Though it took me a while, I finally knew-- or felt that I knew-- the date on which I had died. The date, which was the 3rd of January, 2025, was otherwise inaccessible to me. I could not remember how I had died, or what I had been doing on that day that either innocently preceded or led directly to my death.
With no earthly anchor for my death, I was left with a hollow feeling. It was as if, in the middle of the show, I had slipped sideways out of the play of the world. I had dissolved through the curtains, walked sightless through the backstage, and then left through a fire escape, failing to rejoin.
I knew who I had been before that day (and on further inspection, month) that was permanently lost to me. My name was Samantha Roy-Worrell, and I was 23. I lived in a city I wasn’t particularly attached to, but it was close enough to Manhattan that I could say I was from there and not this particular city.
I was a graphic designer, though I wasn’t very good at it, or particularly passionate. I liked drawing more, but my lack of confidence drew me away from pursuing this in any professional capacity. I worked odd jobs, saving up for the time when my luck would change, but it seems my time was cut short.
I don’t know. I couldn’t be sure of how I had “left”, so to speak. What I did know was that I wasn’t alive in the way that I was used to. This absence of life hadn’t been death to me until now. It hadn’t been anything at all, even. I had been drawing upon a dwindling momentum, operating without question, following the vestiges of life and a routine, no, not even the vestiges, just the shadows of them…
In retrospect, I had been functioning through a haze that no one around me had bothered to lift.
Maybe they did this intentionally, or maybe they thought that I had already realized the nature of my situation. It would be redundant and painful to go over this for the both of us, I suppose.
Anyway, I realized all of this while I had been running an errand for Alana, the elderly woman who rented out the space I lived in. Alana Mitlitsky was her full name, and she lived in a half-timbered cabin on a hill that found itself in an eternal summer. Here I found another issue: ‘Renting’ was an awkward term for our arrangement, because it implied I paid rent, which I didn’t.
I never paid rent, because she had never asked for payment. Money didn’t exist here, and neither did the structure of time that dictated when rent would be due.
The structure of time… What had happened to it? Well, sometimes the sun would rise and fall, but that was irregular, quite literally varying from place to place. There were no calendars to mark the passage of time either. No one would comment on how dreary a Wednesday it was, or how excited they were for the weekend, or how they were looking forward to a holiday, or the turn of the seasons, or an anniversary, or anything.
In the same way that there was no external structure of time, there wasn’t an internal one either. I can understand spacing out, losing hours on a fogged road, or trudging through the minutes and the seconds of a laborious activity, but… this had been a non-time. The life I had lived between my death and this realization had been a timeless sentence, which contained soul and form and even memory, but not the passage of time itself.
Things, mundane and strange alike, just happened, or failed to happen, and I let this all pass by me without question. All of it was senseless, and the senselessness finally began to frighten me.
Alana seemed to singularly exist in the attic room study of the cabin, writing letters upon letters to people I had never met and would possibly never meet. She rarely left the space anymore, where before she would at least join us all for meals and to chat with the stragglers and wayfarers that had found their way to our cabin. It felt as if she had receded into herself, maybe to preserve her strength, or was entering a chrysalis state… but, I don’t know. That seemed more like fanciful thinking on my part.
Still, she was real, and tentatively my friend, and I had spent an indeterminate amount of time sharing her company and the company of two other people who I’ll mention later. This realization-- that kinship and closeness were still possible-- was the only thing in a number of things that brought me any comfort.
But, again-- These realizations came to me in rapid succession, new and increasingly absurd features of my situation unfolding before me whether I liked it or not, and the comfort soon slipped through my fingers, rolling out of view. By the time I had returned to the cabin, I felt… acutely sick, and it showed on my face, maybe as a look of fear or a sheen of sweat on my forehead.
Alana had been attending to a guest in her study, and she barely stopped to address me when I tiptoed in to leave some notebooks and pens at her desk. I doubted she would have said anything to me in any other situation, as she was terse and reserved in the way some elderly people are. Not rude, just… focused, and selective with their words.
She told me:
“You look ill.”
I told her:
“I just need to rest.”
