It never meant anything… none of it did. I spent every day just waiting, waiting, waiting. And now it was over. The End. The Final Curtain. At least… I thought it was over. Something struck me; everything went black. My breath was shot from my lungs, and my body stopped listening to me. Then I forgot everything and remembered everything. My mind was somewhere else, yet was in the same place. I wasn’t in my body; at least it didn’t feel like I was. And then it all just went black. And that was the end of it.
Then I woke up. My eyes snapped open and darted around, but I all I could see was blackness. My breath came in heavy gasping strokes, as if it were desperate and thankful. It was cold; I was on a hard stone floor. I felt no pain, but I knew that I had been hit in a horrific accident. I recalled how the car had come around too quickly, how the driver’s eyes had widened in terror when he realized he couldn’t stop, how he had crashed into me at forty five miles per hour, and how my body had hit the ground in a broken splendor. There was no doubt I had been severely injured—I must have been comatose for a while, considering I was now waking up perfectly fine. I thought I was going to die when I saw that car, but it seems I didn’t. I was lucky, and I swore right then that if I survived I would make my life matter.
But that didn’t explain the cold hard floor I was now waking up on. I should have been waking up on a too-stiff hospital mattress, not what felt like the floor of a dungeon. There should have been lights… all I saw was a black emptiness. Something wasn’t right about this; that was as clear as day. If I had been in a coma, this wake up would have been bright and white in the intense glow of fluorescent lights. As my eyes began to adjust, I saw that I was indeed in a room. It was a stone room with seemingly no light fixtures or decoration. There was no furniture. I had never seen anything like it before, so that begged the question—where was I?
Had I been comatose, healed, and then kidnapped? Was I currently in some extremely vivid dreamscape? If I had been kidnapped, where was the assailant? What would they want with me? I was just your normal twenty-two year old woman. I had no knowledge, no money, no valuable connections a kidnapper could possibly want. Clearly, they didn’t want me dead; otherwise, I wouldn’t be waking up on this hard floor. It was then that I realized I was still lying down. I likely should have been standing up by then considering I had been conscious for at least five minutes. So I did just that. I pushed myself up off of that unforgiving ground, feeling a few joints pop here and there. I was also somewhat achy—I must have been lying down for a long while.
Finally I stood. It felt good to stretch my muscles. It was odd; I really did feel fine, other than what felt like the soreness after a long night’s sleep. I looked around myself, waiting for my kidnapper to make himself known—or for someone to make himself known. It was so silent, like the quiet brilliancejust before a powerful storm. The air was still all around me. As I stood there for a long moment, it dawned on me that perhaps no one was coming. It appeared I had some exploring to do. Perhaps there was a door in this room. The darkness made it rather difficult to see four inches beyond my face. I would have to feel my way around.
I made my way to the wall and began to run my hand along it as I walked. The stone there was as cold as the floor, but that was no surprise to me. I hadexpected as much from this strange,surreal place. What I did not expect, however, was the voice that I heard next.
“Calm down… you won’t get out of here until you are ready.” A male voice said from several feet behind me. I stopped short in my tracks, looking around for him. Suddenly, there was a hand on my shoulder. My entire body shuddered under the touch. There was no way this was the same man that had been speaking before…that voice had come from at least ten feet away, and the body that this hand belonged to was right behind me. There had not been enough time for him to move.
“What are you saying? Who are you? What happened to me?!” I asked in one hurried breath. His hand simply tightened on my shoulder.
“I will explain it all to you as soon as you accept that you are dead…” it was the same voice from before, but now it came from the figure that so authoritatively had his hand on my shoulder. How had he gotten across the floor so quickly?
How could I be dead? I was perfectly fine… not to mention I had seen no white light nor had I encountered God. My life hadn’t even flashed before my eyes. Wasn’t all of that supposed to happen when you died? I spun around quickly to face the man that was speaking to me. His appearance shocked me. He was the most handsome man I had ever seen. His hair was a shade of chestnut brown unknown to me before. His eyes were the color of a pure blue ocean, so bright they nearly lit up the darkness of the room. His facial features were fine and beautiful, like the features of a god from ancient Greece. Words waited on my lips to protest him, but I was stunned into silence by the piercing gaze this man set upon me. There was no way he was human. How could he be, with features that glowed as if lit by magic?
