Just like the sky in real life, only a little more blue and a little less sun in my eyes.
I guess the sky in real life isn’t actually perfect. Maybe that’s what makes it so perfect.
I squeezed my eyes shut again.
I was stalling.
I wasn’t sure I was ready to see whatever was out there to see. Of course the sky looked better—Heaven being what it was and all.
Not to assume that’s where I was. I’d been a decent guy, as far as I could tell. But I had seen enough to know that everything I thought about everything had pretty much been wrong so far.
I had an open mind, at least by Gatlin’s standards. I mean, I’d heard all the theories. I had sat through more than my share of Sunday school classes. And after my mom’s accident, Marian told me about a Buddhism class she took at Duke taught by a guy named Buddha Bob, who said paradise was a teardrop inside a teardrop inside a teardrop, or something like that. The year before that, my mom tried to get me to read Dante’s Inferno, which Link told me was about an office building that caught fire, but actually turned out to be about a guy’s voyage into the nine circles of Hell. I only remember the part my mom told me about monsters or devils trapped in a pit of ice. I think it was the ninth circle of Hell, but there were so many circles down there that after a while they all sort of ran together.
After what I’d learned about underworlds and otherworlds and sideways worlds, and whatever else came in the whole triple-layer cake of universes that was the Caster world, that first glimpse of blue sky was fine by me. I was relieved to see there was something that looked like a cheesy Hallmark card waiting for me. I wasn’t expecting pearly gates or naked cherub babies. But the blue sky, that was a nice touch.
I opened my eyes again. Still blue.
A fat bee buzzed over my head, climbing high into the sky—until he banged into it, just as he had a thousand times before.
Because it wasn’t the sky.
It was the ceiling.
And this wasn’t Heaven.
I was lying in my old mahogany bed in my even older bedroom at Wate’s Landing.
I was home.
Which was impossible.
Had it been a dream? I desperately hoped so. Maybe it was, just like it had been every single morning for the first six months after my mom died.
Please let it have been a dream.
I reached down and searched the dust under my bed frame. I felt the familiar pile of books and pulled one out.
The Odyssey. One of my favorite graphic novels, though I was pretty sure Mad Comix had taken a few liberties with the version Homer wrote.
I hesitated, then pulled out another. On the Road. The first sight of the Kerouac was undeniable proof, and I rolled to one side until I could see the pale square on my wall where, until a few days ago—was that all it had been?—the tattered map had hung, with the green marker lines circling all the places from my favorite books I wanted to visit.
It was my room, all right.
The old clock on the table next to my bed didn’t seem to be working anymore, but everything else looked about the same. It must be a warm day, for January. The light that came flooding in from the window was almost unnatural—sort of like I was in one of Link’s bad storyboards for a Holy Rollers music video. But aside from the movie lighting, my room was exactly the way I’d left it. Just like the books under my bed, the shoe boxes holding my whole life story were still there lining my walls. Everything that was supposed to be there was there, at least as far as I was concerned.
L? You there?
I couldn’t feel her. I couldn’t feel anything.
I looked at my hands. They seemed all right. No bruises. I looked at my plain white T-shirt. No blood.
No holes in my jeans or my body.
I went to my bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror above my sink. There I was. Same old Ethan Wate.
I was still staring at my reflection when I heard a sound from downstairs.
My heart felt like it was pounding, which was pretty funny, since when I woke up, I wasn’t even sure