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The Ladder To Next

Summary

I never thought I would die at such a young age. I never thought that in the end this is where I would be. The saying "life flashes before our eyes" when we die, is true. And right now, there is nothing I can do about it. I can’t plead, I can’t beg, I just sit here until the guard comes into my cell. 

****

"Climb the ladder to Next," says a male voice. I turn around instantly to the voice. This man Is very polished, all dressed in white, with white blonde hair. His voice sounds so sweet and soft. He smiles at me. He motions me to a ladder that gets lost in the clouds.

"Am I dead?" I ask. My voice barely audible to me, but he seems to hear me.

The Beginning Of The End

    Ella Walters

    

    I never thought I would die at such a young age. I never thought that in the end this is where I would be. The saying life flashes before our eyes when we die is true. And right now, there is nothing I can do about it. I can’t plead, I can’t beg, I just sit here until the guard comes into my cell. 

    I remember what my mom had once said to me. You can’t run from death. It’s anywhere and everywhere. She told me this because, once, I was afraid of dying, but I’m not right now. I refuse to be.

    Even though I’ve given up hope, I’m still wondering what’s left. The answer is clearly right in front of me. Nothing. But that's okay. It least that’s what's I tell myself. 

    If my mom was still sane she would tell me to be brave, but she’s not here. From the last time I saw her, she might as well, be dead.

    It’s a long story on how I got here and a short story on how it will end.    

                    

                            ********

 

I’m looking into the eyes of a monster. Well, he's not actually a monster, just someone who wants me dead. And why that is, I have no clue. But this man killed my father and now he's going to kill me.

    My life has been tough and there were times I wanted to give up, but I held on. That is what I'm trying to do right now. Hold on to what I have. But I'm struggling now more than ever to stay positive. To stay strong. Maybe because deep down I know it's too late. I'm going to die, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. This is where my recklessness gets me. 

    Some part of me wishes for a way to deal with what’s going on. A way to deal with the life I'm losing.

    There are certain things I think of at this moment.  For some reason I can't help but think of my life. I think about how hard it's been and how much I've overcome. My sister's death, my father's death, being taken away from my mom, and then this moment right here. 

    Dying.

    I look into this mans eyes. I'm hoping I'll see a flicker of hope. Maybe he'll give me a chance to have hope. That's what I want before I die. But I look him in the eyes and I know he won't give me any. The hope I want has been long gone. It's washed away. I'll never see it again.

    He saunters forward and that's when the thoughts really start going, the bad thoughts. Probably hoping that somewhere in those memories there will be answers on how to get through this, just like I did all the other hard times of my life.

Flashbacks

 Ella Walters

 

Flashback 1

    "Ella wake up," I hear my mom's voice. She seems urgent, but I have no clue why. I'm too tired to open my eyes, so I keep them closed. “Ella!" my mom screams. I'm still too tired to wake up. She shakes me and again yells, “ELLA!" I jolt awake, propping myself up on my elbows.

     Something's wrong. I can see it from the desperate look in my mother’s eyes. 

    "What," I spit. That was surely a mistake, but I don’t want to deal with another one of my mom’s lectures on whatever I did wrong. I'm tired and I have no clue what's going on. All I can think of is sleeping. But I need to be aware of what's going on and by the looks of it, it’s more important then her every other day lectures. 

    "Where's Zoya?" My mother asks. Zoya. My little sister. She looks just like my mom and I. Short dark hair, fair skin, big round and dark eyes.

    "Um, I don't know." I state, bewildered.

    "Well, she's missing," says my mom. 

    She sounds frustrated and for a moment I wonder if this is my fault, but I push the thought away. I’ve done nothing wrong. Right?

    “The front door was open. She’s—” My mom hesitates as if it hurts to say the next thing that's coming out of her mouth. "She's gone." What does my mom mean she's missing? She can't be gone, I put her to bed, she was fast asleep.

    "What?" I don't know why I say it, I don't want to understand, it will hurt too much. Leave it to me to avoid facing the truth. I've always been like that. I feel that it's too hard to face the truth so why not walk the other way, but this time there's no going back. I made this mess, and my mom won't let me go without facing it.

    "I'm going to call the cops. You just...  stay out of the way." She walks away into the kitchen and calls the cops. I sit there and stare into nothing, shocked at what I've just heard, at my failure in making sure my little sister was safe. I can't believe this. I'm such an idiot. My sisters gone, because I was reckless.

    I sit there and think about what I've just done, tears, welling up in my eyes. My mom used to tell me to do this when I was little. She would say, "Sit in the corner and think about what you've just done." I do exactly that right now.

