I did not expect this.
Lance wrung his hands dry, the drops of light glistening as they fell from his golden skin and returned to their crystal home in the water. He reached up and rumpled his hair back from his face. "Go ahead," he said, and smiled at me, his face lighting up with the solemn joy. "I'll catch up." Then he dropped to his knees and continued fishing in the little tide pool, where the evening sun shone crimson on the rippled surface of the water.
I glanced at Juliet to see her throw herself with violent delight onto the grass, catching a bewildered butterfly between the clutches of porcelain white fingers. Her tinkling laughter rang out like bells all around, silencing all other sounds in the world as the snowy butterfly fluttered delicately from her, leaving a trail of sparkling diamonds in the air in its tremulous wake. She kicked her feet up in the air, her chin in her palms, carefree as a young bride as she watched its haphazard path. Lance laughed loudly as he swiped at the butterfly, to touch the icy silk of its wings just once, but instead it went to him and landed on his nose, and gave him a gentle kiss. He rolled his head around and looked past me, silenced to the nothingness behind.
I looked at the other boy, the taller one with the blonde hair swept over his eye. And Laertes looked from Juliet, to Lance, and then me, and said,
"Just go! GO!"
His cracked voice startled me, his throat sounded like gravel drenched in fear, despair, anguish. My head spun with confusion and my body convulsed as the world began to shake all around me. But I forgot it almost immediately, as I felt Finnick's hand tighten around my wrist. Everything steadied and focussed again. His eyes were bright green as emeralds, and shone like them, too. They danced with joy as he met my gaze and said, "Let's go, eh?" He seemed to glower light into me as he flashed his stunning, seductive, celestial secret smile. "Let's go."
He took my hand in his, and then we were running as fast as our legs would carry us. I took one glance back to see the meadow covered in daisies and the three figures, one standing, two torn down like trees, and everything glowing in the dying red sunlight. Every flower on the ground was a pale and blank face, and every one of them had Lance's eyes.
My sight was lost to the jungle, enormous leaves of a green as bright and luminous as Finnick's eyes and raindrops the size of volleyballs rolling off them. Their steady plop! counted away the hours of the day, when the life would go to sleep forever in the dark night of death. The sun was going down and he cast blood light all around, the particles finding the gaps in the leaves and shining down slantways in long beams that burned my skin. But we kept running. We ran past the flowers the size of dustbin lids, of colours too bright and too vibrant for human eyes; the gigantic dragonflies with wings made of sequins and bodies of shimmering gold glitter; the caterpillar that gazed at me with round eyes like saucers and the millions of spiders scrabbling along by my feet, all spinning their webs and silk cocoons around me as I ran, ran, ran with Finnick, his hand tight in mine and my thumping heart the only things I could feel. Twisted, knotted reeds and roots crept along the jungle floor and grabbed at my feet, but never brought me down. Finnick was always there to catch me. Eventually we passed a familiar patch of spotted mushrooms on which bounced little brown mice, before we came crashing out of the trees and stumbled gracefully onto the hot, blinding white sand.
We laughed hysterically as we stood up and laced our fingers once again, and Finnick ran out ahead of me. How we weren't tired, I'll never know, but my feet hardly touched the ground. I was faster than him so I easily outran him, leading the way to the end of the day as the sun sunk down over the troubled ocean. We leaped lightly over precarious rocks, toes barely touching their sharpened, jagged edges as we flew. The waves snapped and spat at our feet with many-toothed, wide open mouths, but they couldn't do us any harm. We could have run along the tops of the waves, if we wanted to. But we had much more important plans in mind. We saw the mermaids in the water and waved to them, their glistening, fashionable skirts and golden tridents distorted by the water's movement. They beckoned to us, smiling sharp-toothed sneers.
Soon the sun's boyish face was gone but the sky remained pink, and we ran and ran and ran and would keep running until he rose again. Nothing ran faster than I, not even the light. So as we ran, time slowed down entirely until it almost didn't have a purpose any more. And we would keep running, until dawn, until the end of time. We would spin the Earth 'round and 'round, holding time forever in this beautiful place.
We would be immortal, if we kept on flying.
I thought the cave was a bit of a weird place for a picnic. And the bread an odd sort of meal. Two loaves, for us to share. The touch of its warmth filled me with Finnick's security, his love, and I pressed it to my cheek and absorbed its affection with a satisfied sigh. Here, I was safe. We sat on the backs of jewelled crabs, which were so beautiful in their rainbows of colours that we didn't even mind their jagged shells, leaving dark bruised imprints on our bare sides. We lay together in love on the quietly stirring bed of crustaceans and they scuttled and shifted occasionally, and stared up at the ceiling of shuffling black bats as pitch as night.