“My name is Azrael. I am the Angel of Death… and you are Elayna Henson, are you not?” He asked, the stern expression failing to leave his eyes. I backed away from him, certain my eyes were wide with confusion and something bordering onfear. Who was this insane, beautiful man who claimed to be an angel? He certainly looked like one… but how could he be one? Why would an angel trap me in a place as dank and dark as this one?
“You are trapped here because this is how you view your life. You are also trapped here because you have yet to accept that you are dead.” His voice had very little inflection. There wasn’t much of an emotion, just a very matter-of-fact tone. The scariest thing by far, however, was the fact that this Azrael fellow had nearly just read my mind. His words were the answer to exactly what I was thinking. But it still didn’t make much sense. How could I be dead after I had done so little in my short life?
“I’m sorry… this is how I view my life? What could you possibly mean by that? I wasn’t depressed… I didn’t feel trapped. I was just waiting for life to start… I just didn’t DO anything with my life. And that begs the question of how could I have died when I had yet to really achieve anything? It wasn’t my time… there was no way it was my time…” My voice was hurried; all of my questions came out one after another like rapid gunfire. I didn’t understand. My religious beliefs had always taught me that everyone had a purpose in life. I knew for a fact I had not achieved that purpose. If I were really dead, there must have been some mistake—I hadn’t had time to accomplish everything. I was only twenty two…
“Just calm down Elayna…” Azrael spoke, his voice interrupting my frantic thought process. The tones of his voice now bordered on annoyance. “Yes you are really dead, and yes this is precisely how you view your life. Just because it is dark here does not mean you were depressed. It means that you felt that your life meant nothing:therefore the place that you have come to is nothing. Does that make sense?”
“Yeah, sure, but that still doesn’t explain why I died so young and with so much life left!” I was getting quite aggravated at the elevated mannerin which Azrael talked down to me. I wasn’t a stupid child. I just wanted my faith explained. My faith always, ALWAYS told me that I was meant for something more… not to die because of a careless driver…
“Did you ever think that your purpose WAS to die?” Azrael asked simply, setting his uncomfortable icy gaze upon me “Did you ever think that maybe you were one of the ones meant to fall so that others could stand?”
I attempted to make a snappy retort, but I could not seem to get the words out of my mouth. I just stood there, staring dumbly into his gaze. Azrael was right… I had never thought of that. I just always had a plan. I was going to grow up, graduate college, get married, start a family, and change the world somewhere in the midst of it all. I never intended to die before I graduated college or met my soul-mate. No. It was simply impossible. I shook my head against the thought that I had been born to die, closed my eyes against it, turned away from the angel telling me this. I couldn’t believe that—I wouldn’t believe that. How could someone with so much youth, so much potential, be born to die?
“You don’t want to believe me, do you Elayna? You refuse to accept the fact that some people aren’t meant to change the world by living, they are meant to change the world by dying… Elayna if you ever want to get out of here you need to accept this.” Azrael’s voice had fallen to a more gentle tone, though he was still speaking down to me.
“And go where!?! Tell me that! Clearly everything else I believed is shot… so is there a heaven? Is there a hell?” I set my eyes upon him, tears at their corners and fire in their depths. I was angry. How could I feel otherwise? It wasn’t fair, none of it was.
“You are in limbo right now… and if you accept your fate—your fate as God willed it—you will move on to greener pastures. If you don’t, however, you will be stuck here forever. If you’re smart you will listen to me and stop fighting what you must know is the truth.” Azrael grabbed my hand, his grip was tight, and he turned me to face him.
“Prove it…” I said simply, wiping the few tears away from my eyes. “Prove that I was meant to die… what would it have been like if I had lived?” I demanded of him. I realized that I likely shouldn’t demand things of the angel of death, but it seemed I was already dead. What did I have to lose? Certainly not my life. That was already gone.
