Spades Fiction

Episodic stories of fantasy and science fiction.

Category: The Elysian

The Elysian: Ninth Dream

Standing there, admiring the absolute hopelessness of the situation, I noticed something peculiar. Robin Goodfellow was staring at me. Not in the incredulous way he was doing earlier. As a matter of fact, it was almost a knowing smile. Only without the smile part.

He seemed to understand exactly what I was thinking. The emptiness piercing my being. I felt hollow. And my competitor was not taking another leap towards his ill-defined finish line. A curious sight.

The swarm was getting closer. My feet weren’t moving. It was done. I embraced the pain to come. As the first of the flying pests struck me, something odd happened. I felt nothing. The bees passed right through me.

The look on my face must have been something to see, because the imp broke out laughing. After the horde of insects made it through my now even more ghostly form, they faded out of existence. What in the hell is going on?

“The mortal’s mind twists and turns

He reaches for answers, he grasps and yearns

This strange event bewilders his senses

Let’s end this charade and drop the pretenses.

Ask the question. That you wish to know

I’ll answer in kind and make it so.”

The imp had hopped back over to me, laughing to himself. This whole thing was freaking me out, and that’s saying something considering the kind of time I’ve had recently. I was too tired to deal with this.

“What just happened? Why didn’t the bees sting me to undeath?”

Robin gives me a wry smile, almost as if he expected me to already know. A beat later he responds.

“The spirit of the moon told you the means

Through which your will has provided these scenes.

Your emotions and belief change your person…”

I blink and from seemingly nowhere he pulls out a screen, displaying an uncanny picture of myself.

“…And since your self confidence could only worsen

The wispy form you currently possess

Ditched what little it had; removed the excess…”

He snaps and the screen changes, showing a transparent version of myself. Little animated bees flew at the false visage of my being. I don’t know how it was doing that, but it was odd to say the least. Best not to ask.

“…Your non-physical body let the massive swarm

pass right through you, without coming to harm.”

He snaps and the screen disappears into nothingness. Robin grins, appearing pleased with himself.

I finally get the nerve to speak.

“So, I felt bad. And I became… feel-through? That’s… That’s ridiculous. What in the hell does feeling bad have to do with teaching me something?”

“Well you see, mortal-”

“DON’T ‘MORTAL’ ME! You jerk! What are you trying to do to me!?”

“Now it is with a chortle-”

“Stop with the rhyming! I’m done with it. Why in the hell do you rhyme?!”

He gives me a dirty look. Still not as scared of him as Luna, but I do have to remember he is the spirit of the forest. Best not to trifle with such beings.

“You forget that our existence is based on belief.

And we play such a charade without a relief.

Now if you’re quite finished with all your screaming

I’ll tell you why it is you should be beaming.”

“I am the master of pranks, who is sometimes called Puck

If find those around me who are down on their luck

Then I change their thinking, add a correction

Take a good hard look at your life in reflection

And if the mortal in question has a head far too big

Then his ego must shrink, lest he become like the pig”

“And yet back to you, our dear, good friend Rodriguez

…um…”

“Can’t think of anything that rhymes with my name?”

The imp looked embarrassed. His whole monologue fell apart. He takes several minutes, thinking through his words. If he’s supposed to rhyme, what does that mean for our ‘delightful’ conversation? I sit down on the tree trunk, quickly becoming bored. I should be trying to get the key out of him, but after his last outburst, I don’t think it so wise. Still, this was taking forever and-

“Allow me to start again. That rhyme was too slick

My words fell apart with but a mere simple flick.”

“Hold on, that’s not fair. You can’t just stop rhyming halfway through! You told me so yourself.”

“Devil’s in the details, my dear boy! Pay attention.

I can’t stop solely because it causes you tension.

But if my knowledgeable mind can’t find that right verse

I can slip around it, to stop my speech from becoming worse.

Now hold on a second… What was I saying?”

He takes his time again, perusing the recesses of his brain. I think I would prefer to deal with Luna over this. She at least knew where she was going and had a lesson I learned at the end of her test. This guy is trying to explain what I should know from completing his task. Wait…

“Robin, sir, if you don’t mind me interrupting, why are you acting like I finished the race when I didn’t?” Crap. That was probably going to bite me in the ass.

His eyes lit up at my question.

“Ah yes! I was going to explain the game we’ve been playing!”

The Elysian: Eighth Dream

I pull myself into the crouching stance I assumed before. No time to think about hurting my ethereal body. There’s a sprite on the run, and I need to catch up. This time when I leap, I keep my eye on the trunk I’m aiming for to keep from hitting my stomach again.

It works, and I land exactly as I planned. Yes! I can do this! The imp is still a few trees a way, but I can catch up now!

I work on launching myself immediately after landing, making up the time. It doesn’t take very long for me to be only two trees behind.

“The mortal leaves me impressed. Good work I must say!

But your task is not so easy, more to do for you today.”

“What does that mean?!”

He smiles, putting his fingers to his mouth and lets out a loud whistle.

“Robin Goodfellow is no individual thing.

The entire forest my will. At my call they will sing.”

