Note: This is the 3rd (and last!) Zetta Grace story, wooo! Which means this probably won’t make sense if you haven’t read ‘Top Ten Things Zetta Grace Excelled At” and “Haze of Black and White”, so you might want to check those out first! XD Enjoy!
Zetta had thought she knew weightlessness.
The drop of a roller coaster when your stomach bobs around.
That long fall off the high-dive, cerulean water glistening so far below.
None of that could compare to death.
Zet’s mind, usually full of mash-ups of nonsense, went blank. For a moment, she couldn’t hear, think, touch, taste, or smell. There was no ‘she’, just the crumpled body of Zetta Grace on a New York road as her glowing spirit separates from her physical body. She was lost, gone, dead.
Until she wasn’t.
At least, her consciousness swirled back. Zetta’s jaw dropped as she glanced around.
Moments before, she had gawked at the perfect unpattern lacing New York’s culture. But two minutes later, she died then...returned. Not on Earth, but here.
Zetta stood in a long line of ghosts. Spirits? Human figurines, but reimagined as floating blue wisps, legs bound together into a triangle-shaped bottom half, kind of like the Genie in Aladdin. Their smooth figures were flawless, no clunky things like clothes or jewelry. But they weren’t exactly naked, either. It was like everyone was draped in new blue skin, covering everything except the semi-human outline. Zetta’s gaze dropped down, and sure enough, she looked like everyone else: a pale blue ghost with 20-year-old body. She patted her arm, but her ‘hand’ went right through.
The line of people hovered over a thin crimson carpet. The carpet actually had texture and color and was solid. The carpet stretched on forever like the endless people on it. Below the carpet...nothingness. But to either side of her, memories danced on the non-existent walls.
It was like a mural, but moving. A hologram movie, painting images of Earth. Zetta watched as the pictures flipped through clips of time.
Zetta ripped her eyes away from the walls. She needed to focus. To concentrate. To think. What was happening? Her memories were peppered with gaps. Actually, purely gaps. Her entire past was erased from her mind.
Who was she?
All she recalled was...emotions. Kind of. From her final moments, she remembered feeling confused and sad and mad and lost, masking the rest of her lives’ feelings, Until she wasn’t anything at all.
It was hard to describe what Zetta felt, because she felt blank. Hollow. Lost. Like her emotions and thoughts and personality was pulled out of her mind by the roots with her past. She could only sense her final feelings, the rest of her life blurred beneath a tarp of sadness.
Zetta ripped her mind out of her old emotions. She couldn’t remember her past but barely wanted to anymore. It felt...bad. And sad. A heartbreak, like the thing that mattered most was ripped away from her.
She knew she died. Vanished from Earth. But just because she was gone from the planet didn’t mean she was gone from the world. Because she was thinking about this right now, observing the other ghosts, doing her nervous habit of biting at her fingernails even though she didn’t have fingernails here.
But where was ‘here’?
The afterlife? Zet didn’t believe in afterlives, but...that could be the only possibilities. Life was gone, and her existence now was after life. So why was she standing in this line?
She jumped up—or, willed herself to float a little higher. Staring over the heads of the endless chattering ghosts. But now it wasn’t endless, because far in the distance, she spotted a giant opaque white sphere, enveloping a whole chunk of the end of the red carpet. And the line got shorter at a rapid pace as one after another ‘people’ stepped into the bubble.
Hopefully, that place contained answers.
All she had to do now was wait.
Zetta didn’t have to wait long.
She fingered her used-to-be-dark curls as she watched the memories whirl by, and in less than five minutes—maybe more or less, as time ceased to exist in this strange after life place—she stood right behind the bubble. Zet eyed it suspiciously. The large sphere hovered at the edge of the carpet, three times her height. Did she have any other choice than to step in?
With a deep breath, Zetta took a step straight into the white ball and passed right through. When she blinked her eyes open, she was in a large circular room. In front of her was a huge obsidian desk, perched upon it a giant...creature. It looked like a seven-foot tall owl, the bulk of the owl’s coat jet-black but with patches of sparkling colors decorating it. The owl’s face was the confusing part: it had the bird’s head, but the actual facial features were that of a thousand animals. The face was a blur: it shifted from human features to a dog’s snout, a parrot head and then a giant ant. Peering up from each face were two deep blue eyes, the azure color staring into Zetta’s soul. Behind the desk, the room had three doorless doorways: the first, on the left of the desk, had a fire-engine red door frame, a tunnel pulsing with red light extending beyond the room. On the right of the owl and desk was a yellow doorframe with a yellow tunnel. And behind the owl was a doorframe and tunnel colored with a shade Zet had never seen before. Zetta’s mind traced back to an elementary school lesson, when she learned there were more colors to the Electromagnetic Spectrum that the human eyes simply could not pick up. This must’ve been one of them, a color Zet never could’ve imagined for and struggled to describe now. The color was soft, a million baby colors swirling into a slightly-color-changing hue. Gorgeous.
