They were all there, at the end, even if it did make the room very crowded. On the bed the dying woman wheezed slightly, her closed eyes flickering open just for the briefest second. Several of the assembled figures looked nervous at that sign, but she only closed her eyes again and wheezed some more.
"What happens?" someone asked in a hushed voice, as though embarrassed to be breaking the sepulchral silence. "I mean, when she…"
"They go to heaven, or so they say," a faintly cultured accent from some western European country could be heard speaking above the thick silence in the room.
"No, I mean, to us…"
"Oh," was all the cultured voice said. It didn't have an answer for her, and neither did the others gathered in the room.
On the bed the woman wheezed in an exceptionally loud breath, then coughed it out again. "Daniel… are you there?"
A man stepped forward, and the crowd parted to let him past. He knelt down by the dying woman's bedside and patted her old, frail hand gently. "I'm here, love. We're all here."
She smiled slightly, still not opening her eyes. "I know. I can feel you there." She chuckled, and it had a raspy and rattling quality to it. "I can feel you all there. But you're not as loud as you usually are. Cat got your tongue?" And she chuckled quietly again. Some of the group smiled, and some chuckled quietly to themselves. Some frowned slightly, thinking the joke in poor taste, and perhaps it was. Daniel smiled slightly.
"Cat's here too, you know."
The woman chuckled again. "She would be."
The old woman did not speak again. It was another hour at least, perhaps two, before she died, but she never again regained consciousness. The man she had called Daniel held her hand until she died, and then he folded them gently upon her breast and stood up.
"So that's that, then," a voice in the crowd said, anonymous, as most voices in crowds are.
"So now what happens?" the first voice wanted to know.
"I suppose we'll find out," Daniel said quietly. They all stared at the dead woman, as though she had the answers, but of course she no longer did. Then again, she had never really had any of the answers in the first place. They had always had the answers to all her questions. She was just the one who wrote them down. The nurses came. They recorded the time of death, prepared the body for burial.
The gathered crowd returned to her house, unsure of what to do next. Somewhere along the way a few of them got lost, and this made the rest shift uneasily about the house, as though fearing that they, too, would be next. Many of them stayed. Daniel took charge of the younger ones, herding them like cats and making sure that they did not make too many alarming noises and startle the rest. He was, after all, the oldest among them.
After a few days the family arrived to take charge of 'the effects.' Daniel rather thought that this was a silly term; weren't they, after all, the effects? Them, and the house, and all the other things. They were all the effects of what she had done over sixty some-odd years. So, he supposed, perhaps the term was correct after all.
They began to pack up her computer, her piles and piles of notebooks and notes. One of them, a young girl, sat down and began to page through them.
"Don't touch those, Meg. That's hard-copy, and it's not very durable." That would be her mother, Daniel thought. She spoke with the absent-minded tone of someone who is used to being obeyed because what she says is correct, of course. Meg ignored her with the usual air of an adolescent who is sure that she knows best.
"Ooohhh!" Meg squealed with delight, which made several of the others look up sharply. Some of them were already beginning to look faded around the edges. "Look!" The girl showed her parents the book excitedly. "It's all the notes for Maelstrom!"
The father blinked a bit. "Aren't you a little young to read Maelstrom?" he asked.
"Oh, horseshit." Daniel looked sharply at the speaker, although Meg hadn't seemed to have heard. "Well, it is. She was writing things more graphic than Maelstrom when she was at least as old as Meg." Daniel hushed the man and turned his attention back to the room.
"Look…" Meg said, holding up several computer disks. "I found these, too."
"Hmm. I wonder what's on them." The mother put the first disk on the stack into the computer, started it up again, and waited. It ran through its routines, and then she pulled up the list of files on the disk. Then her eyes widened.
"What is it, Momma…" Meg leaned over her mother's shoulder. Her father leaned over the other shoulder. "Let me see."
"Oh my…" was all her mother could say.
"That crazy old bat," the father said in an admiring tone, fumbling to put on his glasses. "It's all here! All of it! Fifteen, sixteen… eighteen versions before she finally wrote 'the end' and went on to something else!"
Daniel breathed a sigh of relief he hadn't known he'd been holding in and slumped backwards into a chair. Then he landed on the floor with a thump because the chair was not, in fact, there. Meg did turn around at this, and Daniel glared around the room until it was quiet. Beside Meg, her father went on chattering. "It's all in here… character profiles, story outlines, notes about the worlds she was creating… she wrote everything down! Everything! I don't think she tossed any of it!"
"Dear, shouldn't we keep this private, maybe erase the disks?"
"Are you kidding? This is … this is incredible! And it's all so neatly archived…"
Meg walked very quietly, almost tiptoeing, into the other room while her parents debated back and forth. She knew her father would win anyway, he always did on things like these. She wanted to find out what that thump in the other room had been. The young girl squinted around the room, her eyes adjusting to the dim light. "I know you're in there," she said softly so as not to alarm her parents. "I heard you."
Seline stepped forward, to the shocked and terrified (though some approving) glances of everyone in the room. "Shouldn't you be with your parents?" she asked the girl gently.
Meg's eyes widened. "I know you," she said softly. "You're Seline of the Bear Clan." Seline nodded. "You're in the Outcasts of Deep Glen trilogy." Seline nodded again, and Meg's eyes grew even wider. "But.. what are you doing here?"
"We're all here," she said, gesturing around the room at the assembled figures. "We came to say goodbye to her." No need to specify which 'her' they meant; everyone, including Meg, knew. "So… you've said goodbye. What happens to you now?"
Daniel stood up slowly, sighing heavily. "Well, that's the real question we've all been asking. See, the thing is, we don't really know. Best guess is that if we're not remembered, if our memories died with her, we just fade away."
"It has already begun," said one young man Meg didn't recognize.
Meg's eyes widened. She looked almost afraid. "But… but you're all so… that's not fair!"
The tall, almost elfin blonde man in the corner chuckled. "That happens a lot."
"I mean it," she said with the sort of righteous indigence only a fourteen year old girl could muster. "It's not…" Then she seemed to think of something, and looked back to where her father, having predictably won the argument, was busily packing up disks and notebooks. "But the notes… you're all in there. And I bet some of you that didn't get.. well, you're all in there."
"Well, yes." Daniel agreed. "More than you might believe. But if they don't ever get read, no one will know about them."
Meg looked furious. "Well, that's just…" she stalked into the other room and grabbed the box of disks from her father's startled hands. "That's just… stupid!"
"Meg, honey… it's what she wrote," her father said, utterly confused.
"No, not that… oh, never mind," she told her father exasperatedly, and stalked back into the room with the box clutched to her tiny chest. "I'll write. I'll write and I'll write and I'll write. And somehow, I'll make it all work out."
Daniel stared at Meg with an expression of disbelief warring with amusement. After a long silence he began to chuckle. Then he began to laugh. And then he was leaning back against the wall howling with laughter, with some of the others joining in as they saw the joke and others just staring at the rest of them as though they'd all gone mad. "You know," he said finally, when he could speak again. "You sound so much like your grandmother."
"I'll take that as a compliment, thank you," Meg said waspishly, making Daniel burst into giggles again.
"Yes, I think you might make it work," he said thoughtfully. "You just might."