In the distance of the cityscape a massive creature emerged, blocking the sun out of the sky. Great tendrils extended from it, searching below it through the streets. Even from miles away, Dane could hear the screams of the people it found with its tentacles.
“What the hell is that thing?” Dane cried.
“What are you worried about? You’re already dead,” Chloe replied, shaking her head.
“Yeah, but that’s like something straight from a Lovecraft novel. It can’t be real, can it?” Dane asked.
“There’s a lot of things that are real here that you wouldn’t believe,” Chloe replied, turning him to face the other way, “It may be hard to see, but look over there.”
Dane searched the landscape and saw another large creature, though much smaller than the tentacle monster, weaving through the streets. Its leathery wings occasionally flashed out so it could get some loft over a building that blocked its path.
“Is that a dragon?” Dane asked. “How is this even possible?”
“Artists and writers often get a glimpse of this place and put it in their work. None of it can hurt you though. Not when you’re dead like us,” Chloe said. “I’ve riden the dragon, and faced off against liches. Even when they get you, you come out alright on the other side regardless.”
“How could you possibly come out ‘the other side?'” Dane asked. “Like they shit you out?”
“No, normally when they try to eat you they spit you out. We don’t taste very good to them. They want life, and fortunately we don’t have any,” Chloe replied.
“So this is what the afterlife looks like?” Dane asked. “Just an odd assortment of terrifying creatures trying to consume life?”
“No,” Chloe said, “this is somewhere between the world of dreams and nightmares. We’d have to travel a lot further for the afterlife.”
“I still don’t get it,” Dane said.
“You don’t have to. You just got here,” Chloe replied. “What do you want to do? We can do anything.”
“I don’t know,” Dane replied, “I’ve always wanted to fly.”
“In a plane, or like a superhero?” Chloe replied with a smile.
“I’ve never been on a-wait, we can fly like a superhero?” Dane asked.
“Watch,” Chloe said, stepping to the edge of the roof. She closed her eyes, crossed her arms over her chest, and leaned backwards, falling off the building.
“Chloe! Dane yelled running to where she had been.
As he reached the edge, Chloe flew straight past him straight up. Her arms extended straight out next to her like she were a jet. She did a few turns and spins before descending close enough to talk to Dane.
“Come on!” she said. “Just remember that you don’t have to fall.”
Dane looked down, feeling a sense of vertigo as he saw the two-hundred foot drop below him. He backed away from the edge shaking his head.
“Nope, nope, nope,” he muttered.
“Come on, guy! Look at me! Do you really think that it’s impossible?” Chloe said gliding past him like she was floating on her back down a lazy river.
Dane nodded, keeping his eyes locked on her as she floated out in front of him, beckoning him to her.
“Remember that you don’t have to fall,” she reiterated.
Dane nodded as he walked toward the edge. This time he didn’t look down, whcih made things less scary, but still defied every one of his instincts. Chloe opened her arms like she was asking for a hug, but stayed far enough away that he couldn’t reach her.
“Come on,” she said.
Dane closed his eyes and thought about her in the air. He pictured himself soaring in the clouds and imagined the feeling of the cold against his skin. He leaned forward and felt weightless.
Here it comes, he said, expecting the wind to start rushing past him.
“There you go!” Chloe cheered.
Dane opened his eyes and saw that he hovered between two buildings.
“I don’t get it,” Dane said. “How do I fly like you?”
“Just will yourself to move in a direction,” Chloe said. “You already got past the hard part. Most people plumment when they try for the first time.”
“Really!? You were going to let me fall?” he asked, dipping a little.
“It’s not like that,” she said, floating over to him, taking his hands. “You feel that weightless feeling? That’s you deciding that you can do this. Even if you had fallen, by the time you reached the ground you would have shot back up. That’s how I have to do it still.”
“How would I have shot back up?” Dane asked.
“The same way you’re flying now. At a certain point, your willpower kicks in and you say strongly enough that you don’t want to hit the ground,” Chloe replied, smiling at him as she pulled him higher. “It wouldn’t have hurt anyway. We’re dead. No nerve endings to feel pain.”
“This is the craziest place I’ve ever been,” he said, shaking his head as he looked down at the shrinking building. “Is there anything I should know about being dead? Anything dangerous?”
“There are some things that you should look out for,” Chloe nodded as they leveled out and began a lazy flight East. “There are a few dark areas where the nightmares exist that might bother you, even if you’re dead they have a way of making you think you’re feeling pain. Think of it like psychological manipulation.”
“Where are those places?” Dane asked.
“Way over that way,” Chloe said, pointing to the south. “but you don’t have to worry about that. They almost never come this far north, and the further they get from their origin, the harder it is to manifest themselves.”
Dane stopped in place and spun in a circle, looking at everything he could. He could see cities near to each other that didn’t back in the real world. He could see the sprawl that was Los Angeles and the packed streets of New York barely divided. He could see all sorts of creatures running through the streets. He couldn’t help but smile.
