“Hello?” I called, taking a hesitant step forward. Surrounding me on all sides was nothing but darkness, an infinite void of black save for the glow of my own being.
“Hello?” I called out into the void again.
“Welcome Mason!” Boomed a voice that seemed to come from no direction in particular, or perhaps from all directions at once. “Sorry I’m a tad late, it has been a busy day.”
I stood there, silent, unsure what to say.
“You look confused, friend. What’s the last thing you remember?”
“Uhm, I remember… I remember lying down to sleep.”
“Yes, and do you remember waking up?”
“Precisely! As it happens, you did not wake up, nor will you.”
“I’m not sure I understand…”
“My friend, I’m afraid to say that you are dead.”
“Dead? As in, dead, dead?”
“Yes friend, I’m afraid so.”
“And, this is – this is heaven?”
“Ehhh, more like an in between. In so far as ‘heaven’ exists.”
“This is… much darker than I expected…”
“Yes, yes, I know. You were expecting the glowing white room, a golden gate, and perhaps Morgan Freeman to stroll through a doorway carrying his usual sagacity.”
“No no, it is alright. That is how it was in the old days, minus Morgan Freeman, sadly. But when word got out I thought it best to mix things up a bit.”
“So! How do you think you did?” Said the voice.
“What, like in life?”
“Yeah, like in life.”
“Isn’t that your job? To pass judgment and all that?”
“No, friend, that’s too easy. I want to hear it from you.”
“Hm.” I paused for some time, trying to think back on my life, on the people I’d met, on the things I’d accomplished, on the places I’d travelled. But, perhaps due to the shock of my newfound deadness, nothing came to mind. How would I judge my own life?
“You seem uncertain, friend. Perhaps this will help.”
And with that there was a spark, a tiny flash of yellow that erupted into a spectacular shimmer. I raised my hands up as the shimmer burned bright, blazing white like a Polaroid and then slowly fading into focus as its rectangular edges vibrated before me.
I saw computers, monitors stacked in rows as in a stadium. People stood behind them, their mouths hanging open, all staring forward. They looked to be waiting, anticipating something. On the wall there was a symbol, blue and red, though I couldn’t quite make out the letters.
Just as the image started to crystallize another erupted beside it. There was a spark, flash, and shimmer just as the first. I couldn’t help but stare as the blistering white burned my eyes, waiting for it to come into focus.
I saw faces. Calm faces, wearing measured happiness. They were seated in rows, with flags still and stoic standing against the edges of the room. Slowly, I lifted my gaze up, and I saw myself standing atop a stage. I was in uniform – a military uniform.
I returned to the first, studying it. I searched from row to row, my eyes darting from person to person, until, there I was. /Me/, standing in front of one of the monitors.
I turned to find that dozens more shimmers had erupted all around me.
“These are all… Me.”
“Sort of… The “Me’s” you could have been anyway.”
The voice continued to talk: “Everyone below seems to have this idea that I control everything. That in my spare time, or perhaps on those supposed “days of rest”, I’ve carved out a special path for them. That with each step forward they are “walking on the path of /God/ ”. But you see, I only set things in motion. I tipped the first domino, planted the first seed. And then I laid back and hoped for the best. What happened next, well, that was up to you.”
I spun in circles, (feeling slightly tipsy)[show don’t tell] as I saw spectral images flicker in rows, stretching miles away from where I stood.
“What you are seeing, friend, is—“
“I know,” I said. “These are all the lives I could have lived.”
“Yes, indeed they are. Every possible outcome.”
I turned, slowly in circles, my eyes dotting to all of the different possibilities that glowed before me. A space, once infinite in darkness, now gleamed with opportunities missed. I saw myself as an engineer for NASA, staring mouth agape in anticipation. I saw myself as a soldier being honored at a ceremony. I saw myself with a large family, with a small family, with five dogs and one dog-business named Call of the Wild. In every direction, stretching on to infinity, were all the lives I could have lived.
“So, friend, how do you think you did?”
And then there was another flash. A brilliant spark of light, and in an instant, all of those shimmers once filled with possibilities were replaced instead with memories. Memories of the life I had lived. Some, moments that I cherished, like the day I ran a marathon. Others, days I still regret, like the day I cancelled my flight to New York and chose to stay in Bloomington. Many of the days I was doing nothing at all, save for playing video games, binge watching Netflix, or jerking off.
/How much time had I wasted? How much more could I have done? How will people remember me? Hell, why would they remember me at all? I gave up… I forgot about the dreams I had of changing the world. I forgot about the dreams I had for myself. At some point I put my life on cruise and coasted all the way to death./
“I hate to interrupt,” said the voice, “but I can hear what you’re thinking. Poet was never one of your career paths.”
I remained still for a moment and then said: “I was content… For so long… But, seeing what I could have become…”
“Yes, friend. You could have been a great many things, had you made different choices along the way…”
My eyes welled with tears. It is one thing, to think in abstract terms about the lives you could have had. And it is another to actually /see/ them, to see how far you fell short of your own potential.
“So, what happens next?” I asked.
“Well, that’s one thing the religious folk got right. Your life on Earth is somewhat of a test. The kind of life you live there is the kind of life you will live in eternity. You, friend, lived a quiet life. You didn’t make waves. You didn’t cause a scene. If you had never lived, the world would be just as it is now. No better, and no worse. In that sense, you never existed, and so now, you shall cease to exist.”
“So, this is it?” I asked as tears dripped down my face.
“Yes, friend, I’m afraid it is. Do you have any parting words?”
“I… I’m sorry.”
And with that, Mason was gone. His spirit was deleted from the universe. Some remnants remained, by way of memories from those below, but soon those would fade, too.
From the Voice there came a sigh. A sigh of sadness for another being of near infinite potential, gone. A sigh silent as a whisper, though one that seemed to reach out to all corners of space, carrying this and that through the void. This is what those below call wind.