My name is Alice.
What happened to me is a bit vague, but I think that's mostly because everything happened too fast for me to get a complete grasp on all the events. I can feel a warm streak going down the side of my face, and a bit of a trickle there. When I put my hand up to my temple, I feel a strange spot, like a small part of me that should be there is missing. It doesn't hurt but I find it unnerving, so I do my best not to touch it. I think I died.
If I died… then is this the afterlife? It's horrible here. Dead quiet, and black as can be. I can't find my bearings. There's nothing here from what I can see except what I think is dust. It's so thick I can nearly hold it in my hands, but when I try, it's like air. I rub my arms then stuff my fists under my armpits. The air is just cold enough to make my fingers chilly and send a small shiver down my spine. Good thing I'm wearing a jacket. Too bad it isn't thicker or contains gloves in the pockets (there doesn't seem to be anything in there). That've really helped.
After waiting what felt like a minute, I gathered enough courage--courage? So far there's nothing to be afraid of--to speak. "H-hello? Is anyone here?" I wait a moment, then another for safe measure. "Where am I?" I say it again, louder, because the first time my voice didn't seem to carry at all--dulled down as it escaped my throat as if it had grown hoarse. I wait for a good thirty seconds, but no reply comes.
I begin to wander, since there doesn't seem to be anything else I can do. The darkness is disorienting and unnerving in its silence. My feet make no noise as I walk. In fact, perhaps it's just my imagination, but I couldn't quite feel my feet hitting the ground either. It's not like what I imagine the weightlessness of space to feel like; my hair isn't floating around or anything… It's just an absence of some definite, solid thing beneath me. I suspect that's what it truly is.
Maybe this is hell.
It probably is.
Yes. I feel quite sure of it.
It's about the time my legs start to feel creaky with fatigue from my meandering that I notice something.
The amount of dust hasn't changed. The darkness hasn't grown any lighter. Nothing has emerged from its depths at all. But at the very edge of my hearing, just the right amount of there to notice when I concentrate, I can pick up what sounds like… Sobbing. A child. A little girl, crying for her mommy.
"Hello?" I call. "Elly?" The name of my daughter. Her real name Elizabeth, but my husband and I always call her Elly. Cuter for a child. My memory felt as if it had faded in the (short?) amount of time here, but thinking of my daughter and hearing the crying began to bring it back.
My name is Alice.
I remember that empty spot at my temple, but still can't remember how it got there. I touch there again before reminding myself not to. It kind of scares me a little.
I focus again. Notice the sobbing had stopped.
"Elly?" I will it to come back again, so I won't feel so alone.
A moment passes. Another. Then, "Mommy?" Barely audible, but definitely there.
I run forward, calling my daughter's name, marveling how I didn't lose my balance (even if there's nothing there to trip on). I'm being called to again, but now it's to my right, then behind me. I stop, listening, but all's silent again. A tear runs down my face. "Elly!" My voice sways into a wail at the top of my lungs. Again and again. I don't stop howling her name for the longest time. Can't. Can't lose her when she was so close.
I end up stopping when my throat is too sore to continue. But I still don't feel quite finished--my lungs expand to shout her name again until I stop myself. The sudden thought of breathing in all this dust satiates the urge to do so. Must be like smoking twenty cigarettes a day or something. Wonder how long until I get lung cancer?
This amuses me for the briefest moment until I want to stop the stuff entering my lungs anymore. I pull my shirt over my nose and mouth and crouch down to let the remainder of my tears to drain from my eyes.
I don't think I dozed off, but I wasn't completely conscious before I…. come to, I think would be the closest phrase. I hadn't gotten down into any position more than my crouch. Anyway, when I do, I have an even less accurate guess on how long it's been, though I expect it would be around a day or so. I stand back up. Notice the however-long rest hadn't made my legs feel any less creaky. My eyes just feel a little more heavy, so I rub them, sigh, and my thumb slips on something wet on the side of my face. My memory seems to have fogged over a little again, but not enough for it not to come back.
My name is Alice.
The spot at my temple. I remind myself not to touch it just before I'm about to.
There was a little girl crying for her mommy earlier. Her voice sounded like that of my daughter's. Part of me hopes that it is, so I can find her and I won't be alone. Another part of me hopes it's not, and Elly is somewhere else--home asleep, being the most favorable option--and not stuck out here alone in this place. I'd rather her be safe and just me stuck here instead of both of us, even if that eventually leads to my going crazy. I continue my search for her, because I still don't know if she's really here or not and I wouldn't stand the thought of her being alone. Of course, there's only one thing I can think to do: I walk.
It's monotonous. It's been about what feels like three days now. No sign of anyone else here but me. I consider giving up, but don't. Not like there's anything else to do, really. I suppose on better note (kind of?), my legs haven't gotten any more tired, my eyes just slightly more heavy, considering I haven't been able to even sit down, let alone get a wink of sleep.
"Elly!" I yell for very likely the thousandth time.
It's getting hard.
Four days? Five? Longer? Less? It's hard to tell now. I was never good at guessing the time; I always underestimate things. Still nothing but silence. I raise my voice even louder so it can carry farther through this dust. My throat is starting to feel rusty and I have to cough occasionally, but I keep calling for her.
