Lydia Ashes was an adventurous girl. That is, up until the moment she died. When she finds herself in an unknown dimension with no recollection of how she got there, nothing makes sense and everything she knew vanished from her memory. As she is met by Dexter Valentine, a soul also awaiting reincarnation she learns where she is, and what she must do now to live again. But with so many unanswered questions about the world she finds herself in now and nothing to go back to on earth, does she even want to?
Lydia and Valentine continued walking, and walking. It felt to Lydia as though they’d never get to where they were supposed to be going, until she saw it.
“Oh my goodness.” She couldn’t help but stare. The sight she was bestowed with was the type of sight you couldn’t look away from because of its grandiosity. If it were a person, it would be the person.
“Welcome home, Lydia.”
They walked up to the doors of a house; of course most people would agree that house was not the operative word. A tracer window hung above the colossal red wooden doors. They looked more like they belonged to the Vatican, or some other temple-like establishment. Two white stone columns with Corinthian capitals ran down the front from the entablature to large pedestals, emphasizing the steps up to the veranda. The walls, true to fashion, were made of what looked like some sort of beautiful carved Stone Mountain Granite, covered in sparkling minerals. Lydia was almost positive they were diamonds. This wasn’t a home at all. This was a castle. The outside proved to be nothing compared to the foyer, which boasted even more visual delight with high ceilings, to allow for a beautiful marble staircase covered in a dull burgundy carpet leading up to a second floor of awe. Cherry wood floors stretched in every direction past the foyer and a golden chandelier hung in the centre. There was oversized royal furniture made of old cedar wood and different hues of reds, blues, and gold’s draped through every room. There was no other explanation for this place beyond extraordinarily beautiful. And she’d barely seen any of it yet.
“I’ll show you your room. This way.” Valentine led Lydia down a corridor filled with old world paintings and striking length carpet leading you wherever you need to go. As they passed rooms, Lydia could finally see other seemingly normal souls. Some stared at her with excitement as they whispered to each other about the new girl in town, others looked away quickly or didn’t look up at all. She guessed they were just like they were as people. At least that’s what her first impression was. Some were going to be cool, and some were not—simple, and difficult all at the same time. “Here we are.”
He led Lydia into a room unlike anything she had thought she’d seen before. It looked like a post card for a princess’ room. The canopy bed was draped with crisp white and royal blue bedding with luxurious memory foam pillows and a cloud-like duvet. She had an armoire full of silk nightgowns just waiting, hanging there invitingly calling for her to put them on. Her night stand was lit up with a dim candle and as she looked around the room she couldn’t help but ask, “Is this real?”
“I can assure you this is the most real thing you will ever experience. Unfortunately, this is where we part ways, for now. It’s time for some sleep. Goodnight Lydia.” Valentine exited the room without giving Lydia a chance to ask what they needed sleep for. She thought that was a human thing, not a universal soul thing. She had so many more questions but he wasn’t waiting for those either. He didn’t even wait for her goodnight response. He was gone, as if in a flash of light and she was alone again.
She walked around the room, slowly running her hands along the furniture and fine linens. She chose a pale peach nightgown to put on, and as she put it on she immediately felt comfortable. She climbed into bed, blew out the candle, and dozed off to sleep in no time at all.
Lydia awoke to a strange yet familiar sound. She could hear the song that had been stuck in her head, only this time it had vocalized in a male’s voice. She crept out of bed slowly, as to not make any noise. She did not want the song to stop. It had been the only thing she could remember from her life, and she did not want to let it go. It was all she had left of who she used to be. She opened the door to a dimly lit hallway and started down towards the voice. As she tiptoed down the hall she felt as nervous as a child sneaking down to spot Santa Clause on Christmas Eve. She arrived at a half open door, and stared in at a man, around the same age as her, just singing the only thing she knew. This had to mean something, and in an effort not to make a peep, she wanted to find out. As she tried to get a closer look through the door, her foot caught the carpet. The door flew open.
“Whoa, hey, you scared me. What are you doing?” The man stared at Lydia half smiling, waiting for a response.
“I’m – I’m sorry. I just heard you, you know, singing, and I just, I know the song. I didn’t mean to make that kind of entrance.”
They laughed in unison, and Lydia’s heart almost melted out of her non-existent chest. “I’m Aiden.” He was more beautiful than the house, the garden and everything else she could possibly imagine seeing. His ocean blue eyes sparkled with innocence and integrity, while his crooked smile, surrounded by the scruff of a man’s 5’oclock shadow made her weak in the knees. She wasn’t sure if this was the type of man she was attracted to in life, but in death she couldn’t imagine any other guy being as magnetizing. He was perfect, she thought.
“Hi, I’m Lydia. I’m new here, but I guess you already knew that.”
