The pickup ran the red light. I screamed as it sailed into the side of my Subaru Outback, then all disappeared into darkness.
I sat up on the floor and shook my head, my ears ringing. My clothes were gone, replaced with a white collared shirt, white jeans, and white sneakers. I sat in an empty light grey room, all alone.
“Hello?” I called, feeling a wave of panic. I noticed a white ponytail on my wrist and quickly used it to tie up my red-brown hair into a braid.
Suddenly, I heard a door open, but the wall didn’t break anywhere as a woman stepped into the room, wearing white clothes similar to mine.
“Elodie Marinan?” the woman asked, pulling a white business card out of her pocket and reading my name off.
“Yes, that’s me,” I said nervously. “Where am I?”
“You’re dead,” the woman replied simply. “You died in Sunset Valley Memorial Hospital in Sunset Valley, California of your wounds.”
“Where’s God?” I spluttered. “Am I in heaven?”
“Yes, you’re in heaven,” the woman said, sounding almost bored. “You took longer to wake up when you died. God has forgiven you and has allowed you in.”
I exhaled, relieved. “Thank goodness.”
“Thank God,” the woman amended dryly. “Come.”
“How am I supposed to leave?” I asked, gesturing to the doorless walls.
The woman rolled her eyes. “You’re a spirit, Elodie. You have a lot to learn.”
She spun on her heel, her long black hair waving on her back, and walked right through the wall. I gulped and followed, then stopped and stared in awe at what I saw.
The ground was white stone, and the streets were made of solid gold. Men and women in white clothes hurried around, entering and exiting their white houses that lined the streets as a loud bell rang. I followed the sound with my eyes and gasped at the sight of a huge golden church that sat atop fluffy white clouds. Angels soared around the high pillars of the church, holding golden bells and clanging them. The men and women all seemed to start to migrate to the beautiful structure.
“Wow,” I breathed, awe in my chest. The woman stood by my side, watching me take it all in.
“Come,” she said after a few seconds. “We have to go in.”
The woman strode ahead, and I hurried after her up the path. When we climbed up the cloud stairs, my feet felt a sudden warmth to them. The woman grabbed the golden handle and swung it open, ushering me inside.
“Where are we going to sit?” I whisper-shouted at her.
Every wooden pew was packed to the brim in white-clothed people, all facing the white marble altar. The woman gave me a smirk, her eyebrows raised and pointed at a small wooden chair next to a golden throne with lions engraved on the armrests.
“Wha-?” I breathed, shocked. My heart pounded like it was thrashing to get out of my chest. “Why up there? All the people-”
“Don’t worry about all the people,” the woman interrupted irritably. “You’re the newest one here. Everyone new sits up there for the mass.”
She gave me a little push, then stepped aside into a pew. I gulped and started up the aisle.
“Elodie?” someone whispered.
I whipped around, fear fluttering in my chest, and caught sight of a woman with long blonde hair tied in a messy braid. She wore a white dress, and her big, curious green eyes met mine.
“Parisa?” I asked, reaching for her hand.
Parisa gave me a teary smile. “I didn’t think you would be next. Do you like my hair?”
“It’s beautiful.” I squeezed her hand and smiled, then continued up the aisle.
Parisa had been my best friend since I was little. She died at 13 and would have now been 26, the same age as me. She had leukemia.
I kneeled down at the altar, then walked forward nervously and sat in my chair. I gripped the sides with my fingers and crossed my feet together, butterflies fluttering around in my stomach.
Bells chimed. I heard people shuffling as I stood up in unison with them as the most beautiful voices I have ever heard started to sing.
A door opened, and a man stepped out from behind a door off to the side of the altar. He wore a clean white robe with a red sash, with no shoes. He had a long brown beard and long brown hair that went to his shoulders. He wore a kind smile, and his soft blue eyes sparkled. He stepped behind the altar and everyone signed themselves in unison with him as the singing slowly stopped.
His smile never wavered.
“We have a new person in our midst,” he said softly, his voice carrying to the back of the church. “She sits beside me.”
All eyes carried to me. My face flushed like a tomato, and my breathing raced nervously.
“Elodie Marinan. Come forward.” the man turned to me and beckoned with his hand.
I slowly walked over to him, not daring to look him in the eyes. He bent down under the altar, then straightened, holding a glass bowl full of water. He dipped his fingers into the bowl and made a cross mark on my forehead.
I cringed a little, and it made the hair on my neck stand up. The water was cold.
The man set the bowl down, then touched my chin gently and tilted my head upwards. For the first time I met his eyes, and my nervousness melted away.
Then his gaze turned sad. “I… Elodie, you’re not ready.”
I gasped and shot into a sitting position. My bed was soft and comfortable, and my husband was out next to me.
I glanced at the clock next to me. It was 7:07 in the morning on July 7th, 2017.
Was it a dream? I wondered.
I looked down at my hands. They were ice cold.
Feeling cautious, I pulled the blankets off me. I was dressed in a white collared shirt, white jeans, and white socks. White sneakers sat next to the bed.
The thought struck me like the pickup struck my car.
Did I die?
Then another hit me-
I wasn’t ready.
The next day was Saturday. I grabbed my car keys from off the table by the door and stepped outside.
My Outback had been repaired, and it chirped when I unlocked the doors. I plopped inside, started it up, and drove down Beach Drive till I reached Saint Anne’s church.
I stepped out of my car, then started up the stairs into the church. One of the parishioners greeted me at the door.
“Elodie? Is that you?” she exclaimed happily. “Welcome back. What made you decide to come back?”
I smiled. “Just some divine intervention.”
The woman grinned, pleased. “Welcome back. We’re so happy to have you.”
She opened the door, and I stepped inside, my footsteps on the wooden floor breaking the silence.
An older couple in the back row turned their heads, and when they saw me, their faces split in ear to ear smiles.
“Mom. Dad,” I whispered, sliding into the pew next to them. “Can I sit here?”
Mom smiled. “Everyone is welcome in the house of God, Elodie. Welcome back.”