The Forest of Eyes and Shadows (Reincarnation Competition Winner)

Gwendolyn Rivers died in her sleep. This is her afterlife. As she races to get back the life she once had, Gwendolyn must face the wrath of the Forest, one very high-strung Grim Reaper, and a very peculiar Mad God all while coming to terms with the fact that nothing she had previously believed about the "afterlife" was true.
As it turned out, being dead was the least of her problems.
(Note: This is a prequel for Halo, but does not need to be read first)

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4. II: Limbo Is Not Just A Game You Play At Parties

II.

Limbo Is Not Just A Game You Play At Parties

The glaring white light that accosted my eyes when I finally woke up probably would have blinded me if I wasn’t dead. It took several moments of blinking and fighting against the light for me to realize that everything was white. And there was nothing else around. It was just a huge expanse of… White. I can’t even call it a room.  Oh, God. Tell me this isn’t hell. The whole fiery pit of doom seemed way more interesting the eternal boredom. Plus, I may be biased, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t do anything to warrant damnation.

The next thing to accost me was Dream Hallucination’s annoying voice in my ears. “Finally. You’re awake.”

I squinted at him to try and make out his annoying face against the stark white background. Apparently, ghost eyes take a while to adjust to the bad lighting. Dream Hallucination walked towards me, but I couldn’t tell quite how far away he was because it was too white and gross to tell where anything was—if there even was anything other than us around. There wasn’t even really a floor, or walls, or anything solid to touch. Just white. Nothing else.

Dream Hallucination held his arms out and turned slowly in a circle, as if he was showcasing the white eternity. “Welcome to the naughty zone—better known as limbo.” He turned back to face me, pointing an accusatory finger in my direction. “You, sweet Dylon, were a naughty ghost. Poltergeisting on your first night out as a newly-dead mortal. I must admit, I had more faith in you. Your previous life wasn’t nearly this annoying.”

I swear, I almost bit that smug little finger off right then in there—but, frankly, I wasn’t entirely sure that would work. Who knew if he could even feel pain—or maybe it would grow back like a freaky lizard. Anything was possible at that point. I scowled at him. “I wouldn’t have done it if you had just let me get back to my life! It’s not like anyone would know if you just put me back, right? Aren’t there, like, a million dead people around? Who cares about me?” I snapped, stomping my foot to try and get something to happen. Of course, nothing happened. There was nothing around to budge. I’m not even sure that I stomped ground. It was more likely that I just kicked my foot in the air. And since I wasn't able to feel the floor of my bedroom, I couldn't really be sure that I could feel the floor in limbo.

“I don’t expect the likes of you to understand, but that’s not how death works. You can’t just go back. It would completely throw off the natural order!” Dream Hallucination waved his finger in front of my face when he noticed me trying to control the energy in the room again. Like a mother telling her two-year-old child “no,” only creepier. “That’s not going to work here.” He put his arms out, gesturing to the empty, white space. “There’s nothing around for miles! In fact, you’d have to walk for a thousand years in any direction to reach the nearest banished soul! You don’t want to become a banished soul, now, do you, Dylon?”

I scoffed. ‘Banished soul.’ What nonsense! If he had actually had an intention of ‘banishing’ my ‘soul,’ he would have just left me there. Clearly, he was just trying to use scare tactics to get me to do what he wanted. “Has anyone ever told you you’re a jerk?” I crossed my arms and raised an eyebrow at him.

Dream Hallucination laughed in response, throwing his head back. “Oh, yes. Plenty. Now, if your tantrum is over, I would like to get you moved into your new temporary home.”

“New home? Have you been listening to anything I’ve been saying? I don’t want a new home! I want my old home!” I uncrossed my arms and gestured to all of limbo—since there wasn’t anything else to gesture at. “This? This is crazy! More crazy than I remember signing up for! Home? My home? That’s normal. I want normal. I want to go home.”

“And that’s not going to happen. You died. Keeled over. Croaked. Whatever you humans are calling it these days—but the point is, your soul used up all the energy that body had to offer. And you’re ready for a new one. So no, you can’t come back to life. There’s nothing for you there, and there would be no point anyway. You’d simply die again.” Dream Hallucination pulled out his little black book and wrote something down.

