Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
Ellie’s eyes fluttered open, only to be blasted by strong, white light. Her arm shot up and hid her face from the glare, as she slowly became able to see her surroundings.
She was stuck in a Plexiglas cube, big enough for her 13-year-old self to stretch out her arms and barely be able to lay down both palms of her hands on opposite walls. The material was transparent, and through it, Ellie could clearly see that her cube cage was somehow stuck to the center of a square wall, about five feet off the ground.
The room was a brilliant white color, marble tiles decorated the floors and a very strong light was coming from a simple white luminaire hanging from the center of the ceiling. Its shape was rectangular, as the wall opposite to the one Ellie’s box was mounted on was much further than the ones to the side. That wall had a white door with a silver knob in the center. There was a desk at the halfway point between her box and the door, offset towards the wall on Ellie’s right-hand side, though she couldn’t see a chair behind it.
A black fountain pen with a golden nib resting on a black round holder and a white clipboard with blank papers were the only things on the table, which seemed to be made of white, glossy plastic.
Next to the table and below the light hanging from above stood a person. He was tall enough to meet Ellie’s eyes without her looking down. The slenderness of his body was emphasized by the black buttons creating a dotted line from his neck to his white pants and plain black shoes.
His face, as if floating in the whiteness, was framed by a curled cloud of thick black hair. His most striking features were his blood-red eyes, staring motionlessly, unblinkingly at Ellie. The man’s face was expressionless.
Ellie, startled, knocked on the translucent wall, trying to get the man’s attention, but to no avail. She felt the claws of fear and panic slowly climbing up her stomach, weaving spider webs in her chest, making it hard to breathe. Her fear rose like the mercury in a thermometer sunken into hot water.
She heard a metallic humming noise of something running through pipes from behind her, followed by a splash. She quickly veered her head around to find the source. Water was pouring onto the floor, the pressure making the glass-looking jet come down just shy of the center of the bottom panel. It soaked into her skirt and got into her shoes before she could get up on her knees.
Her face was now in the tight grip of terror as she slammed her palms against the window, desperately screaming for help. The man stood, unmoved. The transparent liquid pooled about a centimeter deep at the bottom of the cube, and it looked as if it was the bottom panel expanding upwards. Ellie had given up on the staring man and looked for a way out. She shoved at the top panel with all her might, then pressed her back against one side and pushed at the other with her feet. It didn’t budge.
The cube was over a quarter full by now, the water level well above Ellie’s waist. The little girl’s clothes were soaked now, clinging to her body. She reassumed her position on her knees, once more pleading with the motionless man. Her cries became high-pitched as the cold fluid slowly crawled its way up her thighs, unsticking the bottom of her skirt from her body, making it float. Tears viciously poured down her cheeks as her cries for help turned to sobs.
Soon, she was on her feet, her palms pressed against the top window, the liquid up to her neck. Her silent crying occasionally turned to loud wails of mixed horror and anger, but subsided whenever her chin touched the liquid, and the paralyzing fear of drowning repossessed her body.
As the last two centimeters of the cube were filled, Ellie took one last deep breath and went under. She looked through the front panel, but could barely see two black specks. One was the penholder on the table; the other was the man’s hair. She hit the glass again, a few precious air bubbles escaping her lips.
Her chest began to hurt from holding in the air. She placed her hands over her lips, desperately trying to keep the air in. Her palms slowly moved to her throat. She couldn’t take it anymore. The need to exhale was like a hot iron stuck in her head. Exhale. The air had to be pushed out. Ellie hit the glass.
A bouquet of bubbles erupted from Ellie’s mouth. The silver flowers of her last breath floated to the top of the cube and were slowly sucked out by unseen tubes. Ellie took a breath of the fluid and immediately started to cough it out, a few more sparkles escaping her lips. Then, her world faded to black.
The black-haired man stood and watched as her lifeless body floated in the liquid, her hair fanned out like a curtain, crowning her head with the dark chestnut color. She looked as if she was caught in a giant ice cube that had very sharp edges. Her face wasn’t contorted with pain or screaming anymore, it was peaceful now.
* * * * * *
Ellie’s eyes shot open, her entire body flinching. She was lying in the soft embrace of a bed, the covers pulled up to her neck. It was so delightfully dry and warm that even in her panicked state, she was able to appreciate the comfort it offered.
Just then a figure leaned over her and into view, causing Ellie to let out a frightened gasp. It was the man. The one who’d watched her drown. Except…
“Hello, Ellie.” His blue eyes sparkled with a calm kindness.
“W-where am I?” she asked, trembling with fear. Even if he did hear the question, his features didn’t show it. “Am I d-dead?” Ellie stuttered on. At this, the man’s clean-shaven face softened into a smile.
“Oh…” she said, looking somewhat disappointed and only slightly less weary. She eyed the man very carefully. “Are you… God?” The man’s smile remained motionless. Ellie took it as a yes, but investigated further.”
“But you look just like that terrible person who, well, I told him to help me, but he just stood there and, and, there was all this water and then I think I… I think I drowned.”
“Oh?” asked the man, with a voice, which was perhaps a bit too smooth. She had always imagined God as having an angry, roaring voice, like the one her mother imitated whenever she read bible stories to Ellie before bed. The story about Moses, at least her mother’s rendition of it, was her favorite.
“Yes, his eyes were different, but you look just like him.”
“Hmmm…” the man answered, his eyes now focusing on Ellie’s.
“I always look like the last person you saw during your life. Did you not like the person who looks like me?”
In spite of everything, Ellie was nearly convinced. She remembered she had drowned in that see-through cell after all. “Can you prove it? Can you prove you’re god?”
