They told me dying would be just like falling asleep; they lied. I’m not tired. My entire body aches, there are pins and needles in my fingers and toes, and I’m so cold that I’m sweating. I lie staring at the technicoloured lights that dance on the inside of my eyelids, unable to move.
Thoughts swirl through my head: I’ll never go to high school, I’m never going to be a firefighter, I’ll never get to wear a wedding dress. I won’t grow up.
My mother squeezes my hand, trying to tether me to the earth. I wish I could hold onto her hand in return, but my body won’t respond. I just lay limply.
All the sounds in the room are comfortably familiar, even the rhythmic beeps of the machines that keep me breathing.
My little brother whispers in my ear, telling me stories of fairies and pirates.
The room echoes with the clicks of my father’s boots on the hard tile as he paces the length of the small room.
My eyes flicker open, and I’m instantly overwhelmed by the bright fluorescent lights, yet no one says anything. I sit up, and still, no one reacts. Looking back, I realize--I’ve left my body behind.
A lightness spreads through my chest, and I can finally breathe, my lungs unencumbered. The sudden weightlessness makes me dizzy, and the past and present meld into one.
I’m in the park with my family; large fluffy snowflakes fall from the sky as I pelt my father with snowballs.
I’m sitting beside a roaring bonfire, singing songs and tying friendship bracelets.
The fire chief puts a helmet on my head, and it falls over my eyes. Everyone laughs, but my chest fills with pride as I catch my reflection in the mirror.
The world swirls again. I catch a glimpse of the present. As I recoil from its all-consuming grief, I find myself in a place I’ve never been before and never will be.
My family sits at the dinner table set for three. They laugh as my father tells the story of when I skinned my knee.
My brother is in high school, leaning against the lockers, arms piled high with textbooks.
I’m in a hospital room; my brother enters dressed in scrubs. A little girl giggles as he hands her a lollipop and tells her she can go home.
My mother cries, and my father pretends he is not, as my brother says his wedding vows.
Everything is going to be ok.
Beyond the past and future, there is something else, but I can’t quite make it out. As I am about to arrive, I reach the end of my tether, and I am yanked back to my body.
The room continues to spin and flicker until my eyes focus on a figure standing at the end of my bed, wrapped in a dark cloak, holding a silver scythe. It sways as it shifts from one foot to the other.
“You must be Death,” I whisper.
“You realize it is your time?” the hollow voice of Death asks.
“Yes, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I wish I could say goodbye.”
Death bows its head. We look around at the people I love and the place I hate. It sighs heavily.
“You are ready then.”
I nod in response, knowing my voice will betray me if I speak. I am ready. Life needs to go on.
“Then stand up.”
I stand up, leaving my body. Only a frail string tethers me to it. I hold my breath as Death raises the scythe above its head and brings it down, easily snapping the tiny string.
The wail of the life support is drowned out by my mother’s screams; she collapses back into her chair, face frozen in silent agony as tears pour down her face. My father holds her with shaking limbs; his eyes and cheeks are wet with tears. Doctors swarm the room; my brother dives out of the way, standing against the wall wide-eyed and terrified. I want to run to them, wrap my arms around them and tell them I’ll be fine, but I can’t.
“It’s time to go,” Deaths says, reaching out its hand. When I take its cold bony hand in mine, I am shocked to feel a warmth spread through my entire being.
The doctors pronounce me dead and stand staring in silent vigil at the frail body of a little girl. My family holds each other as they cry.
“Goodbye, and I love you!” I yell as everything around me blurs. The hospital room, along with my old life, dissipates, and so does my pain.