I hear something. Something behind me. It starts low, like a gentle hum. But it grows as we move, getting louder and more violent. I stop and turn just for a second, just to see what follows us. Immediately, I realize the mistake, and seeing the dark cloud following us, I figure out pretty quickly what he summoned.

I jump faster. Pushing myself from trunk to trunk. I may not be a physical being anymore, but I don’t want to see what a swarm of bees can do to me.

They were catching up quickly, and the focus on jumping from tree to tree is keeping me from thinking clearly. The faerie I was competing against just laughs at my predicament. I can’t help but wonder how it came to this. It couldn’t have been more than a few days ago that I was just an architect, driving home to see my family. Now, I race forest spirits who summon swarms of bees.

Remind me to give Fate the finger and a swift kick in the shin if I ever meet him.

How do I avoid bees? It’s not like I have insect repellent on me. The thought of cartoons hiding in water pops in my head, but even that far flung idea won’t work. I haven’t seen any lakes or ponds around so yeah.

I’m officially out of ideas. Wait… what did Luna have me do?

I yell ahead to my opponent, “Hey, Mr. Goodfellow? Would you please call off the swarm of bees?”

He stops and stares at me, his eyes going wide. It’s like I just asked him some horrifying question. I catch up and land on the same branch as him and wait for his answer. He just keeps that same look on his face. I turn and look at the oncoming horde of pain and back quickly.

“Will you please call them off please?!”

“Hmm.. No.

Let’s go!”

He responds quickly and jumps off towards the trees again. Damn! He was messing with me. The bees are even closer now. I have to keep moving. The hum of the swarm never lets me forget the danger should I stop. As fast as we’re going, they’re going to catch up at some point.

Bees behind me, unhelpful imp ahead, and the stupid wind circling all around us.

Wait. For real this time. Robin entered with wind. Each movement draws more air in gushes and gales. The following swarm moves faster with his movements. So is he controlling wind? Is that the secret?

Luna taught me how gravity was just my perception. That I didn’t have a body to be pulled down. Can I possibly control the wind like Robin?

If so, how? I had to let go of my beliefs to lose the pull of gravity. Do I have to forget I can’t control wind? I take a leap to the next tree and close my eyes. I concentrate on the belief that I can control the wind. I can’t not move the air with my mind.

“Hoo-aah!” I scream out. The tree I was aiming for moved, hitting me in the head. I fall to another tree below.

Ugh! I don’t have time to think. And closing my eyes to concentrate leads to the trees messing with me. Besides I don’t think it was working. I tried changing my thoughts but I didn’t feel anything.

I didn’t think it would be that easy, but I was really hoping. The bees are getting closer and I don’t know what they’ll do to me. I’d hope against hope that I can’t be hurt, but hitting these trees show me how wrong I’d be. The real question is ‘Can I be stung to death if I’m already dead?’

Both yes and no have bad answers. Second death versus eternal pain. Of course, I could maybe have the bees pass through me. I’m not real. Lord knows I’m not that lucky though.

There has to be something I’m missing. The swarm is almost on top of me. The faerie is nearly out of sight. I’m stuck on this branch, without any clue as to how to move forward and escape this whole scenario. My journey looks to be over as soon as it started. There has to be something…

No… There is nothing. I can’t win.

I might continue to jump forward and catch up to Robin, but I can’t win the race until he decides it’s over. Highly doubt he’d be so kind as to do so before the bees catch up to us. I could try going somewhere else to escape the bees, but that gets me nowhere. I lose this race, I lose my chance to move on. And it’s very unlikely the bees will listen to reason. I have nothing. I can’t move on.

I surrender.

The Elysian: Seventh Dream

The imp in front of me quickly regains his composure, and addresses me again.

“The mortal is direct, bold and fierce!

But should watch his voice or his tongue I will pierce!”

Okay, so it’s not just his entrance. He’s going to speak in rhyme this whole time. That won’t get annoying or anything.

“Robin Goodfellow…” Why does that name sound familiar? “I’m trying to get through this door. Would you happen to have a key?”

He gives a smile and responds.

“No need, Mr. Rodriguez, to be so meek.

I know of your plight, and have what you seek.

I had heard you were different.

That your mind is quick.

So let us compete.

Off I go, to my path must you stick.”

He lets out a chuckle, and bends down on all fours. He wants to race? To where?

“Um, what are the rules?”

“The endeavor is simple. Stay within sight.

None have done so. Not beggar, lord or knight.

The trees are our road. The air, our muse!

And dire consequences if you should lose…”

I’m getting annoyed with all this rhyming. Just got to remember what Luna told me.

“Fine. I keep up with you until the end, and I get the key. Let’s get this over with.”

“The mortal accepts. Very hasty, quick thought

A challenging ordeal for himself he has bought”

“Yeah, yeah I get the picture.” At least, I hope I do.

I don’t know where we’re running to, or what nasty tricks he’ll throw at me along the way. He’s right though, I did just kind of agree to this without thinking. Barely two minutes in, and I already got myself into a bit of a mess. This sideways forest, and the man who challenged me are complete mysteries. How do I know if I can keep up?

I focus. Concentrate on my beliefs, turning an mere thought into absolute certainty. My body separates from the tree trunk, hovering a few feet above it. Robin Goodfellow gives a chuckle before speaking.

