Stars and distant galaxies wheeled under Stef’s feet, a tiny comet burning her face as it rushed past.
I’m not even going to try and guess.
She took a step and whatever was holding her disappeared – she fell through the universe, through the multiverse, through the cores of galaxies and left trails in huge nebulas.
Am I…really doing this?
Stars grew and shrank as she watched, making her as small as a speck in comparison, or the stars small enough to be held in the palm of her hand. She couldn’t close her eyes – she wouldn’t close her eyes – if this was how people died, if it was the last experience, then it was an amazing one; and one she that needed every detail absorbed.
She stopped falling and landed on a flat, non-existent surface. A planet hung in the space to her right – a huge green orb roughly as tall as she was – spun slowly. There weren’t huge oceans as there were on Earth, rather an abundance of inland seas and interconnected lakes. The world spun and grew in her vision and she saw that the tiny polar caps played host to glittering cities made of ice, or of crystal.
Her heart rumbled as the auroras shone rainbows over the cities, and suddenly she knew where she was.
‘Dajulveed…’ she whispered. She reached out for the world – she couldn’t touch it, the tingly static field of the atmosphere stopped her.
With a tiny pop, the planet began to shrink, until it was smaller than her dirty shoe.
She knelt on whatever invisible platform was holding her up, poked it with her finger.
Great idea, Spyder.
The tiny planet trembled, then cracked like an egg. Wind spiralled out, throwing her back, then drawing her in.
All remnants of size and perspective disappeared as she was pulled into something that was simultaneously the size of a world, and the size of an egg.
Stef fell through the sky, clouds passing by her, and through her, as if she was still nothing but a ghost. For a moment, it was amazing, it was a skydive, and a rush of freedom.
And then she saw the ground.
She was going to die, her skull dashed open against the concentrate, a splash of red and nothing more, just-
Stef screamed, flailing her arms against the air, trying to catch onto something, anything, to stop her from becoming a smear on the ground.
She closed her eyes, and thought of Neverland.
Breeze rumbled at her ear, the sound of falling at terminal velocity, and with a bump, she landed, rolling on hot, soft grass.
‘Oh, fuck you physics, now you want to be nice to me?’ she opened her eyes, and shaded her eyes against the strange sun, enjoying the feeling of warmth against her face.
If this is heaven, maybe I can handle it.
She stared up at the patchy sky – parts of it were the star-filled space she had come from, other parts were a simple sunset sky, a warm rainbow of colours playing out over the clouds.
There was a trumpeting sound – something animal, rather than musical; and she sat up to look around – any company was better than no company, even if it was animals. Tarzan and Mowgli had handled it just fine.
More like Stef of the Jungle. Think of the poor trees!
A parade of blue creatures approached – ghostly and see-through, rather than proper living things. Ghosts that had missed out on the parade, perhaps. Whatever they were, they weren’t animals she recognised.
‘What the fuck are those?’
Call a Smeerp a Rabbit, go on.
Animals she had to call elephants – four strong legs, skin that looked like leather, and a short, wide trunk, walked past her – led by ones that were easily recognisable as “elder” from the wear and tear on the skin. Younger “elephants” followed, trialled by three little ones, all with little blankets of leaves on their backs.
Okay, I totally want one as a pet.
She reached up to touch of one of the baby heffalumps as it went past, only for her hand to pass straight through the translucent blue skin.
The herd passed, and all went silent again – with nothing better to do, she flopped back against the warm grass.
She lay there for a moment more, wondering what to do, if there was anything to do, or if this was it, if it was just going to be her, an LSD trip of a dead planet and a herd of ghost animals. She took a deep breath, appreciating that at least the grass was soft and that nothing was trying to hurt her.
There was a rumble beneath the surface of the world, and she jumped to her feet.
Half a dozen of the tall trees to her left fell, making a clear path to a shining lake. She pushed herself up and walked down the freshly-cleared path.
Her heart hummed and vibrated as she stepped onto the sand, she took a few steps toward the lake, unsure of what to do, then looked back toward the forest. The path no longer existed, as the trees had picked themselves back up and made the impenetrable tree line. Something caught her eye though – her footsteps through the sand had turned to glass.
As she stared at the glassy impressions, they cracked and lifted into the air, then shot into the lake. Seeing no point in being afraid, she continued to the very edge of the lake, tiny waves lapping at her dirty sneakers.
A tree walked past her, its trunk split into the rough shape of a man – it strode into the water until it reached the centre of lake and sank down until not even its topmost leaves could be seen. The rest of her footprints shattered and flew into the lake, decorating the surface like diamonds.
Her heart screamed, the screeching noise hurting her ears, and she stumbled away from the edge of the lake in time to see it lift fully from the land, like a large bowl. It rotated slowly, not spilling a drop as it lifted into the sky.
The sky fell.
Clouds and sharp piece of solid colour clattered on the ground around her, insane, shrieking, horse-headed bolts of lightning rushed past before crackling out of existence. Thunder shook the ground, threatening to shake the very world apart.
