A brief insight into the in between. Life after death is the ultimate conundrum, a phenomenon that some choose to believe in and others don't. The inevitable however is not debatable, what happens afterwards is. Awakening in a new strange place is confusing enough, especially when this place, although unknown, is familiar enough to instigate a sense of déjà vu so deep and unfathomable that it conjures new feelings inside you. So when we do wake up here, what happens? Why have we been sent here? And what does it all truly mean?

Maybe, just maybe, it is this...


1. Choice

Light, airy, a breeze that flutters peacefully over my skin, tantalising, calm, ever so calm. A soothing balm to an open wound that caresses my body, beckoning consciousness into focus with little touches here and there, afraid almost, afraid to fully awaken me.

Each touch, each press of the weightless fingertips pulls me closer to the surface, becoming eager as time moves on, pressing harder and harder until it’s too hard to ignore. It's almost as if some part of me, a deeper, buried part, the coward in me doesn't want to wake up, doesn't want to face the consequences. But these consequences are unknown, the chain of events a hair breadth away from realisation.

I can see, but I can't.

Finally, I open my eyes, my eyelashes casting shadows across the earthy realm revealing itself, blurry at first, becoming sharper as I blink.

I'm lying down, that's for certain. A padded floor that bends to my curves, ensuring maximum comfort is provided with each twist and turn, conforming to my shape. It's earthy, mossy, a glance to my side confirming that I'm in fact on a forest floor.

It's comical, really, my next movement. From sensual calmness to abrupt alertness, I sit up, fingers curling into the mossy ground despite my otherwise calm demeanour.

Like they know something I don't. Clinging to something that I can't see. Muscles in my arms tremor sending shivers through my shoulders that echo into my torso, reverberating through my stomach. Yet I don't feel scared, I feel safe, in fact, I've never felt safer in my entire life. The place is like a distant memory and as I try to chase that memory down, the further it seems to slip away. Trees don't surround me, but they certainly border the path I'm on, green strands of life hanging from the bark, leaking on to the ground like spilled ink. Vines of it creep onto the path I'm on, revealing little of the forest floor. From what I can tell, it's brown, the floor, patches of moist fallen branches having been broken down over the years, pressed down until they themselves join the ground.

Between the trees is nothing. Nothing except white.

Mist, fog, whatever it is, it's thick, thick enough that I can't see six foot past my path.

It's then that I notice what I'm wearing. Standing up, my body still shaking as if in fear, I collect myself enough to pluck at the white material. A dress, it hangs to just above my knees, clinching at my waist and hugging my chest. No sleeves, no straps, it holds itself up and it's incredibly comfortable, like silk.

My feet are bare for some unknown reason, my pale skin a stark contrast between the earthy floor.

Some part of me politely interludes that I shouldn't be pale, I've been sunbathing all week, but it's quickly disregarded, a thought carried away by the ever present finger tips that awoke me.

I flex my fingers, blinking as they shakily follow my commands, the movement slow, odd, as if disconnected. They're not painted. I'm sure I painted them red.

Or maybe I didn't.

They're clean now, perfectly shaped, pink and healthy.

My hair is long, reaching in big curls down to my chest, as dark as the moist branches surrounding me. That's strange too, I'm sure I had it cut short, or long.

"Well, hello again."

The silky voice startles me much more than I anticipated, shock rampaging through me at a rapid pace and I clutch my chest, gasping in breaths.

"My, it's been a short time, old friend; you certainly buggered this one up, didn't you?"

It's coming from everywhere and nowhere and I spin, feet feeling awkward and uncoordinated in their movements.

A stuttering halt, I stop when I see her. A boulder that I hadn't noticed before sits a few meters away from me, leaning precariously against a tree. Covered in moss like the rest of the place, the only difference being the person currently sitting on it.

She's beautiful, hideous, unique and frightening all at the same time, but she inspires a deep sense of déjà vu in me that I can't ignore.

"Have we... Have we met before? Do you know where I am?"

She chuckles, a warm, hearty chuckle.

