MOMO opened her eyes to see her best friend-turned-girlfriend-turned-distant-friend Ember smiling down at her and nothing else. Literally nothing—their surroundings were blank, sanitary white nothingness.
“Hi Momo,” her friend said, sticking out a hand for her to take and stand. So she did.
Ember looked different, she thought to herself. Brighter. Her cheeks had color now, her moon-shaped face and peachy skin all beamed again, as if there was a lightbulb under her flesh and someone had flipped the switch. Her raven’s feather black-blue hair was all gone, cropped and shaved away, and she stood in front of Momo wearing a plain white tee shirt and shorts. She was barefoot. And so happy.
“Aren’t you dead?” Momo asked, finally.
Her companion smiled her familiar smile and shook her head. “I prefer ‘post-living,’” she said and laughed to herself. Yet she looked so alive. “Walk with me?” She tilted her head, posing her command as more of a question through Momo knew that she knew Momo would not refuse.
Together they headed in a direction, any direction. The space was open, without walls or doors in sight. It continued on in every direction for as far as she could see. Her friend was quiet beside her.
“So you’re dead,” she said again. “I went to your funeral and everything.” Then she realized that she had also changed. Her funeral clothes—a black turtleneck sweater, cropped black pants and black boots—were gone and in their place were bleached white variations. She thought of the funeral, her mother crying and father sitting stoic in the front row. Her sister Kristie had the reddest and puffiest eyes that Momo had ever seen. The funeral was today.
Ember was not sad, however. She beamed again. “I used to be a fighter, mostly because my parents wanted me to be. But then I got tired, so here I am.” She held out her arms and hands as if to admire them. “I am okay here. Cancer can’t reach this far, you know?”
Momo nodded, though she did not understand. Where was “here”? “Am I dreaming?”
Ember’s smile disappeared from her face and shook her head.
“So if you’re dead, and I’m not dreaming, does that mean—” She looked up at saw her friend watching her with deep brown eyes. “I’m dead?”
They stopped walking and the floor and walls and sky overhead transformed, displaying, like televisions, dark blue water. The water shimmered with the faint ray of moonlight above them, and the light trickled through the expanse of the room, as if they were standing in the middle of an ocean. Then there, in high definition in the sky, she saw herself from behind. On the screens, she was drowning. I was dying.
“Post-living sounds better,” Ember said quietly.
Momo’s mouth hung open, and she could feel the dryness inside. She could not pull her eyes away or turn away or take a breath. She realized that she had not taken a single breath since she woke up.
“They don’t always replay this. Sometimes, if you die violently or if you realize early that you’re post-living, they don’t replay it. In my case, I just fell asleep. But yours is quite beautiful, don’t you think? Peaceful.”
She finally turned away from herself on screen and averted her gaze to the floor. And then she truly saw: her lips parted, her eyes open and vacant, and her face blank and still but serene. She looked cold, her complexion pale. Her curly pink hair swarmed around her face like an axolotl. She grabbed a lock of her own hair and it was still pink.
It felt too quiet in the room. She could even hear herself not breathing. It was deafening and oppressive and—
“This is my first time doing this, greeting a new arrival. You’re supposed to be greeted by someone you love. Well I guess that’s me,” Ember said, taking Momo’s hand and lacing her fingers through. She pulled her back to direction from where they came.
There was a door standing out in the open. It was made of deep, dark wood and had a large, golden doorknob and lion knocker in the center. There was no ceiling or wall. The door went nowhere. Momo peeked around it. It looked exactly the same on the other side.
She grimaced. “So, if I’m dead, then where are we? What is this door?”
Ember shrugged. “Does it matter?” Then she patted her hand. “This is Afterlife. But here specifically, it’s the reception room. We try not to overwhelm our new arrivals. When you are ready, you walk through the door to the real thing.”
“What’s behind the door?”
She shrugged again. “What’s behind every door—a new beginning.” Then, she let go of Momo’s hand. “I’ll be over here, if you need me.” Then she slipped inside before Momo had a chance to glance inside. The other side was blank. She vanished.
Momo took a deep breath. “My name is Imogen Sojourner Christensen. I am twenty-one years old. Or I was, rather. I like the Smashing Pumpkins and the smell of freshly baked bread. And today, on Saturday, August 22nd, I died.”
Even aloud, it did not sound real. None of it did.
But where should she go? Should she stay in the white box alone forever? Would she go mad? Ember seemed happy—happier than she had been in a long while. It couldn’t be all bad then… right?
Out of habit, she took a deep breath and pinched her cheeks. Then she tapped them to get the blood flowing, bounced on her heels, and swung her arms.
She grabbed the doorknob. It was cool to the touch. She flung it open and froze.
Inside the door was black. Nothingness. Surely this could not be right.
Did her time expire?
“I’m dead and I’ve got nothing to lose,” she said to herself. So she bit her lip and stepped inside.