The pain is gone. I can hardly remember my life without it. I open my eyes to see that I’m still in the hospital room, a constant note ringing in the air. I look over to the source and see my family huddled around my body. Some of them look heartbroken, while others look happy, but all have tears in their eyes. A nurse that stands to the side of the crowd looks down at her watch and calls out, “Ryan Traverse, died Sunday, February 10, 2013, 9:41 A.M.” She then walks over and starts turning off the machinery attached to my body. No one around me takes notice of her.
I walk over to them, wishing there was some way I could console them, that I was better now. Some of them seem to understand, though, at least those who understood what pain I was in. They all knew that the cancer was extremely aggressive, and that I just didn’t have it in me to take any more of the pain that came with it.
I look over to the wall and see my reflection in the mirror there. I smile; I look like myself again. My hair’s back, I’m wearing real clothes (and good looking ones I might add), and I have my glasses. It’s quite the contrast to the pasty and bald body lying still on the bed.
Behind me appears a light out of nowhere. Voices from within the light call out to me, beckoning me to come. The sight of it fills my heart with a joy I’ve never felt. This is it; whatever happens now, all that I was no longer matters. I step into that light, and I’ll be at peace.
I walk toward it, but then I hear a voice louder than those from the light. I can’t tell where it comes from, but I can tell it’s a man’s voice. Full of kindness and compassion, it calls out to me. “Ryan,” it says.
“Hello?” I call out. “Who is that?”
“I’m over here,” the voice says, and this time I can tell it comes from the light. Then all of a sudden, a figure comes through, just barely enough for me to tell it’s a man. “Ryan, I come with a message,” the man says.
“What message?” I ask.
“There is something we ask you to do before you move on,” the voice said. “If you chose to decline, you may pass on and be at peace, but if you chose to accept, we would be grateful for your services once more.”
If the choice is mine, then the choice is obvious. “Of course I’ll help; I’ll do anything to help. What must I do?”
“A young girl named Chrissy needs your help,” the voice explained. “She’s lost and you are the only one that can show her the way back. Step into the light and you’ll be taken to where you will find her. Only she will be able to see you from now on.”
I nod and step toward the light, taking one last glance at my grieving family. I wish there was something I could do to tell them that I was fine. I wish I could heal their hearts of their sadness, but the light calls me toward it. One last act of good on Earth, and then I’ll be free. Maybe once I’m on the other side of that light, I’ll be able to reach out to them. There’s only one way forward, so I step inside the light.
All of a sudden I’m standing in a forest. I don’t recognize this place, but the pine trees make me think I’m in the northern regions. There’s snow on the ground, but I don’t feel cold. I look down at my feet, and see that I don’t even make footprints. The sun looks like it’ll set shortly, so I just pick a direction and walk.
It’s not long before I come across my mission. Sitting huddled against a tree is a young girl, maybe twelve or thirteen. She’s all bundled up, which is the first indication to me of how cold it really is. Her legs are pulled up to her chest, and she’s crying softly. She’s lost, by the looks of her, and for a while it looks.
She hasn’t noticed me, which makes me wonder if she would be able to see me. My family couldn’t see me before, but maybe something changed when I stepped through the light.
I take a step toward her, and all of a sudden I feel the snow. I still don’t feel the temperature of it, but I at least feel how physical it really is. It’s like all of a sudden I gain my weight back. The crunching snow startles the girl, causing her to look up and around herself, obviously terrified of some unknown creature. I take another step, crunching through the snow as if I had my body back, but again numb to the cold of it. She jumps up on her feet, and I see just how small she really is. Looks of her, she wouldn’t weigh a hundred pounds soaking wet.
“Hello?” she called out, shaking with cold and fear. “Is someone there?
I take two more steps and her eyes lock on me. I’m just standing there, smiling that she can actually see me. “Hello,” I say with a wave.
“Who are you?” she questions suspiciously. I guess I can understand her apprehension; she was alone in the woods and all of a sudden an older guy walks up to her as if nothing was wrong.
“My name’s Ryan,” I begin, “and I’m here to help you get out of here.”
