Death came to me quickly. I felt the cold come and touch my soul, probing. “What do you want?” I could hear myself screaming, but there was no clear answer. It was just hushed voices, gathering closer and closer and closer. When they stopped it was like someone had taken my ears off. The silence was maddening.
“Has a decision been made?” A loud voice boomed somewhere to my left. I turned my head to look, but it was empty. Nothingness. It was like nothing I had ever seen.
“She’ll be given the choice. She’s new, she needs time.” A quiet voice to my right said. I turned, my hair whipping around my face. There was a girl there, dressed in white, with sparkling blond hair and icy blue eyes. I shivered involuntarily.
“Oh hush,” she whispered. “It’ll be fine. You’ll see.”
I tried to feel warmth, but it was chilly. Not cold, or empty, but chilly like an early spring day, where you want to shed your winter clothes for the coolness of summer, but you immediately regret it once you do.
“You have one day to make your choice. Choose wisely.” The voice boomed again. The girl smiled at me.
“Let’s go, we have a lot to cover.” She turned and took off into the nothingness. It was just my imagination, I kept shaking my head as she appeared to get lighter and it almost looked like she was going to disappear. I started to follow her, feeling warmer with each step I took.
My feet hit the hot sand, and I almost jumped. The girl was smiling now, waving to people here and there. She turned to me. “Come, have a drink at the bar.”
I found myself following, people looking at me with big smiles on their faces. It felt oddly welcoming and yet at the same time like they were part of a circus, part of an act. The smiles seemed a little too shallow, a little too forced. But I’ll admit, the warmth was quite nice.
We sat at the bar, and she looked at me. “Is this your first time?” she asked me quietly. I think I nodded. She smiled sweetly. “Ah, honey. The first time is always the hardest. Unless, it’s the last, of course.” She winked at me. I had no idea what she was talking about.
“Um, excuse me?” I asked tentatively. “But what is going on? I mean, where am I? What is this choice I have to make?”
A rather rotund, jovial man came up and joined us at the bar. “Abby,” he said, smiling, “got a new one, have ya?”
“I do!” Abby exclaimed rather excitedly. It didn’t make me feel good.
“Welcome,” he said and grinned. “Welcome to where the food is delectable, the wine keeps flowing and we dance eternity away in an endless party. This is heaven, sweetheart, don’t let anyone tell you differently.” He grabbed the waist of a beautiful woman who was walking by. She turned and looked at him, gave him a big smile and started dancing with him in rhythm with the music, which suddenly filled the air.
“Only those of us paying attention hear the music, and each of us hears whatever tune we like,” the girl beside me said. I thought her tone was rather sad, but she was smiling that slightly off smile.
“So, one of my choices is to stay here.” I said quietly.
“Wowee! You are a fast learner.” She smiled at me, this time more genuinely. “Yes, you could stay here for eternity and dance the time away. It’s really quite pleasant, though those introverted souls tend to like it a bit less.” She took a swig of something dark amber in color from a mug in front of her on the bar. I noticed I had one too, but I wasn’t going to give it a try.
“The other option,” she started with a slight frown, “is to go back. Be physical again. Be human or animal or whatever your soul happens to inherit. You could be a cat, a rat, a human or a bear. It all depends on the time. I’m guessin’ that’s why you’ve never been up here before. Must’ve been animals all this time. Bad break.”
“If you get an animal form, you don’t get the choice when you die?” I asked.
She got quiet and her frown deepened. Her brow creased, and she whispered, “when you’re an animal, you don’t get to understand the secrets of the universe. You don’t love, you don’t hate. You don’t get to really feel what your purpose is other than to mate, and keep your species going.” She took a deep breath. “There’s no sparks. No truth. Just being.”
I wanted to argue with her. Having been a marine biologist, I wanted to tell her that her impressions were not true. I’d see mama dolphins protecting and loving their young. I’d seen fish mate for life regardless of whether or not they produced offspring. But I couldn’t find it in me to disagree with her.
“So if I choose to go back, I wouldn’t know what I’d be?” I asked, thoughtfully.
“Yes, if you choose to go back, you get placed in a body when it’s born. There’s no way to know which one it’ll be until the very moment you go. And there’s no turning back.”
I thought of my time on earth. I had a family, one I’d loved. I had friends, the kind that make you smile and feel supported even during your darkest days. And I’d had good times. Not like the superficial party going on behind me, but really great times. Times I remembered all too fondly.
The rotund, jovial man called out, “Abby, you’re losing her!” and jolted me out of my reverie.
Abby retorted, “It’s her choice, not mine,” but there was an edge about her voice that made me uneasy. She stood up suddenly. “Well, it’s time to go,” she murmured. I followed her slowly. The hot sand felt comfortable this time, and I didn’t want to go back into the cold.
But it came to greet me anyway, the chilly breezes swept my hair aside. I saw a long line of people, looking miserable. They shifted from foot to foot, pained expressions on their “What’s this?” I asked.
“This? This is where you wait to go back to earth.” She stopped, noticing my frown and my arms crossed in front of my chest to keep me from shivering. “Not very pleasant is it?” She asked.
“Not really. How long does one have to wait?”
“It depends. If there’s a major catastrophe the line goes much faster. But if it’s just regular days, it could take lots of time. It always fluctuates.” She stared at me with hard eyes. They felt like they were piercing into my soul, looking for the truth of me. Whatever she found, she stopped, and sighed.
“I didn’t even have a chance.” She said quietly.
And I knew, right then, my decision was already made.