Above the sky was a pale pink, like it was painted by the art director for an early episode of Star Trek. The sky was framed with leafless white branches.
"Where am I?" asked Edna when she awoke, laying on her back on the ground. No one responded.
She blinked several times before propping herself up and looking around. She found herself in a glen with white trees shiny trees--not birch, which have traces of gray and black and brown, but totally white. On the ground was a luxurious layer of white grass. It was a little less shiny. Edna plucked a blade and examined it. She tried to hold it up to the light, but she could not find the source. The sky was an even shade of pink all around. Looking closely at the blade, it was slightly translucent, as real grass was. She rolled it between her fingers and it exuded a whitish liquid that stained her fingers like corrector fluid.
"Where am I?" repeated Edna. There was no response.
She looked down and realized she was dressed in some sort of gauzy white gown. She stood and examined the garment. It flowed gently in the warm gentle breeze. It was no something she recalled ever owning. She noticed the skin of her arms. It was young and firm, and no longer sagged or had wrinkles. She lifted up her gown to examine her legs, and they too looked like they were no more than twenty years old.
"Wow," she said slowly.
Just then a flock of small colorful birds descended into the trees chittering with great animation. They were of every hue of the rainbow, like a paint store had vomited up it's color cards and each one turned into a bird. They all had big yellow, orange, or black triangle shaped beaks and beady black eyes. Several of them carried an object suspended by blue ribbons, and as they got closer, Edna saw that this was a mirror in a baroquely carved frame. They landed on low branch so that the mirror was perfectly positioned for Edna to view her face. She marveled first at the birds, then marveled at her face, stretching young taunt skin here and there, as if she didn't believe it were true.
"Wow," she repeated. The birds chittered excitedly in response. Edna looked up and around at them. Each of their faces was pointed towards her, and she felt a chill from the many blank little eyes on her.
"Um, where am I?" she asked, feeling a little silly. There was a burst of chittering in response, which Edna found she could not decipher, then the birds seemed to lose interest in her and started to sing a variety of joyful little songs. Edna sighed.
She wandered through the glen. At the end of the stand of white trees the ground started to descend, and Edna walked down and discovered a babbling brook, which was lined with white tiles.
"That's odd," she said.
"No, it's hygienic," said a deep gruff voice behind her. Edna whipped around, frightened, and found a massive tiger with blue, black, and white stripes. The tiger sauntered past, laid down at the brook's edge and started lapping up water.
"H--hygienic?" stammered Edna, afraid to move.
"Yes," said the tiger between laps.
"B--but, you're putting your saliva in it," said Edna, immediately regretting it. The tiger growled at her. Edna started to step back slowly. the tiger raised its head and stared at her.
"Where do you think you're going?" it said.
"Uh..." Edna froze, unsure whether to bolt or try to strike up a decent conversation. The tiger returned to lapping.
"You must be new," it said.
"Yes," said Edna in a high-pitched voice.
"You must be wondering where you are," it said.
"Yes," said Edna. The tiger got up, stared at her with intense blue eyes, then snuffed out a large warm breath from its nose. It turned and lazily walked back up the hill. Edna thought that maybe it wanted her to follow but she could not bring herself to move from the spot until the tiger disappeared behind the crest of the hill. Then she heard a splash, and turned to see a man in a sort of white suit, with white breeches, an shiny white vest, and a gauzy white shirt underneath. He had longish hair and round rimmed spectacles. He was kneeling on the opposite side of the brook splashing water on his face. He looked vaguely familiar.
"Hello," said Edna, shakily.
"Hello," said the man, standing up. "I see you've met the blue tiger. A rather grumpy specimen if I may say so."
"Yes," said Edna. "Who are you?"
"Ah. Do I look familiar to you at all?"
"Yeah, sort of, but I can't quite place where we've might have met..."
"Oh, I doubt we've ever met, dear," said the man brushing his wet hands against his pantlegs. "Although you've probably seen and older version of my handsome visage on some rather high denomination currency."
"Yes," said the man.
"But that can't be--"
"But it is true. Call me Ben."
"No need to stand their gawking my dear." Ben held out a hand across the brook. "Come along now," he said.
Edna took his hand and he helped her across the brook.
"My, you are a vision to behold," he said, smiling. "Pray, what is you're name?"
"Vision?" asked Edna confused.
"You are rare beauty!" exclaimed Ben. "I think this may be my lucky day."
"Beauty! Maybe in my younger years, but certainly not now."
"My dear, have you not noticed how young you've become?"
"What? Oh. Ohhh," said Edna, remembering her face in the mirror.
"It happens to all of us when we cross over. It takes a little getting used to," he said. He suddenly looked a little glum. "Unfortunately, we never change. Did you know there are some Neanderthals wandering around? They're completely out of their minds from being here for millions of years," he paused thoughtfully then added, "but maybe that's just the way they are to begin with."
"Yes. My, you are of few words, aren't you?" said Ben chuckling as he led Edna up the other bank.
"Where are we?" asked Edna after they reached the top of the little rise and saw another expanse of white leafless trees.
"Well, that is the question, isn't it," said Ben sighing. He removed his spectacles and massaged the bridge of his nose. "What I have learned of this place in the past couple of hundred years is rather disturbing, though I no longer find it shocking."
"Would you mind terribly if I ask you some questions?"
"I'd like to know where I am first."
"Well, what will tell you, and I promise I will in short order, may color your responses. So if you don't mind, I would rather ask you the questions first."
"Fine," said Edna, shaking her head and slumping her shoulders and looking down in capitulation.