She stares at me like she doesn’t believe I’m actually here. “You’re not from one of the search parties, are you.”
“No, Chrissy, but I’m here to help you get back.”
Her response wasn’t what I was expecting. “I don’t know where you came from,” she began, “but I’m not going back.”
That threw me back. “Why would you not want to go back?”
“It doesn’t involve you,” she spat at me. “Go back to... wherever you came from.”
She started walking away. I was appalled.
“You told me she was lost, not running away,” I say to no one in particular.
“That doesn’t mean she isn’t lost,” said the voice from the light. I flinched from the voice, not expecting anyone or anything to reply. “Stay with her.”
“Alright, I’ll try again,” I say out loud, and start following Chrissy.
We walk for several minutes. I keep my distance but keep her in sight. From her reaction last time, I guess she can only see me when I get within a certain distance from her, and for now I stay well out of her range. There seems to be no direction to her travel; she’s just walking in whatever direction she’s facing, and constantly changing it, almost as if to get as lost as possible in these woods.
At one point, just before sunset, she ducks in some brush as an actual search party comes in earshot. I hear frantic calls for Chrissy, but she doesn’t answer or show herself. I decide to check out the search party when it was at its closest to Chrissy’s position.
About fifteen people all with flashlights were crossing this area of forest about half a football field from Chrissy. Mostly men, but among them were two women, one maybe a few years older than Chrissy, and the other mid-thirties. Both were just bawling as they called for Chrissy. At one point the older fell to her knees crying. The teenager dropped to comfort her, and the whole group stopped moving.
“Mom, we’ll find her,” the teen said, wiping away her own tears. She was trying to be strong for her mother.
“What did I do wrong, Ariel,” the mother said. “How did I lose my baby?”
Ariel wrapped her arms around her to comfort her. “She’s out here somewhere, and no one here is going to stop looking until she’s safe at home. She’s just confused, ever since dad left.”
“If I hadn’t been judgmental, your father would’ve stayed, and Chrissy would’ve never...”
“Stop that,” Ariel yelled, getting her mother’s attention. “You did what you had to do, and Chrissy will one day understand that like I do. Don’t blame yourself for what was necessary.” She continued more gently, “We’ll find Chrissy, and we’ll work through this together.”
They hugged and I rejoined Chrissy.
“So you ran away,” I say behind her.
She was startled, which was my intention, and nearly gave herself away. Collecting herself, she said, “Why do you care?”
“I care because you’re hurting your own mother,” I say.
“She hurt me first, by divorcing my dad.”
“Both your mother and your sister really care for you,” I point out, “and they’re not going to stop looking until they find you.”
“Ariel was out there?” she asked curiously.
“Yes, your sister was part of that group.”
“She’s my half-sister, from my mother’s first marriage,” Chrissy said.
“Despite that, she’s out here with the rest of them.”
Chrissy starts walking away. When she gets a good distance, I say out loud “Why is she like this?”
The voice from the light answers back, “Like her sister said, she is confused.”
“Then what can I do to help her? She constantly rejects me?”
“Stay with her,” the voice repeats. “In time, she’ll listen to you. You can do this, Ryan. We wouldn’t have sent you if we didn’t think you were the one that could get through to her.”
“Alright,” I say calmly, “I’ll keep trying; I’ll stay with her.” At that I walk off after Chrissy.
In no time things took a turn for the worse. The weather really went downhill as a snow storm blew in after sunset. Chrissy was really struggling to get through it, but she powered forward as long as she could. I was numb to the cold wind, but I could see it was bad, and only getting worse by the minute.
At one point, Chrissy passed a cave big enough to hide from the storm in, but she couldn’t see it through the storm. I noticed it since I’m unaffected by the storm, and see that it would be a suitable shelter for the night for Chrissy. I have to get her to go into the cave.
“Chrissy!” I call out when I get close enough to her. “You passed a cave where you could ride out the storm! Follow me!”
“What?!” she called out through chattering teeth. “There’s no cave back there! I’ve been through these woods before, and there’s no cave!”
She tries continuing, but a gust of wind literally knocks her on her back. She struggles to get back up as the storm gets even worse. “This can’t last much longer!” she says.