With long black hair, much longer than my own that falls onto the rock. She's sitting casually, a knee cocked up on the rock whilst the other swings, her arm resting on it. Her fashion sense is weird, a green dress that transforms into trousers in front of my very eyes, the dress becoming a full suit that billows in the legs. She's covered in bangles, her neck crossed with gold, her swinging leg creating an orchestra of sound that echoes through the forest.

The most prevalent thing however, is not her dress sense, but her smile. It's comforting, cheeky in a sense, inspiring a smile from me as I step forwards.

"Yes, friend, we have, many times before."

"Who are you?"

She crosses her legs, leaning forwards as if she's about to tell a story, "I am no one, no one of importance, anyway, I'm just here to help."

I blink, confused, "Help?"

"Yes! Since you've managed to screw up this one, it's time to move on to the next!"

"The next what?" I look around, absorbed by my surroundings. The mist is thick but beautiful, the tress full of vitality, a vitality that's envious. It's consuming, really, overriding any previous thought as I circle, jumping in surprise when behind me I see paths that weren't there before. The one path has transformed into many.

Separating from one specific point, they split, winding their way deep into the forest. Some split earlier than others into more paths, whilst others seem to go on forever, the mist not as clogging as it is on my sides. There's so many. They divide, trees bordering each one, even the very small ones that after maybe a few steps split into two more paths.

Entranced, I step towards the point where the one path I'm on splits into many.

A hand spins me, grabbing my shoulders with tight fingers that seem cold to the bone, sending a bolt of steel ice through my muscles. They spasm in return, an involuntary movement, as if they are shuddering at her touch.

"No! No no no no no!" The woman laughs heartily, barely disguising the panic in her voice, shaking her head, "No, we never look back, we always move forwards."

She's a few inches smaller than me, surprisingly, and she grins up at me as she spins us back to my original direction, pushing me away from the paths. I let her, dazed and following like a child. Everything seems fuzzy, almost, like concepts are becoming hard to grasp.

"Who are you?"

She grins, patting my shoulder as she stands beside me, "I told you, I am no one, I'm here to help you."

I look away from her, startled to see paths ahead of me now. Three of them, they split into opposite directions winding deep into the forest, the mist much more opaque than the ones behind me, blocking my view after a few metres.

"Help me what?"

She smiles, her green eyes still facing ahead, beckoning my own actions into doing the same, "Help you choose. After all, you bodged up the last one."

I swallow nervously, "Like a guide?"

She laughs, "Yes, you could say that."

"A guide for what?"

She blinks, looking up at me, "Girl, I swear I just told you, I'm your guide in choosing your next path, your next destiny."

"But..." I rub my chest, feeling queasy, "Why do I need to choose a path? Where am I?"

"You're in limbo, sweetie, a state of in between, the little partition between lives."

"Purgatory?!" I spit the word out, panic surfacing in my voice, in my chest as I rub the place over my heart.

She scoffs, almost offended, "No! You're not waiting, you're going, and not to heaven or hell." She rolls her eyes but her words send a strike of cold through me.

"Heaven or hell?! I don't understand, why am I here?!"

Her eyelids drop, her face becoming saddened as she turns towards me, spinning me too with her hands grasping my elbows. They're cold.

"This is always the worst part, but honey, you've passed on. And now it's time to choose your next path."

I shake my head, gasping in breaths, this is surreal, unbelievable almost, "No, no, I can't be, I mean, I don't feel dead, and I have stuff at home I need to... I have to get back to my... Uh, there are people..."

She smiles a sad smile as I struggle. Every memory seems to shimmer out of existence, running away from my grasping fingertips. It's hard even articulating myself, thoughts scattering to and fro. I'm looking for something and it's no longer there.

"I have... There's a boy at home, and I have to go back to him."

She purses her lips, "Ah, young love, teenagers," she chuckles, "Are you sure?"

I nod, looking down; at least I think I’m sure, "Yeah, he's waiting for me... At home."

"What does he look like?"

I frown, "He has blonde hair, or maybe brown, no blonde... Brown hair, and..." I try to picture him, I honestly do, but features begin to muddle up, become confused in my head, "He has blue... Blue eyes."

