None of them knew what to do when he came into the room. None of them had met him. Everyone else had someone there when they arrived… except for Jacob.
So it was Jacob who went forward. “Hello Zaid.”
Zaid looked up and Jacob felt rather uncomfortable at the sight of Kay’s eyes staring back at him. “Who the hell are you?” Zaid asked then he touched his chest, frowning. “Where… am I?” He began to look around. “You have got to be kidding me. The Nether?! This cannot be the fu–“
“A-hem!” Jacob cleared his throat. “You are in the afterlife.”
Zaid gave Jacob a look of complete suspicion. “And you’re some sort of angel, I suppose?”
“No. I’m your ancestor,” Jacob said.
Zaid folded his arms. “Yeah. Sure.” He felt uneasy though. He did not like this place. A small room, with five strange people. It reminded him of that episode of the Twilight Zone where everyone turned out to be toys.
“I’m your grandmother.” Serenity came forward, unable to stop herself. Zaid studied the bright turquoise eyes that were identical to his Pa’s eyes. “Serenity,” she said. “You were told about me by my little sister. Your Great Aunt Kaylee?”
Zaid backed away, shaking his head. “This… isn’t happening…”
“You died,” said Jacob.
“I know I died,” he snapped. “I am quite aware that I died! But I am not going to spend the rest of eternity in this… room!” He began feeling along the walls for a door. “With strangers,” he added under his breath.
Serenity glared a bit but Jacob held up his hand. “Zaid… you aren’t stuck here. We all have two parts to us. The part stuck here–our normal selves, I suppose–and the other half in the proper Nether. You can go between the two of them. There’s someone there you know. Just… focus… You’ll find yourself in a room suited for you…”
He did not want Zaid to go away but knew that the young man would be of no help until he calmed down, and this was the only way to help.
Zaid wasn’t sure exactly what was being explained to him. He allowed his mind to drift a bit and felt himself go into another place. A room full of… books…?
“This cannot be my ‘suited for me’ room,” Zaid snorted.
“No. It’s mine.”
Zaid turned and stared in disbelief. “Dad?!” He ran over and hugged him tightly. “Dad. No. No. This isn’t real, please this cannot be real, you can’t be dead.”
Specter put his arms around his son, hugging him tightly for a few days. “Unfortunately it is. We’re both… dead.” He grimaced at the word. “Hmph.”
Zaid looked up at him. “It’s my fault–“
“No, it’s not. Don’t dwell on what’s happened. It’ll only make things worse for you. What’s happened has… happened, I guess.” Specter made a face at that.
Zaid could still feel the other room… see the five strangers… his own body sitting on the floor. “Are you split in two, too?” he asked after what felt like (but couldn’t be?) a year.
Specter shook his head. “Not like you, but I know where your other part is. I think they are your family. Two of them have your pa’s eyes, and I’ve seen the one with purple hair with someone who has the same hair color as Chance. I think they’re his parents.”
“You should come back with me.” Zaid took hold of his father’s wrist. “I don’t want to face them by myself.”
Specter pried Zaid’s hand off easily. “I can’t go in that room and…” He hesitated then rubbed between his eyes. “I’m not staying.”
“Uh, Dad? We’re kinda dead. Where are you going to go? A holiday to the sea?”
Specter snorted then pointed at the wall. The wall disappeared and then Zaid could see… life. Earth. What was going on in the place he left. “Look,” Specter said and Zaid looked carefully. Time was passing in a strange way, not quite the same way as in the Nether but not a fluid way as it had been when Zaid was alive…
He saw Max rocking his body, screaming. He saw his body being taken back. He saw Noah falling to his knees at the word of his husband’s death, chest heaving from pain. Zaid wanted to go down and hold Noah, reassure him…
Then the scene shifted. “No, I was watching that!”
“You can watch it later, I need to show you this,” Specter said in a dad-voice. He had control of the remote and that was that.
Now Zaid saw his pa. Chance stared blankly at Vilkas telling him about the death of his husband and his son. Then Chance fainted completely, and after he woke up he was a broken man. He spent a lot of time screaming and crying. When he saw the two bodies he grabbed at them both, begging Zaid and Specter to wake up.
He had to be physically carried back to the house after the funerals, and once in bed he didn’t get out. He didn’t eat.
“He’s wasting away!” Zaid said, enraged and saddened.
“I think a similar thing happened to his dad when his mother died, but I’m not sure. You can ask them. I am going down there.”
Specter put his hands on Zaid’s shoulders. “Listen to me. Your Pa needs me and I don’t want to be here without him anyway. Besides, I’ve more enemies on this side than friends. I’m going back down there to help take care of your pa.”
“And leaving me alone.” Zaid could not prevent the bitterness creeping into his voice.
“You’re not alone. You have your ancestors in that room. I think you should at least talk to them.” Specter then turned Zaid to face a different wall. “And you have someone else, too.”
Then Zaid saw him. Goose.
Before he could run over, Specter turned him back around. “You’re strong. You’ve always been strong. You’ll be fine here.” He rested a hand on top of Zaid’s head for a second. “I’ve always been proud of you.”