Wait...what? Yeah, she remembered that school lesson. It was still fuzzy around the edges, but she could recall that moment from long ago. But it didn’t feel like she remembered that moment. More like the memory was yanked to the front of her mind.
Zetta swallowed. None of this made sense.
“Welcome,” the owl spoke in a monotone. He—she—they?—had a deep voice, undertones channeling all power in the world. Their dark eyes focused on Zetta. It felt like the owl was reading Zet’s soul.
A shiver crept down her spine. In this strange reality, that could be accurate.
Zet gulped again. “Who...are you? Why am I here?”
At first, the owl seemed confused at her voice. Then a low chuckle echoed around the room. “I’m—” What he said next was best described as a series of noises exerted from his throat. “—the third,” he finished. “But you can call me Jilaspex.” His colbalt eyes studied her her. “And you are in the Pre.”
“Pre?” Zetta asked, blinking. “Pre what?”
“Where you’ll go.”
Zetta didn’t bother ask another question. She just waited for Jilaspex to elaborate, which he did after a moment of silence. “You have died less than an hour ago, Zetta Celestine Grace.” Zetta smiled. At least she knew her name. “And now it is time for me to study your life and choose where you’ll go.” He gestured to the red door frame with his wing. “The Land of Red, for naughty souls with icky afterlives.” Next, he pointed to the blue door. “Aydosiper, for average beings to have a somewhat pleasant time.” Lastly, his owl head swiveled and he gestured to the mysterious tunnel behind him. “Or Goldengates, where good people may choose between living in paradise or being reborn on Earth as a baby.”
“Move to the side,” Jilaspex ordered, interrupting Zetta’s new question in his commanding tone. She did so, lingering besides his desk and waiting there as another soul hovered into the room.
Zetta’s breath caught. She hadn’t seen the faces of the other ghosts yet, and she regretted seeing one now. Everything about these dead people seemed...sad, dreary. All the life drained out of them, quite literally. Zetta couldn’t believe it. She had lost everything, her memories and personality and life, but she still had her sense of self. Like she was building back her personality. These husks of people were...eerily silent, all the fight drained out of them.
The many-faced owl stared down at the old man’s soul and there was a brief silence, before Jilaspex motioned towards the yellow door—Aydosiper, Zet recalled—and said, “That way.”
Without making a sound, the man drifted towards the doorframe and disappeared down the tunnel.
“So what’s happening right now?” Zetta whispered as another soul—this time, a 30-something year-old man—floated in.
Jilaspex ruffled his feathers and glared at her. “Hush. These souls need to be sorted.”
A moment of intense staring at the man later, the giant owl gestured to the red tunnel. He tutted. “You think you can get away with that and not get punishment in the afterlife? Land of Red, Mr.”
The ghost drifted down the hall. Jilaspex turned to Zetta. “And to answer your question, I don’t know what’s happening. You’re a rather peculiar soul. It’ll take me a little while to read your past—or perhaps pasts.” Zet squinted. Um, what? “For now, I’m waiting until my lunch break because I don’t have enough time in between regular silent souls to read you.”
Zetta tried to squeeze in a few more questions between soul-sorting, but she had almost no new information ten minutes later. Finally, Jilaspex turned to her. “Alright, it’s my lunch break now. C'mere, let’s see who you are.”
Zetta took a deep break then walked towards the center of the room again. She held eye contact with the owl for a full minute, before he said, “Hmm. You’re a Special Case.”
That’s when the floor opened up before her and she started falling.
Zetta tumbled though nothingness for seconds.
She had no idea.
All she knew was that her world was blurred black and then…
“Aaaaa-CHOO!” Zetta sniffled. She blinked her eyes open. A thousand shifting faces stared down at her, all paired with bright violet eyes. When she glanced around, Zet realized she was in the wings of another giant owl.
Yet apparently, she was allergic to these feathers. A few more sneezes later, the owl yeeted her into the air and Zetta’s blue, whispy soul-body tumbled to the marble floor.
She got up easily and scanning her surroundings. Under ‘feet’ an endless marble floor, and above that...wow. A shimmering coal night sky, woven with stars and planets and moons. A dim light emitted from the floor, but other than that, it was dark. And yep, another soul-owl person stood in front of her.
“Hullo,” the owl said, her voice more female than Jilaspex’s but just as power-commanding. She regarded Zetta with those piercing purple eyes. “Ah, a Special Case. I haven’t had one of those in a while. It gets awful boring being a Special Case Introducer when there aren’t any humans good enough to come here, you know.”
“What’s...that? Who are you?”
