An indescribable heaviness pushed on Chloe’s chest. Her lungs were tight and her insides wretchedly burned. Sixty terrifying seconds ago, she watched life’s light rapidly fade from her soulmate’s beautiful blue eyes, followed by a debilitating shockwave of grief passing through her.
Still held tightly in the blonde’s arms, the full weight of Max’s body rested in her lap on their living room floor. Tears continued to roll down Chloe’s face, wetting her wife’s still cheeks. The myriad of emotions warred in her mind, locking the new widow in position. Disbelief, desperation, and anger all battled for control of her motor functions, though none of them stood a chance. The feeling of absolute loss of her perfect person placed her in a state of near paralysis.
“Max… please… no… y-you can’t be… dead…” Moisture continued covering Max’s lifeless cheeks from above, trailing down in tiny streams to finally drip on the floor as if she, too, shared in Chloe’s sorrow.
Another sixty seconds had passed since Max was murdered by Marzanna. Esther slowly walked over and placed a palm on the deceased’s forehead. She slid her hand down the freckled woman’s face, closing her still-opened eyes with a gentle swipe. When Chloe noticed the former zealot’s hand on her wife, she shoved the girl away, causing her to stumble backwards and land on her butt with a thud.
“DO. NOT. FUCKING. TOUCH HER!!” Chloe screamed at the top of her lungs, surprising even herself with the harrowing, guttural tone in her voice, though she didn’t really care. “YOU KEEP YOUR FILTHY HANDS AWAY FROM MY WIFE, BITCH!!!” Another wave of sadness pressed through from inside, spilling out of Chloe like a dam bursting wide open. She uncontrollably sobbed while rocking back and forth with Max’s head and torso in her lap, running her hand over her wife’s face, feeling the cooling skin beneath. Her emotions quickly swung from anger at the stranger in her house, back to an extreme and unfathomable sorrow.
“Chloe, she’s gone,” Esther whispered from the floor. “I’m so… so sorry.”
“Fuck you…” Chloe was losing the motivation to not only respond but to exist at all. Her thoughts began wandering towards darker, more self-destructive areas she’d only considered when she was much younger. Maybe she should think about joining her soulmate and throw life away. If Max was gone from this world, Chloe didn’t want to be stuck here without her.
We’re always together, even when we’re not.
The words, ones originally spoken long ago, quietly whispered as if on a breeze, bringing with them needed comfort. A new sense of clarity began forming inside Chloe’s mind; an awareness that had always been there, just covered up and masked, hidden recently by shock and grief. She had allowed her emotions to get in the way of what she knew to always be true. It was the one constant she held in her life through everything that ever happened to her.
“No,” she plainly stated, “she’ll never be gone. We’re Max and Chloe.” She sniffed back the snot her sinuses had produced from crying, and she wiped away the stream of tears from both sides of her face. Using her sleeve, she dried her wife’s cheeks as well.
Chloe pointed at the girl on the floor and motioned her over with a back-and-forth curling of her finger.
“I don’t know how much time we have, but I need your help. If you really want redemption for the fucked-up shit you’ve done…”
“Anything,” the former zealot responded, as if she were a soldier preparing for orders.
“Help me get her up then. You better be gentle or I swear to God…” Chloe shot Esther a determined, if fiercely straightforward, glance.
The girl nodded and followed Chloe’s lead. Together, they tenderly moved Max’s body up to the couch, setting her in a comfortable sitting position. If she didn’t know any better, Chloe would have thought her partner was merely sleeping.
“What are you planning to do?” Esther wondered.
“Easy, I’m going to get my best friend back. She’s probably scared and alone.” The corner of Chloe’s lips curled upward at the thought of connecting with Max again.
“Don’t worry about that. You have an important role to play, though. I’m about to leave my body.” A newfound confidence was radiating from Chloe’s heart. Her blood was pumping at an elevated rate, as she prepared for what she was about to do.
“Leave your… body?” A bewildered, almost shocked look twisted and scrunched the features on Esther’s face.
“And when I do, you have to protect our bodies. If Death comes back, I’ll be helpless.” Chloe sat down beside her wife, shoulders touching, and leaned her head against Max’s. She swallowed hard, attempting to focus after realizing her favorite person’s body was losing most of its warmth.
“Who am I to go up against Marzanna?! You saw what she can do.”
“You’ll think of something, Esther. We’re counting on you. Redeem yourself and protect us. Please.” Chloe closed her eyes and began to search for the lines of connection that she and Max were tethered to.
“What are you doing?”
“Shh! Be quiet. Please and thank you. Gotta concentrate.” She raised her eyelids and took an airy breath, expelling the warm air from her lungs before closing her eyes once more.
Chloe dug down deep inside her mind, searching for the space she and her soulmate shared together. She soared past the mountains of grey and located the raised spot where the power resided. Gently gripping the tiny mound, she pulled and slid it upward revealing the wondrous reality inside.