“Yeah, I kind of figured that much, considering I hadn’t seen you before, I’m new myself. Just got here about two sleeps ago but at this place you don’t feel ‘new’ for very long. Which, I think, is a good thing,” Aiden said with a sense of happiness. “So, you know that song?” He asked putting t-shirts in a drawer.
“Yeah I do, well kind of. It seems to be the only thing I can remember, and when I awoke in the darkness it was immediately in my head. I can’t get it out of my head, actually. And then when I heard you singing it, I just couldn’t believe it. It was the first thing that felt real to me since I’ve been here. It’s quite an adjustment, you know, dying.”
Aiden laughed softly, as he slowly walked towards Lydia. As he got closer to her, she could feel her every sense wake up just a little bit. It was as if the closer he got the more she felt him. Lydia was almost convinced he was about to come straight into an embrace, and just as she was about to reach out to him he spun by her heading towards the door. “Where are you going?” Lydia asked mystified.
“Just follow me Lydia, I promise it will be worth it.”
Aiden sped off down the long hallway of the castle they shared. If it hadn’t of been for the dim wall sconces of the hallway she would have lost him completely. ‘Boy, there’s a lot of running here,’ she thought as she chased him with intent. It had become a game to Aiden as he zigged and zagged his way throughout the house, laughing slightly when he’d look back and see Lydia trying to keep up.
“Come on, girl! You’re wasting time!” He shouted from the end of the hallway. She finally caught up to him, but only because he came to a stop in front of a big mahogany wooden door. “We’re here.”
“Here?” She asked. “Where’s here?”
“Trust me, pretty girl.”
Aiden opened the door and Lydia was astonished for what felt like the millionth time since she’s been in the middle.
On the other side on the big door, there was a vast space of natural landscape, full of rocky mountains, sandy beaches, and everything in between. The sun was shining in the sky, but if Lydia looked away for just a moment, it would be night time in the country and the Aurora Borealis was as vividly beautiful as it has ever been. It was almost as if in the exact moment the thought crossed her mind she’d see it in front of her. A mirage of sorts invented completely by what she wanted to see. “This, right here, is the best place you’ll will ever get the pleasure of visiting. What do you want to see?” Aiden asked hoping the answer was as courageous as he’d hoped Lydia was.
“I couldn’t even imagine anything as beautiful as what I’m looking at right now,” she said accidentally staring at him but meaning the backdrop. Aiden smiled bashfully and turned to look to the distance. As he looked away from Lydia she could see the backdrop changing into a generously sized cabin surrounded by an array of fraser firs and Norway spruces. The front of the cabin faced a quaint lake that looked so peaceful she kind of felt the urge to jump in just to create a ripple. “That’s beautiful,” she whispered.
“Isn’t it? I used to spend time there, I think. When I was a kid I mean, in my old life.”
“Wait a minute? You can remember your life? I can’t. What the hell.”
“Well yes, and no. The longer I’m here the more it comes back to me. I think it’s because most of the space in the middle is designed strictly by what we, the souls, see. Just like that song that’s stuck in your head. It’s there for a reason, and it must have meant a great deal to you if it was the first thing you remember. That, or it was playing while you died,” Aiden said with a kind of nonchalance that made Lydia incredibly jealous he could remember and she couldn’t.
“How long have you been here?” she asked.
“I’m not quite sure really. Time is different here I think, but if I had to chalk it up to days and weeks I’d say about two weeks.”
She couldn’t think of what else to say. Two weeks. That wasn’t that long, but he seemed to be quite adjusted to the middle. Happy even. And he could remember things. If it only took her two weeks to start remembering some things maybe she’d have enough time to figure out how she’d gotten there in the first place before she’s hurled back to humanity. Even if she would immediately forget it when her energy was needed to fill another body, she wanted to know, dammit.
They sat there, by the cabin on the lake just watching the sun set. Lydia was relieved that even in death, love could still exist and she knew that because she had already felt it for Aiden. The way he made her chase him down the hall, the way he introduced her to his cabin on the lake, and the way he made her feel like she was at home, here in the middle. She thought to herself that if she had been alive and feeling this attached to a man in such a short time, she would be crazy. But you can’t be crazy when you’re dead, can you?
“Why are you staring at me? You’re missing this majestic sunset I’ve thought up for us,” Aiden poked.
“You feel it too, don’t you?” She asked, praying he knew what she was talking about.
“Of course I do. It’s that song. It’s the first thing I remembered too.”
Lydia didn’t need any more explanation that that. She was completely content that somehow, she had met a soul that for some reason had some sort of connection to something she had a connection to. It was transcendent in a way. They sat there in silence for a while, and then it happened.
The beautiful sky started turning black, and the cabin disintegrated as if she were watching a time lapse of a devastating fire. “What’s happening,” Lydia asked, starting to feel very uneasy.
