LINDA RAN IT THROUGH HER MIND again, and thought, again, how wonderful it had been.
The final moment, holding her granddaughter's hand, the flowers, the light streaming in the window—resting in the knowledge of how much she loved and was loved—had been quite remarkable.
She smiled to herself, and only then noticed that she had not ceased to exist.
In fact, she felt amazingly well for someone so recently dead.
And she was not in some formless void, either; she could distinctly hear the splash of water. A fountain?
She opened her eyes, and saw a small stream, with a shallow waterfall.
The water above the fall flowed peacefully, leaving the shadows of ripples on the pebbled stream bed.
"Take it slow. You've only just arrived."
She turned her head to see a young man, smiling down at her. Quite a hunk, really.
"It's best to take a moment or two to adjust."
She was lying on a grassy slope, just above the stream. He sat just above her, his arms wrapped around his knees.
Beyond him, there was a wood, and she thought there was a path at the top of the slope. The sun was either setting or rising through the trees over his shoulder.
She squinted up at him.
"Where am I?"
He started to speak, then stopped, looking slightly puzzled. He laughed.
"Well, you're on the bank of the stream..."
She started to clarify, but he put out a hand to stop her.
"I know. You meant something larger. The problem is, we don't... We haven't actually got a name for it."
He smiled a little apologetically and continued.
"This isn't, well, really a place, so much as it's where places come from—and, I suppose, where they go to, sometimes. At least the souls."
"Souls? But I thought..."
"Yeah. I'm familiar with your case. You can think of me as a kind of social worker I suppose. You were an atheist, and a..."
He wrinkled his brow, calling up a memory.
"...a materialist," he beamed. "I got that right?"
"I guess I was wrong..."
"Oh, no. Not at all. In your world there was no..."
The brow wrinkled again. He was quite attractive.
She found herself wondering how old she was, here.
"I suppose it depends on how you look at it."
"On how I look at it?"
"Here's the thing. Think of your world as a..." Another brow wrinkle. "...as a novel—that's what you called them, right?—a sort of whole world, created by an artist."
"Well, this particular world has no god. Some of the people in it think it does, but the artist, you see, is very definite on that point. The world is completely consistent without any need of a deity."
"Given my stance, back there, I probably shouldn't be the one to bring this up, but wouldn't the artist be..."
"That's what I meant by 'how you look at it'. If you are part of that world, then there is no god—from that perspective, I mean. But from here..."
He shrugged, and pursed his lips in puzzlement.
"How old am I here?"