“What wise Luna teaches, you masterfully learn

But now is the time, for this key you must earn

Are you prepared to start? Can we begin the test?

Can we see if you’ll truly best the best?”

I couldn’t help myself.

“Take off for wherever, I swear to keep up.

And when we reach the end, you’ll have to pay up.”

The spirit laughed.

“You cannot rhyme a word with itself, silly man.

Though it’s funny you tried.

Enough with these words. Let’s begin

And see the power I eyed.”

With that, he leaps into the air, landing on a tree trunk next to us. He’s so fast. I float after him, trying to concentrate on moving myself faster. Before I’m halfway there, he jumps to the next adjacent trunk.

Have to keep moving, but I feel so slow in comparison to my opponent. Luna showed me there were limits to belief here. Is it a limit on my belief specifically or is there a universal limit? I push onward, trying to keep Robin in sight. He was fast and could easily outrun me, but I think he wants to play games with me. Or maybe teach me something like Luna.

We keep up this game for several more trees. He would land and wait, while I do my best to fly over faster. If he keeps up the show, I’d make it to the end with my eye on him, but I somehow doubt he’d be so simple. He jumps to another tree, and I decide to land on his previous one.

“This can’t be all. There has to be a catch. What’s going on here? Are you really just going to take it so easy on me?”

The faerie gives a smile. I immediately regret my words.

“If the hazard is too low, then I suppose it should increase!

Prepare to lose mortal! With your deity, make your peace!”

“No!” I cry out.

It was too late. The spirit takes off jumping from tree to tree, with no pause between. I must act fast. Have to think! How do I keep up? He runs and leaps on all fours faster than I can on two. He jumps like an insect, and he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

I try to push my floating ability to keep up, but it feels like flying through jello. I’d almost think I could do better running and jumping myself.

That’s not a bad idea. Maybe.

If he can go that fast moving like he does, then maybe I can too? It’s stupidly simple logic, but I don’t have anything else to go on. I crouch down, readying my legs for what was sure to be a huge mistake.

I look over the edge of the tree. No, that was the huge mistake. C’mon, I can do this. I concentrate. I believe.

My legs push off as hard as possible, my will focused on moving like Robin. I’m sent sailing through the air for my efforts, moving quickly like the faerie.  I’m moving so much faster! The wind seems to carry me, and it feels as if the trees are moving.

The trees are moving?

I look down and notice the trunk I was aiming for shifted to just out of my reach. I try to reach my hand out, still miss and go sailing down.

Another tree below it has moved into position to intercept me, and I thank whatever gods may exist for the save.

Then I land on my belly, sending pain through my entire body. It’s not fair. I don’t breathe, and can barely be said to exist, but somehow I can still be hurt? If I had a stomach, its contents would be coming up about now.

But I did it. I can move like him. Now I just need to catch up.

The Elysian: Sixth Dream

I step out the door, the light blinding me. As my vision adjusts to the sun hanging in the sky again, I realize something very peculiar. I’m not standing on a normal floor. I look down and realize I’m on a fallen tree trunk.

Well, sort of. The tree is still standing. And I’m walking on the side. I’m walking on the side of a standing tree. Looking around below and above, there’s more. A whole forest on its side.

A thought passes through my head. What would happen if I fell?

“AHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!”

I drop to the ground, er, tree and clutch it for my dear afterlife. Did I really just make that joke? I’ve been here far too long. I go from an innocuous room, to the middle of the universe and now I’m in a sideways forest. When do I get to the tea party?

I crawl back to the door and pull myself up to try and go back through. It’s locked. Dammit. I grab the obsidian key I just used and unlock it. I rush through the door and find myself exactly where I was.

Screaming again, I curse the stupid magic door! Stupid key! I grab the other key, the gold one and unlock the door again. I rush back into the oblivion of space.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“Hi Luna,” I meekly reply.

She gives me a dirty look. She just got done telling me not to be afraid and here I am.

“Get back in there. Coward.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I return through the door. The trunk seems as scary as before. Strange how floating in the middle of space didn’t feel quite so daunting as standing on the side of the tree. It’s probably the frame of reference. Space is nothingness in every direction. Here, I know the way gravity is supposed to work, but it doesn’t.

I don’t know where I’m supposed to go. What am I supposed to do? Crossing the length of the tree down to the “ground” takes longer than I’d like to admit, but I find it hard to balance on the trunk.

At the end, I place my hand on the dirt, picking up bits of sand and grime. I drop it from my hand and watch it curiously fall back to the ground, perpendicular to my own frame of reference.

Weird. Could it be because I’m shifted from…

The wind picks up. There’s a whistle in the air. I can feel something coming. It rustles at my ear, making me flinch. Whatever it was, it just went behind me. It’s fast.

I hear it again. Ridiculously fast. But it’s actually moving, unlike Death and Luna who seemed to teleport.

In all the wind, I hear a voice. It calls to me.

“It seems the traveler is lost and found,

when in a new place, he looks around

Sky above and trees below

What can he do? How can he know?

The path he seeks cannot be seen

A futile search as ever been…”

Where is that coming from? It sounds like it comes from the woods themselves. The wind chants along in the verse and the leaves dance to the rhythm.

