The smell of burnt rubber wafted over the scene, mixing in with the already strong scent of snow. There was the sound of muttering between people and a few phones ringing throughout the impressively sized crowd.
“Probably another drunk,” a lady said somewhere in the crowd speaking louder than appropriate for these type of situations. A few glares shut her up and forced down the sound of muttered agreements.
A woman shot her a glare. She was the closest to the accident and still on the phone. “Yes, it looks bad. The driver hardly slowed down. He just kept going and right into the tree.” She paused and shook her head before speaking. “No, there’s no way any of us can get to him. He hit hard. The only thing I can say is to send somebody as quick as possible. We don’t even know if he’s still breathing.”
She shut off her phone and disappeared into the crowd. The headlights from the highway illuminated the scene for seconds at a time. The snow was dirty, mixed with people’s shoes and tire tracks from the deadly run the driver took. Another flash of light revealed a crumpled off green hatchback rammed into a tree. There were no audible sounds from the car, but nobody was close enough to hear. The few people that did go up to check couldn’t see a thing through the air bags and the car was locked shut. There was no way to get to him through strength. He would have to wait for the ambulance and the machines to arrive.
Water seeped through his clothes, chilling his skin. He rolled over with a groan. There was a steady thrumming in the front of his head that was all kinds of uncomfortable. The taste of stale whisky coated his tongue. He rolled over on his side and began to gag.
Nothing came up and he wasn’t sure if the vomit would taste better or worse than the taste already in his mouth. Waking up like this was one of the worse experiences he could have. Usually, he was on top of his game and instead drank more before he could wake up hung over.
The rock scratched the back of his head through his matted, wet hair. The worse experience that could happen to him was waking up and having no fucking clue where he was. This was one of those times.
Rock was below him and it wasn’t the familiar rock of a sidewalk. It wasn’t even the rock of a road. This was bumpy and uncomfortable. Indentations marred the stone, so there was not a square of smoothness. It was about to get to the worse part of the hangover. He would much rather just keep his eyes shut and pretend he was home in bed instead of out wherever he was, but that could lead to worse. He opened his eyes.
Grayness met him. There was nothing above him except an expanse of gray turning to black turning into the unknown. There wasn’t a ceiling that he could see and he wasn’t outside. There was some type of enclosure.
His muscles screamed in protest as he moved up. The floor was rough for as far as he could see. The stone was a dark gray, almost black. Grit was captured in little pockets of water that were trapped in some of the larger indentations. None of them were big enough to even be called a puddle.
There was a part of his brain that was trying to get him to become frantic and run away. Usually he shut it up by drinking more, but from the looks of this place, he’d be lucky to find a beer. The fear was still quailing under the fog of a hangover, so he set forth to explore what he concluded as a cave.
Turning around made him pause, and not just from the sudden wave of nausea that rose up, but because of the little girl that stood before him, twirling.
He had his own little girl at home (wherever that was) about her age. Just shy of seven, his daughter was the most beautiful creature in the world, but this girl could put up a decent fight.
Blonde ringlets fell down around her shoulders and she was wearing a white dress that wasn’t stained and for a six year old, that was impressive. There was a gleeful laugh from her that could make any instrument jealous. He only had a moment to appreciate it before he turned to the left and vomited.
It splattered against the rock and he had to move back, so his jeans didn’t get hit in the rebound. He despised throwing up even after all of these years. It was almost enough to make him stop drinking. Almost, but not quite.
After he was done, a small voice rose over to him. “You did have to do that you know.”
Through his blurry, wet eyes, he saw that the little girl had stopped twirling. “You’re only throwing up because that’s what your body is used to doing. You’re not in your body, you can stop any pain you feel when you want to accept it.”
He recoiled from the words. This was not the words of a seven year old. His daughter was smart, smarter than most kids her age, but she wasn’t talking like this. He scrubbed the tears from his eyes and focused on her.
The girl’s face was a pale color and the blush on her cheek was that of a cherub’s. It was her eyes that told more. He was expecting the bright blue eyes of an innocent girl. Instead, he saw dark eyes that were full of wisdom and that he didn’t understand.
“You’re not human,” he rasped in utter disbelief. She looked human, but she didn’t feel human. Those eyes were too knowledgeable for a child. Something was wrong.
“You’re much smarter than the usuals,” she said. The girl walked closer to him and smiled down at herself. “And I do like this image much more than the usual. It tells a lot about your personality. We’ll see when we get to the end if it’s for the better or for the worse.”
