Haley’s earthly journey was coming to an end. Soon, she would transcend the human plane, and then? She didn’t know, only that she would start anew.

She turned to her husband, who slept beside her on a queen-size bed, and sighed. How, after so many years together, could she tell him what she was, or worse, that she would soon be leaving him alone?

I’m not human, she wanted to say, except that wasn’t precisely the truth. Like her husband, she possessed a hominid nature. The trouble was that she was also something more. Like a Russian stacking doll, her existence was multi-layered. She was human, yes, but also a dozen other things.

The awful truth was that, at the bottom of all those layers, Haley didn’t know what she was. Was she one of a kind, a novel form of life as complex and ever-changing as the universe itself, or were there others like her? How would she even know?

She could still remember bits and pieces of her other lives, shards of light and memory filtered through senses her human mind could understand. She knew what always happened at the end, how the fire would surge up from within, a mounting heat that burned from the inside out. Like a Phoenix, she would rise from the ashes of her unmaking and become something new. She never knew how long each incarnation would last, and her only warning would be that otherworldly heat she experienced now.

Haley shook her husband, who rolled over onto his side.

“Mark, wake up.”

“Haley?” His eyes popped open, and Haley’s heart leaped. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine. I just—” She bit her lip. “Would you hold me? Please?”

Mark didn’t ask why, only wrapped his arms around her and kissed her forehead, slick with sweat. It was the kind of gesture she’d fallen in love with, and in the midst of the midnight darkness, she choked back tears.

“I love you,” she said. “You know that, don’t you?”

“Of course. Are you sure you’re all right?”

No, I’m not all right. Not at all.

But rather than express her true feelings, she only nodded, not trusting herself to speak.

Yes, the fire was rising now. It had started as a pain in her stomach, a sharp burning not unlike acid reflux. She’d tried to suppress it, to give herself some extra time with the man she loved, but like a wildfire, there was no controlling it. It would burn her down in its own time, with or without her cooperation.

“You’re burning up,” said Mark, pulling away. “I’m going to call the doctor.”

“No.” Haley clamped onto him with her arms. “Don’t let me go. Stay with me. I need—”

A flash, blinding, like a massive electrical discharge. That celestial fire consumed her, and then Haley was riding the storm of her unmaking once more, bracing herself for something new.

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