They hugged tightly then Specter began fading. Zaid stepped back and watched as his father disappeared from the Nether, forcing his way back down to the earth.
The ghost hunter had become a ghost.
As curious as he was about their reunion, Zaid gave his fathers their privacy. Instead he had his own reunion to attend.
They were in a wooded area. Not like the thick woods Zaid had died in, but sparse trees and lots of flowery bushes. A couch stood among some flowers with a TV and several video game systems.
“Zaid.” Goose held onto him, burying his face into Zaid’s shirt.
Zaid wanted to carry him to that couch and kiss him but then guilt made him pull away. “Goose…” He looked down at his left hand, seeing his wedding band.
Goose’s eyes followed Zaid’s gaze and he smiled, wrapping his fingers around Zaid’s fingers, his thumb touching the ring. “I’m not angry, if that’s what you’re worried about. In fact you were right.”
“I was… right?”
“I was yelling at you from this side.” Goose then smacked him lightly. “I can’t believe you wallowed in depression for that long! I was worried sick!”
“I’m sorry!” Zaid whined. “I loved y–I love you. But, I love Noah too.” He thought it would be weird saying it only it wasn’t.
“I know. I’m not jealous. And don’t feel like you have to stop loving Noah.” Goose went towards the couch and Zaid followed. “You’ll find the afterlife makes this sort of thing easier to accept. There are plenty of people here who had more than one lover in their life.”
Zaid just stood there, not sure how to feel.
“You’ll have time to adjust to it. But right now I think you should go meet your ancestors. I’ve met your grandmother. She’s very interesting, you know.”
“I want to be here with you.”
“You will,” Goose promised. “But I’m not going to talk to you again until you at least meet them.”
“You’re mean,” Zaid said with a smile.
Goose grinned back. “Go. Then come back here, later”
Zaid reluctantly returned to the room. He met his grandmother, great-grandfather, great-great grandmother, great-great-great grandfather, and great-great-great-great grandfather. The whole thing should have made him dizzy but it made sense.
Zaid looked at the five faces, no idea what to say. His ancestors; none of them looked anything like him. But the eyes… he felt as uncomfortable with seeing his pa’s eyes in Serenity and Sebastian as Jacob had been seeing Kay’s eyes in Zaid.
Zaid considered ignoring what he had been asked and just leaving. Instead he asked about the one thing he thought he had in common with any of them, inquiring about his pa from his grandmother. Serenity smiled and began telling Zaid stories about when Chance had been a toddler.
Zaid listened, amused at the thought of his pa as a ghost baby floating through the cribs. “It sounds just like him,” he laughed after a few stories.
More relaxed–though still not completely at ease–he talked to his other relatives for a few years, surprised at how time worked in this strange place. Finally he asked about the room. What exactly it was.
“We don’t know what this room is,” Luna answered. “We just know this is where we five–six, now, are primarily located in the afterlife.”
“We can interact with the others,” Serenity said, wanting to hug her grandson but his body language stated clearly, ‘back off’. “But we’re stuck here.”
Then Jacob talked the most, as the most informed (and the most interested). Eventually he cautiously asked, “What do you see when you look at the walls?”
Calcifer, Luna, Sebastian, and Serenity all held their breath as they waited for Zaid to answer. The lines had sharpened and changed when he entered the room. The lines did not make any more sense to them. But perhaps Zaid was the ‘right’ one that Jacob had been waiting for.
Zaid looked at the walls. At the lines. Thinking.
Finally, “They look like the scribbles Artemis makes when she pretends to write.”
Then because the thought of his baby girl wracked him with sadness he moved to a corner to curl up and move out of the room as best he could. He did not go to Goose, he wasn’t quite ready for that.
Instead he found somewhere quiet to relax and watch Noah and his children while sorting out all his strange feelings.
Back in the room, Jacob returned to watching the lines. He did not feel disappointed that Zaid went off. His descendent knew nobody in the room; at least Serenity had had her grandmother. Zaid didn’t even know his grandmother.
“Will he be all right?” Sebastian asked.
“He will, he just needs some time.”
“The lines make no more sense,” remarked Luna.
“This means Chance will be here.” Serenity looked livid, as she had hoped neither of her children would end up in this place; a silly hope, she knew, but she still had it.
Jacob frowned and reached out to take her hand. “Yes, it looks that way. And then one day…” He looked down at Zaid’s three children–the two Zaid knew about and the one he didn’t–then Zaid’s sister, carrying a fourth child.
“I hope one of them is the right one, I’m sick of being stuck here like this,” Cal grumbled.
“We might not even go free if the ‘right’ one shows up,” Luna challenged her father. “We don’t know if there is a ‘right’ one!”
“There is,” Jacob said with certainty.
One by one the others dropped out into the other place leaving Jacob by himself. He looked over at Zaid’s figure and went over to sit next to him while he studied the lines as he had been for two centuries. Only now he had something else to think about.
For when Zaid came through, the walls shifted in such a way that Jacob could have sworn he saw a face beyond the walls. But that was just ridiculous…