“You can call me Ellie. And you, Zetta, have a choice.” Ellie peered down at Zetta for a few moments. Zetta held her questions—Ellie seemed to me reading her the same way Jilaspex had. “Jilaspex explained how souls are sorted after they pass away, yes?”
“Y-yeah,” Zet said in a shaky voice.
Ellie nodded. “You, Zetta, are bound for Goldenhills, as you’re a wonderful person. I watched your whole life in those few seconds, and...you’re incredibly kind for a college student. You donated, though you earned less than minimum wage as a part-time novelist, you helped people off the ground time and time again. Your life was cut short because of an accident, alas, but you had a bright future.”
Zetta still didn’t want to remember this past—it was good she was nice and all, but what kind of accident?—but curiosity fuzzed at the edges of her mind. “So...I’m going to Goldenhills?”
Well, that was...good.
But she was still confused and overwhelmed with pain and sadness every time her mind tried for linger back down Memory Lane.
Ellie shook her head. “That’s an option. But you have another. See, those going to Goldenhills have a choice: live in paradise forever, or be reborn back on Earth as a baby. And no, those aren’t your choices,” Ellie cleared up with a glance at Zetta’s face. “Listen. In your first life, you went to Goldenhills. Chose to be reborn. Death—and Goldenhills. Reborn. You just died again, and now you made it back to Goldenhills.”
Wow. Zetta old self was pretty remarkable, wasn’t she?
If only the current, confused soul-Zet could remember.
Ellie edged forward. “Which makes you a Special Case...with another option: no death. You can go right back to Earth and resume your normal life if you please. When you die...well, there’s a good chance Goldenhills will be waiting for you. Unless you chance your whole personality and randomly murder someone,” she chuckled.
Zetta’s jaw dropped at Ellie’s words. Gosh. Just...cheating death? Going back to Earth like this mysterious accident never happened? Insane...ly good.
But...her life seemed bad to her, right? Pain and suffering?
Or was that just the end?
She sighed. She only half-remembered her death, which obviously wouldn’t‘ve felt great. And you can only be mentally in pain about dying if you wanted to live in the first place.
“I mean, I just don’t know,” Zetta whispered. “I can’t remember that life so...I don’t know if I want to go back to it.”
For just that brief moment, the owl’s faces softened. “Let me show you.”
Ellie wiped a wing over Zet’s forehead and all of a sudden...
The memories beyond her final moments swirled back.
20 years’ worth of memories rushing back to their places in her head.
So fast, she couldn’t decipher them.
All the words.
These many moments.
But she felt the emotions loud and clear.
Sparks of inspiration.
Collapsing into the arms of someone, both of them giggling.
The wave of positivity almost swept Zetta away, but that was good. And when she glanced back at Ellie, she knew she wanted to return to this life. She had a reason, now. That person she loved, that happiness she carried, the curiosity she possessed and adventures she yearned to have—like having a positive midlife-crisis but at age 20. “Y-Yes,” she stuttered, staring into Ellie’s violet eyes. “I want to go back!”
A smile flattered across the owl’s face. “Lovely. Come here.”
Zetta’s blue soul body leaned back into the soft feathers of the magic death-owl. She didn’t sneeze, but a light feeling of excitement tickled her nose instead.
And then Ellie chanted, in the same tongue as Jilaspex’s (and probably Ellie’s) real name. But this time the soul-owl didn’t sound harsh, mucus-coated words coughed up—her chanting was smooth and lyrical, tales of bubblegum flowers and jasmine-scented candles. The last word of her song hung in the silence then…
Zetta’s eyes fluttered open.
She expected the same star-strung night sky as before, but...harsh lights met her vision instead. Ouch. The light burned into her head, so sudden. Zet blinked back tears as the world raced to life. Faces blurred, all glancing down at her. Murmurs swept the air: “Get the doctor!” “It’s a miracle!” “Zetta Celestine Grace is back!”
Then, the flood of faces split—and a familiar one leaned into view.
Zetta focused in on his features through her confusion and happiness. A blond boy with a concerned—yet ecstatic—expression. All of her memories of her life were still a bit soggy to Zetta, but she remembered him loud and clear: Asher.
“Zetta?” he whispered.
She swallowed and smiled, up at him, “Yes, think so.”
A flurry of so many mixed emotions danced across his features as he sobbed, “I thought you were dead, Zet.” He threw his arms around her.
She hugged him back, face buried in his shoulder. She was so glad she picked life. “Now, why did you think that?”
He pulled away, a glimpse of confusion crossing his face. “Hmm?”
Zetta smiled. “I told you we’d see each other again.”
He laughed. “I never should’ve doubted you.”
They hugged each other again, the world fading away. Zet silently thanked Ellie, wherever she was. Zetta was back.
And for that moment, battered and bruised on a hospital bed but breathing and smiling with her favorite person, everything was perfect.