“Where, where am I?” I asked.
One of the gathered nearby responded, “I don't know.”
My head continued to clear. “I...I think there was some kind of explosion.”
We looked at one another.
Another added, “I was in a hospital room.” I supposed that would have made sense. She was, after all, adorned in what looked like light-blue scrubs of some sort.
But we were no longer obviously in a hospital or any other kind of medical facility.
We appeared to be outside.
The realization swept over me in a renewed wave of nausea. I solemnly informed the gathered,. “I think we are dead.”
The eyes of those closest to me widened.
“Dead?” they mumbled in considerable yet hushed silence.
We took stock of our situation. We looked up the verdant clover and grass-covered path that sloped continually upward. One could not avoid feeling drawn towards it.
We realized that was one of two possible directions. However, reluctance began to build to view what laid in the other. Yet there was a greater cosmic compulsion regarding each person to view it nonetheless.
Before us, we could see charred and burned trees. Not a single leaf clung to the lifeless limbs of the trees lined along the dry rocky path that sloped downward.
Beyond what were once vibrant trees in the distance, dark smoke billowed slowly into the sky. Its ascent seemed as reluctant to reach for the sky as had been our reluctance to gaze it its direction.
The smoke lingered to form what could be described as nothing but a warped, sinister halo. At the center one could glimpse at briefly before having to look away an intense flaming orange and yellow. It made a blazing sun seem cool and refreshing in comparison.
“That must be Hell,” I said to clarify things as much to myself as anyone else around me.
By deduction, someone else concluded, “Then that way must be Heaven.” They pointed in the direction for added emphasis.
The reality of where everyone was continued to sink in. Still, no one was really all that eager to make a choice.
Hesitation continued to grip me. But I knew I had to say something. It seemed that no one else would.
“I guess we go in the direction dependent on whether or not we want to see Jesus.”
“Jesus?” someone responded in a tone mixed with both surprise and disgust.
Murmuring spread amongst the group. One of the particularly more vocal enunciated,. “Well, I certainly don't want to see him.” A few nodded in agreement.
Another lamented, “But I've been so bad he won't let me near him.”
“Hold on, “ someone tried to comfort, “all you've got to do is to want to see him and be sorry about what you've done.”
Parties began to form. We found ourselves with one last chance at a choice in light of the evidence with which we were confronted staring us in the face. Despite being on the very boundaries of the Afterlife, the larger group still did not want anything to do with Jesus. Perhaps one or two changed their minds, but not many.
Most were convinced that they had never done anything wrong. Some were eager to flip Christ off for even the bare minimum of a requirement to avoid the Hellfire blazing before their very eyes. Their disgust and contempt overrode even the primal instinct to avoid the fire and billows of smoke at the end of the decimated path strewn with jagged rubble. They did not want to commence their perambulation into perdition, but through the stubbornness of their own wills, they conscientiously began the descent nevertheless.
The remainder of us looked on stunned in silence, aware of the torment and suffering that awaited them at the end of the journey. Despite pleading, they went in that direction anyway.
We watched for a while. Morbidly, one supposes, our own lamentation and regret for them subsided as they passed out of sight into an eternity of their own choosing.
Nothing could be done for them. Even with the evidence of the two paths set before their very eyes and what was required to avoid the less desirous destination, they had set out in that direction anyway.
After much solemn contemplation and awkward silence, the remaining began to look one another in the eye again. Smiles crossed our faces.
By deduction we concluded that if those that wanted nothing to do with Jesus went down towards that fiery pit, then Heaven must be in the opposite direction up the verdant hilly path.
Many laughed joyously in celebration. This was what, after all, each of us hoped would be awaiting us at the conclusions of our earthly lives. Some had been expecting it for decades; others not quite so long.
“Well, I suppose this is it. We'd best get started,” some suggested. Nearly every one smiled and cheered. We were, after all, on our way to Heaven.
No one seemed to mind the inclined perambulation at first. Surely Heaven was worth an uphill but otherwise even walk. Some a little ways off were singing hymns.
Joy filled the air.
Despite the anticipation of the destination, minds --- even if no longer alive in the terrestrial sense --- could not help but wander.
The ease of the ascent did not exactly channel one's thoughts into the task at hand.
Thoughts of family began to fill my head. How would they get along without me?
Sure, I'd be more than fine in Heaven. However, they'd be stuck in misery for now back on Earth.
