It was a very peaceful place to die.
Gillian’s shivering had stopped.
Which meant it was all over now. Her body couldn’t warm itself by shivering any longer, and was giving up the fight. Instead, it was trying to move into hibernation. Shutting itself down, reducing breathing and heart rate, conserving the little warmth that was left. Trying to survive until help could come.
Except that no help was coming.
No one knew where she was. It would be hours before her dad got home or her mother was…
awake. And even then they wouldn’t be alarmed that Gillian wasn’t there. They’d assume she was with Amy. By the time anyone thought of looking for her it would be far too late.
The faraway part of Gillian’s mind knew all this, but it didn’t matter. She had reached her physical limits-she couldn’t save herself now even if she could have thought of a plan.
Her hands weren’t red anymore. They were blue-white. Her muscles were becoming rigid.
At least she no longer felt cold. There was only a vast sense of relief at not having to move. She was so tired…
Her body had begun the process of dying.
White mist filled her mind. She had no sense of time passing. Her metabolism was slowing to a stop. She was becoming a creature of ice, no different from any stump or rock in the frozen wilderness.
I’m in trouble… somebody… somebody please…
Her last thought was, it’s just like going to sleep.
And then, all at once, there was no rigidity, no discomfort. She felt light and calm and free-and she was floating up near the canopy of snowy boughs.
How wonderful to be warm again! Really warm, as if she were filled with sunshine. Gillian laughed in pleasure.
But where am I? Didn’t something just happen-something bad?
On the ground below her there was a huddled figure. Gillian looked at it curiously.
A small girl. Almost hidden by her long pale hair, the strands already covered in fine ice. The girl’s face was delicate. Pretty bone structure. But the skin was a terrible flat white-dead looking.
The eyes were shut, the lashes frosty. Underneath, Gillian knew somehow, the eyes were deep violet.
I get it. I remember. That’s me.
The realization didn’t bother her. Gillian felt no connection to the huddled thing in the snow. She didn’t belong to it anymore.
With a mental shrug, she turned away–and she was in a tunnel.
A huge dark place, with the feeling of being vastly complicated somehow. As if space here were folded or twisted-and maybe time, too.
She was rushing through it, flying. Points of light were whizzing by-who could tell how far away in the darkness?
Oh, God, Gillian thought. It’s the tunnel. This is happening. Right now. To me.
I’m really dead.
And going at warp speed.
Weirder than being dead was being dead with a sense of humor.
Contradictions… this felt so real, more real than anything that had ever happened while she was alive.
But at the same time, she had a strange sense of unreality. The edges of her self were blurred, as if somehow she were a part of the tunnel and the lights and the motion. She didn’t have a distinct body anymore.
Could this all be happening in my head?
With that, for the first time, she felt frightened. Things in her head… could be scary. What if she ran into her nightmares, the very things that her subconscious knew terrified her most?
That was when she realized she had no control over where she was going.
And the tunnel had changed. There was a bright light up ahead.
It wasn’t blue-white, as she would have expected from movies. It was pale gold, blurred as if she were seeing it through frosty glass, but still unbelievably brilliant.
Isn’t it supposed to feel like love or something?
What it felt like-what it made her feel-was awe. The light was so big, so powerful… and so Just Plain Bright. It was like looking at the beginning of the universe. And she was rushing toward it so fast-iht was filling her vision. She was in it.
The light encompassed her, surrounded her. Seem
Seemed to shine through her. She was flying upward through radiance like a swimmer surfacing.
Then the feeling of motion faded. The light was getting less bright-or maybe her eyes were adapting to it.
Shapes solidified around her.
She was in a meadow. The grass was amazing- not just green, but a sort of impossible ultra green. As if lit up from inside. The sky was the same kind of impossible blue. She was wearing a thin summer dress that billowed around her.
The false color made it seem like a dream. Not to mention the white columns rising at intervals from the grass, supporting nothing.
So this is what happens when you die. And now… now, somebody should come meet me. Grandpa Trevor? I’d like to see him walking again.
But no one came. The landscape was beautiful, peaceful, unearthly-and utterly deserted.
Gillian felt anxiety twisting again inside her. Wait, what if this place wasn’t-the good place? After all, she hadn’t been particularly good in her life. What if this were actually hell?
Or … limbo?
Like the place all those spirits who talked to mediums must be from. Creatures from heaven wouldn’t say such silly things.
What if she were left here, alone, forever?
As soon as she finished the thought, she wished she hadn’t. This seemed to be the kind of place where thoughts-or fears-could influence reality.
Wasn’t that something rancid she smelled?
And-weren’t those voices? Fragments of sentences that seemed to come from the air around her? The kind of nonsense said by people in dreams.
“So white you can’t see…”
“A time and a half…”
“If only I could, girl…”
Gillian turned around and around, trying to catch more. Trying to figure out whether or not she was really hearing the words. She had the sudden gut-trembling feeling that the beauty around her could easily come apart at the seams.