Dark. Cold. Emptiness. That’s all I felt as the life flowed from my submerged body and mingled with the frosty water that surrounded me. Those last moments of life were sharp and vivid in my mind. The cracking of ice, falling, thrashing, screaming. How the frozen water seemed to claw at my clothes and hair, drawing me further and further into its cold embrace. It was only a matter of time until my life gave out, like a fragile chair supporting too much weight.
I felt my spirit awaken, and I rose from my watery grave. It was an odd sensation, being somehow conscious but away from my physical body. I racked my mind, checking to make sure all my personal memories were intact. My name is Amanda; I am 17 years old. My best friend’s name is Marisa and my boyfriend’s name is Jeremy. Jeremy went out on the ice and fell through, so I went to save him. Now I’m dead. EMTs had arrived and begun to drag my waterlogged body from the gap in the otherwise frozen lake. My best friend, Marisa, had collapsed into her boyfriend’s arms and was sobbing on the bank. My beau, Jeremy, was sitting a ways away, wrapped in a wool blanket and being attended to by a paramedic. At least he made it out. We had both fallen through the thin ice, him first on a dare and then me, foolishly trying to save him.
I floated down towards where two EMTs were loading me into an ambulance. One a younger man, maybe twenties, with blond hair tucked under a blue skull cap, and the other was a woman in her fifties with a worn face and a tight bun. My skin looks pale and lifeless but peaceful. Dark, wet curls cling to my forehead and cheeks. More damp locks fastened themselves to the shoulders of my teal blue coat.
“What happened to her?” asks skull cap, pulling a white sheet over my still shoulders.
“The girl Marisa says that they were all drinking together and one of them, the boy, came out on the ice. He fell through and this girl came to help him.” She readjusted the collar of her coat. “I think she and the boy were in some sort of relationship.”
“It so sad, isn’t it?” replies cap.
“At least she saved the boy.” And with that, my body was rolled into the vehicle.
I tried to follow the ambulance, so I could see what became of my body, but something stopped me. A tug, much like the wind, blew me in the opposite direction. The feeling of being trapped and helpless came back to me, and I thrashed, trying to free myself. Even though I was not weary, I stopped my struggling. The invisible force had not given at all, and because I was being harmed, I decided to let it take me where it pleased.
The town passed below me, and I saw the different milestones of my life flash by. The hospital where I was born, the house my mother and I shared, the cemetery where my father was buried. Then, with a start, I remembered my mother. What will she do without me? I mean, of course she would survive, but she’d already lost her husband and now her daughter? My only other sibling, my older brother Shane, left when Dad died eight years ago and never came back.
I wanted to think that maybe Shane would hear about my death and move back in to take care of Mom, but I doubted it. I let the notion fade and the gentle motion of the ‘wind’ lulled me into something resembling sleep.
I was awakened by the absence of movement, and when I made sense of my surroundings, I was baffled. I guess I was expecting to be directly transported to the underworld or something, but judging by the scene before me, that wouldn’t be the case. Maybe some big black gates? A giant three headed dog, like in Percy Jackson? Nope. Instead my spirit has been dropped off at a vehicle rental shop.
The front of the building was rundown and seemingly abandoned. The sidewalk in the front was crumbling and almost reduced to gravel. A faded sign above the cloudy glass door read: ‘Charon’s Rentals to Die For’.
I drifted through the large boarded up window into what I thought would be a dark and musky interior. But, again, I was wrong. Antique oil lamps lined the walls, illuminating the room in a warm glow. An old-fashioned gold elevator door stood proudly behind a dark hooded man and a large mahogany desk. At first glance, it resembled an old timey parlor, except for one key aspect. The room was filled with spirits. Everywhere I looked were ghosts, much like myself. People who had died and were waiting for their tickets to hell I guess.
The man behind the desk looked up from whatever he had been studying and gestured toward me. I hesitated, then glided forward. As I made my way through the clusters of silent spirits, an unfamiliar sensation greeted me. It wasn’t quite like being pushed, because we had no bodies to apply or receive pressure. It was more like a tingling, like something was keeping the apparitions from occupying the same space.
When I reached the desk, I had to wave my hand in front of the hooded man’s face to get his attention. He looked up from his paper, making no attempt to hide his annoyance. Under the course, dark cowl, a pale, sunken face peered out. His skin appeared to be stretched thin over the sharp angles of his face, giving him a skeletal appearance. Every aspect of his body expressed old and frail, from his hunched back to weary face. Everything, that is, except his eyes. They were bright and youthful, sporting a color I couldn’t identify, like if someone dipped a paintbrush into the purest shade of every color imaginable and combined them into one majestic alloy.
“Welcome to ‘Charon’s Vehicles to Die For’,” he said in a monotone voice. “Here to take you to the next life. I’m Charon. Please fill out this form and find a place to stand while you wait.” He shoved a clipboard and pen in my direction and went back to his paper. When I didn’t immediately reach for the object in front of me, he looked up.
“What seems to be the problem, Miss?” Charon droned.
“I can’t pick it up,” I say in a wispy voice that’s not my own. He rolls his eyes.
“Did you even try? I died at night, but not last night.”
I gave him a skeptical look and reached towards the clipboard. Surprisingly, my ghostly fingers were able to clasp the wood and pen. I shifted away from the desk and skimmed the paper pinned to the board.
1. Name: __Amanda Swan_____
2. Gender: _____Female____
3. How you died: ___Drowned_____
4. Age when died: _______17_________
5. Who you left behind: _Mother, Boyfriend, Best friend___
How long do you want to wait until judgement?
15 years 50 years 120 years Forever
They were simple questions with simple answers. I handed the sheet back to Charon. He read over my work, scribbling something down on a notepad.
“So, do you think I’ll move on in soon?” I asked.
Charon sighed, obviously tired of my constant chatter. “Maybe. Maybe not. You never really know.”
“Then what’s the point of that last question?”
“Well, it’s nice to know who is and who isn’t interested in going down sooner.”
He handed me a slip of paper with the number 666.895. Then, Charon turned his back to me, indicating that the conversation was over. I sighed heavily and went to join the others souls who were waiting for their time of judgement. There was a young woman to my left, her face sad and tired. She clutched a paper in her ghostly fingers with the number 666.065. To my left was an older man with thick spectacles. His paper said 666.642.
All of the sudden, I felt like throwing up. I wasn’t even sure that was possible. I made my way around the room, checking people’s papers. There was a small girl, and her slip read 666.563. A teenage boy’s paper read 666.841. I checked every single ticket in the entire room, But no matter how many people’s slips I read, none of them had a greater number than mine.
I marched right up to Charon’s desk and slapped down my ticket.
“You lied to me!” I growled “I’m the last person in this entire room! I don’t want to be here forever!”
He snickered but didn’t answer.
“Hey! Give me another ticket!”
His head suddenly snapped up, eyes blazing.
“Do you think that this is the first time I’ve heard that?” He snarled. “Every single person who’s come through here says the same thing. You’re not the first.”
I was taken aback, not at all expecting that answer.
“So why don’t you go and wait with all the others before I add a couple centuries to your ticket?” He flicked his wrist, shooing me away. I huff, but follow his instructions. I find my original standing place between the young woman and old man.
And that’s where I’ve been. For the last five hundred years.