For some unknown reason I found myself floating around in dark empty space. I blinked in confusion, wondering where in the world I had ended up.
"Hello?" I cried out wishing for some sort of reply. "Is anyone out there?"
When no response came this ungodly feeling of fear began to dig its way into my heart. And for the first time I paid attention to it; my body shut down and went limp. My head began to swim with thoughts of depression, sadness, but my heart was-
Wait, I thought to myself. Where was my heartbeat? I put my left hand over my chest, but felt no such thing like a heartbeat; it felt more like a sticky substance that was warm to the touch. "What the…?" I looked down and immediately regretted it.
My clothing were tattered and covered with mud and a thick red liquid oozed out of slashes and open cuts along my body. I stared in horror at what I presumed was my actual body as the red liquid slithered down to my toes dripping into the dark abyss below me.
"Oh my god!" I screeched in terror; grabbing a fist full oh hair with both hands. "What the hell happened to me?!"
Terrified and not having the slightest idea of what to do with this new found horror I began to thrash around in the empty space that surrounded me. I continued to scream for what seemed like an eternity, until my lungs were gasping for air. When I finally managed to calm down I curled myself up into a tight ball wanting to just disappear. To tired, depressed, and unbelievably scared I decided to close my eyes hoping this was all just a horrible nightmare and that I'd wake up in my own bed surrounded by family that cared and love me.
When I came too everything was quiet. As if time itself had stopped, or had it even started? I sat up and rubbed my eyes to adjust them to my surroundings, to my surprise I wasn't surround by the darkness anymore, I was in my Grandpa Wyckoff's house only it was different. It didn't smell of cigarettes anymore it smelled more like fresh scented herbs, and the room I was in looked like it used to be a room for a ten year old girl.
"Where?" I looked around the room and spotted a few pictures on the wall. I stood up to get a better look at them and I noticed my grandpa was in a few of the photos along with two little girls, but they looked so familiar. Not even noticing what I was doing I placed my fingers on top of the pictures. "Mom, Auntie Robbie…" I mumbled quietly and turned away from wall and inspected the room more carefully. "Am I in my mom's room when she was a kid?"
Suddenly, an unnerving chill ran up my spin sending goose bumps to rise on my trotted flesh. I shook my head and bolted to the door. "I've got get out of here!" Gripping the door handle, I swung it open effortless and dashed into the living room, through the kitchen and out into the back yard falling to my knees by the garden bounding the dirt with my fists . "Wake up!" I cried, "Wake up, Wake up, Wake up!!"
"You're not dreaming Mary."
The chill returned up my spine causing me to spin around on the earthy ground to face the human being that had just spoken behind my back; hiding by the open doorway. "Who are you, Show yourself!" I squeaked trying to gather my air back.
A petite woman with dark curly brown hair, looking to be around in her late thirties walked out into the light. "Oh you poor thing, I never dreamed of meeting you so early." She smiled a soft voice, relieving her identity. I had only seen this lady in my mom's old photo albums.
She nodded. "That's right sweet-heart." She walked over to me and extended her right hand out. "Now come on off the ground now, don't want ya to get even dirtier than ya are now."
Not knowing what else to do I hesitantly took a hold of her hand and let her heave me off the ground. I watched as she patted dirt off my clothes like she'd known me for my whole life. "Hey, hey, hey!" I scrambled away. "What are you doing?"
"I'm getting the dirt off you Hun," she smiled.
"Well that won't help." I muttered crossing my arms over my chest.
"Now why do you say that?"
"Don't you see what I look like Grandma?" I choked, extending my arms out to my sides. "I'm torn up into shreds. How is patting the dirt off of me going to take away all these wounds, blood, and gunk off me?"
"Mary," She spoke to me as if she was speaking to a small child. "Take a good long look at yourself again."
Filled with uncertainty I looked backed down at my body and gasped in shock. The torn up body that I had seen earlier had seemed to heal up magically in however long I had been asleep. "What happened to me to heal so quickly?"
She began to walk away and sat down in a lawn chair. "Mary, do you have any idea where you exactly are?"
Still looking at my body in disbelief, "I'm guessing some sick nightmare, which I refuse to wake up from."
She laughed quietly. "Oh I most currently hope it won't be a nightmare anymore," she crossed her legs and patted a hand on the lawn chair to her left, an gentle indication for me to come and sit next to her. Once I was seated myself down she turned toward me and looked in me straight in the eyes. "Mary," she paused. "You past away a couple of hours ago. You are now in the first level of Heaven."