“Your world you wish is not your own

Not life but Death, must you pick a bone

Scream to the earth! Yell and bellow!”

In a whirlwind of leaves and air, a small man, covered in brown fur appears before me on the tree trunk. He has two blue horns protruding from his forehead. The sly smile on his face made me fear his intentions. His entire being exuded a sense of unease.

“But fear not the whims of Robin Goodfellow!”

He takes a small bow, his eye never leaving mine.

I stood, dumbfounded. With an entrance like that, how could I not? What was I supposed to do? Oh, right.

“So… Do you have a key for this door?”

The faerie falls over from the question, exasperated from my audacity, I can only assume.

The Elysian: Fifth Dream

How do you find a planet? I know it’s all relative, but I have to imagine it’s in relation to other planets and stars. Like reading a map. You just need a reference point.

But this all assumes I even know where things are! If you point out Orion’s Belt, I could maybe orient myself to have a 50/50 chance of flying in the right direction of Earth. Assuming I’m not off by a few degrees.

“UGH! This is impossible!” I scream out.

Luna floats into view, upside down from my perspective, as I sit on my little plot of nothing.

“You’re really boring, you know that?” is all she says. Some help she is. For a celestial god, she’s really worthless.

“I’d be less boring if I had a clue on where to go. This is like finding a needle in a haystack. Or a specific screw in a skyscraper.”

She reorients herself, floating down to right in front of my face.

“Yes, but you’re forgetting something. It’s possible to find that screw. How would you do it?”

What? How am I supposed to know that? I mean, maybe with completed plans of the building, I’d have a shot. A map?

“I could consult the plans? You happen to keep a map of reality on you?”

She shakes her head.

“No! Let’s try this again. How would you find a screw on a building you didn’t design?”

“Um, I’d ask whoever drew up the plans for help?”

She smiles, like a proud teacher.

“You’ve almost got it. Say again, but slower.”

“What?” This is a weird game, isn’t it? “I’d ask the-“

“STOP!”

I snap my mouth shut, unsure what she was getting at. This doesn’t please her, as she sighs and shakes her head.

“Try to use more than two brain cells, mortal.”

What is she getting at?

“I’d ask?”

“Bingo! Took you long enough.”

“I’d ask” I repeat, slightly more confident. Is it really so simple.

“I jove, I do believe he’s got it.”

“Luna, will you please take me to earth?”

She almost giggles as she responds.

“Of course!”

She raises a hand and snaps her fingers. In the flash of a cosmic loading screen, we’re in orbit around a familiar blue marble.

The oceans gently move beneath me, as the cloud swirl over familiar continents. Somewhere on that planet is home. If I can’t find a way to get back in my body, I’ll have to remember this way back to this place.

“So… can I have the key now?”

“Don’t be so shy. You earned it. Here.” She holds out her hand and in it, I see a small key.

It’s shaped similarly to the one that brought me here, but instead of being gold, the key looked like a reflection of the room around us. The same darkness with twinkling diamonds. As the key moves, the stars within move unnaturally.

I reach out my own hand and take hold of the key.

“Having fun? I know it’s mesmerizing but snap out of it. You have a problem.”

What is she referring to? I look around trying to figure out what’s going on. It takes longer than I’d like to admit to realize what she was talking about.

“Oh. I’m nowhere near the door, am I? I don’t suppose you’d be willing to take me back there?”

She smiles and floats around me. I’m glad my daughters never had the ability to fly. Would have made managing them so much more difficult.

“Heehee, sure thing. In exchange for the keys of Death.”

She holds out her hand, like a child asking for money.

“Oh sure. Now you’ll take those.”

“If I took them before, you never would have learned anything. Besides, there are some things mortals are not meant to possess. I had to take them at some point.”

I look down and put my hand in my pocket but stop before pulling it out. Is this a fair trade? Why does she want these so badly? Could one of these keys help me?

“You could always stay here with no way to use those keys,” she threatens. “You should feel glad I’m giving you a pass on the door keys.”

Maybe it’s because I don’t like being told what to do. Maybe after all the games she played on me, I felt like it was my turn. All I know is I unlatched the key ring and let a few keys slide off into my pocket. I release it, the ring re-latching itself and pull it out of my pocket.

“Here. They’re no good to me anyway. My plan is to stay as far away from Death as possible.”

“You can only do that for so long. In the end, of course, you will meet him again.”

“For one who doesn’t like people to know what’s going to happen, his endings aren’t a surprise, are they?”

“Fate? Yes, he has his reasons for his secrecy. Still better company than Death.”

She holds out her hand. I drop the keys to her. No sooner do the keys hit her hand do we vanish, reappearing back by the door.

Looking at it now, it feels so much more ominous. Before I was just looking to escape. I didn’t have time to think about where it might lead me, but now I know this could take me anywhere.

“If you’re going to stand there all day, I’m going to ask for my key back.”

“I’m going. It’s just, well, where does this key take me?”

“Stop questioning it! Just go on and be surprised. That’s what an adventure is all about, right?”

I smile. This little girl, this all powerful god won’t let me back down. Powerful being and wise beyond anyone I’ve met.

“Thank you, Luna.

I turn and step toward the door and unlock it. The last thing I hear before stepping through the door is the giggle of a little girl.