Azrael looked at me for a long moment, something close to surprise registering on his face. Apparently he wasn’t accustomed to being questioned by the spirits (I guess that’s what I was) he guided. He finally seemed to make up his mindas he sighed and then turned me to face the wall. Azrael waved his hand in front of the empty stone and an image appeared.
It was an aerial view of a street. Upon closer inspection I realized that Gammon Street was right before my eyes.. I knew that street well. It was the last one I ever saw. As I watched, I saw myself. I was walking just as I had in my memory; there was a smile on my face. I remember now… I was heading to the mall for some new shoes. I turned to my friend who was walking beside me, Garrett. He had made me laugh. I wasn’t looking. A car snapped around the corner, I didn’t see it because I was looking at Garrett. It was going to hit me… it was going to kill me. The image showed it happening just as it had happened when I had actually died. Then it changed. Garrett saw it first this time. His eyes widened and he pushed me out of the way. I watched myself fall to the asphalt and stare on in horror as the man that had saved my life lost his own. I looked up at Azrael, eyes tearing up again as I saw Garrett die.
“That’s only the first of the changes that would have happened if you’d lived… Garrett would die. Keep watching, and see the path your life would have taken.” Azrael motioned to the image that revealed several people crowding Garrett’s broken form and crowding me. I was unharmed save for a few scrapes, but I saw my heart break on Azrael’s movie screen. The screen moved forward to Garrett’s funeral. I was there. Garrett’s sister, Anabeth, gazed over the cemetery at me, her eyes killing me with their hatred. It was clear she blamed me. Suddenly the vision flashed to my dorm room. I was sitting in the corner sobbing. It was clear I blamed myself. Then my semester grades appeared. I had flunked out of college. I went home to my parents. They met me with understanding but disappointment. Months passed. I lost several pounds and looked sickly. I never returned to college. I took upa job waitressing and eventually moved into a small apartment on the bad side of town. Azrael’s movie skipped ahead to show me married. I looked a little better physically, but I never smiled when I saw my husband.
“Azrael why am I so…” I began to ask, but Azrael simply motioned for me to cast my gaze back onto the sad tale playing out before me. Soon I understood why I was so unhappy. My husband—some unfamiliar black haired man I had never seen before—yelled at me, cussed at me, occasionally swung his fist. We had one child, a daughter. She witnessed this. She was a victim too it seemed. Clearly she felt no confidence in herself. Azrael showed me several fights like this.
Then the picture before me became something new. I was in our bedroom with my daughter. I had a gun in my shaking hands. My daughter was staring at me, wide eyed. She was probably only ten. She had the most beautiful green eyes I had ever seen. They were shining with tears. I looked up, met my daughter’s gaze, and shook my head slowly. I sent her out, she didn’t move. I put the gun to my head and pulled the trigger.
A loud horrified gasp escaped my lips as I saw the scene play out. I thought it was over, I looked away. Azrael placed his hand on my chin and made me look at the screen. The little girl screamed in terror. When her father came home, he looked at my body in anger. He roughly grabbed the little girl by her wrist and dragged her out of the room. They left. She was terrified of him; I could see it in those shining emerald eyes of hers. I didn’t see what became of her, I didn’t want too. The movie stopped abruptly. I looked up at Azrael.
“Is that really…?” I asked, my voice thick with tears. I covered my face, buried it in my hands. Azrael’s hand found its way to my shoulder; it was a comfort this time. There was no authority to his touch. “Th…that… was h...horrible...” I managed to choke out through the sobs.
“You asked to see it Elayna… that’s not all there is…that was only your life. Now watch Anabeth’s.” He instructed. I expected him to nudge my face upwards, but he gave me a few moments to calm down. When the tears had slowed down, I turned my eyes back up to that wretched screen.
