Blinding white. That was all he saw. But if felt like something too. It was white, but it seemed to stretch on, for as far as one could see. But it was filled, packed to the brim. It felt crowded. But his eyes told him that he was encompassed by nothing. Nothing but white. He moved his foot and felt purchase on solid ground, but when he looked, and listened, there was nothing. No sound, and no ground.
He would have liked to say that he was afraid. Actually, he was. But he didn't know where he was. He didn't even remember when or how he got here. In the silence of this white void, he summoned up the courage, or rather, the fear, to say something. The words graced his lips, as they formed the sounds, but the voice that came out was not his own.
He stumbled backwards, falling over, as he scrambled to move himself away from the figure that materialized before him. It stood out amongst the white, as it was made of darkness. And it was blurred. But it looked like a person. He just couldn't tell who. The figure stood, and simply watched.
"I know you are afraid. Everything is. But you can't escape it. There's no running away from this place."
The figure, and by extension, its voice, was unrecognizable. He couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman. He sat on the floor, that white, flat resistance that held him still but yet managed to extend for infinity, looking at the figure before him. Finally, he started to calm down. Thoughts formed words, and words formed on his mouth, but once more, the voice that came out wasn't his.
"Where am I?"
Answering for him, the voice spoke.
"You are in a state of limbo. You are neither here, nor there."
He wanted to speak again, tried, but stopped when the words formed and came out, in the voice of the other. He shook his head, standing up, he surged towards the figure, angry.
"Stop it! Just stop this. Stop saying my words for me! Stop this joke!"
The figure held its arms down out front, and remained quiet. He stood, facing the blurred person, realizing his mistake.
"Thank you. I'm sorry, about that. You just, you don't need to do that."
The figure spoke once more.
"There is no need to blame yourself, nor feel sorry. All who come here will act based on who they are. But it changes nothing."
As he faced the figure, he began walking absent mindedly around it.
"You said limbo. I don't understand."
As he looked at the figure, the blurred shadows seemed to emulate a face. He felt like this person was sad. Mournful? Apologetic? No. Sympathetic.
"The paramedics are working on you. They are trying their best to keep you alive on route to the hospital. But you are, critically injured. Right now, you are, by all intents and purposes, dead. But there is something holding on."
The words destroyed him. And he knew that this was the only truth. They stung him, as he realized, this was it. He dropped to the ground, falling to his knees, begging.
"This is it? You? You're..."
"I am the oncoming vehicle traveling too fast. The one in a million lightning strike. The predator, hunting prey to survive. Your people have always talked of me, imagined me, known me, as Death."
"You're here to take me then?"
"What do you mean?"
"While your injuries are nearly fatal, there is a chance you will survive beyond this. I am here, to grant company, and await your fate, whatever it may be."
He looked up, to the blurred figure, as it simply stood, watching him.
"You're responsible, for me being like this then? You said you were the predator."
"No. I am merely what comes after death. But, in some sense, I am the bridge for souls to travel. I find them, and guide them on their journey. Some, are stronger than others, and despite my best efforts, they escape, and quickly become lost. Trapped between the fissures of reality. Your kind call them ghosts. But I know you. I see you. You will not wander far."
Normally, on any other day, he would have thought all this was a cruel joke. But there was a gravity to the words. They were true. Rather than fight, resist and beg, he asked another question.
"So, you're like a guide. But why a journey? Where am I going?"
"Your fate remains to be seen. But, if you should die, you will go where everything else does. Beyond."
He shifted on the ground, uncomfortably.
"That doesn't answer much you know."
"It says a great deal more than you realize right now. In order to understand, you will have to take the journey to its end yourself."
He felt something, something in the air around him, and looked down. He was sitting on a bench. He looked up, as the veiled, blurred figure stood and watched.
"The material world is something many cling to. Its comfort and familiarity bring peace of mind here. We can go elsewhere, if you please. We will be here for some time."
He didn't know why he was so comfortable. He felt so tranquil, just talking. But before he could even utter anything he woke up in a diner. Sitting in a red chair, across the table from him sat the blurred figure. He reached forwards, out of habit, and grabbed the coffee cup, drinking as he looked out the window to the traffic outside. He looked over at the figure, content and relaxed.
"You said everything comes here right? What about you, whatever you are?"
"All will pass through here in time. Eventually, there will come a day when I am the last. I will make the last journey, and then there will be nothing left."
He set his coffee down, smiling.
"So will you have your own "Death" to escort you?"
He could never see a face. But looking at the figure, he knew it was smiling.