The Elysian: Fourth Dream

“I have to find Earth? Doesn’t that seem a little bit…”

“Impossible? Of course,” Luna tells me. “But then you’ve pointed out all the impossible things you’ve seen today. Why don’t you try doing one?”

That is a load of crap. For starters, I don’t even know where I am. Hell, even if I did, I wouldn’t necessarily know where Earth is in relation to here. I could maybe recognize the 9- er, well, 8 planets of my solar system, but I’m a little out of luck beyond that.

And to be honest, I don’t know how fast I can travel. They could give me until the end of time and I still would never find it.

“Listen, Luna, I understand you feel the need to make me earn that key, but there’s no way I could do this in the short time I have. I’m trying to get back home to my family. To my daughters. Can’t we just say I’ll owe you one, or something?”

She furrows her brow again, this time really hard, like she’s really thinking it over.

She obviously isn’t.

“Nope. Go find it, or be stuck here forever.”

“I don’t have time for this!” I lunge at her, hoping I can hold her still and get the key. She disappears into nothing before I can reach her.

“Yes you do,” she says right in my ear.

I jump back away from her, surprised at how she moved. She laughs and disappears again.

“Rule Number One: Nothing is as it appears.” She materializes as she speaks off to the side of me. She’s floating in mid-air, her gown flowing around her, pushed by some non-existent wind.

“How are you doing that?”

“Time for another obvious question: Have you felt the pull of gravity?”

“I guess not…”

Luna puts her hands on her hips and tilts her head at me. Right. No guessing.

“There is no gravity here,” I affirm. “But I believe I am standing on something.”

She claps her hands together and points at me.

“You almost got it!”

“I believe I’m standing? So, if I believe I’m not, then I won’t be?”

She zooms around me for a few laps. It can’t be too hard, right? I’m doing it right now.

I walk forward a few steps to the invisible ledge before. It only hits me now that we had manipulated gravity when we were sitting there.

Moment of truth. I crouch down and jump up as high as I can. At the apex of my leap, I concentrate on the idea that this is all belief. There is no ground, no gravity.

I fall.

I don’t stop falling. I go careening past the place where the ledge was into the nothing of space. I don’t know how or why, but I’m not stopping. I let out a scream that would make someone feel embarrassed to know me.

As I fall, I pick up speed, not knowing if I’ll ever stop. Where am I going? What is pulling me? There’s no gravity, so what else could…

“You suppose? Are you sure of anything?”

“Are you breathing? Do you remember taking a breath since you died?”

“I’d hoped you’d learn by now to not assume.”

“That depends. Do you believe I’m the moon?”

“Rule number one: Nothing is as it appears.”

I stop. I will myself to stop. It’s as simple as being absolutely sure of something, which is more difficult than you might imagine. I’m back to standing on nothing, willing myself to not move further down.

But I’m not stopping there.

I lift my leg up, stepping at an angle. It feels like I’m walking up a wall, but as I orient the rest of my body, everything feels right. My other foot leave the ‘ground’ and I stand perpendicular to my starting position.

Gotta admit, I feel a little proud.

“And here I was thinking I’d have to deal with your screaming for a few thousand years.”

Luna was flying a little above me, lying out with her face in her hands.

This time, it’s my turn to smile. “Luna, the moon. So many cultures had their beliefs of a spirit or god inhabiting or even being the moon, and you were made from that belief.”

She giggles.

“I figured that was obvious.” She stands and floats down so she’s eye level with me. “I am the culmination of all those beliefs, given power by the believers. I may not have as many giving me form anymore, but I’m still a force to be reckoned with.”

“Yes. You’re right. That should have been obvious.”

“See! You’re not saying ‘I suppose’ or ‘I guess’ anymore! Good job, Mr. Rodriguez. You might do okay here.”

“Fantastic! So can I have the key?”

“The terms were you had to find Earth. I don’t see Earth, yet, so, no.”

Damn. Well, this lesson was about how belief shapes reality. Maybe if I believe I’m next to the Earth, I will be.

I concentrate hard, bringing that feeling of absolute certainty to the forefront of my mind. I connect with the idea, I’m next to Earth, floating in orbit around it.

My eyes open to find I haven’t moved.

“Thoughts and belief have a limit,” Luna smiles. “Even less for you, what with the whole ‘being dead’ thing.”

I sit, letting my body listlessly float away from Luna. This is still impossible.

The Elysian: Third Dream

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen true nothing, but it’s a trip. This room isn’t just dark and black, there is nothing in here. Nothing, but me and this door, which is strange I can see, since there’s no light source.

It’s a depressing feeling. Th emptiness creeps inside of you and pierces your heart. I look around, taking a few steps when a thought hits me. If there’s nothing in this room, what am I standing on?

I freeze in place at that moment. Looking down, my heart starts beating faster. What is stopping me from falling into the abyss?

“You’re a bit of a ‘fraidy cat, aren’t ya?”

I scream out in terror for the second time in ten minutes.

“GAHDONTEATME!” I throw my hands over my head to protect myself. No monster from the nothing is going to catch me!

“Wow. Make that a lot of a ‘fraidy cat. Relax.” I feel two small hands gently push my arms off my head. “I don’t eat humans. You wiggle too much and I’ve heard the calories are killer.”