“This is incredible,” he said.
“I’m glad you like it,” Chloe said, pulling herself close to him. “I was worried for a second that you wouldn’t.”
“How did you find me anyway?” Dane asked. “You died years ago.”
“I told you I’d wait for you,” she smiled. “I couldn’t come visit you or the kids, but I knew you’d come along at some point.”
“We can’t see the kids?” Dane said, his smile fading.
“No,” Chloe said, shaking her head. “There are rules. If we try to see them, bad things could happen.”
“Like what?” Dane asked, pulling away from her. “I know you’ve been here for a long time, but if it’s possible, why would you not want to see them? You should have seen them. Me I can understand, but our kids, really?”
“It’s not like I didn’t try, Dane,” Chloe replied. “We can’t ignore the rules here. We have a lot of freedom, but there are limits to what we can do.”
“What limits could ever stop me from seeing our children, Chloe. They are the most important things we’ve ever accomplished. Jane is president of the company now. Dylan developed a way to feed millions in places where crops fail. They both have happy and healthy families. There are grandchildren that I was close to, that you should meet. I can’t just forget that they exist,” Dane said, looking around. If he had had a heart, he kenw it would be pounding in his chest. “Tell me how I could do it.”
“I’m sorry, Dane. It’s too much of a risk. I don’t-”
“Tell me, Chloe, or you’ll never see me again. This is our family we’re talking about! We have to be near them. Flying is great and all, but I’d give it all up to be with them through the rest of their lives,” Dane said.
“I love you, Dane. I know how passionate you can be. I want to be with them too, but it’s one of the few things that can actually hurt us,” Chloe said.
“I don’t care if it could hurt me,” Dane said. “You’re either going to help me, or I’ll figure it out on my own.”
“Dane, I don’t know that you understand,” Chloe replied, frowning. “If we go to them, it’s not just us that’s in danger. It’s them too. That’s why I couldn’t go to you and the kids. There are things that look for ways over that are dangerous to the living. The closer we get to the living, the more life we siphon from there, and the shorter their lives become. We would hurt them as well. It’s not fair to them.”
“None of it is fair,” Dane said. “How could you stay away from us? We missed you so much!”
“You wouldn’t have seen me anyway, Dane. I would have just been there, leading things to hurt our family, and risking everything for my own selfish needs, don’t you understand? That’s all it is. It’s a selfish wish to see them and put them in danger,” Chloe said.
Dane closed his eyes and let himself fall. Now the wind whipped past him, but he didn’t care. The dilemma of putting the family at risk to see them wasn’t fair. How long would it take for them to come to the place in which he found himself with the love of his life? How fast did time move here? There were a million questions that crossed his mind as he slammed into the ground. Nothing hurt and nothing broke. He just lay on the pavement looking up at the descending form of Chloe.
“I know it’s hard,” she said as she landed next to him, “but it really is for the best. Do you really think I could have stayed away from you and the children without a good reason?”
“No,” Dane replied, “I know you would do anything to protect us, and if it were possible, you would have come to see us. It’s just a lot to process. I don’t even know how long it’ll be until we see them again. We won’t know if they are in danger, or try to bail them out of tight spots.”
“I know how you feel, Dane, but we have to have faith that we taught them as much as we could before we came here. You said the kids are healthy and successful. I’m sorry that I never met the grandbabies, but even they’ll come through here soon enough. Time is a funky thing here,” Chloe said.
“I don’t know that I want to do anything until I can see them,” Dane said.
“I know,” Chloe said, lying on the ground next to him. “I love you for your big heart. It was hard for me at first too. My parents weren’t even here yet when I got here. I died too young. They did tell me how close you stayed with them after I passed, though. Thank you for that. They loved you so much.”
“They reminded me of you, and the kids needed their grandparents,” Dane said. “Just like our grandchildren.”
“How old were they?” Chloe asked, wiggling into the crook of his armpit.
“Stacy was twelve, Henry was five-Those are Jane’s kids. I always gave her husband Frank shit, but he’s a good guy over all. Dylan’s kids, Kyle and Owen, are fifteen,” Dane said.
“Twins?” Chloe asked.
“Yeah,” Dane nodded, “It runs in Gwen’s family-that’s Dylan’s wife.”
The world around them desolved into the first home they had owned together. They were lying on their bed and the sun filtered through the drapes that Chloe had put up so excitedly that the rods were at funny angles.
“How?” Dane asked.
“I was just thinking about our home,” Chloe said. “The one where our crazy journey really started.”
“I missed this place. I drove by it a few years ago and they had built an addition on it and changed everything that we loved about it. The tree in the front yard had been cut down and everything,” Dane said.
Chloe pulled herself closer to him. “I know it’s hard, Dane. I promise to do everything I can to make things as best I can while we wait for them.”
“I know you will,” Dane said, kissing the top of Chloe’s head.