Bixby Alladocious and the Lady of Life and Death
A Story by Michael DeAngelo
He gasped for air that would not come, and while the rest of his body felt as though it had been wrapped in a cowl of ice, the warmth that trickled down his lip informed him of his fate. There was no getting around it: he was dying.
Crawling as far as he could, he determined that struggling to breathe was a pointless labor. He would use the rest of his energy to lift himself to his backside. If he passed on in that dark and morbid place, he would at least die with some dignity—not on his belly like some gutter rat.
That lack of air soon became more than he could bear, and he opened his lips to try one more raspy breath. There was nothing, though. No sound, no burning in his chest.
The initial pain of that spike tearing through his chest was like a bolt of lightning. It wasn’t something he was unfamiliar with, that shocking agony. But he didn’t expect the damage that had been wrought to be so final. As he reflected on that injury and his shaking hand navigated to the hole in his sternum, he thought that he would have rather endured the lightning.
Perhaps that was just the thought of the unknown, though, he reasoned. The pain had subsided almost immediately. And though he had an impossibly large hole bored into his chest, there was almost a feeling of reverie. While he had failed his quest, there was relief in the finality of it. No one would be disappointed in him; he died trying to help, after all. There was no better way to fail.
He turned his head—or maybe his strength had failed him and he could no longer hold up his own weight—and his sight went down the length of the corridor. The spike withdrew back into the wall, leaving nothing to obscure his view of the golden idol he sought. Though he was sure his eyes were opened wide, he was surprised to see the sudden darkness encroach on his vision.
His time had come, he supposed. Better luck to the next fellow who tried to apprehend the golden statue.
* * * * *
There was almost a new clarity to his sight. There was something sobering about death, for he saw colors more vibrantly, noticed the finer details in the path before him, and was more attuned to the strange oddities around him.
“Wait a minute,” he said. “I thought I died.”
The sound of his own voice startled him, and he looked down at his body, astonished to see that he was unmarred—as though a dastardly spike hadn’t torn right through him.
He couldn’t focus on that for long, though, for another fellow passed him, so close that he could feel the chill aura emanating from him.
“Whoa there, friend. Respect my personal space.”
As soon as he spoke those words, he felt a wave of cold wash over him, more frigid than anything he could recall in his entire life. He nearly spilled to the floor when he saw another person pass through him.
“What in the name of…” he whispered.
“You did die,” he heard beside him. When he turned, he saw a beautiful young woman who wore a mischievous smile. “But that won’t be a problem for you, Bixby Alladocious.”
He arched his eyebrow at the strange woman, surprised to hear his name on so fair a set of lips. “How did you know my name?”
“I’ve been waiting for you for quite a long while, Bixby. Your appearance here was foretold over thirty years ago. Of course, it’s the same with everyone else here.”
“Everyone here was fated to be here since thirty years ago?”
The woman smirked at the fellow. “No. This one was forty-three years ago. That one was twenty-two. That one was just under one hundred years ago!”
“They were fated to die,” Bixby said.
“Since they were born,” she confirmed.
“Isn’t that the same way it is for everyone?”
“Almost everyone,” she clarified. “And even then, not everyone arrives here in the same state. Take you, for instance. You’re here, aware, completely attuned to your surroundings. No one else here has made that mental journey yet. This place is too big to wrap their heads around.”
Bixby spun about, taking in all the odd sights, where an eerie purple sky seemed to wrap itself all the way around wherever they were and a multitude of walkways weaved this way and that like an odd spider’s web.
“And where, pray tell, is here?” he asked. “And for that matter, who, pray tell, are you?”
She smiled at the most recent arrival and extended her fair hand to him. He felt compelled to oblige her. “My name is Adessa, and I am a…helper, of sorts, to some of the people here. As for where we are, it goes by many names. Some call it the final court, some call it purgatory, and some call it limbo. I prefer to call it the Nexus. It’s a world between worlds, where the dead are given a final influence and are ushered to whatever fate they’ve earned in life.
“But you, Bixby,” she cooed. “You are different.”
He looked around at the lost souls who wandered through the place. “I’ll say. I’m much handsomer than any fellow here.”