    The guilt builds and builds as I wait for my mom to return. Soon I feel lonely. I wonder if this is how I will feel if my sister never shows. Alone, sad, and empty. I don't think I could live with myself if I felt like that.

    A short amount of time goes by and my mom saunters into my bedroom.
    "Are they coming?" I ask.

    "Yes," she says in a voice barely audible. That all I hear from her the rest of     the night.

                       ********

    

The cops had arrived later on, asking all of our neighbors if there had been any sign of Zoya. Every answer was the same. There was no sign of her anywhere. They asked questions about her height, looks, and what she was wearing.

    They stayed overnight and then the next morning. More and more crews came to search. A few days went by and then a week. After a month people started giving up hope. Zoya was no where to be found.

    I know how hard things have been for my mother since the death of my father, getting killed at war, and now she is all on her own. I feel like I’ve made things even more complicated. I feel like what ever comes at me next I deserve.

 

 

Flashback 2

    It's been two months since my sister had been reported missing. Ever since then life at home has been silent. Too silent. I get up, go to school, come home, eat dinner, and then go to my room.

    I still go on doing my chores and taking care of things my mom can't seem to do. She's been in a kind of blank state lately. I try to start conversations with her, but it's useless, she never speaks. The only words I hear from her are, "Time to get up."

    Every night is the same. We sit and eat supper in silence. I do my homework and go to bed. This is the way it has been ever since Zoya went missing.

    Every time the doorbell rings my mother rushes to get it, in hope of it being my sister. She's expecting news. I guess everyone around us is. They want to know if they, too, should be scared that a kidnapper could be loose. But it's never about my sister.

    I'm halfway through a meal that my mom made. She looks at her plate and stares. At what? I have no clue. But I should be used to it. This is how she is every meal.

    "This is really good," I try. Why do I even bother?

    My mother doesn't say anything. She just looks at her plate and starts to eat her food slowly. I sit there and go back to work at my food. I'm almost done when the doorbell rings.

    "I'll get," I say, trying to be helpful.

    "No, stay." That's six words today. More than I've gotten any other day this week. She runs out of the kitchen and down towards the door. I Hear it open and try to listen into the conversation, but since I'm told to stay here, it's hard for me to hear, and I don't want to make her even more upset.

    "Kate—" I hear them say my mom's name. I get up and move closer to the stairs, but I still can't hear everything clearly.

    “Yes—”

    "Identify—"

    "Body—"

    "Up—"

    "Station—"

    "Take a look—"

    "Okay—"

    I hear my mom coming back up the stairs. I quickly run back into the kitchen and sit in the chair, stirring my food around my plate. When my mom comes back up to the dining room she looks tense. She looks at me and says, "Come with me. We're going to the hospital." I don't need to ask why; I know it's my sister they think they've found. I just follow my mom out the door and stay silent.

                    

                               *******

    

The ride to the hospital is silent just the way I wanted it. I won't know what to say if it's Zoya's body.  I will never be able to look at my mom again. I can already tell she won't forgive me. I mean Zoya's not even dead and my mom is already giving me the cold shoulder. What will it be like if she is dead? I don't want to know, but I have a feeling I will pretty soon.

    We reach the hospital and park the car. My mom races out of the car, running into the hospital. I run to catch up with her, but stay a few feet behind her, trying to keep our distance. 

    We meet the cops inside and they take us down to the morgue. It’s cold, dark and eerie. Some place I would never want to be, but here I am.

    The officer stops at a door and says, gesturing towards my mom, "You should come in first." And then he turns to me and says, "Just wait out here."

    "Okay," I mumble, obeying him and leaning against the wall near the door.

The other officers stay with me while my mom gets taken into the room. I stand there for a couple seconds and it's not long until I hear a sound that seems to be in-between a scream and a sob.

    I push past the officers that block the doorway and rush into the room to find my mother crying on the floor. Zoya's gone, I don't even need to look. I just know she is. I look at the table to find Zoya's body laying there. Her body is covered up all the way to her neck. I can see dirt on her face. I wonder if she had fallen running from someone. There is a big scratch, going all way down from her to head to her neck. I can't look at her anymore. The guilt I feel is overwhelming. It's my fault she ended up like this and I will never be forgiven.

    I bend down to comfort my mom, but she pushes me away. "I don't want anything to do with you," she cries. "I don't care what happens to you. I trusted you to watch her. And this is what I’m left with. I don't have enough words to describe what you have done." Her words tear into my heart. “Stupid girl,” I hear her my mother mumble.

