by Michelle Hanley
The sky was too blue, but at least all the clouds made shapes. A unicorn bumped into a puppy with a wagging tail and the two clouds became a castle. Emmie giggled and looked around to see if anyone else saw the unicorn and the puppy and the castle in the sky.
There was no one else.
Emmie wasn’t scared even though she felt like she was supposed to be. She watched a flower float away from her. It looked like it was close enough to the ground to touch and Emmie had always wanted to know if clouds felt sticky like cotton candy. She took one step and stopped.
It looked like regular grass, but it felt really bouncy under Emmie’s bare feet. Emmie took another step to make sure, and then she jumped. Up and down, again and again, she jumped on the trampoline-ground. Her hands touched clouds and grass tickled the bottoms of her feet and she wanted to bounce forever.
Emmie didn’t think; she stopped jumping. Her bounces got smaller and smaller until she stood still.
The air grew warm and the sky got brighter. Emmie knew that the thing that walked up beside her was an angel because it had wings. They seemed smaller than she thought they’d be, but when she turned to look, the angel disappeared.
“You won’t be able to see me here.”
“But I can see you. From the side of my face.” Emmie faced back the way she’d started. “You’ve got wings and they’re not very big but they’re white and shiny. And you’re wearing jeans and boots and a cowboy shirt like that man in the movie Daddy likes. But your hair is really long.”
The angel made a sound that sounded a little bit like a sigh.
“You’re an angel, aren’t you?”
“Am I in Heaven?”
“Not quite. Sometimes people may not be ready to go to Heaven and when that happens, they come here.”
Emmie looked down at her feet and pointed. “So I’m going down there?”
The angel made another sound that sounded like a laugh.
“No, child. That’s not one of your options today.”
Standing still wasn’t one of Emmie’s best things. She let herself bounce a little bit since she wasn’t going to the bad place. “How come you’re wearing cowboy clothes? I thought angels had to wear white dresses.”
“I shouldn’t be visible to you at all. Your imagination is filling in the blanks.”
“But I can see you. I really can.”
“You either have a good imagination or you’re closer to crossing over than I was told.”
Emmie didn’t understand what the angel meant, but it didn’t make her feel good. She thought a cartwheel would help, the kind that made Daddy cheer for her. He always seemed to laugh too, but Emmie knew it was only because her cartwheels made him so happy.
“Emmie, do you remember what happened today?”
Emmie shook her head, but all of the good cartwheel feelings stopped. Not even bouncing helped, so she stopped after one single bounce.
“Tell me, Emmie.”
Emmie thought hard, but her only memories were the clouds and bouncy grass that wasn’t very fun anymore. When a cloud formed into a house, she started to remember.
“I wanted to see Daddy. Mommy said he was in Heaven, and I wanted to see him.” Emmie looked all around. This time, when she didn’t see anyone, she began to cry. “I climbed up a ladder and I’m almost to Heaven and I want my Daddy.”
The air began to smell like chocolate chip cookies and cinnamon. All Emmie could see was shimmery white like the paint on Mommy’s car. She cried and cried until all her tears were gone. The shimmery white disappeared, but the Christmas morning smells stayed.
“I want my Daddy,” Emmie whispered.
“We know. And if that is your choice, then you can go to him. But what about your mother?”
The Christmas smells were replaced by more good smells: the dirt that got on Mommy’s hands in the spring, the plants that she cut up and put in soup, the coffee she drank every morning.
“I’ll see her after I see Daddy. She’ll be happy again when I tell her he’s okay.”
From the side of her face, Emmie saw the angel’s head shake. “That’s not how it works. Once you go to Heaven, you don’t leave.”
“But I climbed up here,” Emmie protested. “I’ll climb back down after I give Daddy a hug.”
This time, the angel made a sound like Mommy made when she dropped Emmie off for her first day of school. “Emmie, people can’t climb ladders into Heaven. You fell, and back on Earth, you’re in a hospital. If you go to Heaven now, you’ll die on Earth.”
“I would die?”
“Mommy would be really sad.”
In the sky, the clouds still made shapes but it wasn’t any fun to watch them anymore. Emmie didn’t feel like bouncing and the grass didn’t tickle.
“Is Daddy happy?”
“Very much so.”
Emmie reached up to touch a cloud that looked like a bird. It didn’t feel like anything.
“You have to say the words, Emmie. You have to say if you want to go to Heaven or go back to Earth.”
“I want my Mommy. Can I go back to her?”
The blue sky changed to night-time, and the angel said, “We will meet again, child.” Then, even the night faded.
Michelle is inspired by her family, fairy tales, and those odd blurbs on news sites that can’t possibly be true stories. When she isn’t writing, you can find her on a paddleboard, fly fishing, gardening, or reading. She was awarded Honorable Mentions in YeahWrite Super Challenge #13 and the Writers Weekly Fall 2020 Short Story Contest. Look for her other work in Dread Naught but Time, MOJO, and at www.ftpdblog.wordpress.com.
Artwork: Public Domain image, modified by Veronica McDonald.