Starting Here, by Clare Rhoden

‘Well, I suppose everything is going to be different, starting here and now.’

Here is a barren courtyard, now is the end of the world. At least I think it is. I can’t hear anyone else, anything else, moving. I never imagined coming out of the shelter to find nothing and no one. No dog bark, no bird song, no traffic snarl, no chopper clack. No people yammer, no machine whirr, no wind whoosh. Everything is dead.

I never imagined talking to myself just to convince myself that I’m alive.

Are you alive, though?

I jump and fling myself around, trying to see where the voice is coming from. Immediately I stagger back about two paces, gasping. Seated at the edge of the courtyard, looking comfortable and rather pleased with herself, is a perfect replica of that cat-headed goddess from ancient Egypt.

Replica! I see you have a sense of humour. I’m Bastet.

Parts of my brain are functioning. ‘Ar, er, Bastet,’ I say. ‘Goddess of, let me see, home?’

Domesticity and slaughter, if you don’t mind.

‘Ah, yes. Two aspects, right, of the one being. Protector and avenger.’ I can’t find anything else to say.

Bastet yawns delicately, showing the inside of her perfect pink mouth and her very white teeth. And sometimes I accompany the dead. A companion, if you like.

I am not sure I do like. ‘I’m dead, then? I’m about to begin my afterlife?’

Bastet stares at me. She blinks several times, apparently thinking over my words.

Only one thing is starting here and now.

‘I understand.’ I don’t, but I feel I should humour a cat-faced goddess who might act as my companion in the unknown world beyond.

Bastet is not fooled. She narrows her bright green eyes to slits.

What starts now is the rest of your life.

Make it a good one.

I’m awake and she is gone. Her challenge remains.