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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3. I: So Apparently I Died

I.
So Apparently I Died

When I woke up, there was a man staring at me from the foot of my bed. I have to admit, my first thought was something along the lines of shit, is this about that chain email I didn’t forward to 15 people two years ago? Man, I really wish it had been about that. That would have been better. That, I probably could have punched—and anything that can be punched can definitely be beaten.

Unfortunately, the man was much too sophisticated-looking to be a demon brought forth by an unforwarded spam email.

No, this man was in a suit—and I mean the expensive kind that you pay an obscene amount of money getting custom fitted for it or whatever. His black hair was slicked back with far more hair gel than any normal person would have actually needed. His eyes were a striking and unworldly gold, and they stared at me as if they could see through me. Also, he was floating, which brought me to the simple and comforting conclusion: I’m dreaming.

He opened up a black notebook and turned his attention down to its contents. “Gwendolyn Rivers, I presume?” He looked me up and down, giving me a once-over. His voice was definitely not as smooth and “tall dark and brooding” as I expected it to be, but it wasn’t exactly raspy either. Once he was done looking me over he clicked his tongue and shook his head—as if he was disappointed by what he saw. He flipped through the pages of the black notebook for a few moments before stopping on a page and scribbling something down, not even bothering to look up at me when he spoke. “Welcome to your afterlife.”

I scoffed. First impression: asshole dream hallucination—emphasis on the asshole. “Uh, Excuse me?” Afterlife? As in… after life. As in no longer alive.

As in dead.

Is this guy seriously trying to tell me I’m dead? And that was his opener? I mean, ok, I admit I had had this nightmare plenty of times before—but the Dream Hallucination was usually nicer, better looking, and came with plenty of chocolate. And then the dream would spiral down this rabbit hole of my deepest darkest fears, and, well… We don’t need to discuss me crying like a small child until waking up, do we? I think it’s kind of self-explanatory.  

Dream Hallucination slammed his book shut, the sharp sound making me jump. He simply gestured down at my bed, signaling for me to follow his movement with my eyes. Now fast forward through me screaming in absolute horror for about five solid minutes while I stared at the cold, lifeless body—my body—that I was currently hovering over, while Dream Hallucination covered his ears. And…

Back to the real action.

“Ok, that’s… That’s never happened in a dream before. That’s… me… Wow. Ok. This is freaky. Super freaky. Why haven’t I been shocked awake yet? Oh, please pinch me, Dream Hallucination!” He flung my arm out, almost slapping him in the face in the process.

He grabbed my wrist and forced my hand down to my side. “Enough of that. You humans are so peculiar… Although, I must give you credit. ‘Dream Hallucination’ is not one I’ve heard before. Demon… Vermin… Grim Reaper, those are all names I can understand but Dream Hallucination? That’s one for the books.”

Since he clearly wasn’t interested in taking me seriously, I pinched myself. And then I pinched myself again. And again. And once more, just for good measure.

Ouch. 

Ok, not dreaming. Dead. Seriously, for real, dead. And the seriously, for real, Grim. Reaper. That’s going to take a solid millennia to fully process. Also, ghosts can feel pain? Why can ghosts feel pain, that doesn’t make any sense! I shook my head. “No, no no no no no no no. That is not possible, ok? Dying—dying is something old people do, ok? And I—I am not old people. I am 16. I cannot be dead.” Hovered off my bed—which was weird, since I was used to sliding off of my bed—and planted my feet firmly on the floor. Which I couldn’t feel. That was also weird, because my body at least… Looked solid from the few glances I had taken. I was even still wearing my same pink polka-dotted nightgown, and had my same brown hair all tied up in a bun—which I could feel with my own two hands. But the floor? No. Apparently, that was off the “feeling” radar for dead people.

Dream Hallucination scoffed and turned his back to me, pacing around my room with his arms out while he spoke as if he was giving a lecture to a small child. “No, dying is for mortals—which you are, my dear Gwendolyn. And before you ask—yes you are a ghost, no you may not stay on Earth, whether you go to “Heaven” or “Hell” is no concern of mine, and no you may not say goodbye to your family, you should have thought that through before you died.” He turned to face me again, leaning in so that his face was inches from mine. “This is not my first rodeo, kid, but it is yours—so I suggest you stick close to the expert. Do everything I say, and this process will be a lot less painful for both of us.”

I huffed. I had never expected the Grim Reaper to be so damn pretentious. “First of all,” I began, pausing only to shove his nasty-ass face out of my personal bubble. “Gwendolyn is what my mother calls me when I’m in trouble. It’s just Dylon, or no dice. Second of all,” I crossed my arms, “I’m not going anywhere with the likes of you. Dead or not, I am perfectly happy right where I am—in my bed. No need for Heaven or Hell.”