"I'm in heaven? This must be a joke," I laughed half heartedly and turned back to her. But her expression hadn't changed. "Wait, you're serious…?" I glanced down at my body and images of how it had been so badly mutilated flashed through my mind. "I'm literally dead…"
Just hearing that one simple word: made me feel like I was getting struck with a hammer to the skull. I brought my hands up and placed my forehead in both of them, shaking my head in disbelief. "How did I die?" I croaked.
"I can't really tell you that," She spoke softly placing a hand on my shoulder. "I'm here to teach you a lesson."
"What a lesson about death? I'm sorry I've learned enough about it, for one day Grandma."
She laughed quietly, "I'm sorry love, but that's not how Heaven works. Come here and look at me." She placed her hand under my chin and turned me head towards her so I could look her in the eyes. "I'm you're first person, you'll meet two more other when I'm done."
"Two others?" I began.
"Wait a minute." She put a hand up to stop me. "Now will you let me Finish?"
I sighed then nodded. "Please continue"
"Now Mary," she stated. "Heaven is not how they all say it is on earth." She smiled, "You've got learn lessons from your life to make your own personal heaven."
"So what's this lesson going to be about?"
"Cherishment, what's that got to do with me being dead?"
"It doesn't," She laughed, "it's about what you did when you were alive. See this?" She raised her right arm up and moved it in a half circle exposing the backyard. "This here is my heaven."
I frowned in confusion at the scenery. "Why is this your heaven the back yard Grandma, I don't understand?"
"Look closely," she placed her hands on mine and nodded her head toward the yard as two little girls came running out behind the shed giggling as my grandpa came running out chasing them. "I cherished ever moment I had with my family. And I may have died young due to Chemotherapy but I loved every moment I was able to spend with my husband and daughters.
She turned herself back toward me, her eyes sad but still a bright smile on her face. "And even though I can't be with them now. I can still watch my family grow up."
I looked back toward where the two girls were with their dad and I gasped. The grass of the yard flashed images of my mom and her sister going up, meeting their loved ones, marriage, the birth of my cousins, siblings and myself growing up.
"You see now Hun?"
I nodded not knowing what else to do. "You really watched us?"
"That I did and I still do. And I have to say you've got our mothers and my smile." She pinched my cheek then looked back toward the yard. "Well it's time for you to pass on to your next person."
"But wait I don't want to leave yet."
"I'm flattered you don't want to go," she placed a hand on my cheek. "But it's your time." With that she vanished leaving me in another place, but this one seemed unfamiliar to me.
"Where am I now?"
From what I could see I was somewhere in the Washington forest. I could hear the Birds chirp overhead in the tall trees that towered over me as I walked along a sketchy trail. "Do I have to find my second person, or do they find me?" I muttered quietly to myself.
Not paying attention to where I was heading my foot got caught in the root of a tree. Which unfortunately knock me clear off my balance, causing me to tumble down the hillside that the trail laid against. When I came to a stop at the bottom of the hill I shook my head. "Oh my god, why didn't that fall hurt me?"
"Why didn't that fall hurt you?" an old familiar voice giggled from behind me making my body freeze in place. "My dear Great grandchild this is Heaven you're in. Nothing can hurt you here."
I turned myself slowly around. "Great Grandma Madison..?"
And there she was, not even ten feet away from me. "That's right child." With that she opened her arms out beckoning for a hug.
Without hesitation I sprung up onto me feet and blotted towards her wrapping my arms around her waist and her's around mine. "I thought I'd never see you again!"
"Oh but I knew I'd see you," she pinched my cheek smiling sadly. "Though I had hoped not to meet you again so soon."
"Well I never expected to die young anyway." I smiled back at her.
"True, that is very true. No one really ever knows when they're going to pass on to their next life." she spoke as she peered curiously at me. "But my have you grown, since I last saw you. How old were you four?"
"I was only six years old when you died, Grandma."
"Well I wish you would have had a long life like me, Mary." She turned around and began to hobble down to another trail. "Ninety-two, sure lived out my life, had a wonderful husband and daughter. But my grandchildren I made sure to spoil, you and you're brothers were my life."
"How so Grandma?" I asked walking slowly down behind her.
"You, all were too young to remember; especially you. I took care of you more when you were just a baby." She went on. "Petit thing you were, I just wanted to feed you and make you a plump little ball."