    I stare at my mom with tears rolling down my cheeks. "I'm so sorry." There's not much more to say. I bend down and lay my hand on my mother’s shoulder. She immediately pushes me away.

    "GET OUT!" My mom screams, pushing at me.

    There's no point in fighting it. I walk out and run back to the lobby. I think of staying and waiting up here, but I realize that I can't face my mom. I can never face my mom and I don't want to. I'm terrified of her right now. I'm terrified of what I've done. No one will understand it's an accident. So instead I run out the doors and towards anywhere that's away from where my little sister's corpse lies, knowing eventually I will have to come back home.

 

Flashback 3

    It's been ten months since the death of my sister, and instead of my mom becoming a monster she's become an unstable mother, she delirious. I haven't yet decided which is worse. Sometimes I try to talk to her, but all she ever does is stare at, who knows what, nothing and everything. I try to do things for her, but she pushes me away. It sometimes feels like our old relationship, but it's worse. I try to make the best of things, but I can't decide how to react to certain things.

    I have no clue what's next and I don’t want to know either.

    I usually go to the park after school, but today it looks like it's going to rain. And that just shoots my mood through the drain. Everyday, through the last six months, I've gone to the park. It's the only place that's peaceful enough for me to think. I usually think about my life and what's going to happen next. Whatever happens next, can't be good. It seems to me that I have bad karma.

    I head home, walking slowly, hoping for a slight drizzle to calm me. I look around at the buildings and homes. Some of them look all torn up and others look brand new. There's a little shopping mart on the street next to my house that a lot of kids come in to get a fountain soda. Its fine if you like Pepsi, Sprite, or Root Beer, but if you're like me, and don't like any of them, you're out of luck.

    I decide to stop and go inside the mart. Its just another way for me to stall time before I have to go back home. I go inside and the place is trash. Its so old, that the walls look like they are crumbling, and the ceiling doesn't look like it can hold itself for very much longer. But this doesn't matter to me.

    The first person I see is Jerry Fredeil, the owner of this place, standing behind the register. He's old and only has hair on the sides of his head. His hands are usually rough form work. He's always trying to fix the mart up.

    "Hey, Ella. How you've been holding up?" Jerry asks politely.

    "Just fine." I say blankly.

    "How's your mother?" My mother and him go way back. They used to date in High School, until my mom broke his heart and left him, but after all of that, Jerry has still always cared about my mother.

    "It's been rough," I say. It pretty much covers it all.

    He looks back at me and says, "If you need anything just ask."

    "Alright."

    I decide to take a look around just to be nice, but then a group of teenagers that have been taunting me about my sister, come in.

    I look at Jerry, "I'm going to go."

    He looks at me with understanding. "Go on, I'll catch you later."

    I walk outside, the wind has picked up, and rain clouds lumber high above. I'm close to home so I don't have to worry about getting drenched in rain. I walk quickly home, and step inside the house.

    That night as rain pelts the windows and lightning illuminates skeleton branches I lay there thinking about all sorts of things. I stayed up all night because I had a horrible feeling that something bad, again, was going to happen. And something bad did happen. Something way out of my control.

                    

                              ********

    

A white van and a small black car, is sitting outside my driveway.  My mother wakes me up and says, “They’re here for you.”

    “What.” 

    She doesn't respond.

    I walk out into the living room and notice a man and a woman, standing near the door. 

    “Child services,” my mom says to me. Her voice has no feeling. She turns around and walks back to her room. My mother has lost it. She’s gone, and by the looks of it, she will not be returning and neither will I.

 

Flash Back 4

    My new foster home was horrible. I've been here for one month and I'm still not used to it. Sleeping in a new bed, eating breakfast by myself. I usually never see the people who live here, and I'm pretty sure they never see me. I guess they're always busy or have important jobs, but they don't seem to care much about me. Most of my time was spent by myself. I traveled to different areas of the house, exploring, but I am always disappointed when, after searching every room, I'm still left alone.

    I go to the same school as I went to when living at my mom's house. Only because I live in the same town. My mom's house is only ten minutes away when walking.

    I'm always tempted to go visit her, but I never do. I think today I will. Its a bright sunny day and the sky has big white puffy clouds in it. There's a little bit of a heavy breeze, so I'll need a jacket. It seems like the perfect day, I feel that absolutely nothing could go wrong, but I don't know how the visit with my mom will go.

    I walk into the hallway and go to the coat closet to get me a jacket. I put it on and just stand there for a moment. I wonder if this is even okay for me to do. I don't know so I won't tell them exactly where I'm going.

