Thoughtfully, I rested my elbow on the windowsill and stared up at the star-filled sky. Even from within Death's house, I could see how immense the sky was. Each star barely created a light. I'd heard them described as pinpricks before, but this description was lacking. The dull, steady light of the stars could only be created by something strong and almost eternal, but very far away.
I wondered if Kristen could see the stars in heaven. Did she see me sitting all alone in a room, thinking about her? I hoped she was happy, and that she wouldn't mind if I didn't devote the rest of my life to grieving for her. There was too much joy in the world to waste my time in grief that benefited no one, and too much pain to imagine Kristen was any different from the other people I would eventually and inevitably lose.
Before that time came, I would have to get to know them. I had to let go of Kristen.
I continued my contemplation of the stars in silence, barely deigning to breathe. The room was silent enough that when the doorknob twisted with a slight "click," I heard it distinctly, and twisted away from the window to see Death standing hesitantly in the doorway. "Are you ready to go?" he asked softly. The look on his face betrayed that he was uncomfortable with the sentence; perhaps he feared he was disturbing something personal.
"Yeah," I replied, rising to my feet and putting as much cheer and bounce to my movements as possible to demonstrate that I wasn't bothered.
I followed Death through his living room and kitchen, and we both paused before we walked out the front door. There, he pulled his hood over his face, once more masking the mark upon his forehead. The old imagine of the Grim Reaper was familiar, but I would have preferred him to continue to expose his face. It made me feel more trusting and friendly toward him.
The walk through the woods was silent but companionable. I thought of Kristen, and asked myself how I would honor her without dedicating my life to grief once more when I got home. I don't know what Death thought about, but I do know the lack of communication wasn't the least bit uncomfortable.
Soon, Death paused in a part of the forest that wasn't particularly noteworthy. Before I could voice a question, he explained, "After this point, we'll probably wander back into the real world. You should go first, so you don't end up invisible and insubstantial again."
I'd almost entirely forgotten about my unique day helping Death. "You're sure I'll be normal again if I go back to the real world alone?" I asked.
"Pretty much," Death answered. "I'll probably go back a little while after you, just to make sure everything worked out all right. Don't worry if you can't see or hear me anymore. When you go back, you'll just be an ordinary person again."
"All right," I said, taking a deep breath. I turned slowly to face the unremarkable forest path before me.
I began to take a first step, but Death halted me, calling, "Good bye. Thank you for spending these last few days with me."
I smiled slightly as I turned to face Death again. "Thank you for helping me come to terms with all that's happened," I responded.
"I'll see you again some day," Death promised, and the rather morbid comment was comforting in a way. No good-bye needed to ever be final, not even a good-bye with Death.
"I'll look forward to it," I lied, secretly hoping many years and decades would pass before I needed to see Death again. "Make sure you let me know how everything is going."
Death didn't respond, and I turned away from him once more to stride forward and away. I closed my eyes so that I wouldn't be tempted to watch my surroundings, and delay the change in my eagerness. Three cautious steps later, I opened my eyes to find that I was standing on a familiar street near the graveyard.
I glanced behind me, aware that I was only a five-minutes' walk from Kristen's grave. I could pay my respects and pick up on where I'd left off. I wouldn't, though. I could honor Kristen's life by living mine, rather than by cutting myself off from the world as I might be tempted to.
I walked forward, toward my home. On the way, I passed Jeremy's house, and took some comfort in knowing that while a moat still sat and stagnated around the house, no fresh waters fed it. If even Kristen's brother could stop crying and move on, I could, too.
As I continued to walk, I passed a bank with a flashing sign out front. It flashed the time, the temperature, and the date, and I was taken aback to discover that the date was the very same on which I'd left home. But how was that possible? I must have spent three days with Death.
For nearly a full minute, I remained rooted to the ground, gaping in amazement at the impossible sign. Finally, I concluded that it wasn't my place to question time, life, and death, particularly when traveling back and forth between worlds. Whatever had happened, it had happened outside of ordinary time.
Confident that I wouldn't need to explain my absence to my parents, I strode forward with new optimism. Indeed, there was something very refreshing at the knowledge that I could grow so much and only lose maybe five minutes of my life. That day would be a new start indeed.
I walked on.