I blushed. "Yeah I know I was tiny. But Grandma, what lesson do you have for me, and do you know how I died?"
"Oh child," she waved the hand that wasn't placed on her cane in the air. "You'll know that all in due time. Come along I want to show you something." She placed her cane through the brush and moved it aside. "Go on dreary, tell me want you see."
I walked on past her spotting a large white topped Volcano ahead of us. "Is that Mt. Adams Grandma?"
I heard he gasp as if I'd struck her across the face. "This is most currently not Mt. Adams; this here is Mt. St. Helens."
"Really?" I looked at the Volcano again. "But I see a volcano with no side blown out."
"That's because you're looking at the volcano I grew up with, not the one you're so familiar with Mary." She plopped herself down on the ground. "Now sit down with me."
Not wanting to argue with her, I sat down besides her.
"Yes I am your second person, and I unfortunately know how you died as well." She let out a long breath. "I'm here to teach you about how you achieved your goals." She raised up her cane and waved it across Mt. St. Helens turning it into something like a T.V that projected a film. "I need you to watch this, don't turn away ever."
I turned around; looking toward the volcano with uncertainty and from what I could make out the film's star actor was me. I could see I was running away with my sister in my arms. "What's going on?"
"Shh." Grandma whispered. "Just keep watching."
I was running through my house, from the living room, thru the hallway and down to my room. I seemed to have slammed the door in whoever was following us, ran to the window and began to fumble with the lock. I saw myself kick the screen out and drop my sister on outside in the front yard as the attacker behind us burst into the room. I could pick out the words "RUN AWAY!" as the man behind me wrapped his arms around my waist and pulled me back into the hallway, leaving my sister dashing down the street to out neighbors for help.
I seem to have frozen to where I sat, moist tears fell down to my legs. "So that's it, I was murdered. That explains why my body was in shreds."
"I'm sad to say so." She mumbled quietly. "But my lesson is in here. Look." The film was rewinding to the spot where I was dropping my sister out the door. "You wanted to make sure your sister made it out alright. You achieved your goal." She leaned over and wiped away my tears. "Now you may have died in the end to keep her protected, but you did not give your attacker an easy meal."
"I didn't?" I looked at her choking trying to get my air back.
"You mostly currently did not. You fought him good, ended up breaking his rib cage, ripping an ear off and making sure his boys would never work the same way again." She smiled. "He was arrested at the house passed out to blood loss and will be in prison for the rest of his days."
"Then how did I die?" I asked wiping away my drying up tears.
"You sadly were knocked out into coma due to a heavy blow to the head and passed on a few days later due to a nurse's carelessness for pulling your oxygen tube out by mistake."
I grunted in disapproval. "Well that's just stupid!"
"Yes it is, but you can't choose the fate that is held out for you." She placed arms around me and pulled me in close. "I'm sorry the lord took you so soon dreary." She spook in my ear, stroking my hair long hair. "But it's now time for you to pass on to your third person."
I squeezed her closer to me. "I love you grandma."
"I love you too." She kissed me on my forehead. "Now go on dreary" and with that she and Mt. St. Helens dissolved and shaped into a wintery surrounding.
Wiping the last of my tears I stood up and began to walk again. "I wonder where I could possibly be now?"
The ground was covered in a thick blanket of snow, but it for some reason wasn't cold to the touch. I looked around from where I was and spotted a barn with the lights on inside off to my right. "Maybe my third person is in there." I whispered to myself and headed in the barns direction.
When I finally reached the barn I slid the doors open and stepped inside. "Hello, is anyone in here?"
"Well don't leave the door open, you'll let all the hot air out!" A deep voice erupted from the opposite side of the barn.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" I squeaked slamming the doors quickly shut. "I didn't mean any harm." I turned around to see a middle aged burlap looking kind of man who appeared to be leaning against a wooden post in the middle of the barn.
"You didn't do any harm." He laughed. "Come on over here little lady don't want you getting a cold." I watched as this mysterious man walk away over to an iron stove in the middle of the barn.
"I don't feel anything sir." I spoke quietly walking warily towards him and the stove.
"Who you calling sir?" the man laughed.
"Oh I'm sorry; I don't know who you are." I mumbled in embarrassment. "But honestly, I'm not cold one bit."
"Why of course you do, or at least you've heard my name a couple times or two." He smiled. "Now come and take seat right here." He mentioned his hand out towards a seat right next to him.
I finally mounted up the courage to walk over and sit next to the man. "So what is your name mister?"
