Ada listened to the beeps of her heartbeat slow. Each tone sounded softer as her body relaxed its grip and prepared to let her go. The drugs helped. Each beat of her heart wedged them further between her soul and her senses until there was nothing left to hold on to.
“I love you, Mom.”
Ada sighed, and with that last breath, told her baby girl she loved her too.
Her soul drifted up through atrophied muscle and brittle bones, leaving behind parchment skin and cobweb hair to be free from the bed for the first time in years. Who knew death felt so light? All these months, she’d imagined a deep, dark hole, buried under the weights of her sins for eternity. This was not that. This was freedom.
The lights of the hospital glimmered through her like a prism. She tried to hold that light, give her daughter one last rainbow kiss as she floated away. But a new type of gravity held her now—less violent than the one she was used to, but just as unrelenting.
Ada passed through the ceiling. It didn’t hurt; she didn’t even feel it.
A man slept in a chair beside a bed in the room above. Salt and pepper stubble covered his chin. Dark bags tugged at his eyes. His hand rested palm up, brushing the fingers of a hollow woman on the bed beside him.
Machines pumped her lungs like a bellows. But Ada could see, even if he couldn’t, the woman’s soul had already come loose. It swirled and tumbled, unable to break free of her body, trapped there by the machines keeping it alive.
Ada’s soul wafted through the man. His sadness seeped inside her and slowed her ascent with its heaviness.
“Let her go,” she whispered.
He shifted in his chair and closed his fingers around the woman’s hand. Then he drifted deeper into sleep and Ada lost him beneath the ceiling tiles.
The wind took her as she left the hospital. She floated along on its undulating currents and gazed at the world beneath her. Ribbons of concrete threaded through blocks of towering glass and steel buildings. Red lights crowded their lengths like tired eyes staring longingly at the horizon. Other souls joined Ada and they cruised the breeze in silence as it took them ever higher.
Feathery clouds fluttered past. Dampness clung to Ada as the wind carried her up. Darkness billowed above and swallowed every wisp that came near it.
Ada had always been afraid of the dark. From the moment she had been born into the light, she’d feared she’d lose it again. But that fear had died with her body, as had everything that had weighed her down. Without it, she could fly. And that was so much better.
So she let the storm clouds engulf her, and her soul smiled.
Water, light as air, surrounded her. It flowed in and through and around her. She laughed a peal of thunder and danced the wild dance of a storm. The other souls joined, churning the air and whipping the wind.
Clouds and souls pushed tighter and tighter. Water soaked her until she brimmed with it. The sudden weight sent her stumbling. She crashed into another soul and tumbled over the edge of the cloud.
No longer lighter than air, Ada plummeted through the sky. She pushed and writhed, but couldn’t break the surface tension of the water engulfing her. Souls screamed around her as the drops that held them prisoner reached terminal velocity.
Flashbacks of a lake, of her brother pulling her under and letting the game go too far, choked her as if she were really drowning. And all the while the wind lashed and the thunder crashed and the glass and steel rushed closer.
Ada cast her mind at memories of her daughter, desperate in her panic to recapture the love that had buoyed her in death. But nature and the universe cared nothing for love.
Windows flashed by like mirrors, the blacktop speeding toward her, no longer a ribbon, but the crushing vacuum of space. But maybe it would be like before. Maybe she had to die again to regain her wings. Red lights glared through the wetness as she held breath she had no means of drawing.
Souls below her smashed on the pavement. The ground surged closer and closer, faster and faster. Ada steeled herself for impact before shattering into a million bleeding pieces.
Ada’s daughter stepped out of the hospital and swiped at her cheek, unable to tell if the water on the back of her hand was a tear or just the rain. She swallowed her grief and raised her umbrella against the storm.