by China DeSpain
In the distance, a bell rings in low, sonorous tones. You wake slowly, by degrees, your eyes fluttering open and your consciousness returning. The world around you is gray, lit by a gloaming that could suggest either sunrise or sunset.
But you remember now and you know it’s neither.
You remember when your body stopped, the stilling of the heart and the breath and the mind. You remember the curious sensation of your soul evanescing from its body.
That is all you remember.
Now there is nothing, just feeble gray light and the endless tolling of the death bell. You’ve been summoned, awakened, and it is time to go. Something new awaits.
You rise, disembodied and lost. There are no signs here, no instructions, nothing to weigh your soul against a life well or poorly lived. There is merely the path that extends as far as the eye can see. You are at eternity’s depot, and your eternal fate lies in one of two directions.
You must choose.
You go east.
At first, there is nothing but the gray light, a weightless fog that obscures your vision. But after a while, there are trees. A great forest lines the path, ancient and impenetrable. You wonder what it would be like to detour into the trees, to live out the rest of eternity there. You move toward them and this is when you realize you cannot stray from the path. Your bodiless essence can only move in two directions: forward or back.
Eventually the trees give way to a massive ocean, deep blue waves and sand the blushing pink of a new bride’s cheeks. The water laps at the shore, gentle and inviting, the primordial sea in which life is formed. You are drawn to it, but once again, you cannot reach it.
Instead, you must move forward and reflect on the life you lived. An imperfect one, to be sure, but the good must have outweighed the bad. Surely you contributed worthy things in your time? Surely you have not gone the wrong direction in your afterlife?
Yes, you told many lies in your life and experienced lust on more occasions than you can remember. There were moments you thirsted for vengeance and felt a wrath so powerful you thought you would break. You took pride in your work and envied those who experienced greater successes.
Of course you did these things. You were human.
But you never took another’s life. You never stole that which was not yours or wavered in you fidelity. You bought coffee for the homeless man outside of Vine and Bean, your favorite cafe. You served dinners at the shelter on Thanksgiving. You worked hard, you gave to charity, you even sometimes prayed on the darkest, blackest nights.
That must count for something. That must be enough.
The scenery on the path changes again, so that you are moving through a mountain path. Walls of rock jut higher than you can see, the stones a mix of gray, pink, beige, and blue. There is no fresh mountain breeze, no raptor cry. No stones tumble loose, no water trickles or gushes. The air is still and silent and sacred.
Time has lost all sense of meaning for you here. It is possible you have walked this path for hours or days or centuries. You begin to suspect the path as no ending, that this is, in fact, what your eternity shall be. An endless walk of contemplation. It is not what you expected, but it is not unpleasant. It seems like a suitable afterlife, all things considered.
As soon as you realize this, as soon as you make your peace with it, the scenery shifts again.
Now the path’s border is galaxies, nebulas, stars, swirls of color and light. The infinite cosmos. You are a speck in this universe, but a part of it all the same. Being small does not make you insignificant. A comet shoots by, and in the distance, there is an explosion as a star either erupts into being or collapses into nothing. You are moving through all of creation and the end is near.
Finally, at last, you reach a door.
And you know.
You must go though the door and face what awaits. It will be one of two things, and you cannot know which until you proceed. You can hope, you can wish, you can pray. But you cannot know.
You reach for the knob and tug it open, and then you step forward into the eternity that you earned.
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