CW: This story is about a character who has just died, and hence it contains slight mentions of gore and death.
I try to hold on, but everything slips away. I pass through the world like your hand passes through water: You feel its drag, ripples appear where your fingers touch it, but they die out only moments later. And the water is still again as if your hand had never been there. This is how I know that I am dead.
I am dead.
I am hovering an inch off the ground. A throng has gathered around me, but no one notices me. All they see is my dead body sprawled across the sidewalk, blood pooling underneath it.
The people around me seem vaguely familiar. It’s like meeting an old friend after too long: I feel like I should know them but I cannot remember why. Some are crying, others are talking on their phones, and still others are shouting at things in the distance. But I hear no sound. It’s so quiet here.
I look at my dead body again. It has smashed into the pavement, glass and cement shattered beneath it. Died falling out of a building of all things! Craning my neck up, I see people peering out of a window about twenty stories high. Can I fly?
At that moment, I start to float upward like bubbles rising in the air. Cool evening air splashes into my face and moves through my entire body, leaving me more peaceful than I have ever been before. What’s so bad about death? Why does everyone avoid it?
I see the people at the window and immediately remember why. Their grief-stricken, tear-stained faces are the saddest ones I have ever seen. Who are these people? My friends? Colleagues? It’s almost moving how they lament my death. And had I been alive, I would have run to them, embraced them, and thanked them. But I am dead, and it’s too late for any of it now. I soar further up. I must move on.
Move on to where? Since souls are a thing, I suspect there is a god of death too. But whoever they are, they are awfully late to pick me up.
“Why, I’m already here,” a voice declares. It comes from… everywhere. The sky itself quakes with the sound of that voice. I’m high enough now, that the people gathered around my body look like indistinct figures to me. And there is no one around me. Only then do I realize two strange things at once. One, the voice answered my thoughts. And two, that voice is the first sound I have heard since I died.
“Uh… who are you?” I ask. “And… where are you?”
“Oh, I am Goddess Death,” the voice replies. “And I am everywhere. I could show up where you are if you’d like, but I do enjoy the theatrics of talking to people like this.”
“Uh…” Do I even want to meet Death? The goddess feared by everyone who has ever lived?
“Oh,” Death says, “You’d be surprised how many of your people don’t fear me at all. Some are even happy to see me.”
I shudder. It’s terrifying to hear her voice come in from everywhere at once. Her showing up won’t be much worse.
“Okay then,” she says. No dramatic splintering of the fabric of reality precedes her arrival. Instead, she just materializes before me.
Sitting astride a large white lion, she holds a trident in one hand and a scythe in the other. Her hair is the color of sandalwood, and it floats behind her in great waves. Her skin is translucent, and it moves through hues of gold as sunlight passes through her form. She looks at me, judging me with silent eyes.
What do I say? Her eyes lock onto mine, and I feel myself drift toward her, getting closer and closer to those eyes. There is something odd about her eyes. I must know what that is.
The closer I get to her, the stranger her eyes seem. At first, they’re black as a starless night. But then they start exploding with colors. Waves of blue, and magenta, and purple expand outward from the heart of her dark eyes. Stars die in Death’s eyes. Who am I to think her unfair?
“Are you planning on crashing into me?” Death asks.
I blink. She’s only a breath away from me now, and I can see the sun setting behind her through her translucent body. “I—”
“Because that’s the sort of thing most people want to avoid.”
I drift away from her. “I’m sorry.”
She cocks her head. “You think me unfair?”
“I—no. I mean—I don’t know,” I say. “You tossed me out of a window and now I have to be dead.”
“I didn’t toss you out of anything. You tripped and fell on your own. I’m only here to usher you back to the Universe.”
“I tripped?” I ask, indignant. “That’s it? That’s how I died?”
“Well, yes. You tripped over a computer chord, slipped on a pencil cup, and fell right out of a window. You see, the window wasn’t screwed in right. The worker who fit it in four months ago missed a couple of screws. Funny how it works out.” Then, looking at the building below us, she says, “Actually, he’s messed up several other windows as well. Wonder if I’ll be back here…”
She looks back at me. “Not how you expected yourself to die?”
“Well, no. I expected… something more… dignified.”
A sound like clouds rolling down a mountain pours down from the sky as Death laughs. Is she really the goddess of death? Eventually, her laughter eases into chuckles. Then she says, “I’m sorry. It’s so funny to me sometimes. So many of you expect a heroic death. But a heroic death only follows a heroic life, and scant few of you lead one of those.”
“Not a heroic death!” I object, growing impatient with her nonchalance. “I’d be more than happy to die with just my family around me!”
“In case you haven’t noticed, you’re already dead.”
“I—” I let out a resigned sigh. “Yeah… you’re right. It’s just… you’re not what I expected.”
She folds her arms in front of herself, light from the setting sun changing colors as it moves through her shifting form. Her weapons hover in the air where she was holding them. “I rarely am. For some, I appear as an old friend. A fierce goddess for others. Sometimes I even show up as that Grim Reaper character your people are so fond of.”
“How did you—why did you show up as a goddess for me?”
Death smiles. “Oh, for you I’ve come as an old friend, not as a goddess.”