"Why don't you take a good look around, little lady. I'm sure this place will give the answer."
Confused I began to look at the surrounding in the barn, and everything I saw was familiar to me; but they were things not meant for a barn house. There was Belt ranks hung up on the walls and photos of martial artists hung up with them. "Wait and minute." I squinted my eyes at them. "Are you standing with Sifu Moy, my kung-fu instructor?"
"Yep, he was my student back in the day." The man sighed.
I looked towards the far right of the barn and saw a Buffalo laying in it stall. "Hold on your Grand Master Doug Bailey."
"That's right, though call me Doug." He beamed down at me. "Knew you'd get it sooner or later."
"So wait how do I know you from when I was alive? We never knew each other, or even met one another." I exclaimed.
"That is true. But my student, who was you're teacher taught you all you know today about martial arts." He leaned back in his chair. "So in due course, Mark connects us too each other. Does that make any sense to you?"
"I guess in a way, yes." I frowned. "So what is your lesson for me?"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa little lady. You need to be patient now, I'll tell you in a bit." He chuckled.
"My names Mary, not little lady." I grumbled crossing my arms over my chest.
"And I see you've got an attitude too." He teased putting his arms up in the air as if he'd been caught. "Alright, I'll tell you what my lesson for you is." He reached over to me and poked me square in the middle of my chest. "Indominal spirit."
I looked at where he'd poked me. "You mean what Sifu's been teaching since I was a little girl?"
He nodded, "Yes, do you remember what it means?"
I thought about it for a moment. "Indominal spirit means standing up for what I know is right."
"That's correct. Here now I'd like to show you something, take a look into the fire." Doug opened the stove door and snapped his fingers causing the flames to flash a short film.
"What's this?" I asked in puzzlement.
"Just watch okay."
I obeyed and looked deep into the flame. A woman stood at the doors of an old bingo joint welcoming strangers in, slowly saying "Thank you for coming," in a quiet voice. Then a small group of people appeared into view and she seemed to light up and rushed over to greet them.
"That's Victoria." I whispered. "Running up to greet my father, brothers, and Avalon."
"And don't forget yourself." Doug added. "Remember what's going on?"
"Why of course," I replied still watching what was going on. "I went to my Sifu's friends funeral."
"But you just didn't go on any ordinary day now did you?"
I shook my head. "No, it was my 17th birthday."
He propped his arms up against his chest and crossed his legs. "You want to know what I want to know."
"What?" I turned and looked back over at him.
"Why you thru all that trouble to go to that one funeral for somebody you didn't even know. And not stay at home and party with your friends on your special day?"
"Because it was the right thing to do." I blinked and looked back at the fire. "That man was a dear friend to my teacher, and when Sifu asked me to go I couldn't just tell him 'no' that would have been truly selfish of me. I went to support my teacher in his time of need because I knew it was the right thing to do."
"Really now?" he grinned. "Well, Mary." He nodded toward me. "I'm glad you took your time out of your Birthday to go to my funeral."
"What?" I spun around and looked at him shocked. "That was you're funeral?"
"Sadly yes," He shrugged. "Stroke got me. But," he placed a hand on my shoulder. "I'm so thankful for what you did that day. Now it's your time to go to your own heaven; go on." He moved his hands in a shooing motion. "Scat before I kung-fu you out of here" He grinned widely at me.
I couldn't help but to smile back at him. "Thank you for everything." I choked leaning down and hugging him.
"Whoa," He laughed and returning the hug. "Don't get teary eyed on me now."
When I let go he still had that grin on his face and he continued to wave his hands in a shooing motion. "You're never going to find out what your heaven is if you stay here."
"You're right." I said wiping my eyes turning around and walking up to the barn doors. "Goodbye Doug." I whispered taking in one last breath, closed my eyes, and opened the doors, because I had no idea what awaited me on the other side.
As I stepped through the doorway I was immediately hit with a warm gentle breeze. Still keeping my eyes closed, I listened to my surroundings.
The leaves were rustling along with the wind while the sound of wildlife was alive everywhere. I took another step forward with my foot stepping in a splash of water. My eyes fluttered open in curiosity, which caused me to grin at my surroundings.
A beautiful Creek and wooden area surrounded me. "So Paradise Creek is my Heaven." I laughed looking up at the clear blue sky. "Thank you." I whispered feeling the breeze lick against my face. I turned dashing off to explore the every creek that I'd grown up at with my family.
This was where I belonged; this was my heaven, my home.