Just a test piece to get an idea for a world.
We watched as they floated down to the ground, large feathery parasols of purple and gold; it was like an ethereal echelon of Mary Poppins, descending slowly between the petrified trees. I had done it myself just months before. Half-consciously swirled into this world, dropping from the sky, unable to process the vast world sprawled out before me. The blackened claws of the skeleton trees stretching out to the shore where lilac waves lapped at a beach made of bones. What kind of person must you be to take that in?
I had died. Everybody had to one way or another; it was just a matter of time. Hard to say whether it was my time or not, whether it was right for me to die then, I guess I’ll never know. All I know is it happened and I had found myself here. It would be an understatement to say that some people were less than happy with this as an afterlife on arrival.
The first of the dazed Mary Poppins batch touched down. Their new legs, unused, collapsed beneath them. Their eyes trying to adjust to the vibrant hues and dark shadows. They mumbled nonsense words with their new tongues; spoke in languages that had long since been forgotten to our ears. One of my fellow observers stepped up to the mark. Brave of them, I thought. They assisted the newcomer, took an arm around their neck and carried them carefully away. We all watched on as the almost translucent skin of the newcomer slowly hardened and became solid. His eyes brimming with fear, confusion and an uncertain sense of melancholy.
I cringed, recalling the same feeling. It was hard to tell how much time had passed since we had all been in the same position. When I had descended, degraded into this form there had been many of us. Probably in the hundreds. Now I counted only twenty. Some of the faces I recognised, some I didn’t, and others covered their faces, possibly so not to scare the newcomers.
As more and more of them landed, the feathery umbrellas wilted and dissipated in a wisp of golden embers. I stood still in the shadow of a tree, watching as some of my fellow dead stepped forward to help the newly dead. Some opted to help more than one of them, others assisted one and left. Very few decided to team up and form a party to take on the hardships ahead. I continued to watch. There were far too many newdead for us to take.
Reverberating in the glittering sky, a crushing scream; a quivering, translucent shadow swooped and sang its discordant song. I’d heard the sound before, all the fellowdead would have. Through the patchy swarm of newdead the sky-shadow swept, clasping at the descending with snapping teeth of vibrant ultra violet. A clot of diaphanous dead hung loosely in its clamped teeth. I hid in the shadows. There was nothing we could do for them now.
Remnants of the newdead fell hard to the floor, either a hard landing, or the beast had snapped away their ghostly parachute. With the hood on my cloak pulled over my head I darted between the withering trees, towards the drop zone. Several women and men lay, collapsed on the floor, their skin stiffening into that pale white solidity.
Now I knew why my fellowdead had stepped up to collect the first landing. How could I choose who would survive, how could I only give that gift to one? I paused, hesitating in the tree line as the shadow creature swooped once more, a set of teeth at the end of its tail snapping and snatching the survivors off the floor.
One man glanced up and reached out one hand, he clawed into the ground and tugged his ill working legs along, scoring his trail into the purple dirt.
It was him.
I burst into the opening just as the monster coiled mid-air and dropped down again. I rolled to avoid the teethtail and slammed awkwardly onto my stomach, my fingers just out of reach of the newdead in front of me. I spun sideways and rolled backwards so I lay next to him; I clambered ungracefully to my knees and wrapped an arm around him. He glanced at me in terror. His eyes questioned this barrage of information, this new world, new faces, new predators. It was a far cry from having to dodge rudeboy racers as you crossed the road near Hackney marshes.
I tugged him to his feet, but he tripped, ungainly. I tumbled with him as his weight pulled me down. We rose time after time, each time clattering back to the dirt. Above us the shadow flapped and sang its banshee sounds, teeth cracked at the ground as the two of us wrestled to our feet.
Eventually we reached the treeline; others hung back in the shadows watching as the last of the newdead were consumed by the shadow creature. Tears stained the cheeks of some of us, others wandered away into the golden glow of fireflies, hanging in the forest depths.
My newdead begun to support himself. He’d need to in the coming days. Glances were exchanged amidst the fellowdead. We dispersed into the undergrowth.