    "I'm going out," I say. I wait a few seconds for an answer, but I’m slightly disappointed when I don't hear one. I wonder if I should leave them a note. I soon decide against that because they don't seem to care, so why should I.

    I walk outside and the wind hits my face. I don't mind it, because it feels good. I walk the only way I know, towards my moms. I don't notice much of anything I walk by. My mind is in another place.

    In what feels like no time, I reach my moms. I walk closer just taking it in.         This is home. This is where I'm supposed to be. I'm not supposed to be in some lonely home, where no one is there to take care of me. That life wasn't mean for me. I know somewhere in my mom she's still that person who would laugh and push my sister and I on swing sets. I just have to find her.

    I knock on the door, but no one answers. I try the doorknob and it opens. I walk inside breathing in the air, but it doesn't' smell like home. It reeks in here. When I lived here, it was all lemony and crisp.

    "Mom," I say. I don't hear an answer.

    I walk up the stairs and down the hall into her room. It smells like alcohol and here and there are beer bottles all over the floor. I walk into the bathroom that's connected to the room to find my mom kneeling over a toilet bowl, hurling. She still has a hold of a beer bottle.

    I'm confused on what to say to her. I wasn't prepared for this. I know when I left her she was bad, but this is different. This is almost as if she had stopped living. She might as well be dead.

    "Mom, its me." I walk over the threshold of the bathroom and fumble with a button on my jacket. 

    "Oh, Zoya, your back." Her head turns upwards from the toilet bowl and she looks at me, smiles, her eyes are half closed. She tries to get up, but her legs won't hold her.

    "No mom, it's me, Ella." I move forward and grab her elbows, helping her stand.

    "No, your Zoya." Her breath reeks of vomit and liquor. "I just saw you yesterday, you helped me get into bed." I have no clue who she's talking about. Maybe its Jerry, or maybe she's just delirious. Why does she think Zoya's me?     Maybe she's lost it so bad that she can't remember things. What if she can't remember me?

    "No mom, its me, your other daughter, Ella." I've gotten her to her feet and start walking her to her bed.

    Her eyes open wider as she asses me, then I see fire ignite in her eyes. I'm not ready for what comes next.

    "You," she spits shoving away from me and stumbling backwards. "Get out of my house. I got rid of you remember? I want nothing to do with you. Get out!"

    "Mom, I'm here to help you, I'm go—" She cuts me off, swaying slightly and holding her drunken head up so that she looks devilish. Her hair is matted and her eyes are sunken.

    "I don't want your help, you murderer. I want nothing to do with you." I don't see the beer bottle in time to duck. It hits my head and I fall backwards as I feel pain somewhere above my eyebrow.

    "Mom!" I scream. I can't take this anymore, I can't do it. "I give up, I give up!" I yell.

    My mom looks at me and says. "It's about time. I knew you were weak. You can't handle anything. Look what happened to you, your falling apart, and with a life like yours, you're never going to make it. There is no happy ending for you. People like you and me that go through these things and never last very long." Her smile is horrible... yellowed and filled with mocking hate.

    I can't handle it anymore. I pick up the beer bottle and throw it in her direction, anger flaring deep inside me. I see her fall to the ground, but I don't stop to help her. I run out of the house and down the street, cut thought the woods and run as far and as fast as I can.

 

 

Flashback 5

    The cops found me after three days. Turns out my knew foster parents cared about me enough to know I was missing. 

    They decided it wasn't working for me with the other foster family so they moved me to a different foster home. I've been to three different foster homes in the last month and a half, and now I'm on my fourth. I guarantee you I won't last long here either. I'm already leaving this place without their permission.

    I'm already packing and this time for good. This family I have is abusive and I'm not going to put up with it anymore. I have bruises all over from them. I'm supposed to be homeschooled, but I don't learn anything, because they're not there to teach me. So I've had it with this family too.

    I've been preparing for this day for two weeks. They're lucky I've even lasted this long. Most of the other families had me for less than that. I have a good idea of where I'm going to go.

    My dad has a memorial sight of him in Syria; the place he died. We got notified of it at his funeral. It was to show their respect. That's where I'm going. I have everything I need to get there. I have a whole bunch of money and I don't care how I got it.

    They're never going to catch me. I don't care what happens on from here. I'm done playing sweet girl, because look at where that's got me. This is my life and I'm not going to have someone else ruin it.

    I finish packing my things and open my bedroom window. I push the bag out and look at my room. My room is small with just a bed and a dresser. This place is not something I will miss.

    I decide to write them a quick note. Once I write it, I examine it. It says:

                      

                    Screw you guys. I hope you have fun 

                      messing up the next one's life. I feel

                            sorry for them already.