She nods sympathetically, "I’m sure he does, and I know he loves you very much, as do your mother and father, and they'll miss you, they will, it will come as a shock, your mother won't be able to forgive herself, your father will start drinking, but eventually, they will be consoled. They'll come to terms with your death, long before their own."

Tears that I didn't know were there spill down my face and she coos, wiping one away, "Oh sweetie, don't cry, you won't be forgotten. You may have died young, too young and I told you last time to stop doing that, but you have a choice ahead of you. A choice only you can make."

She turns us as it feels like I can't move myself, I can't conduct any response. Everything feels too real, too scary and as she clasps my hand in hers, I look up at the looming paths.

"What if I don't want to move on?"

"It isn't a choice honey, there's no going back, once it's done it's done, that life path has ended now." She squeezes my hand in her cold one, "But don't hurt, because there are wonders ahead, new experiences. You won't remember your last life, just as you don't remember the one you had before this one. There's excitement waiting down those roads."

"How many times have I done this?"

Her words sparked a thought in my head. The way she speaks, it's as if we've done this thousands of times before.

"Oh many, many times. And every time you're upset. Not because you're afraid but because you're not finished, you never are, every time you're cut short," she looks up at me, "But you're learning, this was a hiccup in your long line to discovery."

Her words are a balm to my nerves, the stitches to my wounds and I know we've had this conversation before.

Each second that passes I feel like I'm forgetting more, each moment becoming more opaque, further away.

"I don't want to forget." I say pathetically and she smiles, looking ahead as do I.

"You won't, it will never be gone, just dormant. Each experience is a new lesson, a new way of recreating yourself and fixing what you have previously failed in. And at the end? Everything will come back to you, everything."

I sniffle, "So I need to fix things? But if I can't remember how will I fix them?"

"That's the beauty of it all, you don't need to remember, the people around you will help, too," she wiggles her eyebrows, "Those people around you will remember, whilst you've moved on, that's the lesson. How you affected the world and shaped yourself is important. The people you interact with are a vision into yourself, an open gateway; you just have to see it."

"Will I ever see my parents again?" Even now as I try to recall their faces, their voices, they're fading. What was my mum’s name? She had a name, it was old, dated, a nice name. Why can't I remember it?

The woman shrugs, "Maybe, in fact, you may have met you're previous family members, previous lovers, previous children. Your life is connected; a huge interlinking web of strands that vibrate with life until that life ends. Sometimes they intercept each other."

"But if I do I won't know who they are." I don’t phrase it as a question; I already know the answer even before she says it.

She still nods though, a small, sad smile playing on her lips, "No, you won't."

"I'll never be able to say goodbye to them." I murmur, relinquishing my hold on the memories with a grimace. They flutter away like confetti in the wind, fragmenting and shimmering, becoming nothing. It’s a frightening phenomenon, something that stirs deep in my gut reminding me of the fragile nature of life. How we can be there one second and the next -- gone. We all ignore the inevitability of it, the finality of death. Some part of us holds on to the idea that we are never truly gone, forever a part of the world. And we are, in some tiny way. Through our children, through our siblings, their children and their children’s children. Religions teach of an afterlife waiting for you, a paradise if you yield to their practices, and if you don’t follow those teachings you are eternally damned. The ideology that something is awaiting us after the final curtain call is drilled into us, be it through media or simple inheritance. It’s comforting. An assurance that you are still here no matter what happens. Science aims to find out the ‘how’ of it, and the religion the ‘why’ of it. What if it all leads to this? At the end, you are faced with a final decision which determines what happens afterwards. As you’re making this decision, you forget your loved ones, the ones you treasure. I’m forgetting them already not of my own accord. It’s this place, it’s leeching the pictures and emotions right out of my mind, creating a blank slate.

"That's not important,” She interrupts, “You souls, you focus too much on the past, it's time to look forward, into your new future."

“I don’t want to forget them though,” I assert, glaring at the paths.

