially a walking corpse. As I raised my hand to knock the door I thought to myself that I probably only had the best part of a day to figure this all out before this body started properly decaying. I had assumed David would treat me with indifference or perhaps even have no knowledge of who Lacy even was so I was startled when the door opened and I was greeted with a warm embrace.
I hadn’t even put my arms around him yet. I placed them curtly at first and then sank into his hold. I remembered our first date, when we were only fifteen. He had been so shy, so quiet and then at the end of the night he’d hugged me quite impulsively and kissed only my cheek and I had fallen asleep with my hand holding the place where his lips had been.
“Hi David.” I stuttered as he drew from my grasp.
“I haven’t seen you since… since.. the funeral.” He choked. “Come in, come in. Milly’s in the lounge. You have time for a cup of coffee right?” He sounded almost pleading.
“Yeah…” I replied in a daze. “I mean that’s why I’m here. I just, y’know I wanted to see how you guys were doing.”
He smiled so brightly at this, a smile that made my absent heart feel like it had fluttered. He led me in back through our home and in to our lounge. Pictures of me filled the mantelpiece. The largest photo in the centre was of our wedding day. Not your conventional ‘bride and groom’s first dance picture’ instead this was photo was of David and I and Millie; we stood outside the small registry office, soaked to the skin, Millie was in her dungarees on David’s shoulders sticking her tongue out at the camera, I clasped David’s hand tightly gazing not at the camera but at the pair of them my head thrown back in laughter. I turned from this happy memory to see my fourteen year old little sister cross legged on the couch her nose buried in some book. As she looked up to see me my eyes would have certainly filled with tears had it not been for the fact that corpses can’t cry, she looked so like mum.
“Urgh. Lacy was happened to your eye?”
“Milly!” David groaned.
I roared with laughter. Milly had always been inquisitive and blunt, very blunt.
“Oh I fell and hit it off the sink,” I giggled as I instinctively took a seat on the couch beside her.
David remained standing, I knew he knew that this Lacy was far too comfortable around them both but he couldn’t figure out why.
“Would you like a tea or a coffee Lacy?” He asked politely.
“A tea would be lovely in fact.” I smiled.
“Three sugars in mine!” Milly shouted after him as he retreated to the kitchen.
“So Milly,” I said drawing my knees up on to the couch, “How have you been?”
“I’ve been learning to read palms.” She burst. Raising her book to show me. Psychics and Spirits: How to predict the future and talk to the dead. Milly always did have an eccentric side. I willingly laid my hand upon hers.
“You’re hands are freezing!” She gasped before turning her attention to the reading. She traced her fingers over a few lines gently, her eyes flickered over the etchings and she was musing very carefully. She dropped my hand abruptly and began to look very sombre.
“David really misses you.” She said quietly. I looked at her puzzled; I couldn’t imagine that David and Lacy had been particularly close. I opened my mouth as if to say something reassuring but didn’t know what to say; I didn’t know what Lacy should have said. Milly looked up at me through doleful, teary eyes.
“David really misses you, Abby.”
“Shush! Keep your voice down.” Milly snapped. “He can’t know.”
I stared at her incredulously. “So how do you?”
“Remember how you used to catch me up in my room talking to my imaginary friends and like no one thought that was weird until I was like 10 and I was still doing it, and you said I was creative and David was like ‘maybe she’s just a bit… colourful’ or something like that.”
I nodded intently.
“Yeah well turns out ghosts aren’t imaginary.”
“Stop saying that,” She sighed at me. “Look I think I’m psychic or something. I don’t really understand it to be honest but I am.”
“So you can see that it’s me?”
“No. Cos you’re not like a ghost at the minute. You’re inside another person. But I can tell that Lacy’s dead. I could tell that as soon as you walked in with the blown out eye. What was it stroke or something?”
“I don’t know. Probably. I just woke up in her body. I didn’t know she was going to die.”
“Hmm,” Milly looked pensive. “David will be upset when he finds out. Lacy was really nice to him after your funeral. Even though she didn’t really know us all that well. She sent us cupcakes and called a few times to see how we were. I think she wanted to come round but Marjorie wouldn’t really let her. So much for Aunt Marjorie she totally fucked off after you died.”