                                  Sincerely,

                                   Ella

    

    I think the sincerely is a nice touch to my defiance. I put it on my bed, and walk towards the window. I put my legs out and slide down the side of the house.

    I look in my bag just to make sure the money is secured. It is. It's time to move on now. I look back at the house. "It's time to move on, it's time to move on, it's time to move on," I say over and over in my head, forcing myself to believe it as I walk away from here. And eventually I do.

 

Flashback 6

    I've been missing for three months. I was living out in the wilderness until two days ago. I'm getting ready to head on the plane to Syria. Once I'm in Syria I won't have this problem of having to hide, because no one will know me.

    I had my identity changed, a fake ID and a fake passport with extra money so I could buy my plane ticket and whatever else I need. My hair is now blonde and my face is covered in so much makeup, no one will notice me.

    I'm at the airport and I'm sitting in the area of seats near my gate. I can't help but think I'm almost free from everything. I can finally live my life in peace. I sit, looking around until something on the TV catches my attention. Its a newscast about me, I listen in trying to look like I don’t care too much. It says:

    "A young girl named Ella Walters went missing three months ago. She had run away from Ronda, Oklahoma. She is approximately five feet, eight inches, and one hundred thirty pounds. Her latest foster family is in prison for abuse to more than one foster child. If anyone knows anything about Ella Walters or the situation with the Ron and Debra Block, her last foster family, please contact this number on the screen," says the woman carefully. A number fills the screen and I shake my head, No one'll need that number. I think snidely. 

    "Imagine how scared she must be," says a man a few feet away. I stop listening and look at the man.

    “You think, she’s scared?” I ask.

    “I know she’s scared.” He looks at me, examining something.

    “Your wrong,” I state, confidently.

    “How can you be so sure?” 

    “I just am,” I say getting up and sitting in another section near my gate.

     I’m not scared?  Though I do feel satisfaction? Who would've guessed that foster family would be in jail. I am so pleased with myself. I can't believe how much better things have become now that I’m on my own. I let myself grin.

    I sit and think until they call my gate number. Once they do, I walk quickly on. I notice one of the flight attendants give me a weird look. The bolder the move, the better, I think. I smile and wave at him, and then walk on towards freedom.

 

 

 

 

Flashback 7

    I'm in Syria right now, I've been here for two days. I had no idea that there was a war going on. To be truthful, I'm a little scared right now. Only because I got that bad feeling in my stomach, like I use to get all the time.

    Syria is a beautiful place. It's different and unique at the same time, nothing like America. I walk for what seems like forever, and finally reach the memorial. It's right in the middle of a square. I guess to show it off to the rest of Syria, but even when I think of it like that it doesn’t make sense.

    I stand there for awhile and then sit down. I feel like I should say something to my father. It would help me feel closure. So I say it all in my mind, hoping it reaches him, wherever he's at.

    "Dad, so much has happened since you've been gone. I can't believe how much I've changed. I hope you can help mom in any way possible, she really needs your help." I suck in a shaky breath and look towards the statue with tears in my eyes and continue, with tears rolling down my cheeks. "Dad, I just want to say I'm sorry, and I hope you can forgive me. I love you so much. I really wish you were here right now, you'd know exactly what to do. I can't wait to meet you again. I know that's bad to wish I was dead, but you don't understand what's happened since you've left, since Zoya's left. I hope you can—"

    My thoughts are interrupted by a light tapping on my shoulder. 

    "Yes?" I ask as I turn around. It's a solider. I can't tell what side he's from, he looks like a Syrian solider, but he seems nice so it couldn't hurt.

    "Do you know this man?" His voice is deep and kind but I tell myself, "don't trust anyone, don't let anyone know your feelings." My mom use to tell me that's no way to live a life, but I say if you want to survive and never get hurt, you must live that way.

    "Uh, yes. He was my father." I look him up and down- green eyes, assault rifle slung over his right shoulder, fatigues and combat boots summing up his outfit and bedraggled hair, brown.

    "Oh," is all he says and then he walks away.

    That was strange. I try to relax and finish my thoughts, but after sitting there for the next couple minutes I can't. I feel as if eyes are watching me. I turn around and find a group of soldiers, staring me down. Definitely Syrian soldiers.

    I quickly get up and start walking, but they follow me. I walk faster, pushing my feet hard into the concrete, trying to find an escape route, but soon they're on my heels. I break out into a run, pounding my feet into the concrete like a bull chasing its victim, my feet slapping against the pavement in quick succession when suddenly, my feet leave the Earth and strong arms find my frail ones. It all happened too fast. I wasn't prepared. I'm not ready for this. What's next?     