Wasting no time, she dove in, urgently searching for the wisp that she knew belonged to Max. After a moment, she could see it; though it wasn’t the shape of an energy-filled coil any longer. The pink rope-like strand was slowly pulsating while translucently fading from view. One moment she could see through it, the other, it was vivid and illuminating. The dull, humming vibration that could once easily be heard from Max’s essence, was way too quiet for Chloe’s liking.
She reached out and locked her own essence into the fading strand. As they connected, she felt a warm adoration building in her heart, and her soul overflowed with profound care coming from her perfect match. She desired nothing more than to merge into the pure love she was experiencing through the bond and wrap herself in all of Max’s energy.
She, then, noticed her own essence draining. It felt like the one time she gave blood during a Red Cross blood-drive at the Chase Space. Her energy was depleting and being absorbed into Max. The strand strengthened, becoming a coiled wisp again.
The Caulfield-Price life-energy was fully connected once more. The older of the pair breathed a sigh of relief knowing she was sharing herself at such a deep level with the one person that mattered more than anything else to her. Chloe wasn’t sure how she knew, but it was obvious that her connecting to Max in such a manner, was keeping her wife from fully slipping away. She badly wanted to tunnel in and meet together in the blackened ballroom where their essences were merged, but she had to remain cautious. They’d been there before, but this time, she was afraid the bond would be severed if she used too much more of their energy.
Chloe understood that the next part would be on Max. It was her wife’s burden to bear at that point. She just hoped she could keep her soul energized until Max did whatever she needed to do. She wished her favorite person would come back to her, but for now, she was doing everything she could.
Like waking from a dreamless sleep, Max slowly opened her eyes. Everything was blurry at first, then she blinked several times to regain focus. When she realized she was standing on her feet, she almost fell over but caught herself with a half-step backward. Her foot being firmly placed on the stony surface of the ground, sent a tiny echo throughout the gargantuan chamber.
She scanned the area and noticed a multitude of people slowly walking past her then coming to a stop up ahead. It was clear she was in the back of a room that was reaching its maximum capacity. When she looked back, she saw more and more bodies walking in her direction, continuing to overcrowd the space.
Suddenly, she remembered what happened before.
A thorny wave of panic rippled through her body. In flashes, like Polaroids sliding across her eyelids, she recalled seeing Marzanna in their living room and then glancing at her wife. She saw a look of hysteria form on Chloe’s face, elongating her features, right before everything faded to grey. It didn’t take long for Max to realize she died. Death had appeared in front of her and took her life away.
She wrapped her arms around herself and ran to the side, bumping others out of the way. She pressed her back against the nearest wall and slid down to the ground in a balled-up position. Thousands of confusing thoughts zipped through her as she shivered with terror. There was so much noise in her mind she wanted to scream. The incoherent thoughts appeared like static on an old tube television screen, scrambled and out of order.
Looking up at the closest group of people walking by, Max could see a hollowness in their eyes– a dark, glazed-over daze. Her own sight was beginning to fade as the noise inside her mind continued to grow. She grabbed her knees tightly and tucked her head between her legs.
Abruptly, like a beacon switching on in the dark, a warm adoration enveloped her heart, quieting the static nonsense she was experiencing. A familiar energy wrapped itself around her soul, giving her strength and clarity of mind.
“Chloe!” she yelled to herself. “I love you so much!”
She didn’t know exactly what was happening, but she knew her best friend would never leave her alone in a place like this. Their connection ran way too deeply for her to ever be away from her forever-partner. Max felt energized and alive again. She smiled to herself as Chloe’s love filled her heart. The noise was gone and she could finally plainly see what was going on in front of her.
She realized this place had to be Marzanna’s realm, and these people were the souls that couldn’t pass on to the afterlife, as Death mentioned. The woman blamed the souls being trapped on Max because she broke time that day on the cliff when she split reality into two separate pieces. Eventually, they were merged back into one then shattered into an infinite number of realities. Because of her daughter, who was created through an act of pure love, the multiverse was pulled back together into one reality. Despite all of that, it seemed like their work still wasn’t finished.
Max remembered her time in the Watcher’s realm prior to Rachel taking on that role. The original Watcher spoke mainly about purpose and everything happening for a reason. Applying that concept to herself, and knowing Chloe was providing her the energy to not just become another wandering zombie-like soul, she knew her purpose was to be exactly where she currently was. Everything she and her family had experienced was leading them to this specific moment, and it strengthened her resolve to figure it all out.
The brunette pulled herself back up to her feet and scanned the enormous chamber. There were so many trapped souls it was almost staggering. As she continued looking around the area, she noticed every single person was in some sort of stupor, keeping them from realizing where they were. Because of Chloe, thankfully, she was able to fight off the haze, and stay cognizant of her own being. She seemed to be the only one who was self-aware. Everything looked and felt real. There was even a musty, dank odor about the place.