He looked around what he concluded to be a cave for any continuation. The darkness was hard on all sides of him. He couldn’t tell if there were entrances around him or not. Hell, he couldn’t even figure out where the subtle glow was coming from that made him see the little bit he could.
“Where am I?”
She pursed her lips in annoyance. “I always hate this part,” she said and stamped her foot. “It’s boring. I tell you things, you don’t believe me, you ask questions and ask for proof, I start, you scream in terror, and it goes on and on. I really really hate it!”
Despite the confusion, he couldn’t help the quirk of his smile. This is what his daughter did too, threw tantrums until she got her way.
Unlike her daughter, this girl took a deep breath and looked at him. He wanted to look away from her eyes, but he didn’t want to back down from such a young girl. It would be embarrassing.
“Please leave all questions to the end.” She stared at him. “Pretty please.”
She waited for his nod of consent.
A small smile quirked on her lips. It looked pitying and he already didn’t like the start of this. “There’s no easy way to get to it, so Kevin, I’m just going to tell you straight.” He was startled that she knew his name, but he had a feeling things were going to get worse. Kevin wished he at least had a place to sit.
“You’re at the in-between or as in-between as you’ll get. You seem smarter than most of the people who end up here, so you might know about Greek mythology.” He didn’t know everything about it, but enough to nod his head for her to continue on. “Well this is kind of like being on the banks of the River of Styx except there’s no ferryman, just me and no river, just a cave. On the other side, there is the Beyond. There’s a version of heaven and then there’s a version of hell. I’m not going into details because they get mad if I mention what’s Beyond and I don’t like to make them mad. I’m kind of like the Ferryman except you don’t have to pay me and I talk. I don’t talk to those who have already died, but I do talk to those who have a chance at living. I don’t have a name, so leave it alone.”
This was the time to freak out and Kevin knew it. There was hell and there was heaven (or at least versions of it) and he was presumably dead or something like it. He still didn’t know who this little girl was and thought better of it before screaming at her to tell him more.
“Currently, your body is in a tangled up wreck of a car and people are trying to get to save you, but it’s difficult. Time runs different down here, so don’t freak out about them saving you or letting you die before your soul can return. It doesn’t work like that.”
She took a moment and stared at him, meeting his green eyes with her black ones. “You have a choice Kevin, whether to live or die. You might have an idea of what you want now, but it will change many times through the next sequence. It always does and I will make the final decision about your life.”
Standing back, she scrunched up her face as if she was about to be slapped. “Okay, you may now ask questions.”
It was surreal for Kevin. He was standing in a cave with some creepy little girl and the last memory he had was walking out of a bar. There was no pain and definitely no death. He wanted to talk himself out of this bad dream, but by the expression on the girl’s face, she wouldn’t want to put up with it. Instead, he chose to ask questions.
“If it’s my choice as to whether I live or die, then how come you make the decision?”
“You have a choice and you might think you know the decision, but I truly see what you need. If you’re not going to do any good on Earth, I shouldn’t keep you living.”
Kevin shrugged. “I don’t do anything, so this shouldn’t even be a problem.”
The girl walked closer to him, about three feet away. “Not living is making a bad decision. That’s even worse that living badly.” She stood back in a more comfortable stance. “I hate question time, so I’m moving on. I’m going to show you a few things that might be memories or the present or whatever I feel like and we’ll see about your reaction, okay?”
He laughed. “Are you like Christmas Past?”
“Laughing at the devil is never a good idea,” she said. Kevin shut his mouth. He wasn’t sure if she was the devil, but it sounded as if she was close.
He rubbed his scratchy chin. “How do we start this?”
“In the usual way. You take my hand and then we poof somewhere else.”
She walked over to him. With her mouth shut and her hair in front of her eyes, he could believe she was a normal girl capable of things girls usually do.
“So what are you?” he asked.
She smiled at him, in a resemblance of innocence. “You’re version of the fallen angel. Most put me in all black and sometimes I have fangs, I much prefer this look.”
“My daughter has black hair,” he muttered.
She took in a deep breath. “We’ll see,” she said under her breath and then to him, “it’s all in your mind and something you can’t actively control. This is what you want, this is what I am. You’re supposed to feel thrown off. That’s the point. Now take my hand.”
Kevin reached for the little girl’s hand. Her palm was warm in his, not something cold like he would have thought from a fallen angel. If that’s what she was. The devil was a fallen angel, but that still seemed wrong. There was too much forgiveness if he had a choice.
Her tiny fingers tightened around his. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s go.”
A sparkle shown in her black eyes and they disappeared leaving the cave once again dark.