    I'll be a prisoner, I think.

     

Dying

Ella Walters

 

    The thoughts and memories finally stop. None of these things are something I wanted to think of before I die, but I can't help it. This is how my life got so wrong and this is where it ends.

    They have us all on our knees, with a solider behind us holding our arms back. There's a soldier a couple yards in front of us holding a gun. Each person has a gun pointed at them.

    This is it, this is how I die. I remember what my mom said. "There is no happy ending for you. People like you and me, go through these things, and never last very long." For the moment I feel that she's right, this is how it was meant to be, but deep down I feel that she's wrong. This is not how it was meant to be.

    I take a look around and look at the other prisoners. These are people who have done nothing wrong. They're killing too many of us. Their lives are being taken away, for no apparent reason. I see the look of fear in most of their eyes. I can't help but feel sorry for them. But I can't go that way, scared and helpless. I can't give these soldiers any satisfaction. I'll smile when I die. Show them that they can't rule me. This is the way I will go. I don't see any way to deal with this or to get over it.

    I look forward again. How will I smile when the truth is that I have the same feelings as all the other people? I have to be brave, but how?

    One of the guards yells a command. And all guns go facing towards us. The guy pointing his gun at me smiles. How can anybody be happy about killing someone?     Then I think, these people are not like us. They're the enemy, not me. Another command is said. This is it, I think. Smile, smile, smile. But instead of smiling, I cringe. I wait and wait, but nothing happens. I open my eyes. 

    "Where am I?" I think.

                    

 

Next

Ella Walters

 

     I stand up and the first thing I notice is a clear pearl puddle. I look at it and see myself in there, but instead of my blonde hair and horrible makeup, I have my shoulder length brown hair and fair face. I keep looking at the puddle. This can't be real; it just can't be. I look up to find myself in a field. There's a whole bunch of fog off in the distance. What is this place, I wonder?

    "Climb the ladder to Next," says a male voice. I turn around instantly to the voice. This man Is very polished, all dressed in white, with white blonde hair. His voice sounds so sweet and soft. He smiles at me. He motions me to a ladder that gets lost in the clouds.

    "Am I dead?" I ask. My voice barely audible to me, but he seems to hear me.

    "Yes," he says.

    "I don't remember dying.”

    "You never do. Your instantly get transported here. Once its official that you're going to die your soul is brought here and your body is left wherever you died."

    "So this isn't really my body, it's my soul?"

    "Yes."

    "I look the same and I can feel my bones."

    "Yes you do. You want to recognize yourself and be yourself, don't you?

    "Yeah,"

    'Well, we do this for everyone."

    "Where am I?"

    "Your in After. A place you go once you die. You have to climb the ladder to Next.

    "Why?"

    "You can't stay and After forever. There are more people waiting to come through." He lets out a little laugh, almost like it's obvious.

    “Why?" 

    "This is a waiting place. After is not a place you can stay. Even if you did, you would get pretty lonely." He looks at me an I look back. He seems so nice, it shouldn't be a problem going up the ladder to Next. But I don't know if I can trust him or what's going on right now. All of this seems impossible.

    "What's Next?" I should at least know what it is, right?

    "Your destination for after you die. It's beautiful up there. There's nothing to be afraid of."

    I'm a little nervous, but I really don't want to stay here with all the fog. Its kind of dull. And besides this guy is freaking me out. He seems too perfect. I should trust him. Like he said there is nothing to be afraid of.

    "Alright, I'll go up."

    "Good luck," he says.

    I grab a hold of the ladder. I notice that ladder is pure Gold. I had only seen real gold when looking at my mom's weeding ring.

    I start climbing. I climb for what seems like hours, but I don't get tired. I feel a nice    breeze as I get higher up. My head peaks though clouds and I notice how beautiful Next is. It has fountains and gardens, shopping centers, restaurants, and animals of all kinds just lying around. When I look up I see the sky, a light blue and clouds that are white. There is no ceiling or anything. It's all so beautiful.

    "Welcome to Next," says a voice. I look up at an old man. He smiles down at me. "Enjoying the view?"

    "Yes," I say. He helps me climb the rest of the way up. "It's beautiful," I say.

    "Sure is. I've been here for ten years, and it's never gotten old." He looks at me and smiles. "Follow me," he says.

    I follow him. We walk past candy stores, little shops, a place called animal kingdom, restaurants with every food imaginable, amusement parks. The list go's on and on. This is breathtaking. I've never been in a place so bright and cheery. I look around and all I see is people laughing and talking and having a good time. I wonder if my dad and sister are here. If they are, I can't wait to see them.