Azrael’s image showed Anabeth after the funeral. Anabeth was a beautiful seventeen year old girl. She was in a friend’s bedroom. The friend was not anyone that I had ever seen her with before.. There were discarded beer bottles all around, and a bottle of vodka was in her friend’s hand. Anabeth hesitantly took a deep gulp of it, a small tear forming at the corner of each eye from the alcohol’s strength. It was the first time she had tasted it. Her eyes were puffy and red; it was clear she had been crying. Her friend felt for her; I could see that much. The girl pulled out a syringe and handed it to Anabeth. There was an exchange of words. With a fearful movement, Anabeth injected what was in the syringe into her arm. I knew it had to be drugs. Heroin or Meth, I couldn’t tell which from Azrael’s screen. I let out a small audible gasp that Anabeth had tried drugs even once. The next scene shocked me even more.
Anabeth stood alone in an alleyway. She was a little nervous. She hadn’t changed much physically from the scene before, but she stood huddled with a coat around her slender shoulders. Anabeth looked around quickly, waiting for someone to show up. That person did. It was a sleazy looking man, at least four years older than Anabeth. He grinned, a disgusting wide-toothed grin, at her as he took her arm. Anabeth walked with him into an old motel nearby. She was certainly not happy, she was definitely afraid. But she went. I didn’t want to know what happened as they passed through the door, but I could guess. Several minutes later Anabeth walked out, her hair was messed up and her clothing was ripped. She was shaking. In her hand she held a small bottle of liquid. As soon as she was out of the room she shot up more drugs. They came from the bottle she had carried out with her.
“Don’t tell me Anabeth resorted to….” I asked, wide-eyed and fearful.
“What else do pretty young girls trade for drugs when they have no money?” Azrael said simply, a sadness evident in his voice “There is a little more…” he added. I turned my eyes from his beautiful face to the horrific images on the screen.
Anabeth was shown sitting in her room. She had lost an immense amount of weight;her body little more than bone and skin now. She had scratches all over her face, and her cheeks were sunken. It was clear now that it been meth that she had become addicted to. Those scratches were undeniable. She pulled another bottle out from underneath her dresser. Anabeth also pulled out a bottle of hard liquor. She drank a large amount of it. Anabeth shot up with meth again. After several minutes of shaking, she fell upon her mattress, looking as if she were asleep. I knew she wasn’t.
Her mother found herlying stone still on the mattress. She felt desperately for a pulse, but there was none to be found. She screamed and grabbed her daughter up into her arms, holding her close one last time. Her father heard her mother’s scream, he came bolting in and fell to his knees near his wife as soon as he processed what had happened. He looked closely at the bottles; cursing, he threw one across the room. The screen went black.
“I think you know what kind of effect having to bury both children within a year would have had on Garrett and Anabeth’s parents. They would never have been the same again.” Azrael said gently, looking down upon me. “I know this is hard to see, but this is truly what would have happened had you lived…”
I was standing there in stunned silence as Azrael spoke to me. My mind couldn’t process what I had seen, and my heart was broken by the images I had been shown. I bit my lower lip, trying to think it all over. The horrors my life would have caused… it would all have been my fault had I lived. Even though I knew it hadn’t happened, knowing that it could have was enough for me to rethink my ideas on the meaning of my life, or more, the meaning of my death. It was a very mixed feeling. I was bucking against the idea that my only purpose was to die, but I was thankful that I had died. Anabeth didn’t deserve that life, Garrett didn’t deserve that death. I wouldn’t have wanted to live that way either, leaving that daughter alone with that horrible man. I was still having difficulty though. Why did I have to lose my chance at the world? I loved the world so much… why did I have to be the one so quickly ripped from it?
“Elayna… I can see that you are accepting what happened, but perhaps you would have an easier time if you saw the changes your death has made? Would you like to see what good your sacrifice brought to the world?” Azrael asked. I nodded. He motioned to the screen once more. “Remember Elayna, this is what truly happened on earth, what is happening now, and what will happen. This is real.”
