The light was bright.
The soldier wanted to be in it.
They left him alone and put his body in a big brown box. The soldier saw this from where he stood, swallowing hard and making sure his mind was ready to accept the consequences of his actions. Everything was so bright, it hurt his eyes.
A man walked into the room. This was not Death. Death did not wear robes; did not have purple eyes. Death was nobody’s business; nothing else was nobody’s business. His eyes were wide and afraid. His heart was lit with a gentleness that couldn’t be described. His mind was calm. He was forced to think about different things.
“You can’t leave,” the man said, weeping.
The soldier put his arm out to touch him. His hands went right through him. “Well,” he declared. “I’m dead.”
The man chuckled and nodded. “You were tortured when you were alive, forced to do something you didn’t want to,” he said. “Now, how do you feel?”
He was having conversations with a Shadow. One of the Shadowmen. They rose from the depths of the night and overtook the dawn; light spilling onto the grass. Gosh, the light was bright. Brighter than anything. “I don’t know,” he said at last. “I want to yell. I want to run. I want to jump and play. I saw the light. There is much work to be done.”
“That is why I stay,” he replied. “I stay here, hoping for something else that isn’t what I am. Hoping for a glimpse of redemption; a glimmer of peace. I go around, and speak to others who have the Noise-this is what they call those who are wicked.”
“The ones who see the dead?” he asked patiently.
“I have so many questions.”
“I know,” he replied, honestly.
“Are you always looking?”
He was startled. Shadowmen never got startled. They just were. “Looking for?” he pressed.
He shrugged. “Things, ideas,” he replied. “Nothing that I know about. Nothing tangible, nothing real.”
“What is real?”
“The sky. That is all.”
“Are you almost ready?”
The soldier smiled. His eyes crinkled. “Almost,” he answered harshly.
The white wizard stood over the soldier’s grave. His shadow overtook the entire length of it, and his mouth twisted in a snarl. “I tried,” he told him. “I tried, Harry Barrow, I really did. I tried to bring peace and prosperity; all I could bring was chaos.” His face was shiny with tears.
The wind picked up. He looked up at the sun, his eyes still shining, and something dark crawled across the sun and everything shimmered in a weird, shimmery haze. The white wizard had never seen anything like it before in all of his life.
A soldier appeared in front of him. He said, “It’s Harry.”
The white wizard swallowed hard and reached out to touch him. His hand went right through him. “Hello,” he said. He let his hands dangle to his sides. “Sorry, Harry, but you’re dead.”
“I know,” the soldier replied. “They told me after I went into the light.”
“How is it?” Ellerhynwyn asked. He cocked his head to look at him.
He shrugged, bored. “No difference from being alive,” he answered. “The only difference is, we don’t have to eat a damn thing-it’s not mandatory.” He chuckled. “I can make a pretty mean soufflé, though.”
Ellerhynwyn nodded. “I bet you can. You feel weird about death?”
“No. I felt more weird about life. Being a soldier taught me to appreciate life. To live again. I thought I would never live again.”
“Because of what?”
“Because of things I couldn’t change. Because of whatever was happening in the world. The darkness. The evil. I can see the relics from here. They’re not so tough; they were Merlin’s, that much is for certain.”
Ellerhynwyn smiled. “We wondered about that,” he said. “Goodbye, soldier.”
The man shimmered once, again; and disappeared.
The sun was high in the sky. Everything had color around it. Everything was beautiful. Ellerhynwyn felt like magic.