While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.

-Leonardo da Vinci


The sickening crack of the gun made Emma jump, her heart running away with her confidence. All she could hear was the rush of blood in her slightly deafened ears. The fear was immediate, and real. It sent shivers down her spine, faster than the bullet that pierced its victim.

Screams sliced the humid air and Emma could sense the heavy, thudding footsteps of people running. Everything was blurry – Emma could feel her fear all the way from the tips of her hair, down to the toes of her feet. In the distance, the last notes of a love song were played by a boy with a guitar. Emma's vision focused just long enough so that she could see he looked at her when his song ended. He smiled a sad sort of smile. Maybe he knew her song was ending, too.

Before Emma had time to register any last thoughts, the cold metal of a gun was pressed into the side of her stomach, and… she died.

It wasn't a flash of black, some coldness or numbness. It was everything. Emma was feeling ice sliding down the back of her shirt while watching a dog disappear into a blue sunset, her mother laughing in the background. Seeing a spoon against a neon-green background, with the sharp pain of a pricked finger as she heard music from the music box she'd had when she was little. People were right. Your life really does flash before your eyes as you die.

The final of moments of her life whizzed by and Emma was whisked away into a state nothingness, feeling nothing, seeing nothing, being nowhere. She simply existed. That was all she knew. And at that moment, existing was enough for her.

Emma.

The voice was deep yet high, loud yet soft. At once, Emma knew it was the voice of Death.

Emma, welcome to my land.

She was surprised to hear myself reply in some way: "What is this land?"

The land of the dead.

"Why don't I see anything? How come all I can experience is your voice inside my head – I don't even have a head, do I?"

You see nothing because the realm of Death is made of nothing, everything and anything. You are here because your time has come. You can hear me because I am the ruler of "here", which is meant to be your eternal resting place.

"And do you usually talk to people who've just died?"

No.

The reply was short and simple, giving Emma hardly any information at all.

"So why are you speaking to me?"

Because you are special. You have suffered a fate that seems worse than the worst event of life: death. Like many others before you, you have now left your life behind, and it is time to enjoy the tranquillity of a place free of conflict, greed, jealousy, hate, complications and the other factors of life. But unlike many others before you, I am willing to grant you a second chance.

"A second chance of what?"

Life.

That was yet another short and concise answer. Perhaps Death wasn't a very social fellow.

"Why?"

You, out of every human being who has died, have been chosen to perform a mission. Your reward is a prolonged period of time in which you can live. You will, of course, return here one day, but I will allow you time to finalise your goodbyes, make amends and do everything you haven't done yet.

"You can resurrect the dead?"

Of course. I am the one who renders you dead; I am the one who can bring you back to life.

"Well, then, what's my mission?"

Do you accept your mission?

"I want to know what it is."

One does not negotiate with Death. Do you or do you not accept?

"Er, I accept."

Very well. Details of this task will be given later.

Emma was about to ask exactly how the details would be given, but for some reason she sensed that it wouldn't be wise to do so. So she waited for Death to speak again.

You will wake up in your house alive. Your memory of our talk may come back in a few minutes.

"Okay then. I just have one more question. Am I just having a lucid dream?"

No. I can assure you that this is reality.

"Really? Because if I was awake – or alive – I would think that me having a conversation with you, Death, would be absolutely far-fetched and absurd, but it seems to make perfect sense right now, as do silly theories in dreams."

It was a while before Death answered again.

Why shouldn't this make sense?

"Because… because…"

She struggled to find an answer.

You have been dead for a very short time and still have not grasped the concept of the afterlife. Death is unknown territory to you, and that is why the afterlife would appear "silly" and "absurd".

There was no time for Emma to ask any more questions, for as quickly as she had died, she was alive again.