As my arms are pushed out of my face, I see in front of me a young girl.

If I had to guess, she couldn’t be more than nine or ten. Her skin was pale, but not in an unhealthy way. I would almost say it had a soft glow, except that wouldn’t be quite right. Her hair was dark, nearly blending into the nothing that surrounded us. She wore a simple gown that shimmered in a silver, non-existent light.

Her smile calmed me, replacing the anxiety the room had instilled.

“Uh, hi?” I say.

“Hi? Are you wondering if you should be greeting me?” she teases.

I give a slightly nervous chuckle.

“I suppose so.”

“You suppose? Are you sure of anything?”

“Considering my life recently, I really don’t think I am.”

She giggles.

“You’re funny.”

“Thanks…” This little girl was making me painfully aware of the breaks in my sanity. “So, who are you? Are you another soul trying to escape Death?”

She laughs again, everything appearing to be a joke to her.

“Aren’t we all?” she says, cryptically. She turns and sits down, legs hanging over what I can only assume is a ledge. I carefully step next to her and sit down, hanging my own legs down.

“I guess we are.”

“There you go again. ‘Guess.’ You should stop worrying and enjoy the view.”

“Oh yeah. All this nothing is so-”

It happened both fast and slow. Like raising a dimmer switch, but the light was always on in the first place. The twinkling lights, swirling dust, explosions of light and balls of fire whizzing by, all suspended in a field of literal nothingness.

I open my mouth to say something, but nothing came out. I knew what I was looking at. I knew what surrounded me. I just couldn’t accept it. I couldn’t comprehend.

“I’d hoped you’d learn by now to not assume. Nothing is as it appears.” She lies back, putting her hands behind her head.

“This can’t be,” I manage to get out.

I’m in the middle of space. There was nothing when I entered, and now everything was laid out before me. Me, a door, and this little girl.

From behind me, I hear her say,

“Welcome to the Black. My name is Luna.”

“Luna? As in the moon?”

She sits up and gives me a side-eyed glance.

“That depends. Do you believe I’m the moon?”

My brow furrows. What does she mean by that?

“Don’t bother answering if you don’t know,” she quickly responds. “From what I’ve seen, you can’t make up your mind about anything.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” I turn back to the spectacle of the universe around me. “So we’re in space?”

“Weren’t you always?”

“And we just happen to be standing on nothing and breathing that same nothing?”

“Of course not, that would be silly!” She giggles as she stands up.

“Come again?”

“Why would you think we’re standing, or rather, sitting? Are you breathing? Do you remember taking a breath since you died?”

It hits me like a two-by-four. I’m not breathing. How did I not notice before? In retrospect, it makes sense. I’m dead. I’m a spirit. I have no body. The afterlife wouldn’t care if I had access to oxygen.

Speaking of.

“Where am I?” I ask.

“I thought we went over this. You’re in outer space.”

“No, no. I get that. I think.” Don’t dwell on it. “I mean, this sort of space area thing. Like the door I came through. The room I was in. Death. You. How is all this possible?”

“Where am I?” I emphasize.

It’s her turn for her brow to furrow. She looks around like she’s trying to decide something.

“You’re dead. So this is the afterlife. Wouldn’t you say that makes sense?”

She’s lying.

“It would, if it felt more final. But there’s nothing here that suggests an end. If anything, I’ve only been reminded of the life I had.”

“And what’s wrong with that?” her voice raises with passion. “Would you expect the afterlife to show you something new? Would you say sitting in the midst of your obsidian ocean isn’t fascinating enough for you?”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” I start before she cut me off.

“How does this remind you of your life anyway? How often did you look toward the sky with a thought other than ‘Looks like rain?’ Have you ever looked beyond your own life to the wonders of your universe?”

Her fists were clenched. She turned this back around on me quickly. I knew she was hiding something in her answer, but I have no idea what this little girl is capable of.  For all I know, she’s an omnipotent being who could crush me with her pinky. Or she’s just a little girl messing with my head. Either way, I know she’s more dangerous than the way I’m treating her.

“I’m sorry. You’re right. It’s more like I’m being shown what I didn’t appreciate. Relaxation. My daughter. This entire room right here is one of the biggest things I know I never cared about in life. So why show me this, if I’m supposed to give it all up?”

“I showed you nothing. You’re the one who turned the key.” She was a bit more relaxed. I now don’t have to worry about being turned into mush. Or dealing with an angry little girl. I know all too well how the second one turns out.

“I turned the key. But then my only other option was being stuck in a room with Death, which I can assure you, is not a pleasant situation.”

“I agree. He’s far too full of himself. Going on about this and that and the order of the universe. Also, he smells a little like kiwis and I hate kiwis.”

“…Yes. All of that. Exactly.”

“But then, you could have gone somewhere else.”

“What?”

The girl turns around and sticks her arms out, walking like shes balancing on some unseen beam. More games.

“You’re assuming that key is the only one that unlocks the door. In actuality, there are infinite.”

“So… the different keys open this door up to other places?”

“Bingo!” She reaches the end of her imaginary balance beam and turns around. “Of course, you just have the one.”

“But why would Death just have the one? And why would it lead here?”