I snatched the book right out of his hands. “How would you feel if you suddenly died before you accomplished anything you wanted to do? Wouldn’t you try to fight for your life back?” I challenged, holding the book above my head in a futile attempt to taunt him.

He stole it back easily. “That is impossible. I am not mortal, as you are. I cannot die. I can only cease to exist. In which case, there wouldn’t be a consciousness left to feel sorry about it.” He opened up the book again and went right back to writing.

I could feel a vein pop in my forehead—well, I couldn’t really feel it, because souls don’t really have blood or veins, but I imagined that if I still had a body of flesh and blood, a vein would be popping in annoyance. “What do you keep writing that’s so important? What about me? I’m the one who’s dead! Shouldn’t you be helping me move on or something?”

He raised an eyebrow at me. “No. That’s not my job. And you poltergeisting back there created a lot of paperwork for me. Which, quite frankly, I would be making you do as punishment if I wasn’t sure you’d mess it up. Now, there are thousands upon thousands of other souls who are lost and afraid and waiting for me to come and show them to the light, so, if you’d just come with me to your new home I can get back to my job and never have to associate myself with you again.”

“You’re a real jerk.”

“You said that already, Dylon.”

“I know. I’m running out of insults. You’re just so infuriating; I’ve already thrown the best ones your way.”

Dream Hallucination continued writing, not even taking time to look up at me. “I suppose I should feel honored.” He stated in a monotonous drawl, clicking his tongue at something he wrote before furiously trying to erase whatever-it-was he had clearly fucked up. So even high-and-mighty holier-than-thou Grim Reapers fuck up. It was almost comforting.

“Just take me home! I’m sick of this!” I snapped. And I mean, who could blame me for snapping? Why couldn’t he see that I wasn’t supposed to be dead? I was a kid! I had so much to do, so many places to go visit! Someone had just made a mistake. Shit happens, people mess up. That had to be what happened.

Dream Hallucination finally glanced up at me like one of those librarians peering over the top of their glasses when you ask them a question. “You clearly don’t understand how this works. And as riveting as it would be for me to sit here and explain to you why you can’t possibly come back to life, when you won’t even bother to listen to me anyway, I will simply tell you: You can’t possibly come back to life. Now, I can give you somewhere to go so you can settle down and get ready for your next big go around as a mortal, or I can leave you here to suffer until you eventually run out of energy and disappear forever—with no chance of coming back as someone new. It’s your choice, Dylon.”

“I hate you.”

“I gathered.” He slammed his book shut and dropped it, but it disintegrated into a black mist and disappeared before hitting the ground (if there even was any ground to hit, it was still hard to tell). “But that doesn’t change reality. Are you coming with me or not? As I have said on multiple occasions, I am on a very tight schedule that I would very much like to get back to.”

I didn’t answer right away. I couldn’t. It felt like going with him would mean just signing away the person I was without even giving myself a shot at something better. But he didn’t seem to be listening to me anyway, and as much as I didn’t want to admit that having an actual place to stay in while I figured out the whole “being dead” thing sounded much better than slowly forgetting who I am and fading away into nothingness… it really did. Even if it wasn’t home… at least I wouldn’t fade away all alone before getting a chance to get my life back. Maybe Dream Hallucination wouldn’t help me… but someone else might. And that “someone else” wasn’t going to be found in the actual middle of nowhere.

Which brought me to the rather unfortunate realization that I was going to have to swallow my pride, and do what he said. Still, I wasn’t going to just let him boss me around without anything in return. He seemed to have a high status in whatever ghost-society there was that existed out there—and with status comes influence. As much as I despised him, I needed him.

“Fine,” I said, my voice sharp. “I’ll go with you, but—”

“Perfect! Let’s go.” He turned again, clearly in a hurry.

I grabbed his arm again. This guy just really does not listen, does he? “Wait! I wasn’t finished,” I said stubbornly, my grasp firm and unwavering. “I want you to do something for me first.”

Dream Hallucination scoffed. “Are you serious? You really haven’t been listening. You don’t get to order me around. This isn’t a “three wishes” kind of situation. You’re dead, and I am reaping your soul. I honestly didn’t think it was that hard to understand.”