“Nobody ever does,” She sighs, “But it’s a necessity in life, in new life. It’s the only way you can learn,” with a final smile in my direction she urges us forwards, dragging me like a petulant child towards the beginning of the paths. The forest floor barely tickles my feet, instead caressing them, the jagged ends barely making an impression as I step hesitantly over them, expecting the sting that accompanies such a terrain.

At the border she stops us, “Now, we best hurry, the longer we wait, the harder it is.”

“To do what?”

“Choose.” She says it with a chilly melancholy, her eyes meeting mine, her expression flat, “This is a place of peace and it succumbs to your inherent desires, what you view as calm. And I must say you’ve certainly surprised me this time.” She glances around the place, mimicking my own movements as I too survey it, “But it is built on your memories, on your previous life. The longer we stay here, the more unstable it becomes as your memories begin to disintegrate for the greater good.”

I laugh, surprising both of us, “The greater good.”

She chuckles too, “You’ll know soon enough, it’s all for a reason.”

We both spend a few seconds just breathing, preparing ourselves for the irrevocable decision ahead of us. At least, that’s what I’m doing. Maybe she’s letting me have these few final moments, the calm before the storm. I assume it’s a storm ahead, anyway. After all, reincarnation can’t be a smooth ride.

“So, how do we do this?”

She grins, eyes ahead as I look down at her, “It’s simple, you just have to feel it inside, feel the decision stirring inside of you. You’ll know which one you want, subconsciously.”

I swallow audibly, pressing a hand against my stomach. I don’t feel any desire to move forwards, only backwards although I have no idea as to why. The paths behind me look long, annoying really. And what’s waiting for me there anyway? Nothing. That life is over. Those people, the ones who I… I knew, are no longer a part of me now. My parents, my siblings, if I had any – did I? -  are going to move on with their lives. I need to move on to mine. I glance back one more time, noting the shimmering paths. They didn’t shimmer before, did they? I don’t know, maybe they did.

Returning my gaze back to the paths, I let go of her hand, stepping forwards. There’s no pull, no inner monologue which dictates the path I should choose. Each step reveals nothing until I am at the very apex of the passages. The fog looks thick, thicker than ever.

Except one.

Its fog is thick, yes, but not nearly as intimidating. The other two seem impenetrable, uninviting almost whilst this one… wisps of it beckon me forwards, silent fingertips once again pressing me onwards, an invisible shove and I stumble towards it, clumsily weaving my way down. I turn back just as the fog begins to wrap around me, entombing my right side in a cool wash.

She’s still standing there, a smile on her face and she waves, her fingers wiggling in the air.

“Thank you.” I say, and she nods in return.

With a final deep breath, a gasp of air that acts as a vacuole in my very soul, I step fully inside it. It’s cold, warm, incredibly white yet dark at the same time. There are no more trees, just whiteness, just mist. I walk, seemingly forever, the path no longer discernible. Fear begins to settle its roots inside my chest, vines creeping through my lungs, my heart. It’s all for naught though as I come to an edge.

A cliff.

Nothing can be seen below, again just pillows of white. My toes curl in the green grass as I stumble upon it, barely capturing myself before tumbling over. For a few seconds I’m confused. I expected some kind of blinding white light once I stepped inside the misty spectrum, not another winding path, nor a cliff. Maybe I’ve done something wrong? Can that happen?

So why do I want to jump?

The urge is against every instinctual part of me but it’s consuming, encasing me until I move a shaky foot out, extending the limb over the jagged edge. I’m gasping, I can’t help it. Air moves in and out of my lungs at a rapid pace, encouraging me almost. The fresh breaths are the final push and I squeeze my eyes shut as I plummet, the ground disappearing and the wind rushing by me. Everything is moving too fast, too much and I open my eyes, the clouds parting revealing nothing but a sea of white. A sea that looks solid. It’s too fast, I’m approaching too quickly. The decision to jump doesn’t feel like my own and I instantly regret it as I open my mouth, nausea rolling in my stomach as the scream I’ve prepared breaches my mouth, erupting into the world with clarity just as we crash into the sea.

The sea of white, of life, of health and reincarnation. The sea that is my white light.





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