“Language.” I snapped.
Milly just smirked at me.
“Milly, you said you were able to talk to ghosts, do you think other people can do it too?”
Milly half-laughed. “Yeah. I’m definitely not the only one.”
“Do you think you could ever talk to things that are more than ghosts. I mean something that was never alive. A supernatural spirit?”
“You mean like an emissary between our world and Elysium?”
I drew back as she said word ‘Elysium’ I couldn’t tell if I was horrified that my little sister knew of the twisted and warped underworld, or a little bit proud that she was such a badass.
“Yeah I was speaking to your pal Grimm earlier. That’s how I knew you were coming.”
“Grimm was here?!”
“Why? What did he say?”
“Oh he had some stuff that he wouldn’t me to tell you.” Milly glanced over he shoulder to make sure that David was still occupied in the kitchen. “He’ll be a while,” she said “When things remind him of you he gets very sad. He has to sit for a minute.”
I felt the urge to rush to him, to caress him, tell him that I was here and that everything would be alright. But David was a practical man, he would never have believed me, he probably would have just thrown Lacy out of his house for acting hysterical.
“Anyways,” Milly clasped my hand. “Grimm said… Well he didn’t say it exactly like this obviously. He’s a bit sassy isn’t he?”
I laughed. Typical of my little sister, she meets Death himself and instead of being stricken with fear all she notices is that he’s got as much of an attitude as she does. I bet he liked her.
“He said he couldn’t tell you anymore down there cos he was being watched. Said the Elders had been messing with the natural order of things. That Mnemosyne had been messing with your memory so she could keep Persephone’s secret hidden.”
“The Queen of the Underworld,” Milly shrugged. “At least that what Grimm said. He couldn’t tell me much. He said that you’d know more than me once you remembered, y’know cos you were kinda on to Marjorie before you died.”
“Was I?” My mind spun, the distant past was tangible like flashes of light on a dying film reel but anything closer and everything was dark.
“We’re running out of time…” Millie shook her head. “The pocket watch. I dunno why cos you’d had one each ever since you were both young. But you seemed to think she’d like cursed it.”
I scrambled in my jeans for the pocket watch, Millie looked on in awe. The thing was old, tarnished blotches crept alongside its face and for the first time I noticed that the hands of the watch lay still. I glared at the time suspended on this old once precious pocket watch, took a breath, and pushed the pin on its side. Suddenly the memories came flooding back all at once everything good from the past, every happy memory and all of the lies I had discovered. I clutched the watch, pressing it to my chest. I knew exactly what it was. I remembered how Marjorie’s behaviour had become increasingly irrational and vindictive as her illness had worsened. I clawed through the memories of clutching more little straw men like the one I had found last night, tracing my hand over the cursed pages of an evil book and daubing my fingers on a blood stained shrine.
“Abby, what’s going on?”
“Stay here!” I snapped, rising furtively from the couch. “Whatever happens you and David must stay here all day. Don’t follow me. Don’t open the door to anyone. Do you understand me?”
I stormed through to the door without even allowing my Lacy façade to excuse herself to David. My teeth ground and I could feel my arms shake with rage and horror at what Marjorie had done and what I had to face. Before I reached the door however I felt Millie embrace my waist.
“I love you Abby,” her voice trembled.
“I love you too.” I replied stroking her hair gentle. “Don’t you and David ever forget that. And don’t be you be sad, my life was blessed for having you both in it.” I tucked my hand under her chin. “Bye Millie, remember all the good times we had and be happy.”
And as I left my home I knew I had truly left the realm of the living forever and only darkness lay ahead.
“Honestly Abby you’re blowing the whole thing out of proportion.”
Those were the words that greeted me as I threw open the door to Marjorie’s apartment. She was sat in a chair that she had rather theatrically positioned in the centre of the room, with her arms calmly folded in her lap.
“You catch on fast.” I stood indignantly before her. She did not rise from her seat.
“As do you,” she smirked “I believe that’s what got you in this mess in the first place.”
“Meddling in things that don’t concern you.”
“Really? I thought what got me here I the fact that you’re a murderous bitch.”
She sneered drawing her face up toward mine. “Your sister’s a clever little girl isn’t she?”