Continuing to move through the crowd, observing the other souls’ current states, Max accidentally bumped into one guy and knocked him down; quickly helping him back to his feet. When she looked into the dark-headed man’s eyes, she could see a glowing ember deep inside his iris.
She craned forward and tilted her head, squinting her own eyes to get a better look. Abruptly, she latched onto the ember with her own essence and pulled it outside of the man. It landed on the floor and twitched around. Like a sparkler on the Fourth of July, the ember sent tiny crackling flames all around. Max stepped back and shielded her face with her hand. The sparks quickly burned out, and the small fireworks display was over.
Slowly lowering her hand-shield, Max watched as the man rubbed his eyes and rapidly blinked. He cautiously turned his head to the side, then he twisted it back around, turning it in the opposite direction. Awareness was phasing back in, and the man must’ve realized that he wasn’t in the same place he was prior to dying.
“Alex,” he desperately whispered, a look of terror on his face. “No.”
“Hey,” Max began, attempting to calm the man. “My name is Max. What’s yours?”
“Wh-Where am I? Where’s Alex? Ryan?… Oh shit! ETHAN! Oh fuck, oh fuck!”
Max knew she had to get the man under control or he was going to come completely unglued, so she decided to be direct. She grabbed his shoulders and pulled him down to her eye-level. “Listen, I don’t know what happened, but you’re dead. We’re in a place between life and death. I know it’s tough to hear but try and keep it together.”
The man’s eyes darted around and a tremor passed through his body. He was in shock.
“Come with me.” Max grabbed his wrist and started pulling him towards the side. Once she found their way to a wall, she twisted the petrified man around to look him in the eyes once more. The ember was gone and the hollowness had receded. He almost looked like a normal person.
“I-I…” He stuttered, nothing coherent coming out.
“Let’s start slowly. What’s your name?”
“M-My name is G-Gabe. Gabe Ch-Chen.”
“Nice to meet you, Gabe Chen. Like I said, my name is Max. It’s Max Caulfield-Price.”
“So, we’re dead? Like, dead dead?” Gabe asked, finally calming down enough to hopefully have a conversation. “The last thing I remember is Ethan running off to the mines. Alex went across the log bridge and saved him. Then they were safely back. The sirens blared and explosions went off. Shit! I was hit by a big ass rock!” A look of horror contracted the man’s face. Several tears slid down his cheeks and he covered his wide-open mouth with both hands.
“Wowser, Gabe. I… I’m so sorry.”
“Charlotte.” The man was lamenting, and Max empathized with his state of mind.
Instinctively, she wrapped her arms around the man. He was mourning for not only his own life, but for the lives he had to leave behind. He would need support, even if short-term– a shoulder to cry on as he came to terms with his situation. Max realized she couldn’t stay there with Gabe much longer, however, and she had to keep searching. She was beginning to understand her purpose in this place, and it was to free the trapped souls before hers and her wife’s energies gave out. Though she wasn’t sure how she could free everyone at the current rate.
After a few minutes, Gabe pulled back, wiping his face with his palms. He took a few steps away from Max, looking around and into the distance. He must have realized that they were the only ones who were experiencing conscious thought, as Max did.
“So… Max? How are we… like, awake or whatever? Everyone else seems to be fucked.”
“They’re all trapped here waiting to cross over. I think it might be my fault, so I’m here to fix it.”
“I think you just did. At least… I think you fixed me.” Gabe held up his hands in front of his face and showed them to Max. They were outlined with a golden glow that continued to grow in brightness. Most of his body became transparent, leaving only the glowing outline of his body and facial features. The concern on his barely viewable face was replaced with what Max thought was a smile.
“Thank you, Max,” the man said, then vanished.
Max was in awe of what had just transpired. She was thrilled she helped Gabe pass on, and it seemed he found peace quickly once freed. Hoping it wasn’t a fluke, she approached another soul and latched on to the red-headed woman’s essence. The same sparkling effect took place, as Max freed her from the trance as well. After about a minute of calming her down, the woman also disappeared and passed on.
Max learned the woman’s final memory was from October 31, 2013, from the day she died. She was in a car accident while swerving to miss a group of trick-or-treaters on Halloween. Her car veered from the road and flew off the side of a cliff. Max’s heart broke hearing the woman’s story. Like Gabe, she was forced to leave people behind that she loved.
As sad as the story was, Max couldn’t help but thinking about the day the woman died. The month of October 2013 held an important spot in she and her wife’s history. If the woman had been stuck in Death’s realm since then, the people from Arcadia Bay, that died in the storm, would most likely be there as well. It made sense.
Long ago, she and Chloe found peace with what happened back then. They were faced with the most unfair decision the universe could throw at them. Somehow, Max merged the timelines because of her love for Chloe. Due to the bizarre series of events, the end result was the destruction of their hometown anyway. The married couple found strength in each other and pushed forward with their lives. They knew they did the best they could do with the time they had then. But Max now had the ability to free trapped souls. If all of the people who died in the storm were still trapped there, she had to find them. She had to set them all free.