    The man leads me to a place filled with rooms of all sizes. He stops at a door and takes out a card slides it through the door. "You're officially in. Get some rest, you have your meeting tomorrow."

    "Meeting?" I ask.

    "Yes, to a clarify things for you and so you can make your choice."

    "What choice?"

    "I can't tell ya, kid. I'm sorry, but you'll find out everything you need to know tomorrow. Just get some rest.'

    "What's your name?"

    "Why do you ask?”

    "I don't know anybody here and I just want to meet people."

    "My name is Barry.” He smiles softly and pats me on the shoulder.

    "Oh, thank you."

    "No problem. Anything I can do to help. Oh... and if you need anything, just wish for it" He walks away leaving me alone. I'm left with a loneliness, that I can't explain. I walk in my room, and close the door behind me. I look around. It's all white. I have a bed, desk, dresser, closet, and a bookshelf with all my books on it from my moms' house. I walk further into the room to find a bathroom and a small kitchen. I'm too tired to do anything now, so I get into bed, close my eyes and wish for my family.

    

                        ********

    

When I wake up I'm no longer in my room. I'm in a room where about twelve people are sitting at a table and staring at me. It's all white in here. I get up off my bed an it soon disappears.

    “Finally, we can get started now" Says a woman, with long dark hair pulled into a pony. She's young, probably about in her late twenties early thirties. They don't waste time. They start right away.

    "We have examined your life" the lady goes on, "and we have noticed that you had a rough time ever since your sister went missing. Most people with your life type become counselors. Now based on your life is how we pick your job. If you became a social worker, you could help people that are having a rough time getting used to Next or are still having trouble with traumatized memories. It could be very useful for you too. Your life isn't something we come across all the time. You've had a lot of bumps and you were very lost. Your death was brutal and was something you should have not had experience. But if you became a social worker you could help people just like you and that could be very useful and good for you."

    The thought of being a counselor and listening to people depressing lives just depresses me. Who would want that. I already have to think of my life and that's enough. I was hoping to get a fun job.

    "There must be something else," I say.

    “There is something, but we feel if we tell you, it would be hard for you to decide."

    "Well what is it?"

    The woman sighs as if it hurts to go on. "We do have one other option for you. This is an option we give everyone. Not many people take it, but the choice is yours. You have the opportunity to live another life, as in you could be reincarnated. But prices come with that. Nothing that could affect your new life. We just need you to be aware of these things."

    "What prices?"

    "Well there's only one thing you have to worry about. "She looks at me and examines me. “I don't know if you'll want this. You have to choose wisely because you won't be able to choose again. If you choose this, you won't remember anything from this life. All your memory will be erased and you'll start over. That could be something you want."

    "Is my dad or sister here?”

    "Well, no, they started over." She looks at me. I see a look of pity in her eyes. She must know that I wanted to see my them more than anything. I'll never be able to say I'm sorry. "

    When do I have to decide?"

    "In the next ten minutes, or we will decide for you.”

    "Ten minutes! I can't decide in that amount of time."

    "You have to. We have a lot of people to go through today. We'll leave you alone so you can think." They walk out of the room leaving me alone.

    I see a clock appear on the white wall counting down the time I have left. This is scary and I'm confused on what I want. How do you choose in this amount of time?

    Do I want to lose everything I have or start a better life? My dad and sister started over maybe I could too. But I don't want to forget myself, or never remember that I even existed. I'd forget every good thing that happened. I'd forget my mom and family. I'd forget that I could overcome horrible things. I'll lose my memory and forget absolutely everything.

    But do I want to remember all the horrible things that have happened in my life and help people get past theirs. Next could be a new start for me. I don't need reincarnation. I can start over now. I could make friends and wait for my mom.

Then I remember my mom doesn't want anything to do with me. She hates me. She even told me that. Maybe though if she came here she would realize it isn't so bad. No, you can't get people like that back, when they're so far gone.

    So what do I choose. All these thoughts in my head, my mind feels like it's going to blow up. You have to think of what's best for yourself. You've taken care of yourself for a long time, this shouldn't be that hard.

    I'm more lost than I was when I had problems with my mom. This is the hardest thing I've overcome, if I can even overcome it. I need help but no one will help me. I start to cry. This is just too much pressure. I can't do this. Maybe none of these options are right for me.

    The clock goes to five then to four.

    Two minutes... what do I want?

    One minute... lose everything I know.

    Thirty seconds... help people

    five...

    four...

    three...

    two....

