THERE HAD BEEN AN IRRITATING GLARE on her computer screen for more than an hour, but Dahlia was too deeply absorbed in her research to notice—consciously, anyway.
She was typing a sentence that she thought she would probably end up using, word for word, in her paper:
"It is a well-known principal of ethnosemantics that the meaning of a word is its relationship to other words."
Something dimmed the glare, and she became aware of a presence behind her.
She tried to make it out, focusing on the reflection in the screen, but she couldn't.
Finally, she gave up and spun her chair round to face it.
There was no one there.
At least, that's how it seemed at first.
But then she became dimly aware of a shape—a shadow standing between her and the window, where the glare had come from.
It was vague. Transparent and elusive. She could just make it out.
She realized that she should have been scared, and almost simultaneously realized that she wasn't. Not the least bit.
"What do you want?" she asked the shadow, and then, "Who are you?"
"You could call me an angel."
The voice, she was fairly sure, was only in her head. She laughed, a little sarcastically.
"A messenger. From God?"
"A messenger. Yes. You could also call me an hallucination, or part of your subconscious. We should have been better aquainted before this."
"So, Messenger. What's the message?"
"You are about to die."
She waited for the adreneline rush—the wave of terror. It didn't come.
"Look at the clock."
"So it's quarter after seven. I don't see... Oh."
The second hand wasn't moving.
Dahlia squinted at the shadow-figure.
"Does it really matter?"
"I suppose not. That's the entire message, is it?"
"You know better, just as you knew a moment ago that I was not from God."
"Because there isn't any God."
"Not in the sense you used the word."
"Or life after death?"
"That you do not already know—at least not consciously. It is why I am here."
Dahlia leaned back in her chair.
"So you're avoiding contractions on purpose, or what?"