Above her, the lake-bowl turned inside out and rained down the water in continuous streams, leaving her in a sparkling, wondrous cage. The water slowly pooled around her feet, then began to rise when it was unable to escape.
The man-tree that had apparently drowned itself was firmly rooted to the bottom of the lake-bowl. Slowly, he began to extend downward, his roots and branches curling into one another until it reached the bottom, then wove into pathways for her to walk on.
She jumped onto one and ran to the very edge of the watery cage, touching the flow when she reached it.
It froze like ice, and slowly crystallised, a silver sheen following it.
Mirror. It had turned into mirror.
The water slowly stopped flowing, turning into mirror until it felt like she was trapped in some sort of meta fun-house.
Her reflection grinned at her and danced away, joining a hundred others. Some looked exactly like her, others were worse for the wear, some were dressed as though they belonged in Solstice. Some were dead – by car accident, gunshot or mirror. Some were pregnant, bellies heavy with the next generation. A few were dressed in the clothes of professionals, only a quietly beeping ankle bracelet as a clue to a criminal past. All her. All not her.
There was something else in the mirror – something that wasn’t a reflection of her. A huge dark shape lumbered closer.
It’s a fucking mirror, genius, turn around!
She did, but there was nothing in the watery room aside from the tree and the slow trickle of remaining water. When she turned back to the mirror, the dark shape was gone.
Her heart jumped from her chest.
She screamed and clutched a hand to her chest, but after slowly counting to ten and finding herself still conscious, she felt brave enough to open her eyes again. Her heart hovered in the air in front of her, as she reached for it and it flew into the mirror in front of her. She touched the mirror again, and this time, was sucked through.
The room she found herself in was roughly the same size as the one she had just left, though this one was completely Spartan, there was nothing in it. No trees, no water, no mysterious dark shape.
Only one reflection stared back at her this time, and it smirked, smug and obviously smarter than her. It looked up, then faded away, leaving her staring into a mirror with no reflection.
The mirrored wall rippled and suddenly she was looking at a rocky outcrop.
At the very top of the outcrop was the bottom half of a man who looked as though he was made from stone himself – sandaled feet were overgrown with thin, wispy grass, bare legs were home to lichen and tiny birds.
His top half was beyond her vision, beyond what the mirror could show her. Only a huge hand hung down, a strange rocky hand, whose number of fingers seem to change every time she blinked. The massive hand, which may have been the size of a room, or a world, held her tiny silver heart in it.
He closed his hand and she heard it crunch, when he opened it again, only mirror dust remained. It stayed in his hand for a moment, like a small pile of salt ready to be thrown over a shoulder, before a strong breeze whipped it from his hand.
It was all picked up, spinning as though inside a tornado for a moment. All she could do was watch it, unsure if it was coming back to her, or if this was-
The mirror dust began to move away, and a cry she didn’t remember starting came from her throat. The dust stopped, then whipped back through the mirror, catching her up in the windstorm, lifting her from the floor and spinning her until she was dizzy.
Blood pumped from her chest, and expelled tiny red chunks of what she could only assume were the remains of her human heart, fell from her body and fizzled out of existence when they hit the ground.
The mirror dust began to invade the hole in her chest, the tiny particulates choking her until they all coalesced into her heavy, cold heart again.
It dropped her on the ground and she felt it beating. It was a strange, pulsing sensation – not a normal human heartbeat. It was the heartbeat of two people, of ten, of a hundred, of a star, of a galaxy, of…
When she sat up, the giant in the mirror had disappeared, replaced with her all-knowing doppleganger. The smirk faded into a smile, then the reflection-Stef turned away and walked deep into the mirror before fading away.
Death faded into view beside her. ‘My father can only be seen in reflections,’ she said. ‘While existence remains, they are all that is left of him.’
‘Nowhere. Everywhere, inside you, inside him, inside the ghost of Dajulveed. Does it really matter?’
‘I guess not.’ She took the proffered hand and stood. ‘So what-’
‘The mirror wasn’t at rest. There were remnants of the world inside it, pieces of the lives it helped create. Artefacts,’ Death said, ‘there are always artefacts. Usually they cause no harm, usually they aren’t noticed, but in your case, they needed to be laid to rest. This heart,’ Death said, laying a hand lightly against her chest, ‘is only servicing one life now, not the ghosts of lives already gone.’
Stef ground her foot in small half-circles. ‘I’m- I’m almost afraid of asking what happens next, but you wouldn’t be here, unless-‘
Death held up a hand. ‘I am the gatekeeper,’ she said, a smile on her face, ‘but I’m also the ferryman. Sometimes, people get lost, and need a guide back from places like this.’
‘But- But where is next?’
‘Limbo,’ Death said, ‘and maybe this time, you’ll remember your visit.’
Death reached a hand out to the mirrored wall, and a grey expanse of desert took shape – a barren expanse under a stormy sky. Death walked forward, and she stepped through the looking glass after her.
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