And with that, I left. The guest, an unremarkable figure, had barely a chance to look at me as I had barely a chance to look at them. I went to my own room, a small place downstairs with a chair, a desk, a bed, a dresser, and a window, and began to collect my thoughts at the desk.
I didn’t rest, I couldn’t-- Not with all of these revelations crowding my head like teeth. I had never rested anyway, not since my death, so I wasn’t going to start now. I decided to settle at least two things here, if not more, so I wouldn’t be overcome with endless turmoil and paranoia later on.
The first thing was that I was not in any immediate danger. I had no reason to distrust the people around me, who had shown me so much compassion, and had maybe already gone through what I was going through right now. These people were:
Alana, the owner of the cabin...
… Yasmin, our neighbor...
… and Elli, a traveler who had over time become a migratory resident of the cabin.
In line with this, I told myself that the world we lived in was relatively safe, but... The thought creeped in that this safety was not intentional, or guaranteed. I got it in my head that this place was a kind of limbo, or storage room, or even a snowglobe, that the overseers of the universe had forgotten about entirely. Still, the engines of its infrastructure kept whirring, even past the interest the overseers had once had for it.
Like in life, we had been shoved into this world without the requisite pamphlets or guides. Unlike in life, the engineers of this place had also not been given any instructions or regulations, and had half-built a place devoid of meaning and reason.
The inconsistency was where the danger arose. If I could not rely on my body or the world around me to follow the rules I had grown so accustomed to in life, then I had no way of measuring just how horrible certain mistakes-- which I might not even know I was making-- could be.
Well, this thought didn’t inspire anything positive in me. In fact, it did the opposite of what I had set out to do. There I was, back at square one, or something even worse, because I had thought about it in greater detail, and arrived at a grim, new realization.
I still could only see the walls for the walls, and the hills for the hills, and this bothered me. It reminded me of a little village in the definition of remoteness, which was either indifferent to or unaware of the scientific and industrialized world that surrounded it. Unable to escape the mechanisms that brewed the water around them. Oblivious and impervious to the microscopic and the macroscopic, for now.
I tried to see myself as a floating, disembodied eye, unable to see or affect invisible knowledge, but the damage had already been done. Additionally, I felt too soft, too corporeal, too defenseless as an eye, or any organ. I needed to be a vector in space, and I needed to be its animator as well. Something like this felt within reach in this impossible world-- but I wasn’t sure of how to do it just yet, or what it implied.
At that moment, Elli walked into the cabin. I could tell by of the distinctive clacks of his prosthetic arm. A dread overcame me, as I didn’t want to leave my room, but I also wanted to see him-- to see if he was still real, still himself, and if he remembered me… My indecision didn’t matter in the end, because he walked straight to my room.
He peeked in with a devilish smile, tight-coiled and ready to unveil a delightful new thing. He liked wandering around our world, and frequently brought us trinkets. Still, preceding his enthusiasm was always a care, an attunement, and his bright energy receded somewhere as he looked at me quietly.
I felt how tight and closed off my face and shoulders had been, and made an effort to relax them, though I wasn’t very successful. He crossed the room in a pair of strides, for it was small, and he was tall. He crouched down to meet me more at eye level, not saying anything at first, just scanning my face and tense position in the chair with a concern in his brows.
When I didn’t respond, he looked down, and then back up again.
“What’s wrong?” He finally asked me. I looked past him to an indeterminate point.
“I don’t know where I’d begin…” I told him honestly.
“Well…” He began, rising up, “I know a nice spot not too far away from here. Maybe you could... I don’t know, tell me about it on the way there?”
Against everything I knew or thought I knew about myself, I agreed.
As we left the cabin, I noticed, for the first time, a strange formation in the sky. It was a shiny thing, resembling a spider’s web, or veins propagating from a single point. It was shiny until it wasn’t, and then it became luminous again-- was it strobing, or were my eyes catching it at different angles? Then too I noticed the unusual number of crows that populated our world. In fact, they seemed to be the only birds, if not the only creatures, that existed here.
He gave me one of two tight-spoked bikes to ride. Maybe this was what he had meant to show me. We rode the bikes out to a hill with an apple tree. In a gentle way, this became the first of our expeditions into what we could call Threshold, during which we talked about everything and nothing at all.