This story is by Tracy Heath and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Ofelia woke flushed and hot despite the crisp fall night. She flipped the covers to her side for relief. Once she gained full consciousness, she knew she had to get up.
Someone needs me.
She turned to her clock … 11:17 p.m. The book she had been reading laid on her chest. The heat gathering underneath it had grown unbearable.
Ofelia rolled out of bed and shuffled across the room. She reached for some previously worn clothes piled on top of her chest of drawers. After sliding on a pair of leggings, a t-shirt and tennies, she made her way outside. Accustomed to maneuvering in the dark, she didn’t bother finding a flashlight.
Sweat beaded along her hairline as she searched for the one in need of her help.
Geez, I’m burning up. This sweat thing is new.
She swiped her forehead with the back of her hand. Typically, when a soul came calling, she felt a tingling sensation. But not this time.
She made her way into the nearby woods. The freshly fallen leaves crunched under her feet — the bright yellow ones highlighted by the moonlight. There, just ahead, she saw the transparent shadow of a man sitting on a log.
He turned to see who was speaking to him.
Ofelia stepped over the log to face him.
“Where am I,” he asked.
“You’re in the woods just outside Oak Grove Cemetery.”
The shadowy figure shook his head, disoriented and unsure of how he ended up in the woods.
“Do you mind if I sit next to you?”
He slid over to make room for her on the log, although technically he didn’t need to move.
“I’m Ofelia, by the way.”
“David, something happened to you tonight.”
He nodded, “I think it was a car wreck, but I can’t remember.”
“I’m sorry to tell you this, but you didn’t make it.”
“I got that feeling. But why am I here?”
“Well, your soul is not sure if it is ready to move on or if you have some unfinished business here.”
“Oh … that’s weird.”
Ofelia smiled to herself. Most souls started to cry at this point. He appeared to be taking his news fairly well, which she found oddly refreshing.
“If I’m dead, how are you talking to me,” he asked.
“It’s what I do. Souls get lost or confused sometimes, and I help them figure out what to do.”
“What to do?”
“Well, yeah. Souls have a few options. You can remain here as a ghost until you are ready to let go. You can be reborn in another body — but you will forget almost everything and need to relearn it all. But it’s much easier the next time around. Or you can become part of … all this.” She opened her hands to show him the vastness of the forest.
She gave him a moment to absorb the information.
“How do I choose?”
“You don’t exactly choose. We’ll take a walk, and I will ask a bunch of questions. Where we end up tells us the answer. It’s different for everyone, so I can’t really explain it beyond that.”
David nodded his head and contemplated the situation for a moment.
“Let’s do it.”
His eagerness surprised Ofelia. She normally had to nudge people to begin the process.
“That was easy,” she chuckled.
Although she couldn’t see a soul smile, she could feel it. It didn’t happen often in her dealings, but she knew it when it did. She definitely felt his smile.
“I’m already dead. I can’t change that, so let’s see what’s in store next.”
In all of her years doing this, she had never experienced this sort of reaction. It made the process much less upsetting. Not that she didn’t enjoy this work. She took a lot of pride in helping souls find their way, but it was nice to experience something new.
She began with the typical, high-level questions — are you leaving a spouse or children behind. From there, her questions became more and more specific to him, his beliefs and how he lived his life. She instinctively knew what to ask.
With David, however, the process felt much more like a normal, late-night conversation with a friend than an end-of-life questionnaire. Ofelia even found herself laughing at some of his responses, to which he informed her, “You have a great laugh.”
They walked slowly, and he answered her questions directly and without hesitation. All of his responses were honest and true. He didn’t require her normal follow-up questions.
Most folks felt they had to answer the questions correctly rather than authentically. That assumption, however, only resulted in more questions. Ofelia couldn’t guide them though. She solely asked questions.
When an answer wasn’t whole or authentic, she felt it to her core. For her purpose, dealing with lost souls, the skill was a gift. For her personal life, however, it was tragic.
“OK, this is the last question. You’re down to two options and …”
She stopped herself. She didn’t tell souls where they stood in the process. But this time it just slipped out without any forethought.
“And this will decide it,” she concluded.
“Which two options?”
“Stay as a ghost or move on.”
“What happens if I move on? Do I forget everything like being reborn?”
“No. All of your memories stay with you and they become part of … I don’t know what you call it. The cosmos. You’re there and you have your memories but it’s all part of something bigger.”
“What if someone is married? Are they lost forever if someone moves on?”’
“It depends really. If they truly, wholeheartedly love one another, their energies will always be connected and will find one another in the cosmos. They can become a single energy and be transformed over and over again, experiencing all kinds of things together. They may become a flower or a river. And when that flower dies or the river dries up or is destroyed, their energy just transforms.”
“Like Einstein’s theory?”
“I don’t know Einstein’s theory.”
“Energy cannot be created or destroyed. It can only change form.”
“Well, yeah, like that.”
“Interesting. How do you know all of this anyway?”
“I don’t know. I can’t prove it either. It just comes with the territory, I guess.”
“Before you ask the final question, can we just sit and talk for a while?”
Another first — he was full of surprises. She hesitated to respond.
“It may be my last night here like this. Can you give me that?”
Ofelia felt flushed, but she realized the heat that woke her never dissipated. She wasn’t sweating any more, but her body was still quite warm.
“So, do you like music?”
Ofelia smiled. Music was her companion in life. It cheered her up when she was sad. Comforted her when she needed comforting. Despite being a massage therapist by day, she didn’t have a lot of interaction with people — enough to not feel lonely but no relationships.
“Yes,” she answered without detail.
And from there, David became the interviewer. They discovered that they had so much in common although they were very different in terms of personality. Ofelia had not enjoyed a conversation like that in years. She laughed at his wisecracks, and they both delved into some dark places they had been in their lives.
He was telling her a story, and she watched the shadow of him. There was no detail about him. No distinct shape or features — just a voice, a soul.
“I wish I had met you under other circumstances,” Ofelia acknowledged accidentally. “I’m sorry. That just slipped out. It was insensitive.”
“No, it’s good. I thought the same thing.”
The revelation gave pause to an awkward silence.
“I guess we should ask the last question,” David said.
After he answered, they walked a little further and came upon an open field in the woods. Ofelia was disappointed. This meant he was moving on.
“Well, I guess this is goodbye,” Ofelia said.
David sensed she was upset.
“No. Not goodbye,” he informed her. “I’ll be waiting on you.”
“You could stay. We could get to know each other more.”
“What kind of life is that for you? Live your life. That’s what it’s for. I’ll be waiting and watching. Don’t disappoint me. Make me jealous that I left.”
David walked into the field. Ofelia cried at the sight of him leaving. The early morning mist rolled across the field and began to surround him as it does with all souls. He disappeared into it, the mist lighting up with the colors of his spirit. It looked like the most spectacular aurora borealis.
She laughed at the beauty of it. Well, I can’t miss that. You’ll be easy to find.
As the colors faded, the mist began to surround her. It tingled against her skin.
“I won’t disappoint you.”