Arnold felt a sensation all around him he couldn't quite fathom as his eyes adjusted to the brightness of the space he now found himself in. There seemed to be no walls, just endless light, and a faint aroma of vanilla.
"Hello?" he called. "Anyone? Hello?"
Turning around on the spot Arnold felt panic rise from the pit of his stomach as memories of the last few moments flowed through him. But was it a few moments ago? It felt like an age since he had been in that dank and diseased room, an age since he felt the sharp but engulfing pain in his sides consuming him, an age since he had seen Helga's big blue eyes, full of fear.
Arnold automatically placed a hand to his side, fearing to look down and see the bloodied mess that had pooled around him earlier. He felt nothing, no pain.
"You're ok here" a voice called out, a small child-like voice.
Arnold immediately raised his head to meet the sound and found a small blonde child before him, probably about 6 or 7 years old. He had big blue eyes and an unusually shaped head, much similar to his own had been as a child. The child's skin was milky white and seemed to shimmer slightly.
"What's going on?" Arnold asked.
"You're deciding" the child replied. "But please don't take too long, if you choose to go back, then it can have consequences." The little boy frowned.
"What are you talking about?"
"You're deciding." The child rolled his eyes, obviously irritated at Arnold lack of understanding. "Just choose already."
"Choose what?" Arnold replied, clearly getting frustrated.
"Stop being mean, he doesn't know does he?" A new voice filled the void, a sweet voice. Arnold turned as slowly out of the brightness emerged another child, a young girl. She had long blonde hair tied back in a cute little pink ribbon. Her big green eyes full of wonder as she observed Arnold for a few moments, her skin also a milky white, shimmering as she moved. It was eerie but beautiful.
"What do I need to choose?" Arnold replied.
The young children considered him for a moment, before the girl spoke again.
"You're choosing if you're going to go back or go forward. Personally I think you should go back, otherwise we're kind of stuck here, and this place is boring."
"Still, not catching on here kids." Arnold mused.
"Ugh, you're so dense dad!" the boy bellowed.
Arnold felt his breath catch in his throat. He must have passed out, he must have fainted from the pain of being stabbed and now he was…hallucinating or something.
"Don't freak out daddy." The girl chimed, clearly noting how Arnold had frozen with the last statement. "I know it's a lot to take in, but you're in a kind of limbo."
"Limbo" the blonde boy repeated.
"You're pretty hurt to be honest" she continued.
"Yeah" the boy added.
"And you can go back, and it'll hurt. A lot. But you'll be ok in time. Or you can move on. But like I said, if you do that we're," she gestured to herself and the boy, "stuck here. So please go back". Her big green eyes pleading.
Arnold gave himself a moment to let what had just been said sink in. He needed to sit down, but he didn't want to either. He blinked hard a couple of times, trying to see if he could wake up. Nothing.
"That wont work." the boy stated. "Not until you choose."
"What are your names?" Arnold asked abruptly.
"How the hell should we know?" the boy snapped.
"Stop being difficult!" the girl huffed, "give him a minute ok!"
The boy sighed and folded his arms aggressively.
"We don't know our names yet, you give them to us…you know, when we get to come over to you…assuming it all goes to plan that is." There was a small sense of fear behind the girl's voice, a slight quiver as she spoke. "But time is getting on now, you need to choose."
"If I go back…how much will it hurt, I mean, will it be really bad?" Arnold asked, feeling slightly childish himself as he asked.
The boy scoffed. "The longer you leave it the worse it gets, there's only so long you can be 'away from yourself', then either way you're screwed."
The magnitude of what Arnold was experiencing was so immense he could barely think straight. He looked at the two small children before him. They were clearly his, it was evident they were some form of relation to him at least. His heart filled with joy as he saw the little girl grin at him, her eyes sparkled.
"Mum's already been, only briefly, a moment ago." The girl mused.
"Yeah, she didn't need forever. We didn't even get to say a word to her." The boy commented. The young girl shot an unimpressed glare at him and he shot his tongue out at her in response.
Arnold didn't need to question who their mother was. Arnold had seen an attitude like the young boys plastered on Helga's very face. Arnold snickered a little at the boy's scowl.
"How do I get back?"
The girl beamed at him. "It's easy, just ask."
"um, ok…I-I'd like to go back...please."
"Finally!" the boy sighed.
Before Arnold knew it he felt a great pull at his chest, and he grabbed at himself.
"Let them take you back!" he heard the girl call. "Just go with it!" Her voice was becoming more distant as great while white lights flashed insanely around him, slowly bringing in colour. "I'll see you soon dad!"
A haze of colour filled Arnold's vision as his senses came back to him. The first thing he registered was the pressure on his chest coming and going, it seemed to be getting stronger in mere seconds. Next he could hear the faint murmurs of voices growing louder and louder all around him.
"Arnold! You there son? Come on kid!"
His eyes shot open.
"YES! FUCK YES HE'S BREATHING" a man he could barely make out bellowed beside him.
"You see that! No vitals then BOOM! Here he is!"
Arnold's vision slowly came into focus, and then so did the pain. The intense pain shot throughout his body like nothing he had ever felt before, he groaned loudly as an oxygen mask was placed over his face.
"Here we go kid, some morphine should sort you out a bit."
A sudden wave of relief washed over Arnold.
"We'll give you some more in a couple of hours, need to get you into theatre pretty soon ok."
Arnold had no idea who was speaking to him, he didn't care, he just didn't want to feel that pain again.
"Helga…" he whispered almost automatically into his mask.
"He's trying to say something. What is it kid?" Arnold felt the oxygen mask briefly lift from his face.
"Helga." He repeated.
"She's ok fella" the voice replied, "trust me, you will both be fine, just don't go dying on us yeah? Proper buggers up my stats."
Arnold gave a small muffled laugh as the mask was placed back on his face, and he felt himself get wheeled out of the room, watching the ceiling lights pass him as he went.
He knew he had made the right choice.