Dream Hallucination scowled, a dark mist forming around him for just a moment before he collected himself by taking a deep breath in and putting whatever that freak show mist was away. “Well, Dylon,” He practically spat on my name as he said it, “I am afraid that’s just not how it works. You are a ghost now, and your soul was not made to survive here. You may be solid now, but tomorrow, you’ll begin to disappear. By next Wednesday you will start to mutate. Within a year or so, you will start to lose all your memories, recollections, and even the vague idea you may or may not have of who you are. Then, you continue to fade and wander for years, decades—possibly even centuries—not knowing who you are or where you came from until eventually, you will simply… cease to exist. Or, you can come with me to your new home—where you will be given the energy you need to survive until we can… Reassign you to a new life.”

“Ok, so… Mutating and vanishing sounds… Pretty grody, I admit… But… A new life? You mean like reincarnation? Which means I won’t remember this life anyway. I will still vanish and lose all my memories and mutate! You’re just smacking a fancy word on it!”

Dream Hallucination lifted his finger, signaling that he was trying to make a point. “Ah, but you see, it won’t be painful!”

I gave him the best ‘that’s such bull crap’ look I could manage, staring at him with literally dead eyes until he put his finger down. “You’re not denying anything I’m saying. So I’m right? I’ll still vanish—this me will still cease to exist.” I crossed my arms.

“Well, technically, yes. Once you are ready to move on you’ll have a new identity, and your old one will be… filed away in history. Your soul will get reborn and Viola! you live again. So you get what you want and I get to do my job and everyone is happy. Now that that’s settled, let’s get moving. I’m a busy man, and I don’t have all day.” He turned as if he was going to leave, but I grabbed him to stop him from moving.

“Wait! I don’t want to go! I’m not ready to give up the life that I have! My mother, my brother… What will they do without me?” I yelled. It was starting to get too real. Way, way too real. I guess the millennia I needed for the shock to wear off was starting to reach its end because damn if I wasn’t already dead I would definitely think I was dying. Can I even feel the sensation of my stomach doing flip flops if I don’t even have a stomach? Well, not a working one? Apparently, logic also does not work in the ghost world. I swear my gut was doing some serious Olympic-level gymnastics.

Dream Hallucination pulled his arm away. “I don’t know, and frankly, that’s a problem for the living. Not us. The sooner you forget about them, the sooner you can get a move on.”

“No!” I tried shouting even louder in a poor attempt to force him to listen to me. I stomped my foot on the ground, hearing something rustle. I smirked. Oh. So that still worked, did it? I felt a warm power swelling in my palms—like I could do anything I wanted if I just tried. The whole room was open to me. I could feel the mirror in the far corner, the desk on the right wall, the bookshelf by my bed. It was all connected by some… Invisible force that I could feel. And not only feel, but…

Control.

“I’m. Staying.” I thrust my arms out, hearing the glass on my mirror shattering. The walls started to shake, and I noticed Dream Hallucination lose his footing for a moment, almost falling flat on his face. Damn, that would have been some sight. I heard him curse in some language I didn’t recognize—and I only knew it was a curse because of the way he hissed it under his breath.

“You haven’t even been dead five minutes and you’re already poltergeisting. Fine, I guess we are doing this the hard way. This is going to hurt you a lot more than it hurts me.” Dream Hallucination put his feet together and held out his arms with his fists clenched, his stance not that unlike a cross. Huge white wings burst from his back, and his eyes turned white—and I mean solid white, like he was possessed. He started chanting something in some demonic language that was too echoey and complicated to understand, his voice strong enough to make the walls vibrate with a low hum. White tattoos swirled over his hands and neck, creeping up to his face as he spoke. The way they swirled and moved was both highly unsettling and mystifying, making it impossible to look away. He opened up his hands, releasing a white mist into the room that covered the floor like a fog.

The room slowly began to stop shaking as my control over the energy started to fade. I tried to move, but it was like my feet were glued to their spot on the floor. The white mist surrounded me, turning solid as it wrapped around me and slowly trapped my body in an unbreakable cocoon. It swirled up my ghost-body like ribbons, but clamped shut like steel bars. Before the substance covered my eyes, Dream Hallucination looked at me—right at me. Even though his eyes were solid white, and his face was covered in weird glowy tattoos, I could tell he looked… Disappointed. Which was more unsettling than anything else. I tried to wriggle and fight against the… whatever it was that was covering my body, but that only seemed to make it move faster. As my vision was slowly overtaken by the mist, he spoke.

“Why’d you have to try and get away, Dylon?”

 

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