Last few weeks haven’t been that fun. First I was sick, now I just have a lingering cough, then I managed to hurt my back, which is still sore. I’m pretty lucky in that I don’t tend to injure myself badly or get sick all that often, but when it happens it’s super annoying. I’m glad that the sore throat is gone, now if only this damn cough would leave too. It’s isn’t pleasant to have a sore back and a cough.
Oh well, another few days should see me right!
“Welcome to the planet of the dead, please follow me and my instructions. Now, you will all have heard many stories about this place but don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe. You will be experiencing controlled hallucinations, they cannot physically harm you, however it may be emotionally difficult. We have trained therapists in our designated safe zones where you can work through any issues that have arisen. We will leave you in peace during your time here however if it appears as though you have any difficulty, we will move you to a safe zone to ensure that you are ok. Remember, these are not the actual dead, they will seem real, they will talk and behave as they always did, but the hallucination itself will be based entirely on your experiences with the deceased. They cannot tell you the answer to questions if you yourself do not know the answer. There is no limit to how long you stay out of the safe zones once you are eating properly and taking care of yourself, there is however a limit to the amount of time you can stay on the planet, if you have not left after one month you will be removed and banned for a year. Once you leave you cannot return for at least one month, if you return within the next six months you will be interviewed to determine your mental status and if it is safe for you to return. Any questions?”
The group were silent, “Ok, great, if you do have any find a member of staff and they will be more than happy to help you. Your rooms are in the safe zone, we do ask that you sleep there, however it is possible to rent camping equipment to spend a few nights outside. We also ask that you do not go beyond the walls. They are there for your safety and ours. Please remember that this planet has a delicate ecosystem and many predators that you will not be able to fight off. They cannot get over the walls, so you are perfectly safe here, however once you are outside the walls, well, it’s out of our hands and rescue teams do not always manage to find whoever has left. I think that covers everything, if you would like to check in to your rooms, you will then be free to explore. Thank you and I hope you have a wonderful and fulfilling trip.”
Josie watched as the tour guide finished his speech, he seemed to be legitimately excited for them. She didn’t know what to expect during her first visit, she had thought that everyone would be a little sombre, especially considering the name of the planet but everyone was bright and chatty. She planned to stay only five days, she would sort through her issues then leave and be able to move on with her life, like everyone wanted.
The check in was quick and efficient, the whole place was a little unnerving, it was just a regular hotel, nice carpet, friendly staff, soothing colours. Then you looked out the window to see the bright purple sky and the dark red grass and it hit you that you really were on another planet. Josie was new to interplanetary travel, most people couldn’t afford it, hell she wouldn’t be here if her parents hadn’t scraped together the money and bought her a ticket. She had thought she would be excited and nervous, but right now she was mostly exhausted. She opened the door to her room and found that it was small, but big enough for her needs. Everything looked clean and nice. She dumped her bag into the closet and fell backwards onto the bed, it was luxuriously soft and before she knew it she had fallen asleep.
When she woke a green light filled the room, she went to her window and watched the green lights dance across the sky, filled with flecks of yellow and red. It was so beautiful. She had seen the northern lights when she was a child but they were nothing compared to this. After ten minutes she pulled herself away from the window, she was here for a reason.
Josie stood at the edge of the safe zone, designated by thick, white lines. She took a deep breath then stepped over it. Nothing happened. She took another step, then another. She could see people walking all around her, it took her a second to realise that not all of them were there. She turned around and crossed the line again, looking back over half the people had disappeared. She moved out of the safe zone and the people reappeared. Weird. She looked around, wondering what she was supposed to do. Did she go for a walk, would he find her or did she have to seek him out? Then he was there, striding through the crowd, smiling confidently. Derek. Her breath caught in her throat, the world seemed to be shrinking until there was nothing left but him. He reached out and hugged her, she could feel his warmth, his body pressed against hers. He even smelled the same, “How are you doing pet?”
She couldn’t help it, the tears just came and before she knew it she was sobbing in his arms.
It took Josie longer than she would have liked to admit to regain control of herself. Once she had taken a few deep breaths, she pulled away from the hug and looked at him, studied him. He was the exact same. Everything was right. He didn’t say anything, he just let her look.
It had been three days, three wonderful days of saying all the things she had never said, of talking about the things they never got a chance to talk about. It was nice, seeing him again, but she understood the allure of the planet completely. She didn’t want to leave, she didn’t want to leave him. Despite the yearning to stay she felt she was doing pretty well. She hadn’t been approached by anyone asking her to go to a safe zone. She had seen it happen twice, a woman who lay on the ground sobbing as two children told her solemnly that it was her fault and a man who had just sat and stared at a young woman. She had seen the woman again just a few hours before, sitting with the children and playing some game with them. She hadn’t seen the man again.
“I miss our adventures.”
“I do too. Remember when you picked me up from work and we ended up driving to the beach?”
“Yeah, that was a good night, drinking wine and sleeping under the stars.”
“I miss you. I really do. Every day is difficult, but I struggle through it because that’s what you’re supposed to do. I just wish we had more time.”
“We have time here.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Every night I go back to my room to sleep and it’s just so difficult to cross that white line. I don’t want you to disappear. I want to stay with you.”
“I know you do, but you can’t. You have to move on, find someone to love and someone to love you.”
“I don’t know if I can.”
“Of course you can pet, you’re strong and resilient. I always loved that about you.”
She smiled at him, “I dread leaving here you know. Leaving you.”
He kissed her softly, “I know love, but you have to. It’s the only way for you to continue your life. I don’t want you to be stuck pining after me. I want you to live again, I want you to want to live.”
“The spark is just kind of gone since you’ve left, you know? Like I do things because I have to, not because I want to, or because I enjoy it. It’s just mechanical.”
He looked up at the sky, “It’s so beautiful here. I know you think so, and I know you enjoyed it before seeing me. You can enjoy things again. It will just take time.”
“How much time?”
“I don’t know.”
Josie looked away from him, then took a deep breath. She felt like she was going to cry again. She felt warm arms wrapping around her and she leaned back into him.
“How about we go on an adventure, one last time?”
“I’d like that. Where do you think we should go?”
“I don’t know. I could rent some camping gear, we could find a nice quiet spot. Lay out under the stars.”
“It doesn’t seem very adventurous.”
“It’s the best we’re going to get here.”
“Well, there’s always the wall.”
“It would be an adventure.”
“It’s dangerous out there.”
“I know. But we could go out for a few hours. I’m sure you’d be fine.”
“I don’t know.”
“It’ll be fun, like those spontaneous adventures we used to go on.”
He stood up and held out his hand to help her up. Josie stood and looked at him, there was a tinge of sadness around his eyes.
“Is…is that really what I want? To go out there?”
he nodded slowly, solemnly.
Josie looked off into the distance, the wall was a good way off, it would probably take a few hours of walking at least. Maybe if she rented some camping equipment they wouldn’t get suspicious. They didn’t say anything about the wall being guarded. Josie jumped as someone tapped her gently on the shoulder, “Excuse me miss? I think it’s time you went back to a safe zone, just for a little bit.”
The woman looked almost apologetic, Josie nodded and looked at Derek, he nodded once. Before she even knew it was going to happen she started to cry, great heaving sobs, she threw herself at the woman who held onto her tightly. After a few minutes they started to walk, slowly at first, the woman providing support. She stopped at the white line and turned, through the tears she could see Derek, trailing after them. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be pet, it’s for the best. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
She stepped over the line and he was gone.