“Yeah,” I said, totally wigged out. “So, are you the oracle that came into… whatever when Grandma Piperi passed?”
A few moments passed and then she sighed. “Yes, I did… unfortunately. I was never big on Fate and destiny, you see? And visions… well, they suck most of the time.” Kari looked at me, her obsidian eyes narrowing. “You’re supposed to be here.”
“I am?” I squeaked. Aw, man…
She nodded. “You are. This—I’ve seen this. Like I knew I was going to meet you, but I had no idea it would be here. See, oracles don’t know when the passing of their own time will be, which blows.” She laughed again. “Gods, I know what’s going to happen.”
Now that caught my attention. “You do?”
Her smile turned secretive.
My fingers dug into my sweater. “And are you going to tell me?”
Kari fell quiet, and did it matter now that she was making little sense? She was an oracle and I was dead. Wasn’t a thing I could do about anything, right? Shaking my head, I took in the rest of my surroundings. I couldn’t see where the river led to; it flowed to where was nothing but a deep, black hole. To our right there was a small opening, and a strange, bluish glow emanated from whatever was beyond this place.
“Where’s that go?” I asked, pointing at the light.
Kari sighed. “Back up there, but it’s not the same. You’re a shade if you go that way, and that’s even if you can get past the guards.”
“The guys on the horses?”
“Yep. Going down or up, Hades does not like to lose any souls. You should’ve been here when someone tried to make a run for it.” She shivered delicately. “Gross.”
A commotion by the river had us turning around. Kari clapped her hands together. “Sweet gods, finally!” Kari took off toward the ever-increasing throng of people by the river.
“What?” I hurried after her. The guards on the horses were forcing people into lines on both sides of the river. “What’s going on?”
She looked over her shoulder at me, smiling. “It’s Charon. He’s here. It’s Paradise time, baby!”
“But how do you know where you’re going?” I struggled to keep up with her, but when I reached the fringes of the group, I froze. Oh, crap.
“You just know,” Kari said, pushing past those who I assumed had no money for passage. “It was nice meeting you, Alexandria. And I’m about ninety-nine percent sure we’ll meet again.” Then she disappeared into the crowd.
Too busy with the scene unfolding before, I didn’t pay attention to what she said. The boat was larger than they showed in paintings. It was massive, like the size of a yacht, and a lot nicer-looking than the busted old canoe image I was familiar with, painted a bright white and trimmed in gold. At the helm was Charon. Now he looked like I expected.
Charon’s slight form was swallowed by a black cloak that covered his entire body. In one bony hand he held a lantern. His shrouded head turned toward me and even though I couldn’t see his eyes, I knew he saw me.
Within seconds the boat was swarmed and gliding down the River, disappearing through the dark tunnel. I had no idea how long I stood there, but finally I turned away and hurried through the crowd. Everywhere I looked, there were faces. Young and old. Expressions bored or stunned. There were dead people wandering around everywhere and I was alone, utterly alone. I tried to make myself as small as possible, but I bumped a shoulder here, an arm there.
“Excuse me,” an old woman said. A gaudy pink nightgown dwarfed her frail form. “Do you know what happened? I went to sleep and… I woke up here.”
“Uh.” I started backing off. “Sorry. I’m as lost as you.”
She looked perplexed. “You went to sleep, too?”
“No.” I sighed, twisting away. “I was stabbed to death.”
Once those words left my mouth, I wanted to take them back, because they made everything real.
I stopped outside the throng of people and stared down at my bare feet. I wanted to smack myself. I really was dead.
Lifting my head, my eyes found the strange blue light. If what Kari said was true, then that was the way out of this… holding area. Then what? I’d be a shade for eternity? But what if I wasn’t really dead?
“You’re dead,” I muttered to myself. But I started toward the blue light. The closer I got to it, the more drawn to it I was. It seemed to offer everything—light, warmth, life.
“Don’t go toward the light!” A voice yelled, followed by laughter—mischievous, beloved laughter. “They lie about the light, you know. Never go toward the light.”
I froze and if my heart still had been beating, which I wasn’t sure about, it would’ve stopped right then and there. As if moving through cement, I turned slowly, I couldn’t believe—didn’t want to believe what I was seeing because if this wasn’t real…
He stood only a few feet away, wearing a white linen shirt and pants. His shoulder-length, blond hair was tucked back behind his ears and he was smiling—actually smiling. And those eyes, the color of the summer sky, were brilliant and alive. Not like the last time I’d seen him.
“Alex?” Caleb said. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
All my muscles sprang into action at once. I took off toward him and jumped.
Laughing, Caleb caught me around the waist and swung me around. It was like a dam bursting open. I turned into a fat, bawling baby in under a second. My whole body shook; I couldn’t help it. It was Caleb—my Caleb, my best friend. Caleb.
“Alex, come on.” He set me on my feet, but still held me close. “Don’t cry. You know how I get when you cry.”