Whoever said dying was easy had probably never died before. That was all that went through Quincy Kincade’s head as she drifted through the darkness. No. Darkness wasn’t the right word. Darkness implied there was something else- a light source; for without the light, there could be no darkness. This wasn’t darkness. This was something else. This was nothing. An indescribable emptiness. A void she thought.
Quincy had never given much thought to the idea of the afterlife. No matter how much her mother tried, she had little interest in trying to comprehend what lay beyond. Now, death; that was different. Death was something she could understand. For in her short 19 years on Earth, she had experienced death a total of four times.
The first time was when her father died. She didn’t know her father that well, she was only four years old at the time of his death, but she knew vaguely of him. She remembered his booming voice, how it echoed throughout their small two story home whenever he was excited. She remembered the way his fingers slid gracefully over the keys of the grand piano in their living room. Her strongest memory though was his scent; how no matter the time of the year, the distinct smell of peppermint always seemed to follow him around.
The second time Quincy experienced death was when she was ten years old. She had lost the genetic lottery when it came to life sustaining organs and before she had hit puberty, she was in and out of the hospital no more than fifteen times. She had a weak heart. That was how the doctor had put it. Her mother always said it was because Quincy cared so much her heart couldn’t bear the load. Her mother always tried to find positive spins to bad news. It was kind, but Quincy had her own theory: She was just unlucky.
That bad luck culminated into a surgery in which Quincy had died for the first time in her life. According to doctors, she had been dead for one minute and 17 seconds. Quincy remembered the way the doctor informed her mother. Nothing serious, just a little over a minute, as if it happened all the time. Maybe, in the surgeon’s line of work, it had, but one minute seventeen seconds was a lot for a ten year old. For one minute, seventeen seconds she did not exist. At least not on the same plane as her mother and everyone else she loved. She remembered none of it, but also all of it. Like drifting through a dream; she recalled the way she felt whole, yet incomplete, as if the tether to her body had been cut, but her consciousness floated on. Her mother said it was just the anesthesia playing tricks with her mind.
The third time Quincy had experienced death was sixteen and it was less peaceful. She was conscious that time though she prayed in vain to not be. She had ended up in the hospital yet again. Her heart had given up on her and as she lay on the gurney all she could think about was the pain. The searing pain that coursed through her body as it desperately tried to keep her alive. Dying was a battle between her body’s will to stay alive and her own to have it all stop. In the end, her body won and while she appreciated all the work it had put in she couldn’t help but wonder if it was all worth it.
All that work, just to end up dead again, she thought. A harsh chortle escaped into the void and it took Quincy a minute to realize it had come from her mouth. The sensation of air leaving passing through her lips shocked her. Perhaps she was not merely a bodiless being drifting through an empty wasteland. The possibility that she still had a body was both terrifying and intriguing. If she still had a body, maybe she wasn’t dead. But if she wasn’t dead, where could she be?
Quincy tried to stuff that thought away and focus on the task at hand. If she focused hard enough, she could feel the familiar sensation of taking up space. What did fingers feel like? Eyes? Was it always so hard to see? Slowly her body came back to her, all the sensations of being alive. Though maybe not all of them. Her heart. She could feel it thumping in her chest, but something was off. She tried to wrap her brain around this new mystery. It was as if her heart was beating without presence- as if it wasn’t actually her heart beating, but a loud memory replaying in her head.
“Maybe-”, she spoke out loud, testing her mouth, “Maybe it isn’t really there”
It was all it took for the illusion to crash. She could feel the body she had worked so hard to connect with shift in and out of existence. Her lungs went first. She clawed at her mouth, trying to keep in whatever air she could. Her throat burned as it craved something she could not provide. Panic set in as her thoughts raced. I need to focus. I need to calm down. Take deep breaths. But I can’t breathe. I can’t BREATHE!
Air passed through her lips. Horrified, she reached out and- nothing. There was nothing where her hands should have been. They were gone. Her arms shook as she tried to make sense of it all. Her hands were gone and as she looked on, her arms began to be swallowed by the void. Bit by bit, she could feel herself being swallowed. Her throat throbbed as the last bit of air escaped and tears started to form. She could feel nothing but her head now and it was quickly fading. Her eyes darted back and forth looking for something to lock onto. Something that she could tether herself to, but all she found was darkness.
Darkness. Not nothing, but dark. If there’s darkness, there’s light. Her brain latched onto this thought and she scanned her surroundings for a sign. Some light source she could focus on. Something that would make her feel less alone, less like nothing.
Above her, barely a glimmer, a small light peeked through, cutting into the darkness. She could no longer feel the cheeks on her face, but she forced herself to focus. Light. There it was, grounding her to whatever plane of existence this was. Something wet rolled down her cheeks and she realized she was crying. Sobs forced themselves out as the feeling slowly regained in her face. The rest of her came as easily as breathing. Her chest heaved with each slow breath and with each exhale she felt more of herself come back. Her limbs stretched and she could feel the tightness of her braided hair against her scalp. She spread her fingers wide and for the first time she felt something other than herself.
Beneath her palms were the familiar feeling of wet grass. In fact, her entire back of her body was damp. Still staring up at the light, Quincy realized she was on the ground and that maybe the light she was focusing so intently on was the moon. She let herself take a few more breaths as she let the sensation of touch wash over her.
The ground was soft. As if she was laying on grass after a rain. The clothes against her back became uncomfortably damp and beads of moisture stuck to her skin. Damp was the perfect word to describe her surroundings. Everything was heavy and damp. Even the breaths she inhaled were so heavy with moisture it was almost suffocating.
Quincy let herself rest as she took in everything. She was almost certain she was looking at the moon. Maybe not the moon she was used to seeing, but certainly a moon. It was round in shape, but hazy as if covered by dense clouds. Once she felt confident in her ability to stay whole, she let her eyes wander to other shapes that were starting to form around her.
As if piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, she made out shapes of branches and trees nearby. Her hands explored the ground around her until they could provide no extra clues to her whereabouts. Her joints creaked as she stood. Her body felt like an old car slowly coming to life.
Finally upright, she took in her surroundings. The light was dim and she was surrounded by dense trees. She listened, hoping to hear anything, but nothing came to her ears. For a moment, she wondered if maybe she hadn’t regained her sense of hearing, but as she took a step, she heard the squelching sound of her shoe against the damp grass.
She was alone. It was something she feared, but never wanted to consider. She had fought so hard just to feel, but what would it all mean if she was alone? What was it she feared about the void? Wasn’t it the sense of solitude?
She could feel the imitation of her heart begin to beat faster as water began to collect at the corners of her eyes. Faster than she could think, her palm slammed against her face. The pain was a much needed shock. Her thoughts focused on the pain on her cheek and her heart beat slowed.
“Quincy Kincade.” she said aloud, “My name is Quincy Kincade. I am here.”
With that, she squared her shoulders and walked deeper into the trees ahead.