She was going to die. They all were. The world was in pandemonium as the last few days crept up to them. Death whispered sweet nothings in their ears as they chose how to spend the time slipping through their fingers. Families huddled together in prayer, buildings burned, people screamed and searched for answers. All she could do was stand outside and look at the sky.
It was such a dynamic space- there was never a time that it was exactly the same as it had been before. But it was a constant in her life. It was always there to look at, even when she took it for granted. Even when she didn’t feel particularly aware of the sky, it was there, just waiting for her to look up. She would miss the sky.
The pit in her stomach yawned wider as she stared at the seemingly endless expanse. Would she feel like the sky when she died?
She could feel the picture of death throughout her whole body more than she could see it in her mind. When she thought about it, it felt like she was already there. It felt like this world was a dream and she was half-lucid, living here and in the darkness all at once.
She had never experienced fear like she did in those moments of knowledge. The certainty of the nothingness twisted knives in her stomach as she thought about her life just… ending. Only a black void lapped around her for all of infinity. A universe of blackness where she floated alone, knowing that this was what she would be from now until the end of time. It was enough to make her shiver and try to bury the thought in the sky.
Everyone else knew about the nothing too. Most tried to deny it as she did. They refused to believe that they could have been wrong- all wrong- about life after death. It all felt so impossible.
She stared at the impossible sky from her perch on the edge of the building and felt something like a sob, or maybe a scream, building up in her chest. What would it truly be like, she wondered, to not exist?
She reached out across the air before her, wishing that she could feel the velvetiness of the sky, grab the warm sun in her hand like a fruit and maybe even take a bite. Her hand stretched for the sky as she took a step toward it, the air giving away beneath her. The last thing she saw was the blue expanse, cradling the golden sun in its folds like a precious jewel.
This wouldn’t do. Oh no, this wouldn’t do at all. Why had she done that? It seemed like the right thing at the time. She hadn’t been thinking- of course she hadn’t. But it was always so hard to think while she was in her universe. She felt so much like she was actually there that she almost always forgot that she wasn’t. And now, oh this was just fantastic, now she was back in reality.
Or perhaps it wasn’t reality, but the lack thereof. Perhaps this existence, or nonexistence, was simply a dream to her true self as the other universe had been to her. When she thought like this, her mind, or what she had at least come to think of as her mind, wrapped around itself in endless possibilities. She used an infinity thinking about the possible intricacies of it all- building on top of it until she couldn’t even remember her original thought. It was almost a universe of its own.
When she realized what she was doing, she always stepped away from the thoughts with a laugh, if she could laugh. For she had used an eternity thinking about her nonexistence, but she didn’t have to worry because she always had another eternity left. This knowledge always made her laugh. Whether it was a laugh of amusement or desperation, she didn’t know. She supposed it depended on what she felt most strongly at the time.
Time meant nothing to her, until it did. She wasn’t aware of it until she was; until the way she had been at first came crashing back into her- the scream of a maniac through what she had come to think of as her body.
She had experienced fear and calm and panic and contentment and sure insanity in this nonexistence. The darkness and the lack of, well, anything still got to her if she thought too hard about it. Sometimes it just made her want to scream into the blackness and shake and cry and lose her mind. And she had done it, many times over. Through what would have been centuries and millennia, she screamed. And then she retreated to a universe.
She was dead, or at least she was fairly sure that she was dead, and had been that way for a long time. She couldn’t remember how- she had created enough universes and lives that she could no longer remember which one had truly been hers. Had she been the African princess, stricken down with malaria? Or perhaps she was the god, reborn in cycles, and he was merely on a death cycle at the moment? There was also the possibility that she had been a Yonii, cast away from its planet for breaking the Law, to die a freezing death in the Outer Fires.
Or perhaps she really had been the girl, Lila, on Earth. The girl who wanted to touch the sky. Her life hadn’t been filled with nearly as much excitement as some of the others she had lived. Lila was a nineteen-year-old girl living in the suburbs of Minneapolis at the end of the world. She had always enjoyed building tall things and climbing even taller things. Lila was always trying to touch the sky.
The more she thought about it, the less likely she thought it was that she had been Lila. Lila had always been too good at remembering. She would lie down when the sun left the sky and do something she called “dream”. Lila would disappear for a while and she would be back in the darkness, scrambling in terror for another universe to fill the void as she tried to get back to Lila. She would remember things from Lila’s world in a different order until she could finally clasp onto the thread of light that brought her back to the girl who loved the sky.
But all of that was over now. Lila was dead- her story was finished. There was no more girl with the sun-streaked hair who liked to build and climb and look at the sky. Her decisions had brought Lila’s universe to an end.
The dark soaked into her eyes and clouded everything. She couldn’t see her hand in front of her face, if she even had one. She didn’t want to be like this- she couldn’t. She couldn’t take the darkness weighing on her, suffocating her, turning her into nothing, trying to steal her existence.
She searched in alarm through the darkness for a rope, a thread, anything that could save her from the nothing. She built it with her mind until- there. A shred of blue like the sky Lila so loved. She wasn’t dead. She wasn’t nothing.
She reached what she thought were her fingers into the blue, grateful that she was real. She wasn’t nothing- she was alive.
She stretched her fins beneath the waves she had been sleeping under- waves of the lightest blue. The cords beneath her green scales shifted slightly as she clacked her ruby claws together in a steady rhythm. That always helped her to wake up.
Soft sprouts of salmon-colored coral had attached themselves to the nearly translucent skin of her arms as she slept. She dusted them off now, feeling empty.
A school of yellow-and-black-striped fish swam near, oblivious to her existence. Her wide, black orbs followed them as they swam to and fro, searching for meals of their own. Her teeth sharpened at the sight of them as she began to creep her way through the blue water. It was a color that seemed oddly familiar to her, as if she had experienced it in another place, at another time.
She spun the feeling off as her teeth sank into one of the fish, her mind distracted by the food before her. She didn’t have time to worry about the blue or about her strange dream. She needed to be present in the universe that surrounded her. It would do no good to get trapped in thoughts of other lives. This was the life that mattered now, here in the sky blue sea. This escape from darkness was all she needed.