"No. But I will go, knowing that my destination will be the same. Fear, or worry, will be absent."
"So you're the one to turn off the lights? The janitor? How much do you get paid? How long have you being doing this anyway?"
The figure "smiled" once more.
"Since it all began."
He took another drink of his coffee. By reflex, he ordered his usual when the waitress came up, and then returned to things.
"That's dedication. I think I was dedicated, to my job I mean. Speaking of, why can't I remember anything?"
"The calmer things are, the easier it is to adjust. Your memories are all still there. But they are background noise. You just ordered you favorite dish."
The figure nodded.
"Huh. Go figure."
He looked out the window, watching the traffic travel buy, as the leaves blew on the wind and rain.
"So, what's all this? Is this real?"
"In a way, it is. A snapshot through time, a window that can be opened. A door that can go anywhere."
"You can do that?"
The figure "smiled" once more.
"Perks of being the janitor."
"I didn't think you'd have a sense of humor."
"Life as you know it, is full of surprises. Would it not be fair to assume that death is the same?"
He laughed, nearly choking on his coffee.
"I'll have to remember that for next time. That's a good one."
The waitress came over, delivering his order. He looked down at it, smelled it, and realized that this was his usual. Simple, but this place always did have good food. He took a fry slathered in gravy, eating it.
"Good lord I forgot how good this was."
He pushed his plate over.
"You want to try? It's good, no bullshit."
The figure reached out, taking a single fry along with it. He smiled.
"You're not as bad as I'd thought you'd be. All those grim reapers with scythes don't do you justice."
The figure chuckled, that voice, blending in perfectly between a man and a woman's, rung out.
"I can do that, if you'd like. A long time ago, there was a woman, who still found her wits very much alive. She asked me to take that form, to wake her up to things. Your kind are strange, in amusing ways."
"Okay. Grim Reaper. Right here, right now."
He had to blink twice as the blurred figure was gone. Sitting across from him, was a figure clad in dark ragged robes. From under its hood he could see the skull that peered out to the world beyond. And there, at its side, standing all the way up to the ceiling, was a scythe, clutched in its bony hand. He couldn't help but laugh.
"That's incredible! You ever show up for parties like that? You should, you know. Show up as a clown or something."
Even with a visage so frightening or dread inspiring, he worked his way through his meal, bit by bit. He looked up to the reaper once more.
"Any other tricks you can do?"
"Anyone you want. A doctor. Soldier. Your mother or father. Childhood friend. Pet."
He nodded, thinking.
And there, before him sat the president. He reached out his hand.
"Give me five. I've gotta tell this one to everybody."
The president reached out, and gave him a high five. He laughed.
"Okay, okay. Can you do me?"
Sure enough, across from him, sat himself. He looked over everything, in awe and fascination.
"Can you do my father?"
Once more, there he was. He set his mug down, looking at the man's features. And he remembered. It had been so long since he'd seen him alive. Years, decades. Before he could say anything he found himself upset. Tears came easy, and the figure snapped back to one of shadows and blurs. He reached out to some napkins, wiping his eyes.
"God, I'm sorry. That was stupid of me. He, I mean you, you looked just like him."
The figure nodded.
"I met him you know. He will be there, when the time comes."
He finished his coffee, scrunching his fist up in front of his mouth.
"Does it hurt?"
"Reaching the end of your journey, is like waking up on a good morning. Everything is laid out before you, and suddenly, you know."
"Why can't you take me now?"
"As close as you are, your body is resilient. It clings strongly to what you will be losing. Perhaps you are not ready to leave things behind just yet, no?"
The figure stood up.
"Do you wish to go for a walk?"
He looked up, and before he could say yes, he was walking alongside the figure. Through a park. The rain was still coming down, lightly, and the autumn colours showed on the trees. He stuck his hands in his pockets.
"Any reason why this is taking so long? I mean, if I'm in such a bad way, shouldn't I have kicked the bucket a while back?"
"Time works differently here. It flows both ways. Our time here is both mere seconds and minutes, yet all the same, we have been here for millennia."
He stopped, and so too did the shaded figure. It waited until he spoke.
"Can you, make yourself something else please? I feel out of place walking alongside a smeared shadow."
The figure nodded.
"Picture what you want to see, and it will be so."
He looked over at the figure, through the blurred shadows and imagined something. And there it was. Before him stood someone. She raised her skeleton hand, devoid of skin or anything up to her pale face, smiling. The voice that returned was no clearly recognizable. A woman.
"Interesting. How your kind is so imaginative."