    I look up and all the same people are sitting at the table. Waiting for my answer. "What have you decided?" The woman asks.

I haven't decided anything. What do I say?

    "You need to tell us now or we will—."

    "REINCARNATION!" I yell. What did I just say, that was just said out of pressure. I don't want that. "I mean—." It's too late.

    "Your choice has been made, you can't go back."

    "NO NO NO," I scream. Everything soon disappears around me. "This isn't what want," I cry. Tears come rolling down my cheeks. I try to think of all the good things I had in life, to try and hold on to them. I curl myself into a ball, too scared to watch everything fade around me, but my memory starts to subside. "No," I sob. What's happening, I think? This is torture.

    "It will be alright," says a woman's voice. "You'll have a better life this time." That's the last thing I hear.

    “Mom,” I whisper. That is the last thing I say.

.            

        

        

Sixteen Years Later

I've been examining her for the past month. She looks just as my daughter Ella had when she was sixteen. She has the short brown hair, round eyes, and fair skin. She walks like her and talks like her. The similarities are endless.

    I straightened myself up for my daughter sixteen years ago, but when I went looking for her, I found out that she had run away and had never come back. The heartache I had was huge. I have no clue where she is, but I will find her. I promised myself that. Now at sixty-five I've been googling and doing everything I can to find her, but there is never any news of her. When I meet her again, I'll tell her how sorry I am and how proud I am of her. She's overcome obstacles I couldn't face. I admire her for that.

    Ella is thirty-four years old today. Somewhere out there she's probably celebrating it. If she's alone or has found someone to take care of her, she is out there. I hope whoever she's with takes good care of her.

    "Do I know you?" I turn around to find the girl looking at me.

    "Um, I don't think so.” I smile, and notice her eyeing me carefully.

    “Are you sure? You look very familiar.”

    “No. I’m sorry.”

    She talks just like Ella. For some reason I think this is my daughter, it has to be, but she is too young.

    “You remind me of my daughter.” I say, smiling. 

    “Oh,” she says nervously. “Um, I have to go, it's my birthday today and I'm going shopping with my friends. Sorry. It was nice meeting you. I hope I see you around." She turns around to leave.

    It’s her birthday just like Ella’s.

    "Wait!" I yell.

    She turns back towards me. "Yes?"

    "What's your name?" I ask curious.

    "Bella, she says.

    “And how old are you tuning?”

    “Sixteen.”

    "Oh," is all I say. "Thank you." Just too similar. Ella and Bella, similar looks, and the way she acts. Their birthday’s. A phone call interrupts me from my thoughts.

    "Hello."

    “Hi, this is John from the agency. I was just calling about your daughter Ella Walters."

    "Yeah," I say gleefully. My hopes are high right now. All I can do is wish. They found news about my daughter.

    “Um, I’m not sure how to says this.”

    That’s not good.

    “Just… go on.” I say, rushing, John. 

    “Okay, well, she was in Syria around April eighth, of two thousand eight, and she got captured by Syrian guards near James Walters memorial site. Her and a group of ten others got murdered on the ninth of April that year. They—"

    I hang up the phone instantly. I can't hear it anymore. My phone rings again a minute later and I hit ignore. My little baby Ella, dead.

    Tears escape my eyes and I have to sit on the curb to keep my balance. What have I done? I've been a horrible mother. There's no way to fix it. I shake with anger and sadness. Anger because I didn’t treat Ella right and sadness because I lost my daughter, again.

    I look up and notice that girl Bella getting ready to get into the car. I examine her and soon it all clicks. That’s my daughter. Maybe in another form, but it's her. All the similarities and she thought she knew me, because maybe once she did in another lifetime. My heart leaps with joy. That's my daughter, that's Ella!

    I feel the need to say something, but the car starts to leave.

    "Wait," I scream running after the car. “Wait." 

    The car pulls around the curb and I move my legs faster. My heart beat matches the pounding in my head. I run after it, but it keeps going, faster by the second. I wave my arms in the air.

    “Wait, wait! Please, wait!”

    I’m gasping for air and to my luck the car stops and Bella gets outs. "Is everything okay?"

    Say something I think. What would I want to say to my daughter? I think really hard and then it hits me. "Have a wonderful life," I say with tears of joy rolling down my cheeks. "Have a wonderful life." I turn around and walk away out into the world knowing my daughter is off to a new start. Now it’s my turn.

 

                         ********

    

     I think of Bella that night before I fall asleep. I feel as if I can finally sleep peacefully. The words I said to Bella roll around in my head "Have a wonderful life. Have a wonderful life." And this time I know she will.