“Chrissy, this is ridiculous! This storm is only getting worse, and if you stay out here, you will die!”
“Then I’ll die!” She cried out. “No one has ever given me a second thought! My dad left without ever saying goodbye! My mother moved on to her third husband in three months! My half-sister is always giving me lectures like I’m a child! I couldn’t ever do anything right for any of them! So maybe I’ll just die!”
All through that, I felt a coldness I’ve never felt before. It wasn’t from the storm, but from something else. It was as if another evil presence slid among the trees around us, eagerly watching us. I don’t know if Chrissy felt it, but I had to get her out of here soon.
As soon as I thought that, Chrissy collapsed out of exhaustion. “Chrissy?” I call as I kneel next to her. She doesn’t respond. I put a hand on her shoulder to find that I can touch her.
All of a sudden that dark presence feels closer. “Who’s there?” I call out, staying next to Chrissy to protect her.
“Step away from her,” said a new voice. It was seductive but cold. A dark veil appeared in front of us, and the only thing visible through it was a pair of great deep blue eyes. In a way, they were mesmerizingly beautiful, but there was just something off about them. “She’s made her choice, you heard her. She wants to die; she wants to leave this world for a better one. I’ll take care of her from here, young man.”
“No,” I answer back. “She doesn’t mean that.”
“I see her heart more than you do, young man,” said the thing from the veil. “It’s full of darkness and despair. This world has tortured her soul for so long, she deserves rest. Her heart of darkness has no place among the angels; I’m the only home she has left.”
“No,” I say, now standing up to the darkness. “She has a family, and she has a home. I may not know exactly who you are, but her home is not with you. Leave us alone.”
At that, I bend down and gently pick Chrissy up. I turn back toward where I saw the cave. Whatever that dark presence was, it didn’t follow us, but stayed where it was, chuckling to itself.
Chrissy doesn’t wake up until the next morning. The storm has blown over, and now snow just lightly falls. She looks around the small cave before looking up at me. I’m standing at the mouth of the cave, making sure that evil creature didn’t try to come again. “Where are we,” she asks groggily.
“Safe, I think,” I reply. I leave my post and sit next to her in the cave. “You almost died out there, you know.”
“Is that what was happening?” she asked. “It was dark and cold, and all I heard was this evil laughing. All I could see were giant... coils... like I was surrounded by this huge...” she couldn’t continue her description, but I could imagine what she saw. “I don’t want to go there,” she admitted.
“And you don’t have to,” I tell her, “because you still have a home here. Your mother and half-sister really love you, and they would do anything to protect you.”
She nodded and started to cry. “But how do I get back to them? I’m hopelessly lost.”
“What do you think I’m here for?” I ask jokingly. Luckily, I’ve remembered the path we took to get here from where we saw the search party yesterday. It only takes us a few minutes to get there, and from there we trace back the path that they took to a ranger’s station.
The minute Chrissy shows up there, the phones are ringing, calling the family, doctors, police officers and many others. I stay close to Chrissy the whole time as blankets are wrapped around her and warm drinks handed to her. Doctors come and look over her, police and rangers ask her questions, and finally her mother and half-sister come and never let go of her. The three girls are constantly crying and apologizing. I stay throughout the event as news stations begin sending vans to the location.
Chrissy is finally left alone for two minutes. I take the opportunity to sit next to her on a bench. “Thank you,” she whispers, “for everything.”
Over my shoulder I see the light that first appeared in the hospital. Its warm rays invited me in, signaling that my job was done. “It was my pleasure, but I have to go now.”
“Where?” she asked.
“Whatever comes after this,” I say.
“I’ll always remember you,” she says.
“And I’ll watch over you, always.”
At that, I stand up and walk toward the light. Before stepping in, I take one last look at Chrissy, and say, “I’ll see you soon enough again, I think,” and step inside the light.
Before I do, though, I catch Ariel’s eyes as she sits next to Chrissy. She smiles as me as if she could see me, too. There’s something about her that tells me she’s going to play a part of something great. This whole situation tells me that something big is on its way, something that will change this world forever.