“You’re really not bright, are you? Oh well, you’ll figure it out eventually. Well, lucky for you, I have another key.”

“Really? I don’t suppose you’ll just give it to me, now will you?”

“I haven’t quite decided. While giving you such a valuable object for free isn’t very smart, you don’t particularly have anything of use to me.”

Crap. Bargaining. Never my strong suit.

“I could lend you a favor? Or I have Death’s key ring. I’m sure there’s something of some kind of value on here.”

She smiles and turns to look into the cosmos.

“No. I have a better idea. We’re going to play a game.”

That isn’t what I expected…

“What kind of game? What are the rules?”

She answers without turning to face me

“It’s very simple. You have to find Earth.”

The Elysian: Second Dream

I scream as Death had snuck up behind me. Again.

“I apologize for the surprise, but you seemed puzzled.”

My heart is racing in my chest. How often do I gotta deal with this?

“Of course I’m confused! I knocked on the door, but my daughter couldn’t see me!

Death merely smiles that oddly comforting smile of his.

“Of course she couldn’t. You’re a ghost.”

“I’m a ghost?”

He snaps his fingers, returning us to the room we were in before. The floral walls feel a lot less uplifting now.

“You don’t have a body, but you still have your emotions. And emotions are power. The possibility of reuniting with your family pushed them to a boiling point, temporarily enabling you to knock on the door.”

“So I get emotional and I can touch stuff?”

Death gives a less comforting smile, and begins pacing around the room.

“Mr. Rodriguez, you cannot be reunited with your family. Your life is over. What I just showed you is what you can look forward to if you refuse to move on. An eternity of being unable to hold your daughter. Never kissing your wife again. You would barely be there.”

I shake my head.

“What if that’s fine with me? What if I want to be with them no matter what?”

“Have you ever wondered how a haunted house is made? Over time, you’d lose your mind. You’d become pure anger and madness. The good news is you’d likely be able to touch your family again. The bad news is you’d likely kill them.”

It was said as a threat. I know he didn’t mean to, and was just explaining what would happen, but it came out as a threat. I would hurt them.

“Why do you care? I thought it wasn’t your job to worry about them.” I cross my arms. I consider going back to the chair, but I’m unsure if that’s wise. If I have to defend myself, I should be standing.

“My job is to reap spirits. If you start killing in your insanity, my job becomes more difficult. Besides, I know you don’t want to hurt anyone.”

I can’t deal with this. How are you supposed to deal with being dead? I need a plan. I need to figure out how to get back to my family.

I need to buy time.

“Fine. But only if you’ll grant me a favor.”

Death cocks his head at me. I think he expected me to be a harder sell.

“That depends on the favor.” He stands up and walks in front of me.

“Tell me my family’s future. Let me know they’re okay. If I get that, I am willing to pass on without any trouble.”

His face loses the bright luster he’s had since we met.

“I’m afraid I cannot. Fate is rather picky, and doesn’t like anyone seeing his work.”

“Bullshit! I’m dead. I can’t know? It’s not like I can do anything about it.”

He sighs and turns away from me, facing the door.

“I am sorry. With all my power, this is the one thing I cannot grant, even if I were willing.”

Is there anything I can do? My request was only half a stall. I think I might be okay if I know what happens to my family.

I look around the room wondering what else I can do, when a glint off the door catches my eye. The knob has a keyhole.

The door was locked earlier when I tried to open it, but there must be a key if it has a lock right?

“Mr. Rodriguez, I need you to choose, and I need you to choose correctly. You cannot remain.”

He’s still talking. Still not looking. I reach for the nearby vase.

This is the dumbest idea I’ve had since college.

I smash the vase on his head and he collapses on the ground.

I just knocked Death unconscious…

That was awesome!

I kneel down and start rifling through his pockets. I feel his coat and find what I’m looking for: an odd shaped lump. I reach in his inside jacket pocket and find a ring of keys. There’s a lot of them too. House key, locker key, car key. Death apparently owns a Cadillac. One was even twisted in on itself in an impossible shape, but I still intrinsically know it’s a key. Weird.

I start trying them all on the lock on the door. As I sift through key after key, I notice a weird sensation. The keys feel alive in my had. It’s not like they’re moving, but they feel wrong to hold. I can’t really explain.

“Ugh…” Death groans behind me.

Shit! He’s finally coming around. I have to hurry. I keep trying key after key until a little gold key unlocks the door. I open it and quickly go through, closing it shut on the other side. I pop the key in and lock it again.

My head thunks against the door, hoping there’s no way to follow me. I mean, he did teleport me home what’s to stop him from following me here? And what if he catches me?

“What am I worried about? What’s the worst that can happen? I’m already dead right?”

…Something feels wrong behind me. Oh god, he’s right behind me isn’t he? He used his death powers to just pop right behind me. Dammit.

I turn and look to find nothing.

Not just ‘Death isn’t here’, but nothing. There is nothing in this room. It’s not darkness, it’s not empty. It’s just nothing.

“Okay. What now?”