Thinking about Elly is still keeping my memory in check, but I think the effects are starting to fade. It takes me longer to remember the few things worth remembering.
My name is…. Alice.
And my temple--ah! Crap. Don't touch there.
I slap my hand back to my thigh, shove it in my pocket. This really is a horrible hell. I think I would've taken eternal flames over this. At least there'd be something to look at. Call me egocentric, but I can't think of anything I'd done to make me damned to hell forever. Of course I can't really remember much from when I was alive, anyways.
I force myself to stand silently for as long as I can bear. I'd more or less grown used to the constant fatigue in my body and eyes. It hadn't changed since my first few hours here. Sleepy but not about to pass out. Worn but able to walk. I'd tried sleeping before but it's like immediately falling asleep once I lie down and waking to a dream with everything the same as before I lain down. No rest is allowed.
I'm trying to rest my throat, by the way. Why I'm standing quietly. I'm not sure if this place will let it recover, but no harm in trying I suppose.
The longest I can bear is what I think is about an hour, probably less. Then I keep walking, but I don't say a word.
I stop suddenly, sensing a change yet not knowing what it is. Standing completely still, I try to figure out what it could be. My hand quickly slaps down on my jacket pocket, pauses, pulls something out. The object is about the size of my palm and I can feel it vibrate for a few seconds, go still, vibrate again. I put it up right in front of my face to get the best view I can. A dim square is illuminated and I stare at it in wonder.
The name of the object claws its way up from the very bottom and the very back of my memory.
Quickly I flip it open, press it to my ear.
"Hello?" I say.
A moment's pause.
The voice sounds young, high-pitched through the speaker. Familiar, but I can't quite place its owner.
"Who is this?" I say, embarrassed, despite myself.
"This is Elly." The name shoots to the front of my memory, and for a moment I'm struck speechless.
"Elly? Where are you? I can't believe I forgot I had my phone on me! I could have called you!" I'm surprised how calm she sounds, like she was just calling to tell me she got home from school.
"I'm safe Mommy. And it's okay. You weren't supposed to be able to call me. And you weren't ready to remember until now."
I sense her pause, trying to think of the right words.
"To make sure you were allowed to leave where you are. And you are, so I was able to call you."
"Wait--there's others who aren't allowed to leave? Why did it take me so long to know?"
"Yes, there's lots of people who can't. But it takes a long time to be sure for you since you lived longer than me. I was allowed to leave after I heard you calling me. It must feel like a long time ago."
"So it was you!" I try to hold back tears, can't remember if I had put on makeup. I must look like a raccoon. "I'm sorry, baby; I tried to find you. You sounded so scared, I didn't want you to be alone."
"It was kinda scary, but I'm okay now. So will you, Mommy. That's why I called. To tell you that."
"Okay," I say, wiping tears from my cheek. Try to sound confident.
"Just keep walking forward. You should find it soon, and when you do, follow it."
"Find what?" I ask, but she ignores me as she continues on.
"You won't be able to talk to me again until you get there, so don't try calling."
"And Mommy? I love you."
"I love you too, honey."
I return the phone to my jacket pocket and swallow hard, trying not to cry. Happy cry or otherwise. Once I reign that in, I take a deep breath, and follow my daughter's instructions: I walk forward.
It seems like it's been quite a while, but I keep going. Tell myself that it must be coming soon, whatever Elly said I'm going to find. I try feeling in my pocket for my cellphone, not for any reason necessarily, but I do anyways. I can feel the weight of it, but whenever I stick my hand in, it's as if it disappears, because I can't seem to find it anywhere. No calling back is allowed.
Sighing, I give up. Keep going.
Maybe ten minutes later, I become aware of something ahead. I stop, squint at it, walk closer. It wasn't even too far away, only a few meters, but the dust does a good job of creating a thick veil over whatever I'm seeing. It vacillates, as if alive, and is only about as bright as my cellphone's screen had been and more yellow in color, from what I can tell. From right here it looked like a fire. Must be. It's the only thing I can think of to relate it to.
A few steps closer and I realize I'm not getting any closer at all. It stays away. I try a few more just to be sure. It is, and I decide that this must've been what Elly was talking about. I follow the flame, knowing it must be taking me to my daughter.
It's, again, a long time before anything changes. I wonder why everything takes so long here--is there seriously a reason?
Actually, nothing changes until everything does. Without warning, the fire shoots up out of view and I feel myself rising with great speed. This time it only takes a few moments. The dust thins then disappears, the endless blackness fades into a stunning bright. I blink at the suddenness and then I'm still.
The fire isn't anywhere nearby, but I look up and see a yellow and red streak above, heading for a tall, thin shape far in the distance. It looked similar to a lighthouse, really, but I have no clue as to what it really is.
Something slips into my hand and I look down to see a smaller hand twining its fingers into mine. I see its owner, smile, begin to cry. Golden brown pigtails, light blue dress, and a round, smiling face.
"Elly." I stoop down and gather her into my arms.
She hugs me back, then pulls away, taking my hand again. She says, "Come on. I wanna show you something."