The man curiously raised his eyebrows, then went back to smiling. He motioned for Ellie to sit up. She did so, and was now able to see around the room. She was lying in a four-poster queen bed with white wood posts. The sheets were white, with detailed floral designs. The carpet was white, and so was a chest of drawers up against the wall across from Ellie. There was an open window to the left and white silken curtains were swaying gently in the wind. Beyond it, Ellie only saw bright light. There were no doors anywhere in the room.
The man was sitting next to her on the bed. His arm was now outstretched, fingers limply pointing at the chest of drawers. The palm of his hand slowly rose and with it the piece of furniture. It stopped three feet off the ground, before he gently set it down again.
Ellie tried to stifle a “Whoa!” but failed, feeling like a little kid for doing it. She fell into silence, her mind trying to comprehend everything that had happened. “So this is heaven, then?” she finally asked.
“Not quite,” answered the blue-eyed man. “We’ll talk about that a bit later, though. Now, we should talk about you.”
The two spun a long thread of conversation, and Ellie told him all about her life. They talked about her family. Ellie loved her parents and her little brother dearly. She admired her father for being so knowledgeable, but also confessed that she was sad whenever he was too engrossed in his work to listen to her. They talked about school. Ellie did pretty well academically, but she felt quite at odds with most of the other girls. She didn’t give much thought to the boys, unless they purposefully nagged her. Even then, she would usually ignore them as they would give up eventually.
Ellie had a few friends. Throughout her schooling, she had always stuck around one person most of the time, though that person changed every two years or so. She would still maintain good relationships with most of the girls that had been her friends like that, but not all of them. They talked about Aisha, her best friend at the time. She and Ellie shared what they thought was a unique craziness, which would only come out when they were at home, one visiting the other. They would put up shows to an imaginary audience, which would invariably end with both of them rolling on the floor with laughter, barely breathing.
Aisha had that one music band which she’d always listen to. Ellie noted that she was slowly warming up to them, having already learned two of the songs by heart. Aisha lived on the internet, her mobile phone constantly chirping with notifications whenever the two were together. They would often read through them and answer strangers on the net, giggling at how witty their responses must’ve been.
They talked about books, which Ellie thought was kind of funny. She’d read a lot of books up to the age of ten or so, but then sort of stopped. It fell out of fashion, and though she’d always advocate books, she wouldn’t really read them all that much as of late.
She had just finished explaining that, although she liked romance, fantasy was her favorite genre, when the man interrupted her by saying: “Excuse me, Ellie, but are you hungry by any chance?”
Ellie’s stomach had been rumbling for a while now, but she hadn’t noticed as she’d been immersed in the conversation. “Yes.” she simply answered, hiding her embarrassment.
“Good. How does apple pie sound?” the man inquired in a soft tone.
“That’s… my favorite.” Ellie said, momentarily touched. “How did you know?”
The man simply smiled in response, opened the bedside cupboard and pulled out a hot pan of apple pie, a plate, and some utensils. He cut out a piece and handed it to her on the plate, watching her as she hungrily devoured the delicious treat.
“Oh, excuse me, would you also like some?” she asked, halfway through her piece, her eyes practically begging him to say no.
“That’s very kind of you, but I’m quite alright.” said the man, still smiling. He patted her head and sat back down on the side of the bed. Quite some time had passed since Ellie had awoken.
“Ellie, may I ask you another question?”
“Yesh,” answered Ellie, her mouth full, a crumb of pie rolling out and somewhere between the sheets. Her eyes frantically searched for it on the bed around her, and when they found nothing, she turned back to the man, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible.
“Before I take you to heaven, I can give you another shot at life, if you’d like.”
Ellie cocked her head to the side, expecting an explanation.
“If you go to heaven with me, you won’t see mommy, daddy, your little brother or Aisha for a very long time. But, if you go back, you might see them again. You might live out your life, and the next time we meet, could look different. I might look like your future husband, or one of your children, if you have either of those.”
Each of the words nudged at Ellie, making rips in her current peaceful mood. She wanted to see her parents. She was pretty sure she would’ve liked to have lived a longer life. Her eyes welled up.
“Can you do it?” she asked in a strangled voice.
The smile, again.
“Please, do it then,” she said, her head sinking.
The blue-eyed man pulled a small silver box from his pocket. He opened it and got out a syringe of clear liquid. He flicked it gently, then squirted some out from the needle. He started lowering himself towards Ellie.
“This will help you calm down. Then, you’ll wake up back in the real world.”
He squeezed the contents into her arm. Ellie started to feel dizzy almost immediately. He set the syringe down on the cupboard and gently held Ellie’s hand until her world went dark again.
James Knight got up from the bed, only taking a second to admire his handiwork. His hand slipped into his pocket, pulling out another box, this one smaller and gray in color. He took out a red contact lens and gently placed it on his left eye. Then, he did the same for his right eye. Then he produced a tissue from the same pocket and wiped the small droplet of blood that had gathered on Ellie’s arm where he had injected her.
The red-eyed man gathered the girl in his arms and carried her down to the office. He stepped up on a step ladder and gently placed Ellie into the clear glass cube, which was again empty of the liquid, its top side opened like a lid. He closed the lid and locked into place by pressing it down. Then, he carried the step ladder out of the room, came back in and closed the door behind him.
James Knight watched, completely still, as Ellie woke up. He watched Ellie scream and beg for his help. He watched the absolute horror in her eyes when the perfluorodecalin again began to pour into the box. It wasn’t water pouring into, but rather a breathable liquid. It wouldn’t really drown her, since she could still breathe while submerged. But Ellie didn’t know that. Ellie couldn’t have known that. And so, he watched, yet again without expression, as her air ran out. Ellie drowned, again.
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