Old friend? “What? I don’t remember having a friend who rode lions, and had see-through skin.”
Death laughs again. This time, however, there is a kindness to her laughter. “I’m an old friend.”
I frown. “I still don’t understand.”
Death sighs. Then she says, “There are times and there are times. And there have been many such times on Earth. Like changing seasons, your world changes its nature as it shifts through the ages. Gods have once lived here. Magic has been here too. And then when the magic dripped away, out of the world and back into the Universe, your time began. A time without magic, a time without gods. The most fascinating one yet.
Your soul is one from the time before this one, from a time when the magic still flowed. You had a friend, then—she lives around here somewhere too. I’ll be back here for her again. For now, I borrowed her form to come see you.”
My frown deepens as I consider Death’s words. Old soul? Rebirth? Gods? This certainly isn’t what I expected being dead to be like. Does that mean I’ll be born again?
I want to ask her all these questions—and a lot more—but I simply ask, “But, why don’t I remember her?”
Death smiles. It’s something she does a lot for someone whose job is to usher the souls of people who have just died back into the Universe. Maybe that’s why she does it. “She was your friend, not that of the Universe. You don’t remember her—or even your most recent friends—because they were known by the form you had taken. You who are before me right now, are an extension of the Universe in its purest form. And I’m here to take you back to it.”
I look at the people on the ground again. They have moved my body, and are now standing beyond the confines of a yellow tape. Are they laughing? Are they smiling, or crying? I’m too far away to know for sure. “Does it always happen? Do I always forget everything?”
Death is quiet for a while. We look at the setting sun. Only a sliver of it remains above the horizon, dyeing the sky orange and gold. She looks at me and smiles yet again.
“You forget everything,” Death says. “Your friends and family, they burn your body, or they bury it. In that, they give it back to the Universe. And you… you return to it too.”
“And what do I take back to it if I lose everything I was?”
“You see, you never really were the form the Universe had taken through you,” Death says. “You are an expression of the Universe, and that remains unchanged. Along with that, you take back what your life has given you. Your feelings, your thoughts, your experiences. These are the things you take back, even as you leave your body behind.”
My voice quivers as I ask, “But, will I lose myself in it?”
“Yes,” Death declares. “In the end, the Universe is all there is. Once you go back, you will cease to exist. Until, of course, it sends you back.”
To cease to exist? That’s… I can’t even comprehend what that would be like.
Death gets off her lion, her scythe and trident still floating beside it, and flies up next to me. She places a hand on my shoulder. “Don’t be afraid. You see, you never really were much more than the Universe. So, why should going back to it scare you?”
“I would be gone.” My chest trembles under the weight of the Universe as it presses onto me, into me. “Complete oblivion.”
Death smiles. “I have seen gods move on. I have seen magic, and stars, and planets die out. That is the fate of all things. Everyone must go home once the party’s over.”
The crowd gathered below us has started to clear out. “Will they remember me?”
“For some time, yes.” Death replies. “Then, they will hope you have found your peace, and try to find theirs. But you will be long gone before that happens. And by the time you come back, all of them will likely be gone as well. A new age may even have begun. I, for one, am excited to see what that will be like. Don’t you want to come back to a different time?”
A numbness grows inside of me. “I’m scared. I will be nothing. There will be nothing.”
“But there was nothing before too. Where do you think you were before you were born this time around? You came here. You lived your life. And now you’re dead. There’s not much else to it.” Death lifts my face to hers. “This is how it ought to be. Don’t fear it.”
How could I not fear oblivion? This was my home, and now I have to leave it. I’ll be back—sure—but all that I was is lost, always will be lost. Forever seems like a long time to lose something, to lose everything. Does Death even understand what that’s like?
Death raises an eyebrow. “That’s right. I don’t understand what it’s like. Sometimes I wish I did. Most of you seem so sad to die, no matter how many times you do. I wonder if, even in your death, life still holds the upper hand over your soul. Maybe I’ll know what that’s like one day. When all else is gone, and all the ages have passed by, I will be the last one dancing. I don’t know what I’ll do that day. Maybe I’ll just die. Maybe I’ll just keep dancing.”
She sounds so sad. Is it better to be the last one at the table or a guest who leaves early?
Death smiles. I smile back. The sun has set, and the soft glow of twilight fills the sky.
“Let’s go,” I whisper.
Death nods. “You won’t feel a thing.” She raises her hands, and the scythe and the trident come darting to them. She puts them in a cross, and in one swift motion, she slashes both of them through me at once.
I look down at my torso. It has begun to disintegrate like a crumbling sandcastle. I look up at Death. She smiles at me once again.
I remember something. “What’s my name?” I ask.
“Does it matter?”
I smile as I feel the Universe around me, inside of me. I am the wind that blows through the world. I am the trees it breezes through. I am the soil I once stood on, and the sun I once admired. I am the stars that die in Death’s eyes, the people I was before, and the last soul Death will meet. I am the Universe.
I will forget this feeling. And I will forget this life of mine. And other people will forget me too. Total oblivion is only moments away. But it’s okay. I am the Universe, and it’s okay.
The final wisps of my soul are dissipating into the Universe as I ask, “What remains?”
Death smiles at me for the last time. “Everything else.”
All is still, and I am no more.