We rested our weary heads in an earthly bed as time returned, the Earth stopped spinning, and the flood crashed into the cave. It tore me apart, cut up against the shrapnel of rocks and crabs and carrying my body away in its grasp. But the pain was not of the sort my heart had felt hundreds of years before, or the bodily pain of the recent past. The waves stole my matter, my body, my weight, and without it I realised what had been there the whole time. I was nothing, floating gently on the crest of the waves, the current guiding and carrying me. It engulfed me and penetrated my cells and pushed me to the brink. This was pure ecstasy. I swam with it for it was me and I was it, and everything was everything and nothing was nothing. And I was nothing, and it was me and it was everything, and so I was everything and nothing.
And nothing was everything. See?
I saw the welcoming light, a white hot ball of boiling molten gold streaming through the blue in buttery yellow rays. I chased it, knowing what it would bring. It would bring the end, the final peace, my happiness for eternity.
The light ripped through me, tearing my soul from the remains of my earthly body.
And that was it: I died.
And light is what I became: particles, dust, floating in the water and as part of it. I tumbled through the waves, sank to the ocean floor, passed between fish and mammals and plants and light, broke the surface and washed up along the shore, filtered through the sand into the earth. I joined the cycle: I ate and was eaten, I burned and birthed new energy, I breathed and grew in life and died when it did, and was reborn and recycled all the while. From the earth I was released into the air, flying on the wind and the cool, fresh breezes, over oceans and mountains and rivers and cities and continents. I reached for a shooting star and it burned right through me and sent me shattering across the sky, bright as fireworks. I lay down in the downy clouds, as fresh and soft as new cotton on my itching skin …
I … I mean my mind. I must still be getting used to my bodiless form. That's rather silly of me … So where was I?
Oh, yeah. I can feel the softness of the clouds around my self, my particles, my dust …
But how do I feel it? Because that's it, I can definitely feel it there. How can I feel it without touch receptors, and all those glands and neuropathways and things? It's there, above and below me. But what's giving me this sense of direction?
And who is this 'me' person I keep going on about, anyway? Who am I? I'm not a 'me': I'm the dust. I'm the air. I'm the life. What do I mean by who am I?
I lie heavily in the clouds, not lying and not heavy but just a consciousness. Just the inner eye, watching the world become dark.
Well, now that I've mentioned it, I do feel rather heavy. That can't be right, can it? Without a body how is there mass, how is there weight, or even gravity? I feel it now more than ever in the darkness. The heaviness. There's a throbbing, somewhere lower than my mind. How far do I go, I seem to stretch out like roots from this point. How far?
I wiggle my toes, and then my mind gasps. Toes? How do I have toes? They feel less like toes than wriggling sausages, and I can't feel all of them, but they are definitely there. What else? I shift my foot and my leg comes with it from the knee. I bend the knee and everything below the waist goes too.
What else? I must have other extremities. Fingers, clutched into the cotton sheets, broken nails getting caught on stray threads. I count them all, on one hand, one, two … five! Five fingers! And on the other … Four! Four? Only — oh, I forgot to count the thumb, which was doing the counting and so easily overlooked. So four fingers on each hand, and two thumbs, gives ten fingers and thumbs altogether. I don't remember how I know this, but that seems to be an appropriate amount.
My hands wander over my body, checking things to be in order. A hill, and another, and a valley. Hesitantly, I reach my face. Flat, clammy forehead leads onto two thin furry caterpillars. Below that the skin becomes thinner, more delicate, and my fingers trace over them lightly. That's when I realise my eyes are closed, it's not just dark because it's night time.
I save their opening for later. I'm not quite ready for that yet.
There's a hill and a sudden drop, and then a sudden cold. What is that? It seems unfamiliar. But what do I mean by that? It's hard and smooth, a plastic tube entering my nose and crossing my face. And then I notice my breathing, the rise and fall of my chest and the sound of inhalation coming from somewhere to my left. And so I have ears too? I can hear? It's comforting, the other sound. I'm not doing my own breathing. I can't, because I'm dead.
My fingers continue to the tender skin of the crest of my lips. What purpose have those soft, plump machines? Then a perky chin where it all ends.
I lie still for a while, and follow the plastic tube to the side of the bed until it goes too far for me to reach. I can't move my body or sit up, not yet, and I don't want to open my eyes. This is all very strange. What happened to the air, the earth, the water? What happened to my particle body, my consciousness floating without containment? What happened to me?
Am I dreaming? If death is sleep, and sleep has dreams … does death have dreams, too? What a scary thought! But it's not death that needs to be feared, maybe nightmares don't exist there. There … where is there, if I'm here? No … I must still be there. But I need to get back to the clouds to meet the others. They'll be arriving any time now, and who knows how time passes in this place?
I'll wake up soon and be back. I did not expect this. I got what I expected, and that was death. And it was beautiful.
So then what is this?
Who am I? I'm the dust. I'm the air. I'm the life. I'm no body, I'm no one.
Suddenly, a song bursts into my mind.
Annie Cresta went to sea …
I drift in and out, gently floating on the brink of consciousness like the little boat on the crest of the waves. I wait for the moment I wake up from this slumber and find myself back in the air, my body lost once more. It's so unnerving to find it back, I don't like it at all.
I wait to be brought back to death, but the light never comes.