My lip quivered. I shoved my hand in my pocket, clinging to the golden totem of Marjorie’s time. She raised her hands to play with her hair, as she had always done- even when we were girls, but this time her fingers were curled with sinister intent.
“You know of her what she can do, what see can see. Her gifts are like mine. With one critical difference of course.”
“And what’s that?” I spat through clenched teeth.
“I’m better!” She screeched. All Marjorie’s composure fell from her and she stood to face me. She pulled her face as close to mine as she could. I could see the dark pools of her eyes; gone was any trace of the girl I once knew. If the eyes are the windows to the soul then Marjorie had none. “Elysium,” she snapped. “You’ve seen it. That place is filled with nothing but emptiness and despair. When they diagnosed me the visions got worse! I could feel the demons lapping at my heels. Every waking minute the threat of that purgatory clawed at my soul. I needed more time.”
“And Persephone gave it to you.”
Marjorie raised her hand abruptly to the side of my face. My nostrils flared with anger but I refused to wince.
“You give her souls and in return you get immortality, that how it works.”
“More or less,” She drew one long fingernail sharply across my cheek.
“And what’s her motivation for this? Lemme guess something along the lines of; the more souls she acquires purely for herself, the more powerful she gets. I take it she’s plotting to overthrow her husband and seize control of Elysium?”
“Such things wouldn’t interest you,” she laughed, slapping my cheek playfully.
“They interest Grimm.”
“You have friends in low places and so do I,” I grinned. “I wouldn’t be here without his help.”
Marjorie clasped her hands firmly to her side but I could still see her fingers tremble at the notion that Death, who she had so feared, who had threatened once to steal her precious time, was a friend of mine. She lowered herself back in to her seat.
“You’re out of time Abby,” she hissed “You can kill me and you can’t put a stop to Persephone’s plans. All you are is a lost little soul in a rotting corpse; and a few days from now when Lacy’s body is nothing more than festering pulp your sorry soul will be dragged back to that despotic hell-hole.”
My fingers stroked the golden watch.
“No Marjorie, your time ran out long ago. You’re a dead woman living on stolen time,” I slipped the watch from my pocket and raised above her, it glinted divinely in the sunlight. Marjorie lunged from the chair in horror desperately trying to ply the watch from my grasp. I only raised the watch higher and before drawing my arm down like and executioner’s axe. “Time’s up.” The glass from the watch spilt across the floor like a flood of tears. The noise was a quiet and yet echoed through the very folds of my soul. The tiny hands of the watch wear thrown at my feet as if grasping for a few more seconds of life. Marjorie’s own hands which had been full of vigour and venom as they’d grabbed the air before whilst the watch had made it descent were now lily-white and helpless as they fixed on my wrist. The moment the watch had broken Marjorie had gone cold. She dangled limply from my arms, I prised her from me and let her collapse in a heap at my feet.
“Not so tough now.” A voice chuckled. I looked up to see Grimm sitting sideways on Marjorie’s chair, a cigarette hanging delicately from the corner of his mouth.
“I think I can smell you beginning to decompose Abby.”
“Are you here to take me back?”
“I hope not,” He smirked “This one however,” He gently kicked Marjorie’s hunched corpse “is finally coming with me.”
“That was easy.” I said sardonically.
All of a sudden the sun seemed to drop from the sky. The walls shook with unearthly howls and the room was swamped with a black mist. A swarm of lighting crackled in the space between Grimm and I until the light was filled by the figure of a beautiful and furious looking woman. She appeared standing on Marjorie’s lifeless body, her lips pulled back tightly over her teeth in foreboding snarl.
“You.” she growled turning to Grimm.
“Yes darling,” He took along, sultry drag of his cigarette.
“Why are you smoking? You’re Death.” I said, craning around the woman.
“It’s just part of the look,” He winked. “Go on, Persephone.”
Persephone held her shoulders her. Her gaze was defiant and her voice unfaltering.
“Grimm, what have you done. You have broken the sacred laws of Elysium. By bringing this soul back to the land of the living you have upset the balance.”
“Don’t talk to me about ‘upsetting the balance’ you’ve been doing it for decades. You and your little minions sending you down all those secret souls.”
“My husband has sent me to collect you to answer for your crime.”