"All right then," said Ben. "What year is it?"
"2011," said Edna.
"Interesting. What was the last thing you remember of your time on Earth?"
"Time on Earth? What do you mean?"
"I'm sorry, that was a leading question. What was your last memory before waking up in this place?"
"Uh...I'm not sure," said Edna. She wracked her brain, but couldn't bring up much more than foggy memories of her childhood. Then she suddenly saw an IV bag on a hook and heard the beep of a monitor. "Oh my goodness! I was in the hospital. I was dying!"
Edna gasped several times, then slumped to the ground. Ben sat next to her, putting his arm around her.
"There, there," he said. "Like I said, its a bit of a shock."
"Yes, very much so!" exclaimed Edna.
"Now I must ask the most pertinent question my dear."
"To what religious affiliation do you subscribe?"
"Well, actually none."
"Could you clarify that?"
"I never told anyone this, not even my family, but I consider myself an atheist."
"As I suspected."
"But I don't understand. If I am dead, why am I experiencing anything?"
"You happen to currently, and from what I can tell, forevermore, reside in heaven."
"No! It's not possible."
"Oh, it is indeed, for you can see the proof of it all around you."
"But as a non-believer, shouldn't I go to hell?"
"I have no idea whether or not there is a hell," said Ben, "although, after long enough, this certainly feels like it. But I must say that you will quickly find that this, space, is filled with nothing but atheists. I haven't even found a single agnostic amongst the human population."
"Now I really don't understand!" said Edna.
"Well, don't look at me, I can't quite explain it myself. Perhaps different faiths get compartmentalized into different places, but I don't really know."
"And no one can escape?"
"Not that I know of, though I suppose it is possible."
"And where is the boundary?"
"Ah, now you are asking the interesting questions. I knew I would like you dear. As far as I have explored, there is none. This space stretches for infinity. And I don't think it is round like the Earth, but flat, as the philosophers of old would have told you the Earth was."
"But how can you tell?"
"I can't not for certain. If you haven't noticed, there is no burning star in residence above us," said Ben.
"Yes, I have noticed that," said Edna, looking upwards. "It's so odd."
"Ever so," added Ben. "But without a sun and days to measure we cannot determine latitude or longitude or if this environment has a curve to it. We are in fact utterly helpless to perform one of the basic acts of science."
"There must be a lot of scientists here," said Edna.
"Yes," said Ben thoughtfully. "Are you one?"
"Oh no," said Edna sheepishly. "I wanted to, but circumstances..."
"Yes," said Ben, taking Edna's hand in his own. "So many women through the ages were unfairly robbed of that noblest of occupations."
Edna's heart fluttered at the warmth of Ben's touch and the smoothness of his words. She carefully retracted her hand lest she be too taken in the moment.
"Well," she said, "there must be quite a lot of wonderful conversations."
"Alas, there are too few," said Ben. "The reason is not intuitive, but makes sense once you hear it. Eventually, everyone here, being of a curious nature, sets off in one direction or the other, looking for the edge of this space. It scatters us very sparsely. I have had more conversations with fauna than I have with men these many decades."
"Oh," said Edna. Ben nodded. "Does anyone return?"
"Rarely," he said.
"But then how do you know they haven't found the edge?" asked Edna. Ben smiled.
"I don't," said Ben. "But having been wandering so myself, I highly doubt it."
"Well, how is it that the first person I encounter is someone famous? Why not some random and less distinguished atheist?" asked Edna. Ben laughed heartily.
"Well my dear, it seems you are laboring under the impression that this is your story."
"Oh," said Enda, confused.
"What I mean, is that it's all relative. Surely I will find, and quite frequently I might add, persons new to this space, and so shall you in time."
"Oh, I see," said Edna.
"But before you yourself go wandering off, might I ask you to stay by my side for a little while? It would be a relief to have a conversation without the threat of being mauled."
"Yes I will, but, the mauling?"
"You said the threat of mauling. Wouldn't that be a way to die and leave this place?"
"You can die here, but you will wake up hours later, fully healed from whatever your wounds, in a completely different part of this space. Someone of your age once described it as a respawn."
"Oh," said Edna. "That's terribly depressing."
"Yes it is. Really it is best avoided. One can still feel pain rather intensely you see."
"But come along my dear. I have collected a nice set of furniture just a little up the ways here," said Ben, motioning her towards a barely visible trodden path in the grass.
"Yes, another of the peculiar oddities of this space. There are many random pieces of furniture scattered about. It's another dull cruelty of this place that we cannot construct houses or make tools to construct them with."
"What about food?" asked Edna as they walked along the path.
"Ah, food is not a problem, though it is often very rich," said Ben.
"Are their farms, or do you just eat the talking animals?"
"No soil is ever tilled, no animal ever slaughtered. Food merely arrives at the table when you aren't looking." He stopped and turned towards a glade with a large white bed and a dining table in front of it. It was heavily laden with cakes and cookies chocolates and gelled salads. One end held an ornate white tea set.
"Ew," said Edna.
"Yes, my thoughts exactly when I first saw this attribute of this space. It might impress a child of five, but eating this day after day is most distressing. I've even tried starvation, but alas, I just woke up again, fit as a fiddle."
"Oh my," sighed Edna.
"The tea is quite nice, if you like tea," said Ben. "Could I tempt you?"
"I guess..." said Edna, starting to feel extremely depressed.
"Cheer up my dear," said Ben. "We can plot our escape. It may take centuries more, but I'll be damned if I'm going to get stuck here for infinity."