If I was going to have to spend eternity with him, I would rather fade into nothingness. But if playing nice was going to get me to someone who actually could help me, then that was just what I was going to have to do. “Exactly. You’re the Grim Reaper, right? So it’s part of your job to make me understand the whole dead thing. Whatever, I get it. But you don’t expect me to trust you despite the fact that you know everything about me, but I know nothing about you, right? That doesn’t seem fair.”

“This isn’t about trust, sweetie. This is the afterlife. I don’t need you to trust me, I need you to listen to me.”

“Well, I’m not going to listen to you if I don’t trust you!”

Dream Hallucination groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I am never reaping another teenager ever again,” he grumbled under his breath before putting his hand down and looking at me. “Fine. What do I do to get you to trust me so I can move on with my day?

I straightened up, my expression smug. Finally, I felt a little less powerless. “Be my guide in the afterlife. I don’t want to be thrown somewhere strange with no knowledge of what to do or where to go. If you agree to personally show me the ropes, I’ll go with you.”

“That’s not my job.”

“And I don’t care. I want you to show me. Of course, you can always just leave me here, right? That’s the whole point of limbo? If I’m too much trouble, why are you still listening to the silly whims of a teenage human? I’m not stupid. I know that there is some reason you can’t just leave me here.”

Dream Hallucination glared at me with pursed lips. “I admit you are smarter than I thought.” He let out a pained sigh and ran his fingers through his greasy hair. “Alright. I’ll agree to show you around—but only because it would be far more easy to just show you around than it would be to fill out the necessary forms to leave you here. But mark my words: if you don’t do exactly as I say from here on out, I won’t hesitate to bring you back here. And next time, there won’t be a way out.”

I held my hand out, not even blinking at his threat. He was trying to save face, I get that. It probably damaged his ego a little bit to admit defeat to a 16-year-old dead person. “I’ll do what you say, if you’ll be my guide. Deal?”

He stared at the hand in utter confusion. “You don’t expect me to touch that, do you?”

“It’s not a deal unless we shake on it. So shake.”

He closed his eyes and let out a deep sigh. He wasn’t an idiot. He probably realized that just shutting the hell up and shaking my hand was going to get him away from me a lot faster than trying to argue, because he reached out and took my hand.

I couldn’t help but grin wider. First day out as a dead girl, and I had the actual Grim Reaper wrapped around my finger—at least, for now. “Great! Then it’s a deal. So, what should I call you—since we’re going to be spending a lot more time together. Unless you want me to call you Dream Hallucination forever.”

“Just Reaper will suffice.”

I couldn’t help but snicker at the defeat in his voice. “No, I mean like your name—if you have one. Like, I’m Dylon, and you are…”

“Why?”

“Because I want to call you by your actual name, and I’m not going to drop it until you tell me so you might as well save yourself the anguish.”

He clenched his fist for a moment before closing his eyes and taking a breath to calm himself. “Jaquillian.”

“Ja-what?”

Jaquillian. Jah-quil-ee-an. Are you quite satisfied?”

“So… I can call you Ian?”

“No.”

“How about Jaq?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Aw, it’s sweet that you think you have a choice. So, Jaq, how to we get to this soul-home-place-thing.”

Soul-home-place-thing is not what it’s called. And we open a door.” He said that like it was obvious.

“Door? Uh, I don’t mean to burst your bubble, Jaq, but there isn’t any door around here.” I gestured to the bleak nothingness that was limbo to prove my point.

Jaq turned, putting out his hand and chanting another one of his creepy, blood-curdling chants that sounded like it came right out of a horror movie. A black and gold swirl appeared in the air just past where we were floating (or standing, whichever it was), and turned and expanded until it became a door. A rather impressive door at that. The wood was a deep, warm brown, and a gold trim twisted around the front in the shape of an oak tree. A sparkling, crystal handle sat on the right-hand side, and boy I longed to just spring forward and throw the door open before he could stop me and leave him behind. Of course, he could probably just summon another door, but hey, a girl can dream—even a dead one.

My mouth must have been hanging open in shock, because Jaq turned to smirk at me with that smug holier-than-thou look that I was beginning to think was just his face. “Like I said. We open a door.”

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