“You have to go, get out of here!” Aiden screamed at Lydia with powerful authority and in that moment, she took off as fast as she could without even realizing why. She could have asked why, but as far as she knew, when someone yells the way Aiden had just yelled, you listen.
‘Where is that door,’ she thought over and over and over again as she ran aimlessly through the abyss. She was terrified and was really starting to think that this was just a really lucid nightmare she would soon awake from. Any place that would have you on an emotional roller coaster like this would likely be unreal. Imaginative, but definitely not real. And then, all of a sudden, the door appeared out of nowhere. She ran into it without stopping hoping it was a push open type of door. It wasn’t. She smashed into the door and flew back with force. ‘I’m lucky I’m already dead,’ she scoffed to herself and pulled the door open, slamming it tightly behind her.
She got back to her room, climbed into bed, and tried to sleep. But, let’s be real. Who could sleep after something like that? She was dying for an explanation and for the next few days she was tortured by her own mind trying to make up something that made sense. Of course, nothing came to her. And during the course of her wonderment, Aiden was nowhere to be found. She checked his room several times a day and even searched the hallways. She had run into more and more souls staying in the castle.
First, she met Nancy, a young girl who could have only been about 6 when she passed away. She was quickly sent to another body, so their friendship was short lived. But for the short time she knew Nancy, she loved her. The sense of adventure she had was that in line of a little girl, much like Lydia’s, and it made for an exciting little partnership for a while in the castle. She would beg Lydia to play tag, and then disappear into the vastness of one of the amazing ‘rooms’ behind the big doors at the end of each hallway. Sometimes, she would even try to get Lydia to chase her into the valley of the lost souls but thankfully Lydia always caught up to her in time to avoid it.
“Oh come, on Lydia. Can’t we please? They won’t catch us we’re too fast!”
“Sweetheart, you have got to stop doing that. Let’s pick another place, okay!” Lydia had this conversation with Nancy quite a few times before she realized something.
Unfortunately, the thing she loved most about Nancy was probably the culprit behind what sent her here. She could picture Nancy, out with her mother at a shopping mall, disappear into a crowd trying to find excitement, never to be seen again. It made her sad to think that someone so innocent and full of life, was actually in fact dead. When she was sent to start another life in another human, it made Lydia feel relieved. One of her lives was cut drastically short by a tragic event, no doubt, and now she got to start all over again.
She also met an older gentleman, quite grumpy, but in a humourous way. She enjoyed spending afternoons with him playing Texas Hold’Em, especially since when she would win he would throw his cards and storm off claiming she must have cheated to beat his amazing hand. He was in the middle for quite some time, and it really showed. His name was Walter and Lydia always called him Walt, which bugged the hell out of him.
“My name is not Walt girl, it’s Walter. T-E-R, right there at the end of it.”
Lydia would always laugh and say, “What, you don’t like it when I call you Walt?”
Lydia and Walter had only one serious conversation during the time they spent together in the middle, right before Walter finally got his chance at a new life.
“You know, girl. I’ve been here a long time. I’ve seen a lot of souls come and go through here and I’m still sitting here. It really makes me wonder, what kind of person I must have been,” he said looking down at nothing in particular.
“Oh, Walt. You’re time is coming, don’t you worry.” Lydia said trying to be as sensitive as possible. She couldn’t tell him he was a good soul because, well, she had no idea and Lydia wasn’t the lying kind.
“I just mean, oh I can’t believe I’m talking to you about this.” He scoffed a little under his breath and Lydia prepared herself for a mean quip. “It scares me to death to think that if I was a bad person in my last life maybe, just maybe, I won’t be able to get a chance to be good. I’m just stuck with a bad soul that maybe shouldn’t get recycled. Maybe I should just get lost!”
“Walter, don’t you dare say that. You wouldn’t be waiting for another soul if you weren’t good enough for another chance at it. Whatever higher power is controlling this seems to think so.” She smiled, looked him straight in the eyes and said, “It’s up to you how you turn out, even if you can’t remember this conversation.” They both laughed, and got back to playing cards. About two days later, he was gone. Sent to be reborn, and she was relieved all over again, just like she was with all the others.
There was also a family; mom, dad, and three children who Lydia assumed had all died together in some sort of freak accident. That could have been the only explanation, she thought. They pretty much stuck to themselves, except when approached by others and even then would speak in short sentences as if the conversation itself was keeping them from something much more important. Even when Lydia had asked if they had seen Aiden, they barely answered. The father just shook his head and shooed the rest of the family down the hallway. Lydia wondered where they were going as they headed out another one of those big doors but she didn’t have the energy to really follow and find out. Especially after the incident at Aiden’s cabin.
It had been almost a week and she still hadn’t seen Aiden. She was starting to get very worried as she tossed and turned in bed nearing the eighth night he was away. And then she noticed him standing in her doorway.