The Elysian: First Dream

I could swear I feel him slink into the room. He’s quick. If I weren’t so focused on this little space I’ve been trapped in for what feels like a day and a half, I might have missed it. This room has been so confining. So, well, bright actually. A nice shade of baby blue, with a floral design accenting the corners and a fancy vase on a shelf on the wall. Lighting is really uplifting. It’s the not first place I’d imagine someone would kidnap me to.

But back to the elephant in the room.

He was fast. I didn’t even see the door open, and he was already sitting in a chair across from me. It’s possible he didn’t even use it, considering the door was locked. He is dressed in a tuxedo. Very fancy, probably cost more than a year of my salary. His head is bald and his eyes were dark and piercing. The goatee is a little off putting and…

Wait. Never mind. He doesn’t have a goatee. I don’t know why I thought he did.

His demeanor is relaxed. The air around us exudes some calm that I couldn’t place my finger on. It reminded me of an absolute stillness. His eyes seem to look through me with a kind gentleness. Definitely not what I expect from a kidnapper.

He has one leg crossed over the other. His left hand on the arm rest of the fancy chair. His right hand curled up next to his face like he was playing with a coin or something.

I finally can’t take it anymore and decide to find out what the hell was going on. He beat me to it.

“Mr. Rodriguez. I’m sure you’re curious as to what is going on.”

“You could say that.”

“Now, before you start on some anger driven rant, let me ask you: What do you remember before waking up here?”

The question throws me a little. Of course I knew I…

Wait… I was- I was in bed. Wasn’t I? No. I was at work. Done with work. Driving home? As I kept trying to remember, more parts of my flowed into my memory.

“Don’t strain your brain on it, Mr. Rodriguez. The moments before are bound to be a little fuzzy,” he cautioned.

“…Moments before what?”

He chuckles. It’s actually kind of comforting, if you can say that about a laugh from a psycho.

“Why, don’t you understand who I am?”

My confused look must have given away my answer. He stands up, straightens his jacket and looks me right in the eye. He extends his hand to me and says,

“Mr. Rodriguez, I am Death. How nice to make your acquaintance.”

I squint one eye, trying to figure out if this guy is crazy or playing a joke.

“You’re death? Like in a metaphorical way?”

He chuckles and I start to get creeped out. Well, I suppose I’ve been weirded out by all of this.

“If we could skip the incredulous denial? I am on a tight schedule. You’re dead. I’m here to escort you to your after life.”

He disappears in an instant from in front of me.

What the hell? I look around the room but he’s nowhere to be seen. Gone from right in front of me.

“No, I can’t be dead. He can’t be Death. This is some sick joke.”

“This is not a sick joke,” he says right into my ear.

“AHHH! Geez! Don’t do that!” I jump forward turning to face him. How did he get behind me like that?

“Showing people aspects of my inhuman abilities tends to help convince them of their current predicament.”

I stay silent as I try to piece this together. He smiles and takes a few steps around the room. Am I dead? Am I in a room with…

I’m in a room with Death. Death is here. With me. I’m… I’m dead.

“Keep focusing, Mr. Rodriguez. You’ll remember what happened.”

His voice is so calming. Is that why he-

No. Focus.

I died. How? I-Where was I? I remember my wife’s delicious breakfast that morning. I remember driving to work, drawing up a new building design, the terrible joke Johnson made.

But then I drove home.

…I didn’t make it home. Oh god…

“Yes. Keep thinking. It will be painful, but also helpful.”

I was sitting at a red light. Thinking about that annoying PTA meeting I had to attend this weekend. The light changed… I started forward and then…

“A semi sideswiped you. You were dead nearly instantly.”

“Stop reading my goddamn mind!” I grab my head as I keep trying to remember it happening, but I can’t move it forward. My memory ends there.

“I’m sure you’re upset-“

“UPSET?! I’m dead! I have to go back!”

He smiles. I am really hating that.

“You fail to understand the situation. You are dead. You can’t change that. You need to accept it and move on.”

Excuse me?

“Like hell I do. Don’t I get some chance to win my soul back or something? Like a chess game? Something like that?”

He sighs and slides his arm through the air. A table appears where there wasn’t one before.

“If you would like, I can summon a variety of games to play. They’re good for passing the time, but none can undo what has happened to you. Your spirit or soul or mind, whatever you wish to call it, is completely separated from your body. There is no way to return to it.”

I shake my head.

“It can’t be all that difficult to-”

“Not to mention your body was mangled beyond recognition in the accident.”

…Okay, not the answer I was hoping for.

“But what about my family? My wife? My daughters?”

“They are still alive.”

“I mean, what are they going to do for money? How are they going to deal with my death?”

“That is none of my concern.”

“But it’s my concern!”

He sighs and snaps his fingers. I find myself at home, the lights are on. I can’t believe it. Was it that easy? It can’t be. Has to be some kind of ‘Ghost of Christmas’ deal.

I walk up to the front door and knock. My hand hits the wood and lets out a resounding thud. I hear someone walking up the entrance hall. What’s going on? Why can I touch things? Am I alive again?

The door opens and standing there is my little girl, Alex. Her long brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. She had just started middle school and I was taken away from her.

She looks confused.

“Alex? Baby?”

She looks around the entrance, but not at me. Then, she closes the door and walks away. I can hear her yell something, but it’s too mumbled to make out. What in the hell just happened?

“You’re dead.”

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