I stopped for a moment to catch my breath. It seemed that, with each additional thought regarding my family, the following steps up the leisurely slope grew increasingly difficult to take. I tried to put thoughts of the mortal life and world out of my mind.
As I did so, the pace would become easier. There was much to look forward to at the end of this easy and gentle ascent.
The path was certainly much more pleasant than the jagged crags selected by the majority for no other reason than that they did not want to see Jesus. Besides, not only would we see Jesus, but I would also be reunited with loved ones that passed away earlier. Others would be there that I had never met but loved anyway. Possibly cherished pets might even be there as well in eager anticipation. Speculation about that question alone and curiosity to see it resolved once and for all imbued me with renewed vigor to continue.
Yet family, to the mortal mind at least to one transitioning from one realm to the next, exist as an interconnected whole. As much as my mind focused on grandparents, departed uncles and even buried dogs and cats, I couldn't block out images of those still on Earth.
Once again, movement forward grew exceedingly difficult. It seemed as if I slid a few steps back down the hill.
“What the....?” I caught myself mentally from completing the thought. There was no need to be nearing the Gates of Heaven quite literally with such verbal formulations on my mind and tongue. Furthermore, having seen some march willingly towards the infernal destination just a short time prior dissipated any of the psychological relief one might under terrestrial circumstances experience verbalizing such profanities of metaphysical reference.
I turned to the other perambulating pilgrims. “Did you see that?', I asked as they walked by as I slid back. They smiled kindly enough with sincere reassurance but continued with their singing and walking forward.
The more that I felt I was not worthy to number among the happy throng assured of their beatific triumph, the more I thought about family back on Earth, the further back down the hill I slid.
I elevated my head in realization at the extent of my declension. I was back to where I started.
I looked over to my right. It seemed that I was back on Earth. My family was so close that I could have touched touched them if I possessed corporeality.
My finger touched the translucent barrier separating the realms. Ripples cascaded across it like soft shock waves skipping across a pond.
I placed my hand against what I concluded must be some kind of energy barrier. It could not be consciously seen, but one could sense it nonetheless. The sensation was not unlike that of pushing together the same poles of two magnets.
I pushed my hand against the barrier a little harder, eventually making a fist so to concentrate the pressure of my efforts at a single point on the barrier. Maybe I could find a weak spot.
For what purpose, I did not know. After all, I was dead, right? I couldn't go back.
It seemed at this very point where the material world and what, for lack of a better term, one might term the spirit world weren't even converging in a cemetery. If I somehow broke through, I wouldn't even have my body to inhabit.
Despite logic insisting I start back up the hill towards Heaven, I still couldn't resist the urge to poke a little more at the ethereal barrier. I pressed my fist against it once more.
A cone began to extend through to the other side. My hand disappeared altogether into the funnel.
I stopped. If my entire hand could slide in without too much effort, how much more of me could fit into it?
I extended my arm in up to the elbow. Other than a slight repulsion similar to a light magnetic field, there was very little in the way of sensation or resistance.
I wondered if anyone on the other side could see what I was doing. Maybe my efforts were manifesting there in the physical world in the form of some kind of paranormal phenomena.
I looked down at my arm. From my perspective, the appendage had disappeared.
I stopped for a moment. Should I pull it back out? Maybe I should push against the barrier with my other hand as well. Perhaps I should try to push again at it with my entire body, or at least with what I perceived of as a body.
I braced myself, pushing my hands against and then into the nebulous barrier. I kept walking forward. My nose tingled as my proboscis rubbed up against it. But I did not stop.
As the field approached my eyes, everything blurred. At first, the image was out of focus but eventually everything turned a translucent cream color not unlike looking through a teardrop.
My body tingled as it passed through the barrier. Dizziness and nausea swept over me.
The distortions grew overwhelming. My consciousness began to fade.
Instead of reaching either of the Afterlife's eternal destinations, would my own existence now dissipate into nothingness? I clung to any sliver of awareness for as long as I could.
The Nothingness. It lasted only a brief second.
Whereas before my vision was distorted by an illuminated blur, that brightness was now replaced by a distinctive darkness.
My heart was racing, the fear causing my tympanic membrane to pound.
Consciousness washed over my eroded mind. Slowly I realized I was not dead. From the weight of the blankets draped over me, I concluded it had all been a dream. A very intense one, but still nothing more than a dream.
My heart slowed. Fear dissipated. Whether right nor wrong would be an issue for theologians with too much time on their hands, but at the moment I was relieved to consider this world my home.
By Frederick Meekins
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