The image was the street again. The same that happened in the first video happened, except this time I saw the car and knew I was done for. Garrett was a few feet behind me, and the car missed him. I fell to the ground. I could tell the exact moment I died, my entire face blanched. Garrett let out a loud cry of anger and sadness. He took my body up in his arms, commanding someone to call an ambulance as he desperatelytried to bring me back to life. The driver got out of the car and ran to Garrett. Garrett knocked him to the ground. The driver staggered backwards. I could see that there was an exchange of words, but I could not hear them. The ambulance arrived. The paramedics rushed out. They went over to body and checked for a pulse. There wasn’t one. They tried defibrillatingme back to no avail. After several tense moments, they turned to Garrett and shook their heads. There was no chance for me.
It was odd, as I watched myself die, I wasn’t upset. I accepted it—the experience was almost a catharsis of sorts. I even smiled a little to see how hard Garrett had fought for me. He stood up, allowing the coroner to take my body. Something had changed in his stature; he had made some kind of decision. After calming people at the scene, Garrett walked away.
My funeral. My parents were desolate, as would be expected. Garrett and Anabeth were there too. Anabeth held her brother’s arm, calming him. At the end of the funeral, Garrett walked over to my parents and spoke to them. They smiled and cried and embraced him.
“Azrael what did he say to them…? What made them so happy?” I asked, my eyes linger on the screen in hopes of seeing my answers. Azrael didn’t have to say anything. I saw a trial. Garrett, my parents, and the driver. The jury came with a sentence of “guilty”. Garrett and my parents looked satisfied.
“The driver was sent to prison for two years for vehicular manslaughter, but that’s not the most important detail.” Azrael narrated as the story continued on. Several months into the future Garrett graduated college with honors. The story moved ahead again.
Now it showed Garrett shaking hands with the governor of our state. On the podium by the governor was a law called “Elayna’s Law.” I smiled, knowing it was after me and that Garrett must have done something to push it through.
“Elayna’s Law, well, your law, will prohibit lights from turning green until fifteen seconds after the crosswalk changes from the walk signal. It also makes the punishment for vehicular manslaughter harsher, though it was passed after the driver was sentenced. The driver that killed you still has only two years, but this type of death will happen far less often,” Azrael informed me, “Now that’s the most direct effect of your death, but here is something that might make you happy.”
The image reappeared following Garrett. He met a beautiful woman; she was successful just like him. After a perfect romance, they married. My parents were at their wedding. It seemed that they had stayed close with him. They looked like they were doing well. I suppose they must have accepted my death and tried to do their best. Garrett and his wife had two wonderful children. They grew up secure and happy. It also appeared that Garrett and his family traveled a great deal and truly lived their lives to the fullest. The story ended with Garrett’s children graduating college and going off into the world. It warmed my heart to see such a happy family.
“Azrael… I understand now…” I said, smiling broadly as the last images faded from view. It made sense now. “I hate the fact that I am dead, but only the coldest of hearts could have ever wanted what would have come had I lived. I wish I had had more time in the world, but sometimes… I guess we just have to move on when it’sfar past our fair share of any given thing.” I looked at Azrael, wondering if I was understanding what I needed to understand topass further on.
“Elayna…I know its difficult to die when you feel like you had so much left to do, but you have to understand that we don’t always understand the lot we are cast, and we never have a say in it. Fate is a finicky beast. She chooses who she wants to live; she chooses who she wants to die. Most importantly, though—she gives us all a reason whether she has deemed that we live or die.” Azrael spoke quietly, placing his hand between my shoulder blades and beginning to lead me down a hallway that had just appeared. I could see now too. It wasn’t pitch black, there was a small amount of light in here. “Besides Elayna, your journey is nowhere near over yet. You seem to be forgetting what lies beyond death. You have a beautiful world awaiting you, and there is far more to explore and experience there than there ever could be on Earth.”
I smiled softly at the thought. Azrael was right—it wasn’t over yet. I may have ended my time in the physical realm, but there was so much more for me waiting just around the corner. So perhaps my lifelong belief that I was meant for something greater was indeed true, I just hadn’t understood its full meaning—I was meant for more. I just hadn’t figured out yet that “more” was to be obtained after death. With that comforting thought now in my grasp, I allowed Azrael to lead me down the hallway and into the beautiful valley thatlay just beyond. It was time I found out what my “more” was.