“And humble, too,” she teased. “There’s more to it than that, though. I’ve taken special care to pay attention to you, because you’ve been given a gift that I’ve yet to encounter in this world or any other.”
“Is it you?” he wondered. “That might make a nice consolation out of this whole dying thing.”
“Poor thing,” she said. “I belong to another. But you may find me to have been a paltry gift compared to what power you have inside of you. Bixby, do you know why you and I can converse like this while all these other dead men and women pass by, not giving either of us a second glance? It’s because your soul is infused with magic the likes of which no one on Tellest has ever seen. It’s impervious, indestructible; it is unprecedented what you can do.
“You can leave this place of your own free will, and your soul will repair the damage done to its body. In some manner of speaking, you are immortal.”
“Immortal?” he asked. “I felt my chest cave open. And you say this is a gift? You mean to tell me I’ll go through that again?”
“Only if you want to,” Adessa revealed. “You can relent and go down to where the master of this domain serves his judgment. Do you think that the life you’ve lived so far has earned you a place in the highest heavens? Or do you yet have work to do?”
Bixby swallowed away the tension that built in his throat. Had he really been as good a person as possible? Could it be said that his life’s work balanced more on the side of light than the side of darkness?
“And what am I to do, exactly, with this impervious soul?”
Adessa smiled at him. “Well, as I said, your soul will begin to repair your body when you are no longer in the Nexus. When the dead arrive here, they enter through what we’ll call a fissure—a doorway into this realm that isn’t apparent to those that are alive. The closest fissure that you’ll find is always the one that is attuned to where you died on Tellest.”
“So, if I go through the nearest fissure, I could resume my quest,” Bixby surmised.
“Or you could choose to give it up entirely. What you do with your life is up to you. I shouldn’t be made to sway you either way.”
He nodded and brought his fingers to his chin. “And how do I find this fissure? I see nothing of the sort.”
“You’re a magician, of sorts,” Adessa ribbed. “Figure it out. Read between the lines. If nothing else, you’ll find that the ether more closely blends into this realm than it does the living world. Since you have the cognizance to use your magic, you could be quite proficient here.”
He nodded and lifted his hand, extending it as though he could feel the energy that pulsed through the Nexus. His fingers swayed in the otherworldly breeze, brushing up against an invisible veil. That shroud was magic made manifest, and it ignited upon his hand. Violet flames danced to life on the ends of his fingers, though they didn’t produce heat. Bixby studied those odd illuminations so intently that he didn’t notice the same colors roaring to life ahead of him.
Adessa gave him a light tap on the shoulder and pointed to the opened rift. “It looks like I did well to put my faith in you.”
Furrowing his brow, Bixby passed a glance at the woman. “So what is in this for you? Why bother telling me any of this? You could have just as easily let me wander in front of whatever judges would send me to what’s next. Why give me another chance?”
A beaming smile was the only reply she gave for a few moments. “Wouldn’t you say that life is a series of gambles? Isn’t it possible that you only get a few opportunities to make a difference—a real difference?”
“Perhaps,” he conceded.
“I was given an opportunity when I learned about you, Bixby Alladocious,” she said. “While I spend much of my time here, Tellest has always had a special place in my heart. I’d like to see it thrive and become the place of providence that I’ve always dreamed it could be. And Bixby, my wager is that you can help it be just that.”
“So your gamble is on me,” he said. “And what if I let you down? What if this gift isn’t all that we’re making it out to be and I fail you?”
“Then I’ve wasted a few decades holding out for a hero,” she replied, that smile still on her face. “There will be another eventually.”
“No pressure, huh?” Bixby mumbled.
“Are you ready to return?” Adessa asked. “It’ll only hurt for a moment, and then you’ll be ready to follow whatever path you desire.”
He exhaled an anxious sigh and stepped forward. “Thank you…for not keeping this to yourself. I’m glad I’ve got another chance to make things right,” he admitted.
“I look forward to meeting you again, Bixby. May this journey have given you wisdom and understanding, and may your extra time on Tellest be used for righteousness, however it is you decide that.”
The magician continued forward and reached into those bright flames. When he felt nothing—no pain, no heat, no sensation at all—he pushed through that fire, and once more, he was left with darkness.