Grimm flicked the butt of his cigarette at her feet. “Your husband isn’t as stupid as you think he is.”
Persephone features settled in to a livid scowl but her hands were trembling at her sides. Her eyes channelled her rage upon Grimm. “You are to return and be punished for…”
“Save your breath.” He smirked. “You already know you’ve been caught. He’s angry Persephone, very.”
Persephone’s hands began to claw at the side of her dress. The ground beneath her rumbled and unholy cracks forged themselves in the floorboards. Beams of red light shot through them illuminating Persephone’s now frantic, revolving eyes. She helplessly stooped to her knees as from through the cracks and deep beneath the mortal world came the most unearthly, visceral roar. As the ground began to dissolve beneath her and the read beams dragged her below, Persephone’s taught lips formed a desperate “No.” The red light exploded across the room, covering Grimm and I, and when the dust settled the floor was restored and Persephone was gone.
“Persephone’s husband happened. You finally helped bring to light Persephone’s secret. Stealing souls and plotting to overthrow him. She’s going to be in a world of trouble for what she did.” Grimm explained as he tossed Marjorie’s body over one shoulder with ease.
“But who is Persephone’s husband?”
“He’s the one in charge of Elysium, of course.” He smiled.
“And who’s that? God? The Devil?”
“Abby, Abby, Abby, you should know by now it’s not that simple.” I gave him a wry smile. Nothing about dying had been simple. “Time to go Abby.” He said quietly.
“Back to Elysium?”
“I wish you were coming with me.” I was strangely touched by this sentiment. In my mortal life I would have never considered the notion that Death wanted to return to Hell as a flattering one. “No, no. You see Persephone was right about the balance being upset. I’ll imagine her husband will restore it now.”
“And what does that mean?”
Grimm placed his free hand delicately on my shoulder and looking at me with doleful eyes whispered “It means you have to wake up.”
My eyelids fluttered slowly. My ears were filled with loud computerised beeping. My arms and legs felt laden down with inordinate weight, they were as yet unmoving. Slowly my vision came in to focus, the blackness subsided and I could see two figures standing above me.
“David! David! She’s awake!” Millie’s gentle voice soothed my rapid heart and soon I was enveloped by her and David’s warm and loving arms.
“And you don’t remember anything after being hit by the car?” Millie gazed at me expectantly.
“Nope,” I shrugged “Should I?” Millie almost looked downhearted by my response but she didn’t say anything she simply lifted my jacket from the hospital bed and passed it to me. I remembered very little from the accident. I think I remembered walking down the street just before, maybe I was whistling, I wish I could say the rest was a blur but it wasn’t- it was just a void. David had told me I’d suffered a pretty severe concussion so they put me in a medically induced coma for six days, aside from that just a couple of cracked ribs. “A lucky escape” one of the doctors had said to me “Someone must be looking out for you”. It’d been a week since I had come out of the coma now and the doctors were allowing me to go home. Thank god- people act as if hospitals are clean and sterile places but really they’re places where disease stalks you at every turn, and they smell like urine. In the six days I was out my best friend from childhood passed away. I didn’t even realise Marjorie had had cancer, she hadn’t told me or her girlfriend or anyone. David was told by Lacy that she’d passed away peacefully but I’d missed her funeral. Millie had gone with Lacy, David had tried to feign that he’d gone as well but Millie told me he’d refused to leave my bedside.
“Are we ready?” David beamed appearing at the doorway. “I’ve cleared everything with the doctor’s, that’s you officially discharged now.”
I smiled contentedly, taking Millie’s hand first and then David’s as we strode from the hospital, my heart swollen with love for them both and my sights settled on home. My brush with death had only left me feeling imbued with new vigour for life and an even more overwhelming love for my family. As we walked through the car park we passed, unbeknownst to Millie or David, an angelic looking girl with porcelain white skin and bright blue eyes. Something inside me made me quiver; I couldn’t help but feel that there was something missing from her face, something defining, one circular, central feature. Suddenly my ears were filled will the dull noise of rattling chains, tiger’s roars and ticking clocks. I broke from David and Millie’s grasp and spun fast on my heels.
“Ah Abby,” she replied chirpily “Just in time.”