Megan should have been wearing her seatbelt. But she'd wanted to stick her head out the window, look at the cows and the mountains to have something to talk about when she started first grade -
There was a confusing redness of pain, and uncolored discontinuity, and white.
Megan swallowed. This was probably the part where she would meet her guardian angel, and she was pretty sure she had been good enough to get into Heaven. Lately.
She didn't hurt anymore, and the room was white, and she was in a white dress - her party dress, like she wore to her friends' birthdays. The floor was soft and spongy. Heaven wasn't really clouds, and clouds weren't really solid enough to stand on, but she jumped on it anyway. Just a couple of times. She wondered where her angel was.
The door opened and in walked a pretty lady, also in a white dress, but conspicuously missing wings, halo, and harp. "Hi, Megan," she said. "My name is Kim. How are you feeling?"
"Dead," said Megan, consideringly.
"You feel dead?" asked Kim.
"This is Heaven, right? I was mostly good," Megan said.
Kim smiled. "You've been plenty good. You're going to be fine, Megan. Apart from dead, how are you feeling?"
"I'm okay. It doesn't hurt anymore. How long do I have to wait for my mommy and daddy to be in Heaven too, please?"
"That part's sort of complicated," said Kim.
"Were they not good enough?"
"Oh, they were plenty good, too," said Kim. "They're completely all right. The trouble is... well, they've left you a letter to explain."
"Are you here to help me read it?"
"I'm here to answer questions you might have about it. It's not a written letter, so it's okay if you can't read that well yet."
"How is it a letter if it isn't made of letters?" asked Megan suspiciously.
"That's a good question. We could call it a recording instead. Are you ready to see it?"
"Okay," said Megan.
One of the white walls turned out to be a television. And there were Mommy and Daddy.
Sort of. They looked younger. And dressed up. Daddy had more hair and was maybe a little taller, and Mommy was sort of made of smoother lines, and had her left arm back again from wherever it had gone missing. But it was them, prettied up. Mommy was leaning on Daddy's shoulder, hugging his arm.
"Hello darling," murmured Mommy.
(Kim, behind Megan, sniffed softly.)
"Hi, Megan," said Daddy. "If you're watching this it's because they've finally figured out how to bring you back to life."
"There was a car crash," Mommy said. "You were very badly hurt. And you died."
"Some people who died were frozen so they'd keep," Daddy said.
Megan said, "Like waffles."
"Like waffles," Daddy said, but it was just a video, he wasn't listening. They'd just always had so many waffles in the freezer. "And eventually somebody invented a person-defroster, and then those people could be alive again."
"But we didn't know to do that," Mommy said. "We're so sorry, darling."
"But I'm fine," said Megan.
"Watch," advised Kim softly.
"We never, ever forgot you," Daddy said. "Every year on your birthday we'd get a box of sparklers -"
"Sparklers!" said Megan. "Are there sparklers in Heaven?"
"Yes," said Kim, and she backed up the video so Megan could hear the rest of what Daddy said.
"- and light them all and remember you. We had two more children. Your little brother's name is Ryan and your little sister's name is Amy."
"They're not here for this letter because you never knew them, but later you can watch letters from them if you like," Mommy said.
"And they grew up, and we got old, and they had kids -" Daddy began.
"And then," Mommy cut in. "Then, some very smart people figured out how to make it so people didn't have to die if they weren't already dead, and how to defrost the frozen people."
"If they're not dead..." Megan frowned.
Kim interrupted her. "Watch."
"It turns out," said Daddy, "that there is so much farther to grow up, if you have enough time. It's not just children and grownups. It's children and grownups and so many other things. People grow sideways and in circles and every which way."
"We're recording this," Mommy said, "because we're about to grow a little more, and if they ever figure out how to do what's called a rescue simulation, they'll bring you back. But we won't be enough like you anymore."
"If we knew for sure," Daddy said, "that they would figure out how to bring you back, then we wouldn't do it. We'd wait for you. Even if it took another thousand years. We'd let everybody else grow up and we'd wait until we could bring you along with us."
"But we don't know," Mommy said. "It might turn out to be completely impossible. Some very smart people are working on it. But they might find out that there's just no way to reach into the past and get you out of it so that you can grow up. So we're - going ahead. Growing up some more ourselves."
"And we're already not very much like how you remember us," Daddy said. "But after we've gone forward this little bit more... we could talk to you. But it would happen one of two ways. Either we'd be pretending to be less grown up, or we'd be so confusing you couldn't understand anything we said. There would be no way for you to really talk to us the way we're going to be."
"Not until you've grown up yourself."
"But not everyone wants to grow up at the same speed."
"And some people are deciding to stay less grown up, and if they figure out how to bring you back to life -"
"Then we've asked your niece, Kim, to look after you until you can come meet us again."
Megan looked over her shoulder at Kim. "You're my niece? I can't have a niece."
"You do. I'm your brother Ryan's daughter," said Kim.
"We love you so much," Daddy's recording said.
"So much," echoed Mommy. "We can't wait to see you again, darling. But you don't need to hurry for us. We'll be keeping an eye on you and Kim. You can grow up as fast or slow as you want. And when you get here we'll be so glad to have you with us again."
The video stilled on sadly smiling faces.
Megan looked at them, then turned to Kim again. "You're my niece?"
"Hi, Aunt Megan," said Kim.
"You're going to grow me up?"
"Yep. But if you want to be six for a while first that's fine. There's no hurry."
"Do I have to go to school," asked Megan suspiciously.
Kim shook her head. "If you want to learn something, you can learn it - anything you like - but you don't have to go to school."
"Can Mommy and Daddy visit?"
"It's not a question of whether they can. They could. But it wouldn't be good for you to try to talk to someone that grown up, yet, not if you want to really know them instead of just learning something from them. They'll wait."
"How can somebody be more grown up than a grownup?" complained Megan. "This isn't Heaven at all, is it."
"It's not. It's just being alive," said Kim.
Megan bit her lip and looked at the still television screen.
"There are sparklers, though?"
"All the sparklers you could ever want," said Kim, and she took Megan's hand and opened the door to a beach, black sky full of exploding colors.