"Sorry. I just wanted something a little more human. But enough to remind me that you're not."
It had worked. The woman was clad in a dark dress, a black hood pulled up over her head. But staring at her pale face was something interesting. Black lipstick on pale white skin, and jet black eyes like the void stared out at him. Her hands were nothing but bone from the elbows down, and as her dress billowed farther and farther down, it took on the quality of shadows, twisting behind her in long spiraling trails. It was comforting to him, to see a vaguely human face. But different enough to remind him of just what he was dealing with. He smiled.
"Thank you. I have to say, I never expected you to be so, sympathetic."
The woman's features changed on her face, visible to him now. A warm smile.
"What you know as death, is not inherently bad. It is not evil. But welcoming. In the end, it will claim all. It will welcome all with open arms."
He started walking forward now, as did the woman. He watched the great trees sway gently in the wind as the rain pattered down softly.
"So, you're here because you're waiting right? If I die, you'll be here to take me off to wherever it is I'm supposed to go?"
"That is correct."
"I can't be the only one here then. There's a lot of people, uh, down there, or up there, wherever here is."
"More than you could ever count or know."
"And you're with all of them right now?"
"Jeez. You must have seen it all by now."
The woman smiled.
"Indeed. But, life is full of surprises."
He couldn't help but laugh as he walked alongside the woman.
"How are you so, well, cheerful? You have all these people, good or bad, all asking, or whining, crying, and everything else. All those voices. And you've been around since, well, basically forever right?"
The woman nodded.
"A good question. I just am. Despite seeing all of what life has to offer, everyone is different. Everybody, and everything, is unique in some way. I live to see it all. But I don't think I ever will. I can always try though."
"So, you're basically a tour guide. A janitor who turns out the lights. And you like people. And things."
He held out his hands to the trees and world around him.
"And you can do all this. And yet, the way you put it, you're just a doorman. Sorry, woman. Sorry, it. Thing. Person."
The woman smiled, showing off her white teeth in a gesture of happiness as she laughed.
"I am not so much a person, as I am a force. An experience. And, with the higher forces above me, so too can be said of them. So, you are right, in a way. I am a doorman. I am a woman. An it. A thing. A person. Just like you, with less boundaries and restrictions."
He nodded quietly.
"It sounds huge. How can you make sense of it all?"
"How do you make sense of your life?"
That caught him off guard. He wanted to say something, but the woman, interrupted.
"Would you like to know what's happening?"
"You're at the hospital now. The doctors chatter of how you still live. They are, confused. Some believe you to be lucky. Some can't quite make sense of what to do. But they are attempting to make things right."
Something hit him. He realized it, as she spoke.
"Wait a minute. Hold on. If I'm so messed up, what will happen when I come back?"
"If you return, your recovery will be long, and hard. It will be a road not easily traveled."
"What if I don't want to go back? What if I like it here?"
The woman turned her head, and looked straight into his eyes, with the voids of hers.
"Do not be so quick to throw away what you have. Your body clings to life stubbornly."
"Well, can't you change that?"
"It is not my place to choose. I do not choose for you."
"Then who or what does?"
The woman walked forwards, placing a skeletal hand on his chest.
"Every choice you make is yours. The truth is, there is nothing pulling the strings. Every door is open. Every possibility is open to you. But the path that you choose, and the outcome of your actions, are yours alone. Clearly, you are fighting to stay alive. Let me show you why."
The woman pressed her hand up to his forehead, and like a flash, a great surge of thunder, he remembered. A brother. A family. Friends. Responsibilities. Good days, bad days, his favorite things, places, people. Everything. And it overwhelmed him. He fell to his knees at the sight of it all, clutching the dirt. He looked up to the woman, who watched him, her features once more sympathetic to him.
"I forgot them. How ... Why would I forget them? Why would I leave them? Why would you do this?"
The world snapped and shifted in the blink of an eye, and now they were on a beach. The storm was passing. The darkness of night was overtaking the city across the water. As he sat in the sand, arms wrapped themselves around him, and the woman spoke into his ear.
"Do not punish yourself for it. It is necessary for most who come here. But it seems like you are different. And now, the choice is truly in your hands. In both body and soul."
"Can't I stay? Can't I stay here, forever?"
"All who come here will, and must move on. Forever is a concept that is false, made to help one make sense of the world. Forever implies that the universe will stand still, just for you."
He wiped his eyes, laughing.
"That was bad. I feel bad now because of that. But ... I like you. As stupid as it sounds, I do. I want to stay here with you. It feels like I've known you my whole life."
The woman giggled.